Easter Tree of Life

“God’s Eternal Love,” by I Nyoman Darsane

This Easter I’m thinking about the Tree of Life. 

The Tree of Life spans the biblical canon from the first chapters of Genesis to the final chapters of Revelation. For some believers even the wood of the cross of Christ has an echo of the tree that gives life.

The pen and ink drawing above, entitled “God’s Eternal Love,” is by the famed Balinese artist I. Nyoman Darsane. Our daughter Laura became a friend while she was on a seven-month CBF assignment in Bali, writing about the intersection of art and spirituality. Bali is an enchanting island where Hindu concepts and images saturate the culture. Darsane, a teenage-convert to Christianity, has invested a long creative career depicting scriptural figures in the garb of Balinese culture and art. Laura says,

“Darsane believes he can both glorify God and celebrate his culture through art. . . . When thinking about Jesus or any biblical character Darsane imagines them as Balinese, so he paints them that way. He believes that if Jesus came to Bali he would come dancing in traditional Balinese style and embracing the culture around him. One of his paintings entitled ‘Sermon at the Seaside’ portrays Jesus preaching to the Balinese people on the beach through dance.”*

Like so many great artists through Christian history, Darsane offers the gift of incarnational imagination. For him Jesus came not only as a Middle-Eastern Jew, he also came as a Balinese dancer. 

Darsane’s drawing captivates me with the story and challenge of Easter Living. In the background is the iconic Balinese shadow-puppet shape of the Tree of Life. In front is Resurrected Jesus, out of whom is growing that verdant Tree.* In the breath-taking theological imagination of the artist, the figure of Jesus shows how people of Resurrection Life live. He is feeding a Roman soldier fruit from the Tree of Life, like a parent feeds an infant — feeding with hands scarred by the marks of crucifixion. The startling scene translates the excruciating crucifixion words “Father, forgive them” into an example of extreme forgiveness.

The recipient of that grace, the soldier, eats the food of Resurrection while still holding the instruments of torture: hammer and whip. Perhaps the soldier does not yet comprehend what it means to receive from Jesus’ own scarred hands the Eucharistic elements of the Tree of Life. He is a Resurrection Life infant, yet there’s hope he will come to understand and let go of the tools of violence. Just as there’s hope for all of us who eat the Eucharistic fruit of the Tree of Life this Easter. That fruit gives nourishment not only to make alive, but also to transform the living into children who learn how to give Resurrection Life to others. 

This particular Easter, when deadening remnants of anger and grief linger deep within, Darsane’s art offers the fruit of the Tree to me: a Eucharistic meal that gives new life, nourishing me to practice Resurrection Living and hopefully growing the spiritual child within towards forgiveness. 

* Laura Ellis, “Balinese Jesus,” Artway (available at  https://www.artway.eu/content.php?id=2646&lang=en&action=show).

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