I thought I was having a surreal experience all by myself, but my husband leaned over to me and whispered the very thought I was thinking: “gods.”
We had decided to visit the Detroit Institute of Art as part of my whirlwind tour of the city where my husband grew up. There was no time to take in all the of the museum’s collections—American Colonial; Asia and Islamic Spain; Europe and its roots in Greece and Rome; Drawings, Prints, and Photos; Abstract Expressionism; the General Motors Center for African American Art.
We bit off a small part of the offerings—Africa, Egypt, the Pacific, and Indigenous American (what I called Indian, as a child). It was everything you would expect in those exhibits: sculptures, pottery, textiles, seals, utilitarian wares, bodily ornaments, bracelets, funerary screens, coffins, mummies, sarcophagi, tomb walls, steles, papyri clay effigy vessels, and more.
Have you ever seen one of those Gestalt trick pictures (the vase/lady figure, the young woman/old woman figure), in which there are two scenes depicted, but typically you only see one of them at first? Then, after staring at the image for a while, your perception suddenly shifts entirely and you see the other depiction, a completely different scene.
I have been in museums many times throughout my life, but suddenly what I was seeing was not exhibits at an institute—it was a gallery of idols. From the pottery to the jewelry to the funerary objects to the housewares, many things had faces on them that were evidently of a religious nature. There were also books of the dead containing prayers and spells for helping the deceased to get along in the next life.
I felt like the Apostle Paul, who was perhaps also stunned to observe, while milling through the streets of Athens:
“Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious” (Acts 17:22).
This is a timely note-to-self: Every person I meet on the street is a religious person. He is lost in the world unless he knows who he is and he can find some transcendence of his difficult life. He is a creature of God in rebellion, and those of us who know the truth need not be hindered in speaking to a stranger, thinking that person has no spiritual thirst. He does.