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The Road Home was an interactive “journey in art and music” that I experienced live and then again in its book and CD form. The paintings are by Daniel Bonnell and the songs and prayers are by Garth Hewitt. The entire experience is inspired by gospel paintings that inspire hope in the midst of haunting shadows. Because the stories are familiar (the prodigal son, the great catch of fish, the Samaritan woman at the well, calming the wind and the waves, the baptism of Jesus, the woman caught in adultery, the good Samaritan, the widow’s mite, the raising of Lazarus, the death of Christ) I did not have to read the text printed alongside each painting. I was able to allow the music and the images on the canvas to transport me into the story in new ways.
To “see” the artwork, visit, www.imagesonchrist.org
To see the artwork and hear the music, check out the book ISBN 0-281-05598-X.
Carmen S. Fowler (M.Div., 1993)
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
In a 1999 exhibition of Goya’s works, there were two paintings portraying the death of St. Joseph. In one, Jesus sits beside Joseph, one hand supporting the dying man’s head, the other firmly grasping his hand. All the work’s vitality and detail concentrates on the interaction between the two men. In Joseph’s eyes one sees weakness and need. Jesus’ look communicates compassion and strength. Even in the physical restraint shown by Jesus, Joseph still seems embraced by overwhelming tenderness. A visceral yearning gripped me, and I prayed, “Lord, be at my end and in my departing.”
Kenneth C. Larter (D.Min., 2001)
Elmer, New Jersey
The Census at Bethlehem by Pieter Bruegel the Elder comes to mind. The scene is a snowy, sixteenth-century Belgian town filled with bustling activity: a snowball fight, people fishing on a frozen pond, a large group gathered on the left, presumably to pay their taxes. On close examination one notices an evergreen wreath above the tavern, and a woman covered in a gray cloak, riding a small gray donkey, led by a man stooped from the effort. It is an unpretentious scene of Joseph’s and Mary’s arrival in Bethlehem. I find it exceptionally appropriate to the Bible account.
Rob Elder (M.Div., 1974)
God often comes to us through the familiar. For me, a clear channel for God’s voice is sacred choral music, which I’ve been singing in church choirs for fifty years. One November night, I was out walking, in fervent prayer for God to lift me out of a despairing mood, when from the radio of a parked car I heard the strains of Bach’s Magnificat. The words entered my head, prompted by music I knew so well: “My soul doth magnify the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.” God had broken through to me, as surely as the angels to Mary. It was the “happy thought” I’d been praying for and God’s way of saying, “Have faith! I am with you! It is a mystery, but I am here.”
Barbara Nelson (M.R.E., 1966)
Westfield, New Jersey
At Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, in French class we read Antoine de St. Exupery’s The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince). Somewhere in the North African desert, the French pilot of his downed single-engine plane meets with a little boy (the Prince) who likewise has dropped from the sky from the asteroid on which he lives. That these two very different beings were thrown together, found a way to sensitively converse, and bonded in a tender, respectful friendship through which they learned much, I took as a parable of how God’s grace sometimes surprises us and renews our vision of that kingdom of innocence and goodness in which we believe.
Kenneth A.B. Wells (M.Div., 1960)
I was in college with a major in the history of art when I became a Christian. I did not change my major, but shifted it toward Christian art. I had about two years left before coming to Princeton Seminary and found myself especially interested in very early Christian art. What made the biggest impact on me were the Christian symbols inscribed in the catacombs of Rome. These symbolic representations of the faith added to my understanding of Scripture and pointed to what was especially important for the early Christians! I also appreciated the opportunity to carefully analyze early Byzantine art and mosaics. This brought a new dimension to how those believers visualized and worshiped Jesus Christ. These experiences have had an impact on my ministry through the years.
Henk Vigeveno (M.Div., 1952)
San Diego, California
Overcome by Christ’s tears in El Greco’s Christ Carrying the Cross in the New York Metropolitan Museum, we turned a European vacation into an homage to El Greco. Toledo and Madrid expanded our vision, but I was reluctant to see the Louvre’s Christ on the Cross Adored by Donors. It seemed so crass to have donors to the church painted into the crucifixion scene. The painting firsthand, however, overwhelmed me. Jesus is the real donor and we stand in awe of his great gift. I want to be painted into the picture at the foot of the cross.
