Anamorphosis in the Sky

Anamorphosis is an artistic technique by which the artist presents a somewhat mysterious image that can only be properly interpreted from a particular perspective or vantage point. Viewers of anamorphic images must complete an anamorphic action item (like standing in the right position, holding up a special curved mirror, or using a secret decoder ring…) in order to the see the image as it is intended to be seen. Anamorphosis means “formed again” in Greek.

Radical Sunset

One night last summer, I went out onto my deck* at dusk. It’s a good deck, high on a hill, facing west toward the Olympic Mountains of Washington State. As it happens, a radically beautiful sunset lured me out, but it was warm and I had bats for company, so I decided to welcome the stars after bidding the sun good night. I stared at a blank indigo dome edged with violent pink brushstrokes, knowing the stars were already there. My eyes flitted back and forth, seeking the first star, and finally it appeared, directly in front of me. Just then, I realized I was experiencing a kind of natural anamorphosis. It was temporal (related to my position in time) rather than spatial (related to my position in space): I was in a perfect position to view the stars but until the time was right, I would not see them. This revelation suddenly made me suspicious that anamorphosis, the notion that something is only recognizable from a particular perspective or position, was far more common, and far more varied, than I might have guessed. Which got me thinking about revelation.

In any contemplation of revelation – for this is the end result of anamophosis – we become, at some point, acutely aware of the limitations of our vision. From our fixed temporal and spatial position in an infinite universe, we can, at best, grope for understanding, seeking diligently for elusive clues that will bring the world into alignment. Though scientists have generated a great deal of knowledge about how the universe works, they have little to offer in the form of plausibly conclusive answers to life’s biggest questions. Conversely, theologians provide little empirical data about how the universe works but have a great deal to say about why it works. One of the most profound (and frustrating) conclusions we are offered is that, as finite beings, we will never know everything. Worse yet, it appears, if you go for such things, that God set it up this way on purpose. The prophet Isaiah quotes God himself, telling us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Which, for would-be universal code-crackers, is somewhat depressing. But hold on. A few hundred years later, the apostle Paul promises anamorphic resolution after all, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” For now, he implies, we have to be satisfied with a sort of catoptric anamorphosis (using a special mirror to see an image). At some future point, however, everything will become clear.

It is an exciting promise, except when we remember that the anamorphic action item is death.

* Yeah. That’s the view from my deck.

This entry was posted in Deep Thoughts (and some long words). Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *