Easter came early this year, sneaking into the calendar even ahead of April. To extend the season, and linger in its bright promise of resurrection, here is a guest blog post by the remarkable artist Makoto Fujimura, adapted from a commencement address he gave at Belhaven University in 2011. CNN selected it as one of the 16 greatest commencement speeches of all time. 

Mako and Philip, 2019

… I recently had the delight to see a production of Our Town by Thornton Wilder at the Barrow Street Theatre in New York City. David Cromer, the founder of the theatre, played the narrator role magnificently. On the spare, dark stage, the famed story of a small New England town was brought to life. One scene in particular stood out to me. It was when young Emily, who died giving birth, is caught somewhere between life and death, fighting to recover her memory. She is given the opportunity to move back in time to her twelfth birthday.

At this point, the stark colors of the small stage begin to change. And faintly, we in the audience begin to detect an aroma. At first, we think that it is a nearby restaurant cooking their dinner for customers. But the aroma of bacon and eggs continues to fill the theatre. The producers had a surprise in store for us. The entire back stage opens up to reveal yet another stage, filled with color and light. Real bacon and real eggs are being cooked by Emily’s mother. Emily’s memory, though fading away, is depicted as more real than the “reality” of the main stage, or even of the gravesite in which the other characters stoically sit. Before Emily returns from her vision to die, she is given, perhaps for the first time, a full experience of Reality—fully engaging our senses in the process. Mako with Japanese Kintsugi Bowl

What if there is a Reality behind the reality we know? What if there is a Stage behind the stage of our life? What if our “memory and desire” points to a greater Reality? What if Emily’s liminal state can be reversed from Death to Life, at least in the audience’s experience? The smell of the bacon is REAL, and poses powerful questions about the nature of reality, and the nature of art. …

In our liquid time, art needs to become the aroma of bacon and eggs. It is not the art of the novel, but the art of the familiar that awakens our memory of the core essence of our lives, to the morning of our twelfth birthdays. With all solid notions being washed away, as new fears of our days creep into our consciousness, we must insist on reminding people that there is a Stage behind the stage, a Reality behind the reality. But instead of reminding people of the cold earth, we need to awaken the deposit of what is to come. There is a banquet waiting for us beyond the veil. If all is in flux, our task is to touch the fragile earth with the promise of heaven. Create the “still point of the turning world” in the eye of the storm of life. The gospel of Jesus makes this possible.

Think of John 21. Here Jesus, in his post-resurrection glory, is cooking breakfast on the beach, and he invites his disciples to partake. Think of the fish he is cooking. Where did he get this fish? Did he simply create the fish at will? Or cause it to jump into his fire? And he is eating in his post-resurrection body. So was the fish resurrected as well? The aroma invites his incredulous disciples to partake, not only in a conversation with the resurrected Savior, but in a meal—a post-resurrection meal. The new Kingdom arrives with an aroma, the aroma of the New.

What the producers of Our Town touched, perhaps unconsciously, was a chord of realization, a hunger, that points to what is to come. The world may call this The World that Ought to Be; C.S. Lewis called it Sehnsucht, a German word that can be translated as “a longing.”

Artwork by Makoto FujimuraHe stated in The Weight of Glory, “For they (art and music) are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

I am going to go a bit further than Lewis here. I am convinced that art and music, while not the Thing itself, contain the aroma, the actual aroma, of the New. Artists, whether cognizant of Christ or not, detect this aroma. Bacon and eggs point to that reality. Therefore, you [graduates of Belhaven] have already tasted the aroma of the New. When you dance, when you play your violin, when you draw, what you see, and hear and smell and touch, it all invites you into the aroma of the New. The two worlds, the old and the New, are connected in the arts. Typically, we stop to think about such “idealistic” enchantment and dismiss it by saying something like, “Well that performance was glorious…but we must now return to reality and do something useful with our lives.” (Or to say, as a performer, seeking some sort of Utopia, “Oh, we could have done that better.”) Pragmatism will revert us, like Emily in Our Town, back to cold earth and deadened senses.

