Monday, July 12, 2010

Breakfast With Zechariah

Several years ago I heard an elderly man tell how every morning, he and his wife would read a chapter of Scripture together during breakfast. This odd association of the Bible and food was appealing to me, and so for the next two weeks I tried it myself. Every morning I would get up early, make myself breakfast, and read a chapter from the Old Testament book of Zechariah. From that time forward, I have never been able to read Zechariah without craving scrambled eggs, sausage, and toast.

There are other books of the Bible I associate with food as well. I once spent an afternoon eating Taco Bell and reading First John. How, I now wonder, can people study First John without Taco Bell? It isn’t natural. The two go hand in hand.

One of my first encounters with the Book of Proverbs was in a hospital waiting room, where I read “The Thirty Sayings of the Wise” for the first time. The Thirty Sayings are now forever associated with hospital waiting rooms. And yes, hospital food.

And then there is the Book of Job. Well, not all of it, but that bit at the end, with the huge thunderstorm. A passage with such descriptive details of a thunderstorm cannot be fully appreciated unless you are actually reading it during a thunderstorm. It just makes sense.

I read an article several years ago about a custom of midnight Torah study at the traditional site of Rachel’s tomb. Ever since, I have been fairly certain that the best time to read Rachel’s story in the Book of Genesis is at the midnight hour.

And then, of course, there are other more well-known Scripture associations. For example, the nativity stories in Matthew and Luke are forever associated with a whole host of things that, in reality, have nothing to do with them: winter, Christmas trees, lights, candy, and basically all things December.

I’m not sure what good these odd associations really are. But connecting things together – even things that aren’t really all that related – seems to be a basic part of human nature. And I like thinking about breakfast when I read Zechariah. And I like thinking about Zechariah while I’m eating breakfast. They’re a good match.

I think the prophet would be pleased.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Bible And Art

Perhaps no other work of literature has had such a profound impact on the arts as the Bible. It has inspired murals, mosaics, stained glass windows, sculptures, and probably works in every other medium known to man. The Bible’s impact on art is a subject so broad, it could scarcely be covered by a single article, or even a book.

I think that the best way to do this theme justice, is to simply explore a few examples of just such works. While they are merely representative, they can at least give a flavor of how the Bible has influenced art through the ages.

Example 1: Mosaics in the Basilica of San Vitale.

This Basilica was built in Ravenna, Italy, during the sixth century. It includes a wealth of stunning mosaics. Among these is a depiction of two scenes from the life of Abraham: The three visitors at Mamre, and the Akedah, or binding of Isaac.

Example 2: Annunciation and Visitation.

These figures, representing both the Annunciation and Visitation recorded in Luke’s gospel, date from the thirteenth century. They are located at Reims Cathedral, in France.

Example 3: The Gospel Writers.

This stained glass window, depicting the Four Evangelists, was fashioned during the nineteenth century. It is located in St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney.

Example 4: The Black Hours.

This very unusual illuminated Book of Hours was created during the fifteenth century. Included is a depiction of the decent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, as recorded in the Book of Acts.

Example 5: Paradise.

This painting, which depicts various scenes from the early chapters of Genesis, is the work of Lucas Cranach. It was created during the sixteenth century.

Example 6: Ruth Gleaning.

French artist James Tissot produced this watercolor near the end of the nineteenth century, during a journey to Palestine. It depicts Ruth gleaning in the field of Boaz.

These six samples of art span over a thousand years, and represent various mediums and localities. The one thing they do have in common, however, is that they were inspired and influenced by the written words of Scripture – words that continue to inspire and influence even today.