Interview with David Bannon, author of Wounded in Spirit

I posted a (p)review and giveaway of Wounded In Spirit: Advent Art and Meditations early this week, and congratulations to the three winners:

  1. L. Jackson
  2. Melanie Turner
  3. Diane Roth

I hope you find reading this book meaningful and receive a measure of comfort in the coming season!

David Bannon was gracious enough to answer a few questions about his new book via email. Here are his responses:

The season of Advent is both a season of hope and joy and one which touches our pains and longings. How do you think Advent makes space for those of us who are hurting and grieving?

We live in a society that has a tragic “get on with it, get over it” attitude toward grief.  Yet Advent teaches us a different lesson: the importance of accepting our sorrow exactly as it is each moment; the validity of our yearning and pain; the communion of placing our grief in a God who mourns with us; the unexpected consolation of light coming into darkness despite all reason. For those who know loss, our joy is tinged with sorrow. I think of Anna in the Gospel of Luke. A widow of many years, Anna surely felt the weight of loneliness and heartbreak: her gratitude at the sight of Jesus in the temple was hard-earned. In the same book, Simeon concluded his celebratory hymn with a realistic word for Mary: “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”  In our grief during Advent, we seek rare moments of peace, an assurance that our hope is not ill-founded, and to know that we are not alone.

Bartolome Estaban Murillo, Holy Family with a Bird, c. 1650
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

You lost your only child. In what ways do you find this season hard? What brings you joy in the midst of sorrow?

We all find ways to make peace with our loss.  I  pray for one happy memory each day. Another bereaved parent wrote that she made it a daily goal to find one thing for which to be thankful.  This is not a glib “positive attitude” antidote. Rather, it may well be a prescription for survival.  I am reminded of William-Adolphe Bouguereau.  He lost his wife and four of his five children yet the majority of his work is deeply joyful.  We sense in his paintings an assurance of peace.  His religious pieces, however, are steeped in profound sorrow.  Modern research tells us that Bouguereau’s persistent grief was normal; that the continuing bond he felt with his loved ones is healthy and to be expected.  He did not deny his mourning, he expressed it, just as he expressed the moments of joy he found in each day.  This is typical of bereaved parents.  We experience life as we live it, rejoicing in each happy memory, pausing over the simplest pleasures with gratitude.  Sorrow will return unbidden, it is inevitable. We are changed. Our souls have taken harm. It is in this harm that I experience the silence of God; it is in His silence that I find true peace.

William-Adolphe Bouguereau, The First Mourning, 1888
Image source:  Wikimedia Commons

The art chosen for your book is beautiful and I love hearing snippets of the artist’s stories. You speak of these artists as providing for you a ‘communion of grief.’ Are there pieces that particularly resonate with you?

William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Jeanne, 1888
Image source:  Wikimedia Commons

William-Adolphe Bouguereau waited some twenty years after his daughter’s death to paint her portrait, Jeanne.  In it, we sense his longing, tears, joy, memory, and hope. Bartolomé Esteban Murillo and Karl Thylmann have vastly different stories: Murillo was orphaned and found peace in creating a family of his own; Thylmann was color blind yet found a way to give us stark, incisive religious imagery that lives on today. The self-portraits of one of the great masters, Jean-Siméon Chardin, reflect brutal honesty.  Before his son took his own life, Chardin’sportraits were robust, energetic, intriguing. After his son’s death, Chardin described his inconsolable grief and regret in Self-portrait Wearing Glasses. Today the work holds pride of place in the Louvre.  We who have experienced loss recognize that look in Chardin’s eyes: ineffable yet wholly and completely known to those who mourn. 

Jean-Baptiste Simeon Chardin, Self Portrait Wearing Glasses, 1775
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

The artists you chose name the darkness, but some also experienced peace and light. Others were haunted by hard circumstance and accepted no easy answers. There is a quite a variety. How did you decide which artists to include in this devotional?

In their religious work, great artists expressed the truth of their wounds. I am reminded of French historian Marc Bloch’s injunction: “When all is said and done, a single word, ‘understanding,’ is the beacon light of our studies. . . . ‘Understanding,’in all honesty, is a word pregnant with difficulties, but also with hope. Moreover, it is a friendly word.” I selected artists whose lives speak to me, that gives me pause, that resonates with recognition and communion. In the end, I chose those artists for whom I felt a surprising friendliness.  

How has writing this book affected you? How have you experienced God’s healing in the midst of this project?

