Erehwon: Fiesta II Exhibition Statement
“C.S. Lewis spoke of a ‘secret thread’ that unites every person’s favorite books, music, places, or pastimes. Certain things trigger an ‘inconsolable longing’ that gets you in touch with the Joy that is God.” -Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage
I first visited Japan in June of 2012 when I spent a month working with a student ministry in Tokyo. When I left, summer was about to begin, and while I’d just escaped the intense heat of the season, I felt as though I was missing so much more. I had a deep sadness but a hope in my heart as I returned home to finish my art degree that I would one day come back to Japan and be able to enjoy the summer season in its fullness. When I got an opportunity to teach in Sendai, Japan at the beginning of this year, I was beyond overjoyed. This year has been a time of adaptation, discomfort, humbling, and constant discovery. I have been gleaning insight about Japan and also about myself; allowing this process to inform my work. It is a narrative of longing and the hope for fulfillment.
Tanabata is a Japanese summer festival that Sendai is famous for throughout Japan. Rooted in the Chinese legend of the Weaving Princess and the Sheepherder, it is inspired by the metaphorical separation and movement of two stars, Altair and Vega, across the heavens and being “reunited” by the “magpies” of the Milky Way galaxy. Throughout the month of July and early August, outdoor festivals with food, drink, and fireworks are enjoyed by neighbors, family and friends. In businesses and other social hubs, bamboo is cut and placed where people can tie strips of paper where they write their wishes. Some are for sick family members to get well, others are wishes for good scores on tests or landing a desired job. Others are prayers.
As a Christian, the bamboo rising up in unexpected places throughout the city reminds me of the palm fronds that the people carried in Jerusalem, when Jesus came through on the foal of a donkey. The people were longing for a king to save them from the oppression of Rome, and they cried out “Hosanna”, or “Save us.” Others perhaps felt a different longing, perhaps for a humble shepherd to step in. Each piece I have made is a prayer painted, cut, pinned, or collaged with the hope of Christ’s work to be evident in my life; changing how I see the world, how I reach out to others, how I reach out to Him.
Tanabata is also celebrated with large, colorful paper streamers featuring intricate patterns and designs that are hung in the shopping arcades of the city. I’d been with my students on a trip in the Kansai region of Japan during the beginning of August, so when I returned to Sendai, I saw what was left of the streamers as they were taken down; they lay in dirty heaps as they were being tidily swept away and discarded. As striking as the streamers are in their beauty, their ephemeral nature reminds one that this season, this world, is swiftly passing away. All beauty we see here is a mere shadow of the beauty of eternity. Human relationships also work on a similar level. For instance, the potent example of marriage: As it is written,
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” -Ephesians 5:25-27.
As much as there is pain and disappointment in many marriages we see in the world today, it is remarkable that the God of the Bible chooses to speak of Himself and His earthly church in terms of Husband and Wife. Even as we are imperfect and passing away in this life, God sees His people as how He is transforming them. As an example of what this dynamic looks like in an earthly relationship:
“…Jonathan Edwards said that “true virtue” in any person– contentment, peace, and joy from the gospel–is beautiful. We have been exploring marriage as a means to help one another become the glorious, unique persons God is making us. Marriage partners can say, “I see what you are becoming and what you will be (even though, frankly, you aren’t there yet). The flashes of your future attract me.” -Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage
God Himself can see beyond who we have been in our past, who we are now presently, and what we will become, even into eternity. In His loving perfection, He is committed to our transformation, crossing the heavens to reach out to us.
“For the Church has no beauty but what the Bridegroom gives her; he does not find, but makes her, lovely.” -C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
“Jesus died not because we were lovely, but to make us lovely. He died, Paul says, to ‘make us holy’.” -Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage
The summer season is now drawing to a close. I have written my heart’s prayers on paper and tied them to the bamboo. Summer rain has washed my doorstep and watered the plant by my door. I’ve closed my eyes and laid down on the grass in the park and watched fireworks explode past the silhouettes of the trees with my friends, I’ve heard the cicadas shouting in the bushes right before the heat gets too intense; right before it rains. It is my seventh month here in Japan. The beauty of the seasons, of both nature and life, continue to overwhelm me. My prayer is that I keep my heart open to the pursuing heart of God, and that my life, as I lay it down before Christ each day, will be my wedding gift to Him.