Artist of the Month: Paul Willis
In his fiction, poetry, and essays, Paul Willis observes the world with even-keeled serenity and a delicate sensitivity to the workings of grace. He once worked as a mountain guide in the Cascades and Sierra Nevadas, and he has a naturalist’s quiet appreciation for the systems of life—but the scope of his subject matter extends to include humans as well as flora and fauna. In every genre, his writing seems driven by what is pretty clearly a life-long habit of observation, and his nonfiction in particular shows a curiosity and love for others that are too often missing from that genre. His voice is modest, gentle, and polished, but with a fine, crackling intelligence that his self-effacement doesn’t quite conceal. Willis is able to explore profound moral territory with a touch that feels light, perhaps because of its alertness to beauty and to the fine nuances of human decisions. He never tugs at our elbows or tell us where we should be looking, never lectures, but trusts us to put the pieces together. In his careful arrangement of detail, he works a marvelous, resonant pattern that leaves the reader with a sense of pleasure and real joy, of a world pervaded with holiness as well as tragedy, of systems at play that are larger and more generous than our comprehension can allow.
Click here for more.
Faith at the Edge, edited by Angelo Matera
In 2003 an online magazine called GodSpy.com made its debut. While centered on a Roman Catholic point of view, the site contained cultural and spiritual reflections that transcended denomination. If we can coin a phrase, GodSpy quickly established a voice—call it “orthodox realism.” The writing emerged out of a deep respect for traditional Catholic teaching, and yet it contained none of the ideological stridency or pious cliché of the self-appointed Catholic Right. And the prose itself crackled: not only because of stylistic energy, though there was plenty of that, but because it emerged out of experience rather than abstraction—and was honest about that experience. So you can imagine why some of us were alarmed recently when the site seemed to go dormant. Turns out that we needn’t have worried. GodSpy has just re-launched and is better than ever. Timed to coincide with this re-launch is the publication of the first book to come from content originally published on the site—a book that, for the sake of coherence, is more focused on Catholicism than the site as a whole was and is. The subtitle of Faith at the Edge—“A New Generation of Catholic Writers Reflects on Life, Love, Sex, and Other Mysteries”—might sound bland in itself, but think of it in light of this concept of “orthodox realism.” Here for example you will find young, married Catholics writing about their struggles with the Church teaching on contraception. Rebecca Robinson writes of the sometimes intolerable tensions that living this teaching can bring about: “At this moment you’d like to look the pope, God bless his dear, dear soul, in the face and say something unspeakable. You’d like to say, ‘Screw it all, because I can’t.’” And then she does an amazing thing: without soft pedaling, she speaks of discovering that this form of abstinence can be a sort of fasting. Other essays are similarly brave, including a couple by gay Catholics who live celibate lives but refuse to obliterate their inclination and identity. There’s even an essay about “corporal mortification” (cold showers, not self-flagellation) which notes: “In our society, it’s considered perfectly normal to mortify our bodies so long as the reason is secular and the goal is physical. No one bats an eye at cosmetic plastic surgery, Botox, tattoos, and body piercing.” This really is edgy stuff, but as the authors believe, that’s where faith takes you.
Order the book here.
