Doors are one way of depicting Jesus in art. For Christians, Jesus is the way, the opening, the gate. He is the portal that takes us where we most want to go, where we most need to be. He is the way to our most authentic and full life.
I started studying classical ballet at age 7 and from that time until my retirement from the world of the performing arts, I felt outside the door more often than I care to remember. I was often the only one who looked like me in the class, at the audition, on the stage.
My skin is a lovely shade of café con leche and this beautiful skin always raised eyebrows in the hallowed halls I moved in – from the ballet studios of the School of American Ballet to the Great Stage at Radio City Music Hall. At nearly six feet tall, I stood out…and I was good.
When folks wonder how immigrants feel when told to go back where they came from, I don’t have to wonder. “You took my friend’s job,” hissed one dancer in my first week of Christmas Spectacular rehearsals. “You shouldn’t even be here!” another one spat in my direction. I know how immigrants feel because no one, aside from my mom and my amazing ballet teacher, Miss Gloria, thought a brown girl belonged in pointe shoes. But it was Miss Gloria, a white woman, who announced to my mother at age 7 that, “Adriene is going to be a ballerina.” And I did that thing! And more! I walked through doors that people wanted to keep closed. I inhabited spaces that people felt I had no right to call home, and I took up space the entire time I was there. I left a mark on the stages of Carnegie Hall, the Metropolitan Opera House, and Radio City Music Hall over the course of a 20-year career. I believe I left the door open for others to follow, and I’m now turning my attention to creating art that fuses justice and creativity for the purpose of changing oppressive systems and structures.
We host a local CSA at my church and every week there are amazing fruits and vegetables portioned out for the neighborhood. The smells and colors of Farmer Lee’s bounty are a treat for our senses, and our food pantry guests benefit from the overflow. I dream of a world like that – a celebration of the fullness and flourishing of life – where no one says to a person what they would never say to a melon or a squash, “Hold back; you’re the wrong color!” Where no one would tell a person what they would not tell a bumblebee, “Stay on the other side of the border, you’re making too much noise!” I long for a world where no one expects any of God’s creations to be anything other than what God created them to be – part of the beauty, part of the family. My faith teaches that this is what abundant life looks like.
Now, where Americans get hung up too often, is thinking abundant life means “more stuff,” when for Jesus, abundant life meant melons and squash and bumblebees. For Jesus, abundant life meant fullness of life and the freedom to be what God created you to be in a safe place without holding back who you are or being told by others to pipe down. Jesus came for all the people to have that life and have it…abundantly – freedom to feel at home, freedom to live authentically. I believe he wanted each of us to live lives that are safe and sound no matter our color, country or the religion we practice. A life where basic needs are met – clean drinking water, a job, a place to call home regardless of who you love or how you identify. A life where you are never abandoned. Never alone. Never on the wrong side of any door. The pages of my holy book drip with descriptions of this abundant life.
Jesus came so that all the people would never feel shut out or alone, and yet, while Jesus says, “I am the door, I am the gate” I am the way into this abundant life, there are others saying, We, are the gatekeepers. We decide, based on skin color and country of origin and other items on an extremely long list, who is worthy to live and die. We decide if you get a job. And if we want to stick our noses into your intimate relationships, we will. We are the gatekeepers and keeping people out is what we try to do.
Jesus says, to all gatekeepers, “Open the gate. Open the gate for LGBT+ children. Stop killing black folks, stop killing my people. Stop seeing them as other and outsider. Let us in.” The church needs to be the place of open doors, and that is who my church tries to be – we celebrate love – same gender love, other gender love, love period…because we believe Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves calls us to open doors.
It’s not for nothing that one gatekeeper in the bible is a gate opener – a gatekeeper who opens the gate! What if gatekeepers were more like divine doormen helping God to usher people in? What if in our human organizations and institutions, we created more spaces, more ways, more opportunities for folks to come through doors so that God could be God and you and me and all people could be our fully alive selves?
In paintings where Jesus is at the door, there is typically no handle. The symbolism suggests that Jesus will not force his way inside. We have to open up. I’m grateful to be an artist because art is doors with no handles. Doors that people must open and step into if they want what we have to offer – paintings and music and movement that can’t work without people willing to play with us, be curious, and enter in.
God is an artist, and one of my favorite lines in the entire bible describes what I think the creative and creating God hopes for all of us. Romans 5 says, “We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide-open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.” May you throw open your door. May you run to stand out in the wide open space of your fully realized life. May you feel at home all the days of your life.