The World that Ought to be is that which is already imbedded in our senses. God’s hand touches us, even through the cold earth of death and despair, even though we are being washed away in the sea of liquid modernity. The Gospel is an aroma, the aroma of the New. And the aroma will reach us, even in the darkest despair. Art + Faith book cover

Come and dance, play and paint upon your Ground Zero ashes. That is how we must now love the world. Step into the receding (cultural) waters filled with poison, but do it with faith. Then the stench of death will be replaced by the aroma of the New. The Stage behind the stage will open up, and instead of being forced to surrender to the cold earth, we will dance upon the waters, hear new sounds, and create new colors.

[Mako further develops these themes in the book Art + Faith: A Theology of Making.]

 

 

 

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17 responses to “The Aroma of the New”

  1. Tamra says:

    I buried two sweet babies, one on December 26,2022, one on November 25,2023. A rare genetic disorder. And they looked absolutely perfect on the outside, and their spirits were perfect, untouched by willful sin, and we are the most blessed people of all, parents of angels we got to see and smell and touch. I loved your post and I think of the aroma of heaven often.

  2. ilein Taipe says:

    Hi Mr Philip, to be honest, I didn’t understand this article. Was he describing her last moments but how would he know? Emily didn’t make it so here we are again someone else’s opinion on what the last moments were m.
    Thank you for sharing anyway, I see much more enjoyed itz Also anything that comes from you I trust. I listen to my Faith Radio national Christian Radio channel. Chip Ingram (Pastor) has been sharing on what is heaven. I have an elderly neighbor that needs lots of help. His kids live far away and don’t come. Me and my wonderful community help him with rides visits and checking up on him. I am 51 years old. I live by myself. I’m in a good place thank our God for that. He is getting weaker and he is pretty much lonely. If I didn’t work full-time, I’ll be spending more time with him. Seeing him in this state, gives me a glimpse of what I want my last years to be, with who ans where. I am blessed with health right now and energy, but I wonder if we all actually think about that. I share this bc of the article and Emily’s death. Death will happen. It is not fear because when we live purposely and as his servant we are thankful but when we think about it, it is scary. I have a son and I tell him I am blessed with him and for my future livelihood a pension. I am a retired USMC Veteran and I have about eight years to still work (prob more 8 yrs sound good) and as I think about my last yrs just thoughts and I am still with out a husband (Praying for that too God loving more than me husband) I would like to be in a nice assisted-living with friends, bingo, coffee, and laughter. Thank you again for your articles. God bless you, your family. I would love to hear more about your childhood about where you are now (in your Christian walk) and how is writing at times choosing what to write conflict with your walk with the lord. How is your brother is doing. Bendiciones.
    Ilein – Evansville WI (born in NYC)

    • Philip Yancey says:

      You’re right that the story of Emily is just that, a story, and so the author is speculating about death and what comes after. I like your attitude about aging and the way you help your neighbor, and I hope you do find that peaceful next stage of life. As for my childhood, I wrote about it in a memoir, Where the Light Fell.

  3. Steve Porter says:

    I too am called once again to lift my head up and be the aroma of another country to someone else. Thx

  4. Muriel Elmer says:

    Thank you Phil for sharing these perceptive images by artist Makoto Fujimura. For the first time this year at Easter I read John Updike’s “Seven Stanzas at Easter.” As a piece of art this poem moved me deeply as it pointed precisely to what Fuimura calls the “reality behind the reality we know, the bacon and eggs, the aroma of the New.”

    Seven Stanzas at Easter
    By John Updike

    Make no mistake: if He rose at all
    it was as His body;
    if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
    reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
    the Church will fall.

    It was not as the flowers,
    each soft Spring recurrent;
    it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
    eyes of the eleven apostles;
    it was as His flesh: ours.

