Listen. This is a story that has to be told.
That was the opening line of the classic Greek tragedy, Medea, that my wife and I attended at Pepperdine over the weekend. If you are familiar with the play, it is a story that you probably wish had never been told. But we continue to show up for resurrections of Euripides’ terrible tale century after century—so maybe it is true that the story is unavoidable.
I try to attend anything produced by the Fine Arts Division Theatre Program at Pepperdine because every production is always fantastic, and given that our friend, Brad, was the director of and that our friend, Lincoln, composed original electronic music for this particular performance, we marked our calendars for Medea months ago. But wow, what a heart-wrenching story.
I remember the name, Euripides, from some high school textbook mostly because I thought it sounded funny. (“Euripides pants and you’re in big trouble, mister!”) But wow, how unhinged must this classic playwright have been to write such a horrible tale of cold-blooded, unthinkable revenge? What demented mind could imagine Medea, the character?
Obviously the mind of one of the more important playwrights in world history.
Maybe there was method to such madness. Maybe Euripides wrote such a messed-up story to shine a light in the ugliest places of our world so that we might sheepishly walk out of a dark theater committed to building a world that is brighter?
I read that Euripides is known as someone whose work sympathized with society’s outcasts. In Medea we encounter someone so powerless that she resorts to maniacal actions to scream at a world in which she had heretofore been silenced. It is only through unimaginable actions that she is heard.
But I hope we do more than hear her screams. I hope that we listen. I hope that we listen because this is a story that has to be told. If not, we may find ourselves destroyed by the last resorts of the voiceless should their predictable actions not be prevented by the only safeguard remaining — the goodness of their own hearts.
It was a crazy idea, but I am generally a fan of crazy ideas.
Avery is a retired art professor and an incredible artist, and I approached him just before Christmas with the vision of creating an original painting for Easter Sunday that was inspired by his thoughts of Mary Magdalene from John 20. I could not believe that he said yes. His paintings sell for thousands and thousands of dollars, and I asked him to produce an original work of art for free. And he said yes. How crazy is that!
So the approach to Easter was extra exciting this year. Periodically I would get an update from the artist himself, which only heightened my anticipation. Avery let me know that it was the running of Mary, Peter, and John that struck him in his meditations on the text, so that provided the direction of the painting. He showed me pictures of his work in stages—and as an abstract, contemporary artist also shared his concerns about painting people and working with a looming deadline!
But then it was finished. Fleet Feet at the Dawn of Redemption. Even the title of the painting is awesome.
I interviewed Avery at the beginning of yesterday’s sermon just prior to the unveiling and asked if there was a spiritual connection to his work. He quickly said yes and then described his process of creating chaos and then watching a phoenix rise from the ashes, of witnessing something beautiful emerge out of chaos. He then asked if I understood, and I answered that I so badly wish that I did.
But I guess that I sort of do. In a sense that describes life itself—the attempt to create something beautiful out of the chaos. In that sense we are all artists, using our gifts to create something out of the mess day after day after day.
The artwork that is my life is surely a work in progress and a little bit messy, but that is what Avery finds interesting about art in the first place. He once said, “That’s where the joy is and the struggle is and where the meaning comes.”
Excuse me while I get back to work. I have unfinished art that needs attention.
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged art, avery falkner, creation, creativity, easter, life, mary magdalene, modern art, painting, pepperdine, redemption, running