by Lauren Wright Pittman
"It's really easy for me to focus on the beauty of creation in my artwork. I love painting the intricate feather pattern of a pelican, or the various shades of glittering greens in wetlands grasses. More recently I've realized, however, that my sole focus on beauty and the heartening, breathtaking facets of this wonder-filled world has been a sort of numbing practice. If I focus on what is good and remarkable in the world, I don't have to think about the ways in which it's being torn apart—the ways in which I'm tearing the Creation apart. I can build protective walls around my heart with the roses bordering my front porch and the squirrels that scamper about gathering acorns. I can insulate myself to the point of calm as fires burn brighter, hurricanes grow stronger, and water levels reach higher.
Although I want my artwork to elicit positive feelings about the gift of Creation, and I certainly hope it will continue to do so, I have been increasingly challenged by the boldness of young climate activists who have not sugar coated their words. Autumn Peltier, Greta Thunburg, and many others have stared into the eyes of power and have demanded hardened hearts to soften.
I am a Founding Creative Partner and Director of Branding for a collaborative, creative arts ministry, called Sanctified Art. Through this ministry I am able to create Biblically inspired images and reflections that reach congregations across the country and abroad, who represent various denominations and world views. Patrons who engage with this image and reflection might deny climate change exists, might be immobilized by fear and hopelessness, or might be climate activists who need inspiration and help in enlisting others. Below is my artist reflection accompanying the graphic art image, "Anti-Creation Narrative" inspired by Exodus 5:1-2; 7:8-23. This image is included in Sanctified Art’s customizable worship series resource bundle called, “Unraveled”.
As I sketched this image of Pharaoh, I realized how cartoonish and irrelevant this character had become in my mind. I asked myself, "What would Pharaoh look like today?" [Of course the obvious images came to mind, world leaders who turn a blind eye to climate change and heads of corporations clinging tightly to the almighty dollar.] I continued to sit with this question as a creeping sense of irony came over my body. I would argue, to my surprise, that a modern Pharaoh might look a bit like the reflection in my mirror, and maybe in yours.
This story of Pharaoh’s hardening heart leads to a kind of anti-creation narrative—one where the world is coming undone and actively being destroyed. Sound familiar?
As a society, we are actively undoing God’s creation through our consumption while clinging to ease, convenience, and our power over our environment. We harden our hearts to the ways our actions cause harm. We value our comfort over the health of our coastlines while the first climate refugees flee their homes due to rising tides and sinking land. As water becomes scarce, violence will increase. Many will have to fight for their basic needs. I believe Pharaoh’s hardening heart is prophetic. This narrative reveals to us how a person’s clinging to power can literally unravel creation. We often undo the threads of creation, while God entreats us to become co-creators. We have seam rippers in our hands when God wants us to have needle and thread. There is a difficult hope in the narrative, however. Our own unraveling of God’s dream for creation is not strong enough to thwart God’s plan. Ultimately the Israelites find liberation. In this image, the waters of the parted Red Sea frame the chaos of the plagues. We will succeed, with God’s help, in healing the earth. We just need to allow God to soften our hearts, to take initiative in changing our perspective, and to welcome the challenge of restoring creation."
Lauren Wright Pittman is Founding Creative Partner and Director of Branding for the collaborative arts ministry called Sanctified Art. Sanctified Art works collaboratively to bring scripture and theological themes to life through film, visual art, curriculum, coloring pages, liturgy, graphic designs, and more. Lauren lives in Anderson, SC with her husband Chad and their dog Rumi, where they spend their days traveling, hiking, and kayaking.