Ask a non-believer how they picture God, and some old tropes emerge: an old man with a long white beard; a giant invisible friend; an angry judge, finger twitching on the trigger of judgment. For many, those images render the concept of faith not just foolish but grotesque. But if you dig deeper, they will often juxtapose those images of God with the feelings of wonder they experience looking into the night sky, or the raptures of love, or even the warmth of family. They might speak about the wonder they experience with the wind on their face at sea or the cold clarity of a mountain peak. Wonder- pure exhilarating wonder. That is something intriguing, something that evokes; that calls their souls out closer to the surface.
The playwright Thornton Wilder said that “in things beyond simple logic, beauty is the only persuasion.” Wonder and beauty are connected. When something is beautiful, truly beautiful, it leads us to wonder; to wonder at how it comes to be, what it means, and how we might be part of that beauty. Beauty is persuasive, it draws us toward itself and moves us out of ourselves. It helps us encounter goodness and truth as embodied souls. And that draw of beauty leads us toward worship. We are not tempted to worship things that are sterile and mundane. It is no accident that the greater a thing’s goodness and beauty, the more powerful and persuasive an idol it can become. You don’t make a devil from a rock, but from an archangel of light. It is no accident that nature worship has exploded all around us. Creation is full of wonder and mysterious beauty. It is not enough to preach a gospel we say is true and good, it must be beautiful too. It must hold the kind of beauty which compels us to wonder at the God of the universe; the God who holds all things together in Christ (Col 1); the God in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17); and the God who is unchanging love and light eternal (James 1, 1 John 3).
In 2020, I started a small business called Lion and Vine to offer art that evokes wonder and worship. I want the words and stories of our faith to become beautiful artifacts in our homes and lives; artifacts that move us toward the God from whom all true beauty flows. We started illuminating collects from the 2019 BCP and parts of scripture, but as time went on we started to wonder how our art might tell the story of Christ’s whole body which he has made of one blood all the peoples of the earth (Acts 17.)
In 2022, we launched art from three new artists, two Rwandan men, and one Ethiopian woman. They have steadily produced art that depicts Christ embodying Rwandan and Ethiopian culture. In Rwanda, almost all the images of Jesus are white. Our goal is for our art to help all people imagine their own humanity gathered up into the incarnation. These images stir and move people, especially when they have never seen Christ depicted in this way.
One young artist, Henry Munyaneza, embarked with Lion and Vine and Great Bay Anglican Church to produce an original painting for every gospel reading in the ACNA Lectionary. Every week, members of our budding congregation receive a 4 x 6 card-stock print of this painting. My daughter puts each on the wall by her bed. I use them as bookmarks, and we sometimes pin them to our refrigerator. These have become physical proclamations of the gospel that can be stirred into our lives. We also sell wrapped canvases, cards, and framed prints on our website. The artists receive 75% of the profit from online print sales.
Beauty isn’t optional for the gospel; it sits at the very heart of what it means to proclaim the Good News. Art offers us an avenue to draw people into things beyond simple logic- and to offer a life-expanding Gospel to take root in our lives and communities.