The one who dreams through us is God—this is a bold claim, I know, but the text leads us to such conclusions. My own experience backs it up. Jacob didn’t have to ask for help; it just came. It was gift—sheer grace. He didn’t have a dream, the dream had him; it was given to him. And the dream spoke so clearly to his situation—telling him that his life is worthy of God’s divine protection and promise—“I am with you and I will guard you wherever you go.” The dream grants a future, grants him a telos. He didn’t have to worry about his future. When Jacob realized this, it provided him with the assurance he needed to fulfill the meaning and purpose of his life.
“Now Jacob went out from Beersheba and went toward Haran. So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep. Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.And behold, the Lord stood above it and said: “I am the Lord God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants. Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.”Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!”Then Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put at his head, set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on top of it. And he called the name of that place Bethel; but the name of that city had been Luz previously.”
Is your life abundant? According to Henry David Thoreau, probably not. In his masterwork Walden he said “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” He might be correct, but that’s not the final verdict. In the Gospel of John, Jesus said “I came that you might have life and have it abundantly.” He also said “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” If all of that is true, then why don’t most people draw near to Him?
I think the knowledge and possibility of the “too much” overwhelms us and scares us, which is why we’re reluctant to go there, and why it’s easier to live on the surface with a superficial faith or why the Church gets sidetracked in soul-crushing debates or why we simply say to God, “Go away.” Perhaps we know that the more we acknowledge what’s within, when we become aware of our capacity, when we listen to the divine summons in the depths, the greater the responsibility. We’re conflicted, aren’t we? We might pray, “Be present in my life, God.” But we also hope, “But not too much.”
So yes, we are conflicted. C.S. Lewis said it this way:
It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
Ken Kovacs writes
There is so much more going on around us than we can imagine. There is so much more going on within us than we know. Our world is connected to another world, and that other world, so very close, as close as our dreams, is the source of life and grants meaning to our lives. What matters most in the life of faith is making that connection. The closing words at the end of E. M. Forster’s (1879-1970), Howard’s End, says it all: “Only connect.” Only connect. What matters most is the connection, the fluid movement between heaven and earth, up and down on that ramp. I think van der Post gets to the heart of what Jacob discovered in his dream: “No matter how abandoned and without help either in themselves or the world about them, men [and women] are never alone because that which, acknowledged or unacknowledged, dreams through them is always by their side.” By their side. And I would add, as I have learned, the one who dreams through us is also on our side. On our side.
For the most part, I minded not how the hours went. The day advanced as if to light some work of mine; it was morning, and lo, now it is evening, and nothing memorable is accomplished. Instead of singing like the birds, I silently smiled at my incessant good fortune. As the sparrow had its trill, sitting on the hickory before my door, so had I my chuckle or suppressed warble which he might hear out of my nest. My days were not days of the week, bearing the stamp of any heathen deity, nor were they minced into hours and fretted by the ticking of a clock; for I lived like the Puri Indians, of whom it is said that for yesterday, today, and tomorrow they have only one word, and they express the variety of meaning by pointing backward for yesterday forward for tomorrow, and overhead for the passing day.
See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.
It’s only hard to imagine eternal life if you are enslaved by your calendar. There are actually only two times – then and now, and then is just an illusion. All of the past you carry like chains has come and gone and tomorrow, as they say, never comes. Thoreau urged us to simplify and Emily Dickinson said it best with “Forever is composed of nows.” The distance between now and then belongs to you and is entirely your accountability. If now is squandered it is forever wasted and becomes regret with which another now is wasted.
In his book City of God St. Augustine wrote “There can be no doubt that the world was not created in time but with time” because “God, in whose eternity there is no change at all, is the creator and director of time.” Your now was the gift you received when God woke you this morning, and not everyone received it. When scripture speaks of “redeeming the time” it simply means you have a choice. Your life will be filled with joy if you invest your now in that which is eternal because joy is greater than happiness. Happiness comes and goes because it is dependent on happenings, and let’s face it – bad things happen. Here’s your power in Christ – you are more than your circumstances.
