Last Christmas In Chicago my wife and I chanced upon something luminous. A sign above a ramp in Grant Park said, “Free art this way.” Walking up we found ourselves on the roof of the Art Institute of Chicago in the presence of a singular art piece called “Lunar” by Spencer Finch. A fit of curiosity overcame me, then a smile, and luminosity abounded.
As an artist Finch follows light as a primary subject. The science behind his work is pretty cool: check it out here. But it was his simple vision that thrilled me: build a vessel to ascend to the moon, capture moonlight, and return it to Earth for us to see and maybe even see by. Check it out—light on board. Awesome! Even cooler when it’s dark.
Being a student of the Bible and connoisseur of fine-food in Chicago, that afternoon over lunch my “Lunar” encounter brought to mind the Gospels in the Christian New Testament, which I believe call to memory and perception the original small step for a man and giant leap for humankind. The moon doesn’t actually shine, right? It merely reflects the light of the Sun. And can you actually capture light? Is that possible? Isn’t all light fresh light? Like that, a Gospel is not God; a gospel is a vessel trying to capture the light of God and return it to Earth for us to see, and maybe see by, especially when it’s dark. Check out the Gospels—light on board. Awesome!
The Gospel says God sent light into the world and the darkness did not overcome it, that Jesus is the light of the world and even at this great distance when we look at Jesus we see God shining forth, luminous and radiant. Because of Easter Christ’s light is always fresh; and that’s good news right now, especially at times like this when the moon is down and night seems long and very dark.
I’ll leave you with a favorite Celtic Christian prayer.
O Christ you are a bright flame before me
You are a guiding star above me
You are the light and love
I see in others’ eyes
Keep me O Christ
In a love that is tender
Keep me O Christ
In a love that is true
Keep me O Christ
In a love that is strong
Tonight, tomorrow and always
Blessings to you, that you may walk in light.
david gilliam, pastor, faith united methodist church, austin. for more about faith church, go here.
The Blues. What do you think of? Sadness. Depression. That great river of sound flowing up from the Mississippi Delta to Memphis to Chicago, on and on. I have a great love for blues music; but some friends mock me a little on that—”oh, the blues, you mean like: I’m tore down… lost my job… going down slow… born under a bad sign… hellhound on my trail… the thrill is gone… my baby left me… nobody loves me… high water everywhere… dark was the night, cold was the ground… cry, cry, cry.” Two things. First, those reflect real human experiences. Most people feel these things; too many of us experience them. I’ve known the blues; you? Second, blues music at its root expresses real blue feelings; but it wasn’t meant to leave us there. Ultimately, the blues lifts us out of the muck and mire of life. As the spiritual masters say, we must descend in order to ascend. That’s why I sing the blues.
It’s like the lotus flower (Nymphaea caerulea). Rooted in mud at the bottom of a pond or swamp, the lotus rises up out of the mud and the muck, spreading its leaves on the surface of the water, it’s bloom emerging above it all, pristine, beautiful. It’s no wonder the Buddha is often depicted seated on a lotus. To paraphrase the Buddha, we all experience blues; and we can all find a breath greater than the muck and mire of life.
In the Judeo-Christian songbook we hear the blues in the Psalms. Most of the songs-poems-prayers in the Book of Psalms are “laments.” Blues songs if ever there was. Human pain, suffering, struggle, hard times, bad luck, injustice–it’s all there. Their honesty is striking. And, if we listen, we hear the turning point as well, the faith that God hears our cries, knows our needs, and comes to raise us up. Read Jonah 2 for a class example.
And, who had more reason to sing the blues than Jesus of Nazareth. He took all the brokenness of the human world upon himself. He descended in order to ascend. He died and rose again. Good Friday, the brutal death of Jesus, is the New Testament’s most powerful blues expression; but God does not leave him or us there. Easter is God’s answer. I could name a thousand songs that express the rising, the gospel (Good News) God offers to all who know the blues. For one gospel taste listen to Patty Griffin’s recording of “Move Up.” Move on up, above and beyond the muck and the mire of life. This is my prayer for you.
Just another bluesman on the banks of the river,
Pastor, Faith United Methodist Church, Austin
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