Thursday, December 14, 2017

early-ish Christian art ... photos

A photo array from The Guardian: As one of the first countries to adopt Christianity, Ethiopia has a legacy of churches and monasteries, built on hilltops or hewn out of cliff faces, as well as vibrant traditions of worship. These are celebrated in a lavish book, Ethiopia: The Living Churches of an Ancient Kingdom 

I find myself liking religious art that is not yet slick and perfected, a devotion that is somehow feet-on-the-ground. The picture above, for example, seems to me to be imbued with people who know how to smile in the midst of what I assume is a devoted heart. Only later would people sand and smooth the images, find 'great' artists, and the direct and simple smiles be put aside. The picture reminds me of the shepherd's prayer once admired by The Bal Shem Tov ... something along the lines of "Dear God, though I keep the sheep of others for money, for you I would keep them for free because I love you."

The picture above makes me wonder as ever why the Bible has no statement that reads, "And Jesus laughed." Grown-ups (like Hindus, for example) laugh. I realize there is a cottage industry that has grown up around the role of laughter in Christianity, but it strikes me as so much bilge water. No-laughter-no-balls whispers in the corners of my mind.

Anyway ... I liked the Ethiopian photos. There is something honest .....


  1. Some of those places would require a lot of faith to get to.

  2. You make a point worth noting in an expanded form:

    In the world’s religion’s Holy Books, literature and and oral transmission which include smiles, which include laughter, and which include humor?

    I bet few include real humor. Given the nature of humor a religion needs to be firmly grounded the presupposition of faith usually doesn’t do well under humor’s scopes and mirrors.

    Hearty laughter? I have only seen that in Zen Buddhist stories. I spent my entire K-12 education in Catholic Schools with nuns, brothers and priests. I can’t recall a single story about in the Old Testament or the New Testament where some figure, Noah, Moses, Jesus or a Saint in which there was a hearty bell laugh. Similar to the lack of humor, laughter implies a release of tension that most religions are not looking for.

    Smiles are easy to come by. Smiles are always part of acts of kndness and compassion.

    In college I took a course which was an intro to Kabala, roughly, Jewish Mysticism, given by a very non-mystical PhD with a clear bias to the Talmud. I enjoyed the stories. It’s been too long but I wouldn’t be surprised that you’d find laughter and humor in an advanced study in Judaism albeit with a point to be made.

    Re those pictures: To be honest, even putting aside the clear lack of skill by the artist(s), those smiles look more like an imagined portrayal of bliss than like an actual bunch of happy folk.

  3. Andy -- I once went to see my Zen teacher's teacher, Soen Nakagawa Roshi. It was during sesshin and was a formal meeting or dokusan. I was in an infuriated -- really spitting mad -- mood for reasons I can't remember. I did the ritual bows and sat facing Soen.
    "How are you?" he asked.
    "Shitty!" I replied.
    "Every day is a good day," he quoted a famous text.
    And that really pissed me off.
    "Every day is a good day and some days are shitty days!" I shot back with emphasis.
    And Soen started to laugh. It was not one of those I'm-in-control CEO laughs. It was as if I had told him the best dirty joke in the world. He roared with laughter.
    Finally, when his laughter wore out, he said, "Every day is a good day. Some days are shitty days. AND every day is a good day."
    And there was nothing I could do but... laugh.

    1. Good story. You were in a what’s now being called a “safe space.” While being personally unsettled, you were comfortable enough to challenge the teacher and the ancient teaching. The teacher was grounded enough to acknowledge and relate to your point, then reinforce the Zen Teaching - all with Laughter.