    The same hinged thumbs and toes,
    the same valved heart
    that-pierced-died, withered, paused, and then
    regathered out of enduring Might
    new strength to enclose.

    Let us not mock God with metaphor,
    analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
    making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
    faded credulity of earlier ages:
    let us walk through the door.

    The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
    not a stone in a story,
    but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
    grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
    the wide light of day.

    And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
    make it a real angel,
    weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
    opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
    spun on a definite loom.

    Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
    for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
    lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
    embarrassed by the miracle,
    and crushed by remonstrance.

  5. Lynnette says:

    Thank you for this stunning article and thank you Curt for your response. I was thinking about this very thing this morning as I read about Peter’s denial and his calling down curses on himself and the crowd saying “ Let his blood be on us and on our children” Their fear and self preservation and short- earth-only sightedness, their incurvatus in se, curved in on themselves-edness, which is so often mine, reflected a complete obliviousness to the wonder of the mystery of the veiled reality of eternity behind our so often grubby reality. Oh God! Give me eyes to see beyond the veil, to have a heaven focused perspective that would lift all interactions with this beautiful and terrible earth, and its inhabitants- humming birds and dogs and image bearers alike -onto a different plane, one that is flooded with you.

  6. Linda Long says:

    Sometimes I hear music that so touches my heart it hurts. I then wonder if the music here is so beautiful, what must the music of Heaven be like? I’m a gardener and love to grow flowers, roses most of all. When I look at all these beautiful blooms and all the magnificent colors, what must the gardens of Heavens look like? Since God is the creator of this beautiful planet, all this beauty points to it’s perfection which will be realized in Heaven, my real Home. Thank you, Philip for sharing this beautiful message. A reminder of Home and a future life forever with Jesus.

  7. Christina says:

    Such prophetic words from Makoto that wake us up to our deepest longings. The power of art in His redemption! Thanks for sharing this guest post.

  8. I wrote this in 2016, several months after my 27 year old son was killed in a motorcycle accident. Mr. Fujimura’s words stirred me, and I remembered the piece.

    We scattered our boy’s ashes this week, Tish and Lily and I, on a lake, in the mountains of North Carolina. It was a strange and bittersweet task. Strange: I find it almost surreal to even type the phrase, “I scattered my boy’s ashes today”. This is not a task I ever dreamed I would accomplish, nor one I would wish for any father.
    Kappel loved the water … ocean, stream, or lake. It seemed right for his ashes to return to water. So some of them sailed gently away from our dock, with no pomp or ceremony. Some drifted near the cliffs where, as a boy, and as a man, he would dare-devil with his friends, and with me and his sister, jumping from thirty feet up into the deep water below. Some plunged down our “secret waterfall” which, more than once, we dared each other to climb. It was, all of it, a bittersweet release.
    Bitter: well … Kap was a physical being, and these ashes were the last actual physical mark of his presence with us. It was bitter to let them go. There are those who might try to comfort me with the words, “well, we know Kap’s spirit is in Heaven. Those ashes weren’t really Kappel.” But, those ashes were Kappel. They were his physical body. And, I know that physical bodies are important. They are important to us, and they are important to God. God came in the flesh, after all, and God’s creation of Kap’s physical body was not just some … cosmic afterthought. And Kap’s physical body was how he connected to this beautiful and tragic world, and how he connected to us … to all of us, in his weird and wonderful ways. When I miss my boy (and I miss him so often), it is his physical presence for which I yearn.
    As I type this, I am looking out at a pristine mountain lake. There are ducks calling in the clear green water below me. There are hummingbirds fighting over our feeder. My feisty dogs sit at my feet. My good wife is puttering in the kitchen. This is one of my favorite places in a world full of beautiful places. Sitting here with my coffee, I am filled with joy and gratitude. But, even before Kap went to his new home, even before life’s inescapable hardships began to come, in months and years past, I would look out at this joyful, God-made landscape, and I would experience a deeper yearning for something more, some beauty beyond all that I can see. I believe that yearning comes from God. I believe that God gives me, gives us, that yearning as a “foretaste of glory divine”.
    And here is the Sweet: Kappel, too, had that yearning. The yearning to experience deeper, and fuller the beauty and glory and wonder of God, and of all God made, and makes. I truly believe that Kap is, now, joyfully in the actual presence of the God who makes all of this beauty. Kap’s earthly tent (as spectacular as it was) is destroyed, and he is clothed instead with Heaven’s splendor. Those are comforting words in scripture, but, for me, they are much more than words. Kappel’s yearnings have come into focus. But he also waits. Kap waits, along with those who have gone before him, the “great cloud of witnesses”. He waits, almost as if he is on a layover to an even more spectacular destination. He joyfully waits for us, for the day when our loving God will say, “It’s time. It’s time for the new earth”. And that new earth will finally, for all time, validate all of Kap’s, and our deepest yearnings. And, in that very real, physical, God-made place, God will bring Spirit and Flesh and sky and lake and duck and hummingbird and dog together in perfect harmony. We will be overwhelmed, and our tears will be only tears of wonder. And all will be well. And all will be well. And all manner of things will be well.

