A few weeks ago, my husband and I spent a weekday morning at our local art museum, Newfields. The museum was hosting a series called “Artful Conversations,” and we signed up to attend without knowing exactly what we’d learn or encounter.
Standing by Robert Indiana’s gigantic LOVE sculpture with a handful of other strangers, we were greeted by an unassuming museum curator. He led our group into another area of the museum where we stood facing two large works of art: one wall tapestry, The Miraculous Draught of Fishes, made by Flemish artist Hendrik Mattens in the 1500s based on the design by Raphael, and another more modern wall sculpture called Duvor, made by Ghanaian artist El Anatsui in 2007.
The curator went on to describe the way he had been curating pieces in this particular wing of the museum by intentionally placing unexpected artwork duos side-by-side as if they were in conversation with one another and with us, the viewers. I’m not a visual artist; I admittedly don’t know that much about art. I’ve only been in a handful of art museums in various cities in the world, but in most of the museum experiences I’ve had, the artwork was arranged and separated by time period, location, or movement.
The experience of seeing art and thinking about what it was saying in this new combined way was fascinating. On one hand, I could hear Fiddler on the Roof’s “Tradition” playing in the back of my mind like a fearful protest. Yet on the other hand, I was enthralled by the way these two pieces — that no one would ever expect to have anything in common, that bridged generations and geography, worldview and experience, dark history and the hope of transformation — worked to illuminate one another. One made centuries ago with the finest materials of its time for an elite group of people, and the other, a modern work, made from recycled liquor bottle caps and copper wire as a statement “on consumerism, disposability, and the colonial legacy of the rum trade.”
I stood there staring at this intentional pairing thinking about how much like our Creator God it is. God, the ultimate Creator, Curator, Artist, Designer, Storyteller, Mathematician, Scientist, Gardener, Forester, and Accountant of every star, human teardrop, strand of hair, and grain of sand, has made the world to be diverse and to thrive together in and through diversity.
Like those works of art, we are a communal reflection of the immensity of our Creator God. We are a connected conversation that bears the weight of God’s image and love over space and time.
Similar to this museum wing experience of conversation and connectivity, I recently learned that in nature, it’s diverse forests that are the healthiest forests. The forests with the most variance and difference living side-by-side become the strongest. According to scientists, biodiverse forests are nourished more deeply because of their diversity and dependence, and in return, they are able to offer nourishment that stretches far and wide.
Diversity isn’t a trend, it’s a sacred system and divine intention for our nourishment and thriving.
In his lettered response to the church in Corinth thousands of years ago, the apostle Paul argued and exhorted our spiritual ancestors to remember that their diversity was their strength and divine design. They were intentionally placed side-by-side as walking works of art who make up the body of Christ, intentionally made to depend on one another.
“If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.”
1 Cor 12:17-19 (NIV)
After our day at the museum, I spent time further researching the artwork we saw that day. I learned the meaning of El Anatsui’s wall sculpture Duvor is communal cloth. Perhaps that ancient 16th century tapestry and this modern recycled sculpture had more in common than first meets the eye.
As we prepare for a new year, may we each seek to be our fully unique and connected part of the communal tapestry we were made to be.
This new year, may we allow those different from us to illuminate and weave together the image of God in us and vice versa.
This new year, may we be the body of Christ who is willing to be a new kind of artful conversation.