So, I’m Christian, and I love great, beautiful things. You know: music, books, paintings, movies, and even capital-A Art. But as a Christian, this is difficult: on the one hand you have the great quantity of Christian Art (Contemporary Christian Music, Christian Novels, Christian Devotional Paintings — you know what I mean) that is just badly done. It is preachy, or one-dimensional, or uses God like a chew-toy to keep the pets quiet.
And, on the other hand, there’s so much mainstream art that sees God as the idol that must be smashed (or rebuked, slandered, dunked in urine — again, you know what I mean).
What is attractive, then, is to find a place such as IMAGE, a journal edited by Gregory Wolfe, in which art is valued, and especially art with a religious… scent. In much of what IMAGE publishes, God is not so much seen, as smelled, touched, or glimpsed.
A great example of this comes in a short story entitled The Sparrow, written by the excellent novelist Ron Hansen, and published in the recent 20th anniversary issue of IMAGE. In the story, a young boy named Aidan deals with the death of his mother. The pieties that are spoken to him help him so little, and in one scene, Aidan works up the courage to go talk to the priest. The young assistant pastor answers the door, and they sit down to talk.
“And you’re wondering why she died?”
The priest’s right elbow was on the arm of the chair and his right cheek was against his knuckles, as in a book-jacket photograph illustrating wise consideration. “The psalmists asked it long ago,” he said. “Why do the evil prosper? Why do the innocent suffer? Why, when a loved one is dying, doesn’t God intercede? Those are philosophical questions and they fall under the category called ‘theodicy.’”
“I’m just twelve,” Aidan said.
The twelve-year-old points out what is true of everyone. How helpful is philosophy when your Mom dies? In another scene, Aidan gets up in the night and sees his father “weeping so like a child that Aidan himself wept with him.” Beneath it all, the child and the man are the same, both needing to draw near God, but finding that thoughts, whether platitudes or theodicies, are not strong enough. Thought alone will not bring you to the Mystery.
Somehow tears, stories, nature, and perhaps even sparrows can bring one to God. This is much of what IMAGE is about: highlighting and encouraging people who open us to the Mystery of God through story, film, music, poetry, painting and other skills. They are skills that take us beyond processes, beyond logic, and spill over into the gracious world of symbol. So think about it: if you have the patience to sit and read an occasional short story or a poem that might open you to God, think about picking up IMAGE.