Donald Liebert (Ph.D., 1968)
The play (and later screenplay) A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt fused for me the relation of Christian faith and Christian ethics. At a time when I was trying to give shape to a developing sense of the presence of God alive and active in the world, that film brought a crucial question into focus. It gave substance to “So what?” or “What do I do now?” questions and formed a crucial part of my turn into a truly living faith. (It also had more quotable lines than one could shake a sermon at.)
Vance W. (Trip) Torbert (M.Div., 1987)
At the base of the sculpture it reads: “At the still point of the turning world. T.S. Eliot.” With a rough hunk of Texas granite, and without any preconceptions, the sculpture was allowed to find its own way out of the rock. Three figures emerge, each looking in different directions. Their postures tell a story about where each has been, and the delicate uncertainty each of us face. I don’t know if the sculptor ran out of time or if it just stopped speaking to him, but the three remain bound, blind to each other’s existence. Somehow, because I’m there to see it, I find hope. With a rush of gratitude, I turn, smiling, to my own creator.
Satina Smith (M.Div., 2005)
If I had to characterize the understanding I had of God before becoming a theology major in college it was that God’s sovereignty was defined in terms of God’s power, and God’s wrath seemingly overwhelmed God’s love in order to protect God’s glory. One of the most powerful ways I learned of God’s utter delight for me was through the imaginative literature of George MacDonald. The particular MacDonald story that most changed my view of God is The Princess and the Goblin. In one scene Princess Irene has run away from the castle in fright toward the mountain and then come back as she realizes that she should have gone straight to her great-grandmother instead. When Irene sees her grandmother’s great beauty she suddenly feels conscious of her own dirty and torn clothes and is afraid to get the grandmother dirty by coming closer. The grandmother, however, springs from her chair and catches Irene to her bosom, kissing her face and sitting her down on her lap, saying, “You darling! Do you think I care more for my dress than for my little girl?” (Princess 113). With imaginative beauty the book explores the truth that God passionately loves and pursues us, dirty and frightened though we are, and that God’s glory is not such that it must be protected from us but is instead freely given that God might love and cleanse us. It transformed my understanding of God and my understanding of who I am before God.
Shannon Smythe (M.Div., 2006; Ph.D. candidate at PTS)
Princeton, New Jersey
A free afternoon during the 2001 APCE meeting took me to the Birmingham, Alabama,
Museum of Art. One exhibit featured the work of Susan Downing, a name unknown to me. One of her hallmarks is to paint a realistic version of some object related to the painting onto the frame, in this case a butterfly. Since it looked so real, I asked myself “How could a butterfly survive in here, and be content to sit on that frame?” The painting was reminiscent of the Hudson River School, full of lush greens with a canopy of mature trees. The butterfly called me closer. “A symbol,” I thought. “Life or resurrection?” I wondered. I studied the painting. There she was: a homeless woman with her grocery cart of belongings, invisible to the average eye. Confession: How blind we can be to those in need. Hope: With “seeing” restored, she and I may hope anew for new life. The title of the painting? Random Acts. It calls me as surely as the prophets, as surely as the line in the Brief Statement “The Spirit gives us courage…to hear the voices of peoples long silenced.”
Marnie Nimick Silbert (M.Div., 1982)
My passion is the interfacing of faith and film. I am especially interested in the portrayal of the Black preacher. In the film Soul Food, which took a long look at aspects of life in the Black community, the preacher was portrayed as a comic figure with no spiritual role to play as the family went through various crises. This is a troubling and reoccurring problem for film portrayals of the Black preacher. There have been more than forty films that have offered lengthy portrayals of the Black preacher and the treatment in Soul Food is typical of the genre.
Marvin McMickle (D. Min., 1983)
The night before Easter in 1976, the PTS family celebrated the Paschal Vigil. I especially remember Elizabeth Koenig signing the story of Jonah. It was unlike anything I have ever experienced in my life. The entire event was filled with powerful drama and faith. It was one of the most amazing moments in my life.
Rick Tindall (M.Div., 1978)
I participated in a faculty production of Smoke on the Mountain, a play set in a 1930s backwoods church, in which there is a great deal of family dysfunction. My students had a hard time picturing their rather straight-laced religion professor in the role of Stanley, the black sheep of the family, who has a proclivity to fall back into a life of alcohol addiction. I was able to draw on stories my own grandmother relayed to me and use them as an opportunity to demonstrate how art allows us to climb out of ourselves and see life from a different perspective. A deep and powerful experience of the love of God came to me vicariously as a result.