Bereaved parents who have contracted cancer, or lost a limb, report that losing a child was far more difficult. The loss defies comparison. We rarely tell an amputee that he lacks faith: that if he only believes his leg will grow back.  To say such a thing would be thoughtless and unrealistic.  The death of a child is permanent. Our wounds will be healed the moment we hold our children in our arms again.  In the here and now, our healing is to make peace with that.  I believe that God hears us in our grief.  In communion, we may find meaning and reasons to go on.

What is your hope for those who readWounded in Spirit?

Our wounds are our own. No one can understand our individual grief yet surely many of us travel the same dark paths, stumbling and crawling through the same shadowed valley.  Somewhere in this book, there may be a hurt, an artist, a painting or a bit of grief research that resonates with us, that makes us think: “Oh yeah, I know how that feels.”  These artists were broken and wounded, as many of us are, yet they found ways to speak to us across the centuries, to assure us that we are not alone. 

__________

Marc Bloch, The Historian’s Craft, trans. Peter Putnam (Manchester University Press, 1954): 118.

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You can order Wounded in Spirit from:

Wounded In Spirit: an Advent Devotional (p)review and GIVEAWAY!!!

The secular and liturgical calendars nearly converge this year, so whether you mark the start of Advent with those calendars of chalky, cheap chocolate from your local supermarket, or through participation in Sunday worship, the season begins this weekend. During Advent I always look for a devotional to read through, as I attempt to wait well. Friends at Paraclete Press were nice enough to share with me Wounded in Spirit: Advent Art and Meditations, a new devotional by David Bannon. Bannon combines reflections on grief, hope, wounds and waiting with beautiful works of art. It is an exquisite book!

9781640601451But Advent is the season of waiting. To wait is to note that things are not yet as they should be. And so, this is a difficult season for a lot of us. For all the promise of holiday cheer, these are long dark nights, often touched by heartache, loneliness, estrangement, deep wounds, and mourning. Bannon is no stranger to grief and heartache. In 2006 he was convicted for criminal impersonation. In 2015 his daughter died of a heroin overdose (introduction, XVI).  He know what it means to be broken and bereaved, to long for wholeness, healing and the coming of God’s shalom. He doesn’t speak explicitly about his own story in these meditations. He focuses instead on the stories of the artists—their stories, wounds and the works they produced.

The art in this book is varied in style, though exclusively Western European,ranging from the Renaissance era to about mid 20th Century. There are works by celebrated artists like Gauguin, Tissot, Caravaggio, Tanner, Delacroix, Van Gogh and Dürer, as well as notable pieces from artists with less household name recognition. Bannon describes the artist’s life, and the ways their wounds bleed onto the canvas. He invites us to stop and pay attention, to really see the artist and their work, to experience healing and perchance commune. Each daily meditation includes quotations for reflection from notable artists, writers, philosophers or theologians.

Art is something that has been healing for me on my own spiritual journey so I am looking forward to sitting with these artists and their work. I have not read the whole book yet, just introduction and several entries, though Bannon appears to be a good guide.

Waiting is painful. Things are not yet as they should be. But waiting doesn’t have to be dull and dreary, it can be a sensory experience, a time of entering more fully into Life. A time to grieve, yes, but joy comes in the morning.

Paraclete Press, has graciously allowed me to run a giveaway on my blog of 3 copies of the book? Yeah, James, but how can I win? 

There are 2 ways to enter:

  1. Comment below and tell me what do you find most difficult about this time of year.
  2. Share this giveaway on Social Media by hitting the share button below, Be sure to comment and share the link in the comment section, so I see your entry!

Winners will be chosen Thursday, 11/29 at 9pm Pacific Time.

Pray for Revisal: a book review

I am a writer. Most days I believe it. I have that badge that all real writers have: rejection letters from magazine submissions failed attempts and false starts, a loud inner critic and writer’s block. But also, I have moments where I write something (often on my blog, but also for sermons) and I know my words hit home. I share myself and others find themselves in what I’ve written. I haven’t written anything long form, because I don’t know how —I’m afraid of it—I’ve never done it, and feel too scattered to engage a topic in a sustained way.  One day, I will find my literary muse and produce something beautiful to offer the world. Until then, all I have are my eclectic musings on faith and spirituality and vocational frustration (my most popular blog posts have been about making fun of Christian music and bad job interviews).

But enough 511kqidf2b2bl-_sx260_about me. Isn’t this supposed to be a book review? You are right. The book is called Living Revision: A Writer’s Craft as Spiritual Practice by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew. She teaches memoir, essay, and journal writing at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, is the recipient of the Minneapolis State Arts Board artists’ fellowship and has been a Minneapolis Book Award finalist. She is the author of Writing the Sacred Journey, On the Threshold: Home, Hardwood and Holiness and the novel Hannah, Delivered. 

