As a post-Institutional Christian, I continue to draw inspiration and comfort from the symbolism of Christianity in the form of the Cross and sacred art, as many Christians do. While Protestantism is often somewhat “linear” in its philosophical approach to the employment of imagery in worship and prayer, it is undeniable that those of this denominational sector also draw on a variety of such imagery for the purpose of teaching and encouraging reflection on the narratives of Salvation History as set out in the Bible. For these reasons, I am responding to Sandy Van Eysinga’s letter regarding the First Nations art at CGH.
The Cross, for one example, is a representation of a spiritual reality which transcends the wood from which it was made, much in the manner of the wine and bread of the Lord’s Supper or Communion/Eucharist, which are but “accidents” (substantial stand ins) covering the spiritual realities of Christ’s body and blood. Roman Catholicism does Protestantism one better and offers a plethora of visual aids, which at one time were not superfluous, but necessary, prior to the advent of more widespread literacy. These visual aids have long assisted the people of the Church to enter into the sacred mysteries of Faith, during times in which literacy was available only to the clergy and the very wealthy. Today, the contemplation of icons, crosses, statuary, paintings, etc. work hand in hand with the liturgy, music and preaching encountered in worship in order to enrich the worshipper’s experience of the Divine.
How then, does a Christian find imagery representing First Nations spirituality so threatening? I submit that Ms. Eysinga speaks from the standpoint of post-colonialism: no longer is the Christian Faith a particularity which overshadows all others, especially in the presence of spiritual practices and images which long predate that Faith’s arrival on this continent. She states that there may well have been some sort of uproar, had the renovation at CGH included Christian imagery and this is a very good point. The fact is that Canada is home to a wide array of Faith groups, in this day and age. The potential for “offense” at the exclusion of these Faiths in favour of the colonialist default is certainly present. For that reason, it was most prudent of CGH to draw on the indigenous spirituality of this continent and, indeed, this town, which bears a First Nations name as our country, Canada, does.
As far as the possibility of people not pursuing care due to their objections to the “idolatry” of the art in question, I must respectfully caution Ms. Eysinga. To underwrite the sort of fanaticism which eschews self-care in favour of some arcane aversion to imagery does nothing to temper the passions of those who would have us believe there is only one way to know God. Further, I believe Ms. Eysinga needs to take a second look at this art, which represents ideals common to all faiths: healing, wellbeing, hope, caring and strength. There is little here to object to on any basis except that of Dominionism, as these principles are universal to all human systems of spirituality.
We share this town, this country and this continent with people of many Faiths (and those with no Faith, at all, as Ms. Eysinga points out). In calling on First Nations artists to speak to the spirituality of the body in need of a physician, CGH has acted most prudently. Artistic renderings in an Institutional setting should speak to people on a universal and not a particular level and it is clear enough to me that these works of art do precisely that.