Christian Creativity in a Post-Christian Ethos
The ideas i want to explore in this essay begin with the experience of some works of art that have recently been created for St. Mark's-on-the-Campus Episcopal Church in Lincoln, Nebraska, the church of which I'm a member. All of the art you will experience has been created by active and faithful members of this church. Let me hasten to say that although I've been involved in various ways in fostering this art, I'm in no way responsible for it. That responsibility lies primarily with an insightful priest, Father Donald Hanway, who has vigorously championed the cause of the arts in the church; with my wife, Dr. Mary Murrell Faulkner, who is the church's director of music; and with various church members who have shared their talents and their support.
Please refer to the DVD that accompanies this issue: first to the visual art, in the form of altar fittings, eucharistic vestments, stained-glass, and sculpture; and then to the poetry and music, in the form of psalm settings and sung prayers. These are:
1. The altar as it was prior to the creation of new fittings
2. Advent (Constance Backus-Yoder, fabric artist; stained-glass
cross by Julee Lowe, stained-glass artist)
3. Epiphany (also common time; Constance Backus-Yoder, fabric
4. Lent (Constance Backus-Yoder, fabric artist)
5. Pentecost (Constance Backus-Yoder, fabric artist)
6. Altar cross (Julee Lowe, stained-glass artist)
7. Paschal candle (Julee Lowe, stained-glass artist)
8. Baptismal font (Julee Lowe, stained-glass artist)
9. Processional cross (Julee Lowe, stained-glass artist)
10. Christmas (suspended stars designed by Julee Lowe and made
by Penny Siefker)
11. The Winged Lion of St. Mark (sculpted by Gregg Wortham, M.F.A.,
University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2002)
12. Psalm 103: Bless the Lord, O My Soul (music by Constance
13. Psalm 126: The Lord has done great things for us (music by
14. Come Holy Spirit (text by Betty Sperry; musical setting by
Mary Murrell Faulkner):
Come Holy Spirit,
Come Holy Spirit,
Come Holy Spirit,
1. Rushing winds, in anticipation of God's gift to the nations.
2. Doves decending in clouds of white, a glorious sightlove
3. Tongues of flame, portending speaking in tongues, Spirit descending.
Holy Spirit, ever in our lives, in calm and strife. Come now.
I want to use the art documented on the accompanying DVD as the basis for reflecting on several questions that have their common focus on creativity in today's church. The first question is this: Should any of the art recorded on the disk be called "great art"? To intensify that question, to up the ante, let me ask if you think the organa of Leonin and Perotin are great art? Is John Dunstable's isorhythmic motet Veni Sancte Spiritus great art? Is the triumphal cross at Brandenburg Cathedral in eastern Germany (see #15 on the disk) great art? All of theseLeonin, Perotin, Dunstable, the triumphal crossare ancient artifacts from a vital culture of the past, and that automatically invests them with a certain value; but are they "great"? I think it's reasonable to label all of this artold and newas intense, gripping, arresting, vibrant, authentic. But great?
To get at that question, let me ask yet another: Who was the first "great composer" (great as conceived in the most usual, popular way, as in a concert program, or in an "encyclopedia of the great composers")? Handel? Perhaps, but once he moved permanently to England, Handel wasn't as widely celebrated on the continent as in his adopted country. He became great only with hindsight. The same holds true, of course, for J. S. Bach. I'd vote for Haydn. In his later years, Haydn was regularly referred to as great. Here, for example, is a poem about Haydn written by Charles Burney on the occasion of Haydn's first visit to London in 1791:
Music! The Calm of life, the cordial bowl,
Which anxious care can banish from the soul,
Affliction soothe, and elevate the mind,
And all its sordid manacles unbind,
Can snatch us from life's incidental pains,
And "wrap us in Elysium with its strains!"
To cultivated ears, this fav'rite art
No new delight was able to impart;
No Eagle flights its votaries durst essay,
But hopp'd, like little birds, from spray to spray.
At length great HAYDN'S new and varied strains
Of habit and indiff'rence broke the chains;
Rous'd to attention the long torpid sense,
With all that pleasing wonder could dispense.
Whene'er Parnassus' height he meant to climb,
Whether the grand, pathetic, or sublime,
The simply graceful, or the comic vein,
The theme suggested, or enrich'd the strain,
From melting sorrow to gay jubilation,
Whate'er his pen produc'd was Inspiration!1
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