Fourth Sunday After Epiphany

Travelers in Autumn Mountains by Wang Hui (Chinese, 1632–1717) — ink and color on silk scroll, 60 x 31 inches, 1679. Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery

January 30, 2022 Lectionary Texts – Year C
Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
I Corinthians 13:1-13
Luke 4:21-30

Friends, I am reaching outside the Christian tradition for a work of art this week. I do not subscribe to the belief God can only be found or heard or sought in the art of the Christian tradition. My view is one of common grace — ALL is available and at both our or God’s disposal for communicating and communing. There is no line between sacred and secular.
We are looking at the work of a master in the Chinese tradition of landscape art, Wang Hui. He began his training as a child. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all calligraphers/painters. It was tradition to learn by copying the masters (something Christian iconographers do as well). For this reason Wang Hui’s art has been dismissed over the centuries as unoriginal/inferior.
In the 10th and 11th centuries, Chinese landscape painting developed when artists retreated high up into the mountains seeking solitude and connection in nature. The works they created were expressions of their spiritual experiences. But over time, the art form lost it’s vibrancy. Wang Hui sought to breathe life and meaning back into works where he sensed the spiritual connection was missing. For this reason his “copies” are as valuable as any original piece, if not more in some cases.
I find in many of Wang Hui’s works, a tensionTravelers in Autumn Mountains serves as a great example. On one hand there feelings of harmony, peace, lushness brought out in the coloration, intricate foliage work, and soft flowing water lines. On the other we see towering mountains, sharp peaks and steep rock faces evoking danger, fear, mystery and power. I was drawn to this painting because I sense a similar tension among the lectionary texts themselves. We have Paul waxing poetic on the subject of love, yet Jesus is nearly driven off a cliff by the people of his own village. Jeremiah is instructed not to be afraid to walking the path chosen for him, while the Psalmist pleads to be hidden away in a rocky fortress for protection.
Sharing a work of art each week with my house church is an evolving activity. I have just introduced to them a variation on the lectio divina three-step practice. I share it with you:

  1. View the artwork and read through each of the lectionary passages. Simply observe the piece looking over all areas of the art…
    What do you see?
    Note color, style, movement, etc.
    Try to keep an open mind and hold back any thoughts of judgment/opinion.
  2. Now take a second look over the art this time exploring feelings and thoughts that arise…
    What about this piece has me curious?
    What stands out for me? what am I drawn to?
    What questions do I have?
    What does this make me think of?
    How does this make me feel?
  3. Finally, read the lectionary passages again and view the art a third time. Now explore meaning…
    Listen for anything the Spirit wishes to reveal.
    Is there something you wish to speak to God, a prayer or blessing?

I have found shelter in You, Eternal One; I count on You to shield me always from humiliation and disgrace. Rescue and save me in Your justice. Turn Your ear to me, and hurry to deliver me from my enemies. Be my rock of refuge where I can always hide. You have given the order to keep me safe; You are my solid ground —my rock and my fortress. — Psalm 71:1-3

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