The Aroma of the New
What the producers of Our Town touched, perhaps unconsciously, was a chord of realization, a hunger, that points to what is to come. C. S. Lewis called it Sehnsucht, a German word that can be translated as "a longing." In The Weight of Glory, Lewis writes that art and music "are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have not yet visited."
I am going to go a bit further than Lewis here. I am convinced that art and music, while not "the thing itself," contain the aroma, the actual aroma, of the New. Artists, whether cognizant of Christ or not, detect this aroma. Bacon and eggs point to that reality. Therefore, you, graduates of Belhaven, have already tasted the aroma of the New. When you dance, when you play your violin, when you draw; what you see and hear and smell and touch: it all invites you into the aroma of the New. The two worlds, the old and the New, are connected in the arts. Typically, we stop to think about such "idealistic" enchantment and dismiss it by saying something like, "Well that performance was glorious … but we must now return to reality and do something useful with our lives." Pragmatism will merely send us, like Emily in Our Town, back to cold earth and deadened senses.
The World That Ought to Be is that which is already imbedded in our senses. God's hand touches us, even through the cold earth of death and despair, even though we are being washed away in the sea of Liquid Modernity. The gospel is an aroma, the aroma of the New. And the aroma will reach us, even in the darkest despair.
Tolkien knew of such a world: "The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater," says Haldir of Lothlorien.
Love, my friends, is today mingled with grief. And yet love grows greater. Create in and through that love. Calm the seas of your anxiety and infuse new life deep into the poisoned wells of culture.
"There are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair."
Come and dance, play and paint upon your Ground Zero ashes. That is how we must now love the world. Step into the receding waters filled with poison, but do it with faith. Then the stench of death will be replaced by the aroma of the New. The Stage behind the stage will open up, and instead of being forced to surrender to the cold earth, we will dance upon the waters, hear new sounds, and create new colors.
Makoto Fujimura, an artist based in New York, is the founder of the International Arts Movement. His illuminated edition of The Four Holy Gospels was published by Crossway in January. This essay is based on his commencement address delivered on April 30 at Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi.
Copyright © 2011 by the author or Christianity Today/Books & Culture magazine.
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