Can Arts Illuminate Theology?


Can arts illuminate theology?
Is this allowed?
Five-hundred years ago,
Reformation birthed,
the visual became idolatry.
Churches newly formed,
saying, “No,” to statues,
“No,” to imagery,
“No,” to the senses,
Only the Word.
The Word.

How I grieve for the turned backs,
the opportunity for enrichment,
the opening for all arts
to be a window to God.

How I grieve for the lost chance
to welcome gifts of creativity
into church spaces to splash
God-given talent beyond its’ borders.

How I grieve an auditory holy story
told in community for fifteen hundred years
flattening the Alpha and Omega onto paper pages.
The divine turned into one, authoritative book.

But, take heart!
The earth is shifting.
The ground is shaking.
Creativity is being birthed
in and out of the church.
God cannot be contained.
God spills over in mysterious ways.
God is in all, through all.

More and more,
Churches emerge to reconsider
what they formerly said “No” to,
Looking to invite creative worship:
Worship of the senses,
Worship of rhythm,
Worship of the visual.

Arts offer the mind to take a rest.
To dive towards the heart.
To welcome other cultures into our midst.
To bind the ancient and new.
To restore our brokenness.
To encounter God.

So, can arts illuminate theology?
They are a match made from heaven.

img_4746This past week, I was incredibly grateful to spend time with the St. John’s Bible (Heritage Edition) at the Montreat Conference Center in NC. The St. John’s Bible is the first completely handwritten and illuminated Bible commissioned by a Benedictine Abbey since the invention of the printing press. A fifteen year-project, the St. John’s Bible marries together the ancient practice of calligraphy with illuminated artwork to produce a one-of-a-kind ecumenical Bible. It was created at the St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota by a faithful team of artists, headed by Donald Jackson. The artwork has layers of depth uncovered by time spent studying each piece. Hand-gilded gold is seen throughout, a representation of the presence of God. References to current events are laced with ancient stories. To find out more about the St. John’s Bible, click here.

Further References:

The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why by Phyllis Tickle
Former Blog Post: Theology (Both)And Imagination

Next Week:
The Season of Lent begins next week! My favorite season of the church year, I will continue exploring Scripture through the visual. I plan to offer weekly artwork as a reflection for your Lenten journey.