Art from this exhibit at the Four Chapter Gallery was featured in The Beauty of Weakness – Lent Devotional.
Through these paintings [SAMPLE ARTWORK BELOW], I wrestled with the complex reality of pain and suffering. Aesthetically, I was particularly inspired by the Japanese practice of Kintsugi and the philosophy of Wabi-sabi. Kintsugi is a practice whereby a broken piece of pottery is repaired using powdered precious metal and adhesive. The cracks on the piece are entirely visible in their newly gilded form, and the piece actually becomes more valuable than before it was broken. Wabi-sabi is an aesthetic philosophy which values the natural, the temporal, and the ephemeral over the permanent and perfect.
I sought to create personal artifacts of brokenness, and the only thing that could make me brave enough to do so was to filter it through my understanding of why pain exists. I have come to realize that, personally, suffering only becomes unbearable to face if I feel that there can be no deeper meaning beyond it.
Talking about suffering is difficult because it is at once intimate and universal. No matter what you say about it, it lacks some facet or depth of human experience, because it is an individual soul that suffers. As Nicholas Wolterstorff says in his profoundly moving Lament for a Son, “The dynamics of each person’s sorrow must be allowed to work themselves out without judgement. I may find it strange that you should be tearful today but dry-eyed yesterday when my tears were yesterday. But my sorrow is not your sorrow.” I have felt that profound loneliness in my own suffering. In those moments, it feels like no one else could possibly understand what I am going through, and there is some truth to that. No human being can possibly understand another soul’s suffering completely.
I come to the Passion of Jesus Christ here because in Christ my loneliness in my suffering is diminished. Christ’s suffering through the passion corresponds in some aspect to practically any kind of human suffering imaginable. The cross acts as a prism in this way, through which all suffering is split into its many facets. I find that there is no facet he cannot enter, not just because he knows me completely but also because of the life he lived and the death he died. Christ endured a kind of suffering that is the worst I can imagine: he was fully alone, he had no consolation, and God was silent. There was no one to defend him; he could not save himself without compromising those he loved most. He endured agonizing physical pain. And worse than that, many theologians describe the spiritual agony into which Christ descended as one that felt infinite and unending.
More important to me than the eradication of loneliness is the eradication of all suffering itself, which is the whole point of the horrific death of Jesus. Because of Christ’s work on the cross, my journey through the valley of death has an end. The painful process has context and meaning that it didn’t have before. I have often found myself wanting to escape from or ignore my pain in an attempt to speed up my healing process so I can go back to the way I was before, with no scar to remind me of the pain, in an imagined state of perfection. This project has helped me to begin to understand suffering as a process, and to see scarring as a mark of the healing. It is important to note that Christ, the God-man, whose death reworked the very fabric of the cosmos, forever changing the material of the universe, chose to keep his scars after his resurrection.
ABOUT THE PROCESS
Each painting is 64” tall, which is within the range of probable heights for an average male in Palestine in the first century; in other words, it is representative of the height of Jesus of Nazareth. Each panel is the same size; and it is my hope that in this work you will sense a sort of unified bodily presence.
The exhibit is broken into three parts. Part one serves as a narrative introduction to the reality of suffering, the second part explores the particular suffering of Christ as seen in his Passion, and the third part imagines result of that Passion.
In the second part, each work was created with an underpainting. This underpainting often felt finished to me in a sense in that it had a unique beauty that satisfied me. Then I inflicted upon the work an act that was like or representative of what Jesus might have experienced. For example, the painting dealing with the scourging of Christ was itself scourged with a cat-o’-nine tails whip. In another example, the painting meant to express a shadow of the moment of agony when Christ screamed his question, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” was actually removed from the stretcher bars and torn apart.
In the spirit of kintsugi, I have worked some measure of repair on each of the paintings, though not with the intent that they look the same way they did beforehand. Also in harmony with the philosophy of Wabi-sabi and the messiness of the process of suffering, you will find many imperfections in these paintings. Though they have been glued, sewn, woven, and gilded, I didn’t make an attempt to hide the wounds, but instead chose to see them as a part of the painting’s history, a reminder of the breaking. I let them keep their scars, and this repetitive act helped to instill in me the idea that it is okay for me to keep my own scars as a reminder of my brokenness and the hands that are healing me.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR / ARTIST
Kelly Kruse uses her work to explore the painful, beautiful experience of human longing and suffering. She developed a visual devotional practice as a response to her battle with depression, through which she wrestles with beauty, longing, and faith. Kruse describes her work as contemporary illumination. Like the medieval monks who perfected the art of illuminated manuscripts, she seeks to awake in the viewer a sense of spiritual contemplation. Her first exposure to the idea of illumination came when she studied Medieval and Renaissance music in Italy. Her background in classical music and opera puts her in a unique position to explore the intersection between scripture, poetry, musical works, and the visual arts. Kelly received her undergraduate degree in voice performance from Iowa State University and her masters in voice performance from Indiana University, where she was a student of Costanza Cuccaro. In addition to her visual art practice, she is a member of the music faculty at Metropolitan Community College-Blue River. She also maintains an active private studio and is a member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing. Kelly is a Daler-Rowney sponsored artist.
