Art is a mystery

January 14, 2013

in Some Things to Think About

There was an interview with Malcomb Turnbull in this week’s Sydney Sun-Herald. (For my American friends, he is the former leader of the Liberal Party now a back-bencher in Parliament, mainly focused on technology.) What grabbed my attention in the interview was his focus on literary insights. “Malcomb has an aesthete’s heart locked in a technocrat’s job title.” Not a bad sentence for the Sun-Herald!

Malcomb and mystery

While being interviewed, Malcomb used Twitter to send the following — “Remember, art is a mystery which the author little understands.” Those of you who know me know that mystery is my favorite theme so I immediately decided that I would support Malcomb — if ever he gets the chance to lead the Liberal Party again, when I become an Australian citizen. Australia (and the world) desperately needs leaders like Malcomb who have a deep and visionary perspective of the future. (Please read on, even you would substitute Julie or Tony or even Kevin for Malcomb.)

I don’t know exactly what Malcomb meant by his Tweet. I suspect it was a politician and technocrat’s awe of artists and poets that inspired it. Malcomb quoted Shakespeare twice during the interview. Why are usually pragmatic people like Malcomb (and myself) in awe of poets and artists? Precisely because somehow they allow us tap into mystery. We sense that poets and artists see beyond a veil that covers our eyes. (Anyone who has read my book Imagining Rama knows that I don’t believe the poets and artists are the only ones who can see beyond this veil. We all can.)

Long ago, in a galaxy far away 

All of this leads me to my story about art and mystery. I will use Star Wars and St Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians to tell this story. (My mind works strangely, I know.) Both these artistic works have a cosmic scope that goes far beyond anything we usually imagine might be true. Star Wars presents a vast galactic empire at war; Ephesians has God’s entire plan for creation. Star Wars has aliens on the side of humans (Wookies) as well as against them (Jabba the Hut). Ephesians has gentiles being united with Israelites, in the battle against evil. Star Wars has Jedi Knights who use the force to defeat evil. Ephesians promises that the Holy Spirit will equip us with armor to defeat evil. Both Star Wars and Ephesians describe a larger mystery, which their authors “little understand.” Let me explain.

Where did the Force comes from in Star Wars? How did Luke Skywalker learn how to use the Force? (I know, from Yoda, but how did Luke actually do it?) Could the scriptwriter give us the answers to these questions? And, in Ephesians, how does God create a plan which he knows beforehand, and the opportunty for us to use our freedom to do the good works he has prepared for us — while leaving us free? As these examples show, we cannot plumb the depths of either of these stories — because they describe mystery. Mystery is a reality which we will never understand.

The seldom told story

So what’s my point? You must be thinking how can I wrap Malcomb Turnbull, Star Wars and the Letter to the Ephesians together? [Let me hasten to add that I am not involving Malcomb in a religious debate.] To me Malcomb represents every good leader struggling to make an impact in a very complex world. Many people in Australia wish him well in this battle — but are also cynical that he (or any politician) can actually do anything to change things. He is like the leader of the rebel forces in Star Wars in this regard. The question is, who will be his Jedi Knight and use the force to “defeat” the evil empire –the complex political, economic and social system that does not adequately serve the human needs of the people of Australia, which he is attempting to change? He is enough of a realist to know that he cannot do this on his own. But does he believe in Jedi Knights and the Force? Probably not. But they do exist!

That is where the Letter to the Ephesians comes in. St Paul describes the cosmic battle between good and evil, the role of the “force” and who Jedi Knights are. The problem is that even most Christians don’t understand the cosmic story that Paul is telling. (I’m not speaking about Malcomb here, to be clear.) The point of this blog is that we Christians must begin to see the deep truth that is in Ephesians — and our role in making the story known and real. The most basic point of the story is that all mankind, not just Jews and Christians, are called to participate in God’s cosmic plan. Reread Ephesians and see if you agree with me. Then, if you do, go find a visionary leader and support her or him in transforming the world!

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