Let Him In :: William Holman Hunt, “The Light of the World”

William Holman Hunt, The Light of the World; Oil on canvas; 1901-1904.

In the seven letters to early churches which begins the book of Revelation, there is one verse that stands out above others as well known. In the last letter, addressed to the infamous church of Laodicea, Jesus issues a stern rebuke and call to repentance, emphasized with this statement: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Revelation 3:20). These words of the glorified Lord have effectively spoken to many people, leading them to open their lives to Jesus as Lord. What catches my attention is that these verses are written to a group of people and, not just any group of people, but a group of early disciples known as a church. What strikes me as deeply ironic is that Jesus stands outside the church community. He is standing at the door of the church fellowship’s gathering asking to be let in. Apparently, He is not in their midst.

William Holman Hunt was inspired by Jesus’ words, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12), to paint The Light of the World. Hunt painted the same scene three different times. The original was painted in the mid-19th century and today is in the side chapel of Keble College, Oxford. Shortly thereafter, Hunt painted a smaller version which today is in the Manchester City Art Gallery. The third and final version, Holman painted near the end of his life at the turn of the century. It was the largest of all three, bringing the figure of Jesus to life-size proportions. The painting was so revered it actually was sent on a world tour before eventually being purchase and donated to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, where it continues to be held today. Jesus stands within an overgrown garden, knocking at a door with a handle only on the inside. The eye-catching frame, which surrounds the painting captures the words of Revelation 3:20, leaving us to reflect on the stunning situation: Jesus is on the outside of lives and even churches. Will the individual let Jesus in? Will the church let Jesus in?

The Tears of Jesus :: Enrique Simonet, “He Wept Over It”

Enrique_Simonet_-_Flevit_super_illam_1892.jpg
Enrique Simonet, Flevit super illam; oil on canvas; 1892.

“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it” (Luke 19:41)

There are several places in the Scripture where we encounter Jesus weeping. Probably the most memorable is when Jesus approaches the tomb of His friend, Lazarus, where John the Gospel writer records a most simple, striking sentence: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). We may also call to mind Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane before His arrest and crucifixion. While engaged in deep, strained prayer, Luke tells us Jesus was “exhausted from sorrow” (Luke 23:45). But before the sorrow of His exhaustion before the Cross, we find Jesus weeping before He enters Jerusalem with great acclaim. Why did Jesus weep over Jerusalem at this point? Luke tells us Jesus’ tears are followed with His words about the impending destruction of Jerusalem and its people, a destruction that necessarily flows from people forsaking God and the peace He offers (19:42-44). In Matthew’s parallel account we hear Jesus’ words: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Matthew 23:37). Jesus weeps over the annihilation of God’s city and destruction of people who could have experienced God’s peace and care. Instead, they turn away from God to pursue their own ends. Jesus weeps over people and places fleeing God’s presence and goodness.

In Flevit super illam (“He wept over it” or “Then He wept”), Enrique Simonet offers a strikingly large painting, 10 feet by 18 feet, that vividly invites us into this awesome moment. Simonet traveled to Palestine in order to study the place and culture before painting this scene. As we look at this painting, we may feel we are right there with Jesus and His followers gathered on the crest of the Mount of Olives before the triumphal entry. We join them in gazing at Jesus, whose tears fall while His hands are outstretched in care and love over Jerusalem and all its people. The sky is dark, and Jesus almost seems to be in shadows while the light of either a sinking moon or a rising sun (art critics still debate this) blazes through the darkness to light up the city. The followers fix their eyes on Jesus, while Jesus’ eyes are fixed on Jerusalem and a wayward humanity. His response flows in tears. Before this painting we join Jesus in weeping over the world and lost humanity.

The Weekend Wanderer: 11 June 2022

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like. Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within these articles but have found them thought-provoking.


