First Expression of Love...the Artist.

The Artist

**Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences comes to mind as the church talks about affirming the various ways that truth is known and love is expressed.








Mark 12:30 - Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

It's awesome when the Lord takes you to a portal in the Scriptures through which you're led into a labyrinth of luscious life.

Last week, I was reading Psalm 139 and a verse from Psalm 137 was underlined off to my left from years past. It caught my peripheral vision and drew me to itself like a magnet. It was the verse that said, "and on the poplars they hung their harps." At first, I wasn't taken by the phrase, but the longer I looked at it and the verses that surrounded it, the more my heart leapt within me.

It spoke of a time in Israel's history when they were exiled in Babylon because of their disobedience to God. The Levites, who were the musicians and storytellers of the Hebrew community, found themselves so downtrodden in spirit that they hung it up and with their resignation, the whole nation lost their song.

I want to read this Psalm, 137, through the eyes of the artist…

As C. S. Lewis says, "In some of the Psalms the spirit of anguish which strikes us in the face is like the heat from a furnace mouth."

And this Psalm is no exception. Check out the pathos of the psalmist as he pours our his heart...

Psalm 137

1 By the rivers of Babylon,

There we sat down, yea, we wept

When we remembered Zion.

2 We hung our harps

Upon the willows in the midst of it.

3 For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song,

And those who plundered us requested mirth,

Saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

4 How shall we sing the LORD’s song

In a foreign land?

5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,

Let my right hand forget its skill!

6 If I do not remember you,

Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth—

If I do not exalt Jerusalem

Above my chief joy.

With tears in their eyes, they hung their harps in the willow boughs along the Euphrates River and then slashed their fingers with sharp knives so that they could no longer play. Then they came before Nebuchadnezzar and held up their bloody hands.

Another commentator said that they hung their harps upon the willows, bit off the tips of their fingers, and, pointing to their hands, said: "We lost our fingers when we were in chains; how can we play?"

Who is they? (Funny you should ask.)

The Levites, who where always the "starving artists" in the Hebrew culture. They were the 13th tribe! They didn't have land, or home, or occupations, or income in and of themselves. They were called "unto the Lord" to speak for him and to be the go-betweens for the rest of the people. Everyone else gave a tithe to support them. They didn't fit anywhere, but they were scattered everywhere. They had no tribe to call their own, but they infiltrated each of the 12 tribes with the presence of God expressed through the mediums of music and storytelling.

They were invited into this "13th tribe" by Moses. When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai and the people were worshipping the golden calf, Moses asked who would stand with the Lord and the Levites rose up and stood next to him. They had always had a sensitivity to the presence of the Lord, they were guardians of His presence, keepers of the flame. Their hearts were tuned into the heart of God and they bore his heart to the remnants of Israel.

And yet, they were not part of the now famous 12 tribes of Israel. They were outsiders. They were the artists who injected meaning into truth, carried people to God, carried God to people, spoke on behalf of the tribes, shaped stories to be remembered and retold.

And when they hung their harps on the weeping willows next to the Euphrates River in Babylon, the whole community wept with them. Whenever the artists "hang it up" and give into the desire to quit, the whole community suffers. For wherever the artists' go, so goes the community. They are the spirit, they are the life-givers, they are the dispensers of hope, they are the awakeners of the heart. When they falter, they community convulses. When they resign to the fact that nothing will change, nothing changes. When they give up on expression, whether it be music, art, storytelling, prophecy, and mediation...the very oxygen of the camp is drawn out of its lungs.

They were the ones who led Israel into battle against Jericho. They played the instruments and blew the ram's horns, they were the ones who led the march around the wall before it fell, they were the ones who stepped into the Jordan River before it parted. They were the ones. The 13th tribe with the 6th sense. The tribeless tribe. The third wheel. The artisans.

The Levites where the people with a homing instinct.

The Levites were responsible for carrying the different parts of the Sanctuary and its vessels as the Israelites moved from one location to another in the wilderness. Each of the three clans within the Levite tribe was assigned to carry specific items. When the tribes camped around the Sanctuary, the Levites were in the inner perimeter, while the other tribes camped in the outer perimeter. They also assisted the priests in the Temple, and were the Temple singers and musicians.


Psalm 137

1 By the rivers of Babylon,

There we sat down, yea, we wept

When we remembered Zion.

