Art as a Source of Comfort and Inspiration
Speaker: The Rev. Dr. Ginger Brasher-Cunningham
May 17, 2020
Sunday, May 17, 2020
The Rev. Dr. Ginger Brasher-Cunningham and
Caryne Eskridge, Yale Divinity School Ministerial Intern
Ginger- The Psalmist cried out, “How long, O God?”
Jake- We echo, “How long, O God?”
In his poem, “the shape of what is not there,” Milton Brasher-Cunningham writes –
I’m not sure why this seems to be
the week for a mutual meltdown
but there is a tsunami of tension
even the schnauzers are surly
they know the whole thing has gone
to the dogs as we say and they
resent being made the metaphor
why couldn’t we have gone to the cats
the truth is we can’t go anywhere
other than away from each other
past empty buildings and cancelled
gatherings and get-togethers
masked and melancholy we skirt
each other for fear of contact
all that makes us human and alive
has been distanced absented
our inarticulate anger fills the shape
of all we have lost no are losing
this is all in the present tense
we don’t know what is next
our leaders speak in abstractions
opening economy best in the world
our pains are particular and personal
capitalism offers little comfort
life as we knew it is missing
so is touch and hope and ritual
tradition community and ceremony
the virtual proves itself vacuous
and we are starting to figure out
that we are in the middle of it all
not the end not whatever’s next
all is not lost there is more to come
Church Family, with sighs and screams we wait and hope . . .
Caryne- The Scream by the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, has become an extremely popular work of modernist art. There are various versions of the work in the forms of paintings, drawings, and prints, which Munch produced from the 1890s though the 1910s. The work is an expressionistic depiction of an experience that Munch had when he heard a mysterious scream while out on a walk with friends. In this work and others, Munch explored different human emotional states in the context of the disillusionment tied to the rapidly changing modern world at the turn of the twentieth century.
Ginger- As we ride the rollercoaster of grief, the image of the painting The Scream has rushed through my mind several times the past couple of weeks. Caryne’s words about the context of the painting--“Disillusionment tied to the rapidly changing modern world at the turn of the twentieth century”--ring true in our context. Perhaps painting, writing, dancing, singing, speaking, cooking, screaming--artist expressions--will empower us as we release our laments, rest in the love of God, and create avenues of comfort.
Caryne- A practice that I have found to be comforting in this unusual time is to go back through Christian history and look at the images that guided the faith of our ancestors, and see how we can use these images today to help strengthen our own faith. In the Bible, Jesus describes himself and his mission using many different metaphors; several of them became popular devotional images at various points in Christian and art history. During the Middle Ages, Jesus depiction as the “man of sorrows” was one such metaphor. In these images, in paintings and in textiles, Jesus is shown wearing the crown of thorns and viscerally emoting grief and sorrow. There is even an example from a medieval church altarpiece in Germany, in which Jesus is shown suffering from skin ailments because the town where the church was located was known to offer care and healing for those with skin conditions. This image matters to me now because it shows that God is with us deeply in our sorrow, and that God knows the feeling of grief intimately. When we are in sorrow and grief, God is there with us. God is here with us in our whole range of human emotion.
Ginger- Repeating: God is with us: Emmanuel, which leads us to inquire, how God is with us? How is the Source of life bringing comfort in the midst of uncertainty? How can we find moments to breathe in the breath of God and breathe out the love of God when we can’t breathe near one another? How are we lamenting together, even as we are physically apart? Perhaps we can relate to the isolation of Jesus in a new way. The Man of Sorrows--the one who carried such prickly weight upon his head.
We might feel sequestered as we navigate the care of family, neighbors, co-workers, and friends during theses months of pandemic life. There is heaviness to our days, a distancing from joy, and a need to embrace the holy moments as we encounter them. In our secluded Gethsemane of sorts, we brush up against the anguish and helpless feeling of the praying Jesus as we scream, lean into lament, and engage God; trying to comfort ourselves, we follow Christ and remember,
“The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want.
God lets me lie down in green pastures: leads me beside the still waters, restores my soul, and leads me in the paths of righteousness for God’s name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou prepares a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anoints my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Caryne- Jesus as the Good Shepherd is a truly ancient Christian image. The earliest excavated Christian house church was found in present-day Syria and is dated to around 230 CE, a little over two hundred years after Jesus’ life. The worship space of this house church was decorated with several wall murals depicting Bible stories. One image painted in the baptistry is Jesus as the Good Shepherd carrying a sheep or lamb around his shoulders. The gospel story about the shepherd leaving the flock of ninety-nine to go fine the one who had gotten lost is central to my faith, as I am sure it is for many of you also. It helps me, in times of uncertainty, to remember that my early Christian ancestors were relying on the same image and the same promise as they went through their own times of change and anxiety. Perhaps this reminder can help ground us all in the knowledge that God remains with us, shepherding us through all of our life experiences.
Ginger- Even on our worst or most anxiety-ridden days, God is here for us. In the shining stars and brilliant black night sky, in the orange sun and its cloud-infused blue backdrop, the one who hears our screams, knows our laments, and guides us to hope is Emanuel, God with us. AND we are together, even as we are physically apart.
We conclude our meditation today, by saying thank you and offering our official good-bye to Caryne, our Ministerial Intern. Caryne, you have enhanced our lives by your presence and by allowing your previous career in art history to blend with your gifts for ministry. We will miss you! One of our deacon chairs made you a present of a heart. Penelope will present you with a prayer shawl. Please remember you will remain in our hearts and we pray for your journey.
Caryne- First Church, thank you so very much. Thank you for welcoming me, for trusting me with your stories, for helping me learn and grow, for allowing me to make mistakes and learn from them, and for all of the many ways you have supported me this year. First Church will always be a part of my faith journey and my ministry journey. I know that our paths with continue to cross, both digitally and eventually physically, and I look forward to that.
I leave you all with this ancient blessing:
May God bless you and keep you
May God cause the divine light to shine upon you
and be gracious to you
May God turn toward you
and grant you peace.
Amen, thank you, and be well until I see you next.