Consecration of Creative Gifts
Before we delve into the passage from I Kings let me simply say that a cubit is roughly 18 inches.
Listen with me to selected passages from I Kings chapter 6, having to do with describing the temple built by King Solomon.
The word of the Lord came to Solomon: “As for this temple you are building, if you follow my decrees, observe my laws and keep all my commands and obey them, I will fulfill through you the promise I have to David your father. And I will live among the Israelites and will not abandon my people Israel.”
So Solomon built the temple and completed it. He lined its interior walls with cedar boards, paneling them from the floor of the temple to the ceiling, and covered the floor of the temple with planks of Juniper. …The inside of the temple was cedar, carved with gourds and open flowers. Everything was cedar, no stone was to be seen.
He prepared the inner sanctuary within the temple to set the ark of the covenant of the Lord there. The inner sanctuary was twenty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and twenty high. He overlaid the inside with pure gold, and he also overlaid the altar of cedar. Solomon covered the inside of the temple with pure gold, and he extended gold chains across the front of the inner sanctuary, which was overlaid with gold. So, he overlaid the whole interior with gold. He also overlaid with gold the altar that belonged to the inner sanctuary.
For the inner sanctuary he made a pair of cherubim out of olive wood, each ten cubits high…then cubits from wingtip to wingtip…He placed the cherubim inside the innermost room of the temple, with their wings spread out. The wing of one cherub touched one wall, while the wing of the other touched the other wall, and their wings touched each other in the middle of the room. He overlaid the cherubim with gold.
On the walls all around the temple, in both the inner and outer rooms, he carved cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers. He also covered the floors of both inner and outer rooms of the temple with gold.
For the entrance to the inner sanctuary, he made doors out of olive wood that were one fifth of the width of the sanctuary… in the same way, for the entrance to the main hall he made doorframes out of olive wood that were one fourth of the width of the hall. He also made two doors out of juniper wood, each having two leaves that turned in sockets. He carved cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers on them, and overlaid then with gold hammered evenly over the carvings.
And he built the inner courtyard of three courses of dressed stone and one course of trimmed cedar beams.
This description speaks of a time in human creative history when beauty of form and function were often inseparable – when craftsmen, builders, and designers created spaces and objects that both worked and looked good and pleasing in doing what they were intended to do. In the case of Solomon’s temple, one could even make argument that beauty of form had become more important than function.
This is a description of a temple of almost opulent beauty. Gold everywhere and the most beautiful, rare woods – much of which had to be secure years in advance – abound. There are carvings everywhere, and it sounds as if no surface is unadorned with care.
And the reference to cubits (perhaps you were wondering why I mentioned that), helps provide an idea of scale – of expansive magnificence, in fact an architectural poem to the magnificent hugeness of God.
But there is a warning up front in the beginning of this passage. “As for this temple you are building, if you follow my decrees observe my laws and keep all of my commands and obey them, I will fulfill through you the promise I gave to David your father. And I will live among the Israelites and will not abandon my people Israel. Translation for me: This temple will be holy, not because of its intrinsic beauty and your pleasant community, but it will be holy from my dwelling among you while you are an obedient people who honor me and keep my word among you.
Sometimes in human creative history this linking of form and function could create dualities which could seem incongruous and difficult. For example, Swords – instruments, at best, of self-defense, and at worst, of murder and death – were often, not only skillfully designed, engineered, and balanced to work well, but were also made to be beautiful works of art, with precious gems and the artistic metal work of a master craftsman.
Generally speaking, this enmeshment of form and function was an important hallmark of human creativity for much of our recorded history. However, this all began to change with the industrial revolution, which brought with it a gradual shift in the way creativity and productivity were valued and evaluated. To be desired more and more was that which was functional and efficient. Integrity of beauty in form was increasingly belittled and seen as ranging from “nice but not important,” to “out and out frivolous.”
In our time, we still wrestle with this tension, and I am reminded of it every time a proposal to solve a budget crisis in a school system calls for elimination of the arts, believing it makes some kind of frugal and utilitarian common sense.
However, I think I have to say in general that we, as God’s creative children, have done a pretty good job over the years and decades following the industrial revolution – perhaps stubbornly against the grain – in resisting the utilitarian mindsets, and infusing our own creations, buildings, art, music, writings, lives, and even our house of worship, with the sounds and sights of creative beauty through which all things that we do in life are in some way touched – and through which also, the lives of those we share community with are touched. But we are people designed in the image of a creative God, and I believe we just can’t help it. It’s who human creatures are: Creative beings.
In considering our “temple” here at Laurel Heights, our dwelling place where we meet God together, I spent some time in walking around the grounds of Laurel Heights this past week to take note of some of the ways we have created beauty that inspires our holiness.
Outside, I saw beautiful landscaping – designed and maintained with thought, diligence, and an eye for color and pattern. An entrance which says welcome. I noticed the beautiful building, it’s lines, it’s strength, it’s visible history, and the clean vibrant restored exterior. I see a poignant and beautiful bronze statue at the entrance to the day school. It’s not functional, but no one who takes the moment to consider it is untouched.
Inside, I notice carefully captured photographs, and originals or prints of fine paintings, some of which I’ve not stolen enough moments to study.
I see many beautiful handmade quilts. I see a mural. We even have a fresco. I see beautiful woods, with grains that have been brought to full radiance, and furniture with seamless joints and molded turned shapes to interest the eye. I see many crosses all through the church, each designed with a distinct beauty.
Let’s talk about this room – our sanctuary. I see painstakingly created stained glass. There’s lots of beautiful wood, flowing and moving lines of cover and support – the flowing arches of the windows. The chandeliers are pretty cool when you look closely at them. I see these beautiful frames made by George Frame to allow the functional use of plexiglass screens with design that complement our space. I see banners, these being only some of many lovingly made and offered for the visual proclamation of our themes and symbols.
Then there’s the beautiful case of our pipe organ, which of course leads us to the sounds of music we make and hear in this place. We have the full and rich sounds of a pipe organ, the inspiring musical offerings of our choir and instrumentalists, and the unifying sound of congregational voices lifted together.
In addition, this morning we are introducing and dedicating a new hymnal companion resource, “The Faith We Sing,” which we will expand our creative resources for our congregational song.
Finally, we have a very special gift to recognize this morning, this being this beautiful Steinway piano over here, generously given by Richard Parrigan in loving memory of his wife Majorie. Thank you Richard. It has been received with gratitude.
I invite you as you leave the campus today, to find your way out with a little more mindfulness to your surroundings than perhaps is usual, and see the many human creative touches which are all around you and which reflect our common creator and make our surroundings in Christian family life richer.