Today I saw one of the most meaningful artistic expressions of the Christian faith that I have ever seen. Art moves people but it also polarizes.
We had the wonderful privilege of visiting McGilvary College of Divinity in Chiang Mae this morning. One of the few Christian seminaries in Thailand, the school teaches theology to a widely international student body. After touring their grounds, we attended chapel with their students and faculty.
Three stunning, stain glass windows literally took my breath away. They drew me in as Austin House (seminary professor and my church’s mission partner) explained the symbolism.
The second (and central) window represents Jesus Christ the Son. His sacrificial death on the cross is pivotal for all.
The third window represents the Holy Spirit. Like a dove, the Spirit descends upon all believers to give guidance and counsel and conviction.
Take another moment and again observe the photos above. Do you notice the expression of the Thai cultural? It appears in all three windows. The lotus flower. A distinctly Asian motif whose roots are in the Buddhist culture. Yet the artist of the chapel’s stain glass windows magnificently weaves the symbolism into a beautiful Christian expression.
According to one Buddhist website: “The lotus flower … grows in muddy water, and it is this environment that gives forth the flower’s first and most literal meaning: rising and blooming above the murk to achieve enlightenment.
The second meaning, which is related to the first is purification. It resembles the purifying of the spirit which is born into murkiness. The third meaning refers to faithfulness. Those who are working to rise above the muddy waters will need to be faithful followers.”
Faith and Art
As a Christ-follower, I do not believe in the ultimate attainment of enlightenment as expressed in this eastern religion. But the lotus flower’s symbolism of beauty and purification as found in Jesus Christ portray the essence of our faith. We, too, long to be faithful witness of His grace and mercy and love.
I understand that some people object to the artist’s choice of blending ancient Buddhist symbolism into Christian art. They fear a mixed message or a confusion of understanding.
I feel instead that the artists incorporation of local culture recognizes the creative expression of our diverse and wildly creative God.
How about you..what do you think?