Brian T. Hartley (M. Div., 1983)
As a person who has danced most of my life and later became an instructor of dance therapy, I understand the mind/body connection. But it wasn’t until I saw a group of praise dancers, as they are called in my faith tradition, performing a scriptural interpretation that I understood the power and significance of the intersection of faith and art. I was so captivated by the experience that I wrote and performed my undergraduate senior thesis “That I Might Dance: An African American Girl’s Journey to Self-Identity,” using verse 11 of Psalm 30, “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness.”
Regina Langley (M.Div., 2000)
Princeton, New Jersey
Every time I go see Rodin’s Gates of Hell in the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia, I never cease to be moved by its grandness, poignance, and emotional expression. This masterpiece is Rodin’s rendition of Dante’s Inferno and it stands more than twenty feet tall. Jonathan Edwards, who wrote “Sinners at the Hands of an Angry God,” would have loved this sculpture as it grips your senses and emotion about the reality of hell. It’s an otherworldly experience that awakens you to the realization that the physical world that we live in is not all that there is. A miniature “thinker” sits atop the gate while all around the doors are faces and bodies of suffering and regret.
Keyone Kale Yu (M.Div., 1999)
I was blessed to walk through the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam recently and witness the evolution of his work. When I reached the year 1888, though, I felt like I was glimpsing something truly transcendent. I wrote of this experience in a sermon offered in May of this year. Below is the section where I described the museum as much as the art:
Perhaps it was because I wasn’t looking for it or looking for anything in Amsterdam for that matter. For two weeks I had been in a such a frenzied pursuit of what exactly it means for Malawi and the Presbyterian church to make a difference with malaria, how they are going to help stem the tide of the 1.2 million people who die of malaria every year, and how this fits with all the other tragedies of the continent, that I literally never really considered where we were going after that.
Sitting in a coffee shop early in the morning on Thursday and being greeted by the waitress in Dutch it struck me, “Oh, they don’t speak English here; they speak Dutch.” I knew this before, but in my desire to see and understand what was happening with malaria I had quite frankly lost sight of such mundane things as the language spoken in the country where I was sleeping that night.
Having left Africa and let loose for just a moment of the tight grip I was trying to hold on malaria, having finally stopped asking question after question, maybe, just maybe, God now had a chance to speak. And he spoke.
He spoke to me in a museum—in the Van Gogh Museum to be exact. I love Van Gogh’s paintings even though I don’t know much about him or what his intentions were—what he was trying to paint. My hope was to learn, but also just to be in the midst of art for a moment. I was not disappointed.
The Van Gogh museum has his paintings in chronological order. Although a rather mundane approach, it quickly becomes profound when you realize that Van Gogh only painted for ten years. He didn’t start painting until he was twenty-seven and he took his own life when he was thirty-seven. Before being a painter, Van Gogh tried to follow his father’s path into ministry. He was trained to be a pastor and then spent a year as an evangelist before going into the extended family’s business of art dealing. This too didn’t pan out and finally it would be his brother, Theo, who would provide the funds as well as the suggestion that Vincent try his hand at painting.
As you walk through the museum you literally watch this amazing decade unfold; you see his work from 1880–1890. You can see the way he learned the techniques required and how he explored his main theme—color. The color was everything for him. It was exciting to see his evolution. It was exciting until 1888, his eighth year of painting. In 1888 Van Gogh was especially prodigious. He literally lived through the canvases non-stop. As I looked at the paintings from 1888 there was something happening, something amazing, and yet I couldn’t quite get it.
By 1889 his work would be slowed by his first mental collapse and time spent in a sanitarium. During this last full year of his life, for he would commit suicide in 1890, the paintings seemed to have more of a conclusion, where in 1888 they were more of a pursuit.
Before I left the museum I purchased a copy of Van Gogh’s letters. It is just a series of selections really. Yet, after walking the halls and looking at the paintings I needed to hear what was really happening in 1888. In his letters I wasn’t disappointed.
