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Christo, after the death of his wife, Jeanne-Claude
On the Sundays following the feast of the Epiphany (January 6), the western Church historically has focussed on God’s self-disclosure through nature. We find this theme expressed in the Epiphany Day Gospel featuring the visit of the Magi, or Wise Men, from the East. They followed the appearance of a star in the sky to find our Savior at his birthplace. Note how this contrasts with stories about guidance provided by the messages of angels, whether in dreams or as on occasions of personal divine revelation.
One of my favorite examples of this theme can be found in some verses by the Anglican priest, theologian, and poet, John Keble, for a Sunday in this Epiphany-tide:
When souls of highest birth
Waste their impassioned might on dreams of earth,
He opens Nature’s book,
And on His glorious Gospel bids them look,
Till, by such chords as rule the choirs above,
Their lawless cries are tuned to hymns of perfect love.
In my next two posts on this blog I will feature the landscape-based artwork of Andres Amador, as well as that of Christo and his late wife and collaborator, Jeanne-Claude. Amador is known for his ephemeral raked sand projects, and Christo with Jeanne-Claude are remembered mainly for their draped or wrapped fabric installations. Though the work of these three has taken very different forms, they have demonstrated a common and notable commitment to environmental sensitivity despite the fact that their projects have involved only temporary alterations of various landscapes or structures.
Among agnostic, secular, and even atheistic artists, many seem to recognize the power of the sublime in Nature. But also notice how even the pious John Keble – with his high sense of the authority of Scripture – was willing to describe the natural world around us as God’s “Glorious Gospel,” and as “Nature’s book,” written by the divine Author of Creation.
I have no basis for evaluating whether there is any theological grounding for Amador’s, or Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s world-views. Partly because such is not suggested nor asked for. Yet, I find the work of these three artists not only aesthetically pleasing, but also as theologically significant.
Why? Because God is either everywhere present in reality, however we conceive of it, and whether we are conscious of it, or God is not. I am convinced of the ‘yes’ answer. And so, for me, God is surely the source of the Beauty everywhere present in the cosmos. For traditional believers, there is no place where God is not.
Beauty can be found in this observation itself. There may be a transcendent source for the abundant beauty we enjoy in the world, and in people around us. But if there is, it does not require us to acknowledge it. The beauty we find everywhere – God’s beauty, I say – stands for itself. Remarkable!
Once again, I wish to credit my friend and former colleague, the Rev. Ralph McMichael, Ph.D., for his succinct and helpful delineation of ways of understanding the relation between nature and grace, in his teaching and writing. In this regard, his essay, significant to me within the book he edited, Creation and Liturgy: Studies in Honor of H. Boone Porter, continues to be very helpful. He is also the author of The Eucharistic Faith, a first volume of a new Eucharist-based systematic theology.