Sunday, April 25, 2010

v2, d47: Making the Mercy Seat

Today's text in Sunday school (yes, adults still do "Sunday School," though in my church they just call it "Bible study" because, let's face it, Sunday School is for kids) was taken from Exodus 25. Not generally the most mind-boggling or profoundly impacting scripture, but it sparked a bit of an idea in my head that I wanted to share, especially with any of my artistically-minded friends.

This is that riveting part in scripture where God is giving Moses specific dimensions for all the stuff the Israelites are to make for Him while they're in the desert: tabernacle, priestly garments down to the ephod, ark of the covenant, etc. It also outlines some really specific sacrifice laws. It's crawling with cubits and grain offerings and it lasts roughly a third of the book of Exodus, so you generally skip over this stuff.

Anyway, here's today's text. It's talking about building the ark of the covenant (which one day would become lost and would have raiders searching for it, natch). Specifically, it's talking about what is going to go on top of said ark of the covenant:

"17 “You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold; two and a half cubits shall be its length and a cubit and a half its width. 18 And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work you shall make them at the two ends of the mercy seat. 19 Make one cherub at one end, and the other cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim at the two ends of it of one piece with the mercy seat. 20 And the cherubim shall stretch out their wings above, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and they shall face one another; the faces of the cherubim shall be toward the mercy seat. 21 You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the Testimony that I will give you. 22 And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony, about everything which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel."

(Side note: I always wondered why God spouted out numbers in the middle of conversations like that. Imagine if we all followed that example. "Yup, those Coyotes have really showed they belong with the NHL's elite. Nineteen! Winning a potential elimination game at the Joe? Not too many teams can accomplish that feat. Twenty! I'm hungry. I want pancakes.")

As an artist and a Christian, I like to think that every work I touch is glorifying to God. I hope that everything I create is to some degree inspired by Him, either directly or through something He is teaching me in my life. And I CERTAINLY hope it's something that, at the VERY least, He likes. (Imagine walking around Heaven one day and some being, either an angel or a saint or one of those strange many-eyed creatures from Revelation pulls you aside and says, "You were in Miss Nelson is Missing!? I loved that show! I watched every performance!") Here, however, there's absolutely no question whatsoever. God says, "I want this to be done, and I want it this way." And there's still some room to play. He doesn't say, for example, "The cherubim on the left shall always wear a smile, while the cherubim on the right must always frown," nor, "One cherubim tells only the truth, the other tells only lies. Thou shalt ask them one question." He says cherubim, this far apart, facing this direction, wings up, aaaaand go. And yet, to the sculptor (or sculptors) who are given this task, He gives a very specific set of boundaries within which to create something beautiful that will, beyond the shadow of a doubt, be used directly in the service of the Most High.

I guess there'd be two ways you could take this. You could either really freak out, i.e. "Ohmigosh! This has to be PERFECT, because God's going to sit on it, more or less!" I think I'd gravitate more toward awe and respect, and I think it'd be a lot easier to view the use of my talent as an act of worship knowing with certainty that you were creating something commanded by God to His own specifications.

I'm not one of those who believes that the act of creation (in terms of the arts) is inherently holy or worshipful in the same way that I don't believe every time a choir belts out "I am a friend of God" they are necessarily worshiping or leading in worship. It can happen, totally, and it was probably written or designed in worship and for worship, but I don't think an act is worship when it is disconnected from a spirit of worship. (And I'm sure there are plenty of in-depth thesis papers you can find on that topic, and I'm afraid any diatribe of mine to that end would probably be really boring) There've been times in my career when I think my writing, directing, or performance have been worshipful acts, and there have been more times when they probably weren't. Similarly, there've probably been times when my prayers haven't really been worship and times where they have. Despite that, I still always hope that there will be something that is, at its core, God-honoring.

So, imagine being given a task that you know 100% has been handed down from the mouth of God that requires the attention of your specific gifts. Different from a commandment such as "Love your neighbors" or "Defend the alien, the fatherless, and the widow," but something that requires someone like you. A sculptor, or a musician, or a singer. Not having that nagging voice in the back of your head wondering if this is really something He'd take pleasure in, because He specifically asked for it.

I dunno, I think it'd be really cool.