Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Heart the Arts

Megan Burd-Harris, 3-in-1 God, wire
Towards the end of 2011, the Luce Center for the Arts and Religion began to dream of Heart the Arts, a festival of the arts encompassing dance, drama, poetry, music, and biblical storytelling as well as highlighting the current show in the gallery, The Seminary Celebrates. On Saint Valentine’s Day, just a few days from now, that dream will be a reality. Not only will the Dadian Gallery foyer and Elderdice Hall be filled with the sounds and sights of performing artists in the late afternoon, but chapel that morning will include many of the same elements.

Why do we do this? Why should a theological seminary care so much about the arts?

I believe the answer is that the arts are an important part of theological education because the Word of God is more than words.

Paula Nesbitt, The Women with the Issue of Blood, mixed media
This is easy to forget, especially in a place that specializes in discursive words about God. Our students – and our faculty – read books, write papers, and give sermons, trying to clarify what we believe about God, ourselves, and the world around us. But it is easy to get so lost in the words that we forget that it is not the words of scripture, but the One is revealed to us in those words who is the true Word, the One who is not mere words, but Jesus, the Christ, the Word who existed even before creation. As those familiar verses from the opening of the Gospel according to John tell us,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being….And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory… (John 1:1-3, 14, NRSV)

So when we say, “the Word of God” we already mean something more than just the actual words on the pages of the Bible, something more than the ordinary, literal meaning of the term, “word.” The Word of God is more than the words on the pages, more than the words we read aloud.

The arts help us remember that. The arts help us experience the presence of God in our bodies, in our emotions, in our hearts, in ways that books and scholarly papers cannot. When we feel the rhythm of the song, our hearts begin to beat as one; when the truth of story is embodied in the  actors before us, our eyes overflow with tears; when we feel the pulse of life in the poet’s verse, we know that God is present with us. It is then that we know for sure that the Word of God is more than words, and lives among us and around us and through us.

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