THE ARTISTRY OF GOD
READ: Ephesians 2:7-10
“This was to show for all ages to come, through His goodness towards us in Christ Jesus, how extraordinarily rich He is in grace. Because it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own merit, but by a gift from God; not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit. We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life.” – Ephesians 2:7-10 NJB
“We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life.” We are saved by grace so that we will then we live lives overflowing with the good work of God.
Oh, so many times I have heard the debate … we are saved by God’s grace – no, we are judged by our works. Sometimes folks who emphasize personal salvation make the doing of good works sound like something almost sinful. And sometimes folks who emphasize the social aspects of the gospel make the idea of personal salvation seem like something quaint and selfish. But I believe … that the Scriptures are quite clear … we are saved by God reaching out to us with His love … before we ever merit such a love … but that same grace that first saves us also transforms us into human expressions of that divine grace, making tangible that grace in the service of our lives.
True … we cannot earn our way to heaven, it is by God’s initiative of love, but yet in our receiving such grace, we must, by definition, become ourselves human initiatives of that Divine love. I love the metaphor found in Ephesians, in particular, how it is translated in the New Jerusalem translation … “We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life.”
Brother Ambrose is one of our resident artists here at Greyfriars’ Abbey, a painter of exquisite Christian icons. He originally came from Greece, from a Greek Orthodox background. Eventually he drifted from the East of Christendom to the West, embracing the Roman Catholic tradition. Still, he cherishes and celebrates his Orthodox roots through his art. Ambrose’s hermitage, a cabin in the midst of our apple orchard, could easily be mistaken for an artist’s studio. The place is stuffed with paints and brushes, easels and canvasses, works completed and works in progress. I love to visit Brother Ambrose and watch him work.
You see, Brother Ambrose prays aloud while he paints, for his creation of enamel and gold leaf icons is truly both a holy experience and a holy work. Brother Ambrose likes to think that the wet paint he places on the canvas somehow captures his prayers and places them forever in the work. Once a month, art students come to his hermitage to learn from his artistry. I notice those students from the university always arrive in a rather reverent attitude but afterwards, always leave in an even deeper reverence. Somehow the artist and art, the monk and his prayers, changes them.
When Brother Ambrose spoke to me about the spirituality of Christian icons, he emphasized that the icons are not to be seen as images of Christ or Mary, but rather as windows that look out over heavenly places. He said, “You are not to look at the icon, you are to look through it … even travel through it … much like Alice in Wonderland journeyed through the Looking Glass.”
That image has often come to mind during my times of contemplative prayer … passing through the image of Christ into a heavenly realm beyond … and its counterpart … the image of Christ passing through me leaving traces of the heavenly realm within me. If the grace of Christ be something real, I sense that the grace of Christ is also something ‘tangible’ in the sense that when the grace comes upon souls and passes through, our lives are somehow changed and so also this realm in which we live. The grace of God saves us … by changing us, by bringing the realm of the Divine into the realm of the human. You might say that grace is the paint upon the Artist’s brush, God creating works of art through His life-changing artistry of loving us.
By God’s grace we are saved; and by God’s grace we become instruments of God’s goodness.