I am re-reading Luci Shaw’s book, Breath for the Bones, because I was invited to take part in a church youth group experience exploring the work of an artist. I wanted to help the young people think about how art and faith connect. Shaw poses two questions in the forward of her book, “How does faith inform art?” and “How can art animate faith?” I love these questions and have been pondering them now for a month.
In her chapter on metaphor, Shaw writes: “Truth is a touchy topic, a daunting word….Because of its disconcerting abstraction, its largeness and inscrutability, we must choose symbols to make it seem more manageable, more concrete, more complete, more than simply propositional.” p. 40
Here are a few vignettes about a week punctuated by metaphor helping me think about truth:
The Sunday before last I finished a delightful book titled The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating: A memoir, written by Elisabeth Tova Bailey, who became bed-ridden for a time by a strange viral illness. The unwelcome gift of a land snail became a surprising metaphor for the author as she educated herself about this small guest during her convalescence. June rains have brought these amber colored creatures with their “Cinnabon” shells to my own sidewalks and now that I know more about them, I find myself stooping in puddles to contemplate what they might teach me.
On Wednesday I decided at the last minute to attend our mid-week church service. I hopped on my bike and journeyed safely over side walks through the 5 o’clock traffic to arrive a bit breathless but just in time. As I sidled into a pew and took a breath to calm myself I noticed the communion table was lined with ceramic mugs of every shape, size and color – and a few were broken. Songs and liturgy about clay and potters and vessels themed the evening. After the service I sat for awhile on the stair with a friend’s daughter. She is a special needs girl adopted from Guatemala. I asked her which ceramic piece she had chosen to identify with that night. She pointed to a broken cup and although she is difficult to understand, I listened carefully as she explained why. Metaphor speaks to even the youngest among us. I rode my bike slowly home thinking over our conversation.
Sunday came around again along with the parable of the sower and the mustard seed. In his desire to challenge us to listen with new insight to this well known story, our pastor shared that the idea of planting a mustard seed was actually akin to us planting Scotch Broom in our back yards – a weed recently deemed noxious by our state. He carried the metaphor further by asking us to compare ourselves to “dumb weeds” – those that grow tall and showy but with shallow roots or to “smart weeds” – those that grow close to the ground with deep and permeating roots. A group of us gathered afterwards to share our response to the service; the power of the various metaphors supported these people with disparate backgrounds to communicate ideas and feelings with each other.
Later, I finally attended the youth meeting I mention above. Together we watched a video of the Scottish Eco-artist, Andy Goldsworthy, work his magic on a landscape. While only a few of these students considered themselves artists, they were each involved in some hobby or activity and were able to relate to Goldsworthy’s expertise and enterprise. Shooting hoops, playing the cello, acting in plays all demand a kind of skill which they could equate to creating art. These thoughtful students shared their perceptions on his work and pondered the questions I presented from Luci Shaw’s book. Once again, metaphor opened windows to wonder and understanding.
I’m almost done with the fabric art piece I started a few months ago. It is a metaphorical piece but it is still working on me – so I will wait to write and share about it.