But if a man be alone, let him look at the stars. The rays that come from those heavenly worlds, will separate between him and vulgar things. One might think the atmosphere was made transparent with this design, to give man, in the heavenly bodies, the perpetual presence of the sublime. Seen in the streets of cities, how great they are! If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile.
Modern-day Americans take for granted the sentiment that their land is beautiful because, as Katharine Lee Bates wrote, “God shed His grace on thee.” The majesty of nature also inspired Thomas Cole to found the Hudson River School which, along with the writings of Emerson and Thoreau gave birth to the American Preservation Movement. Cole saw in nature not only the glory of God but more so, metaphors of life which he depicted in his series The Voyage of Life.
Sometimes Cole let nature speak for itself, but at other times he wed his depictions of the natural world with allegorical ruminations about human nature and destiny, as in his four-painting series, The Voyage of Life. The Voyage of Life is an allegory for the four stages of human life, filled with both warning and promise about what lies ahead for each of us as we journey through our lives. The same elements are repeated in each of the four paintings: a voyager, an angel, a river, a boat in which the voyager travels, and the landscape, which transforms throughout the series from sublime to forbidding and then back to sublime as it points to the world beyond this one.
Cole was the founding father of a school of like-minded American landscape painters, who flourished between about 1825 and 1880, called the Hudson River School because its founders lived and painted in the Hudson River valley in upstate New York. These painters celebrated the unspoiled and undeveloped landscape of the young nation, seeing it as the “new Eden.” They were concerned about the high cost of progress and the advance of civilization, and the corrupting influence this had on the country, and were also concerned that the wilderness was slowly being destroyed to make way for humans. For them, nature was a refuge from a materialistic culture that was even then in the ascendency. Cole’s The Course of Empire (1836) is an extended meditation on how human civilizations rise and decline, but nature will eventually reassert herself. It offers a caution against the prevalent nineteenth-century belief in ever-expanding human progress—and also against materialism, commercialism, and the destruction of nature, calling viewers to a remembrance of our proper place of humility in the order of things.
Describe a time when nature made you feel close to God.
John 1: 1-5
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
D I G D E E P E R
(1801–48). U.S. artist Thomas Cole was known chiefly for his landscapes of the state of New York and of New England. He was one of the founders of the Hudson River School, whose members celebrated the natural beauty of the American landscape.
Cole was born on Feb. 1, 1801, in Bolton-le-Moors, Lancashire, Eng., but his family immigrated to the United States, eventually settling in Steubenville, Ohio. Cole was trained by a traveling portrait painter named Stein and then spent two years at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. In 1825 some of Cole’s landscapes in a New York shop window attracted the attention of painters John Trumbull and Asher B. Durand. They bought his works and found him patrons, assuring his future success.
In 1826 Cole made his home in the village of Catskill, N.Y., on the western bank of the Hudson River. From there he frequently journeyed through the Northeast, primarily on foot, making pencil studies of the landscape. He used these sketches to compose pictures in his studio during the winter. One of his most effective landscape paintings, The Oxbow (1836), was the result of pencil studies that he made in Massachusetts. His scenes of the Hudson River valley echoed the loneliness and mystery of the North American forests. He could paint direct and factual landscapes recorded in careful detail, but he was also capable of producing dramatic imaginary vistas using bold effects of light and shadow. When the human figure appears in his works, it is always subordinate to the majesty of the surrounding landscape.
Cole spent the years 1829–32 and 1841–42 abroad and for part of the time lived in Florence with the American sculptor Horatio Greenough. When he returned to the United States, he painted five huge canvases for a series entitled The Course of Empire (1836). These paintings are allegories on the progress of mankind based on the Count de Volney’s Ruines, ou méditations sur les révolutions des empires (1791). A second series, called The Voyage of Life (begun 1839), depicts a symbolic journey from infancy to old age in four scenes. Shortly before he died Cole began still another series, The Cross of the World, which was of a religious nature.
