from the Gospel Book of Archbishop Ebbo of Reims
An ancient illumination of St. Matthew penning his gospel. Ancient, but yet so intensely alive! Matthew’s desk and stool are firmly anchored in heavy blocks of wood or marble, but the rest of this picture seems almost to flow right off the page. Matthew’s robe sinuously sweeps around him and seems to breathe on its own. His hair, too, is full of energy—tiny waves leaping from his head. The cascading movement of the grassy hill behind Matthew echoes this aliveness, and it seems clear that the artist wanted to give us a Matthew who is vibrantly caught up in the gospel narrative he writes. A Matthew whose message, too, is alive and filled with the holy movement of Spirit’s vital and often surprising energy.
I love this Matthew, and I think the unknown artist who has given him to us has something important to teach us about our Christian faith today, many, many centuries later. Our faith, he seems to say, should never be fixed and inert, unmoving and unmovable. To be sure, a faith that seeks to be biblical needs to be grounded and steeped in the message of holy scripture. And faith that calls itself Christian needs also to be deeply connected to and embedded in the creeds and dogmas carefully crafted through the years in their efforts to interpret scripture for their times—though we do well to remember here that many of these dogmas and creeds, solid and firm as they seem now, were, at the time of their formation, freshly bold and new, Spirit-filled with insights that often audaciously stretched earlier faith understandings.
Rootedness is good for faith. Like Matthew’s desk and stool, faith needs to have solidity and firmness. But faith needs more. It needs, too, the aliveness of Matthew’s hair and robe and of the tumbling grasses behind him. It needs the fresh flow of Spirit-directed openness to new understandings, new insights, new perspectives. Faith needs to be ever in motion. Not heedlessly latching on to every new idea or movement that comes along, but open always to listen to the ceaseless whisperings of Spirit. Open always to feel the gentle wind of Spirit as Spirit breathes afresh into our faith. Breathes new understandings and new life that offers healing for our lives and for our troubled world.