This will come as a shock to you I’m sure, but I have never been a fan of the Sistine Chapel. Many of you know Janice and I recently had the opportunity to go to Italy, and even though the chapel doesn’t do anything for me, I had to take Janice there – it’s the place of legend, of history, of great significance for the Catholic Church.
It’s not that I am not a fan of the Catholic Church. Or not a fan of chapels. Or art for that matter. I think it’s really Michelangelo. I couldn’t get over the over-the-top nature of the decoration of the chapel; I couldn’t get over the fact that pagan Sibyls figured as prominently on the walls as did the Prophets; and yes, the prude in me couldn’t get over all the nakedness of adults and children alike. He was sure fixated on certain anatomical parts. And that he put a wonderful portrait of one of his critics in the hell section of his huge Last Judgement inserts some pettiness unbefitting a place of prayer and a place where Popes are chosen.
Michelangelo had a contemporary, and art rival, by the name of Raphael. Raphael also painted and sculpted in magnificent ways. He served as the architect for St. Peter’s Cathedral. He created the cartoons for the tapestries that adorn a different section of the Vatican and he painted a series of works in another room that are a marvel to ponder. In that particular room, the story, found in Acts 12, shows Peter being freed from prison by an angel. Not a particularly well-lit room, light seems to emanate from his painting. The reflection of light in the painting itself is artistic genius, and preaches about the power that liberated Peter. It enhances the story as he portrays his imagination into the text.
I guess my struggle lies in there somewhere. Michelangelo seems to have come up with biblically-related themes to guide his desire to paint people, as where Raphael used the painting of his characters to communicate and better explain the Biblical text. People looked at Michelangelo’s work and called him “the divine Michelangelo.” Raphael’s works pointed me to the divine in his tapestries and frescoes.
I know, this is a little esoteric, but here’s my point: when we read Scripture, we need to bring our imagination into it, not unlike Raphael. When we bring our imagination into the reading, we actually insert ourselves into the text in ways that a purely intellectual pursuit wouldn’t accomplish. Also, we need to bring our talent into it, whether that is analysis or music or relationships or visual arts, no matter. God personalizes our reading when we insert imagination and talent into the reading. This can’t happen without study.
Finding all the information you can about a text matters tremendously; It can guide or correct our imagination. Some have called this “informed imagination.” It’s the way to approach God’s word if you ask me. It invites us to bring all our talent and imagination into the reading of the Bible. Kind of like the way Raphael did.
Striving to give glory to God,
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. Colossians 3:23,24