Cole died on Feb. 11, 1848, in Catskill, N.Y. Durand’s well-known painting Kindred Spirits (1849), painted in Cole’s memory the year after his death, paid tribute to Cole’s close friendship with the poet William Cullen Bryant.
HUDSON RIVER SCHOOL
Hudson River school was a large group of American landscape painters of several generations who worked between about 1825 and 1870. The name, applied retrospectively, refers to a similarity of intent rather than to a geographic location, though many of the older members of the group drew inspiration from the picturesque Catskill region north of New York City, through which the Hudson River flows. An outgrowth of the Romantic movement, the Hudson River school was the first native school of painting in the United States; it was strongly nationalistic both in its proud celebration of the natural beauty of the American landscape and in the desire of its artists to become independent of European schools of painting.
The early leaders of the Hudson River school were Thomas Doughty, Asher Durand, and Thomas Cole, all of whom worked in the open and painted reverential, carefully observed pictures of untouched wilderness in the Hudson River valley and nearby locations in New England. Although these painters and most of the others who followed their example studied in Europe at some point, all had first achieved a measure of success at home and had established the common theme of the remoteness and splendour of the American interior. Doughty concentrated on serene, lyrical, contemplative scenes of the valley itself. Durand, also lyrical, was more intimate and particularly made use of delicate lighting in woodland scenes. Cole, the most romantic of the early group, favoured the stormy and monumental aspects of nature. Other painters who concentrated on depicting the landscape of the northeastern United States were Alvan Fisher, Henry Inman, and Samuel F.B. Morse and, later, John Kensett, John Casilear, Worthington Whittredge, and Jasper F. Cropsey. Frederic Edwin Church is considered a member of the Hudson River school, although the exotically dramatic landscapes he painted frequently had little to do with typical American vistas. The more individual landscape painter George Inness also began as a Hudson River painter.
For some painters whose theme was untouched landscape, the northeast was less alluring than the more primitive and dramatic landscapes of the west. John Banvard and Henry Lewis painted huge panoramas of empty stretches of the Mississippi River. Among the first artists to explore the Far West were the enormously successful Thomas Moran and Albert Bierstadt, who painted grandiose scenes of the Rocky Mountains, the Grand Canyon, and Yosemite Valley. The Hudson River school remained the dominant school of American landscape painting throughout most of the 19th century.
Sources and Resources
Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016).
I’m really looking forward to discussing my book, “75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know,” with the members of Literary Life Book Club. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts and perspectives on some of the art, music, and literature you’ll discover in the book. I’m interested in how it speaks to you in your life and the ways it inspires, challenges, or maybe even annoys you! I’ll try to share some “deleted scenes” stuff I had to leave out and will tell a few stories about what I experienced while doing the writing and research. Hope that many of you can join us as we look at he stories behind some truly wonderful art.
Terry Glaspey is a writer, an editor, a creative mentor, and someone who finds various forms of art—painting, films, novels, poetry, and music—to be some of the places where he most deeply connects with God.
He has a master’s degree in history from the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!), as well as undergraduate degrees emphasizing counseling and pastoral studies.
He has written over a dozen books, including 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: Fascinating Stories Behind Great Art, Music, Literature, and Film, Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis, The Prayers of Jane Austen, 25 Keys to Life-Changing Prayer, Bible Basics for Everyone, and others.
Terry enjoys writing and speaking about a variety of topics including creativity and spirituality, the artistic heritage of the Christian faith, the writing of C.S. Lewis, and creative approaches to apologetics.
He serves on the board of directors of the Society to Explore and Record Church History and is listed in Who’s Who in America Terry has been the recipient of a number of awards, including a distinguished alumni award and the Advanced Speakers and Writers Editor of the Year award.
Terry has two daughters and lives in Eugene, Oregon.
