Healing and Hope
Manny Garibay (Philippines), Oil on canvas 4 x 3 ft
A Reflection from the Artist on his own Painting
The painting shows a human figure in a state of disintegration (or coming together, depending on how you look at it). On the left side is a dandelion with its dried flower spreading seeds on the barren landscape. In the sky is a hand among the clouds suggesting the presence of the divine.
In the context of the massive environmental degradation caused mainly by human activities, this work suggests that healing and restoration of the land necessarily entail sacrifice and repentance among humans. This could be in terms of a radical change of our way of life – from consumerism to prudent use of the earth’s resources, from greed to compassion and from conflicts to peace and justice.
The choice of the dandelion is deliberate as it is regarded by humans as a useless and undesirable weed. It is meant to negate humans’ arbitrary regard for nature in terms of what agrees with their tastes as opposed to allowing nature to take its course.
The hand signifies that in spite of human intelligence, the ultimate fate of humanity will never be in their own hands. Divine retribution comes if we continue with our ways of greed, destruction and injustice.
A Theological and Biblical Response to the Painting
By Peter Cruchley, Mission Secretary: Mission Development
Garribay’s painting stirs and provokes many thoughts and images about healing and brokenness and how these things make creation and God apparent to each other. God our creator calls forth life out of chaos, life out of death. And our life is always between disintegration and transformation. Between the hurt we bear and healing that is coming is a life that is now and not yet. This gives us a hope that puts us at odds and at one with the world around us, giving us reason to groan as we announce the new life that is coming.
God has shown us in Christ that our world and bodies are the context for his struggle for justice and his vision of transformation. His wounds offer healing and his hands reach out and down to include and raise up. God raised up a might Saviour who was the anti-thesis of the Caesar who claimed to be the light and son of God. Christ’s life and body is the battle ground with the Imperial forces that threaten life with its greed for profit and love of violence; it was the case for the life and body of Jesus of Nazareth and for those who make up his body, the church
Creation and Christ encounter each other in the Spirit’s power and presence. The Spirit signifies, sanctifies and summons hope and healing, change and transformation, judgement and mercy. From the midst of the earth and amongst us the Spirit stirs and sends missionaries as prophets and as seeds of God’s fullness of life. The Spirit raises up those whom the powerful despise and reject, like Hannah or Mary. They become the new life. And we who are their seed – their sons and daughters – find our calling into a discipleship of hope and healing.
The CWM Assembly met in the face of Garibay’s painting of a fundamentally integrated landscape marred in its midst by a divided body. As it hang as the backdrop of the Assembly stage, it challenged us to speak of healing hope in action. CWM gathered against the fundamentally disintegrated landscape, which has been marred by war and conflict and forced to become the divided body that are the two Koreas. Korea is a context of division, a peninsula whose life has been and remains the battleground for rival Imperial powers. That division is particularly evident in Jeju, as participants discovered through their orientation visits.
We came to such a reality grateful for the spirit, witness and power of faith and life that is amongst our Korean family. In South Korea we encountered a history of imperial aggression and ambition and a witness to peace and justice that longs to be fulfilled in reconciliation. The Imperial politics of divide and rule, of national security and political expediency weigh heavily on the people and the land. It has fractured and it threatens peace in the region and beyond. In the Korean context, Garibay’s painting turns us to biblical imagery and story. Let us learn from a prophet of disintegration and transformation, Isaiah who raised the voice of repentant king Hezekiah. Isaiah 38 records that Hezekiah discovered healing once he laid aside his Imperial alliance with Assyria and Egypt:
Like a swallow or a crane[e] I clamour,
I moan like a dove.
My eyes are weary with looking upwards.
O Lord, I am oppressed; be my security!
15 But what can I say? For he has spoken to me,
and he himself has done it.
All my sleep has fled[f]
because of the bitterness of my soul.
16 O Lord, by these things people live,
and in all these is the life of my spirit.[g]
O restore me to health and make me live!
17 Surely it was for my welfare
that I had great bitterness;
but you have held back[h] my life
from the pit of destruction,
for you have cast all my sins
behind your back.
18 For Sheol cannot thank you,
death cannot praise you;
those who go down to the Pit cannot hope
for your faithfulness.
19 The living, the living, they thank you,
as I do this day;
Garibay’s painting conveys this yearning for healing. The fractured spirit yearns to be whole and reconciled. As the work of reconciliation begins, the spirit longs for it to hasten and to be completed. It speaks of how costly it is to witness to and to believe in healing and reconciliation. Garibay and Hezekiah’s wounded body demand for an account for our wounds and struggles. They ask what we are in the process of becoming as CWM and the member churches in the context of the world’s brokenness.
Hezekiah could not accept the suffering apparently sent to him by God. He, like Job, felt the finger of God pointing to him in judgement and determining what that punishment would be. A hand hangs heavy over Garibay’s piece too. Is it the hand of the artist or the Hand of God? Maybe that hand sends suffering too. Suffering we see in the injustice of our day – ecological and economic injustice, histories, legacies and practices of exploitation such as the de-humanisation of Israel-Palestine conflict, slavery and human trafficking. The hand symbolizes the sending of armies, the shredding of peace through militarisation, the inflicting of pain, discrimination and violence by patriarchal power. Does God side with this? Does God send this?
Once Hezekiah believes that God sent the pain, he gives up all hope. And Isaiah’s prophetic task is to convince him of a new theology. God does not send suffering on people, but God sends people to the suffering, to bring healing and hope in action. This revives Hezekiah and his spirit lifts. He subsequently rises so that he can turn back to the transforming task of his leadership in Israel. Similarly, that was the reviving task of our Assembly as we sought to be lifted by the sending hand of God. Hezekiah challenges the death-dealing image of God. He sees instead that in God he is called into life-affirming relationships and in those life-affirming relationships he encounters God.
Thus, we are called to life, a life that is reconciled not just to enemies and not just to God, but to hope also. Those who have been hurt, harmed and abused by the empty promises of the powerful have questions about hope. Hezekiah voices them painfully as he longs to be drained of his bitterness and hopelessness. Garibay’s oft ignored seed-sending dandelion weed is the foreground of his painting like our Hezekiah inspired theology of being sent into suffering. The prophet Isaiah reveals and restores Hezekiah’s hope, all because of the Spirit’s power to call and send, to inspire life in the midst of suffering.
Hezekiah’s body and spirit parable is ours. CWM’s vision of mission in the context of Empire, our partnership of churches, our discerning and practice of how to embody the vision of fullness of life for all through Christ, mirror the parable. Like Garibay’s central figure, we rise up in our weakness and disintegrate into newness. We give ourselves over to the direction marked out by God. Like Hezekiah, we are called to bless the Spirit who brings Healing: Hope in Action.