Heaven and Earth
It was an interesting task, a number of years ago, to pause and reflect on what was at the core or heart of my art. I had an exhibition coming up at Burrinja Cultural Centre in Upwey on the outskirts of Melbourne and needed to provide an artist's statement. As I pondered my artworks and what drew me to certain subject matter one key theme rose to the fore - that of heaven.
A little over a couple of decades ago, I experienced some very challenging health issues that came out of the blue. It was quite a traumatic time and I think the unseen scars will only fully heal once I reach my eternal home. (Like the hobbit Frodo's knife-wound, some wounds never fully heal until we reach the far green country.) I found it very hard to meditate on Scripture and to pray at the time but one thing that did bring God near (or me near to God) was slowly looking through the glossy pages of various country garden books - and I think, a book about hidden buildings of old London. The beauty of flowers, trees, lakes and exquisite architecture, interior design and furnishings spoke peace and hope to my hurting soul. As I gazed upon the images I found myself imagining what heaven would be like. My thoughts were filled not with wispy clouds and ethereal white robes but with rich, fragrant, earthy scenes: carpets of green velvet stretching across the landscape; cool, shimmering lakes surrounded by stately trees; song-filled forests rich with golds, ambers, silvers and reds. I imagined elegant buildings of various sizes with intricately carved woodwork, glowing stained-glass, long flights of inviting stairs and long tables laden with fine-fare.
A habit formed of thinking upon - imagining - heaven and its joys and beauties. Heaven became very real - like a far-off holiday destination that one has seen images of but not yet visited. As my health returned and the years swept by I came to see that there was a common thread in so many of the things that interested me personally. The movies, music, stories, buildings, decor styles and other things that most captivated me, in some way or other, had something of heaven's light, air and beauty about them. I've never been drawn to the usual fast-paced films and video games that many guys get into, I'd prefer to watch Grand Designs, enjoy a good British period-drama or read the Chronicles of Narnia (which are packed full of heavenly imagery). Heaven seems to show up in these things for me - like bonus features that take you behind the scenes. The furniture in my house and the teapots and tea-cups that adorn the shelves, not to mention the plants in my garden and the goldfish in my pond, all direct my thoughts to the life to come when our broken, withering and frail lives will be immersed into eternal beauty, creativity and fellowship.
Heaven and beauty are inseparable companions. I believe that when we behold beauty on earth we are tasting something of heaven and the life to come. We are looking into the very mind of God. Symmetry, colour, harmony, texture, pattern and tone - all the aesthetic laws woven into the fabric of the universe - speak the language of the Great Designer. When God spoke the earth and all it fullness into being, He spoke the beauty of His dwelling place and glory into every nook and cranny. He knew this earth and its inhabitants would be corrupted and pass away but in His divine goodness, mercy and grace He gave the hope of heaven - a restored, enlarged and improved Eden - in the flowers of the fields, the birds in the forests, the rising and setting sun, the streams of fresh, cool water and the hidden treasures in the snow. Adam and Eve knew that God would send a deliverer one day. Abraham looked beyond his days to the Great City - the New Jerusalem - that would be his permanent, eternal dwelling. The prophet Isaiah foretold of new heavens and a new earth and the Apostle John saw them in his vision - a flawless, pristine and glorious earth; a mighty, sparkling city decorated like a bride adorned for her husband; a river flowing from the Throne of God with the Tree of Life bearing its fruit on the river's banks. The Carpenter of Nazareth - the very Son of God - told His friends that He was going to prepare this place for them (and for all who would follow Him) and promised to come again one day to take them home. Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven - fully God and fully Man. He did not cast aside His earthly body but rather His body was transformed - made fit for heaven - a real Man able to eat, touch and be touched and able to build and create with His very hands - His nail-pierced hands. The message for us mortals is that the earth and the heavens and all their goodness are shadows or prototypes of the real earth and heavens that will be the true eternal dwelling place for all who follow Jesus. When I bite into a scone laden with jam and clotted-cream and sip a cup of tea from a fine tea-cup, when I swim in a cool lake or stream or walk through a shady, fragrant forest, when I smell a rose or gaze at an architectural wonder I am getting a foretaste of the goodness, loveliness, glory and joy of the life to come.
So, back to my artist's statement. The key phrase that I used then and continue to use now is:
"In my artworks I seek to capture those moments when heaven and earth meet and the soul is refreshed."
This is what attracts me, consciously and unconsciously, to certain subject matter for my artworks. If there isn't something about a place or thing that has a hint of heaven about it then I am reluctant to capture it. Every artist has their own area of focus - and my focus is on heaven and its rays that fall upon the earth and that assure us of a much brighter, greener future when Christ takes us Home.
I wonder what your area of focus is - what it is that drives you to make art, decorate cakes, landscape your garden, take photographs or decorate your home in your own unique way? May I encourage you to keep your eyes out for heaven's rays in the things you pursue, the places you go and the things that you create. And may I encourage you to consider bringing more of heaven's bright hope into your little part of the world so that you and those around you may be refreshed. One day we shall step into a new heaven and a new earth and in this bleak and troublesome time that we live in we could all do with frequent reminders of the glory to come - just over the hill-top - just around the corner. Our forever Home with our eternal Friend. Be blessed my friends!