Pondering Streets of Gold
[All photos, but the golden driveway, copyright Jeff LeFever]
We rounded the corner of our driveway and caught a rare a glimpse of heaven: a street of gold. Aspen covered the drive, leaving a sheet of yellow. Sunset seemed to emit light from the road as well as from the sky.
We drove slowly over the carpet of leaves, windows down, catching our breath, watching the extravagant show of God littering a world preparing for winter.
These little moments are sacred. They feel set apart, remembered. While some moments call us in whispers to pay attention these extraordinary sights may be missed only by the blind. Yet even the blind may smell it in the air.
The God of Israel described his city as having streets of gold. The shimmer, the opulence, the purity all come to mind. God may be giving us a picture of what sacred space looks like, moments where we have to pause to catch our breath, to relish the visual pleasure, to let the smile freely curl upon our faces.
Beauty does this to us. And while beauty cannot be described as easily as many of our theological doctrines and apologetic arguments, it is as important to our souls as daily bread. It draws us in, slows us down, reminds us that more is going on than meets the eye, and points us in transcendent directions.
Sometimes we merely look at beauty, sometimes we are in it. Sometimes we look at the aspen, like a postcard. Sometimes we are in a forest of them on a hike. Most man-made sacred spaces are created for such an experience. Cathedral domes. Steeples. Gold leaf. Paintings by the masters. Hard stone floors cut from mountains. Light perfectly positioned through impenetrable architecture, depending on the time of day. A place to pray. To kneel. To remember. Outside, the “world.” Inside, something special, deliberate, set apart, beautiful like a street of gold.
Our friend and Soulation teammate, Jeff Lefever, has embodied this to us more than anyone in our lives. He's concerned we remember sacred space, not only in our churches but in our surrounding culture. He hears the whispers in the beauty of brokenness as he captures people sitting on a curb, a child playing with ice cream, a woman in full Muslim dress walking the beach. He notes graffiti and the ways we express ourselves through retail shop windows. He captures the bones of an abandoned bridge. He reveals the pictures rainbowed in stained-glass. And he brings these things home.
Jeff is currently working on capturing the sacred spaces in many well-known cities. Last winter, he spent several weeks in Prague, which was the third city for his body of work (United States and France were previous). He posted an ongoing blog of his photos and reflections, the disappointment with closed churches, the architecture of people at prayer, the snow falling on once-noticed statues around the city.
We now have four prints from his last trip. One sits above our mantle, reminiscent of the dutch landscape painters, large sky, village below, cathedral dominating the horizon, a farmer harvesting food in the foreground like a biblical parable. Another captures the entry way to the side door of a Jewish synagogue, the edge of the building meeting a leafless tree stretching to the sky as a metaphor of life. While our cathedrals and sacred spaces are decaying and in disrepair, Jeff has brought them home, bottled them in print for us, our generation, for the world. And we're reminded daily of the God of Israel who comes near to us in beauty, architecture, and the in weighty privilege of prayer.
As our personal photographer, Jeff believes in the work of Soulation like few others. And it is my honor to present his work to you and an opportunity to join in a community of voices that says "Beauty matters! I will relish and defend it for the world!"
You get participate in sending Jeff to Israel this December. As you know, Israel is the hotbed of sacred space, the epicenter of religion and cultural upheaval. Jeff is, in many ways, going behind enemy lines find the sacred among all the violence and show the peace that the God of Israel promised to his people.
We'll be giving to this project too. This project benefits us by sharing the awareness and experience of sacred space. The more we share them, the more we learn to "see" beauty, the more it helps us and our community to be appropriately human.
The added benefit is choosing a professional print from Jeff that I can put on my walls, to share that story, to draw others into this food for hungry souls. In many ways, Jeff's photography is an apologetic: showing the world what God is like with pictures, light, and space. Your gift would be a simple way to see a profound thing happen.
People often ask where are the artists today speaking into our culture? They ask, where are the fresh voices our world needs to hear? Jeff Lefever is among those unsung fresh voices. In a world of high-tech fundraising, mega-marketing, and media-hype, where the most “popular” voice gets to be heard over many of the other worthwhile voices, I'm glad to call Jeff a friend. He's uninterested in collecting money to serve him. He wants a community to help serve the work. He's interested in taking you along, to find meaning in the mundane and beauty in the brokenness. See his work at www.lefever.com.
Jeff has many other benefits for those who give. Check out his Kickstarter page at www.kickstarter.com and help him reach beyond his goal. And if you want a tax-deductible receipt, you can send your check to Jeff and ask him for one as his work is under a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation. Write him for more info if you'd like to give that way (firstname.lastname@example.org).
As we all learn to "see" beauty better in this world, our Streets of Gold moments will grow more numerous and the meaning God has poured into this world more blessed. Our souls will grow sturdier and our commission to shine light into the world more creative.