On Monday I had the opportunity to visit the Painting the Modern Garden exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art. As I walked through the exhibit, filled with impressionist paintings, I thought about how all art is in reality impressionistic. All art even the most realistic photographs are simply artistic representations of reality, meant to show us what the artist sees and hopefully move our emotions as the artist was moved. Mulling this over, I stood in front of a work by Van Gough and it struck me, “On more than one occasion in my life I have been told that I do not live in the real world.” For various reasons people have looked at me and told me that I was not operating in the real world, I expected too much from myself or others, I gave people too much credit, I thought people better than they were, and the list goes on. Very often this kind of criticism has been directed at me in response to religious convictions and/or heritage. People seem to think that I have lived a very insulated life and that if I were just exposed to the “real world” my impressionistic idealism would fade away. As much as I respect impressionist painters, I recognize their work is (intentionally) hazy and vague. And though I do enjoy impressionistic art today it embodies a more negative character.
All belief structures are like art, constructing a perception of reality some are more realistic than others. Proper worldviews (like photos) are more realistic and less impressionistic. More photo-like pictures of reality are desired and more impressionistic are to be rejected. What I have come to realize is that it is not me living in the impressionistic dream world, it is those who believe mine to be insulated and naive. People have assumed that my religious upbringing has insulated me from the greed, selfishness, hatred, and hostility present in the real world. They assume that I cannot relate to people because I live in a bubble with no problems, full of love and harmony. To some extent they are right about the bubble; however, what I am coming to learn is that such hatred and selfishness are not real. Reality is founded and found in God and such conditions are not natural to God; God is not a selfish vindictive person, bent on personal gain. Therefore, such mindsets are not real, they are like grey shaded images in a painting. The bubble in which I try (with varying degrees of success) to live my life is the real world, it is the place creation was meant to be.
Today is Epiphany, a time when we celebrate the appearance of God in Jesus, and remember our transformation in baptism. This transformation was meant to produce in the believer a new ability to see the world as God sees the world. We were meant to wake up from the dreamy impressionism of what we knew, and walk into the world with our own eyes. If this is the case, then those who truly seek God are the only ones with MINDS AWAKE, we are the only ones who can see the world as it truly is. We must set about to waken others, to this new world of life, and light, and love. We must begin to look at the whole of creation as genuinely good and seek to remove the unnatural distortions from it. At Epiphany the divinity of Jesus shines through and we are called to remember our transformation, that we now live in the real world, a world ruled by God, a world without selfishness and hatred. At our core we be in empathy for those who do not live in this world, but, cling to their dark illusions. Epiphany is a call to action to move out of the hazy and vague and in to the photo realism of God’s creation. Today we should begin to be less “Cathedral” by Jackson Pollock and more Notre Dame.