Sunday, December 9, 2018

Zephaniah 3.14-20: Reassembled

Sing, O Zion! Shout, O Israel! Rejoice, O Jerusalem! It's all good news from the prophet Zephaniah (3:14-20). God has removed all judgments, turned away the enemies, taken away disaster, gathered the lame and outcast, and dealt with all oppressors. Perfect. Everything is perfect, will be perfect. Just as it was before. The people have been restored to the land, and the land has been restored for the people. Their fortunes will be restored before their eyes.

But does it come back together exactly as it was before? I wonder sometimes if in reassembling, things don't fit in exactly the same way that they did before. God may be able to see people as justified and therefore no different than they had been before. But what happened to the people who were being gathered again because they had been "away from home"? Did they see things the same way as those who had been at home all along? Were they exactly the same people as they were when they left? Would they fit back in exactly as they had before?

In some ways, early Cubism was asking those same questions. Could you look at an object (or person) from multiple viewpoints and reassemble those views into one 2-dimensional work of art? In that early phase, sometimes gathered under the title of Analytical Cubism, artists dissected people and things, looking at them from above and below, from front and back, fragmenting the whole into individual glimpses. All of those glimpses were then put into one work of art. A wine bottle was painted looking down into the bottle, looking up through the bottle and looking at the side of the bottle as it sat on a table. A person's face was shown in profile and full-front at the same time.

Could Picasso paint a realistic face? Sure. See his self-portrait below left. But sometimes it's the elements that have been fragmented and reassembled that tell the story most fully. His portrait of Dora Maar below right was painted in June of 1941. Because of his notoriety, Picasso was one of the few "degenerate" artists who were allowed to live (reasonably) unbothered during the Nazi occupation of Paris. What would it say for Picasso to have lived in the midst of such a human nightmare and paint a lovely portrait of a woman sitting in a chair wearing a hat?
Pablo Picasso. (Left) Self-Portrait. 1896. Musee Picasso, Paris.
(Right) Woman Wearing a Hat, 9 June 1941. Musee Picasso, Paris.
Surely her face, which looks both left and right as if anticipating (fearing?) a knock on the door, and her hands clenched almost claw-like on the arm of a chair better tell the story of the life she and Picasso lived in Paris at this time - a life that was punctuated on more than one occasion by visits from the Gestapo and by the loss of friends whose lives were taken by the occupying army. What she has seen, what she has said, how she lives, all of this has been changed by the circumstances in which she is living. The pieces of her are still there, but they don't look like they did at the beginning of the war.

The prophet Zephaniah calls on Israel to sing and shout and rejoice and exult because the Lord was in her midst. Rejoice, Israel - land and people, politically and religiously - because you have been reassembled. During Advent, Christians look forward to the day that is to come - a day when God is again Emmanuel, with us, in our midst - when creation is put back together, the broken places healed, the rough places a plain. But what will we look like on that day?

There are plenty of people who discount Picasso's work - all Cubist work, in fact - because it "doesn't look realistic." But it's important to remember that Picasso - the creator of the piece - knew what he wanted to say and show. And he knew how to reassemble the elements to make the statement he wanted. Our task isn't to tell the creator what to do (or not do). Instead it is to try to understand what the creator is saying as the pieces are reassembled.

For additional thoughts on reassembling pieces into a whole, click here.
For thoughts on Luke 3:7-18, click here.
For thoughts on maps of Jerusalem and the presence of God, see Art&Faith Matters' Facebook page here.

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