Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A thousand words…

Whatever the heading says, I’ll write but 700 words today! Still, pause now to look at the picture accompanying this letter and you’ll catch the reference.

Beautiful, amen? I picked this up in Bosnia, or rather, had it commissioned. Before I left for sabbatical, you see, a Plymouth Creeker gave me a check and said, “Shane, while you’re traveling, will you use this money to buy something fine for our church?” I thought that a lovely request. Rather intimidating, though. I mean, I’m no interior decorator. “Hope I don’t mess this up,” I thought.

Besides, so many options would’ve been available in Sarajevo, a town famous for artists and multiple faith traditions. Should I buy a grand Bonsian rug for our walls? A gilded Orthodox icon or Catholic crucifix? Islamic calligraphy- brilliantly wrought Quranic words- adorns many mosques throughout the country. Any of these could’ve worked well. Making the decision more complicated.

But several days into my journey, I learned that my guide’s daughter had recently graduated from Bosnia’s top arts university. Though her primary medium is sculpture, she’d also received the highest marks in her class for painting. Plus, unemployment is ghastly in Bosnia-Herzegovina, particularly among young adult artists. “Would she paint an original for our church,” I asked. Over three weeks, she did.

That’s what you see. I’m impressed with the painting and hope you will be too. Since it may be unfamiliar to many, however, I figured a description was in order. For starters, I asked that she paint this particular scene, a famous sight in that city. The octagonal, domed structure in the foreground is called the “Sebilj,” which translates to “fountain.” But it’s no ordinary watering hole. Situated in the middle of Sarajevo’s Old City, this wooden edifice dates to the 18th Century. The neighborhood surrounding is centuries older, reflecting Islam and the Ottoman Empire’s influence. Something I loved about Sarajevo is the proliferation of public spigots and fountains. This one, in my humble opinion, is the most magnificent and worthy.

The reason is that vast mountain ranges and several pristine springs surround the Sarajevo Valley. From the 1400s on, the city’s Islamic patrons diverted those clean mountain streams toward the city, principally to neighborhood mosques. Something faithful Muslims must do before five-times-daily prayer, after all, is wash up. But in many cases, the builders put these water sources on the mosque’s walls’ exterior, allowing any and all to find refreshment. Many a day, I walked through Sarajevo’s streets, afternoon temperatures reaching 100 degrees. My hot limbs swelled and mouth parched needy, so I’d beeline to a mosque or, especially the Sebilj, where hospitality bathed my soul in the form of cool hydration.

So when I see this Sebilj, I think of God’s call that we love our neighbors, offer to meet their needs, whoever they may be. I didn’t have to take a theology test to drink its waters. I simply needed to wait in line.
And in the background of the painting, a minaret lifts above the fountain, surrounding square and many pigeons which gather nearby day after night after day. That mosque has served the residents of Sarajevo’s Old City since the 1500s. I wanted that icon in our painting to reflect something I think Plymouth Creek shares with this charming city. We’ve grown accustomed, I think, to honoring the diverse ways God has revealed Godself to humanity. Not every church recognizes the profundity of Islam and Catholicism, Judaism, Orthodoxy and more besides. But we do, praise God. And in Sarajevo, diverse faith communities have found refuge and common purpose for hundreds of years. Should we hang the painting in our sanctuary or narthex, then, visitors will see this statement about our joy in the vastness of God’s Love. Perhaps we’ll take regular moments to reflect on that too, Sunday after Sunday, and so be moved to create God’s Kingdom anew in our daily lives. 

That, at least, was my hope for this painting. Inshallah (God willing), as my Muslims friends might say, it will be so. Whatever the case, glad to back Plymouth Creek! Let’s get to work. God’s Kingdom tarries but for us.

Grace and Peace,

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