In the city of Kyiv, Ukraine, is the unpretentious museum of microminiatures. Home to the work of Mykola Syadristy, several circular displays line the walls of the small museum, each with a powerful magnifying lens in front. I glanced at the first one, and saw nothing visible to the naked eye. But then I leaned over and peered like Popeye through the lens. There, in unmistakable beauty, was a perfectly formed crystal flower, with intricate gold stem and delicate leaves. Immediately, I lifted my eye from the microscope and looked again to where I saw nothing but a thread. Back to the magnifying lens: the perfect, majestic detail reappeared. ‘Nooo!’ I slowly breathed in protest, unable to believe what I was seeing. The sensation increased as I circled the room and my eyes saw what my mind found difficult to process – a chess set on the head of a pin, a nest of birds in a poppy seed, the world’s smallest book (a mere 0.6mm sq., written on flower petals), a red rose set in a hollowed-out human hair.
My imagination was stretched further when my host recounted how the artist learned to still his heart to perform the most intricate manoeuvres in creating his tiny masterpieces, and pointed out the potential of this skill for spying during the Cold War. (We were in Kyiv, after all, and the artist had been actively practicing his art for many years.)
Later, I couldn’t help but think how these microminiatures were reflections of the western church in contemporary culture. Wearing cultural camouflage, the church has often blended in so well with the culture that it’s been impossible to detect its distinctiveness with the naked eye. In some ways, we have blended in so well that we don’t even invite a closer look.
Sometimes, when I play hide and seek with my son, instead of hiding in a closet or under the bed, I stand out in the open, fully visible, alongside a curtain or near a door. Not expecting to see me there, he walks past and continues looking elsewhere.
Christians are supposed to be active participants in culture, not idle bystanders. Immersed in our own distractions, work, and entertainments, we don’t always notice people going by, don’t hear their cries for help, don’t respond with an alternate perspective, don’t invite them to look closer. Sometimes people don’t see the church because it is dressed in cultural camouflage. The church hides in plain sight.
Sometimes though, people overlook the church because they think it is small and insignificant. It’s just an unfortunate speck on the canvas of history. Simply a lint on the cloak of the mind, to be brushed away as a rogue cultural fibre. But our lives as Christians are microscopes to the seeds of the gospel. We beckon others to draw near, to capture a glimpse of a majestic seed of promise in their own hearts. For those who see something more than a smudge on the window, a seed on the ground, a grain of wheat on the landscape, there comes an invitation to look closer. When they do, what they have missed as insignificant, small, or irrelevant, fills their vision and imagination that makes the impossible real – more real than their own breath.
The Creator held his breath, slowed his heartbeat, as he assembled the most intricate pieces of his creation – atoms, molecules, the human spirit, the Cross. Unseen by many, but revealed to the humble, his secrets are made plain to those who seek Him. Perhaps we resist the idea of the church as a museum too quickly. As new creation on display, we emerge from cultural hiding. Our lives beckon, ‘Come and see!”
In the spark of creative imagination and the possibility of new life, the insignificant fills the frame. In a flash of wonder, hope is kindled. Nothing more majestic can be encountered than the tiny gospel seed that gives birth to a mission, and moves a church out of cultural hiding and into plain sight.
[See the work of Mykola Syadristy here.]