Mystics: Ten Who Show Us the Ways of God by Murray Bodo
Murray Bodo is a Franciscan priest, poet, and essayist of deep spiritual wisdom and a writer of clear, accessible prose. His new book, Mystics, is a friendly primer for those seeking to know more about this rich and often misunderstood strand of Christianity. Bodo’s mystics span the history of the church, beginning with Mary, “mother of mystics,” and ending with the poet Robert Lax, who died only eight years ago. Each chapter is a brief biography, usually with passages of the mystic’s own writing. The diversity of voices is delightful, from Julian of Norwich’s homely Anglo-Saxon similes (the world sits in God’s palm like a hazelnut, so small and so loved; the blood on Christ’s brow flows in round drops like the scales of herring) to the passionate, elegant poetry of John of the Cross; from the childlike simplicity of Thérèse of Lisieux to the intellectual density of Simone Weil; from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ cascading, gloriously kinetic meter to Lax’s spare colloquialism. What these ten figures (the others are Jacopone Da Todi, Catherine of Siena, and, naturally, Francis of Assisi) have in common are their profound experiences of intimacy with God—and, as Bodo demonstrates, a life pattern that follows from them. By choosing to accept this ecstatic intimacy (for God always offers them a choice), by surrendering themselves to the will of God, mystics allow their lives to be drastically changed. As Bodo observes, their paths often lead them through great suffering—illness, imprisonment, and exile—but somehow the suffering seems to matter less to them, or to mean something different for them, than it would for an ordinary person. Bodo emphasizes that the mystics’ experiences of God are not for them to command. They occur a few times in a person’s life, and are recalled for years afterward as a source of strength and purpose, but the mystics are not allowed to enter a dream state of ecstasy whenever they wish. The level of intimacy they experience cannot be a permanent condition. Because they have tasted a closeness with God that they can’t have all the time, they live much of their lives with a sense of longing, at times even of despair, which John of the Cross called the "dark night of the soul." The mystics must wait for God to reveal himself again. In the meantime, they undertake the work God has given them. Bodo’s is a helpful and robust vision of mysticism—real mysticism, he demonstrates, leads to greater activity and engagement with the world, not a retreat from it. He points out that the cell of an anchoress like Julian of Norwich has two windows: one facing the church interior so that she can see mass, and one facing the street so that she can give spiritual counsel to people who come and visit her. Bodo also helpfully contextualizes some of the elements of mysticism that seem strangest to a modern consciousness, like extreme penances and mortification of the body, helping us to understand these practices within their historical times—but also pointing us to what is good and valuable at the heart of them. Mysticism is not something that happens to all of us. This is not a book about how to have your own mystical experience. But it’s also, pointedly, not a book that should make us feel bad about not being mystics. Those who have ecstatic experiences and live out a response have a great gift to offer the whole church, and this book can help the rest of us take up that gift.
Buy the book here.
“Contemplation and Action in the Writing Life”: A Forum with Jessie Van Eerden
April 24, 2008, 9:30 a.m. at Seattle Pacific University
Please join Image for a Faith Learning Forum with Jessie Van Eerden, Milton Center Fellow, on April 24, 2008. Van Eerden will give a talk about the necessary tension between contemplation and action—the two “ways of being”—and what they bring to the writing life and Christian vocation. The Milton Center, based at Image journal, exists to nurture writers of Christian commitment and literary excellence. Jessie Van Eerden holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from the top-ranked University of Iowa. She also spent two years in Washington D.C. living in intentional community with Mennonite Voluntary Service and working at Academy of Hope, an adult literacy center. Her essays have appeared in Best American Spiritual Writing 2006, Geez Magazine, Portland, Bellingham Review, North Dakota Quarterly and Riverteeth.
This event takes place in Demaray Hall 150 on the campus of Seattle Pacific University, and is free and open to the public. For more information, call (206) 281-2988.
For directions to Seattle Pacific University, click here. For a map of Seattle Pacific University's campus, click here.
Image and the MFA Program at the Festival of Faith and Writing
Image journal and Seattle Pacific University’s MFA in Creative Writing program will be hitting the road once again—this time to participate in the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids, Michigan, April 17-19, 2008. Hosted biennially by Calvin College, the Festival of Faith and Writing draws writers and readers from around the country to “discuss, celebrate, and explore the ways in which faith is represented in literature and how it plays out in our world today.” The festival includes a stellar lineup as always, and Image and the MFA program will have a booth in the exhibition hall during the conference. If you’re attending, be sure to stop by the booth where you can subscribe to Image, purchase back issues at a discounted rate, and even check out our t-shirts, totes, and other merchandise. You can also learn more about the low-residency creative writing MFA program at our host institution, Seattle Pacific University. But that’s not all: Image and the MFA program will be hosting a reception on the last night of the festival: Saturday, April 19 at 5:30 p.m. We hope you’ll drop by to grab some hors d’oeuvres and mingle with other writers, MFA students and alumni, and friends of Image.
For information about the reception, contact Beth Bevis. For more about the Festival of Faith and Writing, click here.
Pamela Nelson Open Studio: April 6, 2008
Painter and public artist Pamela Nelson, moving into a much expanded studio, will welcome visitors to an open studio on Sunday, April 6, from 2-6 p.m. Gerald Peters Gallery in Dallas represents the artist and is sponsoring the studio tour. In her paintings, Nelson explores “the mysteries of color and light”—and she says the lighting is amazing in the new studio. Her paintings, “depend on trusting my intuitive intelligence to build organic geometry. The repetition of forms make a vigorous optical surface that connects to patterns of nature.” For further information, please contact the gallery by phone at (214) 969-9410 or by email at email@example.com. The studio is located at 314 South Harwood in Dallas. For more about Pamela Nelson’s work, visit her website.
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Jennifer Maier Poetry Reading
On Wednesday, April 23, poet Jennifer Maier will give a reading at the Bear Creek School in Redmond, WA. The reading will take place 3:30-4:30 p.m. in the Bear Creek School’s Commons, and is free and open to the public. A reception will follow. Bear Creek School is located at 8905 208th Ave NE Redmond, WA 98053. For more information go to www.tbcs.org, call (425) 898-1720, or email Jennifer Acheson.
“Only Something Infinite Will Suffice”: April 9, 2008
Crossroads Cultural Center and Columbia Catholic Ministry present “Only Something Infinite Will Suffice: A discussion on the teachings of Pope Benedict XVI and their relevance to American culture” Wednesday April 9, 2008 at 7:00 p.m. at Columbia University. The event is free and open to the public. Speakers include Carl Anderson, Fr. Richard Neuhaus, and Dr. David Schindler. The panel will be moderated by theologian, author, and columnist Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete. The event will take place at Columbia University’s Earl Hall auditorium, 117 Street and Broadway, New York. For more information click here or call (347) 713-5146.
Kay Vass Darling: Abstract Landscapes and Gerard Manley Hopkins
Abstract landscapes based on the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins by Kay Vass Darling will be on exhibit at Convergence in Alexandria, Virginia from March 30 to April 28. Reception, poetry reading and panel discussion with artist and special guest Mary McElveen, poet laureate of Alexandria will be held April 11. For more information, click here.
New Sculptures by Rebecca Thompson in Downtown Phoenix
Sculptor Rebecca Thompson has recently completed two works for the city of Phoenix. "The Opponents" are two 9' figures for Phoenix Madison Square Garden Museum, and “The Phoenix" is a sustainable 28' rammed earth monument at Van Buren and 7th Avenue, a traditional gateway and western entrance to the city of Phoenix. “The Phoenix” uses local soil and minimal water resources in its construction. The labor intensive process results in sandstone like qualities which age well over time, one of the primary reasons artist Rebecca Thompson enjoys using this ancient building material. The city dedication for the monument will be held on April 4 at 7th and Van Buren, Phoenix AZ, 4:30-8:30 p.m. For more information, go to Rebecca Thompson’s website.
The Other Journal Call for Submissions: The Education Issue
The Other Journal (TOJ) seeks creative writing and visual or performance art that encounters life through the lens of theology and culture. In Issue #12, TOJ seeks work that thoughtfully considers our contemporary education system or comments imaginatively on the ways in which we learn. We welcome poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. Fiction may include short stories or self-contained novel excerpts, and creative nonfiction may include personal essays or memoirs. We also welcome films, paintings, prints, photography, music, and sculptures. Please send submissions to email@example.com by May 1, 2008. For more information about the issue, click here.
