“To an unknown god.”
The ancient Athenians erected many shrines to various deities that gave power, perspective and no small dose of fear to their collective psyche. Early in the first century A.D., the Jewish philosopher Paul of Tarsus, a follower of Jesus Christ, stumbled into their city and observed the many places of devotion to the unseen. Ensuring they were covering their bases and not offending some minor celestial player, the Athenians apparently constructed a shrine with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” Paul took note of this, commended the Athenians for their widespread devotion to religious matters, and proceeded to delineate the framework of his faith in a god he had come to know as Jesus.
Many people across the ages had been “groping” for some god, Paul asserted. He took note that every form and object of worship, from the near fringes of the God of Israel to downright pagan idolatry, was part of the same human disease: our search for an invisible person or force who can make sense of life, provide direction, offer strength, distribute comfort.
The Athenian need of 20 centuries ago is not transcended by our technological prowess, our incalculable scientific breakthroughs, our keen understanding of things ancient that benefit the modern sojourner.
The bloodshot, broken down ghost of a once vital young woman who stares into her crack pipe and expects things to be different seeks the same comfort as the ancients. The wayward husband who has a knack for connecting with new bed partners during his business trip walks in the footsteps of those who have long desired an elusive sense of true intimacy. The businessman who hungered to make a difference before slowly sliding into corner-cutting mediocrity and ethical ambivalence gathers his temporary treasure in the mode of his forefathers, hurriedly grasping onto some semblance of power.
Many stumble through each day with this unresolved quest for the inner cavities of the soul to be filled with lasting sustenance. So few are aware of how they express this search, and how visible its evidence can be to the observant eye.
Others, however, have embraced the time and discipline necessary to cultivate an intentional, self-aware kind of approach. They acknowledge there are places where the seams are not fully healed, where the wallboard doesn’t reach to the floor, where the wind sweeps across the grass and reveals barren patches. Their quest is one of purposeful detection, plumbing for what has not yet been touched, scratching through layers, utilizing many talents and tools and mediums—especially art.
Journey through the gallery and tiptoe alongside the contemporaries who have taken the lead of the Athenians in seeking after one whom Paul claims can be known. Settle not for the temporary distractions that more jaggedly carve the inner chasm, but in the midst of the colors and shapes find the one who makes sense of joy, suffering, hope, tragedy, elation, fear, hunger and satisfaction.