Tonight at 7:00pm is an online reception for Grace Kernersville’s Lent and Easter art installation titled, The Stations of the Cross. Join Kevin McClain of Gate City Gate House, myself, and artist, Keaton Sapp, whose art makes up the exhibit for an online reception to discuss the exhibit, art, and the place of beauty in the life of the church. The event will conclude with a virtual walking of the stations.
Life this week has me longing for resurrection. Brutality, disease, folly, and well, sin, has got me longing for that for which I have only had glimpses.
In February, artist Keaton Sapp and I began a project which would take us through Lent and to Easter. As we planned in November of 2019, how could we have imagined how February would turn and March and April play out? Much of life has gotten away from me. Learning about new things and new ways to do old things have also played into the cumulative weariness of this season. I hadn’t even finished my part of the project. I had one more poem to write before the online reception we are planning for next weekend. And then came this week.
It is Jesus’ mother, Mary, and Mary Magdalene whose experiences in John’s gospel speak to me of the utter heart break of life without a resurrection. These last weeks, have reminded me of the heart break.
Repeatedly throughout the Scriptures, the cry is, “How long, Lord?” That we are still crying, “How long?” does not mean that the waiting is unending. For some, and my hope is with their hope, they have seen with their own eyes the beginning of the new day. And though we still wait, they wait with us, and tell us, “One day….”
You may listen to me read the poem via the player below.
When will the killing stop? When will the crying
Be given over to joy, tears wiped away?
When will laughter replace our sighing—
The night’s fear cleared by the rise of new day?
When will mothers no longer give their sons
To wars which always take more than their share?
When be armed with grace, not hate, not guns,
Nor left to die by those who don’t care?
Funerals are the last things mothers do
For those whom they’ve carried, delivered, lost—
For those whom they’ve raised and prayed over too;
Their tears are the price paid by love’s cost.
One day with them Surprise shall call in Grace
And Resurrection wipe the tears from our face.
Keaton Sapp has installed the eighth and ninth stations in his Stations of the Cross series. I will turn to his ninth at a later date, but I first want to focus on his eighth which is by far the most abstract of his pieces. It is simply a white page. Whether it is a scanned image of a white page or whether it actually reflects some shading is a mystery to me, but I think it’s brilliant.
The series of pen and ink drawings he has submitted thus far are intricate and detailed. This piece makes you think he’s forgotten something. Certainly, this is a mistake. This can’t be it. But it is.
This eighth piece, titled “The Rising,” is another example in which abstract art shows its worth. Looking at this piece begs the viewer to assign some meaning, to make some sense of it. The picture itself depicts the moment of resurrection. Here it is.
What was Keaton thinking? What can it possibly be saying about the resurrection? You need to sit on that question for yourself for a moment. It’s okay. I’ll wait….
Could the empty page signify the empty tomb? That’s a great thought. How can that be further expounded upon?
Could the brilliance of the stark, white page, portray the shining of resurrection and new creation? I think that’s good too. For me, that’s where I went.
White, does not seem like a color. As a child, using a white crayon on white paper seemed frustratingly futile. What was the point? The irony about white is that it is, in fact, every color. At some point though, I learned about “negative space.” Watercolorists make use of this effect often. Color doesn’t always need to be applied. It’s not as if a page needs filling, sometimes a minimalist stroke is the best way to communicate shape and light. I received Keaton’s latest piece in this way: not an empty page, but as a page filled with the brilliance of resurrection.
As for the poem, I’ve written in response to Keaton’s work, it is a quatrain and was inspired by Malcolm Guite‘s latest series of poems which his titled, Quarantine Quatrains you should check them out. A quatrain seemed like a good challenge, so here is mine in this season of social distancing.
You may listen to me read the poem via the player below.
There is a saying that goodness reads white,
That value and shade, whether stark or slight,
Makes more interesting the subject, more real
Than the purity of colorless light.
We think we can see, that we can see through,
But that’s false, whatever we claim to do;
To see through something is so that we may
See something beyond, what is real, what’s true.
