Sunday, October 28, 2018

All Saints Day: On the Way to Holiness

Oh, Lord, we want to be in that number! When the saints go marching in, of course. And we are, at least symbolically, every time we walk into a church. The aisle(s) of a church offer us a way to think about the life of faith. Are we getting closer to our goal? Are we farther away? Of course, most of us are in the same place, the same pew, week after week, which might say something, too.

The church of S. Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy, is a basilica plan church (the footprint is a rectangle with a half-circle apse at the end opposite the door). The side walls (connecting the door wall and the apse wall) are covered with mosaic figures in procession toward the altar. On the left side the 22 female martyrs process from a representation of the city of Classe toward a group that includes Mary with the Christ Child on her lap and flanked by four angels. Their procession is led by the magi, identified by name as Balthasar, Melchior and Gaspar. To the right is a procession of 26 male martyrs in a composition that echoes the opposite procession. These martyrs are led by Saint Martin as they move from the Palace of Theodoric toward a figure group that includes Christ seated on a throne again flanked by four angels.

(Top) South wall mosaics of male martyrs. (Bottom) North wall mosaic of female martyrs. Consecrated 6th century. 

The martyrs clothed in white and carrying their wreaths and palms may seem beyond our reach. Their exemplary lives of service and sacrifice and ultimate sanctification may seem unattainable. But these two mosaic processions do more than dishearten those of us living in this world. They also demonstrate for worshipers the idea of entering the building and, throughout life, moving toward the holy.

In the Reformed tradition, All Saints Day reminds us of God's work of sanctifying not just spiritual superstars but the whole people of God. We give thanks for the lives of believers whose lives were both ordinary and holy in this age and in every age. We give glory to God as we remember members of the community of faith who have died in the past year. And yes, we pray that we will be in that number when the saints go marching in.

For additional thoughts on All Saints, click here.
If you aren't focusing on All Saints this Sunday, see Art&Faith Matters' Facebook post about Ruth and Naomi.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Job 42.1-6, 10-17: Daughters

It is a truth universally acknowledged that throughout history, it was often better to be a son than a daughter. And better to be a first-born son than a second (or third!) son. The eldest son sometimes got everything, but more often than not, he received at least more than any other son. Daughters may have inherited their mother's jewelry and perhaps the family china or silver (unless the silver was monogrammed, which meant the oldest son's family would probably get it). It's interesting, then, that the writer of Job is careful to record that when his fortunes were restored, Job gave his three daughters an inheritance along with their brothers (Job 42:15).
William Blake. Job and His Daughters. 1799/1800. Pen and tempera on canvas. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art.
This is not the first time that daughters have inherited. Just before the Israelites cross into the Promised Land, Zelophehad's offspring bring a case before Moses who takes it to God. These offspring, five daughters, are protesting the practice of only letting sons inherit. Their request is that they be allowed to inherit portions of their father's estate along with their uncles. They argue that their father's name should not be lost to his tribe just because there are no male heirs.

God agreed. 7The daughters of Zelophehad are right in what they are saying; you shall indeed let them possess an inheritance among their father’s brothers and pass the inheritance of their father on to them. 8You shall also say to the Israelites, ‘If a man dies, and has no son, then you shall pass his inheritance on to his daughter. 9If he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. 10If he has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. 11And if his father has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to the nearest kinsman of his clan, and he shall possess it. It shall be for the Israelites a statute and ordinance, as the Lord commanded Moses.’ (Numbers 27:7-11)

Zelophehad's daughters - Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah - are allowed to inherit in the absence of male heirs. But notice that Job's three daughters - Jemimah, Keziah, and Keren-happuch - inherit alongside their brothers. Job's restored fortunes also mean a restored "flock of children." Job has seven sons to go along with his three daughters. In a reversal of usual practice, here the daughters are named while the sons remain just "seven sons." For these daughters the end of Job's story wasn't  restoration but a whole new array of possibilities for life.

For thoughts on the healing of Bartimaeus, click here.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Mark 10.35-45: Prepared for Whom?

It is for those for whom it has been prepared. That's what Jesus tells James and John when they ask to sit beside him in glory. To sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared. But it begs the question: For whom has it been prepared? 

In art, Jesus in glory seems to be most-often surrounded by a host of angels or by symbols of the four gospels (and remember their relationship to Ezekiel's creatures and the creatures in Revelation). Annibale Caracci's "Christ in Glory" (below left) has Peter on Jesus' right and John on Jesus' left. At least one of the brothers made it in that version. A search for "Jesus in Glory" or "Christ in Glory" often shows the Transfiguration - where Elijah and Moses flank Jesus. No disciple emerges as a favorite in those depictions.

Another thought process says that if Jesus is seated at the right hand of God, then God would be sitting on Jesus' left. The best candidate for whom would be on Jesus' right is his mother Mary, often depicted as the queen of Heaven. The rightful place for a queen is at the king's right hand. In the thirteenth-century mosaic shown here, Jesus is enthroned, with Mary standing at Jesus' right hand and St. Mark is at his left hand. The mosaic is located on the main portal of St. Mark's Basilica in Venice. Again, James and John miss out. 
(Left) Annibale Carracci. Christ in Glory. 1597-1598. Florence, Italy: Palazzo Pitti. (Right) Main portal mosaic. c. 1250. Basilica di San Marco, Venice, Italy. 
There is, of course, a time in scripture where two people are given places on either side of Jesus. And though James and John promised that they could drink the cup and be baptized with the baptism, they probably didn't have this in mind. Jesus is crucified between two thieves. At least on the day of crucifixion they were the ones on Jesus' left and right. Is that something like the last being first?

For thoughts on Job 38, click here
For additional thoughts on the disciples' request for greatness, see this week's Facebook post. 

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Visibly Repaired

[Note: This is not lectionary-related, just thoughts about art and life through eyes of faith.]

If something is broken, it's broken. You can ignore it. But it's still broken. Perhaps in its broken state it is still valuable - monetarily or in its function or sentimentally. Perhaps it could be of value again if it were repaired. It may be the case that there is no value in fixing it, so it is best thrown away.

If you decide to keep this broken thing and repair it, you will need to decide to what extent it should be repaired. The appraisers on "Antiques Roadshow" make statements about this all the time. How much owners should invest in repairing and/or restoring their treasures. How much the value (monetary) of the object might increase if it is repaired or restored. How much would be too much to spend on repairing or restoring the object. It will be up to the owner to decide about the degree of restoration the object will see.

Kintsugi is a repair process in Japanese ceramic practice. Broken items are repaired with lacquer, and then the lacquer is brushed with gold powder. Far from blending in so as to be invisible, kintsugi incorporates the brokenness into the design of the vessel. The process accepts the brokenness as part of the history of the object. It's even possible that people would actually break whole things so that they could be repaired. What a remarkable thing that its beauty made the repair desirable.
Tea Bowl, White Satsuma ware. 17th century. Freer-Sackler Gallery, Washington, DC. 

With care and attention, broken things - people, relationships, nations - can be repaired. But let's not try to repair so that we can pretend the break never happened. Let's acknowledge the brokenness and then give our best efforts to make the repairs beautiful.