I am thankful to find writers all around who put into words principles that I experience in my work and contemplation. I found an unusual and ground-breaking book of theology and the arts entitled Found Theology: History, Imagination and the Holy Spirit by Ben Quash.
Because the book is a complex volume with many references to contributing disciplines this post is not a review of it. But I think it would be helpful to tell how I am responding to it and encourage you to get the book for your own immersion.
The Gift of History to Us Humans
Quash affirms my view of history as a progression of change in which we discover new truths building upon the “givens” from the past. The complexity of humans interacting, resisting, or cooperating with our given circumstances creates new “givens.”
He affirms the idea that time, space and circumstances (history) are a gift from the Cause which keeps it all flowing. How we handle that gift is our contribution, or resistance, to the overall growth that sweeps us along.
We are participants in, even collaborators with the progressing creation; this is not random, but a spiritual coinciding of the world milieu and our collaboration with it through faith and imagination.
The attempts of people to stop change, or to claim that their list of givens is final, universal and complete, denies that we as creatures are growing, awakening to more and more.
Quash studies three examples of humanity discovering new truths through people participating in the flow of their given circumstances.
Example 1: How Scriptures are Handed Down through the Centuries
Quash’s exploration of the first translation of the Bible into English illustrates the changes that take place in a people’s most revered “givens.”
Given circumstances in sixteenth century England caused people to demand scripture in the vernacular. At first illegally, translators made choices between English words which would interpret holy scripture with nuances previously not clear in the Latin.
Translators develop the abilities to apply equivalents in a different cultural viewpoint; not an exact science, but more of an interpretive art. Their choice of words does not have exactly the same nuance as in the original language and therefore opens new meaning in the adopted language. The cumulative effect developing through the minds of those in the new culture over time leads to different views and responses to the scripture, thus discovering new theology.
This implies to me that various peoples and cultures contribute their parts to a fuller view of God.
Example 2: Visual Art as Theology in Vittore Carpaccio’s painting “The Dead Christ”
The given circumstances of Renaissance Venice made references in the Church and among other artists to the scripture in the book of Job saying “… in my flesh I shall see God …” (Job 19:25-27). Carpaccio participated in this analogy through his imagination and artistic skill by treating the Old Testament character of Job as a New Testament saint sitting beside the body of the dead Christ. (Quash traces the intriguing detective story leading to attributing the work to Carpaccio and identifying the Job character.)
Carpaccio’s artistic treatment of the subject can be said to be prophetic, foreshadowing the surrealists. Theologically his painting is an icon to contemplate the mysteries of death, resurrection and eternal life. The innovation reveals new meaning and expands theology through the viewers’ experience of the painting.
Example 3: The Poetry of Henry Vaughan as Witness of Theology Found Elsewhere than in the Church
Henry Vaughan was an Anglican trying to live his faith in a repressive, exclusively Roman Catholic regime. These circumstances caused him to turn to nature for revelation. His poetry is a vehicle to convey mystical experience through language inspired by the natural world.
Quash references Genesis 28:16 in which Jacob says of a natural space where he received a revelation, “Truly the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.”
Vaughan’s poetry shows he had transcendent experiences in the natural world and is able to evoke in his readers similar experience. His imagination and poetic skill were employed to see analogues and parallels of his “given” theology in the world beyond the prescribed “sacred places.” Fresh perspective and, indeed, revelation resulted.
The On-going Creation
All of this implies that both the communicator of discovered truth and the receivers (audience) are in a sort of collaboratory/conversational quest through circumstances where necessity pushes them to grow into new understanding. Bible translators, artists and poets take what they have been given and make a responsive expression with which their receivers (audiences) dialogue for the making of a new set of givens. Quash points out that this flow can be characterized as the Spirit of God opening truth as a building of New Creation.
Choosing to Flow Ahead
To me this is a call to take initiative to choose the quest of discovery through the means I have received (art, film, poetry, story, theater) and to call others into the quest for the givens which each of us can contribute. In this we can have the faith that God is leading and providing what we need in order to know God more and more.
This is why conversation in and around the artistic presentation is so integral, why community is indispensable to the artistic endeavor, why I urge myself and others to follow through with the publishing or exhibition of our offerings.
Each of us as creators can choose to contribute to the maturing of humanity.