Andrew has a heap of helpful advice for would-be-authors on writing,—clarifying and communicating the story, and the whole revision process. By this, she doesn’t mean revision in the sense of copy editing, getting your grammar in order, all your “i’s” dotted and “t’s” crossed and your modifier’s grounded.  Instead, Andrew speaks of revision as the complicated but profound journey of creativity, where a writer engages their work and dares to see it anew.  This involves both holding our work lightly and engaging it wholeheartedly. It means doing the inner work required to know what we are trying to say, what we are afraid to say, and what we dare not say. In the end, revision helps us clarify our message and transcribe our truth to the page in a way that is both self-aware and inviting.

Andrew has thirteen chapters which guide her readers through the writing process—from the rough first draft, through rewrites and enduring discomfort, reframing, strengthening, restructuring, and attention to language. She has us ask hard questions of our writing, like what is the inner story and subtext? And what is our story asking of us?

So, I took uncharacteristically too long reading this book—in part because I didn’t have a piece of writing I was currently working on. However, I did write some shorter things (e.g. sermons, blog posts, book reviews) and did use some of her suggestions. One of the insights from Andrew that I found particularly helpful is her idea that writer begins their drafts and the work of reworking of projects under a cloud of privacy and unknowing (63), but as we engage the work of revisioning, we increasingly open ourselves to our audience. So the act of writing is a pregnant solitude which allows us to press in to our creative flow, but the re-writes and revision bring about a context for communion with our readers. She writes:

Here’s the trick to sustaining a joyful, healthy relationship with writing through revision and beyond publication. Never abandon your space of curiosity, freedom, and love. Our work may travel outward to meet an audience. We may meet the audience as well, which is a tremendous privilege. But the source of a writer’s well-being is that safe place where we can be intimate, honest, and adventurous. We neglect it at our peril (66).

This was a profound insight for sermon writing (did I mention that Barbara Brown Taylor writes the forward?).

Throughout the book, are toolboxes designed to help authors engage their work, and exercises to do in your writer’s notebook to engage the process of writing—e.g. wrestling with your inner critic and discovering what your story is asking of you. Because I didn’t have a sustained project I was working on, some of these exercises weren’t helpful for me, though I underlined a butt ton and there are things I’ll come back to when I have something to work through.  The ‘spirituality’ piece is the inner-work necessary for good writing to emerge. One day I’ll get there.   I give this four star. – ★ ☆ ★ ☆

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from the author or publisher, via SpeakEasy, in exchange for my honest review.

Elements of Style For Artists: a book review

I am the son of an artist and artistically reclined. I’m always on the look out for resources which will inspire me to pick up a pencil and brush and actually create something. With that in mind, I delved into Al Gury’s Foundations of Drawing: A Practical Guide to Art History, Tools, Techniques and StylesGury chairs the painting department at the Pennsylvania Academia of Fine Arts where he teaches drawing, and his works have been exhibited at the F.A.N. Gallery, in Philadelphia, and the National Academy of Design, in New York.

Foundations of Drawing by Al GuryFoundations of Drawing is not a “how to” book, with step-by-step instructions or a flourish of happy trees. Instead, Gury has compiled a resource which discusses the essential elements to drawing: art history, art mediums, materials and tools, skills and techniques, aesthetics and various subject matters (e.g. still lifes, architecture, portraits and figure drawing).

As such, I found this to be a good
at-a-glance’ resource for understanding the building blocks of drawing. It is like Elements of Style for artists, but with a lot more naked people. I knew a lot of the ‘art history’ portion of this book already, but the section on drawing materials was quite informative as a resource for understanding different drawing mediums & instruments (e.g. pen, pencil, charcoal, chalk, pastels, crayons, brush and paints, mix media). The section on techniques also has great information on how to achieve certain effects in various medium, and in composing drawings.

The book is full of illustrations, demonstrating a variety of styles and techniques (as shown from the cover). I would recommend this book to anyone interested in honing their craft as an artist and learning about various styles. Beginner artists may wish for a more step-by-step manual, but this would still be a good resource to have around. I give it four stars. –

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for my honest review.

Mary and the Cathedral: a ★★★★★ book review

As a Protestant, I don’t spend too much time thinking about Mary. When I do, it is often in the Advent, Christmas season, reading of Mary’s Annunciation, her Magnificat, the Holy Family at the manger, and the things she treasured in her heart. Certainly, I  knew she was special (there is something about Mary), but Marian devotion, despite its prevalence in the historic and global church, has always been conceptually opaque to me.

