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Savage, Susan - VM - Alexandra J. Davison

Susan Savage: Here to Dwell

Hovering over the Tohu Wa Bohu

by Alexandra Jean Davison

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. Genesis 1:1-2

When my husband and I learned that I was pregnant in early June, we were excited but also nervous. We knew one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage in the first weeks of pregnancy. At our first ultrasound, my doctor confirmed the baby was six weeks and five days, had a heartbeat, and everything "looked good." We were ecstatic. Logically we knew anything could happen, but the odds of a miscarriage drop to just four percent after six weeks with a confirmed heartbeat. The weeks went on. I was excited when I scheduled my bloodwork to learn our baby's gender at ten weeks. When my doctor listened for the baby's heartbeat, she went still. Further examination showed that I had a "silent miscarriage." Our little one had died at eight weeks, a full two-and-a-half week earlier, yet my body held onto the pregnancy. The next week of waiting for my body to recognize the death of my little one even as I still carried the pregnancy, of having to work and go on with "normal life" was a nightmare. The wait ended with a painful delivery that lasted all night just to “birth” a miscarriage. 

I first encountered Susan Savage’s art when I organized Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Come to the Table CIVA exhibition in 2018. Savage states that her paintings are contemplative works imbued with a sense of “finding mystery in the ordinary.” During the weeks of my miscarriage, I meditated on her work as I lamented and poured out my grief.

Here to Dwell presents a simple image with a complex translation. A translucent sphere hovers in darkness over a nest of thorns resting on blue and green shadows. Savage uses a sphere in her works to represent the divine. She states,

The sphere is a perfect form; it has no beginning and no end. It is my way of introducing the presence of God into the works if I need more than just a warm color. In Here to Dwell the sphere is clear. It is present, but sometimes we aren't sure He is there. But Scripture tells us that He is. And that is the important part.

The first time in the Bible we encounter the presence of God is in Genesis 1:2 which states, “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." The Hebrew description for the earth in this state is tohu wa bohu, which translates into “formless” and “empty.” The Hebrew conveys a sense of a space inhospitable to life, a wasteland without purpose. Yet this is where we first see the Spirit of God…and he is waiting. 

Susan Savage remarks:

The thorns come from the rootstock of my lemon tree as a defense mechanism to protect the tender leaves and fruit of the graft from predators when the tree has been grafted. If they are ignored after a time, they can drain energy from the more desirable branches and eventually take over the tree. Besides providing protection, thorns can also be destructive. Symbolically they stand for sin, tribulation and grief. There are 47 passages in Scripture that refer to thorns as destructive and hurtful, and that is the focus I had in mind when I configured the composition for Here to Dwell.

Like the Psalmists we offer our grief alongside our prayers and creed. In this liminal space faith and hope are expressions of God’s love in our hearts. We do not serve a God who stays distant from humanity but identifies with us. Jesus Christ is called the Man of Sorrows around the world. When we speak of the Passion of Christ, we speak to God’s willingness to suffer rejection, pain and death to redeem our brokenness and restore fellowship with his presence. God willingly waits in our darkness with us, hovering over our brokenness.

In our grief the Spirit of God is hovering in a pregnant pause for an unknown time. Although I have a Master’s in Divinity in Apologetics, I don’t know all or even most of the reasons God would do this but, at the very least, I believe this is a glimpse into our God’s creative process. Before he creates, he waits. God’s “useless” waiting has a divine purpose. And of all the mysteries in darkness, the greatest is this: He is Immanuel, “God with Us.”  

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Susan Savage, Here to Dwell2011, oil on canvas, 12” x 16”. Image used with permission of the artist.

Susan Savage is a native of California who lives with her husband in Santa Barbara, CA, USA. Both are retired teachers. Susan received her BA in Art, a lifetime secondary teaching credential, and her MFA from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Having taught in the Santa Barbara public school system, she finished her final 23 years of teaching at Westmont College, Santa Barbara, in 2014. Susan’s focus in teaching was to nurture the voices of her students. It was during her tenure at Westmont College that she found her own voice as a painter, and now continues her metaphorical endeavors to make visible that which is invisible. II Corinthians 4:18 serves as her motivation as she works to embody the truths, promises, and attributes of the Christian faith through the visual relationships of common, familiar forms. Focusing on the element of silver for its symbolic evocation of purity, refinement, and redemption, she has come to appreciate the fact that objects have the power to absorb and reveal both human and divine demeanor. Read more at https://www.susandsavage.com/

Alexandra Jean Davison is the director for Culture Care RDU, a ministry department of Artists in Christian Testimony International (A.C.T. Intl). Her Culture Care blog and work equips churches to show Christ in hospitable explorations in faith, imagination, and artistry. She received an M.Div in Apologetics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina. She then went on to receive an M.Litt in Theology, Imagination and the Arts at the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland. She interned with the artist Makoto Fujimura as part of the Fujimura Institute based in New York City. She lives in Houston, Texas, USA. For more information, see www.culturecarerdu.com.

ArtWay Visual Meditation 16 August 2020