MOVING BEYOND THE FISH, RAINBOW, SHEPHERD AND EARTHEN VESSEL
I’m going to spend lots of time in this blog, plumbing the depths of the 1999 Letter to Artists written by John Paul II. Here is a paragraph that regularly sends me spinning off into creative pondering.
“The art which Christianity encountered in its early days was the ripe fruit of the classical world, articulating its aesthetic canons and embodying its values. Not only in their way of living and thinking, but also in the field of art, faith obliged Christians to a discernment which did not allow an uncritical acceptance of this heritage. Art of Christian inspiration began therefore in a minor key, strictly tied to the need for believers to contrive Scripture-based signs to express both the mysteries of faith and a “symbolic code” by which they could distinguish and identify themselves, especially in the difficult times of persecution. Who does not recall the symbols which marked the first appearance of an art both pictorial and plastic? The fish, the loaves, the shepherd: in evoking the mystery, they became almost imperceptibly the first traces of a new art.” (Section 7, Letter of His Holiness John Paul II to Artists, 1999)
I think we are in very similar times. Like the early Christian artists, we artists today operate in a climate that is very often hostile and uncomprehending of what we believe. We need to assume an attitude of serious discernment towards the “fruits” and methods being used by our fellow non-Christian artists. We can’t be so susceptible as to jump on an all embracing band-wagon because something is well-crafted, like The Hours or American Beauty.
More exciting however, is the idea that we should consider crafting a new “symbolic code” by which we can “distinguish and identify” ourselves in the midst of the creative community. Hmmmmmmm….
We need to come up with some new images for what things mean TO US. Images of what Christian sexuality MEANS, moving way beyond the discussion of how/whether we can show what sex looks like. Not what it looks like. What it means.
We need images for OUR CHRISTIAN UNDERSTANDINGS….
….of what a human person is. What an individual human life means. How inconceivable is the loss of just one person’s world of potential.
….of the gift of freedom. What it means. Where we got it. Why we got it. How it enters into everything.
…of the value of suffering. What it can be. How it is a gift. How there is no nobility without it.
…of realtionships. Why we are drawn to them. How they are invitations to growth. What we find in them.