Half/Life: Jew-ish* Tales from Interfaith** Homes
Laurel Snyder grew up in Baltimore with an Irish-Catholic mom and a Jewish Socialist dad. Though her parents raised her Jewish in a pretty casual sense (to “make things easier at the holidays”), she found herself drawn early and irresistibly to belief—in stories, in traditions, in passionate friendship. Though the object of belief fluctuated, the pull remained. After her parents split (she was eight), she found a way to create for herself what she calls a half/life, one that weaves in both strands of her childhood. As a young woman, after graduating from the Iowa Writers Workshop in poetry and becoming a regular contributor to the irreverent interfaith website Killing the Buddha, she discovered that she wasn’t the only one. In fact, the more she looked, the more she found that she was surrounded by people who had complicated relationships with their own Jewish identities—either because they were, like her, from mixed homes, or because of some other combination of identities: Jewish and gay, Jewish in Texas, etc. Eighteen of these voices are brought together in the anthology Half/Life, edited by Snyder and just out from Soft Skull Press. The collection is confessional, full of sweet, homey details and notes of trauma and frustration. It’s both nostalgic and irreverent, by turns serious, peculiar, sad, and searching. The writers are mostly youngish, and most approach the question from the same angle: with personal narratives beginning in childhood, a dawning sense of unease, and now, in young adulthood, varying degrees of hard-won peace. Pieces by one or two writers from earlier generations—or else pieces that focused on figures other than the writer—might have offered some interesting contrasts. The picture of half-Jewishness that emerges does end up feeling a little homogenous. Still, the voices are full of wit, emotion, and intelligence. Most haunting is the way that through it all, you sense in these young people the persistent tug—through the ancient stories, traditions, words, foods, prayers, and habits—of the God that called Israel.
Visit Laurel Snyder’s blog for more on the book—and her life—at http://www.jewishyirishy.com/.
Lives of the Sleepers by Ned Balbo
Throughout Lives of the Sleepers, Ned Balbo finds the critical moment when cause engages effect—when life, beyond our control, tips into a kind of living death, or adoration siezes us with a blind grasping after the beloved until, suddenly and mysteriously, we are brought back to our senses. Guided by ancient mythology, Balbo creates a netherworld of human longing stretching from classical poetry to the scientific age. If that sounds like another poet who is haunted by the voices of the past, it’s no coincidence. Lives of the Sleepers leans on such masters as Dante, Virgil, and Petrarch—not to mention The Tibetan Book of the Dead. (Alfred Hitchcock is also thrown in for good measure.) Less an updating than an homage, this collection gracefully brings poetic idylls of desire and redemption down to earth. The quiet turnings of leave taking and lovemaking in our own lives bring old muses to life: “May/ She still be laughing while she parts / Lank wet hair in the mirror, shirt / Unbuttoned as she stands, skin wet / where a few drops trail.” Balbo’s affection for moments like Beatrice finally hearing Dante’s plea for her help, listening “past the music of the spheres—that slow, celestial humming—for his voice,” makes the classical contemporary. Petrarch’s entanglement with Laura is unraveled by a scientific equation, only to be embroiled again in the ongoing mystery of human relationship. The Christians in the title poem, persecuted by Rome and sealed away like first century Rip Van Winkles, awaken into an unfamiliar world. There they face the gravity of their loss—the stripping away of the familiar. This is an experience not far off from the leap of faith, which involves leaving old, comforting things behind. Lives of the Sleepers is a search for places of emergence, from past into present, fear into hope, sleep into waking—or, as it may happen, back again into the realm of dreams.
For more on Lives of the Sleepers, winner of the Ernest Sandeen Prize for Poetry, click here.
