Saturday, 5 December 2009

art and Christianity meme

I’ve been tagged by Jonathan and Paul with the following meme:

To list an artwork, drama, piece of music, novel, and poem that you think each express something of the essence of Christianity and for each one explain why. Then tag five other people.

1. Artwork: Christ carrying the Cross – Stanley Spencer.

Christ & Cross I’m fascinated by what Spencer was trying to do in his paintings. In this work a diminutive Christ is shown carrying his cross through Cookham High Street and for me it suggests Jesus going about his work, fulfilling his vocation, surrounded by others going about their work. Some of Spencer’s work is seen as controversial because of the way he portrays Christ, but I think he is identifying something of the essence of the incarnation.

2. Drama: Babette’s Feast – Gabriel Axel

A wonderful film exploring both the dangers and the glory of the Christian faith. The film portrays the impact of grace on individuals and community with a beauty and richness I haven’t seen equalled in any other drama. A remote community has become desiccated by its commitment to a faith which is austere, ritualistic, legalistic and devoid of the love that should be at its heart. Into their midst comes a refugee who through an act of amazing generosity brings them back to the joy and wonder which should be the essence of the gospel. (Best watched in the original language with subtitles).

3. Music: Grace – U2

Some of U2’s best work has an edginess and ambiguity that forces one to reflect on the tensions and struggles of life and faith. At other times Bono’s lyrics play it straight as he sings in an open confessional style that some find embarrassing, perhaps because people are uncomfortable with the challenge. A recurring theme for Bono is the contrast between Karma and Grace and this song moves towards the essence of grace in a style reminiscent of Old Testament Wisdom literature.

4. Novel: Quarantine – Jim Crace

quarantine This was the most difficult part of the meme and in the end I went for a book that I found disturbing, challenging and yet with the possibility of hope and redemption. The story is about a small group of people living two thousand years ago who for various reasons enter the Judean desert to fast and pray. In the desert they meet a Satan character and the range of human depravation is exposed in the searing heat of the wilderness. However, in the distance is another character, a Galilean healer fasting for forty days. Crace is an atheist who wrote this for to introduce his book to an American audience:

It would be a simple matter. Take a venerated Bible story (Christ’s Judean fast), add a pinch of hard-nosed fact (nobody going without food and drink could survive for anything like forty days) and watch the scripture take a beating. Quarantine with Science as its sword would kill Christ after only thirty days in the wilderness. There’d be no Ministry or Crucifixion. The novel would erase two thousand years of Christianity. This would be my party-pooper for the Millennium.

Indeed, Quarantine did slay Christ. But novels have a way of breaking loose from their creators. That’s why they’re fun to write. Science does not triumph unambiguously in the book. Faith is not destroyed by Doubt. Jesus does not let me kill him off entirely. Rather than having to endure the wrath of Christians, as I expected, I found that Quarantine had been received by many British readers as a spiritual and scriptural text, an enrichment rather than a challenge to their faith. What’s going on?

Crace remains an atheist, yet he hits on something important. Like much of the best Christian art, Christ is not presented as central but on the periphery and his significance is explored through the impact of his presence on others. Writing this meme reminds me that I need to go back and read Quarantine again.

5. Poem: Love (III) – George Herbert

I came across this poem in the middle of my finals paper on Theology and Literature. I’d never read it before and I had to contrast it with a poem on love by W. H. Auden. I kept reading Love through and then suddenly remembered that I had to get something down on paper. The poem is another example of art suffused with the theme of grace and like Babette’s Feast the image of a meal is central.

Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.

'A guest,' I answer'd, 'worthy to be here:'
Love said, 'You shall be he.'
'I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.'
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
'Who made the eyes but I?'

'Truth, Lord; but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.'
'And know you not,' says Love, 'Who bore the blame?'
'My dear, then I will serve.'
'You must sit down,' says Love, 'and taste my meat.'
So I did sit and eat.

Well this meme was a real challenge and I’m sure that if I did it again in a year’s time it would come out quite differently.

I tag David Keen, David Lewis, Maggi Dawn and anyone else who would like to have a go.


Archdruid Eileen said...

Love the snow!

Archdruid Eileen said...

And with you on Spencer as well. I've spent many happy weeks in Cookham. Mind you, today Jesus would have been carrying his cross past umpteen stockbrokers heading into the City for the day.

maggi said...

phil, thanks... I'm just finishing a book on this subject so no time to blog... but when the MS is done I'll post a couple of highlights

Jonathan Evens said...

Excellent choices, as expected. You've reminded me that I must watch 'Babette's Feast'. Spencer, Crace, U2 and Herbert - all wonderful.