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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Rivers of Grace 2

Today I'm reading Genesis 2:10 "A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters." And Ephesians 2:8 "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—"

Are you familiar with the work of artist Mako Fujimura? I mentioned him last week in trying to understand Rob Bell’s artistic spirit in exploring theological issues. He is an internationally recognized artist who combines classical training in a Japanese art style called Nihonga with abstract expressionism. But his personal history is what he explores in his book “River Grace” which gave me the title for this week’s blog

Though American-born, Fujimura spent most of his childhood in Japan. He spoke little English when his family returned to the States at age 13. His teacher, seeing that he could draw but had difficulty understanding the lessons, let him make art projects related to what the class was learning.

He writes: “I distinctly remember one day working on a bulletin board image of George Washington crossing the Delaware river on a horse. My teacher, in encouragement, brought other teachers around to show them my work. That day, a lady, a substitute teacher, came by, took one look at the bulletin board, turned to me, and said, "You can't waste God's gift, can you?"

Mako would become a Christian later in life, but at the time was not religious. He continues: “I wonder if a comment like this in a public school today would get a teacher in trouble. I am amazed that I can remember her face, her tone, and her face very clearly, despite having understood very little English at the time. You can't waste God's gift. Even then, such a statement did not seem odd to me. I was given a gift, and I can't waste God's gift. (pg 13, River Grace) These words were reflected back to me in “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron, a spiritual guide to nurturing creativity. She writes, "Creativity is God's gift to us. Using our creativity is our gift back to God." (Makoto Fujimura, Charis, 2008)

Using our gifts is a gift back to God. Every parent understands this. When you give a gift to a child you want him/her to use it! That wooden drum is wasted if it sits by the toy bin. The child’s play conveys appreciation. His/her enjoyment is a gift back to the parent. How beautiful that God enjoys our enjoyment of the gifts He's given us. That use of our creativity is not an exercise in vanity, but an appropriate response to having received it. Using our creative gift is not the only way to give back to God. There are other priorities that need our attention. But let's not waste God's gift. Let's play with it, develop it, refine it - as our gift back to Him.

P. S. Mako was a member of our church (PCNP) until he moved his family into NYC; and we supported his work in developing the International Arts Movement. Here’s another quotation about his show in which he featured “River Grace.”

I just received a fax from a museum curator in Japan. I had sent him a box of catalogs from this show. He asked me, "What does grace mean? Can you explain it to me so I can relay your thoughts to other curators?" I have to fax back to him and tell him that there is not really an appropriate Japanese word for it. There are words similar to grace, but nothing that conveys its full meaning. Then when I thought about the word "grace" in English, I realized that we do not fully understand the word either. Often this word seems "Hallmark" sweet. I have, in the past two years as I prepared for this show, delved deeper into the meaning of this word and found the word to be both practical and complex. Such a search allows us to ask some of the most important questions in life. An artist strives to get at the essence of things; whether they be trees, experiences, flowers or landscapes. The more one understands what this word has to offer in its depth, its reality, the more one realizes how much we do not understand or grasp. You can only get at an infinitesimal portion of this great reality. I have tasted this bittersweet reality of what grace means. This is a heavenly word; it forces us to seek the transcendent, but at the same time this word affirms earthly reality as it is, sometimes grim, sometimes glorious."

If you like art you should spend some time browsing his web-sites. You may learn something about rivers and grace.


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