Tuesday, September 13, 2011

More Visions of Church

A few weeks ago, I wrote about an "instant art" project that my colleagues and I did at our faculty retreat. Today, I would like to reflect on a somewhat more deliberate art project that, like the construction paper visions of church, will never be reviewed in one of the glossy art magazines but, nonetheless, carries deep meaning for the person who made it and the community in which she works.

burlap backing with a few hands glued on
The work in question is a 4' x 6' burlap banner, made by one of of my Doctor of Ministry students for an event at the school where she works. At a faculty/staff retreat a few days earlier, the student had asked those present to trace their hands on colorful pieces of felt, writing a word inside the hand evoking something of their sense of the retreat. Back at home, the student cut out the 147 hand shapes, praying for each person as she did so. She notes that this was a long process but very peaceful, making her feel close to each one of the participants.

Once all the hands were cut out, she glued the them onto the burlap, leaving the fingers loose and overlapping them to fill in the shape of a cross. Finally, she wrote the words "Christ has no hands....on earth....now....but ours" on smaller pieces of burlap that she also glued to the main banner.

The student writes,
the finished banner in the chapel
Yesterday I used the banner in the Freshmen Parent mass.  I told the 400  parents present about the banner and that we, as a community, offered our hands to love and guide, to teach and inspire their daughters.  The banner is the symbol of this welcoming, accepting, attitude, grounded in God and in Mercy.
This morning I hung the banner in our chapel.  It will be a daily reminder as students, faculty and staff, parents gather for smaller prayer services in that space.
The colors are vibrant depicting the life in our community, the burlap is rough depicting the dark times that will come, the cross holds us all together as our faith does.
When I look at this banner, the fluttery fingers seem to be the feathers of angels' wings, lifting the prayers of my student and her community into a place that is far beyond the humble materials of burlap and felt. The words reminding us that we are the hands of God on earth are present, but serve only to anchor the busy energy of the hands that reach out in all directions. This visual analog to Paul's image of the community as the living Body of Christ is, in a very real sense, the work of the people, a liturgical moment transfigured into art. That this is not great art is not the point. What matters to those who will encounter it every day is the story of its making, and the meaning that it has for those who know that story.

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