Posted by: Mark Nielsen | November 3, 2011

God the Gambler, Part Deux: He Puts His World in OUR Hands

From the Russian Orthodox icon tradition – the “hand of blessing”, with fingers representing “ICXC” (abbreviation of Gk. “Jesus Christ”)

More on “images” and the faith/art relationship (or how God entrusts us to keep the Creation going):

1) As some readers here know, I have taught interdisciplinary fine arts in the past, with both kids and adults. My deepest passion is for my life, family, planned events, and personal/professional offerings to all be canvasses on which God paints. Furthermore, Spirit-filled intention and activity to mentor and equip others– both as co-creators with God, and as growing persons who are still being created, or “painted upon” by the Divine Hand — is my idealized view of how religion relates to human, economic, artistic and educational development.

Therefore I have this vague (for now) vision of a para-church, multi-discipline, broadbased nonprofit someday: a sort of hot-edged crucible from which God might speak — visually, verbally, poetically, musically, dramatically, three-dimensionally, cinematically, digitally [left for last on purpose].

In our fractured post-modern life and church, we simply are starving for regional or national spaces to repair the social fabric and build new forms of community. These spaces and efforts must be theologically generous and open-hearted, independent of one tradition or its narrow, monochrome picture of Jesus, … spaces where God can speak with God’s many strange and wonder-full voices. We wouldn’t have to completely agree with each other, as long as we all agreed with God (hows that for pie-in-the-sky?), and then used that as our starting place for love, unity and mutual respect.

What would we do? First off, we’d take calculated but faith-inspired risks, as all decent artists are naturally inclined to do –and as only a few theologians or pastors seem “free” enough to attempt, lest they lead people in some wrong direction. Their intellectual, didactic and dualistic “right/wrong” training makes them careful… which is okay I suppose, though perhaps they consequently lose track of the wilder, less predictable, or nearly un-knowable aspects of God’s nature. Theology and most teachers seek to convey certainty, while art is speculative, questioning and tentative by its very nature.

These artist/prophets would invite the Holy Spirit in, and maybe awaken a sense of beauty and God’s glory long-dormant in our increasingly competitive and fractured Western church experience. We’d collaborate on common projects, and begin to do the reconciling work that bean-counting pastors and theologians have not managed very well in several centuries of battling for supremacy.

 2) To go more specifically at the problem of the above image of Christ’s hand: I wrote the following comments today at a nice interpretive site about Christian icons. I’d gone seeking an answer to what that specific finger positioning above means.

Thanks much for this straightforward but Spirit-infused explanation. I saw the hand gesture recently in an icon, painted by a friend schooled in the Russian principles. I even had a moment of transcendence, a sort of blessing, through the icon (though I myself am not from Orthodox traditions, …more a post-Catholic mongrel open to various traditions, leaning Protestant but also mystical). My friend happened to be present a few minutes later, but she could not recall or articulate very well the points you make above, despite being a gifted painter.

The historical/philosophic way you address the Buddhist commonalities and differences is especially helpful. I sometimes wonder if the divine sense of “body/physicality/holy Creation” that both Orthodox Christian & Buddhist Spirit-seekers have (even slightly in common w/ yogis) is a spiritual gift forgotten by many “head-centered” believers reared in European-rooted beliefs and practices.

Though Jesus is the one Incarnation, perhaps any of His followers –via the Holy Spirit– have opportunities daily to incarnate or embody certain aspects of the divine nature. My own “hand of blessing” at times may be God’s instrument to bless myself and God’s world. Furthermore, my/our finger position may become richer with meaning (become sharper instruments) if I draw closer to God by mimicking the physical practices of our forefathers, who may have learned or sensed them from the Master Himself.

3) At the same Reading Icons site, click title in top bar for an entry posted this week (Oct 29th?), about a new archaeological find: a personal two-image (Jesus & Mary), necklaced-sized icon — a box, dug up in Old Jerusalem some months back. It is reported to be the oldest Christian icon for personal devotion discovered thus far, dated around the 8th century. Later icon painting was used and intended for use in churches by multiple people… not just the one owner that would have been using the small devotional aid in the report. So it bodes well for contemplative types, that such visual or “non-verbal” methods or supporting materials were in use so early… not idols or graven images, but artful and treasured reminders of unseen but deeply felt Truth and Love.

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