Saturday, September 29, 2007

Singing the Lord's Song in a Strange Land

Singing the Lord's Song in a Strange Land
"By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat and wept,
When we remembered Zion.
Upon the willows in the midst of it
We hung our harps.
For there our captors demanded of us songs,
And our tormentors mirth, saying,
'Sing us one of the songs of Zion.'
How can we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?"
Psalm 137:1-4

For years now, as an artist, I have been asking that question of God, and of myself. The answer is being revealed to me, through the Word, through prayer, and through the wisdom of those who have asked it before.
God is, of course, the Creator of Art. He created out of nothing. He spoke, and things that were not, came into existence. And they were good and beautiful. He created Man, His image-bearer, and gave to him the ability to create also. He gave us the intellect, the materials and the desire to create beautiful things. He gave us a mandate to create beautiful things for Him. And used rightly, we create those beautiful things to glorify and honor Him. I believe, and I think that scripture backs me up on this, that He called certain of us to be artists by vocation. I wrestled with my calling for years, not understanding that the misunderstanding and outright rejection I was experiencing on all sides (family, church, culture, and especially the arts community) was a direct result of my attempt to "sing the Lord's song in a strange land”.
I began searching for answers. I read a lot, so I looked for fellow sojourners in the printed word. The late reformed theologian and cultural critic (some now say cultural prophet) Francis Schaeffer's wonderful little book "Art and the Bible" started me off in the right direction. God ordained art for glory and for beauty and called certain ones to be artists. Therefore, art is good. Period. No argument. If you need further confirmation, read Schaeffer, or take a tour through the book of Exodus and read the detailed descriptions God gave to Moses for the building of the temple and all the furniture and furnishings He ordained for His worship. Exodus 28:2,3 says that they were to be made "for glory nd for beauty". And that "skillful persons whom I have endowed with the spirit of wisdom" were to make them. Those persons were called by name in Exodus 31:1-6: "See, I have called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri , the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. (Hur was supposedly Miriam's husband, so Bezalel would have been Moses' great-great nephew.) And I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship, to make artistic designs for work in gold, in silver and in bronze, and in the cutting of stones for settings, and in the carving of wood, that he may work in all kinds of craftsmanship. And behold, I Myself have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and in the hearts of all who are skillful I have put skill, that they may make all that I have commanded you....."
If I understand this enlightening passage correctly, Bezalel had been given the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit, along with wisdom, understanding, knowledge of his crafts. So had others of the Israelis been gifted, and by implication and extension, all in whose hearts God has put skill and desire, for any art, craft, profession or vocation. Bezalel didn't just wake up one morning as an adult with the great desire to be an artist, with all the necessary skills suddenly at his disposal. I am sure that this man pursued his vocation from childhood. He was trained as a craftsman and pursued the desire of his heart in creating beautiful things, both useful and decorative. When God called him by name to make the Art that was the Temple, he was by then fully capable of performing the task and further endowed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to guide him. This was all the convincing I needed to lay my burden down and take up my cross with joy and thanks-giving. Regardless of the state of the world, who will always reject Him (and me, if I am following rightly) and the ignorance and insensitivity of the Church, God Himself has given me His blessing to do that which I am impelled to do: Create Art! And that I do it with the heart of bringing Him Glory and to show His Beauty surely makes Him smile.