Visions of MaryThis was Rev. Jill Geoffrion’s experience too when as a lifelong Protestant, she endeavored to locate and photograph each of the Chartres Cathedral’s 175 images of Mary (Preface, xix). As a professional photographer, a Chartres guide, workshop and retreat leader, and author of seven books on the Labyrinth (inspired by her work with the Chartres Labyrinth), she is well acquainted with the sacred space that is Chartres. Catholic colleagues at the Cathedral answered her questions about the theology of Mary in Catholic church history.

Visions of Mary: Art, Devotion, and Beauty at Chartres Cathedral  showcases the fruit of Geoffrion’s discovery. Her photographs of Mary at Chartres include images of Mary in stainglass, on guilded silk, sculpted relief and sculpture.

Geoffrion’s photos are cataloged and organized in five chapters. In Chapter 1, Geoffrion shares images that reflect a biblical theology of Mary, images which depict her role as Mother of Jesus (e.g. at his nativity and her influence on him at the wedding of Cana). Chapter 2 depicts images of Mary that reflect her role as Theotokos—the Mother of God. Chapter 3 explores Mary as the Mother of the Church, depicting scenes of Mary at Christ’s passion, the empty tomb, and her intercession for the church. Chapter 4 explores how Mary is the Mother of us all, showcasing images of Marian devotion. Finally, Chapter 5 explores the ongoing significance of Mary in the Twenty-Fist Century (depicting some of the newest Marian pieces).

Each of Geoffrion’s beautiful photographs is accompanied by a page-long-explanation of the work depicted, and what it reveals about Mary’s historic and theological significance in the Catholic tradition.  Visions of Mary is published by Mount Tabor Books, an imprint of Paraclete Press focusing on ecumenical scholarship on the arts and literature, liturgical worship and spirituality.

Geoffrion’s photographs, as well as the art of Chartres itself, are quite stunning. I came away from this photo tour with a greater appreciation for the depth of devotion and reflection on Mary captured in its art. Geoffrion’s Protestant background allows her to approach Marian art and devotion with a gentle hand, describing it without being heavy-handed on application. This is perfect for an ecumenical book on Mary. And it is beautiful. I give this five stars and recommend it if you have been to or plan to travel to Chartres Cathedral. It will certainly enhance your appreciation for all you will discover there! – ★★★★★

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review.

All Creatures of Our God and King: a book review

We’ve all heard the stories of Francis preaching to the birds and the wolf of Gubbio and  perhaps we’ve prayed his Canticle of Creation —which images our familial connection to nature, calling the Sun, Moon, Wind, Air, Water, Fire, Earth and Death our brothers and sisters. What we may have not heard (or imagined), was Creations response to Francis.

In 1981, Italian novelist and poet Luigi Santucci, published La lode degli animali (Edizioni Messaggero Pathe-canticle-of-the-creatures-for-saint-francis-of-assisidova). He offered up a series of snap-shots of Francis’s interaction with the animals, retold from the perspective of the animals. The Canticle of the Creatues for Saint Francis of Assisi (Paraclete, 2017), is a new, English translation of Santucci’s book. Translated by Demetrio Yocum, a scholar of Medieval and Renessaiance Literaure, Canticle of the Creatures combines Santucci’s imaginative prose with Illustrations from Br. Martin Erspamer, OSB.

It was Erspamer’s illustrations that first caught my eye. As a well-known liturgical artist, and monk at St. Mienrad Archabbey in Southern Indiana, Erspamer renovates church worship spaces, produces commissioned pieces and (of course) illustrates books. His cartoony depiction of Francis, in his burlap habit, and the colorful creatures, are reminiscent of children’s book illustrations, signaling the perfect playful note for these Franciscan tales.

In this book, we  hear from the birds (the nightingale, the swallows, the falcon of La Verna, the water bird, the larks, the pheasant, and the doves). We also hear from a fish, a little rabbit, Jacoba’s lamb, the cicada, the bees, Clare’s cat [this story features Clare, not Francis], Gubbio’s wolf a worm and an ox. A final section of the book is written from the perspective of the animals in Francis’ 1223 Christmas crèche at Greccio. Each creature’s narrative voice is introduced by excerpts from Franciscan tales and legends.

