"We spend our lives in preparation, learning to make of ourselves a work of art worthy of God."
You may not recognize the name, Hokusai, but you have undoubtedly seen his work. Hokusai was a Japanese artist who lived during what is known as the “Edo Period” in Tokyo in the 18th and 19th century. He became internationally famous for his series of paintings featuring Mount Fuji. One painting in particular caught the attention of the world. It is titled The Great Wave off Kanagawa and shows several small boats caught in a gigantic wave, with Mount Fuji in the distant background.
One of the many stories told about the great painter concerns a commission he once accepted from a powerful prince. The prince one day commissioned Hokusai to paint a lion. The prince waited months but the artist did not fulfill the commission. Finally the prince went down to Hokusai's studio in person and demanded the painting. Hokusai immediately took a blank piece of paper and within a few minutes, had completed a magnificent painting of a lion.
Although he was greatly impressed the prince was also somewhat exasperated. "If you could do it so quickly, why have you taken so long to do so?" he asked.
The painter then took the prince inside his workshop where the prince saw hundreds of drawings, paintings, and sketches of lions. "It took me this long to learn to paint a lion worthy of you," explained the artist.
We spend our lives in preparation, learning to make of ourselves a work of art worthy of God.
Grounded in History
In the opening lines of the third chapter of the Gospel according to Luke, Christianity is firmly grounded in world history. The detailed contemporary references point to the appearance of John the Baptist and the beginning of the circumstances leading to the salvation of the world. Instead of events happening in some vague mythic past, we are given exact datable facts.
The Word of God, in the person of Jesus, comes to John. John is called to serve as the last prophet. In so doing he brings to a close the age of the Old Covenant and becomes the herald of the new. The ancient prophecies, signs and symbols are at last fulfilled.
John speaks of the imminent arrival of the promised Messiah, and the beginning of the end. By his preaching of a baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins he is calling people to prepare themselves for the coming of the Lord. With their immersion in water the “converts” leave their old lives and take on new ones, lives that will “make straight” their previously crooked paths.
The Importance of Preparation
We live in a world of “instant gratification” and often overlook the time of preparation that is necessary to make things happen. Instant coffee, fast food, and overnight delivery have given us the tendency to think that things just happen quickly and easily.
But consider the farmer who has to prepare his fields by plowing before he can plant crops, or the thousands of man-hours that a professional football team puts into preparation for just one game.
Or think about everything an artist must do to prepare for a finished painting.
It is common for people to view a great work of art, a painting for example, and not be aware of the work that goes into it. There is of course the work of the actual painting but there is also a great deal of work that goes into preparing a canvas before the first brushstroke is ever applied.
First a wooden frame is built, this alone can be very complicated depending on the size of the finished painting. A very large painting requires more support for the canvas than a smaller painting does.
The canvas is cut to fit and stretched over the frame firmly and evenly and fastened in place. Then the canvas is primed or “sized.” This is a thin coating of weak glue that seals the canvas and protects it.
Next the ground is applied. The ground is a layer of thick white paint known as gesso. It gives the canvas a uniform color, texture, and level of absorbency. After the first coat is dry, it is sanded smooth and followed by a second coat. Only when the second coat is dried and sanded and smoothed out, is the canvas ready to become a work of art.
If the artist, or the craftsman responsible for preparing the canvas, is careless with this process of preparation, the acid in the oil pint will soak through the surface and deteriorate the fabric of the canvas. Then, years later, the painting will inexplicably begin to fall apart.
Preparing our hearts
Advent is about preparing our hearts to receive God's grace at Christmas. As a farmer prepares his field and an artist prepares his canvas and focuses on his subject, we focus our attention on God and prepare for Him to break into our lives.
With the arrival of John the Baptist we begin our wait and preparation for the coming of the Lord and the last days. So as we wait for the establishment of the new Heaven and the new Earth, let us prepare by making clear the way of the Lord.
Let us strive to grow in love and knowledge, that we may perceive the good and reject what is evil. May we be pure and blameless, always striving to do what is right. Then we will ready for the day of Christ.
2ndSunday of Advent
Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university
Lawrence Klimecki, MSA, is a deacon in the Diocese of Sacramento. He is a public speaker, writer, and artist, reflecting on the intersection of art and faith and the spiritual “hero’s journey” that is part of every person’s life. He maintains a blog at www.DeaconLawrence.org and can be reached at Lawrence@deaconlawrence.com