A 365 Day Devotional Journal
Scripture: Matthew 13:44-46; Matthew 25.
It was the year 2000.
The British Broadcasting Corporation, or BBC, had introduced a new T.V. series called the Monarch of the Glen which swept the U.K. in popularity, capturing the hearts of many with its whimsy and wit. They filmed seven series in all, the last in 2005. The drama centered on a place called Glenbogle House (actually Ardverikie Estate, a Scottish baronial style castle built in 1870) with the return of the laird’s eldest male heir.
Archie MacDonald is summoned back to care for his father, thinking him gravely ill, only to discover his parents had named him the new heir, laird of the castle and surrounding lands, to avoid surmounting taxes. Then, when he discovers the huge debt they’ve accrued, he announces selling the place is the only option. I’ve watched but four episodes but was drawn into the humor of what can only be described as uniquely Highlander, particularly as the new laird, his family, and tenants muddle about, bungling everything and generally making a greater mess of their lives in an attempt to solve their problems on their own terms.
Halfway around the world, the artist, Xu Bing(徐冰), spent four years installing a display called Tian Shu (天书), translated as Book from the Sky, but also called Book from Heaven.
It is comprised of hand printed books and scrolls. The books are handmade and hand bound in the exacting standards of the Ming dynasty, arranged on the floor in a grid, 400 of them, each one opened to roughly its middle. Of the some 4,000 Chinese characters he carved by hand in the ancient tradition of his ancestors, each was placed in wood blocks to print the individual pages, duplicating the process over and over again, until each page was printed. Some of the characters are carved to the specifications of a larger size, duplicating “headlines,” as it were.
Five 50 foot scrolls, printed in the way Chinese outdoor newspapers are, were draped in a simple arc, side by side, over the floor display. There’s just one catch. Though comprised of recognizable elements of Chinese script, not a one of the characters is in fact readable. In the words of one internet historian, “I’ve heard that some Chinese readers have spent days attempting to locate a character they can read – to no avail. It’s a piece of art whose meaning is to be found in its meaninglessness.”1
Some twenty years later Xi Bing created Di Shu (地书), literally Book from the Ground, or Book from Earth. It is made up entirely of signs and symbols which are recognizable by anyone speaking any language.
I was particularly struck by something the historian, Rachel Leow, wrote. She quotes the artist:
“In truth, though, these two books have something in common: No matter what language you speak, or what level of education you have attained, they treat all people of this world equally.”
Whether from Heaven or Earth, both his art pieces — and in this way they are something of backhanded tributes to the written word — are to be understood (or not understood, in the case of the Tian Shu) by the educated and non-educated alike.
For me, amongst other things, Tian Shu is the purest veneration of the written word and the form of the book: not for the knowledge they contain and convey, but simply the very fact that they are, and that they are, or can be, so beautiful, without even reading a word, and even without meaning anything at all.2
Xi Bing’s display was exhibited in Beijing at the 1989 China/Avant Garde exhibition and eventually led to his being denounced by the Chinese government, right about the same time they crushed the pro-democracy movement. He has lived in the United States since 1990. Today, he says “I’m sick of contemporary art. Artists are so smart and yet they don’t do anything worthwhile. So I’m designing a new type of computer. It’s going to move while you type. It’s kind of like Tai chi.”3
The similarities between the production of a fictional T.V. series and a nonsensical, unreadable art display are that they both are great examples of man attempting to find meaning in life without seeking the Source of Life. In the first example, it is through the earthly reasoning of man that the characters in the story continue to mess things up.
In the second example, the passion of an artist to convey his love of the written word leads him to denounce all art as meaningless in the end, while he attempts to find meaning through another earthly avenue, Tai chi chuan4, literally Supreme Ultimate Fist, a belief based on a blend of Taoist and Confucian Chinese philosophical principles.
Yet in The Book of Heaven, Jesus says “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”5
The knowledge of God contained and conveyed is the Bible, the only Book of Heaven, is priceless beyond compare.
How many times have I squandered my time, not realizing just how short it is, in search of things which are in the final analysis completely meaningless? When we are young, we think we have all the time in the world, but every parent will tell you that time passes in the blink of an eye.
What I choose to do with my time, however, is something God is very concerned with. Do I want to feel the Father’s pleasure when He says “Well done, thou good and faithful servant?”6 If so, then how I utilize my time each day is of supreme importance. This does not in any way mean God does not want us to have play time or free time, but that as I go through time, I do so with my heart on Him, that everything I do is in honor of the One who gave me Life.
Read: Matthew 13:44-46; Matthew 25. Journal your private thoughts.
Father God, forgive me for the times I have wasted time, not truly appreciating the gift you have given me through time itself. As I put You first, help me to order my day and make my life a sweet fragrance, in thanksgiving for the supreme gift You gave through Jesus, amen.
1Quote from “Bookporn #41: books from heaven, books from earth.” Rachel Leow. 5 May, 2009. Accessed 12 Mar 2011. http://idlethink.wordpress.com/2009/05/05/bookporn-41-books-from-heaven-books-from-earth/
2Quote from “Bookporn #41: books from heaven, books from earth.” Bold mine. Rachel Leow. 5 May, 2009. Accessed 12 Mar 2011. http://idlethink.wordpress.com/2009/05/05/bookporn-41-books-from-heaven-books-from-earth/
3Xu Bing quote from The Genius of Xu Bing. David Barboza. Accessed 12 Mar 2011. http://www.artzinechina.com/display_vol_aid125_en.html
5 Matthew 13:44-46. Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. www.lockman.org
6 Matthew 25:21. King James Version. Public Domain.
Copyright © 2011, Érin Elise
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