Most of the letters were to his brother, Theo. Sitting in a café watching the people go by I read all the selections from 1888 and it was there that I finally heard what God was trying to say to me about Africa. In April of 1888 Vincent was wrestling with how broken life was, how little it all made sense. He compared creation to an artistic study that didn’t quite come off; God’s artistic attempt in six days was not his best work. And then he wrote, “It’s only a master who can make such a blunder and perhaps it is the best consolation we can have out of it, since we have a right to hope that we’ll see the same creative hand get even with itself.”
Although I found the image of God’s creation as a blunder to be challenging, it was brutally honest. Being in Malawi for two weeks, walking through the triage of malaria, with people literally strewn on the lawn of a rural hospital waiting to see a medic as there are no doctors, looking at the ravages of malaria all around, blunder wasn’t that harsh a suggestion. Yet, what really struck me in this letter wasn’t the critique, but the hope, God getting even, or God making right, or simply put, redemption.
I put the book of Van Gogh’s letters down on the table as I was too overwhelmed to continue reading. I was overwhelmed by the question I could sense welling up within me, “Don’t you see I am redeeming the world? Don’t you see I am making it right?”
Four months later, in August of 1888, Vincent would write his brother something that provided an answer to what I heard God asking me. He wrote concerning his effort as an artist. He said, “In a picture I want to say something comforting, as music is comforting. I want to paint men and women with that something of the eternal which the halo used to symbolize.” Then I could see and understand what God was trying to tell me in Africa, something I didn’t really hear until Amsterdam.
Fight malaria, make a difference, write overtures, share in the joys and sorrows of others, revel in the moments of solidarity, yet never forget, you are a part of my redemption, you are a part of my restoration of creation. Then I could hear the words of the Baptist, “He must increase and I must decrease.” And this wasn’t a kind of demeaning act or humiliation, but a sense of awe, a kind of comfort, seeing God’s mercy exposing what is eternal in us.
Fred Garry (M.Div., 1993; D.Min., 1994)
New York, New York
There’s a whole mini-anthology of books, films, and songs that have recently sent my human spirit communing with Divine Spirit. There’s Tolkien’s trilogy, offering THE central clues to a future world of peace and justice. There’s Philip Pullman in his three volume fantasy His Dark Materials, following John Milton’s footsteps down to the harrowing of Hell (Vol. 3). There’s Leonard Cohen’s ever-evocative “Jesus was a sailor” (in his lyric “Suzanne”). Then there’s Robinson’s Gilead and Hendra’s Father Joe, novels celebrating two wondrous clerical patriarchs. Also Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek. And the last that shall be first: Witi Ihimaera’s The Whale Rider.
George Armstrong (Ph.D., 1973)
Auckland, New Zealand
A few years ago my congregation was interviewing architects for our new worship space. We asked the same question of each: “What is the relationship between architecture and art?” The first architect responded that he didn’t really see a relationship. The second responded that he liked to put art up on inside and outside walls in order to decorate spaces. The third architect told us that architecture is art that you live and work inside of. Needless to say, he got the job! Through each step of the design process it was clear that this architect wanted to create a space that was beautiful, worshipful, and just what the congregation needed for its work. At the evening of consecration for the beautiful sanctuary and fellowship hall spaces, the architect pulled me aside and said, “This was the most fun I’ve ever had with a project.” With his talent and skill, along with our dreams, we created a piece of architectural art for the congregation and community.
Sandy Brown (D.Min., 1997 )
I was seated in the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, California, watching the Joffrey Ballet present a variety of pieces. In the midst of the program came a moment with a single dancer. A large African American man was center stage as the light came on. It seemed to come through a multipaned window casting a distinct image on the otherwise dark stage. He was bare-chested and had on what seemed to be an intensely pleated floor-length white skirt that was topped at his waist by a thick, soft, white rope. There were voices in the darkness making calls or settling in sounds and then the music of a country church organ or piano began. An African American voice began to sing “He Touched Me” and then there were more calls, more voices speaking assurance, encouragement, and agreement. As the song moved to the chorus, the choir and congregation joined in and flooded the night with confidence in God’s hand and God’s presence. The movement through light and dark, the leaping form that displayed that it was wearing pants hidden in the fullness of the material, the flowing steps and swirls shouted physical echoes of the truth sung around us. And God claimed my evening and reclaimed my heart as God’s own.