Spiritual-Needs-Are-Still-Needs-980x551“Spiritual Needs Are Still Needs: Compassion, trauma, and the heart of pastoral care.” – Samuel Needham in Comment: “The last time I saw my grandfather alive was in a dimly lit hospice room outside Morrow, Ohio, in February 2016. His cancer had spread further and faster than medicine could manage. Nurses made every effort to keep him comfortable, but he was in enough pain that we’d stopped praying for breakthrough healing and started praying for peace. We understood he was close to the end. My mother and I came into the room and saw him: gaunt, hairless, exhausted. Grandpa had been a farmer and engineer and soldier, a towering figure of strength and joy throughout my life, an invincible man. Seeing him on that bed, I mourned the death of the man I knew and loved while he was yet alive. As with any visit with the dying, in that room God’s grace was greater than sickness. Grandpa was lucid enough to recognize me. When his pained face broke into a remembering smile, I cried. When he asked for a good word, we prayed. When he wanted only a soothing voice, we told stories. And when he needed to rest, we left.”


Nigeria_christians“Nigeria’s Christians are relentlessly under attack” – Kunwar Khuldune Shahid in The Spectator: “Dozens of Christian worshippers, including several children, were killed in a gun raid on a church in Nigeria’s Owo town on Sunday. Initial estimates place the death toll at around least 70 parishioners but that number is set to rise, given that the church in question, St Francis Catholic Church, has one of the largest parishes in the southwestern state of Ondo. Nigeria is experiencing an epidemic of terror attacks. Over the last six months, gunmen have killed 48 in the northwestern Zamfara state, massacred over 100 villagers in Plateau state, and raided trains and buses leaving dozens dead and hundreds missing. At least 3,000 Nigerians were killed and 1,500 abducted in the first quarter of 2022 alone, according to the Nigeria Security Tracker. Most of the recent attacks are carried out by ‘bandits’: local militants that are currently spearheading Nigeria’s abduction spree. However, just as local kidnapping gangs have borrowed Boko Haram’s modus operandi to abduct schoolchildren, various militants are increasingly following the jihadist rulebook to spread terror in Nigeria.”


Lawrence+Cherono+at+Kiptagat+Training+Center,+Kiptagat,+Kenya-1_web“How Christian Faith Propels Elite Kenyan Runners To Global Success” – Dr. Robert Carle in Religion Unplugged: “Since 1988, 20 out of the 25 first-place men in the Boston Marathon have been Kenyan. Of the top 25 male record holders for the 3,000-meter steeplechase, 18 are Kenyan. Eight of the 10 fastest marathon runners in history are Kenyan, and the two outliers are Ethiopian. The fastest marathon time ever recorded was Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge’s in the 2018 Berlin Marathon. The fastest women’s marathon ever recorded was Kenyan Bridgid Kosgei’s in the Chicago Marathon. Three-quarters of these Kenyan champions come from the Kalenjin ethnic minority, which has only 6 million people, or 0.06% of the global population. The Kalenjin live in Kenya’s Rift Valley. Iten, a town that sits on the edge of the valley at 7,000 feet above sea level, is nicknamed the City of Champions. ‘If you look at it statistically, it sort of becomes laughable,’ said David Epstein, a former senior writer at Sports Illustrated. ‘There are 17 American men in history who have run under 2:10 in marathons. There were 32 Kalenjin who did it in October of 2011.’ American journalists have been fascinated by Kalenjin runners for decades, and their explanations for Kenyan dominance in running have included training, culture, biology and diet. However, one factor remains little explored or understood in media coverage: The spiritual lives of the Kalenjin runners have received scant attention.”


