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July 25, 2012

For most of our human ancestors, it was a mysterious and unpredictable world  that they lived in.  It could only be understood in terms of gods or God acting and intervening and affecting us and our lives. As a result, humans lived in a more or less “religious culture” in which everything was related to religious experience and religious explanations and religious controls. People lived their daily lives very conscious, even fearful, of God’s controlling presence and effect on their every action. God was the “explanation” of what they saw around them and of what was happening to them. Within this religious culture, it is not surprising that much of the art that developed was religious in nature and theme. For example, in Europe by the Middle Ages, paintings, sculpture, and music predominantly used Biblical scenes and texts and were usually created by and for the Church. It was part of the total religious experience of that time.

But within the past two to three hundred years, Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Einstein, Hawking and others have fundamentally changed the way we understand and look at the world. Forces, energy, quarks, and DNA have given us a new and amazing and coherent picture of our world as we now see and understand it. And for many, God is no longer needed as an “explanation.” As a result, many look at Raphael’s paintings and listen to Bach’s music differently – without the close association with religious meaning and understanding.

Are we perhaps missing something today? Are we unable to see or unable to hear much of what is in those great artistic works? A whole new school of “art for art’s sake” has grown up in our current culture. We go to museums and concert halls rather than churches to see and hear these masterpieces. How do they speak to us today?

For those of us who are trying to live a Christian life, what we see and hear with our physical senses is only part of the experiencing of our world, for we recognize that there is “more.” The experience of knowing God in all creation, of knowing God in Jesus in history, and of knowing God as spirit within each of us makes a difference as we look and listen and touch. “Seeing and hearing religiously” means that we are actively participating in the experience as a God-centered person reaching out to our full potential as a human being.

Thus with our eyes, we see God’s glory around us, whether a woodland spring, or a majestic oak tree, or a starry night, or the panorama of a Grand Canyon. Or see the touch of God’s hand in the brush strokes in a painting, or recognize the pointing of a church spire, or sense God’s spirit when we look into another person’s face, or accept the smile of a baby as God’s smile. We hear God’s angels singing directly to us whenever we hear Mozart or Bach, knowing that their music was created as a gift to God.

Loren Bullock
June 24, 2011

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