Geoff Kohler (M.Div., 1987)
One of the clearest experiences of this interplay for me occurred when I was chosen to sing Handel’s Messiah with Maestro John Rutter and the Brooklyn Symphony in Carnegie Hall. Perhaps most surprising is that the interplay most profoundly challenged me and drew me to God during the rehearsals rather than during the performance. While the performance was exhilarating, every rehearsal was like a Bible study where Maestro Rutter drew out our voice through discussions of how Handel wed the music to an exegesis of the text. Rhythm, tempo, dynamics, voicing, and instrumental arrangement all merged to emphasize social, political, and theological aspects of each text. Beyond this faith-deepening experience of music and Scripture, Maestro Rutter introduced our effort as a sort of communion experience where eighty-eight people from all over the United States and its possessions were brought together to become a single ensemble celebrating the sacred. By the time we were gathered for the performance in the green room of the venerable hall, there was a unanimous request that I would lead the choir in prayer as a new community of vocalists.
Len Hedges-Goettl (M.Div., 1989)
When I looked at what Johann Sebastian Bach had written in the margins of Abraham Calov’s commentary on the Bible*, as well as his abundant underlining—a manuscript that had been lost to history—I realized that this was not for public consumption. It was Bach speaking to himself and, therefore, an unusually authentic evidence of his faith.
While commenting on David’s founding of church music in the Chronicles Second Temple account, the one musical composition that he mentions is Motet no. 1, “Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied.” Singing this with the Bethlehem Bach Choir has been, for me, an ever-rich experience.
Howard H. Cox (Th.D., 1961)
*Howard H. Cox, The Calov Bible of J.S. Bach, UMI Research Press, 1985
I can remember Dr. Arthos saying in my Shakespeare class at the University of Michigan that “the end of all thought is wonder and praise.” That has helped me over the years more than you might think.
Doug Nettleton (M.Div., 1981)
Battle Creek, Michigan
I have discovered that in the writing of poetry I encounter a voice not my own. The first line comes as a gift, and I make of it what I will or nothing at all. That has become for me illustrative of faith: It is generously given but it comes to flower in action. Several years ago I wrote a poem for Christmas. The first line simply intruded upon a private moment:
God sits upon her cosmic birthing stool
And crimson life comes down.
Unaided, I would never have written a line like that—but once the journey began the rest had to follow:
In her body the most recalcitrant soul
Carries the rich afterbirth
In one stroke Christ’s birth is umbilically connected to all of creation! It took a feminine metaphor for that truth to emerge in me. And then the rest followed:
Starphysic tells it
Heartyearning sings it
Mindsearching hears it
In the crisp stillness of the night
While a woman labors
The cosmos infuses
In each cry
The human story with sanguinary sangfroid
O happy generation
That sires such joyful pain
To call us home again
I called the poem the Ubiquity of Christmas, for it pointed to what God has been up to since the creation: With sanguinary sangfroid unleashing new life, sacrificially, upon all that exists.
David G. Cassie (M.Div.,1963)
Medford, New Jersey
It is interesting that all PTS alumni/ae now have direct email contact with your office. I am anon-traditional alumnus, having attended PTS for only one year, 1961–1962. Subsequently, I attended graduate study in history, taught college for eight years, and then pursued a career as a curator at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum. I have written widely on aerospace historical topics, but I have not written on the theme of “faith and the arts,” alas. For over two decades, my wife, Patricia, and I have been members of the Orthodox Church. This religious experience, of course, evokes a distinct visual dimension in icons and religious imagery—in fact, for Orthodox, the faith is expressed theologically in icons. This might offer an avenue to explore your topic, as I understand it.
This coming year, I am working on a book on the space race (as a coauthor) for the National Geographic Society, In 2007, I will be one of two fellows at the University of Kansas (Simons Public Humanities Fellowship) in the spring of 2007, where I will be a visiting scholar exploring the topic of “Sputnik and the American Experience” (2007 is the fiftieth anniversary of that epic event).
This is the first time in decades that I have reported to PTS as alumnus. I have fond memories of the Seminary in the early 1960s.
