Creating Encounter: Sculpture

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I have an unlikely ambition for someone as weak and disabled by chronic illness as I am; I should like to sculpt. I have ideas for wood, stone and bronze, that would be pieces of interactive art. I don’t know if they will ever be a reality, and if I ever did have the space and resources, it would be most likely that someone else would have to do the lion’s share of the work. Nothing is impossible with God of course, but some things do seem so far removed from likelihood as to be, not so much pie in the sky, but as we say in our house, flan on the moon.

What is the appeal of sculpture, and how might we let God teach us through it? I think that the idea of carving a substance until it is exactly the shape it ought to be, the one we envisage in our minds or imaginations, is a great analogy for understanding how our Father shapes each one of us, if we will allow ourselves to be moulded by his artist’s hands. The Bible speaks of him as the potter, with us as the clay, and we can take great hope from this idea, knowing that when God throws a pot, no matter how it initially splats on the wheel, or how lopsided it might look during the spinning, when the master is done with us, we will be perfectly ourselves.

The same is true if we see God as the great sculptor, finding us as a slab of marble and hewing us into some kind of rough shape before chipping away and then smoothing us out into the shape that was hiding in the grain of the stone all the time. Michelangelo said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” as well as, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

Perhaps when we learn to see with God’s eyes we might be able to perceive the angel that is standing before us in the marble of our fellow human beings, and even occasionally to glimpse them in the mirror. For some reason, God has decided that our true selves are worth setting free, and however hard it is to let him keep on working upon us until that image arises out of the raw material, it will be worth it in the end.

Maybe we might even consider the work of kenosis or self-emptying as giving God free rein with the chisel, and accept that a great deal needs to be let go. Once our outer defences and ego are chipped away, maybe an angel might step out into the light. For God, that beautiful person was there all along, and the layers that trapped him or her, were no barrier to his sight.

For the first forty years of my life, I doubted there was a writer hidden away in me. For the first forty-four, I had no idea I was an artist. Do you think one day God might uncover the sculptress too? What wonders are hiding in you, that might be set free by heavenly hands chiselling away at your earthly rock?

 

Text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt Photo from Pixabay

On Not Being Perfect

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All serious spiritual seekers will carry some version of Jacob’s limp or Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.” It is often, but not always, physical, and it will show fully our weakness and humanity, at the same time as a deep well of grace. This is how we each carry the Christ wound.

For this reason alone, we should not look to the veneered teeth glinting in the spray-tanned face, but to the “scum of the earth” apostles (as described in 1 Corinthians 4), who preach God’s love from sickbeds, wheelchairs, poverty, crutches, depression and whilst admitting to their battle with alcohol, anger or jealousy. One of my favourite teachers, Brennan Manning, called us all in our loved imperfection, “ragamuffins.”

Broken preachers, who know their own brokenness well, who are unafraid of it, talk, not of their perfection, nor of how we might emulate them; but of how suffering and living in this hurting world can offer a gateway into knowing God and his unimaginable love. They know that instead of having reached the top of the ladder, they have learned how to stand at the bottom, holding it steady for others.

Jesus told us to “Be perfect therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect,” (Matthew 5:48 NIV) but before we gallop off into striving to be flawless, we should know that the word perfect here in the Greek is teleioi/teleios, the sense of which is much more about being mature and whole, literally “fully-developed,” than without fault. It is, as I understand it, an encouragement to be ourselves, to grow into completion, to be the best you or the best me that we can be. We can follow this instruction whilst still carrying an awareness of our sins and a desire to change.

Frequently the cross we each bear is the knowing of our own failings, and the resurrection life that we embody (crucially at the same time) allows God to shine through them. Like the risen Christ before Thomas, we can say, here, see for yourself: “Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” (John 20:27 NIV)   My wounds are real, our teachers say with Christ, but even more astonishing is the new life that God has given me through them, and not in spite of them.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt Photo from Pixabay