We are approaching the Birthday of one of my favorite personalities in all of the world’s artistic history: Leonardo DaVinci (April 15th). One of my personal heroes, Leonardo was one of those few sparks of miraculous talent who combined all the arts and sciences into one incredible, fluid existence. His mind was capable of almost anything and his ability to question everything led him to seek out answers about creation that took scientists some hundreds of years to come to the same conclusions.
His work in art, architecture and mechanical engineering are well-known, but did you know that he was also a chef and a musician? He was a theatrical producer, who created some of the most-discussed pageants (which included dance, song and amazing technical sets) of his time, for patrons with the right amount of money. His works involved actual moving planets that danced with human dancers on a stage lit by candlelight and a backdrop of stars…all combined with music HE wrote, sometimes played on instruments HE invented.
One striking concept which Leonardo introduced to the painting world of the Renaissance was the idea, captured best in the Italian word, of “sfumato”. No, it’s not a type of tomato…it means, “to go up in smoke”, or “mist” or simply “smoked”.
This concept of things in the distance fading into a mist, so that their details are lost (in contrast to the very detailed foreground) is evident in the background of his most familiar painting, la Giocanda or as we know it, Mona Lisa. Here is a woman with a mysterious smile, and behind her there is a landscape that fades to dark, mist, smoke. This effect was made by first painting the detail and then covering it with layer-upon-layer of thin painted mist. This created ambiguity (“having more than one possible meaning”, “not clear or decided”), Leonardo believed, was more realistic to not only what the human eye could take in and focus on, but also was a philosophical statement of belief: there are some things that SHOULD remain and be accepted as ambiguous, as unknown.
That philosophy was in sharp contrast to the belief of the day, during the Renaissance, that everything should be found, discovered, figured out and defined. The Renaissance was the “age of man” and “age of reason” where humanism reigned supreme…there were no mysteries that humans couldn’t unravel. But it took the artists to remind the thinkers that there are many, many things we will NOT be able to define.
I bring all of this up to say, there are some things in life, and especially in spiritual life, that are beautiful, true and good because they are ambiguous. We live in a type of Renaissance today. We believe that we are “enlightened” enough to define all things. We, in the church, not only fall prey to this thought but sometimes argue with our detractors and rush to quickly give answers to all the questions the scripture seems to throw at us.
As we, at CENTRAL, are at the beginning of this journey through the scripture we together are running into many things we don’t understand. Some of those things simply require some background and historic commentary to give us the perspective of life when the words were written and heard for the first time…so that we can translate them into the minds of a 21st-Century believe & follower. The Spirit is with us to translate, but there are times when all those resources will fail to give us satisfaction as to what was actually going on, what God was saying, and what the lesson is for us…and that is perfectly fine, and that shouldn’t shake our faith.
Accepting the ambiguous, realizing that (as Shakespeare said well) “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, then are dreamt of in your philosophy.” (HAMLET). There are passages in scripture that we may never figure out until the Age-to-Come, there are doctrines and philosophies evident in the times we read about, that are foreign to us. And there are simply things that we will never understand.
As long as we keep the balance between SEEKING THE SCRIPTURE as God has commanded us to do: finding the Truth by study…and EMBRACING THE AMBIGUITY, and not using that as an excuse for NOT studying (i.e. “Well, I’ll never understand it so I’m not going to try.”), then we are doing what is required of us…using everything in our power to KNOW GOD, and accepting that there is no end to the journey.