Some of the greatest painters, musicians, architects, writers, filmmakers, and poets have taken their inspiration from their faith and impacted millions of people with their stunning creations. Now readers can discover the stories behind seventy-five of these masterpieces and the artists who created them. From the art of the Roman catacombs to Rembrandt to Makoto Fujimura; from Gregorian Chant to Bach to U2; from John Bunyan and John Donne to Flannery O’Connor and Frederick Buechner; this book unveils the rich and varied artistic heritage left by believers who were masters at their craft.
Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).
I have been writing & speaking what were once called novelties, for twenty five or thirty years, & have not now one disciple. Why? Not that what I said was not true; not that it has not found intelligent receivers but because it did not go from any wish in me to bring men to me, but to themselves. I delight in driving them from me. What could I do, if they came to me? — they would interrupt and encumber me. This is my boast that I have no school & no follower. I should account it a measure of the impurity of insight, if it did not create independence.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson, April 1859
Henry David Thoreau is celebrated for many things, but his masterpiece is Walden. While many deserved accolades are bestowed on him, I would like to recognize his champion, the great encourager, Ralph Waldo Emerson. The extent of Emerson’s great heart will never be fully known, but he certainly touched Thoreau, Walt Whitman and even Abraham Lincoln.
Henry David Thoreau was a twenty year-old scholarship student at Harvard when he met Emerson in 1837. Emerson, fourteen years Thoreau’s senior and independently wealthy, had recently shaken the intellectual world of New England with the publication of Nature.
Emerson instantly recognized the potential of the young man and took him under his wing. Beyond mentorship, he was also his biggest cheerleader to the rest of the world and used his influence to gain a stage for Thoreau. I’m so glad Emerson befriended the young man because Thoreau died young at only 44, an age when many writers are only getting started.
He did the same for Walt Whitman.
When Emerson read Leaves of Grass by Whitman, he did something few do: he picked up his pen and wrote a letter of praise to the obscure journalist. Who can say what effect this encouragement had on one so destined for greatness himself?
I find incomparable things said incomparably well, as they must be. I find the courage of treatment which so delights us, and which large perception only can inspire. I greet you at the beginning of a great career, which yet must have had a long foreground somewhere, for such a start. I rubbed my eyes a little, to see if this sunbeam were no illusion; but the solid sense of the book is a sober certainty. It has the best merits, namely, of fortifying and encouraging.
God bless him.
One final example is from a meeting he had with President Abraham Lincoln. It’s hard to imagine now, but at the time of his presidency, Lincoln was popular with the people but snubbed as a rube by the “upper class.” Emerson was considered the brightest intellectual light of his time and the epitome of sophistication. They met in Washington on February 2, 1862, introduced by US Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts – a friend of both.
All we know of the meeting is this excerpt from Emerson’s diary the next day –
The President impressed me more favorably than I hoped. A frank, sincere, well-meaning man with a lawyer’s habit of mind, good clear statement of fact, correct enough, not vulgar as described, but with a sort of boyish cheerfulness, or that kind of sincerity and jolly good meaning that our class meetings on Commencement Days show, telling our old stories over.
When he has made his remark, he looks up at you in great satisfaction and shows all of his white teeth, and laughs.
Meeting the human being changed Emerson.
A short time later when the President was assassinated, Emerson had this to say –
Everybody has some disabling quality. In a host of young men that start together and promise so many brilliant leaders for the next age, each fails on trial ; one by bad health, one by conceit, or by love of pleasure, or lethargy, or an ugly temper, – each has some disqualifying fault that throws him out of the career. But this man was sound to the core, cheerful, persistent, all right for labor, and liked nothing so well.
I particularly love the absence of politics in that statement. It’s hard to know how much influence Emerson had over Lincoln during his key decision making years, but in the end, Lincoln certainly influenced the great scholar. In this age of bravado, there is still a lesson to be learned in how leadership and encouragement go hand in hand.