The Chasm Transcended
A Note Before Reading this Poem:
(A note that turned into an essay about the meaning of Christian art that, if you find pretentious or tiresome, you can feel free to skip)
I’d like to ask in advance that you pardon my use of Old English. In attempting to describe One who is indescribable, who could never be touched by a word, these antiquated terms are part of my pitiful try at building a reverent tone that reaches deeper than common expressions. So I employed some language in my poem that, culturally, might be assumed to be more reverent.
Perhaps it’s worth mentioning that, of course, fancier words are never more religious or impressive to God. The addict’s wordless whimper for divine help while the needle exits his arm is as valuable to God as the preacher asking for strength before he walks onstage to teach thousands. But if part of art is to create a sensation, a feeling for the audience that underscores and fills out profound truths, then my word choices are intended to conjure an experience that breeds a genuine wonder at the glorious paradox of the incarnation. Or at least that’s the goal.
The thing I’ve wrestled with, if I may risk being labeled a Romantic, is that I find a distinct separation—a chasm, if you will—between the truth of a thing and the words describing the truth of a thing. I can understand something intellectually without truly experiencing and knowing it. And I contend that this separation is why we need the arts.
The cold, hard, scientific facts about something or someone can only give us so much. They seem to only provide a charcoal pencil outline, a shadow, like a coloring book picture before a child attacks it with crayons. But if, through art, we can begin to color in the duller parts, bringing about a deeper meaning that resounds in the audience’s soul by employing just the right combinations of words and/or images, then perhaps we have begun to approach true communication.
And maybe, in part, that’s also what this poem is about: trying to bridge a chasm, to express something that can’t be understood with words so much as with a real-ness of soul-level understanding. It’s about my struggle to make words become flesh, if you will. To make words that somehow accurately represent and impart the wonder of Christ’s incarnation on a deeper level than simple intellectual ascent. And, on a grander level, I think this is indicative of the persistent ache of many artists who believe in Jesus.
After all, Christianity more than anything else has a depth of reality that is most profound and beyond what we can see or verifiably experience. So it seems to me that much art begins with the overflow of this desire for something more—a desperate yearning for our true home—the same longing that drove the great saints to persevere (Hebrews 11:13–16). Artists who have gloried in the deep riches of Christ’s truth desire earnestly to produce something that can stir other souls in the same way.
And this is a Christian artist’s lifelong call and perennial agony, the chasm they are trying to transcend. Communicating three-dimensional truths that our souls alone know through two-dimensional mediums (to paraphrase on Lewis’s analogy) is a doomed venture. So I’d be remiss if I did not urge a dependence on the Holy Spirit’s foundational and enabling involvement in the arts. We must hope in this: sometimes, in His grace and when He chooses, the Spirit enters in and translates our attempts into something more profound—those are the ineffable moments of wonder, enlightening, and awakening that we all crave, and they are the moments that change our souls forever. What better hope could an artist live for?
The Chasm Transcended
All-transcending, brilliant spectre,
Shimm’ring shrouds like smoking censers;
Thou, invisible reflection—
One beyond a man’s inspection.
Ruling highest ‘mongst the spirits,
Soaring higher, showing merits,
Wielding sceptres, swords, and cross.
Vibrant—never suff’ring loss.
Self-sufficient in Thyself,
Slurping not from others’ wealth.
Fellowship triune, divine,
Love that begs to graft its vine.
Knowledge all possessed by Thee,
Thou art One but truly Three,
Who instructs the One who teaches?
Who increase completest riches?
Men and beasts of all estate
Shriek in terror, die prostrate—
Eyes are melted, flesh is sliced
And singed before the Lord of light.
// // // // //
These, ineffable such thoughts,
Inaccessible to us,
Stream across the great divide,
Stooping down to prick mans’ eye.
To grasp—This God descends to earth,
To seed and plant the richest mirth—
How far beyond my mental reach—
A reason I could never see.
Glory, Thine, yet set aside.
Everlasting—sent to die.
All-existing bound in flesh,
Begetting all, yet born to us.
Uncreated, life begun.
Holding all, yet held by man,
Ageless One in withered hands.
Chasm stretched between the Lord
And me when sin my soul adored;
Impassable this distance be—
See Him cross to rescue me.
Danny Nathan grew up at Grace participating in the music and worship ministry. He’s currently a worship leader, leading people into worship in a variety of venues, including our modern worship service and student ministry gatherings. Danny is a graduate of The Ohio State University with a degree in English. In June 2016, Danny married his high school sweetheart Alli.