Remember throwing pebbles in the water when you were a child?
We have four grandchildren living with us now. The three of them who are six, five, and two are excited to throw pebbles now, and the five-month-old will almost certainly join in with his brother and sisters as soon as he learns how to walk.
I remember being fascinated by the concentric ripples. I loved to watch as the ripples spread out across the water’s surface and diminished in size while still continuing with their energy, gradually slackening until they were gone. But if the ripples reached the shore, they kicked up tiny breakers there, which wetted the sand where it was dry.
Of course, I was a strong boy, and I loved big rocks, and I wanted to make the biggest splash. A big splash and big ripples made me feel good. But here’s a secret. I would not have revealed my secret answer to you if you had asked me, at ten, which I liked better, a big splash or the smaller ripples.
Honestly, I liked the smaller ripples better. They had subtlety. You could see how their effect impacted the water for a long, long time.
I’m thinking about ripples right now because of a Facebook post I read a few days ago.
A woman friend of mine received a message from someone out of the blue. With her permission, I reproduce it here verbatim (names have been removed).
I'm not sure you remember me. I met you 20 years ago outside of Women Services on Main St in Buffalo I was only 15yrs old. You saved my sons life ❤ I was alone, there to start a two day procedure. Day one of the would be termination they instructed me to wait at home come back the next day and have it completed. However, that night I felt my son move. The next day on my way into the building I met you. If I'm not mistaken I believe you read me some scriptures and made me aware of other options. So I decided to have the laminaria removed and continue with the pregnancy. That day you took me home and you never left my side, took me to your church, linked me to several agencies. You were truly a blessing to me. Today my son (name removed) is almost 20yrs old away at (name removed) College beginning his sophomore year. I miss him so much he's the best thing that ever happened to me. When I think of him I often think of you. I often wonder how many other women you have been a blessing to. You have always held a place in my heart. Peace, love and blessings always ❤
What a delight this was to read!
How mightily the Lord has blessed the woman who wrote to my friend, and her son.
My friend was the Lord’s pebble.
The Lord splashed my friend down in Buffalo. Ripples began. My friend spoke to a fifteen-year-old. The fifteen-year-old was preparing to abort her son on the morrow. That night, a ripple passed through her womb, and she felt her son move. The next day, another ripple brought my friend to the Women’s Services building, again, with a Scripture. And so the ripples continued to widen.
My friend had made a friend for life…for LIFE.
She had made a friend for her own life, of course (which fact remained unknown to her), but most importantly for the life of that fifteen-year-old mother and her son.
And yet the ripples from that single splash continued to widen. Twenty years passed. Twenty years! Perhaps during those twenty years the writer of this message has told other people how that ripple of the Lord broke against her dry sand and wet her parched soul. Wet her and refreshed her enough that the ripple reached her womb and floated her son inside her, so she felt and thereby knew him.
And more to this.
When I read this message, it had been public for two days. In that amount of time, 874 likes had occurred, and 143 comments had been written, not a single one of which deplored that the Lord had dropped a pebble.
May the Lord be praised for dropping that single pebble He dropped twenty years ago.
The Lord keeps right on dropping His pebbles. His will be done.
Faced as we are today by a secular culture that preaches the rightness of aborting babies, many of us Christians feel stymied and afraid.
But twenty years ago, a friend whom I did not yet know, spoke in a timely way to a fifteen-year-old girl, which caused the love of the Lord to flow into her and to stop her in the very act of killing her son, and for at least those three persons—and twenty years later, for 874 others--the world changed.
During my doctoral work in religion and art in the late 1970s, at the Graduate Theological Union and the University of California, in Berkeley, CA, I met Stephen DeStabler. We discussed his work while we stomped around, or we stood and contemplated, what he called his “boneyard.”
His boneyard was the heaps of broken, rejected or half-finished hunks of clay sculpture which littered his backyard. DeStabler worked in huge scale, so the broken and rejected and half-finished hunks sometimes measured several feet on a side.
Nothing delicate was there in the boneyard except—startlingly—now and then there was a broken clay face, half buried among and rising from the shards.
My doctoral program sought two things from its aspirants.
Each of us was charged to produce one piece of art of sufficient excellence and integrity to pass a professional test—that is, to be professionally performed, exhibited, published, etc.
