Symbolism

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I can remember sitting in my 10th grade English class reading either Main Street by Sinclair Lewis or Our Town by Thornton Wilder—either way, there was a story about some fictionalized small American early 20th century town and our teacher was keen on having us unmask all of the symbolism.

I recall rolling my eyes, once again, wondering why this couldn’t be just some sort of story that simply means what it says and says what it means—does there always have to be “symbolism” behind everything!? Can’t it just be a story for the sake of a story? Why can’t people just write what they mean without having to hide it, leaving the poor reader (in this case me) to not only read something (I) deemed as boring but tasked with, on top of everything else, trying to figure out what on earth the author was trying to say.

To this day I tend to be rather direct in my own thoughts, words and deeds, eschewing hidden meanings…but this is not a story about that. I am also a person who is now very intrigued by symbolism but not necessarily that which involves conspiracy theories, bizarre ancient cults, free masons, or what Leonardo da Vinci was attempting to tell the world in buried secrets throughout his art work …this rather, is a story about The Holy Trinity— The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit and my relationship with this group of Three. Talk about symbolism…

As a Christian, I am here to say that I learn something new each and every day about what it means to be a Christian…from not only the history of our Faith, but to what it means to live one’s life as such, not to mention how much I learn from others who are living examples of this thing we call our Christian Faith…. there is always something new to learn and encounter.

Our Faith is a living Faith—which I think equates to ever growing, ever changing, ever moving. As we live, our Faith lives—it lives through our actions, our words and our deeds—that’s why, when Mother Teresa says for us to “spread the love of God through our lives but only use words when necessary,” she is speaking to the fact that God’s love is present to others through our actions, by our “doing”—the spoken word is merely secondary…as it is our actions, and actions alone, which speak volumes. Unfortunately many of us forget this fact during the living of our oh so busy lives…

To understand my Faith, I need to look at the three components, which makes it so vastly different from all of the other religions of the world and that is the concept of the Trinity—The Father, The Son, and the Holy Ghost/ Spirit. The Three in One. But how can that be? How are three, one? This is an age old question that is asked, and has been asked down through the ages, by many believers as well as non-believers. It is a perplexing mystery and yet so simple.

The omnipotent God and Creator, the Alpha and Omega Son and Savior, the ever-present Spirit and Helper or Paraclete. As I am not versed in theology, I am not here to debate the roles and existence of the Godhead Trinity. I am not here to debate the glitch in the progression of that Trinity which brings contention between western and eastern Christians; I am, however, here to tell you that I marvel in the very existence of the Three in One.

It is in my marveling that leads me to often yearn to have a tangible connection. I yearn to make a connection. A connection with that Godhead of Three. I yearn to explore the beauty of the unity of the Three in One. It is a complex layering of relationships. There is a “connectiveness” which in turn yearns to bring me in to that very connection and bond of the Three.

There are many aspects to me and to my little blog, as the blog is just a bit of an extension as to what makes me, me. I love to cook, I love to travel, I currently have a broken ankle, I am a retired art teacher, I like sharing with others, I feel, that even though I may be a retired educator, I still feel as if I have things to “teach”. I have an aging father who is dealing with a fading memory. I have a son who is working very hard to finish his degree, and he has a fiancée,so that means I have a daughter-n-law to be, I have a husband who works very hard to run his small business, but at the core of all of that is the single fact that I am a Christian. I am a part of an ancient and living Faith.

In my art I have often tried to reach towards the Divine. Not on some grand scale as those bigger than life artists have in the past. Not like some esoteric new age artist. No, I have merely just wanted to make a connection between me, the created, who yearns to know the Creator.

There is a contemporary song that has a line in it that really strikes at a chord within me when I hear it. It is from Love Song for A Savior by Jars of Clay:

Someday He’ll call her and she will come running
And fall in His arms and the tears will fall down and she’ll pray,
“I want to fall in love with You”

(here is a link to a lovely little You Tube video based on the song, it is a song about the loving arms of Jesus, unlike the depiction used in the on-line Christian dating service of the arms being that of a couple—totally wrong use of the song, but I digress http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_wb38KMXLs )

I often feel as if that song is talking to me… I simply don’t quite yet understand, I don’t quite get it… but one day I will and when I do, I will run into those outstretched arms…those arms that will actually be there—tangible arms…. All I want is to run into His arms and finally feel that embrace of unconditional love. To simply rest in that embrace. The embrace that knows all of the junk and crap I carry and doesn’t care. The embrace that is bigger and stronger than any fret or worry, any pain or sorrow I have ever known. The thought of such is overwhelming to me—it brings me to tears. I want that—I somehow think all humans yearn for that—and that is the bond of Father and child.

Many hardened hearts however hear such and call it sentimental gibberish. They scoff at the idea of a “loving” Father, a resurrected Son/Savior, a descending wind left to “Help”— This however is not gibberish, this is all about Grace, pure and simple… but as Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us, it is a costly Grace. Not all of us wish to take on that type of cost in order to follow. Following does require much from us, it requires our very being—and it is a struggle for Believers each and every day.

So I suppose, when working with my art, I enjoy exploring that “feeling” as well as for the use of symbolism, which makes up much of the Christian Faith. I appreciate the relationship Christianity shares with Judaism. I think a lot of Christians forget that Jesus was not a Christian—he was a very devout and religious Jew. Therefore our Faiths are inextricably linked. I like exploring that eternal link between our two faiths.

And as one who loves history, I like exploring the history of our Faith—from our earliest Roman and Greek roots to our links with the Celts as well as for our bonds with the eastern cultures of the Orthodox Christians—as there is more that binds us rather than divides us—I just wish we could all remember that.

I am also one who deeply and greatly appreciates the depth of the rich Christian traditions—I greatly appreciate those bells and whistles, or bells and scents if you will, of the early church. No modernism for me—there is a mystery that is still retained in our rituals and rites, based on and within the early baby church, which speaks to an ancient chord in my soul. The mystery of what takes place during the service of the Eucharist—the Transubstantiation, the Mystery, the Change, the Trans-Elementation, μεταστοιχείωσις metastoicheiosis, is just that, a mystery—one that I cannot necessarily ever understand as I am the created and not the Creator.

It is not for me to pick apart this Holy Union and attempt putting it under a microscope for definition or worldly explanation of knowledge. God remains a mystery—and so He should. He has broken it down in terms that you and I can understand—there is Love, Action, Compassion, Empathy, Concern, Sacrifice, and a few others words that put this Mystery in a language we can better understand.

I will never totally understand, as it is not for me to do so, but it is for me to wonder, to exalt, to glorify, to love, to share and I hope I do so, in some small tangible way for others…….

This latest piece I completed, which is still waiting to be framed, is about 3ft by 3 ft. It explores visually the connection of The Trinity—tying in aspects of all 3 into one piece.
It is a cutout, layered piece that symbolizes the depth of layers to our relationship with the Godhead Trinity. A picture does not do it justice as the literal depth of the piece is lost.

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These other framed pieces are also large and unfortunately as they are framed it is difficult photographing them due to reflections and glare.

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(all art and Photographs by Julie Cook)

6 comments on “Symbolism

  1. Val says:

    Those…are seriously amazing. You could totally have a little etsy shop with greeting cards and prints of some of your amazing stuff.

    • Thank you Val–I’ve not gotten in a groove yet to get back to working on the artwork–hopefully soon. Please know that I always appreciate your input—Grace and Peace

      • Val says:

        Well you’ve still got two hands that work, so that’s something you at least can do without too much trouble (definitely a plus). Artwork is a much better groove than, say, dancing at this point. I would totally be taking advantage of this forced downtime.

  2. Amanda says:

    As always your work amazes me…

  3. “Like” doesn’t do justice to how I feel about your work! I LOVE these pieces. Thanks for sharing this post with me, Julie! I had seen some of your work on John Mark’s blog when you were spotlighted there (the Artistic Christian). That’s actually how I found your wonderful blog. Isn’t it a humorous/ironic thing: I was a journalist… and also, later taught composition. When my mom died, I found I couldn’t express my heart in words and so turned to art. You have been an artist all your life as well as an art teacher; now, you have turned to writing. I love it! I think if we lived in the same city we would be the best of friends. Hugs!

    • That would be wonderful Lynn.
      When I began the hyper focused journey of caregiver 3 years ago—when things really ramped up…and when Dad got sick as I was literally driving over 7 days a week—the friends I had here got rather put out with me. They didn’t / couldn’t understand why I didn’t have “time” for them—why I couldn’t find the time to go to lunch, or to chat or to do whatever….One even told me that since I didn’t seem to “have time for her” she was letting the friendship go—I was like, really???
      What they didn’t understand was that when I was here in town, I’d be playing catch up…cleaning house, running necessary errands, going to appts, or just trying to be a wife— plus I was really wrestling with being depressed as not only was dad sick and I knew how that was going to end—the demands of me having to do and be everything for them—from financier, to overseer, to grocery shopper, to chauffeur, to gopher, etc…was all I could do—add fighting traffic on a daily basis and I was a basket case.
      All but one of the caregivers was either stealing or lazy, my stepmother wanted to “not be married” anymore…as they had married for all the wrong reasons, as her daughter made life a living hell as her brother, who I worked with fine, did very little—as they knew they didn’t want to mess up a good thing for them so they left their mom to be miserable and I was the recipient of her very angry dementia…..
      it was an absolute mess. I had no siblings to help…just my aunt—who when her cancer came back—it was the nail in my proverbial coffin. And mu “friends” at home just didn’t understand.

      I have always been a homebody—and my small world was always just my husband and son with Dad and my aunt on the periphery—and now includes a daughter-n-law….so having a good friend, a real Spiritually committed friend would be such a blessing!!
      Plus we both over Chick-fil-A’s lemonade 🙂

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