Truth That Sings 4: In The Beginning

In the beginning.
The story of our cosmos has a beginning. It’s easy to wake up every morning and only notice the continuation of creation; the sun rises again, the sun sets again, it’s too hot, it’s too cold, I am dreading this day, I have been waiting for this day for months, etc. The leaves outside are green. The leaves outside are yellow and orange. No matter how much (or how little) we survey our immediate surroundings, we see an ongoing rhythm. Morning, afternoon, night. Summer, fall, winter, spring. Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter. Football season, Basketball season, Superbowl, March Madness, Baseball, World Cup, Summer Olympics. We mark the ongoing stream of time in rhythmic intervals, and we notice the passage of time in different ways. In a lot of ways the passage of time can be exhilarating; new frontiers, new vistas, new seasons. In other ways the passage of time can be ravenous. The child gets bigger; we lose an older family member, we must say goodbye to loved ones and hello to strangers. Things change and never seem to stop changing. That which we long to hold onto slips away quietly (or loudly) and that which we hope to keep away draws ever closer. We know, somewhere deep down, that our part in this ongoing cycle of birth, life and death is moving closer and closer to a definitive end. After we end, life will go on, a few people will notice, most won’t, and in time even those who knew you will forget. Even if they don’t forget, they will take all memories of you when they go. To the naked eye, we are caught in a slipstream of images, sound, fury that seem meaningful but end in each of us being long gone and long forgotten. We can love people around us but we are all drifting away from each other. Every marriage will end in a tragedy, no matter how deep the love between husband and wife. One will go before the other into the great unknown. The deeper the love shared now, the deeper the pain and anguish then. Which fate do we hope for? Dying first so as to escape the pain and yet our hearts break as we imagine our spouse living alone, remembering what once was but is no more. Do we hope to die last, so as to spare our spouse the anguish and sorrow only to shoulder it ourselves? We do not get to choose, and to choose neither isn’t an option. Then there is the thought that all we see around us only means anything to us; we are the ones who behold, gaping in awe at the wonders of the cosmos, but when the sun eventually burns up the earth and no one is here to behold those wonders, what meaning did they have? What meaning DO they have? And yet we behold. We look, we listen, we laugh, we weep, we whisper, we howl, we experience it all. Your child is born and you hold her in your arms. She slightly resembles you, just as she slightly resembles every ancestor of yours, remembered or forgotton. She cannot speak our human language so she unleashes the primal language of mankind: crying. Tears still pour out, even behind laughter, when we are full of life in all of its sorrows and delights. The most profound moments are the moments there are no words for. And yet we can’t stop talking. Then we scratch our language on cave walls, dried mud tablets, papyrus, scrolls, codex, books, cyberspace. The amount of words that come out of us when we cannot put the most important thing of all into words is the ultimate irony of human existence. Some of us use words to encapsulate the obvious, to give directions, to go from point A to point B with as little distance between the two as possible. Others savor language as if language were a fine wine. The fragrance of words combined in a certain way, the simplicity and the multiple connotations waft in the air like nectar wafting in a summer breeze. Then we take strings, wood, canvas, sticks, whatever we can find and we begin imitating the rhythms of this ongoing stream of time. Some of us are less skilled at cosmos-imitation than others, but those who have given themselves to this discipline are able to say what words cannot. They are able to strike a cymbal, strum a stringed instrument and new worlds open before our eyes. New depths of being that were once inaccessible become over-abundant. New colors explode in our minds, cascading from the full heart like once-dormant geysers. What is happening? Is it a farce? Why does music somehow make accessible what shouldn’t exist in the first place; a sense of meaning? In this ongoing river of time; river of life, what is it about certain sounds rearranged in a certain way that opens up new depths of time previously undiscovered? And why is there a seemingly inexhaustible reservoir of beauty and meaning to draw out? Are we purposefully deceiving ourselves or is there something to it? Is the exploration of music a journey worth undertaking? What about color? What is color anyway, other than the way light reflects off certain surfaces? Why does color in a certain context evoke a sort of fear and wonder? A numinous sense of