Von Hardesty (1964b)
Three years ago members of our church changed our chapel into a spiritual center. I was quite skeptical about such. However, I entered it and before long I was walking the labyrinth, stopping at the baptismal font to drop in a polished rock with my sin of the day written on it, and then I came to the table where we could paint with watercolors. And in my line of sight was a paper icon. I decided to paint the icon. I knew that monks and nuns painted these after years of preparation and in the spirit of prayer. Why I was drawn to this particular icon I did not know until much later. But I painted the three figures seated at a table. What I did was not very detailed, but the general idea was there. I then took the watercolor and left it in the back seat of my car to dry. I didn’t remove it, but every time I got into the car I would look at it. When I returned to the chapel I was attracted to the icon again. Of all the icons spread out in the chapel this one seemed to communicate to me in a special way.
A year later I was a member of a group traveling in Russia with Dr. Bruce Rigdon to learn about Russian Orthodox Christianity. Now I saw how icons are integral to the worship of the Orthodox people. Upon entering the sanctuary a person walks to an icon, bows or kneels in prayer, rises, makes the sign of the cross, kisses the icon, and places a candle before it. Upon leaving the icon is visited again. They are friends. They are openings to the Divine Spirit from which the humble expect to receive guidance, hope, and blessing. Standing with hundreds of others in a Russian Orthodox Church with the iconostatisis before me, the clergy encumbered in elaborate vestments moving in and out of the royal doors, the muted light, the incense rising, the great choir singing the divine liturgy, the dome rising above with the Pantocrater Christ looking down, was an overwhelming experience.
And the icon I had been so attracted to? It is considered the greatest icon in all of Russia, written (the correct term instead of painted) by Andrei Rublev in the fifteenth century. And in May of 2005, in Moscow’s Tretyukov Gallery, I found myself standing in front of the original. It is the Old Testament Trinity, the three figures that announced to the aged Sarah and Abraham that they would become parents. I was struck by the freshness and clarity of the icon and by its good size. The table where the three figures sit, and they look quite feminine, is actually in the shape of the chalice on the table. The central figure is extending, oh so subtly, two fingers to the chalice. I assume this is the second person of the Trinity. The head of each figure has a simple nimbus surrounding it and the backs of chairs on which they are seated, on second look, are not chairs but the wings of the angels. I could have stood there for a long time letting the icon sink into my soul that had been prepared for it by my taking time to paint it in watercolors as I sat in the quiet unadorned chapel of my Presbyterian Church.
Barbara A. Roche (M.Div., 1960)
We live in California, where there is precious little sacred art of the classic types: no stained glass in sight. So thirty stitchers worked for three years to produce tapestries that hang at the sides of our sanctuary portraying the “I Am” passages of Jesus (along with the burning bush scene to make a full set!). These are made so while the viewer is located inside the sanctuary, each appears to be a window looking out into the “real” world (of Jesus with his people) outside the church walls. Each tapestry, especially the “I am the Way [or path]” beckons the viewer to step out of church and follow the Lord. These pieces of art, more than anything else in our church, soften my heart in love and strengthen my resolve to be faithful.
Paul Watermulder (M.Div., 1977)
My encounter with God in art was on a Christmas Mart trip to Germany in December 2005. One of our stops was in Cologne, where David and I visited the cathedral. We walked down the south aisle toward the western altar (yes, that cathedral is not laid out with an eastern main altar). There tucked in a passageway running behind the altar in a shaft of light was a modern brass sculpture called Into Your Hands. On the cross was the figure of Jesus, leaping off of his cross into the hands of God, his beloved father.
The attitude was one of pure joy. The suffering was over and in death he was released for a reunion of bliss and exaltation. As I stood there contemplating the piece I was filled with peace and joy for the one who so willing gave his life and in doing so was reunited in an intimate way with the Father. Good Friday of 2006 had an entirely new layer of meaning for me and for those I serve.
Nancy Lindell Sautter (M.Div., 1986)
For me it’s often art and architecture as defining sacred space:
1. Christ in the Desert Monastery in Abiquiu, New Mexico, minimalist in style and set against a desert mesa.
2. A bouquet of flowers in the St Benedict’s Monastery of Snowmass, Colorado, set amidst a sanctuary filled with chant.
3. The new chapel at Regis University in Denver, a Jesuit University, with a stunning mountain view through the clear windows.
Steve Jacobs (M.Div., 1976)
I watched in horror in 2001 as the Taliban destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan, Greco-Buddhist statues older than Islam itself. Afghanistan turned down millions of dollars offered to have the statues moved despite prevalent starvation in the country. At that moment the world was reminded that inherent in some faiths is a form of self-reservation that cannot allow self-expression. On both sides of that battle, disputants showed us what happens when followers believe that their gods cannot defend themselves.