2 We hung our harps

Upon the willows in the midst of it.

**Exiled artists…hanging up their harps.

70 years of captivity in exile. Deported, expelled, banished.

I think the author is trying to make a comparison between the artist and the weeping willows in this passage.

Artists are very much like “Weeping Willows”.

One author described weeping willow in this way:

The reason you don't see more weeping willows is because they require precise growing conditions in order to thrive, especially in our climate. They demand excellent light on all four sides, but are sensitive to dry summer heat. Even in open areas, they may need consistent pruning and thinning out due to their tendency to lean in one direction, to become top heavy and to split or fall over. They are susceptible to scale insects, leaf beetles and borers, as well as fungus and bacterial diseases.

Do you know what the scientific name of the Weeping Willow tree is that is being talked about here? ...salix babylonica, which blew my mind.

It's the word, "Babylon" in Latin! (Today, this land is Iraq.)

Then I found out that the first Weeping Willow in England, arrived in 1748. Mr. Vernon, a Turkey merchant of Aleppo, planted a tree from his "home", from the Euphrates, in London's Twickenham Park. From there, the Weeping Willow has been transplanted everywhere!

Later, a legend promoted the idea that these trees once had erect branches but, after harps were hung in them, they became weighted down and have retained that appearance ever since.


The Levites are weeping by the Euphrates River. The willows are weeping by the river as well. But there was one other character weeping along side of them trying to call out the exiled artist, The Weeping prophet, Jeremiah.

Seeing this attitude among the exiles, the Prophet Jeremiah sent them a letter. In it he wrote…

Jeremiah 4:19

19 Oh, my anguish, my anguish! 
I writhe in pain. Oh, the agony of my heart! 
My heart pounds within me, I cannot keep silent. For I have heard the sound of the trumpet; I have heard the battle cry.

Jeremiah 20:9

9 But if I say, "I will not mention him or speak any more in his name," his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.

The Artists of Church. They are the ones who adorn truth with meaning.

Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.

– Pablo Picasso

I’ve wrestled before with this “hard-to-explain” desire to hang it up. To quit trying to embellish life with beauty, to quite looking for the silver lining in the storm clouds, to hang up my heart on the willows with the rest of humanity…

But I’ve learned, that as an artist, when I hang up my harp, I hang up my heart in the process. I wrote something a little while back when I was weeping down by my own proverbial river of artistic anguish…I called it “Create”…


Come on, stupid mind

Rouse yourself and write

Put your restless thoughts to rest

On this parchment of pure white

And make music of your musing.

Rise up, sitting soul

You’ve wasted away long enough

Fight to create and paint

The picture hanging in your heart

So all may enjoy its beauty.

What gives, dumb tongue

Your silence is no longer wise

Loose the speech of the underworld

Bring to light the inner life

That waits in the shadows for deliverance.

Wake up, sleepy songs

Rub your eyes and sing what you see

Make melody of mystery

Make harmony of history

And take us to the place we long to be.

Let’s dance, palsy pen

Press your lips against this paper

And inscribe a story for the ages

On these pages waiting to hold

The poetry of a mind fully alive.

Open wide, lazy eye

Stir the prophet inside

To speak the vision of eternity

Laden with triumph and tragedy

Inviting me to enter in.

Be gone, ripened reputation

Scared to seem silly

Fearful to feel foolish

Lay down cloaks of composure

And stand naked before a clothed world.

This may be your last chance…


I’m calling you out…

stupid mind

sitting soul

dumb tongue

sleepy songs

palsy pen

lazy eye

I'm calling them out of exile. Each one of these artistic catalysts of life. We simply can't hang up our harps calling it a day. I can't begin to imagine the church without the artist. We won't survive another generation without them.


Artists are the guardians of the heart, in my opinion. They are the ones who hold up Proverbs 4.23 as a banner…

Above all else guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. -Proverbs 4.23

Artists must be sacrificed to their art. Like bees, they must put their lives into the sting they give. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

I think that the artist is the most unnecessary of the four expressions of love without which the church dies.

Because Revelation will always require Imagination in order for humans to experience Illumination!

Artist…I’m calling you out of exile. You cannot hang up your harp, and with it, your heart. The greater community is taking their emotional directives from you.

Grab your gift off the willow and play again...please.


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