About twice a year our church’s arts group plans a themed group show. We identify a theme that corresponds to an upcoming liturgical season or sermon series, send out a call for submissions, offer prizes so modest they hesitate to call themselves that, and work with what comes in. If you’re looking for a creative faith-building exercise, I recommend the practice.
Our current show is “Epiphanies,” in which eleven artists and poets reflect on those a-ha moments of connection, recognition, realization, and revelation. Now that it’s all put together, though, a secondary theme seems to be emerging: Cracks. The chorus of Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” runs
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
For me this show has become about how the Light gets in and where it settles. Cohen’s chorus has long been a favorite of mine and our friend Matt Whitney alluded to it while he was installing his piece which uses the various textures of sidewalk cracks to form a received word.
Next to it we posted a poem of mine in which the tears and fissures that threaten our faith become themselves a source of hope.
Miss Vera Speaks
They ask how she grin through that face with that life.
I say I’s never shielded from nothing
‘Cept dying young.
People deep bruised by something
Talk like the world should end.
Won’t catch me dying every day like that.
‘Cause I seen them once
Just once – the cracks in the universe –
Thought I’d fall right through.
‘Stead I laughed – said some kind of God
Put up with a tattered-old place as here
Gotta have some grace for me.
– Jenn Cavanaugh
(originally published in America Magazine in 2007)
When it comes to hanging these shows, we often find ourselves strategizing about how best to disguise the myriad holes, blemishes, and outright failings in sanctuary plaster. At the artist reception on Sunday I was joking about how the condition of the walls was starting to inform our artistic decisions overmuch, and a few of us got looking at this tableau:
This patch of wall we’re usually so anxious to conceal became part of this piece by Carrie Redway about the Fall and Eve’s anguished banishment from Eden and of the permanent installation by Robroy Chalmers that speaks to our congregation so eloquently and wordlessly of the Spirit’s movement in our midst. Our church building has been in continuous use since 1923. That wall has come by its imperfection honestly. Why hide it? Why not let it inform our artistic decisions?
More next week…