During my time in the Incarnate school in Italy, my sketchbook filled with sketches and drawings as I responded to the many things I experienced there
During the Easter weekend of 2018, the students and staff had to move out of our facility, the Centro Evangelico in Isola, due to a standing reservation the Center had for a conference that weekend. We loaded onto a bus for a 12-hour ride, northwest through the heart of Italy, into the Cottian Alps, just short of the French border. At the end of the road heading up into the mountains lay the small farming community of Bobbio Pellice, our destination. In 2012 and 2014, the Incarnate school took place there. Over three months, the Incarnate staff and students rubbed shoulders with the residents of this tightly-knit community. We developed strong, long-term relationships with the people, both in the small community of Christ followers and with many of the residents: shopkeepers, business people, and community leaders. The people grew in respect for and quickly warmed up to this odd little band of international artists and how they and their art forms honored the town.
One afternoon during this Easter weekend, we received an invitation to sit with some of the Christians who lived in the community. Over our favorite Italian coffees, we heard their invitation to establish along-term presence in Bobbio. Because of the authenticity and transparency of the work we had done before, and the mutual respect and friendship which that generated, the town leadership invited our artists to come, to live among them, to understand their people, and to continue to create beauty in that place. The town leadership had even proposed specific locations in the town which they could make available to us. To the Christ followers there, this was the heart of the Great Commission–to do more than drop in, do a few good “missionary” things, and leave. Rather, it meant dwelling deeply in a community, building relationships, and speaking the message of Jesus through our everyday lives as well as our art.
As I was sitting and listening to this conversation, a rather odd picture came to mind. I saw a cup of that fine Italian espresso spilled on the ground. In my imagination, I watched as the coffee seeped deep into the ground under it. When I see an image like this, I have learned to get out my sketch book and start drawing. I never know when a seemingly random picture will take on a much deeper meaning as the Father begins to whisper to me. I began to draw the lines of the coffee soaking into the ground, almost like roots.
Then, I saw another form, a mirror of the first image, reaching up. Rather than flowing into the ground, this was a flame and a light reaching upward from where the coffee had spilled.
It struck me that this image I was capturing on the page before me reflected exactly what we were talking about as we shared with the local Christians. Would we be able to come and soak in, to “dwell deeply” in the community? To become a part of the day-to-day life of the people there, let them teach us about their hearts and culture, and let our lives and character intertwine with theirs? To become a little bit Italian ourselves?
What startled me was realizing that–the flame and light reaching upward only existed because of the downward soaking. The one flowed out of the other. It is certainly possible to do good things while we pop into a community, get to know some individuals, cooperate with whatever local believers may be doing there, and then leave. However,this is a far cry from what Christ was pressing into our hearts and imaginations when He called on us to go and make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them everything which He had commanded us. Hadn’t Christ done the same for us, putting on flesh and blood through the Incarnation, stepping into our existence and walking the same roads and villages we walked and lived in?
It is in the dwelling deeply that this Hope we bring in our hearts would be released into the community, to be salt and light, to let our art live as an incarnation of the truth of the Gospel. My hope is that, whether I am living in Bobbio or anywhere else, that I will live every bit of my life in that way.