Faith in Motion

St. Matthew Ebbo Gospels

St. Matthew

from the Gospel Book of Archbishop Ebbo of Reims

circa 816-835


     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. 


10 thoughts on “Faith in Motion

  1. Hi Carol, appreciate the thoughts about the St Matthew painting. We are at airport on way to Venice and Florence. Looking forward to all the art there. I will think of you while there. We celebrated 50th with glisten and grandchildren on weekend. Now off on our little trip. Take care. Peace and prayers. Judy

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. Poet Christian Wiman has this to say about growth and change in the life of faith.

    There is no way to “return to the faith of your childhood,” not really, not unless you’ve just woken from a decades-long and absolutely literal coma. … Life is not an error, even when it is. That is to say, whatever faith you emerge with at the end or your life is going to be not simply affected by that life but intimately dependent upon it, for faith in God is in the deepest sense, faith in life–which means that the staunchest life of faith is a life of great change. It follows that if you believe at fifty what you believed at fifteen, then you have not lived–or have denied the reality of your life.

    My Bright Abyss, p. 7 (2013, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, NY, NY)

  3. Carol, You never cease to amaze me.  The illumination is beautiful and your thoughts are also beautiful. Surgery for me will be Oct 21st(not definite yet).  Love, Fran


  4. Fictionfitz, I did write this. The caption under the picture refers simply to the wonderful unknown artist of the 9th century who had such a vibrant understanding of St. Matthew. Thanks for your question and comment–grateful this was meaningful for you. It certainly was for me!

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