Sunday, February 16, 2020

Transfiguration and Sinai: Have You Looked at Clouds This Way?

In Exodus 24: 4-18, Moses goes up on the mountain to receive the law and commandments on tablets of stone. A cloud covered the mountain for six days. In Matthew 17:1-9, the disciples (along with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah) are on a mountain when they are overshadowed by a bright cloud. Did you picture a too-bright white cotton candy cloud for the Matthew reading? And maybe boiling, seething dark clouds flashing with lightning for the Exodus passage?

Clouds are amazing things. Clouds are actually collections of water droplets so light that they can float. Fog is a cloud at ground level, so if you've been enclosed in fog, you've been enclosed by a cloud. When I was growing up my siblings and I looked forward to the "fog machine" driving through our neighborhood about suppertime in the summer. We dashed out the door to be hidden in the fog, running around trying to find - or not find each other, enjoying the temporary thrill of being hidden in the cloud. The fact that the "fog" was actually spraying DDT to control mosquitos...well...
John Constable. Cloud Study, Sunset. c. 1821. Yale Center for British Art.
English painter John Constable studied clouds, creating approximately fifty studies of clouds and sky between 1821 and 1822. He looked at their color and shape, the relative position to the horizon and the land, and the possibility of rain (or not). The studies were painted on thick paper, and the artist wrote meterological data like wind direction and temperature and time of day of the backs of the drawings. They look like the clouds we see in the sky.

Mark Leonard considered those cloud studies and created a geometric interpretation of those very organic clouds. How does your perception of the clouds change when they are twisted into a rope, as below? Could disciples get lost in this cloud? Does the twist image help you better understand God's continuing work through Hebrew scripture (Moses and Elijah) AND Christian scripture (Jesus)?
Mark Leonard, Constable Study I. 2011. Collection of Mark Leonard.
You can see additional comparative images of Leonard and Constable's work here. Do we need fluffy clouds for the stories of Moses on Sinai and Jesus' Transfiguration? 

For additional thoughts on the Transfiguration, click here or here.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Deuteronomy 30.15-20: Choosing

I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life... (Deuternonomy 30:15-20) Two choices. Who wouldn't choose life? Blessings are much better than woes. But it usually doesn't work that easily, does it? Somehow when two roads diverge in a wood, yellow or otherwise, there isn't always a sign that says, "Don't want woes? Take the other way!"  Sometimes the way to woes seems more enticing than the way to blessings. Or maybe we imagine that the way to woes will eventually curve around to blessings, because look how pleasant this way looks. The choice is sometimes harder that it might seem.

The moment of choice is sometimes characterized as standing at a crossroads. With multiple ways to go, which will you choose?
Image from ReMastered: Devil at the Crossroads. Courtesy of Netflix.
Blues musician Robert Johnson (b. 1911) wrote, sang, and played the blues, though not very well at first. Playing for tips on street corners, Johnson sought out musicians like Son House to teach him how to play. In the early 1930s, Johnson disappeared for about a year from the juke joints and house parties that were home to music and musicians playing the blues. When Johnson reappeared, his playing had unnaturally improved. And the legend arose: Johnson had gone to the crossroads* and sold his soul to the devil in exchange for the ability to play and sing the blues better than anyone. And he did. By all accounts that midnight choice at the crossroads led to the skill and fame that were promised, but it didn't solve Johnson's problems. Not by a long shot. In 1938 Johnson became a member of the 27 Club.

Life or death. Blessings or curses. Prosperity or adversity. When you stand at the crossroads, which will you choose? Who will you choose?

* Two different crossroads are identified as the site of Johnson's bargain: the intersection of Hwys 49 and 61 in Clarksdale, MS, and the intersection of Hwys 1 and 8 in Rosedale, MS. 

This week on Art&Faith Matters on Facebook, a contemporary photographer takes a look at people at a crossroads. (Yep, those are stormtroopers...) 

For thoughts on I Corinthians 3:1-9, click here.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

New Indexes

Finally! There may be some adjustments still to make, but we have been working on a scriptural index for Art&Faith Matters posts. If you look above the date of this post you'll see tabs for Hebrew scripture, Christian scripture, and the liturgical calendar. The scripture tabs are self-explanatory. The calendar tab is for posts that may look at a particular day in general (multiple Gospel versions of Jesus praying in Gethsemane, for example).

We hope this will be helpful for you.