Have an Artistic Summer

If you happened to be very observant for about 6 days in April, you might have noticed a layer of light green-yellow leaves budding from once bare trees lining the Chicago neighborhood streets. This fleeting phenomenon called “spring” signals a few things, seasonal produce such as the garlicky green-leaved Ramp among them. This onion-cousin from which the city derives its name is the delight of chefs and food bloggers nationwide, and the over-hyped, hard to find “maybe next year” purchase for casual home cooks like myself. More so, Chicago spring – or the few days in transition between winter and summer – signals new life, freedom and joy.

Ever thought about it this way? What we’re looking forward to – warmth/sun/friends/fun, beach, pool, patio, rooftop, festivals, sliding into those slip-on Vans for the first time (you think I’m stepping out into slushy wet streets in these?) – is an experience of freedom from the bondage of short days/long nights, frigid temps, restrictive snow, slushy wet streets, cutting cold winds, grey skies, seasonal depression and bad sweaters (ironically). Well, at least I got to wear my duck boots. And of course the joy of liberation, free to be outside soaking rays, not afflicted by the weather but “blessed” by it. Excess humidity notwithstanding, something about warm sun is life-giving and so we feel more “alive” in summer, especially after our famously long, tough winters. Could any of us survive in Alaska?

Along with the seasonal “death to life” transition comes a heightened sensory experience of all things visible and beautiful. I certainly love the beauty of a grey day, a rainy day, a snowy day, a night, however I don’t prefer these things in the long run. A grey day may satisfy your soul, particularly if you’re from the UK, however the bright warm sun makes one radiant, as if it were God’s very face shining on you. Around 1,500 years before Jesus was born, Moses experiences this literally after receiving the 10 Commandments: “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand…(he) did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God” (Exodus 34:29).

The very next few chapters in Exodus show God’s call on certain individuals to build his Tabernacle, the place representing his physical presence among the people (later fulfilled in Jesus and then his Spirit in the church body). More than this, they show God’s filling certain individuals “with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs…”

God’s face shines on his people and they shine. He then fills them with his very own Spirit to artistically design his dwelling place and everything inside, right down to his personal choice of “blue, purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen.” God is in the details! He meets with his people and artistry flows. In fact the very nature of “artistic design” is an expression of God’s goodness! He is beautiful, therefore his “house” will be beautiful. You want to visit there and stay a while. Even forever. And you can in Christ, by his Spirit through whom the church is a “spiritual house” for God, full of something far more beautiful than “mere” artistic interior design: a changed heart that lives for Jesus. And since the human heart was made for Jesus, this is the only true freedom. Art equals freedom.

Since therefore God is an Artist, his entire creation shows artistic design, and for us never more so than the brilliant Chicago summers full of light and warmth and saturated colors…and liberation. If you’re an artist, you know creating equals freedom; not creating suffocates the soul like the interminably long, cold winters have a tendency to. You were made to make art, like the individuals called to construct the Tabernacle. Making makes you feel free. Being made in God’s image makes each of us artists of some type, whether we see ourselves this way or not. We’re still the beneficiaries of artistic design with tremendous creative potential built into our DNA. Making order out of chaos, making beautiful things, making people hope, think, feel…we’re all works of art, basically. And art serves the greater good. It’s an expression of our freedom in Christ from slavery to worldly systems, including cycles of violence. When Chicago summers are too often associated with the sound of gunshots in certain areas, art has the power to transform. More on that in a future post…

Even if your day consists of commutes and cubicles and collapsing in front of Netflix before going to bed, you’re benefitting from art. Whether it’s the shows you’re collapsing in front of or the extreme speed and dexterity of the omelette guy in your office’s food court, or even the way light and shadow seem to shift beneath the L tracks, they way they seem to lead your imagination beyond the end of the street into a far off place, an intriguing and ideal place where you’ve never felt more at home, never felt more free, never felt more like King David when he says, “Those who look to you are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed (Psalm 34:5),” you’re shining in some small way with the liberating light of the Creator, who is an Artist forever. Have an artistic summer, friends!

     By Andy Tommelleo, Pastor at Destination
(Photo credit: Andy Tommelleo)