Monday, February 9, 2015

"From Slavery Through Reconstruction" by Aaron Douglas

By Ernest Disney-Britton
Detail of "From Slavery Through Reconstruction" by Aaron Douglas (1934)
Imagine a look of complete contentment. What did it look like in your head? I have a group of friends who love to discuss religious art, and weeks ago I asked them to name their favorite painting(s) as inspired by Philippians 4:10-20. In these verses Paul writes: “…I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content.” The question prompted a hot little debate.

While I imagined the placid serenity of “Walking on Water” by Makoto Fujimura, and he added  “contentment will be the seed of love for you and the next generation.” Chad Swanson rejected that idea and pushed for a dialog about how only discontent promotes change. But my friend Joshua Burkholder's response surprised me the most because of its African American slavery connection. It is still Black History Month after all, and Joshua suggested that Aaron Douglas’s 1934 mural “From Slavery Through Reconstruction” felt inspired by Paul's letter to the Philippians. For Joshua, contentment was finding "celebration, joy in the midst of suffering, and reflection."

Saint Paul acknowledged his pain, and he used his love of God as a shield of joy just as my ancestors did during American slavery.  During this month when many would prefer that African Americans forget the suffering in our American history, Aaron Douglas reminds us and Saint Paul reminds us too. They remind us of the pain, and the promise of contentment that comes from him who strengthens us.

Thought for Monday: What does contentment in the midst of suffering look like to you?