32telushkinaroundthecircle“The Apocalyptic Visions of Wassily Kandinsky” – Shira Telushkin in Plough: “There is a moment, as one rounds the final span of the four-level exhibit of Wassily Kandinsky’s works at the Guggenheim in New York, on display through September 2022, where the art gives way to an almost transgressive sense of intimacy. The exhibit, Around the Circle, is hung in reverse chronological order: We begin at the end, with the artist’s final years in 1940s Paris. The show then winds upward through two world wars, the Russian Revolution, his drawings, sketches, the writings on theory and art. As we move back through time, the works start to come into focus, the abstract lines and circles turning back into legible shapes and forms. A house suddenly comes into view as one finally reaches the beginning of the 1910s, his earliest period. A few paces later there are men and women unambiguously conversing over a picnic. Perpendicular to this painting is a train, pumping a recognizable pillar of steam through clearly discernible mountains. We have wound back to Kandinsky’s first forays into painting, the start of his experiments with color and texture and light. After nearly seventy works of nuanced spiritual abstraction, these early works hold an almost childlike wonder, so straightforward and requiring no translation. They are still impressionistic, almost dreamlike in their blurred silhouettes and textured brushstrokes of primary colors, but they feel personal, stripped of those outer layers of meaning and symbolism we have come to expect. It is as if we’ve intruded on the artist at home, unvarnished, playing around with friends and family, not suited up for serious theological debate.”


Poetry pulls the splinter outPoetry Pulls the Splinter Out” – Mike Bonikowsky in Ekstasis Magazine: “Before the poem, there is the pain. Sometimes it’s a good pain: a stab of delight, an ache of longing, a sudden blaze of joy. More often it is something else: the dull clanging alarms of anxiety, the hot tearing of rage, the long slow labour of the Maranatha agony. The pain, whatever it is, grows until it can no longer be ignored, then continues to work its way deeper until it can no longer be borne. And then something must be done about it. Somehow or other, the splinter has to come out. When I was young and knew no better, I would cut patterns on my skin and try to bleed it out. These days I’m more likely to yell at the kids or punch a hole in the drywall or lie under the covers scrolling down on my phone for hour after hour. But there is better, wiser, healthier catharsis, and its name is poetry.”


CSJ_Press_Conference_7_June_2022_(3)“Islamabad: Religious minorities demand more space in the census” – Shafique Khokhar in PIME Asia News: “Pakistan’s civil society is calling for a review of the methods used by the government to conduct censuses. During a conference organised yesterday by the Centre for Social Justice, speakers urged the Bureau of Statistics to rethink the questions in the questionnaires and count nomadic populations and other minorities (Baha’i, Kalash, Jews, Buddhists) separately, instead of grouping them all under the heading ‘others’: in this way it would be possible to account for the country’s ethnic and religious diversity and plan targeted policies. During the event, a document entitled ‘Demographic Confusion of Minorities’ was presented, which examines data from the 1981, 1998 and 2017 censuses: the demographic picture appears inconsistent and illogical, giving rise to doubts about the credibility of the statistics compiled by the government. For example, the percentage of people belonging to religious minorities, 3.32% of the total population in 1981, rose to 3.73% in 1998 and then fell to 3.52% in 2017. In absolute numbers, this amounts to 7.32 million people, including Christians (2.64 million), Hindus (3.6 million), Ahmadis (0.19 million), people of the Scheduled Castes (0.85 million) and people of ‘other’ religions (0.04 million).  Part of the inconsistencies can be explained by looking at the categories used by the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra): while citizens can choose to identify themselves in one of the 18 available categories, census data limits the choice to six or at most nine categories, excluding some minorities.”


social media“Social Media That Doesn’t Shrink Your Soul?” – Jon Jordan in The Living Church: “There are lots of reasons to be wary of social media, and there is no shortage of opinions currently being published about a certain billionaire’s looming purchase of a certain network. While I have plenty of opinions on that matter, I will refrain from sharing any of them here because, at the end of the day, this purchase matters very little. There is a far graver issue at hand when it comes to our relationship with social media. Virtues are moral muscles that, like our physical muscles, are either strengthened or given to atrophy every single day. Thousands of small, daily thoughts, actions, and reactions become engrained habits, which mold us into who we are becoming. When we exercise temperance — our moral ‘no’ muscle — on small things like passing on dessert, skipping meat on Fridays, or leaving the phone turned off for an hour around dinnertime, we are actually strengthening our ability to say ‘no’ when it matters most. When we exercise courage — our moral ‘yes’ muscle — by saying ‘yes’ to a neighbor in need despite the inconvenience, or when we read stories of those who say ‘yes’ even when it is unpopular or dangerous to do so, we are actually strengthening our own ability to say ‘yes’ when it matters most. This is how moral formation works, and we ignore the virtues to our collective peril.”


