Adult Ed – Biblical Reflections on the Arts – From Dostoevsky to Henry Ossawa Tanner
by Joel Bascom
Last Sunday we enjoyed a third week of contemplating great art and how it influences and enriches our faith. The first week I did a brief sketch of the life and work of Johnny Cash, and how his music reflects his faith and enriches mine. The second week, Sean O’ Neil led a fascinating discussion about two great artists who have impacted him. First, he talked about Dostoevsky’s magisterial work, The Brothers Karamazov, and how it helped him rediscover much of the depth and beauty of his faith. Then, Sean had us read a short passage in the creation account of Genesis 1, and compared it to some great passages in the Wendell Berry novel, Jayber Crow. Sean was able to show how the love of God’s creation and the stewardship of it is a Biblical notion, and that Berry’s work is saturated with that idea. We went on to reflect upon the fact that Berry is able to communicate that truth uniquely in his writing.
Last Sunday, Molly Ruch took us on a marvelous journey with art that spanned almost 2000 years! She showed us several different paintings of the Annunciation, that wonderful moment in the Gospel of Luke wherein the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will be the mother of the Messiah.
The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner 1896
We saw a depiction from the ancient Roman catacombs, a post Constantinian depiction, a couple of depictions from the early Renaissance, and then two more recent depictions. The painting that most affected me was one that she shared by a late 19th century African American painter named Henry Ossawa Tanner. This painting is evocative and it moved me deeply. It brings together elements of realism, modern emotion and classic elements in depictions of the Annunciation. As such, it communicates marvelous truth about this seminal moment in Mary’s life. While the Scriptures are indeed sufficient for our salvation, the contemplation of this wonderful moment by Tanner is also a tremendous way in which God uses his creatures to continue to communicate Biblical truth to his people and to the world.
I hope you will join us during the second service in the conference room for either of our last two weeks of this study. Next week, Sue Awes will be talking about the way art has enriched her life, and a particular painting that has been very meaningful to her. The last Sunday of the month will be hosted by Adam Murray, as he speaks about the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Please join us.