On Monday, when Debbie wondered aloud - well, in print - why a person would create anonymously, I thought of Michelangelo's Pieta. It is the only sculpture he ever signed. He was twenty-four, a new, lesser-known artist.
Look at it - surely this was the most brilliant thing he had yet created, the work that would make him famous.
Can you see him hanging back, anonymous among the viewers, not many days past its unveiling? He listens to the chattered exclamations: Brilliant! Astonishing! The flesh so real it breaths. The emotion in Mary's upturned hand.
He smiles to himself. The crowd loves it. Loves him.
He wants to hear them say his name. He asks a passerby, "Who made this masterpiece?"
"I'm not sure," comes the reply. "But I think it is Cristoforo Solari."
"Oh yes," says someone else. "It is certainly Solari."
Perhaps that very day Michelangelo adds one last touch, a signature on the sash across Mary's chest:
MICHELANGELO BUONARROTI, FLORENTINE, MADE THIS.
Later he feels ashamed for having done it. It's 1498, and typically, sacred art is not signed. It exists to bring glory not to its creator, but to The Creator. It is an act of worship, and the artist's dearest hope is that it is a contagious act of worship.
Want a modern example of how such art can function?
The other five authors of this blog gave me a gift of The Four Holy Gospels, published by Crossways, illumined by Makoto Fujimura. I can't tell you how lavish, how beautiful it is - or how happy I am for this breakthrough in the Christian world's attitude toward art that can't be fully grasped in a microsecond.
Neither can I express what an experience it is to read. In Matthew, where John cries out in the wilderness, "Make his paths straight," Fujimura has painted three parallel lines in red and gold and blue dotting down the page - a straight path. That path continues on the following spread, but on the next one, when the Pharisees complain that Jesus is healing on the Sabbath, the three lines get tangled and fade to gray. A page later that gray becomes a chain where Jesus confronts the Gadarene demoniac. But then the demoniac is delivered, and the chain unravels to three straight lines in red and gold and blue.
Imagine how I meditated, page after page, on the meaning of that path. It affected me in ways I can't put to words. It made me worship.
Could you do that with a novel? Can a story be considered sacred art? I think it has been done, in novels where the theme, or as I've heard it put in workshops, "the takeaway," is something that can't be grasped in a microsecond. It's not about what the reader can "take away," its more about what he longs to give. It's not that coming to Jesus will put your life in order. It's that he is beautiful. He is poetry. He is holy, and wholly astonishing. Didn't our hearts burn within us? Who wants him to tidy our small worlds if we can follow into his explosion of grace?
We Christian writers are often uncomfortable being labeled as such. After all, we don't talk about Christian plumbers as if they should have their own section of the phone book. (Perhaps its that separate section of the bookstore that irks us most.)
What if we thought of our work as sacred art? Not a job we do like any working-stiff author, but an act of worship that can spark an epidemic? Wouldn't that lend a meaning to the words, "Christian Fiction" that we can embrace?"
I so want to see a new Renaissance. Isn't this the time?
Care to be part of it?
Please talk. We love to read what you have to say.