beyond “paint-by-numbers” faith and into impressionism

“Can you fathom the mysteries of God?
    Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?
 They are higher than the heavens above—what can you do?
    They are deeper than the depths below—what can you know?
 Their measure is longer than the earth
    and wider than the sea.”

Job 11:7-9
– writer Derek Maul and Geoffrey

This weekend, rummaging around for something else, I ran across this (above) framed drawing from the mid-1980’s. There’s a little glare from the glass but it’s not a bad representation of my drawing style at the time.

The house, which was situated in Athens, Georgia, is the one Rebekah’s dad Bob and his brothers (Pete, Charlie, and George) grew up in back in the 20’s and 30’s. GrandMary (the one with the Pound Cake recipe) still lived there when we got married, and I made the sketch for her after she went to Florida to be taken care of by Rebekah’s parents.

It’s interesting to me for a number of reasons. First, sketching was my primary vehicle for creative expression when I was younger. Most were given away as gifts, so I have no idea how many there are and if they even exist any more. Then, it does not escape my attention how hard I strived for realism. My goal was to make these pencil drawings look as close to exact as possible.

Today, if I delved into art again, I think I’d be more inclined toward impressionism.

– “Dover” by Turner

I think impressionism is more theologically correct, at least so far as spiritual truth correlates with my own experiences and understandings. The moment I try to capture something exact about God with clean, discrete pencil lines I am in danger of losing sight of so much more.

I am always suspicious when expressions of Christianity have all the appearance of a “paint by numbers” kit – all unquestioned dictates and easy answers. My relationship with God – the more mature my faith becomes – is becoming more Turner, Cézanne, Van Gogh, or Monet.

The more spiritually astute I become, the more my understanding of God grows into mystery. Typically, the closer we get to something the more detail we see, but with faith I find that the more I get to know God the less clearly the lines are drawn. In fact, the parameters tend to dissolve and what was once a two-dimensional pen-and-ink sketch becomes a billion indistinct, multicolored points of light in three, four, five dimensions and more.

Eventually, I imagine that I will become completely absorbed into God’s light, and mystery, and timelessness, and completeness, and I will see clearly. But I do not believe it will involve the kind of clarity we seek in order to make ourselves feel more comfortable; it will be a clarity of spirit, of devotion, and of knowing.



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