This weekend is the first Sunday of Advent. Today is Thanksgiving in USA. I found the following article I wrote some years ago that might serve as an appropriate meditation on this Black Friday Eve that seems the official beginning of the Christmas season in North America.
The life, and especially the birth and death, of Jesus Christ have been the subject of much art, both the laudable and the lousy, but Jesus as art? How is Jesus art?
I see the work of the artist as giving tangible shape and form to the intangible mysteries of existence. A picture, a sculpture, a song, a dance or a poem is a sign of something deeper, but art does not seek to define or control the mystery, just hint at it. This is why different people can experience the same piece of art in different ways. Each person “sees” something that is unique to their experience.
Art is for me a mystical and spiritual experience and yet it is always an embodied spirituality. All of the art forms are rooted in the earth: pigment, clay, water, wood, stones, bodies [made from the earth according to the story of Genesis], voices, instruments of wood and metal… These tangible earthy forms are signs of deeper, yet elusive spiritual realities. These realities are very real but they cannot be commodified, boxed and marketed [although people have tried].
Empires throughout history have attempted to define and control those mysteries. Economic empires, political empires, military empires and religious empires have all had their turn at attempting to commodify, control, manipulate and manage the human relationship to transcendence. They have all failed. Yet human beings continue their quest to know “God.”
So let’s bring Jesus into this picture. The human Jesus, a living sculpture, is God’s masterpiece that gives us a glimpse into the depths of existence. Jesus is embodied Mystery, the true human. Jesus might be interpreted differently by everyone who takes a look at him, yet the “truth” still sneaks in. I think good art is that way—there’s always more than what appears on the surface.
This might be troubling to people who are caught in the clutches of various empires and they might cry things like, “Heretic! Fanatic! Scandalous!” but it is freeing to those who are open to being touched and transformed. Divine becoming human is the ultimate act of artistic subversion to the agenda of Empire. Jesus as a piece of “divine art” flies in the face of Empire because he is living and moving, an elusive tangible.
Religious and political empires have tried to define, control and even destroy this piece of art called Jesus; and the present Consumer Empire is making a profit from it [especially during so-called “Christian” holidays such as Christmas]. These Empires have caused some damage, but wounds only add to the beauty and the mystery. And the truth of the art is still there waiting to be noticed, pondered and wondered over.