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Link to Unseen Things

The unseen world is all around us.

The Mind of Christ in His World: Part 2 (6)

Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth…This was done three times. Acts 10.10, 11, 16

A mind for things above
There was one aspect of the vision sent to Peter by the Divine Artist concerning which there could be no mistake on Peter’s part: This thing was from heaven and went back to heaven. Thus, this vision had something to do with God and what He wants. God was using familiar, earthly things to stretch Peter’s mind for deeper spiritual truths.

The great art and culture of the Christian heritage has followed God’s own example, connecting viewers, readers, and hearers with the heavenly realm by employing familiar, earthly things or devices. Indeed, much of the great art of that heritage is deliberately intended to habituate our minds to the things that are above, where Christ is seated in the heavenly places at the right hand of God (Col. 3.1-3). Setting our minds on this realm is a key element of a strong soul, and the great works of culture from the Christian tradition can help.

Consider the intricate and beautiful artwork of the Book of Kells, and its lavish and lovely depiction of Jesus exalted in glory and beauty. Hymns can lift us into the heavenly realms as well. I think especially of William J. Kirkpatrick’s rendering of Psalm 148, “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah!”, where the highest note in the hymn is fixed to the words, “Name” and “glory.” C. S. Lewis’ dream fantasy, The Great Divorce, can help us get our minds around the mysteries of heaven using familiar earthly experiences and things.

All creation shouts the glory of God and can enrich our use of the mind of Christ; and the culture of our Christian forebears can help us, like God helped Peter, to think more deeply about Him and His will. We should make good use of this cultural heritage for a sound mind and a strong soul.

Bringing heaven to earth
Additional examples abound of art deliberately crafted to bring heaven down to earth and point earth-bound humans to the heavenly realms. This was one of the primary purposes of Gothic architecture, to expand the mind of worshippers into the majesty and mystery of the unseen realm. As Abbot Suger, the pioneer of Gothic architecture, explained in his detailed notes guiding the construction of the cathedral of St. Denis, every wall, door, window, beam, and buttress of a Gothic church witnesses to and calls the minds of worshipers to rise to the heavenly realms.

Earlier, Byzantine church murals had a similar purpose and effect, creating a sense of movement on the part of worshippers toward the throne of Christ. The somber, mysterious, and sometimes eerie chants of medieval monks were also designed to engage the heavenly realm through the medium of the ear. Monks were taught to breathe at different times while singing, so that there would be no cessation of the music, once the worship of God had begun, thus mirroring the continuous singing of saints and angels in heaven.

Or think of the many baroque churches and chapels with their painted ceilings that lift the worshiper out of the mundane realm into the heavenly places, into the very presence of the risen and exalted Christ Himself.

Celtic carved crosses are yet another example of art made to serve the purpose of establishing a tangible and dramatic link to the unseen realm. Erected late in the period of the Celtic Revival (ca. 430-800 AD), these magnificent carved crosses encouraged worshippers to envision themselves in the very Presence of Christ, and to preserve the images from those crosses in their minds.

Sanctuaries from the mundane
More within our reach, the sacraments of the Church, especially the Lord’s Supper, have the same effect, for the Supper enables us, through the elements of bread and wine, to participate directly in the risen Christ and to engage the unseen realm through an act of liturgical drama. As we commune with Christ He makes His Presence known to us from His throne in heaven in a way more intense and personal than we normally experience; and we are reminded that, even as He is with us always, so we have been seated with Him in heavenly places (Eph. 2.6).

Works of Christian art and culture can engage our minds for transcendence, lifting us into a realm of reality we do not normally know. As Peter observed the vision God sent him coming down and going back to heaven, he was lifted beyond the limits of his earth-bound thinking and his previous theological convictions, into a realm of new possibilities, which he would only fully realize as he rose to act on what God showed him.

Have you ever noticed how quiet it is in an art museum? Or at a symphony? Even in a library? People seem to know, almost intuitively, that such places are sanctuaries from the merely mundane and the noise of everyday life. There we expect to encounter something larger than the merely everyday, and we prepare ourselves and one another through silence. For in the silence, in the presence of great art, we may expect to pass beyond the veil into the unseen realm and the Presence of Christ in glory. And while we are there, the Spirit can work on our minds to renew them into the likeness of our Lord (2 Cor. 3.12-18).

God uses creation to stretch and shape our minds for knowing, loving, and serving Him; and Christian art and culture employ creation to lift us into the Presence of God in a myriad of ways. We should make good use of these lavish and powerful resources. As we do, let us ask the Lord to make us more open and attune to His Presence and voice in the world around. The poet Christopher Pearse Cranch (1813-1892) can guide us by His poem, “Correspondences”, to seek the help of God:

O thou Spirit of Truth, visit our minds once more,
Give us to read in letters of light the language celestial
Written all over the earth, written all over the sky –  
Thus may we bring our hearts once more to know our Creator,
Seeing in all things around, types of the Infinite Mind.

For reflection
1.  Have you ever experienced what you would describe as a moment of transcendence, either before a work of Christian art, or during a service of worship, or the Lord’s Supper? What did you experience at that moment? How did this affect the way you think about life?

2.  Meditate on Hebrews 12.1. In what sense are we in the presence of saints and angels? Should we expect to experience this in some way? Explain.

3.  What does it mean to set your mind on the things that are above (Col. 3.1-3)? Do you think Christian art could help you in doing so? Explain.

Next steps – Transformation: Meditate on a favorite hymn. Slowly read a poem by a Christian poet. Contemplate a work of art by a Christian artist. In each case, pay attention to how such meditation or contemplation stretches your thoughts. Pray your thoughts and experience back to the Lord with thanksgiving.

T. M. Moore

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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