It’s Wednesday, and time again for our series on theological artwork! Today’s piece is from Shepherd of the Valley artist Edie Martin. Edie has done many wonderful works for the church, including our stained glass windows and banners. She is marvelous and gracious to share her work with us today!
This piece is done in stained glass, an evocative medium, one I’d blanch at even trying to figure out! Edie has titled it, “The Demise of Enmity”. It references Isaiah 11:6-9 and 65:17-25, prophecies that cite a peaceful future where, among other things, the lion lays down with the lamb.
and I love this piece for several reasons, not the least of which is the subject matter. When times are tough, when it seems like we can’t solve the world’s problems no matter how we try (but we’ve still got to try), we need reminders that it wasn’t always meant to be this way, and that it won’t always be. We are meant for peace, togetherness, and comforting joy. We uphold this hope even as the forces of the world rage around and inside us.
Edie’s stained glass work captures the image with conviction, yet still invites the viewer in. Anyone who’s ever owned a cat will smile at the realism of the lion, which seems huge in scale but also resembles your favorite house cat curling up for a nap.
The lion’s paws are not visually touching the lamb. Instead the lamb feels enough safety and trust to drape its legs over the lion’s. This subtle touch is important. The lion-like powers of the world tend to judge themselves by their ability to control or manipulate others. When lions hear about lying down with lambs, their instinct tends to be, “Let’s go out and get as many sheep as possible, to show we’re the biggest and best lions!” Churches often fall into this mode when discussing evangelism. Instead of togetherness, we trade on angst and objectification. Few lions (or churches) aspire to be so gentle, so obviously suffused with the Spirit of goodness, that lambs feel comfortable and natural reaching out to place their hoofs over the lion’s paw.
The figure of the child is striking. The child sits where all of us would like to be, in the circle with lion and lamb. Notice the child isn’t in the center though! The youngster forms a circle of three with the animals, inviting the viewer to contemplate the relationship between them instead of any single figure. You can’t set your eyes on one without acknowledging the sanctity and importance of the others.
The colors evident in the child blend with the environment. The skin is the same color as lion’s fur and lamb’s wool. The child’s blue clothing and yellow hair match the flowers around. The child is not separate in any way from the world around. They are part of the same whole. Any claim to stand out as an individual would break the scene, not enhance it. The message appears to be that we and the world belong together in this way.
One feature stands out, though: the child’s eyes. That gaze is the only thing that breaks the frame, reminding the viewer that there is a world outside of the peaceful ideal. It is the world in which the viewer stands.
The child appears to be looking right at us. The implication of that penetrating gaze is clear: you’ve seen this relationship, you’ve identified how deeply and seamlessly we belong in this place…so where are you standing today? As the eyes of the child look up, away from the scene, they remind viewers that they still stand apart from the picture, even as they’re gazing upon it and loving it. The obvious question
becomes, “How do we get where we’re supposed to be? How can I find myself looking level with this child as part of the circle instead of apart from it? When do I get to lie down with lion and lamb in the flowered fields?”
There’s a sadness in the experience, in that we have no more hope of making this happen ourselves than we have of jumping inside the stained glass frame. Hope and conviction remain, though.
Maybe we can’t get inside the picture by our own devices, but we can carry its vision with us. We can remember that we are meant for peace and start making it a priority now. (After all, you don’t wait until you’re actually in the ocean to put your swimsuit on. You change and prepare before you hit the water!) The image helps us judge things that are more worthy of our time/attention and things that are less. We can prioritize the loving community that is our ultimate destiny rather than our own self-interest and power over others. We can stop seeking ways to be the lion, stop fearing that we’re forced to be the lamb, and instead embrace both—and all of creation—in love.
There’s no way to avoid wanting to be in the child’s place in the circle. There’s no way to see ourselves in that place without being forgiven of all the things we thought got us ahead, instead living out the reality of the picture even when we’re in the midst of the world we know today.
It’s a powerful image and a meaningful reminder. Thanks for sharing it, Edie! You can find Edie’s Facebook page @ediemartinglass and find her artwork page at ediemartinglass.com