Renewing the old from the inside out

Integral mission and theologyYoung People

In an extra contribution to our mini-series of reflections on Jubilee by young theologians, we hear from an artist about the importance of renewal in the creative process.

Oil of Gladness, a mixed media on canvas by Jon White.
Oil of Gladness, a mixed media on canvas by Jon White.

I hate blank canvases. Give me a ruined canvas with an unfinished painting over a plain white one every day of the week. Where do you begin with a plain white canvas? At least with a painting gone wrong or left unfinished there is some form, shape and colour to work with. Through patience, technique, layering and creative inspiration a new painting can emerge, one that has redeemed the old work. 

I believe the concept of Jubilee is built on a similar understanding. God does not simply discard the old but renews it from the inside out. He sees us like ruined, broken, forgotten canvases and, instead of dismissing us and starting afresh, he works within the greyness of our brokenness and our mourning and brings out colour, gladness and a story of redemption. 

Jubilee is, therefore, an incarnational process, and although the concept of Jubilee begins in Leviticus 25, we find its fulfilment in the coming of Jesus. God’s Ultimate Jubilee is on a cosmic, universal level where the oil of gladness permeates all pain and loss until all is made new. Until then, let us participate in this redemptive process in community and shared humanity, allowing the oil of gladness to drip into the darkest of places by learning to listen well, love deeply and forgive quickly.

‘The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor… to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit.’

(Isaiah 61:1–3, ESV)

My painting, Oil of Gladness, is my prayerful response to a challenging and inspiring time in Rwanda with Tearfund, where I explored the theological idea of Jubilee. I was particularly moved by first-hand stories of loss, forgiveness and redemption from those who experienced the Rwandan genocide of 1994. 

In my canvas, the gold paint is representative of the oil flowing downwards over the many layers of redemptive story. I originally used a lot of greys and blacks for the first layers. These underlayers are subtly visible beneath the final layers of greens, blues and pinks. They remind me that Jubilee – found in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus – is not dismissive of loss, pain or mourning but enters into it and embraces it, redeeming it from the inside out.

Jon White
Jon White is an artist who seeks to marry art and theology in his work: ‘two worlds not opposing each other, but empowering and sharpening each other.’ You can see more of his work at jonwhiteart.com, follow him on Instagram @jonwhiteart or contact him by email: jonwhiteart@gmail.com