purpose and yet fear of things much too big for us. Some of us find liquid substances that bear the colors of those things that are far beyond our reach. A little of the sunset smeared against the sturdy color of granite and the juxtaposition disorients and then reorients us. Forms, composition, arranged in a way in which we see past the natural order into a landscape of dreams. Why do we do this? Why did the earliest humans scrawl an antelope on a cave wall in the place that we now call France? The same reason Michelangelo painted a muscular bearded old man on the Sistine Chapel to represent more dangerous game; the unknown forces we personify. Why do we personify impersonal forces? Why did every human culture far-removed from each other do the same thing and personify these frightening energies we can’t explain? What hidden echo is buried in the human heart that resounds so fervently across borders, skin-tones and language barriers? Poetry, music, painting, religion; why would they exist at all in this dark meaningless nightmare of an existence unless they came from somewhere that meant something? And here is the basic question we all ask; some consciously, some unconsciously. Some ask it in university lecture halls in words and phrases that are as sharp and lithe as liquid crystal. Others ask it with an absentminded stare and a sigh, not even knowing they are asking it, but asking it all the same. The question has many forms. Why am I here? What am I doing? Is there a meaning? Imagine what a cruel existence this would be if the answer were no. We would never be able to stop weeping and screeching unheard prayers to the godless heavens if such a thing were able to be known and definitively shown to us. The moon would turn to blood, the deeps would terrify us by their mere existence, the stars would be hideous and their grandeur would be a cruel hint of beauty in a cosmos in which beauty is a mere vapor, evaporating stupidly. Those we would call mentally disturbed would be the wisest of us all, and those of us who plod ahead in this world seeking to get somewhere; we would be the most pitiable. Playing a sick game in which there are no rules, no way to win or lose and no real object – only the passage of time. Fools and wise, we both some to the same end and neither wins anything. Animal and human, we both find our destiny beneath the soil, rotting away for centuries until finally disappearing altogether. We cannot endure this answer. There is no living if any of us truly believed it. No matter what we say; there has to be a part of us somewhere that cannot endure such a hollow answer. Thankfully, there is “good news.” We do not have to try to endure it, another answer has been definitively given, thousands of years ago in a Semitic language in the cradle of civilization. One sentence that has been translated a few ways. Most traditionally, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” That beginning can be thought of in a couple of ways. The beginning of time itself or the deepest depth of our ongoing creation. At the heart of everything, there is a creator. And the good news is that everything we see, everything we experience, every hope, fear, love, failure, sorrow or joy is kept in the father-heart of this creator. The good news is that even if we can’t figure out the depths of its meaning, there is one who knows it for us and will reveal to us as much as we are able to receive. But the reality of our cosmos as divinely created is the reality of an overflowing fountain of the good, the true and the beautiful. And there is more good news. We were not created as angels who swim in the deepest part of this meaning who are not able to stand back from it in awe and wonder. We were not created as mere animals that are oblivious to anything beyond immediate survival. We are in the just the right place to appreciate the wonder of it all. That is the heart of the “doctrine of creation.” I’ve always believed that the book of Ecclesiastes should be the prologue to the Bible, so that Genesis 1:1 could be felt in all of its joy and ecstasy. I’ve just shown you why. It leads into the reality of creation so naturally. This is a very important part of the gospel of Jesus Christ; God is wildly creative – just look at the world around us! Artists do His work in the world, and the church needs to rediscover the importance of commissioning Kingdom-artists to open windows on our stuffy, suffocating culture. The paintings in this post were painted by Makoto Fujimura who does just that with his work. A Christian and an artist, his primary vocation is to draw attention to the doctrine of creation in the most profound way imaginable. A Truth That Sings must understand the importance of art to answer mankind’s most primal question; and answer it definitively.

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~ by shardsofeternity on May 19, 2011.

One Response to “Truth That Sings 4: In The Beginning”

  1. Awesome…

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