“What can be known about God is manifest to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made” (Romans 1:20). Saints John Chrysostom and John Damascene understood these words of Paul as referring particularly to the beauty visible in creation, the original beauty, which was not wholly lost to us when we turned from God and our minds were darkened. The creation was subjected to futility and corruption (Romans 8:20), but not destroyed. God keeps it in being by his almighty power, and his conservation and governance of the creation is the secret of its beauty even in its fallen state. If the devil had his way, the earth would fall completely back into a formless void.
In scriptural imagery, the bastion of the demons -- the formless void, the dark abyss where monsters dwell -- is deep water. In the beginning, the Spirit of God moved over the waters to bring order out of chaos. In the end, the Lord will banish the abyss from the earth; the sea will be no more (Revelation 21:1). Meanwhile, in his passion and resurrection, the paschal mystery into which we are baptized, the Lord divides the sea by his strength; he breaks the heads of the dragons in the waters (Psalm 74:13).
Christ sanctifies the waters by his descent into the Jordan, an anticipation of his death. The illumined water becomes in turn an instrument of salvation; and, as the Byzantine Church sings on the Feast of the Lord’s Baptism, “today mystical waters water all creation.” In the victory of Christ, the dark, formless abysses are filled with light, and the transformation of all creation is revealed: “Behold, I make all things new.” The redemption of man begins with the purification and redemption of matter, in the blessing of the water in which he is baptized, as the Lord “works salvation in the midst of the earth” (Psalm 74:12).
As God’s sustaining, governing and saving power have always been operative in creation, even so beauty, though dimmed by the fall, has been continually present in nature to lead men to God. Visual art -- in which the artist plunges into rudimentary matter to give it form and evoke light -- is beautiful when it magnifies this divine conservation and providential ordering of creation. Beauty in nature and in art is never self-sufficient; it whispers a promise of ultimate fulfillment. Beauty is always a grace pointing to the victory of Christ.
– Excerpt from Reid, James Patrick, “Invisible Things Clearly Seen: Visual Art in the Drama of Salvation.” Saint Austin Review 17.1 (January/February 2017): 22-24.
This painting is inspired by the various biblical and liturgical texts which present types or foreshadows of the Lord’s baptism (and our redemption) in the crossing of the Red Sea and the crossing of the Jordan River, and particularly by the poetic narratives of Psalms 74 (quoted above), 29, 77 and 114.
In Ps 114 we read:
When Israel came forth from Egypt,
Jacob's sons from an alien people
Judah became the Lord's temple,
Israel became his kingdom.
The sea fled at the sight:
the Jordan turned back on its course,
the mountains leapt like rams
and the hills like yearling sheep.
Why was it, sea, that you fled,
that you turned back, Jordan, on your course?
Mountains, that you leapt like rams;
hills, like yearling sheep?
In Ps. 29:
… The Lord's voice resounding on the waters,
the Lord on the immensity of waters;
the voice of the Lord, full of power,
the voice of the Lord, full of splendor…
The God of glory thunders…
And in Ps. 77:
The waters saw you, O God,
the waters saw you and trembled;
the depths were moved with terror…
The earth was moved and trembled
when your way led through the sea,
your path through the mighty waters…