My friend Leah Pantéa just did a podcast with Jordan Ekeroth of The Reindeer Club where she talked about her art and faith. I am going to do two posts on ideas that were sparked by their conversation, and I am too lazy to go back into the podcast and give direct quotes, so you will have to listen to it yourself to decide if my synthesis is accurate.
One of the tensions that Leah addresses about faith is that ultimately we have to decide for ourselves where we align. And that decision has to be made when we don’t (and probably will never) have access to the full picture of what the whole meaning of life is.
Sure there will be people that will tell you “one day you will understand the why” but honestly, I don’t see that divinely echoed anywhere. In fact, in the Judaeo-Christian faith, when Job is all about asking God “WFT” for all the crappy things that happen to him, God’s reply isn’t “you’ll understand when you’re in heaven” but “Where were you when I made all this. Don’t question me puny human.” That’s an uncomfortable answer. And this situation is made even more uncomfortable by the fact that as bible readers, we are privy to the knowledge that Job’s situation is a sort of bet between God and the devil. How the heck to we reconcile that the happy ending of Job’s story is that he continues to trust a God that lets all his kids get killed on a bet? Without the full picture–which even the bible readers don’t fully have, we have to hold these completely opposite truths in our minds at the same time.
In the podcast, Leah talked about how her pursuit of faith and art is influenced by the Janusian idea that it is possible and necessary to hold two opposing thoughts in your heart. That the contradictions are in fact what make truth.
Her art reflects this idea in that in her process, she paints an entire detailed image then goes over it with white paint to obscure all but hints of it. When you look at her pieces, you have to trust that she did in fact create more than the tiny bits that are visible. For Leah, this process is both an adding and a taking away: she is physically adding more paint yet simultaneously taking away the certainty of what the image is.
This adding and taking away is a sort of mirror of her journey in faith (and resonated with mine as well). We don’t see the big picture. We don’t know the purpose. And further, we are not guaranteed to know anything fully in this life. But we have to hold the opposites in our hands that we don’t see anything yet it is there. This is where Leah says her hope comes from. She talked a bit about how our ideas of what a finished something–from a painting to a person–looks like isn’t our actual lived experience. We have to have faith and hope in that there is completeness in the incompleteness.
With such a clear mission statement about her work, Jordan asked her about how she handles people getting something other than her intention out of her pieces. She responded that she respects when people will take the time to wrestle with her pieces even if in that wrestling they get to a point where they misunderstand it. In faith, we are invited to wrestle with God even if we are doing it wrongheadedly, demanding an easy blessing like Jacob did. It is the engagement that matters.
My final say with this discussion (and I will have a part two because there were so many good things in this podcast) is about Leah’s idea of a “God web” and God as a stalker behind her, waiting for her to turn around. Although she and Jordan laughed about it, they also acknowledged that both images are sinister. Yet I do think these ideas are perfect in that they require that holding the opposite in your heart: there is a divine experience that stalks us and this divine experience is good and worthwhile. Very uncomfortable stuff.
In our choices of alignment, we have to decide what we want to hold in our hearts. We have to wrestle in our misunderstanding of what is behind the layers of obscurity in the world.