The waitress stands over me at 6:00 a.m. with pad and pen. She recites her litany with weary kindness; she says orange juice, coffee, two eggs over easy, says whole wheat toast, marmalade, each word a wafer I take from her hands and eat.
I stand before the white robed technician, my blouse draped around my hips. She gently cups my breasts in her hand, guides me between the cold steel wings of the machine. It will aim its radiant eye to uncover whatever mystery might be hidden there.
The beautician holds my head in her hands, tips it backward over the white chalice of the sink, sluices warm water through my hair again and again, smoothing the wings of my emptiness with her fingers until I am loosened and released.
This poem was originally published in Christianity and the Arts journal in 1999 and is reprinted here with the author’s permission.
Taking its title from Psalm 91:11, “And He Shall Give His Angels Charge Over You” by Sharron Singleton expresses gratitude for those who work in the service sector, such as diner servers, mammography technologists, and hairstylists, who care for us through things like a hot cup of coffee, a diagnostic X-ray, or a relaxing shampoo—gifts that should not be taken for granted. The speaker of the poem, in fact, receives them as sacraments of sorts, describing the waitress’s recitation of menu offerings as “a wafer.” Similarly, the mammography tech wears a white robe, like the alb of a priest; she guides and illumines. And at the salon, the sink is like a chalice, a liturgical vessel, holder of the sacred—or a baptismal font; the speaker leaves washed and unburdened, light of spirit.
Singleton’s first full-length poetry collection, Our Hands a Hollow Bowl (Grayson Books, 2018), is an artful celebration of the sacramentality of nature and of everyday life—gardening, peeling potatoes, working, hiking, sex, baseball, waiting in line, watching one’s son hold his son, selling a home full of memories. She also writes tenderly but without sentimentality about her mother and father, reflecting especially on her upbringing in rural Michigan, her mother’s slow death from cancer, and the pain of absence.
Singleton has recently completed the manuscript for her second full-length collection and is in the process of getting it published.
PUBLIC ART CONTROVERSY: Olu Oguibe’s Monument to Strangers and Refugees, commissioned for last year’s major quinquennial art exhibition Documenta, was removed on October 3 by order of the Kassel City Council after, it is presumed, mounting pressure from Germany’s anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. Designed as a site-specific work for Königsplatz (King’s Square), a pedestrian zone in the city center, where it had stood since June 2017, the fifty-three-foot concrete obelisk prominently features an excerpt of Jesus’s words from Matthew 25:35—“I was a stranger and you took me in”—inscribed in gold letters in German, English, Arabic, and Turkish. This quote reflects Jesus’s revolutionary ethic of love at the expense of personal comfort, of disadvantaging the self for others, so it’s no surprise that even today, it still offends. (Later in the passage, Jesus issues a sobering warning for those who fail to heed his command to welcome strangers.)
Germany has become increasingly polarized since 2015, when Chancellor Angela Merkel initiated an open-door immigration policy, leading to an influx of over one million refugees and asylum seekers at the height of the European refugee crisis. The city council had raised funds to purchase Oguibe’s monument for permanent display, and negotiations with the artist were in motion, but on September 24 they changed course, voting to remove the monument instead. According to Councilman Thomas Materner, a member of the AfD party, the obelisk is “ideologically polarizing, disfigured art.”
[Update, 10/12/18: The city and the artist have agreed on a new public location for the monument: Treppenstrasse, a nearby pedestrian area (via). 4/18/19: The monument was installed today at its new location (via).]
“The Saddleback Visual Arts / CreativeChurch Arts Conference is a unique, full three-day conference and retreat October 18–20, 2018 at the beautiful Saddleback Rancho Capistrano Retreat Center. Creative leaders, arts ministry practitioners, and renowned artists will share visionary ideas and practical applications during sessions, workshops, creative and interactive performances and experiences. Attendees will explore applications for the arts and creativity in the local church, discover creative inspiration, experience refreshing and empowering ministry, connect with their creative tribe, and have the opportunity for personal or team retreat time in a beautiful setting. . . . For more information, and to register, please visit the CreativeChurch Arts website, here.”
[Update, 10/26/18: Below is a short video debrief of the conference.]
Another conference taking place that same weekend, October 19–20, 2018, is “Visual Theology I: Transformative Looking Between the Visual Arts and Christian Doctrine (1850–Now).” The inaugural conference of the Visual Theology Symposia, it’s being held in Chichester, England, and it may sound familiar to you, since I publicized the call for papers back in April. One of my favorite writers and thinkers in the field, Jonathan A. Anderson, will be speaking there, along with others. The focus will be scholarly, whereas Saddleback’s conference will be more practical, hands-on, and ministry-focused.
LECTURE: “Cathedrals from the Outside: Questions of Art, Engagement, Commemoration and Celebration” by Sandy Nairne: At the National Cathedrals Conference in Manchester last month, Nairne, who served as director of London’s National Portrait Gallery from 2002 to 2015, spoke on the spiritual in art—in public spaces, galleries, and cathedrals. His starting questions: “How does contemporary art function in museums in ways that are of interest to cathedrals? And are there new ways in which art is playing a part in cathedrals that is important to the cultural world as a whole?” Click on the link to read the transcript.
NEW ICON:Christ Breaking the Bonds of Animal Suffering: Iconographer Aidan Hart writes, “Sometimes I am commissioned to paint an icon of a saint for whom nothing yet exists, or at least no satisfactory icon. This is usually a pre-schism Western saint. But more rarely, the subject is a new theme, a new emphasis or combination. This was the case when Dr Christine Nellist approached me to create an icon that embodied some of the Orthodox Church’s teaching about our relationship with animals. The icon was to be used as flagship for her newly founded organisation Pan-Orthodox Concern for Animals and to illustrate her pending book on the subject. This article tells the story of its genesis and explains its design.” Fascinating!
The Hymnal: A Reading History by Christopher N. Phillips, reviewed by Leland Ryken: Who knew hymnals didn’t take the form of a songbook until the 1870s! Before then, says Phillips, they were essentially volumes of poetry, used in family and private devotions. “The focus [of this book] . . . is an exploration of the hymnbooks that preceded our familiar hymnal. These were books containing the texts of the hymns without accompanying music. . . . [The author] doesn’t deal with the history of hymn-singing in church services but with the private reading of hymns as poems. I can’t imagine a more original approach to hymns for our generation.” Definitely adding this one to my to-read list.
Everything Tells Us about Godby Katherine Bolger Hyde, with illustrations by Livia Coloji, reviewed by Amanda McGill: This children’s book from Ancient Faith Publishing begins, “The world is like a giant puzzle God made to tell us about Himself—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Every piece whispers one of His secrets—all we need to do is listen.” “I love the message of the book,” writes McGill: “finding God in the ordinary elements of creation. I think it affirms what children already suspect: that the world is meaningful, personal and infused with specialness. One of the first things I was thankful for was the inclusion of baptism and the Eucharist at the beginning of the book. It situates the sacraments within the normal experiences of life.”