Last year at this time, we visited the catacombs outside Rome to ponder the subterranean artists of the second and third centuries C.E. whose religious tradition expressly told them not to make graven images. Why these devoted souls did so and with such verve is a testament to their undeniable ardor. Let us now reach further to 30,000 B.C.E. and the caves of Chauvet, France to contemplate the birth of art.
The symbiosis between human beings and the wild animals surrounding them is complex. Humans hunted them and were hunted by them. Their life-giving and life-threatening attributes inspired reverence and awe. Take a moment to ponder the animated power of Chauvet, the clear authority of its artistry and shading. Is it any wonder Picasso exclaimed, “all else since is decadence” upon studying paleolithic art of his native Spain?
Recently discovered and verified through carbon dating, the art of Chauvet is among the first set of images to have appeared on our island home. Try to imagine it above the flickering light of a feeble flame, perhaps rendered in stolen moments in flight from a cave bear. Its innate spirituality is what experts believe delineated us from the moot Neanderthal species, a uniquely Cro-Magnon seed of transcendent thinking beyond one’s self and own predicament.
This raw creative talent is what our friend Marcus Borg terms a “thin place” where the human reaches toward the divine. Might we look upon the incarnation of a Middle Eastern baby who grew wise and resolute, touching generations of spiritual pilgrims, as the ultimate expression of divine creativity? Jesus of Nazareth tended to ask questions, to probe, to break rules and to envision beyond the horizon a new creation.
30,000 years is a long creative testimony. So is 2,000. We create. God creates in us and with us. May we genuflect to the birth of art and proclaim, “Hosanna, to the Son of David!”