This book is not so much a theological treatise but an invitation to see and hear the world around us, and sense the world charged with the grandeur of God. Too often, we are mere consumers of the natural world, not just in our consumption of its resources, but even in the way we take in scenic views of panoramic landscapes (as though their beauty exists merely for our own enjoyment). Francis’s stories, and Santucci’s imaginative reflections, invite us beyond this consuming mindset towards conversation with creation. The witness of Francis was not that he preached to birds, but that in the music of their song he heard their praise for their Creator. May the one with ears, hear. I give this book four stars. -★★★★☆

Notice of material connection, I received a copy of this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review.

 

The Arts & the Christian Imagination: a book review

Clyde Kilby(1902-1986)was renowned for popularizing the works of C.S. Lewis, Tolkien and the Inklings among American evangelicals (and founding Wheaton’s Marion F Wade Center). However, he was also Wheaton’s professor of English and wrote prolifically and thoughtfully about the Arts and aesthetics.  Kilby attempted to allay evangelical suspicion of imagination and aesthetics and provide a positive vision for Christians in the Arts.Arts-and-the-Christian-Imagination

The Arts and the Christian Imagination: Essays on Art, Literature, and Aesthetics(Mount Tabor Books, 2016) edited by William Dyrness and Keith Call bring together many of these essays, some previously published, and some published here for the first time. In many ways,  conversation evangelicals were having about arts in the fifties, sixties, seventies, and eighties has moved some. There is less, general suspicion of the imagination. Today, Evangelical voices like W. David O. Taylor, Jeremy Begbie, Luci Shaw, Makoto Fujimura, Dyrness, and others, have all carried these conversations in new directions; nevertheless, Kilby provided an apology for imagination and helped set the trajectory for evangelical engagement in the arts.

The essays in this volume are divided into four sections, each with an editor’s introduction by Dyrness. Part 1—Christianity, The Arts, and Aesthetics—lays out in detail Kilby’s aesthetics. Dyrness and Call include Ninety-five pages from Kilby’s 450 page manuscript on Christianity and the arts, a previously published thirty-page booklet and a Christianity Today article, Kilby wrote that interacted with Selden Rodman’s The Eye of Man. In these pages, Kilby argues that the choice is never between aesthetics and no aesthetics, but between a good aesthetic and a bad aesthetic. Thus, he urges his fellow evangelicals toward the making of good art. He speaks glowingly about the role of imagination and lays out a Christianized-Platonic aesthetic of forms.

Part 2, The Vocation of the Artist, discusses Evangelicals in the Arts. Kilby argues in “Christianity and Culture” that Christian artists need to clarify and take a stance on their belief in culture (e.g. is Christianity coterminous with culture, or against culture, or somewhere in between). In the chapter entitled, “In Defense of Beauty,” he argues against P.T. Forsyth that the Hebrew Scripture was devoid of an aesthetic.  In “Vision, Belief, and Individuality” Kilby sets the ‘art experience’ along side the scientific ‘analytical experience,’ seeing value in both. In “Evangelicals and Human Freedom,” Kilby takes issue with the notion that the imagination is to be spurned wholesale (though he acknowledges it may get us into trouble. He closes this essay with 8 suggestions for evangelical writers and publishers:

  1. A Serious acceptance of poetry, the novel, biography, autobiography and the personal essay.
  2. More use of the parable, the parabolic, and allegory.
  3. A return to the use of symbol.
  4. Publishers demonstrating more care in accepting, editing, proofreading, illustrating and laying-out manuscripts.
  5. More willingness for publishers to ‘lift the evangelical taste.’
  6. The establishment of an evangelical writers’ colony.
  7. Week-long conferences with evangelical publishers, editors, writers, and critics that would face Christian publishing problems honestly.
  8. Engagement with classics like Aristotle’s Poetics or Plat’s Crito and Apology to find better models of ideas and style
  9.  And that as Evangelicals, we learn to poke some fun at ourselves (197-198).

Part 3, Faith and the Role of the Imagination’ has five essays which probe the value of the imagination in the Christian life (the first of which is in the form of an imagined dialogue on the nature of belief). In Part 4, Poetry, Literature and Imagination, Kilby offers his defense of Poetry and fiction (as an English professor at an Evangelical institution).

There is no question that Evangelical engagement with the Arts is more positive than the Evangelical world that Kilby addressed. However, this book has value beyond its critique of a bygone era. Kilby showed how the arts bring glory to God. His words spoke into a suspicious evangelical context and imparted a sense of wonder. Anyone who cares about the state of Christianity and the arts will find Kilby’s words instructive. I give this four stars. ★★★★

Notice of Material Connection, I received a copy of this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review