The Third Annual Denise Levertov Award Goes to: Kathleen Norris
Every year Image and the Seattle Pacific University English Department present the Denise Levertov Award, named after one of the twentieth century’s finest poets, to an artist or creative writer whose work exemplifies a serious and sustained engagement with the Judeo-Christian tradition. This year’s recipient is Kathleen Norris, award-winning poet and spiritual writer whose work is at once intimate and historical, rich in poetry, meditation, exasperation, and reverence. Her first non-fiction book, Dakota: A Spiritual Biography, was named the New York Times “Notable Book of the Year,” an arresting exploration of the day-to-day that reflects upon the self, social and spiritual community, and a landscape as astonishing as it is unforgiving. Since Dakota’s release, Norris has continued to draw together the ordinary with stirrings of mystery. Her portrait of the monastic life in The Cloister Walk follows in the path of Thomas Merton, unfolding the daily habits of devotion and discipline, with gentle attention to the lives of the saints, Emily Dickinson, and the realities of loneliness, celibacy, and monogamy. Her newest release, The Virgin of Bennington, accompanies Norris in confessional mode as a young woman entering the New York art world of the ‘60s and ‘70s, before her move to South Dakota. Part “pondering visionary,” part “news reporter,” Norris writes so as to mingle the dust of daily life with language “as refreshing as a rain that drenches parched soil.” Kathleen Norris is the author of Dakota: A Spiritual Geography and the bestsellers Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith and The Virgin of Bennington. Her seven volumes of poetry include Falling Off and Little Girls in Church. Norris has been in residence twice at the Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, and has been an oblate of Assumption Abbey in North Dakota for nearly twenty years and divides her time between South Dakota and Honolulu, Hawaii.
Held in partnership this year with St. Mark’s Cathedral and co-sponsored by the SPU Department of English and MFA in Creative Writing program, the Levertov Award presentation and reading will take place May 24 at 7:30 pm in the nave at St. Mark’s Cathedral. Norris will give a lecture entitled, “The Relief of Hearing Language: Readings with Commentary,” and read from some of her upcoming work following the presentation. The event is free and open to the public.
For more information, click here.
Joy Lasts: On the Spiritual in Art
by Sister Wendy Beckett
Sister Wendy Beckett became an unlikely media star in the 1990s when a television producer overheard her explaining some paintings at a museum. He asked her to do a series of short TV spots—basically filler between programs—based on glances at single works of art. The rest is history. She cut an unusual figure in the worlds of broadcast media and high art: there’s the old-fashioned nun’s habit and the buck-toothed grin, of course, but also her obvious intelligence, lack of pretension, enthusiasm, and earnestness about great visual art. All these attributes somehow made her a quietly compelling guide. Beyond the television documentaries, Sister Wendy has published a series of books, the latest of which is Joy Lasts: On the Spiritual in Art. To be honest, this slim volume is more of a long essay, but it has a number of strong selling points, including quality reproductions of the artworks discussed. The conceit upon which the book is based is that the good Sister could discuss any work in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. In typical Sister Wendy fashion she weaves between paintings from different time periods and national origins, mixing chatty personal responses with more objective art history and criticism. In this book she focuses on the “spiritual,” a term of approbation that she says is not always the same thing as “religious.” There are religious works that have no spiritual power and spiritual works that are secular in nature. So she can praise the honesty and passion of a Cezanne still life and question the sentimentality and unreality of a Domenichino The Way to Calvary. As she takes us for a virtual tour of some of the Getty’s highlights she slowly but hesitantly works her way toward the final work she discusses: El Greco’s Christ on the Cross. Her hesitation stems from the difficulty she has in facing depictions of the crucifixion—which is the kind of candid detail about her life that has made her such an endearingly human—and spiritual—guide to art.
To learn more about the book, click here.
September 12th Named Best Feature Film
A few ImageUpdate issues ago, we noted that one of the first films to confront 9/11 was also likely to be one of the finest. It looks like we were on the money. Just a few weeks ago September 12th was named the Best Feature Film at Willamette Week’s Longbaugh Film Festival in Portland, Oregon. (Think of the Willamette Week as the Village Voice of the West.) Film festival critics were impressed with the humanity and heart of the film. As one critic put it, September 12th is an attempt to look at 9/11 in a "fully human" way. We wholeheartedly agree. There is a classic, almost mythic simplicity to the film’s plot. At a memorial service for Lori Riga, a victim of 9/11, a man approaches the grieving family and asks if he can speak to the mother. But because the mysterious stranger is a lawyer, he is sent packing—just one more parasite on tragedy, the family concludes. The story then centers on Lori’s brother Frank, a ne’er-do-well who nonetheless remains haunted by his sister’s death and his desire to know who she really was. Talking through the wee hours of the night to her fiancé proves almost more painful that Frank can bear, because the portrait that emerges of Lori is of a selfish, ambitious person. Finally, driven by a desire for revenge, Frank seeks out the lawyer, prepared to take out all his frustration in an act of vengeance. But what he discovers when he hears the lawyer’s tale suddenly changes everything. September 12th was made on a shoestring budget by a community of friends who believe that the Christian drama is the human drama, that fidelity to the reality of our experience brings us closer to mystery and to love. People are starting to get the message.
