Learning Poetry, Unlearning God

By Natasha Oladokun

Rosary01In my sophomore year of college, I wrote a poem. Though I had no idea how to go about doing this, I composed a page and half of hifalutin mumbo jumbo that I was quite proud of and eager to show one of my teachers. He asked me to read the poem out loud to him.

He said some kind things. Then, after a few moments of quiet, he asked, “Would you talk like this to God?”

I shook my head.

He smiled. “Well, if you wouldn’t say it in a prayer, don’t put it in a poem.”

What my professor did not know is that he’d touched a raw nerve in my view of the sacred. The truth is, my prayers often were stock, mechanical laundry lists, dusted with a few O Lords and Father Gods to remind me of whom I was addressing.

I believed—or intellectually assented, at least—to the concept of God being near and ever-present. There is a saying that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. But in prayer I spoke to God with more distance than I would toward a stranger.

And yet, with study, poetry has become my rickety bridge from desolation to the divine. As it is for many others, I am sure, my default setting is often that of detachment: a proclivity for thinking of God as distant, obstructed—intensified when I’m feeling lonely and anxious or condemned by my own failings. [Read more…]

Fiat Lux: Cathedral of the Pines

france paris sainte chapelle-LThis summer in Paris, on the morning before we flew home, I took my husband to Sainte-Chapelle, the medieval Gothic chapel on the Île de la Cité, right in the heart of Paris, a few streets over from the Notre Dame.

A friend had brought me to Sainte-Chappelle years before. In the few free hours we had following a conference, it was the only thing I saw in the city on that trip. I climbed the stairs from the lower chapel wearily, still jetlagged. But though half the famous windows were covered for construction, the light exploded across my field of vision with a shock I can still feel in my bones when I remember it.

Fifteen stained glass windows from the thirteenth century ring the room, stretching almost from floor to ceiling—not set into the walls so much as forming them. You can taste the rose light, feel it press your skin. It is glossy, thick with history and memory and the breath of millions of visitors.

With my husband in tow on the last day of our trip, I padded up those stairs again, this time wide awake and ready for the light. In the years since I’d been there, the covered half of the room had been restored and the scaffolding removed, revealing the other half. Now I could see all fifteen windows, and I stood in the middle of the room, transfixed. [Read more…]

Winners: Arts & Faith Ecumenical Jury Awards for 2015, Part 2

By Kenneth R. Morefield.

Continued from yesterday. Read Part 1 here

Coninuing yesterday’s list of films, here are five other films (ranked) the 2015 Arts & Faith Ecumenical Jury recommended for Christian audiences, plus a list of honorable mentions (unranked): [Read more…]

A Metaphorical God, Part 2

Continued from yesterday.

Thomas-Aquinas-Black-largeIn some ways, “mystery” is perhaps the boldest term we chose as a subtitle for Image, the one most out of touch with our times. It is true that secular artists and writers regularly speak of navigating uncertainties and ambiguities. But in their embrace of post-Enlightenment thought, they tacitly accept various determinisms that attempt to explain reality with reference to biology, psychology, sociology, or any of the modernist replacements for ultimate reality. Most secular writers and artists simply live with the contradiction. Though there occasionally arise writers like David Foster Wallace who are more open and anguished about these conflicts, evasion and complacency remain the norm.

At the same time, it is no exaggeration to say that much of the contemporary hostility toward mystery comes from those who enthusiastically embrace religion. The relentless literalism and pragmatism of the fundamentalist stem from a fear of mystery, of the ambiguity of Holy Saturday. In the decades since Image was founded, many believers have awakened to the limitations of politics and polemics and embraced the need to make culture, not war. But there is still a long way to go.

In the preface to Intruding Upon the Timeless, my first collection of Image essays, I focused largely on one aspect of the journal’s mission: the ambition to prove that the encounter between art and faith was far from over, that it continued in our own time and all over the globe. That desire to find a place at the table in the larger cultural conversation was, indeed, central to the founding of the journal. The goal was not to engage secularism and fundamentalism in a new culture war, but to demonstrate that an ancient and still vital alternative tradition remains worthy of engagement. [Read more…]

A Metaphorical God, Part 1

St-thomas-aquinasThe following is adapted from the preface to The Operation of Grace: Further Essays on Art, Faith, and Mystery.

My God, my God, thou art a direct God, may I not say a literal God, a God that wouldst be understood literally and according to the plain sense of all that thou sayest? but thou art also…a figurative, a metaphorical God too; a God in whose words there is such a height of figures, such voyages, such peregrinations to fetch remote and precious metaphors, such extensions, such spreadings, such curtains of allegories, such third heavens of hyperboles, so harmonious elocutions, so retired and so reserved expressions, so commanding persuasions, so persuading commandments, such sinews even in thy milk, and such things in thy words, as all profane authors seem of the seed of the serpent that creeps, thou art the Dove that flies.—John Donne, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions

The essays gathered in The Operation of Grace: Further Essays on Art, Faith, and Mystery were originally published as editorial statements, each beginning an issue of Image. They seek to explore the trinity of terms we’ve set forth in the journal’s subtitle, “art, faith, mystery.” Whether these words strike you as intriguing or pretentious may depend on your personal tastes, but anyone proposing them for consideration ought to have an explanation or two handy for the curious. [Read more…]


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