ImageNews – The Scoop on Our Programs
Fifth Annual Denise Levertov Award with Thomas Lynch
Public Reading and Lecture
April 22, 2008, 8 p.m.
Thomas Lynch, author of The Undertaking and recipient of the American Book Award, will receive the fifth annual Denise Levertov Award and give a reading at St. James Cathedral Hall on Tuesday, April 22, at 8:00 p.m. The event is free and open to the public and will be followed by a reception. Co-sponsored by the SPU English Department and the MFA in Creative Writing, and in partnership this year with St. James Cathedral, the Levertov Award is presented annually in the spring to an artist or creative writer whose work exemplifies a serious and sustained engagement with the Judeo-Christian tradition. Past recipients include poets Madeline DeFrees and Franz Wright, nonfiction writer Kathleen Norris, and fiction writer Bret Lott. Lynch is the author of The Undertaking, reflections on mortality inspired by his day job as the director of the Lynch & Sons funeral home in Milford, Michigan, a National Book Award finalist and winner of the American Book Award. He has also published several collections of poetry and, most recently, Booking Passage: We Irish and Americans, a memoir of his near-annual pilgrimages to West Clare, Ireland. The Denise Levertov Award is named for one of the twentieth century's greatest poets. Levertov, who spent her last years in Seattle, embraced the landscape and culture of the Pacific Northwest. Her identity as a Christian believer—a pilgrim whose faith was inextricably entwined with doubt—became another important facet of her work, particularly in her later poetry.
For directions to Seattle’s St. James Cathedral and parking information, click here.
The 2008 Florence Seminar
On September 14 -21, 2008, Image will gather a small group of inquirers in Florence, Italy, to explore what has been called “the first Renaissance,” a remarkable moment in the cultural history of the West. Together we will investigate the ways in which three great late-medieval figures—Dante Alighieri, Giotto, and Saint Francis of Assisi—renewed the culture of Europe and left a legacy of Christian Humanism that continues to nourish and inspire. And we will ask how their vision of art and faith can speak to the work of cultural transformation in our time. The seminar includes visits to the great churches and museums of Florence, lectures by some of the world’s leading authorities on the Renaissance, a field trip to Assisi where we will encounter the living spirit of St. Francis, wonderful meals, and time to enjoy each others’ company. If you’re interested, visit the Florence Seminar page, download the Florence Brochure PDF for more info, or contact Julie Mullins here.
Subscribe to Image in Print and Get More Art, Fiction, Poetry, Essays, Interviews, and Every Good Thing
If you like reading about great new art and writing inspired by faith in ImageUpdate, and you’re ready to get down to reading and seeing the stuff itself, it’s time to subscribe to Image. Each quarter our editors comb the world of art and letters to bring you our favorite new work—work that respects transcendent mystery as well as the gritty truth of the material world that bears the divine imprint. A one-year subscription gets you four beautifully produced issues delivered right to your door. Ninety percent of the journal’s content is not available on our website, but only through what we call “the sacrament of print.” Click here to get the magazine Terry Tempest Williams calls “evocative and inspiring” and Bret Lott calls “the most meaningful literary journal being produced today.”
Publisher: Gregory Wolfe
Managing Editor: Beth Bevis
Layout: David Rither
Contributors: Beth Bevis, Mary Kenagy, Julie Mullins and Greg Wolfe
ImageUpdate is the biweekly e-mail newsletter from Image, a quarterly print journal that explores the relationship between Judeo-Christian faith and art through contemporary fiction, poetry, painting, sculpture, architecture, film, music, and dance. Each issue also features interviews, memoirs, essays, and reviews.
ImageUpdate brings you news about books, CDs, organizations, websites, conferences, exhibitions, and tours—all of which inhabit the intersection between faith and imagination. ImageUpdate will also notify you whenever a new issue of Image is printed, an Image event is upcoming, or new content is posted to our website.
Copyright © 2007 Center for Religious Humanism. All rights reserved.