To see trailers and purchase a DVD of the film, go to the film’s website here.
To go to the Longbaugh Film Festival website, go to http://www.longbaugh.com/2006/.
Lydia Bodnar-Balahutrak's Chornobyl - a Solo Art Exhibition
April 26, 2006 marks the 20-year anniversary of the nuclear plant explosion in Chornobyl, Ukraine. Ten years ago, Lydia Bodnar-Balahutrak visited the Chornobyl Zone with a Ukrainian radio-oncologist for an officially sanctioned one-day visit of the radiation-saturated, fenced 40-mile wide circle northwest of Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. What she saw and experienced, along with much material gathered and documented since 1986, is at the heart of the selection of artwork in her University of Houston-Clear Lake solo exhibition, Chornobyl. The exhibition features mixed media paintings that combine seemingly contradictory and disparate materials and processes-lead and gold, organic and inert materials, hand embroidery and torching. The thirteen works on canvas, wood, and paper, selected from several series begun after 1986 and continuing through 2005, evoke the Chornobyl cataclysm in its many manifestations. Accompanying the exhibit is the artist's essay, recounting her impressions of the Zone and reflecting on ways it influenced her ensuing artwork. Lydia Bodnar-Balahutrak's solo exhibition Chornobyl is on view from now through May 31, 2006 in the Art Gallery of the University of Houston-Clear Lake, the Bayou Building , Atrium I, First Level. The gallery is located at 2700 Bay Area Blvd., Houston, Texas 77058. Gallery hours are 8 am - 6 pm Monday through Thursday, 8 am - 12 pm on Friday, or by prior arrangement. Visitor parking is provided in front of the Bayou Building. For further information, please call UH/CL at 281-283-3446.
Avoda: Objects of the Spirit
The Jewish Museum of Florida and Braman Family Foundation present 42 pieces of Jewish ceremonial art created by internationally renowned painter and sculptor Tobi Kahn. This exhibit explores the rise of spirituality in America and the personal relevance of ritual and tradition in daily life. Avoda: Objects of the Spirit will be on display from March 7 – August 20, 2006. The Jewish Museum of Florida is located on 301 Washington Aveune, Miami Beach, FL 33139. For more information, visit http://www.jewishmuseum.com/.
“The Church Has Left the Building”: An MSA Conference in Seattle
Those who have followed the writings and works of Tom Sine over the past couple decades know that he has his eye on the future—but only to help us live more fully in the present. Sine’s organization, Mustard Seed Associates, presents “The Church Has Left the Building.” Christians from all over the world will gather to attend this event, to be held April 28-29 in Seattle at Trinity Methodist Church.
For more information, click here.
Seeing God: A Call for Entries
Seeing God, a nationally juried show sponsored by The Dadian Gallery of the Henry Luce III Center for the Arts and Religion and the Washington Printmakers Gallery, announces a call for entries. Selected artists will have their work shown at the exhibition from October 23, 2006 to December 15, 2006.
For more information, click here.
NYCITA: At the Crossroads of Theatre and Faith
Join Christians in the Theater Arts June 15-17, 2006 in New York for a fast-paced journey to the intersection between Christianity and theater. A first-rate group of scholars, pastors and artists will offer intellectual challenge each morning in plenary sessions at Calvary Baptist Church 123 W. 57th Street in the heart of New York City. The afternoon will be reserved for a variety of excursions into the city. Over the weekend, we'll explore every facet of theater, faith, and the experience of working and living in the Big Apple.
For more information,
go to http://www.cita.org/cita.html, email [email protected], or call 877-277-CITA.