Lent 2015 Week 2: Wheat

This series of posts represent my weekly reflections and creative process as Artist in Residence at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Seattle. The liturgical theme for the season is “Becoming Whole.” This week’s installment focused on working with wheat.

Choices. Grind the grain or plant the seed?

Choices. Breed the wheat for better bread or for easier production.

Yield–to the demand for more or wait, for the divergent genius of genetics to produce another measure by which to judge what is most productive. Today’s bread. Tomorrow’s bread. Both necessary for survival. And spectres of scarcity stalk our pauce imagination.

This week, we are tossed into questions of dependency and promise. Do we trust to faithfulness or take matters into our own hands, forcing our way into what we see as best? It is necessary to eat today, and it is necessary to save seed, plant, and harvest for each day’s tomorrow. And in this dance, how should we understand God’s faithful action in covenant relationship with the world? And how do we understand our own faithful action in response to deep complexity of the needs of our communities?

This week’s installation is another interactive piece called “Ground of Being.” It is a piece experienced in two parts. Congregants are invited to make a choice, to respond from their own locatedness and make the choice: grind grain for bread, or plant seeds for wheat. The wheat berries for both, drawn from the same central bowl. All the while, I kneel on the floor and keep the time, moving my hands in and out, through and with the grain. For this week’s e-installment, I recorded a video of myself, doing the same sort of action.

Frankly, the work with the grain is oddly sensuous–inviting a different experience of the passage of time being marked with my body as I interact with the grain in the middle of a group of people moving around me, taking the same seeds and burying it in soil or grinding it into flour. There’s an intimacy to the action, touching these grains longer than I ever would to simply plant, harvest, grind, knead, or chew.

The video is uncomfortably long. The rhythms, changing speeds, emotions, and movements call out for us to linger. What timetable does the body want on this journey of becoming whole?

Typically, I only experience such prolonged connection with these seeds once they are inside of my body. To externalize this intimacy and dependence and bring it into the public worship space was profound for me as the artist. My desire with this work is to press us into the bind and promise of our interactions on both sides of bodily provision. How are we faithful? How is faithfulness extended to us? What is the relationship between our own reception of sustenance and wholeness and the ability to participate in the wholeness-making of future generations?

What surprised me was the vulnerability of slowing down and drawing so much attention to my body’s relationship with food in the middle of community. I wondered if my body’s work in the space would be enough–if it would fill up what was being asked of me as an artist in relationship with this community. Do these sacramental movements provide the kind of sustenance our bodies need–the real presence of Christ–in the shadows of scarcity that we all face in particular ways?

I welcome the responses and engagements of those who engaged the piece in person or via the video.


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