  9. Vicki says:

    Years ago I walked into my 4th grade Sunday School class early to get ready for the morning. Although my room was normally empty at that time, one of our church’s elders David Powlison was working on his sermon for the morning. David was a dear, gentle man who was gifted in the field of biblical counseling. We chatted for a few minutes and when I turned to leave the room I caught the scent of his cologne. I walked out reflecting that this was a reminder of the Aroma of Christ.

  10. Karen (Fitts) Hess says:

    Wow! I was sent a survey yesterday from an online business. They want to know why I am interacting on their medium. I loved the phrase, …”our task is to touch the fragile earth with the promise of heaven. ”
    I have been trying to describe my goal on their site.
    I won’t use that phrase, but it encourages me to describe it with my gifts.

  11. Dana Moorhead says:

    Thank you for this article as well as all the others, and for your books in the past years. All examples of what a good friend of mine said when I was trying to get her to read your books. She read one, and when I handed her another, she said, “ No thank you, Philip Yancey gives me answers to questions I don’t want to ask.”

    But I will always keep asking, reading and appreciating! Thanks again!

  12. PARADISE
    Heaven was Dante’s most joyful and majestic location. Old dear friends and relatives had joyful reunions for centuries or often lifetimes at beautiful locations. Previously embittered or alienated family members now found forgiveness, grace, and joyful reconciliation. Soaring artistic, philosophic and theological discussions could occur but now having more closure because of the availability of flashes of cosmic hindsight and foresight. Vigorous peaceful political debates occurred in the new Janusian historical reality setting. Reviews of centuries of scientific discovery were crowned with new visions and infinite new universes perpetually discovered. Dante smiled at Novolin about the beauty of the place.
    An exerpt from my book—The Big Bang Trilogy and Beyond—PAO
    I recently finished your important book, The Jesus I Never Knew—Thank you for it;s aroma!

  13. Thank you for the nudge to embrace whatever the day brings. With Jesus, our eyes are changed to see beauty and enjoy a banquet of bacon and eggs. And thank you for the reminder that there is so much more to come.

  14. Scott says:

    Very interesting perspective. I’m trying to wrap my head around the concepts and just how helpful this perspective would be for someone experiencing severe physical pain and/or loss. Which can become overwhelming and its relief an all consuming pursuit. It certainly does provide hope which seems to be foundational. Also very important for everyone else to help provide a better view of reality and what is of ultimate importance. “What does it gain a person to gain the world but loose his soul”.
    The art I enjoy (capturing) seems to join the two worlds together – nature photography.

  15. DARLENE HIXON says:

    Oh my goodness Mr. Yancey. Thank you for this writing share
    It gave me hope this morning in a difficult season. Thank you! Bless you for sharing this beauty and truth.

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