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:

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.