“…both natural and artistic beauty is capable of evoking what is called the sense of transcendence…” Southwestern Baptist University.
Albert Einstein said, “All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree, all these aspirations are directed towards ennobling man’s life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individuals towards freedom.” Further and according to Southwest Baptist University in Missouri’s Religion and Art Introduction, “The arts have always been used to express the divine, e.g., in Christian liturgical services. Indeed, if reality has a divine origin then whatever is part of it must be germane or at least analogous to the divine. 1. Generally, the arts, due to their strong emotional impact and ability to act immediately and directly upon our perception, prior to conceptual thinking, can enhance any area of experience, including religious experience. 2. Specifically, both natural and artistic beauty is capable of evoking what is called the sense of transcendence, or the presence of some deeper (divine) principles in the world. Art and beauty are immediately pleasing but the reasons for this are unclear. This means that the rules and principles of art are beyond us or transcend us: possibly indicating the presence of a higher principle (e.g., the divine) in the universe. The arts are used for these purposes by most religious traditions, but specifically in the Christian tradition by the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic traditions.”
A perfect example of the impact of religion and art in Ethiopia is the recent and re-occuring for centuries, colorful Timket celebrations attracting devotees and local and international tourist alike to Addis Abeba, Axum, Lalibella and Gondar in particular. Timket, as we know, is the Ethiopian Epiphany and is indeed a truly awesome sight and experience which evokes great emotion and veneration as it honors the baptism of the Christ in the River Jordan. The joyous occasion is marked by spiritual songs, synchronized movements/dances and colorful processions around the carrying of the Tabot, a replica of the Ark of the Covenant. But does the average individual correlate art and religion in the emotional sense?
As we unpack the notion of SBU that art can enhance the religious experience, undoubtedly artistic elements of Timket add to the experience of the celebration. The sight of hundreds of white robbed priests waving their wooden praying stick, designed with ornate metals meskels, also carried by the Ethiopian priests and monks during the long-lasting ceremonies, is in itself an art piece. Then there are the colorful umbrellas carried over the Tabot for miles to and from the churches which form miles long processions of devotees who share in the euphoria of faith, hope and prayer with little concern for tired feet after the long journey. The drums and other artistic elements seal the event as they provide sounds and sights that keep worshippers in synch with their spirituality. One may say the vibrant nature of the ceremony assuages of any feelings of weariness throughout the 3 day event.
As to the second SBU point, “… both natural and artistic beauty is capable of evoking what is called the sense of transcendence, or the presence of some deeper (divine) principles…”. I see this every day in our beloved Ethiopia. Hence in my eyes I view Timket as a symbol of Ethiopians deep, abiding and unshakable faith against all odds. The imagery and pageantry however, allow the faithful to share and reinforce the hopes and aspirations of a renewed spirit of love. The optics of the unity and solidarity evoked by Timket ceremonies is an art and a moment in time that many capture in paintings, photos and videos representing the culture of Ethiopia and not just religion. That said, we look forward to UNESCO approving Ethiopia’s request to include Timket as an intangible cultural heritage which the world can continue to enjoy. And as to Einstein’s sentiments, we pray that the aspirations of art, science and religion to take us into higher moral existence and can help us heal old wounds in our ancient land while providing a renewed sense of faith for brotherly and sisterly love. After all, the true art of religion or spirituality should help us rise above differences with grace and a spirit of One Love. Melkam Timket.
Dr. Desta Meghoo is a Jamaican born
Creative Consultant, Curator and cultural promoter based in Ethiopia since 2005. She also serves as Liaison to the AU for the Ghana based, Diaspora African Forum.