James W. Miller (M.Div., 1997)
This is slightly out on the edge of what you are requesting. But several years ago, Heartland Presbytery sponsored an event celebrating the arts and their relationship to our faith. The event included visual arts, music, and drama framed in the context of worship. As hymnody and hymn-writing is a passion of mine and an important part of my faith journey and spiritual life, I was asked to create a hymn for the event. Below is that hymn, which we sang to the tune of SYMPHONY, which appears in several contemporary hymnbooks and was used with the permission of the arranger. The event itself was moving and I was delighted to have a part in it. If this hymn text can assist in lifting up and celebrating this great theme, I would be pleased.
OUT OF THE CHAOS
Out of the chaos, confused and void of form,
God has created a world both bright and warm.
With simple clay, God found a way
to fashion sky and earth.
So let us plea for eyes to see
and hearts that are tuned to beauty’s worth.
Creative work is a God-like human skill.
Through innovation we’re growing, learning still.
So we create and celebrate
the ordinary thing.
God builds a bridge from life to world.
So art helps to make our spirits sing.
Lift holy hands then, to dance before God’s throne.
Each has a portion, a moment all our own.
We turn and kneel. The pulse we feel
bears witness to God’s touch.
So, dance we must when speaking fails,
when words are too little or too much.
God started humming and made the cosmos ring.
God added rhythm, then harmony to sing.
Sing to the Son and to the one
who fills our hearts with song.
O sing to God who makes the song,
whose world sings God’s song for ages long.
Ronald T. Roberts
Written to be sung to SYMPHONY, Arr. by Fred Bock
Ron Roberts (M.Div., 1959)
I found myself sitting on a bench facing stunning deep blue walls of stained glass. Simply called American Windows, Chagall had created these panels of stained glass in honor of the American Bicentennial in 1977. Replete with symbols of his Jewish faith and images celebrating hope of life and freedom promised in the United States, the depictions Chagall included alluded to immigrant journeys and sojourning faith. In this space I know simply as “the Chagall room” in the Art Institute of Chicago, I “felt” an awareness of sacred presence such as I have never since. Against the stark white wall, the depth of the blue glass walls was so luminous, so electric, so alive. I was bathed in a sense of Presence that I can only call…beautiful. Some may call it holy, others sacred. I don’t know if I know enough to call that mystery such. Yet for all my unknowing, the memory of that presence I experienced that day lingers more clearly than memories of the immediate day. I returned last summer to the institute for the first time in twenty years. I was uncertain but hopeful that I might sit in that space again, this time perhaps more aware. I was told that the Chagall room had been dismantled as a protective measure while construction of a new wing was underway. Apparently, we will have to wait another four years to complete that pilgrimage. Still, I wandered the rest of the rooms of the institute strangely without disappointment. In some ways, those few moments twenty years ago may be sufficient for a lifetime. The awareness of that living presence I experienced in the depths of Chagall’s blue glass will remain undiminished to me, whether I experience it again in that space or not.
Mari Kim (M.Div., 1995)
A long time ago during my student years, I visited one of my professor’s houses. On one of the walls there was a painting of a Balinese (with all the Balinese dress and accessories) riding on a donkey with all the people (supposedly Balinese) cheering at him, waving what seemed to be coconut leaves. I asked my professor what the picture was and he said, “Jesus entering Jerusalem! On my visit to Bali, I let a painter read the story about Jesus entering Jerusalem and asked him to put it in a painting.” I did not know much about Jesus at the time (though I was a Christian by birth). I said, talking to myself, “This Jesus Christ must be universal in nature…. Not always sharp pointed nose and long blond hair.” His love is extended beyond all cultural, political, and racial borders. Since then I have been “taking him more seriously.”
Nico A.Likumhuwa (MATS, 1983)
It happened to me during a worship service at a Black church. It was one note sung by a woman in the choir. It went into my ear, through my mind, brushed my heart, and touched something deep in my viscera. I experienced a new dimension of body and soul. On the way home, I remembered Paul’s word to the Philippians (1:8) “I long for you in the bowels of Jesus Christ” (KJV). That seemed to be where the note struck me. Later I found that more modern translations use “ deep yearning” or “compassion.” That note showed me where God and Christ’s compassion was and where mine wasn’t. Are we suffering from a constipation of compassion?
