John—In the Beginning (The Four Holy Gospels, Part 7)

by Makoto Fujimura

This work visually echoes the “Charis-Kairos” cover piece in the same way that the beginning of the Gospel according to John echoes the beginning of Genesis. The first chapter of the Gospel according to John speaks not only about the origin of all creation in Jesus, but also about the mystery behind creation. Art needs to inhabit such mysteries – to open us up to the generative reality of the deeper questions that lie behind our questions.

The portion of John—In the Beginning was done as a live performance, as part of an ongoing collaboration with Jazz percussionist/composer Susie Ibarra.

Often I am asked about the abstract nature of my works. People see abstraction as esoteric and or evasive, considering “real” art to be works done in a realistic style. My answer to their inquiries tends to be more experiential. I preface my comments by saying “actually we experience abstraction all the time.  Fireworks, sunsets and music (especially Jazz and Classical) are all abstract.” And I add, “my works are not pure abstraction, but they are re-presentation of the mysteries of Reality.”

When we consider the most precious memories we have in life, we often find that such moments are hard to categorize. The memories of a conversation you had with a loved one, or a special experience that you cherish are often accompanied by the memories of touch, smell, images and sounds. Well, all of these elements (touch, smell, images and sounds) are abstract elements to that precious experience. What we have done in our contemporary culture is to reduce experiences into a commodity or rational explanation. When we do that art must become explainable so that we can “sell” it to others, or “explain” it to others propositionally. This type of pragmatism not only kills the arts, but also de-humanizes us. Such utilitarianism dilutes the gospel into something that we can “purchase” by our good deeds, and something that we can “understand” by simply taking in a set of information, or by following a set of principles.

The Gospel of John begins with a profound mystery of the ontology of Christ’s pre-existence. Throughout, the youngest disciple deals with the reality of Christ as both a mystery and a greater Reality. Jesus, as John saw things, acted and spoke in generative terms, always expanding our view of God, and befriending us even as we kept on misunderstanding our Lord and Savior.

To depict such relational Reality, the only way to describe the mystery is through the language of abstraction. It’s an attempt to describe Jesus’ tears shed on the hardened soils of Bethany. His tears were ephemeral, and therefore became permanent (they are still physically present on the atmosphere of earth). His tears were wasteful (there was no utilitarian reason for him to weep with Mary…when he specifically told Martha that he came to raise Lazarus from the tomb), and therefore the most important, human act. The “Incarnate Word stood wordless”* at Bethany. In The Four Holy Gospels, this sense of mystery and paradox of the tears of Christ became a central, abstract theme.

*A comment made by Dr. Richard Hays at Duke University after one of my lectures there recently.

Next Thursday: Part 8

The Four Holy Gospels (Crossway) is for sale at our online store

Makoto Fujimura is an artist, writer, and founder of International Arts Movement. He has had over 100 exhibits worldwide, and from 2003-2009 was Presidentially appointed to the National Council on the Arts. An ordained elder (on sabbatical) at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Mako and his wife, Judy, raised their three children in lower Manhattan.

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