New series: Artful Devotion

Artful Devotion

Image and song have long been used in Christian worship—the latter since the formation of the first church community, and the former since at least as far back as 200 AD. Supporting the liturgy, supporting personal spiritual growth, art (from all disciplines) has a way of helping us enter deeper into God’s truth. “Artists are the midrashic thinkers of our day,” says Nate Risdon, program director of the Brehm Center, referring to art’s ability to interpret the scriptures. By illuminating the word, art illuminates the Word.

I’m starting a new ongoing series of Tuesday blog posts, each of which will draw an art image and a piece of music into conversation with a short scripture text. I am not going to write any commentary, as I want to let the word and works speak for themselves and you to be free to make your own connections. (Not to mention that just curating, not researching and writing, will enable me to maintain a consistent weekly frequency.) In addition to the scripture–visual art–music triad, I may also occasionally provide a poem, recorded dance performance, film clip, or some other type of art to further illuminate the selected scripture passage.

Now, when I say illuminate, I do not mean illustrate. I mean, as per Merriam-Webster, enlighten, brighten with light; bring to the fore; make illustrious or resplendent; beautify. In some cases there will be a direct correspondence among the selected pieces, while at other times that correspondence will be more slant.

So this will be an online art devotional of sorts. My entire blog has a devotional focus (which I hope comes across); although some posts are more information-heavy than others, I always have the edification of believers in mind with everything I publish. But this new, concise format—which will be supplementing, not replacing, my usual medium- and longer-form posts—will hopefully be more accessible and is meant to be attended with quiet, focused contemplation.

I’m calling the series “Artful Devotion.” I realize that “art” and “devotion” in the same sentence is an uncomfortable pairing for some Protestants, but by devotion I simply mean cultivating a deeper love for Christ by meditating on his word, an act that I think can be enriched by the “commentary” of artists, be they songwriters, painters, or whatever. “Doing my devotions” is a common phrase in Protestant parlance, which refers to prayerfully reading the Bible. Many Protestants already incorporate singing or listening to music into this practice. I’m going one further and adding visual art—because we are a visual people, and what we see shapes our desires.

How will I choose the scripture passages? My intention, for now, is to follow the Revised Common Lectionary, a three-year cycle of weekly scripture readings built around the church year. Every Sunday the RCL assigns four passages—one each from the Hebrew Bible, the Psalms, the Epistles, and the Gospels—so I will select an excerpt from one of these to anchor the Artful Devotion on the Tuesday prior. We’ll see how it goes.

(To view each week’s lectionary readings in full, visit the Vanderbilt Divinity Library RCL database; this service has an art component as well.)

I hope you enjoy this new offering. As always, feedback is welcome, via either the blog’s public comment fields or a private e-mail to victoria.emily.jones@gmail.com.

The first entry in the series will be published tomorrow.