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Captivated by Illumination

And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands for us; yes, establish the work of our hands. – Psalm 90:17 – New King James Translation

I chose the title Drawing on the Edges because I have always been fascinated by storytelling, and with Christian artwork, especially the practice of Bible Illumination.  Scribes would quite literally draw on the edges of the scripture, creating beautiful pieces of artwork in everything from the ancient Book of Kells now held at Trinity College in Ireland, to the modern Saint John’s Bible on display in Minnesota. 

While I know it’s no real comparison: I was always the kid who had to sit in the school hall over and over for drawing on the edges of his homework, or buried in the pages of a comic book. I have always appreciated the moment when words become imagination… become art.  As a Christian, I think it’s amazing that the Word of God inspires our imaginings, and I believe there is much to be learned in that space.  I hope to encourage that kind of imaginative bible study in others, to introduce you to believers who imagine from scripture, and to deeply explore the Word of God together, even if we get sent to the hallway for it. 

Please enjoy some of the fun examples below.

This image comes from the Vanderbilt University Divinity Library: Art in the Christian Tradition. You can find the attribution here.

On the left is Rembrandt’s famous 17th century painting called The Prodigal Son. It’s a depiction of Christ’s famous parable from the end of the 15th chapter of Luke. The story of the lost son is the third in a series of tales of lost things (read the whole chapter and you’ll see). In the painting Rembrandt dresses everyone 17th-century-style (he brings the story into his timeline). This painter is a master of the use of light and dark, and this scene is well worth contemplation.

In fact, a Dutch priest from the Catholic tradition named Henry Nouwen wrote a fantastic book that explores both the painting and the parable. It’s called The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming. It is a blessing to read!

One thing many of us often forget is that this is a tale of two sons not one. They are both lost, but in very different ways. All the action is on the son who was dramatically lost and returned, but just barely in the background, almost invisible, is the son who has chosen to exclude himself from grace. So you have in both the story and the painting a child who is running to, and one who is hiding from the God-representing-father-figure… two experiences that are both strikingly common for anyone who walks the road of faith.

A very large thanks to a friend and colleague Rev. Mattheis Lorimor who not only shared permission to display this from his personal collection, but took the time to teach me its significance. Blessings on your continued studies Mattheis, and I look forward to reading a book from you someday!

An illuminated initial, one of those beautiful, oversized first-letter pieces of artwork that mark the beginning of a new section. While you see them in old Bibles a lot, this one is actually from a Gradual, (old-school book of responses and chants for a choir).

You get a close up here because this is from the late 15th century in Spain, and the art style connects you to some interesting history. It’s called the Mudejar style because the artwork is very Islamic, but the S is the beginning of a classic Christian choral line (in English: Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might… -straight from Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4).

In early 700 AD Muslim armies invaded Spain and kept a very strong presence there until 1492! Islamic art is geometric and calligraphic, not image-based (so as to avoid idolatry). It’s very different from your classic Christian artwork, but the Islamic style clearly inspired the artist who prepared their church choir to sing verses inspired by scripture.

Two churches ago I had the pleasure of working with a music director who knew Phil Keaggy, a true master of the guitar who I would later have the chance to watch perform, and I was in awe.

That same music director knew that I enjoyed progressive rock (largely because it tells a story and isn’t afraid to experiment). So, I was directed to a project that Mr. Keaggy did with another artist, Neil Morse.

It’s ambitious, it’s fun, and it’s an attempt to share the general story of the gospel and mankind’s relationship with God. Now, I’m happy to stack it up here next to these other examples of good Christian art because it’s very much a favorite album of mine, but I know music and art are subjective.

If you do not like electric guitar, crazy long songs and instrumental solos, experimental vocals, synthesizers, and rock mixed with sorta-classical music then you won’t like this album. There, you’ve been warned. But if you do like that kind of music (cause it’s awesome!), then this is a neat exploration of the consequences of sin and God’s redemption of humanity through Christ.

More Examples on the way, check back again soon.