During Lent, I am working as the Artist in Residence at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Seattle. Each week, I install a participative, kinetic piece of artwork connected to the week’s lectionary texts and the theme “Becoming Whole.”
Each week of this residency has posed its own challenges and joys. This week’s element has proven to be the most challenging one, conceptually, to link to the themes of “becoming whole,” the lectionary readings, and the children’s Godly Play story.
Combining the previous elements of water and wheat, this week we set out a bowl of dough beside an open widow between our worship space and the memorial garden where the ashes of many beloved community members are interred. Our action completed, there is nothing left for us but Sabbath–the fullness and wholeness-making of waiting, breathing, and watching the action of the world unfold.
And quietly–in plain sight for those who know how to slow down and look for it–the hidden mysteries of bodies in motion, transform substances and labor into another kind of wholeness altogether. The reality is that the yeast is present, active, working when we can neither see it, or force it to do its hidden work.
For today’s installation there were three movements or actions of prayer:
First, there were the hidden actions–performed by Rosie and me. While the congregation gathered and began the liturgy in the adjoining worship space. The two of us moved our bodies throughout a curtained-off storage area, hanging textiles and creating a sculpture out of water and paper bulletins from the previous weeks of Lent. Our movements were governed by intentionality–driven by the understanding that the piece of art was not the end result of our manipulation of matter in the space. Instead, the art was that we were moving at all–using our bodies to shape something in the hiddenness of a forgotten non-space.
Below is a time lapsed video of this week’s piece.
Second, the congregation was invited, at the time of the third reading, to enter the storage space. The moving partition (a green accordion curtain) was retracted to reveal the evidence of our bodies’ action in the space. In this movement, the congregation was invited to participate through bearing witness to the presence of our bodies and our work. Once the last person exited the space, the partition was closed and we continued with the service.
Finally, the third movement occurred when I joined the children in the Godly Play room. There, we began with a prayer of three breaths, the youngest child leading us in breathing deeply together, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Next, we quietly (and not so quietly) and slowly (and not so slowly) explored the room. We paid attention to what we saw, heard, smelled, and felt. We walked around on tiptoes and on our knees. We shared what we noticed differently as we slowed down and moved through the space in different ways. Some noticed air moving; others commented on the Christ candle’s flame; we were all aware of each others’ bodies moving in the space. Finally, we ended by again praying the prayer of three breaths.
The purpose of each of these actions is, of course, to experientially reorient us to the liturgy, and to call us to turn, to stop, to wonder, and to look deeper into the mystery of how this Lenten journey orients us toward living in our bodies with God and the world as we become more whole.
The actual sculpture part of this week’s work was a playful engagement with the Old Testament concerns with Sabbath, the Psalm’s imagery of a bridegroom’s pavilion and the hidden work of bees, and the gospel’s question about the permanence and impermanence of the temple structure and the mystery of Jesus’ own body as sacred location transformed by death and resurrection.
To get at these things, I wanted to invoke something of a tabernacle, a sacred place of impermanence. I also wanted the hanging fabric to call back memories of crawling into the temporary spaces created by children–living room tents made of couch cushions and tablecloths; or to recast as sacred, the simple rhythms of daily work, like drying laundry.
In the middle of this, the focal point is a hollow tear drop shape, hung in the open doorway of a closet. The shape is formed out of paper bulletins intercepted from the recycling bin, and soaked in water. These sheets of paper, made both pliable and fragile, are then wrapped around a spiral of wire suspended in the air. Inside this semi-transparent structure, hangs a glass bowl, foaming with active yeast and kept warm by the glow of candle, hung below it, an icon of Mary, orans, bears wit(h)ness to the silent actions of papery shelter, water, yeast, and flame.
I wanted to glimpse something of the whimsy, fragility, and sensual holiness of the hidden movements–the secret life of the world–working while we Sabbath, to birth a new wholeness, expanding in precious breath and bodies. Creating this piece, I kept finding myself caught by the presence of moisture, heat, fibers, gasses, light & dark, and time. I am called back to my own body–to remember, that the piece of art is not a static end result, it is the prayer of movements and presence, of bodies and witnesses, of breathing together and slowing down to notice what it is hidden in plain sight.
I am devastated, undone, enchanted, and in awe at the fragility of our bodied life in the world–the tender strength of tissues stretched, of love and ligament, of water and breath that holds us together in sacred communion with one another and the earth. These are holy gifts for holy people.