Balinese ‘Dancing’ Jesus

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I have long been eager to get acquainted with nonwestern Christian art, especially artworks representing Christ and Bible themes by Asian artists. So, I got very excited when I discovered the Asian Christian Arts Association or the ACAA, established in Bali, where Christian artists and theologians from all over Asia meet, exchange ideas and inspire each other. Nyoman Darsane, a fascinating Balinese artist who depicts Biblical characters as traditional Balinese dancers, employing various Balinese symbolisms in his images, was one of the first Asian ‘Christian’ artists to attract my attention. Then, I came across Victoria Jones’ post at The Jesus Question about him. Darsane is an incredibly talented painter who masterfully combines the joy of the Gospel with his Balinese culture, and Victoria’s post is thoroughly researched, offers excellent commentary and insights and does him justice!

The Jesus Question

Balinese artist Nyoman Darsane was born in 1939 and raised as a Hindu.  At age seventeen, he became a Christian and as a result was ostracized by his family and village community.  But because he so persistently strove, through his art, to give Christianity a Balinese shape, they eventually decided to accept him back in.  They saw that he still loved and respected the culture; he was still “one of them,” even though his religious beliefs took a different turn.  Does he feel that, as a Balinese Christian, his identity is divided, that he cannot fully embrace both at once?  Not at all.  “Bali is my body; Christ is my life,” he says.  In other words, Jesus Christ is his all, but can he not pray to and worship and express his love for Jesus Christ in a Balinese fashion?  And can he not picture Jesus as a fellow Balinese…

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O Death, Where is Thy Sting?

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Let us contemplate our own mortality and ‘refute’ the nihilism of ‘mercy’ killing with artworks of Beauty. Classic Christian art such as ‪Purcell’s Elegy for the Funeral of Queen Mary can be so uplifting! Let us also draw upon all Art that has something of God in it, or that through it something of God can be refracted, such as Kurosawa’s Dreams and Rumi’s poetry.

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Purcell’s Elegy

Man that is born of a woman

hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery.

He cometh up, and is cut down like a flow’r.

He flee’th as it were a shadow,

and ne’er continueth in one stay.

In the midst of life we are in death:

of whom may we seek for succour,

but of thee, O Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased?

Yet, O Lord God most holy, O Lord most mighty,

O holy and most merciful Saviour,

deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death.

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For sublime Purcell please go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AYELAu9hqdU

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Kurosawa’s Dreams ends with a funeral procession for an old woman in a village that plays like a wedding. Instead of mourning, the people celebrate joyfully as the proper end to a good life. The whole village turns out for her funeral. Kurosawa stages the funeral procession as a celebration of a life. Music is played, a song is sung, people dance in the procession as if it is a parade, and it’s a joyous scene. At the end, the traveler picks and places his own flower on the rock like the children before him.

For Kurosawa’s last Dream, watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rEEOfJdGzcQ

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As for Rumi, the mystic poet and Spiritual Sufi Master, let the ecstatic vision of his hauntingly beautiful ‘Death’ poem speak of itself!

When I die …

When my coffin

Is being taken out

You must never think

I am missing this world.

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Don’t shed any tears,

Don’t lament or feel sorry

I’m not falling

into a monster’s abyss.

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When you see

My corpse is being carried

Don’t cry for my leaving,

I’m not leaving,

I’m arriving at eternal love.

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When you leave me

In the grave

Don’t say goodbye.

Remember a grave is

Only a curtain

For the paradise behind.

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You’ll only see me

Descending into a grave.

Now watch me rise.

How can there be an end?

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When the sun sets or

The moon goes down

It looks like the end,

It seems like a sunset,

But in reality it is a dawn.

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When the grave locks you up,

That is when your soul is freed.

Have you ever seen

A seed fallen to earth

Not rise with a new life?

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Why should you doubt the rise

Of a seed named human?

Have you ever seen

A bucket lowered into a well

Coming back empty?

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Why lament for a soul

When it can come back

Like Joseph from the well?

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When for the last time

You close your mouth,

Your words and soul

Will belong to the world of

No place, no time.

For Rumi’s “When I Die”, please watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEwJm-RPhNE

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  • Icon on top: Harrowing of Hades, fresco in the parecclesion of the Chora Church, Istanbul, c. 1315;  raising Adam and Eve is depicted as part of the Resurrection icon, as it always is in the East.