God is not like human beings. While we endure trials and temptations, God ‘cannot be tempted’ (James 1:13). While we deceive ourselves in dark folds of reflection, God is pure, transparent light in which ‘there is no variation or shadow due to change’ (v.17). What happens, then, when a human being stands ‘before God’ (v.27)? When you stand beneath the sun and look down, you see your own shadow.
David Wood’s Reflections, installed at Cheekwood Botanical Garden, Nashville in 2011, is part of a series named Heliotrope. Wood, a philosopher as well as an artist, creates landscape sculptures to raise ecological consciousness, questioning the place of human beings between earth and sky. Reflections played with change and stasis: the serene floating heliotrope mirrored the sun in a transparent sky, yet also drew attention to the movement of light on water and the shifting hues of sky and land. Its circular form evoked the regular motions of the heavens, long thought by watchers of the night sky to approximate the unchanging being of God. The human eye cannot see God, or look directly at the sun; only in an earthly reflection can we ‘look into the perfect law’ (v.25) of creation.
Although there is no variation in God, God’s being is a generative plenitude, ‘bringing us forth’ (v.18) and offering ‘every good endowment’, ‘every perfect gift’, (v.17). Juxtaposing an ever-changing sky and landscape with the geometrical form of the heliotrope, Reflections suggests both constancy and a ceaseless cycle of generosity and receptivity: a small revelation of a gift-giving ‘Father of lights’.
Wood’s philosophical art might be called pantheist or panentheist, disclosing the creativity and sanctity of nature by ephemeral acts of devotion within nature herself. This work gains urgency in the present ecological crisis, when we sense the preciousness and fragility of our earth as well as her transcendent power. While the Letter of James emphasizes action, Wood’s sculptures invite contemplation. Perhaps they are offered as preludes to the ‘doing’ the biblical text incites.
12 Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him. 13Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; 14but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death.
16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 17Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
19 Know this, my beloved brethren. Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, 20for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God. 21Therefore put away all filthiness and rank growth of wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23For if any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror; 24for he observes himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25But he who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer that forgets but a doer that acts, he shall be blessed in his doing.
26 If any one thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man’s religion is vain. 27Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.