Sunday, October 26, 2014

There To This Day

The reading from Hebrew scripture in this week's lectionary texts (Joshua 3:7-17) tells of the crossing into the Promised Land. Similar to the earlier crossing of the Red Sea, barely ahead of Pharaoh's army, this text might not offer new insights. The follow-up to the crossing, however, provides an opening in which a contemporary artist's work may speak to this text.

In Joshua 4, the people are given instruction as to a memorial they will construct as an aid to help them and their children remember the events of the day. Twelve stones are picked up, one stone by a member of each tribe, from the middle of the dry bed of the Jordan. The stones were then set up in the middle of the Jordan where the priests stood with the Ark as the people crossed on dry land. According to the scribe of the book of Joshua, the stones are still there to this day.

Even now, thousands of years later, stones remain an aid to both individual and collective memory. Cairns (a group of stones purposely placed in piles or stacks) are created in Scotland in memory of a person or place or to mark a path or location. A Scottish blessing says, "I'll put a stone on your cairn."

Contemporary artist Andy Goldsworthy has explored aspects of stones in his work. His "Garden of Stones", commissioned by the Museum of Jewish Heritage, implants a dwarf oak sapling in a hole drilled in a boulder. Planted by Goldsworthy, Holocaust survivors and their families, the installation reminds viewers of the improbable survival of the trees planted in rock.
 
For Garden of Stones, see: http://www.mjhnyc.org/garden/
Goldsworthy's Striding Arches "stride" around the Cairnhead region of Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland. The arches are crafted from Dumfriesshire sandstone and stand about 13 feet tall and about 23 feet wide. In addition to the arches in the Scotland landscape, Goldsworthy followed the path of emigrating Scots, constructing arches in Canada, the US and New Zealand.
For Striding Arches, see: http://www.stridingarches.com/
These two installations use stone to speak to themes of place, the movement of people, survival, care and creation. They are the same themes found in the Joshua reading that takes the people of God from nomad to landed. Unlike Joshua's stone installation, though, the contemporary pieces are not necessarily going to be "there to this day". Goldsworthy's works live in their environment and may be changed or reclaimed or in some other way altered by their relationship to the place where they are.

It's telling to note that thousands of years after Joshua and the people crossed the Jordan, we are using the same materials to mark the same human emotions, conditions, hopes and dreams.

For Andy Goldsworthy's book Stone, see: http://www.amazon.com/Stone-Andy-Goldsworthy/dp/0810938472  A partial digital catalogue of Goldsworthy's early work can be found at: http://www.goldsworthy.cc.gla.ac.uk/

For additional lectionary-related art resources, see the Art&Faith Matters Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/artfaithmatters 

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