[PART 3 OF 3]
When the shrapnel of a broken world knocks the wind out of us, and we feel like we can barely breathe—let alone pray—how do we keep praying? When life transitions to a minor key, we take a note from the Psalms once again. We need to pray the blues. And there is one lament that spans two psalms—Psalm 42 and 43—that is just the one to help us figure it out.
The psalmist walked us through the drought. He dove deep into the depths. But now, suddenly, as he comes to a close in his prayer, He looks forward to a time where he will once again know the dwelling of God.
In ancient Israel, place—the land—was everything. The temple in Jerusalem, the holy hill of Zion, was a patch where heaven overlapped with earth—God’s dwelling place with man. This was the psalmist’s home, and being far from the temple meant less of God’s felt presence.
So where is the psalmist anyway? In 42:6, he remembers God from the mountain range of Hermon in Jordan, not Israel. From Mount Mizar, which means “little hill,” because every hill other than the one on which God resides feels insignificant. In 42:4, he’s consumed with the thoughts of when he had felt God’s presence in the temple with God’s people singing His praises.
But then there’s a turn. Still, far from the temple, in 43:3, he begins to imagine the day coming where God will indeed send out His light to guide his steps back to the dwelling. Up to the altar, where God, his very joy, resides!
What happened? How’d he go from a disheartening longing for the past to a hopeful longing for the future? In lament, there’s one moment in this prayer that covers Psalms 42 and 43—said three times (42:5, 42:11, and 43:8)—where the psalmist tells his depressed and anxious soul: Be quiet and listen. A moment where all the worried thoughts yelling “where are you?!” and frantic feelings screaming “how could you?” step away from the mic. And the psalmist steps up to sing a better word to himself.
Why are you downcast? What’s really messing with my heart here? As we’ve said time and again, what’s at the center here for the psalmist, and really at the center of every one of our laments, is feeling like God is far from us. And maybe most hurtful of all, that God is unconcerned for us.
Then, he sits his own soul down and says – that’s enough. God hasn’t forgotten. God is trustworthy. Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.
He’s not home. He longs for home because God is there in a way He isn’t anywhere else, and yet he cheers on his own soul to hope in God’s promise anchored in his steadfast love to bring him home someday.
This isn’t our home, which is why we pray the blues. And I would go so far as to say that we should feel some discontent—a dissatisfaction with this world—on a daily basis. If you’ve never had an occasion to sing the blues, you have really low standards. You can’t honestly be satisfied with this. We live in a world of racism, poverty, sin, injustice, and disease, and the best of efforts haven’t made all that much progress. But more than anything, we live in a broken and fallen world where I call out to God and at times He feels unbearably absent. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be, and so we pray the blues.
But at this point in history, we remember and so sing to ourselves, not about a temple in Jerusalem, but when—as the Gospel-writer John says in John 1—God took on flesh and literally “tabernacled among us”! The most holy hill is where the Son of God, Jesus Christ, climbed the mount of crucifixion. No longer do we look to an altar. As the author of Hebrews waxes so eloquently, in Jesus’ single sacrifice on the cross, all sin has been paid for once and for all. The curtain separating God and man in the temple has been torn in two.
And while in a broken world and on a rugged cross, Jesus cried out the lament, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The very words of the psalms. He became rejected that we might be accepted. He left His home in heaven that He might make a way for us, defeating every bit of sin and shame and brokenness that will keep me from coming home. And three days later, He rose again, and 40 days later ascended to go and prepare a place for His people.
A place that was revealed to John in the book of Revelation. Listen as he recounts the vision of our new and eternal home:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4 ESV)
Don’t you long for this? Doesn’t this make you pray the blues as you wait?
One of my favorite stories of B.B. King is of a concert in 2008. B.B. King was 82 at the time. The place was packed, and finally as the concert came to an end around 2am, after the crowds had cleared and only about 30 or so folks who wanted autographs remained, King looked around at his band and with a nod broke into When the Saints Go Marching In, vamping on the tune for some 20 minutes.
This I think is the true conclusion of praying the blues, a longing for what is to come. My favorite part in that song is when we sing:
Some say this world of trouble
Is the only one we need
But I’m waiting for that morning
When the new world is revealed
The Christian life is a long longing in the same direction, and so when we lament, we pour out our souls to our God because we aren’t home yet. But someday we will be. And until that day, we pray the blues to God and say to ourselves:
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God. (Psalm 43:5 ESV)
Come, Lord Jesus…