Bill Bodamer (B.D. 1957; Ph.D. 1966)
A group of us at Davis and Elkins College in West Virginia in the spring of 1965 who were interested in drama had the rare privilege to work under the direction of Professor Clair Fiorentino. My own interest in acting and in studying for the ministry was the use of drama as a way of communicating the gospel to young people during the exciting time of the 1960s. We did a production in class of a rock religious drama, A Man Dies, which depicts the passion of Christ. It had been written and produced by a church in London. I did not know how this class project would affect me later as a director of Christian education at Limestone Church in Wilmington, Delaware.
In 1969 the Wilmington Council of Churches was celebrating its fiftieth year of existence and wanted to do something contemporary to celebrate this anniversary during the Lenten services they held every year. They commissioned me to produce a contemporary event. We did this rock drama. That year the Lenten services were held in a beautiful Episcopal church in Center City Wilmington. We auditioned youth from all the churches. We did some very controversial things, including handing out loaves of bread to the congregation that were passed down the pews for people to break off a piece of bread. The cast brought large pitchers of grape juice and cups. The congregation had “communion” as the cast enacted the Last Supper. When the young man playing the part of Jesus came down the center aisle of this beautiful sanctuary the congregation was instructed in the printed program to mock Jesus and yell at him. It was wonderful. People left the service with tears in their eyes. A few said that for the first time they understood what had been done to Jesus, and what he had done for us. Many other churches asked us to come and present this rock drama during their Sunday morning services.
When we took A Man Dies to the White Clay Creek Presbyterian Church we did the play and then gathered at the back of the sanctuary to have a prayer as we always did. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us as sinners and forgive us our sins.”
A woman in the congregation approached us, quite angry. She said, “I don’t like the way you talked to my Lord.” For a moment we were stunned and then we all at once and together said, “But that is what was done to him!” I think she understood. When she walked away she smiled sadly.
This was a wonderful group of teenaged believers. I remember especially the tall blonde boy who played Jesus. He wore a white shirt and a red bandana around his forehead. This was the most wonderful experience of God’s presence I have ever had in the church. He was present in their eyes and their dancing feet and their singing and their guitars. It was truly glorious in the full sense of the word. I know it had changed all of us and that we would never be the same again.
Dr. Stowell V. Kessler (M.Div., 1986)
Petrus Steyn, South Africa
My experience was not with a piece of art but with an artist, my deceased wife, Maxine, who ascribed her creativity to the Holy Spirit. She painted countless pieces in a mystical, soft, but strong-on-color way that mostly centered on the Crucifixion and Resurrection of our Lord. Her lectures on creativity fascinated psychiatrists as well as our Presbyterian friends.
Leslie G. (Bud) Everitt (M.Div., 1965)
While visiting in Zürich, I wandered one morning into the Fraumünster Cathedral. Stepping into its small chapel, I was unaware of what I would encounter. There before me, suffused in brilliant colors, were Marc Chagall’s stained glass windows. They were a kaleidoscope of familiar Bible scenes such as Jacob dreaming by his ladder to heaven, Elijah’s chariot of fire, David with his harp—and in the soaring center panel, Christ on the cross. Since that moment years ago, the artist’s stunning images have transformed my way of seeing those images of my faith.
John Shettel (B.D., 1951)
My father, Orval Kipp, who died at age ninety-two, was an artist and art teacher. Before retirement he was director of the Art Department at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He created in oils, watercolors, charcoal, pen and ink, and acrylics. He welded junk sculpture, made pottery and jewelry, and experimented in other media. Although he was a man of deep faith, he didn’t talk much about his religious commitment. I always believed he expressed his faith through art. I can remember asking about an abstract work, “What does it mean?” His response was always, “If I could explain it, I wouldn’t have had to paint it.”
On one occasion he agreed to paint a manger scene in oils during a worship service in Advent. He painted while I preached and led worship. The picture, which he did finish in an hour, now hangs in my daughter’s home in Watkinsville, Georgia. I prize the memory of that occasion as a high point of the interface between religion and the arts.
John Kipp (Th.D., 1967)
Fair Play, South Carolina