Music: Donny McClurkin with Richard Smallwood, “Total Praise,” from Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs

Stand in Awe :: John Singleton Copley, “Jesus Ascending to Heaven”

John Singleton Copley, Jesus Ascending to Heaven; oil on canvas; 1775.

What would it have been like to gather with Jesus after His resurrection and watch Him ascend to glory? We’re told by Luke that forty days after His resurrection, during which He appeared many times to the disciples, Jesus ascended into the Father’s presence. “When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven” (Luke 24:50-51). As the awestruck disciples watched this, suddenly two angelic figures appear with a message: “Men of Galilee…why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:10-11). What wondrous mystery and awesome power is revealed as Jesus ascends. It is no wonder, then, that the next thing the disciples did was gather with other believers in Jerusalem for an extended period of time to pray and worship.

John Singleton Copley, a painter in the American colonies, was inspired to paint this biblical event after spending six months in Rome, where he was astonished by the skill and artistry of the Renaissance painter Raphael. Specifically, Copley studied Raphael’s rendering of Christ’s transfiguration, which served as an inspiration for Copley’s painting of Christ’s ascension. Copley saw the important connection between the transfiguration, where Christ’s heavenly glory is briefly revealed, and the ascension, where Christ returns to the full glory of the Father’s presence. The disciples are overwhelmed with awe at Jesus’ glorious, post-resurrection presence now withdrawing corporeally in this ascension into eternal glory at the Father’s right hand. Here, the glory of Jesus’ earthly and heavenly identity is revealed and it leaves both the disciples and us amazed. We, too, can stand in awe, alone or with others, lifting our prayer and worship to Jesus “who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:34).

Scatter the Word :: Vincent van Gogh, “The Sower”

Van Gogh - The Sower.jpg
Vincent van Gogh, The Sower; oil on canvas; 1888.

After Jesus’ resurrection, there are numerous accounts of Jesus meeting with His disciples. Several of those accounts depict Jesus’ commissioning His disciples to continue the work He began (see Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:15-18; Luke 24:45-49; John 20:19-23; Acts 1:6-8). He invites them to become witnesses of Jesus everywhere they go, making disciples as they proclaim the message about Jesus. Earlier in the Gospel accounts, in Matthew 13, Jesus tells two parables about God’s kingdom rooted in agricultural life. The first is a parable about a sower scattering seed on different types of soil with different results (Matthew 13:1-23), while the second is about a sower who scatters good seed in a good field but whose enemy sows weeds into the field during the night (13:24-30). When asked about this second parable, Jesus begins by saying, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man” (13:37). Jesus’ work is, in a sense, the work of a sower of seed, scattering good news into the field of the world. So, when the disciples go out, they, too, become sowers of the seed, scattering good news about Jesus. Vincent van Gogh’s beautifully rich painting, The Sower, is one of at least thirty paintings and drawings the artist made on this theme. Drawing upon his Christian roots and influenced by a similar work of Jean-François Millet, van Gogh saw his own artistic endeavors as a form of ministry within the world. Painting this while working alongside Paul Gauguin, van Gogh works out with passionate color his sense of how painting can bring beauty and peace from God into a disoriented and pain-filled world. The sun sinks low behind the sower almost like a halo, suggesting the holiness of a vocation lived out under God. Reflecting on Jesus’ self-description, van Gogh helps us see the holiness of the evangelistic calling of Jesus’ disciples—both then and now—who are sent out on mission, while also seeing the holiness within our vocational calling through which we can subversively join God’s mission in this world. It is both in proclamation and incarnation that Jesus’ disciples sow the seed of the message of Jesus.