Friday, September 18, 2009

Matter ’09—Austin, Texas

As I report from the Seminary of the Southwest, Austin, Texas — I'm an attendee and contributor at Matter ’09, a creative theology conference. The theme for the conference is (Hebrews 12) Christian Relationships. My paper presentation, which occurred yesterday was Hebrews 12: “Our Relationship with God through Art and Text.” Pictured above is a piece titled, Coram Deo I (2007), which is a giclée digital print featured in the presentation.

The paper opens this way:

Perhaps you’re familiar with the lyrics of “Open our eyes, Lord,” which is a song that reminds us of Hebrews 12:2, where the Biblical author writes, “Let us keep looking to Jesus. He is the author of faith. He also makes it perfect. He paid no attention to the shame of the cross. He suffered there because of the joy he was looking forward to. Then he sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2 from the NIRV.

Thinking about this passage, in a broader Scriptural context, I came across a very interesting article in a vintage periodical called Christian Art, which according to it’s tagline was “a monthly review of art made for God’s greater glory.” The September 1966 issue ran an interview with the idiosyncratic artist, Joachim Probst (1913-1980). Probst speaks very forthrightly, from the heart, and self-assuredly yet his fragility and vulnerability seems to be revealed at the same time. He’s a self-described maniac. In addition to his artwork, Probst perseverance as an artist, which at times meant poverty.

In the interview Probst elaborates, “Now how do I mean that art is a stand against decay? The moment you say art has something to do with line, form, color, you bring it into life and this means a stand against decay. By decay I mean rot. You live in fear or you face it through art…” — From an article in Christian Art, An interview with Joachim Probst and edited by Helene E. Nelson, Graphic House Inc., Chicago, 1966.

Reinforcing Probst’s point, Nicholas Wolterstorff says emphatically: “This world of colors and textures and shapes and sounds is good for us, good for us in many ways, good also in that it provides us with refreshing delight” (Proverbs 8:30-31). We are a physical part of God’s creation, we are along with all created things creatures of God, and all things were created to serve and glorify the Lord.

The title of my series, “Coram Deo” literally means “before the face of God.” It carries with it the idea of living one’s whole life in the presence of the divine and to the honor and glory of God. While there’s a reality to living in the awesome presence of the Lord there is also mystery to the divine presence and this series attempts to conceptualize the mystery. From a creaturely perspective (type and text can be creaturely things), this body of work explores and attempts to visualize the mystery as colorful layers, emotive, and formal interests.

In a book, On Being Human, Imaging God in the Modern World, author Calvin Seerveld discusses our call to live life fully according to human experience by enjoying good creaturely things in the living presence of God, — “as a listening sinner or as sinful saint, sharing its truth with one’s neighbor." Good ways to begin to know our humanness is to hear the God of psalm 139 speak:
This Scripture tells us that to be a human creature is to be coram Deo, to live before the face of god, not just as a fact you cold learn, but also, as a lived experience. God knows you to the core of your human selfhood. We humans are creatures God knows heart to heart. Because we humans without exception worship, each one of us is consciously or self-consciously aware of the fact that the Lord’s faithful, all encompassing care attends us and penetrates past the maintenance of each hair of our head and touches us in our mother’s womb. Psalm 139 reveals the truth that the peculiar feature of human creatures is that the creator Lord holds us to be accountable persons in God’s holy presence.

Animals, plants and rocks exist coram Deo, too and respond gloriously to god’s will in their own way as animals, plants and rocks. Lions stalking prey deep in the jungle are looking to God for their food, says Scripture (Psalm 104:14-30). The colors with which God clothes wildflowers are praise more exquisite than Solomon’s finery, says Scripture (Matthew 6:25-34). The reaches of sky which give playroom to clouds jubilantly proclaim the stunning majesty of the Lord, says Scripture (Psalm 19:1-4). The bird, tree and stone on every street-corner witness that God of the Scriptures revealed in Jesus Christ is lord of heaven and earth, even before humans built their cities (see Job 38-41)!
Along with acknowledging God’s Covenantal sign of the rainbow Seerveld metaphorically expresses his view of the Covenantal theme as warm and “light” colors. To this, I would add that the light always creates shadows too and atmospheric light and shadows reveal the form.

The font used to develop the Coram Deo series is Boudewyn © 2004, which is an original type design by David Versluis and is a work in progress, begun in 2004. This digital type face was inspired by the wood carved typographic style on the Communion table (detail pictured above) of the Broadway (Westview) Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The carving, completed ca. 1904 was the work of Boudewyn DeKorne.


  1. Very interesting article. Joachim Probst seems to have been a very interesting individual. Someone I would definitely have liked to meet. Have you seen any of his works?


  2. Thank you. I would have liked to have met him too.

    Unfortunately, I have not actually seen Probst's work… other than what's on-line and as a few printed illustrations.

    It's interesting that painter Franz Kline, who knew Joachim Probst, titled a painting “Probst I”, in 1960. (I recently learned about this from from author, Daniel Siedell… thanks Dan).


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