Each of us was charged to write a thesis which bridged the gap between religion and art—using the academic languages of each—focused on the particular art piece we had created.
DeStabler was thirteen years my senior. When he was at the stage in his own life to be a doctoral student, I believe no academic programs such as ours existed. Had there been one, DeStabler might have applied. He would have been a perfect candidate.
(I was the single student who sat on our program’s Admissions Committee; I would have voted yes to his candidature!)
I enjoyed DeStabler’s personality and intellect, and we met several times. Because of the needs of my thesis, I was keenly excited to know how artists who are Christians (not Christians who happened secondarily to be artists) develop an iconography which communicates Christian thought or aspiration to their audiences, and draws the same back out from them.
One day Stephen showed me pictures of his early paintings before he focused on sculpture. I noticed that he used cruciform patterns sometimes although the overall pictures were not religious in image. I asked about this.
(Although the following is from memory, many of its sentences are verbatim.)
‘Was this deliberate, when you were young?’
‘Deliberate, yes, in terms of the way the element works for the design.’ He laughed. ‘But it wasn’t theological.’
‘You really want to know why those cross elements appeared, at first?’
‘I was young when I began to draw, and our family had my grandmother’s farm we could go to for school vacations. There was a big barn. Its rafters were exposed—huge big old pieces of heavy timbers that had been up there under the roof for years. I used to go sketch in the barn. The rafter timbers repeated themselves, one crossed set after the other, down the whole length of the barn’s high loft. I was excited about the way they looked, and I drew them again and again.’
He looked at me and grinned.
I grinned back. ‘Only that?’
‘You’d be surprised how often this happens to us. Nothing religious. Just, I liked the way the rafters looked, crossed. First it was just the image—you know?—the image of the crossed timbers.’
‘Critics have commented on your cruciform imagery as being Christian.’
‘Yes. But that’s after I began to use it, not just to have it there.’
So that’s how it happens, I thought. Funny! One in the eye for over-serious critics! Just a bunch of old barn rafters! Marvelous!
So here’s what I learned from Stephen. Images come in all the time. They are reflected then in any artist’s creations—in their painted or sculpted work, in their music, in their writing, in their dance or theatrical performances.
Christian artists receive from anywhere, too, just as secular artists do. But Christian artists create out of their soul-deep awareness of their world as one suffused by the redemption and truth of the Christian supernatural.
Their receipt is unconscious. Their use of it—their crafting of it—is conscious.
Stephen’s Crucifix was completed in 1968. The corpus is life-sized. (In research for this piece, I have not learned its exact height, but I remember it vividly. It seemed taller than me, with its surrounding base making it even more imposing. And it’s hung quite high, its bottom perhaps ten feet above the floor.) It’s made of high fired clay.
It’s attached, deliberately off-center, to the concrete wall of the sanctuary of Newman Hall’s Holy Spirit Chapel on the University of California’s campus in Berkeley. While still wet, the cement was pressed with upright planks, later ripped away, which have left the impression of wood grain behind.
DeStabler also created other pieces for the sanctuary, an altar, tabernacle, lectern, and presider’s chair. The overall architectural design is by Mario Ciampi.
I love the Crucifix.
I hate the sanctuary.
I love the Crucifix. This is not the historical Jesus. In contemporary Christian art, Jesus is often pictured as though he were a Hollywood hipster, our culture’s effort to make him familiar, pretty, safe.
No. This Jesus with his expressionless face is not safe.
Instead, as Newman Hall’s brochure from the 1970s says, “This is a Christ at the point of breaking through the agony toward resurrection.”
This is God incarnate emerging in resurrection from death, transmuting, about to ascend.
But the impact of the sanctuary as a whole is off-putting. There is nothing about it that speaks sanctuary.
Yes, it has the necessary pieces of furniture—and they have interest because they were fashioned by DeStabler—but they, and the space around them, do not in any way mirror the power of the Crucifix.
It is as though they are a not-well-executed stage set, kind of random, on which, nevertheless, in the far upper distance, a miracle is occurring.
But--wait—maybe that’s the way it really was!
Wish I could go back and ask Stephen.
Among everything else, was he deliberate to craft the intensity of my love/hate reaction? And resolve it with his Crucifix?
If so, now that’s art!