Beauty

Icon of the Epiphany

EpiphanyBaptism

Yesterday was the feast of the  Epiphany.  In the west this feast is the celebration of the arrival  of the Magi and their adoration of the infant Jesus of Nazareth presenting him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  In the east the Epiphany is the feast of the baptism of Christ in the river Jordan, the above icon is the icon of the Epiphany or Theophany.

The icon is rich.  In the lower portions of the icon in the water are the depictions of spirit manifestations of water, the figure with the wings and wild hair and a beard represents the Jordan river.  on the other side is Leviathan, these are the spirits the personifications of water.  Christ’s hand of blessing is not raised as in of the icons but is in the water, blessing the water.

Jesus stands in a way reminiscent of the crucifixion

Processional cross, Egg Tempera and gold leaf
Processional cross, Egg Tempera and gold leaf

feet and legs together, dressed only in a loin  cloth.

John the Forerunner’s preaching is represented by an ax laying against a bush, “…the ax is at the root…”

It is also, not surprisingly, a Trinitarian icon.  At the top God the Father, un-circumscribed of whom we can’t make any image, unknown but by the Son and the Spirit, is represented by the semi circle of blues and black.  The Spirit represented as the Gospels describe descending on Jesus of Nazareth as it is revealed (epiphany) that this human is God the Son.

And Angels Attend, (indicating Jesus Christ’s temptation in the desert, after which the Gospels say he was attended by angels.).

I painted this icon as a medallion, in part to strengthen the sense that God in Jesus Christ comes for the whole earth and all of creation, represented by the river and its spirit manifestations in the painting.  The extent of the realty hear represented is particular and universal, cosmic.  Salvation, Reconciliation, Liberation, is in this material world, in (re)connecting matter the created world with its source, the very Life of the world.  A great estrangement took place and God the Son, as Jesus of Nazareth comes, and we can see God, and find our true life, the life of the whole cosmos.  God is now forever part of the matter in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

This radical act of God, is the very thing that makes possible the painting of icons.  If God had not become flesh and a human in the Jew, Jesus of Nazareth, God would have remained beyond us.

The above icon of the Epiphany/Baptism of Our Lord is available in my Etsy shop, Prietly Goth Icons

Celebrating the Holy Nativity, #StayWoke

A friend of mine in a Facebook post comment thread mentioned that the Christmas story is often told as a children’s story.  I think there are several layers to this characterization.  One the Holy Nativity is often seen as a cute and comforting story, a G movie  safe for the viewing pleasure of the entire family.  Secondly, as a cute, safe and comforting story it takes on the character traits of the Disney fairy tale (in contrast to the Brother’s Grimm fairy tales).  Lastly the Christmas story is often simply kitsch, as most nativity sets for sale in Christmas isles clearly demonstrates. The above is all part of the celebration of Christmas that knows nothing of the season of Advent.

Here, and at the Oratory of Jesus Christ, Reconicler, I took up reflecting on the season of Advent as a time to stay woke.  But what now in this twelve day season of Christmas (yes Christmas day is simply the first day of Christmas, we have Christmas all the way until January 5th.)?  The seasons of Advent and Christmas are seasons of the Holy Nativity, God’s revelation in and through a the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.  As such can we see the Holy Nativity not as some comfortable story but something that stirs something in us, even something that disturbs us from slumber?

I think so and I think the Icon of the Holy Nativity is more helpful in this than the typical nativity set one can buy on the Christmas shelves in stores.

holynativity

 

Take some time to reflect on this icon and it’s meaning: at its center is Mary and the baby Jesus in the manger.  If you are familiar with iconography, the cave and the manger should remind one of icons of the empty tomb, the manger is a sarcophagus the cave a tomb.  Also, Mary is lying down, she has after all just given birth.  In one corner two midwives are washing the baby Jesus.  These midwives not mentioned in the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus, are part of a type of realism, there surely were midwives, but also hearken back to the story of Moses. Midwives are an important part of the story of liberation and salvation.  And Jesus is not only  a second Adam but also a second Moses, come to deliver God’s people.  In the other corner sits Saint Joseph, in conversation with an old shepherd, or is it the shepherd who is attempting to draw Joseph out.  This is a great deal to take in.  Joseph, perhaps has his doubts about what all this means.  How is it that the messiah is born in such rough conditions and greeted by such rough persons.  Does God reveal God’s self in such common rough and uncouth ways? But then Above Joseph are the Magi traveling following the sign in the heavens.  These are men with power and wealth, but they aren’t Isrealites and Children of Abraham.  One may look at this icon and simply see confusion.  The whole story here depicted in form and color may not make much sense.  How is this a holy image.  How in such common place things, midwives at work, a feeding trough and Mary and Joseph silent puzzled without answers, a depiction of a holy and revelatory event.

Can it truly be that this even changes everything.  That God is found not only in this crazy story, but in that little infant born so long ago, Jesus of Nazareth.  Is this how liberation comes?  Does this shock and disturb?  Perhaps it should.  In this infant God dwelt in our midst and is now united with the entire cosmos.

But the story of Christmas and it’s celebration doesn’t end here: the next three days we in Celebrating God’s revelation in coming as a little child, we mark the first martyr, Saint Stephen, remember the Evangelist Saint John the Apostle, and Herod’s massacre of the infants in Bethlehem, the Holy Innocents.  If you haven’t guessed this isn’t a children’s story, nor Disney Fairy tale.  This is a celebration and a story that isn’t afraid to face the worst humanity can offer.  It certainly is a match for facing our countries continuing struggle with the Racism that has been woven into the very fabric of its history and policies. It’s also a story and an icon that can encompass our questions, doubts, confusion and despair, and say at the same time God has come, liberation, justice and revelation have come in the midst of all this horror and confusion.