As for light, we don’t see it as a thing,
But by it we see the bird on the wing
Whose colors give joy as he flies above;
It’s how we know, how we see everything.
White isn’t simply the absence of hue
It is all color: red, green, yellow, blue—
A spectral rainbow bound as one
Until split by prism or splashed by dew.
The black of night is when color is gone;
It is no thing, it’s singing without song;
As music fills silence, day fills the dark
It’s the good that illuminates the wrong.
Darkness sought to grasp, put the good to flight
By thinking itself something, by its might,
But on Sunday, into that nothing of a tomb
Love drove out darkness with fullness of Life.
This is seventh in the series, “The Stations of the Cross” and takes its inspiration from artist, Keaton Sapp’s addition to the series which is titled, “The Earth Shook.”
Throughout the series Keaton has make use of the symbol of a fig tree to tell the story of Jesus’ passion. The Stations of the Cross, themselves are a pilgrimage of sorts in which one may walk the story of Jesus’ last hours. Both Keaton and I have take some liberties with the specific stations we have picked, but if you look back, I think you see how the series unfolds and aligns with the passion narrative in the gospels — particularly the Gospel of Matthew.
Here is Keaton’s seventh station which portrays the death of Jesus.
Matthew 27:51-61 is the scriptural reference for the death of Christ. It reads,
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.
The poem which I’ve written is as much about Keaton’s artwork as it is about Christ’s death. In this way, the poem may be described as ekphrastic. The type of tree which is called the Tree of Life in Genesis is not disclosed, but what if that tree were a fig tree?
You may listen to me read the poem via the player below.
When all was new, lovely, shimmering bright,
When the balmy breeze of evening
Blew and satisfied the care, full, keening
Of longing, when all was clear and light,
The man took from his wife the fruit of the tree
And pulled sin and death down on you an me.
They hid themselves there among the leaves;
Naked, they covered themselves for shame
And blushing in regret and shifting blame,
They took the Maker’s making, hiding with trees
The good, lush life which they’d been given—
Hid through subtlety, rather than shriven.
Into the woods and weeds they were sent
To live as exiles cast from that place
Cursing and crying for mercy and grace.
Bowed over, broken, by their sin bent,
They bear their burden: the pain of birth,
To hoe the hard dirt, sow, reap from the earth.
The Maker came to his children cast out
Sowing blessing, life, bearing fruit to them,
But they took: on a tree’s hill, murdered him,
And mocked his suff’ring with curses and shouts.
What now can be done? Can life bud with bloom?
Is any hope left, when hope’s sealed in a tomb?
Keaton Sapp’s Sixth Station in his series, The Stations of the Cross is titled, “The Descent.” It is based on Matthew 27:45-50 which reads,
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
Keaton has used the image of a fig tree to depict the passion narrative. It is an appropriate allusion as the prophets make use of the image to depict Israel herself.
In the sonnet which I’ve composed in response to Keaton’s work, I was reminded that in John’s depiction of the heavenly city in Revelation, trees flank both sides of the river of life. In this wood of life (no longer merely a tree but trees), the trees bear fruit each month and the leaves of the tree are for healing. This city park of peace is a beautiful image for me. Revelation 22:1-2 reads,
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
The death of Jesus is so tragic, and yet his death brings healing to the nations, brings healing to me. In this pandemic age and eastertide, this image is a comfort.
You may listen to me read the sonnet via the player below.
From the tree’s height life falls as leaves let go
To dying by mere single, small, slow drops—
A cascade of inevitable blows:
First, breathing strains, then the beating heart stops.
Down, down, down, leaves fall and cover the ground;
One by one life leaves, litters the hill;
The tree’s arms grow bare, his bark burnt and browned
By death’s dark shadow and winter’s cold chill.
But in a future city’s heart days hence,
A grove of trees stand along a river bright;
Their leaves wind with salvation’s sweet fragrance,
Shimmer dappled blessing and spangled light.
And those leaves fall with healing not with death,
Love blows with blessing full of living breath.