“… and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them”
There is a tide of fabric that rises to cover our living room floor regularly at the moment. I am mid-project and it is the largest, flattest surface in our basement suite, so it has assumed the role of ‘cutting-out table’. Some days there has been room to walk through and avoid fabric underfoot, at other times, not.
A la Paul, I am in the business of making a series of tents. Five tents as soft-sculpture, an art installation for my ‘final project’ at Regent College. The IPIAT, Integrated Project in the Arts and Theology, is a chance for me to explore a theological concept raised for me during my course and respond creatively. Another project I did allowed me to explore a theology of textiles and ‘clothing’ in the Bible – and I remember being fascinated that the first big textiles ‘moment’ of the Bible was God’s commissioning the tabernacle. It was such an important demonstration of God’s commitment to His people, to dwell with them, to travel with them, to be their God, and it was made of fabric. Artisans of all stripes were involved in its production. It was this especially holy place, home to the localised presence of God, and yet, was made of yarn spun, woven and embroidered by the Israelite people. The language of John 1 picks up a similar theme – although there is no actual tent this time – we are introduced to the Word, the Word “who became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood” (John 1:14) as Eugene Peterson puts it in the Message. In Greek, the words we read as ‘made his dwelling among us’ in say the NIV, mean more literally ‘set up His tent’ among us. We continue on, further into the New Testament and see Peter referring to our bodies as ‘temples of the Holy Spirit’ and Paul using the tent as a metaphor for our own earthly lives. He himself is a tentmaker – along side his kingdom work.
There is something profound here I think. Two things perhaps. Firstly, the material and the mundane are the place of God’s presence. From desert-worship-space to Son to our Spirit-indwelled lives, God is not afraid of turning up in this material world He has made. Our earthiness does not bother Him or offend Him. He has made His home here, with us. Secondly, God is relentless in pursuing closer and closer relationship with His people. Each move is more intimate, till He is within us – filling us with His own Spirit, and then, finally, a face-to-face-forever relationship.
And so, as I try to wrap my head round this Immanuel-Dwelling-Material mystery, I’m making some tents. They will tell the story of ‘everydays’ that are at once both mundane and miraculous, spiritual and physical, in a word, integrated. That is the plan.