As a result of Holy Covenant UMC's monthly meetups around the city, I got to spend some time with a few Kentridge's on Tuesday night at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. And it was quite marvelous. I'm not much of a contemporary art fan, but these were something special. What's a Kentridge, you say?
I'll bet that most of you are more cultured than I am, but I'm not afraid to admit I had no idea who William Kentridge was until Holy Covenant community member and artist Steven Jones brought one of the South African modern artist's images to our Advent retreat this past December.
In fact, it was this very still from an animated film that Kentridge had done with charcoals; the man with the water pouring out of his suit and filling the room.
It was a haunting image.
I saw it representing a person who felt so trapped by his white collar identity that he was drowning in it. As I studied it with Dale Jones (no relation to Steven as far as I know), we both decided, "If he would just take off that suit, everything would be better. If he takes off the suit he'll not risk drowning in himself."
Steven would tell us later that, in the film, this guy never actually does. In every scene, he's wearing this suit — even in a hospital bed. And it got me thinking about the stuff we can't shake ... the stuff of ourselves that we can't get rid of no matter how hard we try.
So we stop trying. And, instead, we let it consume us.
Those are the kinds of things — the unshakable bits that stick like they are inked into our flesh — from which I most often want God to resurrect me. I want the new life that I am promised to be one that leaves me, as the old hymns say, "clean and spotless." Yet that doesn't always happen. My spirit stinks like it has been riding the Red Line too long. And then my attitude does, too. The result? It feels as if life keeps pouring out of me, like the water from that man's suit. And that gets me believing that God's gone off and left me.
But then Steven explained Kentridge's animation process, and I was overcome with both wonder and peace.
Seth Curcio of Daily Serving tells it in the way I remember Steven explaining:
"Using the reductive medium of charcoal with only a small amount of blue or red chalk, Kentridge is effectively able to portray narratives while allowing the drawing process to be revealed by erasing and redrawing the object on the same sheet of paper."
The movement, the transformation, it all comes on the same page. And it comes by erasing small bits and redrawing others. What if that is how the power of resurrection is made real in our lives?
The Gospel writers left us with no information as to what happened to Jesus in the tomb after it was sealed on Good Friday. We are only left seeing the results. It could be that God waited to act until the Sabbath was over and conquered death in an instant as the sun rose.
Or it could be that God began the transformative, life-giving recreation of the Human One from the moment it went dark. It could be that resurrection came from a constant series meticulous and deliberate movements by the hand of God over every inch of Jesus' mind, body and spirit. It could be that it took that long for him to be remade out of that same flesh-from-dust that he lived in when he breathed his last.
It could be that, much like Kentridge tells the story of his characters through the drawing process, God tells the story of our redemption through the resurrection process.
“I was drawing waiting to see what I would become.” — William Kentridge
We are paper in the hands of a genius artist with imagination unmatched. And sometimes, as subtle as it may be, we are changing by the intricate moves of Divine hands.
After watching the care and focus an artist like Kentridge gives to his medium, I am delighted to imagine that God would be so careful and deliberate with me. I can be happy. Because, while my being isn't yet finished, my becoming is a work of art. And so is yours. This is what makes us beautiful "just as we are," because we are never static. God in the Holy Spirit is working within, and through and around us all. And, by grace, we are being redrawn frame-by-frame toward greater love for God and neighbor. I have every confidence that someday, I'll shake the suit. But until that day comes, I'll keep watching for that eraser and pencil to remember that I'm not alone.
For more on Kentridge's drawing process and style, check out this great video segment from PBS's Art 21: