Beauty from Ashes

John Kimler Summit SemesterDuring my time here at Summit Semester I have had the opportunity to study under some of the greatest professors in the United States. The topics we have studied have ranged from theology, philosophy, church history, politics, Hebrew, English literature, art, poetry, and a handful of other topics. Poetry was one of the topics I was least looking forward to studying. Not because I disliked poetry, or thought studying it was a waste of time, but because I had a difficult time understanding it. Fortunately, our teachers had, more than likely, taken into consideration that this was the case for most of the students, and did a phenomenal job helping us understanding, and better appreciate poetry. Over time my understanding of poetry grew, and I could not help but fall in love with it. Poetry, I think, if done well can draw out a deeper and a fuller meaning from the author’s heart, and can speak more clearly to the soul of the reader. It seems to me that poetry is a language of the soul. Whenever good poetry is written there is some kind of message being communicated that the author could not communicate if he had not used poetry. Perhaps this is why our father Adam burst out into poetry upon seeing his wife for the fist time in the Garden of Eden. Normal sentences just weren’t going to cut it for him when trying to describe what his heart was feeling…but, that is just a thought.

Anyway, in my blog, I have decided to include a short poem which I had written during my time here at Summit Semester. My hope is that by including it and telling you the story of why I wrote it will help you, the reader, better understand what I am trying to say. I wrote the poem in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where, upon visiting, we had the opportunity to tour and see a cathedral that was built in the mid-1800s. This visit came the day after we read through the New Testament in two days… yes, two days! It was a hard endeavor but if you ever get the chance to take on the challenge of reading through the New Testament in two days then I would strongly encourage you to do so. It is quite a refreshing experience to the soul. Now then, the architectural design of the cathedral was, to say the least, impressive and beautiful; and the art that covered the ceilings, walls, and floors was indescribable! The cathedral was beautiful in and of itself but nothing I saw in there moved me to tears, nor caused me to write poetry describing my experience…that came later.

If you are facing the entrance of the cathedral from the outside, and walk around the right side of the building, you will come across a prayer garden filled with multiple life-sized sculptures telling the tale of Christ’s crucifixion. An unsettling, and unnerving feeling came across me as I stared at each of these sculptures. Thanks to movies, paintings, and books founded on bad theology, we Christians in the west (and assumedly the east) have created an image in our mind of what Christ must have looked like back when he walked the earth. This image of Jesus portrays him as being tall, good looking, and pale skinned, with blond hair and blue eyes. That description may be a bit exaggerated, but you get the point. Western culture has turned Jesus into a man who looks like he belongs on the cover of a hallmark greeting card… Which, literally, is the case.

And so it was with me… As I stood at the foot of the cross where Jesus hung I thought to myself, “This is not right…this sculpture is not beautiful! It does not reflect the likeness, beauty, and glory of the man who died for me!” The sculpture was ugly! As ugly as anything I’ve ever seen before. I did not like it. In fact, I hated it! It mocked the very Son of God!

I was torn between storming out of the garden and staying to look at the rest of the sculptures, though I was leaning toward leaving. It was at that moment when the words of our dear professor Dr. Bauman rang through my head concerning art. “Don’t use art, receive it.” I looked again at the hideous sculpture and thought to myself, “What is the artist trying to tell me?” I looked at it and all I could see was how ugly it was. I looked again, and still nothing came to me. Then at last my frustration came to an end when I finally saw it, or maybe realized what I was seeing the whole time. The sculpture was ugly! That’s it! It was hideous! It was morbid and gross! It was distasteful, and unpleasant to look upon. It was ugly. Nothing more, and nothing less. The frustration of not being able to see what the artist was trying to say had left me, but a new frustration quickly took its place. So then, my next question was “Why did this artist make such an ugly sculpture of Jesus? I get that it’s a sculpture portraying the crucifixion of Jesus, but couldn’t he have made it more beautiful, and appealing to the eye, and less ugly?”

At that moment it hit me, and I said, “Perhaps this artist made this sculpture of Christ the way it is because sin itself is so ugly, and by taking on our sin, Jesus also took on our ugliness so that we might be made beautiful.” I stood in silence for several minutes thinking about this, and the New Testament writings I had read the two days before, and could not come up with any other words to say. So I sat down on a cold metal bench, reached into my back-pack for my notebook, and penned these words…

So ugly this sin of mine,

So holy this Lamb divine.

Eyes filled with sorrow none could tell,

Suffering pain, rejection, and Hell.

Nailed to a cross was this spotless Lamb,

The Son of God, the great I Am.

Crushed by the Father, how can it be?

That God would embrace death for a worm, sinful as me.

Tears rolled down my face as I realized this sculpture was truly a sculpture of me. And the fact that Jesus would take upon himself that ugly image of sin so that I might be made beautiful and righteous in the eyes of God is, well…to deep to use a common sentence to try to describe.

John Kimler has traveled around a bit in recent years. This summer he worked in both Tennessee and Colorado at the Summit Student Conferences. Having grown up in the church, John knew what Christianity was all about, but not until recent years did he start making his faith was his own. Now John is interested in delving further into his studies in Religion and English. John has been interested in attending Summit Semester for the past several years, and is thrilled that he was able to adjust his plans at the last minute to attend this fall. He is excited to see how God grows him and his fellow students through their time together this semester.