Salonathon at the Beauty Bar: A surface and everyday beauty?

Monday night a friend who is an actor was performing as David Bowie at Salonathon at the Beauty Bar.

If you aren’t aware the Beauty Bar is a bar and beauty salon rolled into one ( or as their website says “The World’s only beauty saloon…”.  Specials include such things as a martini and manicure.

Salonathon is a performance art night for armature, emerging and genre bending artists.   Its a bit of hipster place, and Kate and I were goths among hipsters.  We were there also as theater people supporting our friend.

I’m not sure what I expected, or rather I had dread and hope.  I dreaded that, with the exception of our friends performance, the acts would be horrible.  I hoped for some brilliance something that would grab me and make we say wow.  Neither the dread nor the hope happened.

It was an enjoyable and entertaining evening.  Our friends Bowie was spot on, though I have to admit I’m not sure the point of the performance.

This was my overall sense of the evening.  I’m not sure the point beyond being entertained.  This is an odd (though not entirely foreign understanding of artistic expression) attitude toward art, that it is primarily for entertainment.  I had hoped to be transported elsewhere, to be, at least once, confronted and blinded by something incredibly beautiful.  Instead what I found was the beauty of the every day.  The beauty of a skill well performed.

Nothing wrong with that at all.  I’m more musing on my own longing and striving.   I look for art that transforms and transfigures, that disturbs the world, not simply art that reflects, re-presents and mirrors what i already experience.  When I experience and encounter art I want to be different because of the performance, the concert, or encounter with the sculpture or painting.  Certainly I may also be entertainment and find  connection with what i already know and experience.  However, i want art to be different, or more to the point to make a difference.  I’m looking for transcendence that makes a difference in me and the world.

So I enjoyed myself at Salonathon, and I’m glad it exists.  But Monday night made no difference for me.  Salonathon is just one of many entertaining and aesthetically pleasing things I may engage in any give week or month here in Chicago.  I thus find that I’m indifferent to the event.

I find this indifference troubling, so perhaps, there’s something there.  I might change my expectations, but other than a puzzling experience nothing about Salonathon challenges my expectations.  They simply are reinforced in an oblique way.

Lastly I should mention Salonathon is also had a dance party dimension to it, and the DJ was quite good, and the music he spinned was quite good, though none of it exactly my cup of Tea (little if anything approaching my goth aesthetic).  We didn’t stay for the Dance party portion of the event, it being Monday night and staying up to 2 am wasn’t going to happen!  So, perhaps the transcendence is woven into the ecstasy of the dance party for the regulars.

Perhaps that’s it, Salonathon is just a party for artists.

Beauty, Truth, and Cathedrals

I’ve gathered From my Twitter feed the role of beauty and cathedrals was addressed at Emergence Christianity – A National Convention( #EC13 #BigTickle) .  This Luther quote was thrown out there as an answer to the problem (though it is only a problem for a certain mindset admittedly dominant among Protestants):

 “The people need beauty as well as the Gospel because they live in a world of ugliness.”

I prefer “Beauty will save the world.”

Luther’s quote at first glance makes beauty and physical and material beauty in particular secondary.  It divides off beauty from the truth of  the Gospel.  Beauty isn’t the Gospel it only possibly maybe, if the conditions are right serves truth and the Gospel.  God apparently isn’t beautiful, in God’s economy beauty is a second thought.

The Dostoevsky quote, or more to the point a what is said by one of the characters in the Idiot, sees beauty as intrinsic to the world, the gospel, God, and Faith.

This vision is in my mind much more sacramental and truly ecclesial than Luther’s perspective (Which incidentally was also the Frankish perspective at the time of the Iconoclast controversy in the East, and why Frankish Theologians didn’t quite get either the controversy nor understand the theology of the 7th Ecumenical council though they accepted it).

Now one may misunderstand me when I say “sacramental” if one hears reference only to seven (or two) sacraments, and not the condition of possibility within creation itself for the Seven (or Two) Sacraments.  For a full and concise treatment of this condition of possibility I recommend Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of the World.

If we live in a world of ugliness it is because the world has ceased to be what God intended for the universe.  If God can be joined with creation, if bread and wine can be come the body and blood of Jesus Christ, if water can be our passage from death to new life, it is because what is physical, what God created was always supposed to be our communion with God.  If we see what is beautiful and do not see God it is not because beauty is a distraction or secondary, or non-essential, but because the world is no is no longer for us what God created it to be.

But now, as I sit with the Luther quote i have a second thought.  If we no longer hold that beauty is secondary, and if we hold that God is to be met in our physicality,  Luther’s quote is perhaps the same as the Dostoevsky quote.  The ugliness is due to the fall, to our loss of God in the everyday.  We then need Cathedrals, Icons, and beauty to have the truth of the Gospel, and have God, because in the present age the world is opaque to Beauty, but it is to be translucent.  It was to be our connection to our Life.  Sacraments return to us physical things as the whole universe was to be for humanity, the means of our communion with God, our very sustenance in body and soul.  Then in a Cathedral we are in the presence of God through its beauty.  This was my experience of the cathedrals of Europe as a child.  I carried that experience with me until I rediscovered the broad and deep theology of the Sacramental transfiguration of the World in Jesus Christ.