Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The God of things as they are

The little gem of a chapel in the photo above is located, of all places, in a cemetery in Los Angeles. Known as the Church of the Recessional, it was built as a replica of the English parish church in the village where Rudyard Kipling grew up. Some interior changes were necessary to suit its funerary role, but they did a fine job of retaining all the authenticity they could. The lovely stained glass is American, from about 1940. Many of the windows tastefully weave themes and words of Kipling's into their otherwise conventional Christian design. Here's a sample.

The scroll that the angel's holding reads, "Colour fulfils where music hath no power," a quotation from Kipling's 1925 poem Chartres Windows. Definitely a sentiment any lover of stained glass would like, though music-lovers might demur.

Outside, there's a stone wall with the inscription below, another poem by Kipling. I liked it because it celebrates both art and our God, Who built us a rational universe whose truth and beauty we could discover and partly comprehend with the intellect and intuition He gave us, and Who can therefore claim the title of "the God of things as they are."

When Earth's last picture is painted,
And the tubes are twisted and dried,
When the oldest colors have faded
And the youngest critic has died,

We shall rest, and faith! we shall need it --
Lie down for an aeon or two --
'Till the Master of all good workmen

Shall put us to work anew.

And those that were good shall be happy
They'll sit in a golden chair,

They'll splash at a ten league canvas

With brushes of comet's hair
They'll find real saints to draw from
Magdalene, Peter, and Paul;
They'll work for an age at a sitting
And never be tired at all!

And only the Master shall praise us,
And only the Master shall blame;

And no one will work for money,
And no one will work for fame.

But each for the joy of the working,

And each, in his separate star,

Will draw the thing as he sees it,

For the God of things as they are!

They say that we've largely lost a sense of what Heaven will be like, and therefore much of our longing for it. But for anyone involved in the arts in any way, Kipling's vision is a good reminder that "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him." (1 Cor. 2:9)