Leaving Our Marks

Painting Icons at the Glenwood Ave Arts Fest (Leaving our Marks)

This past weekend, August 16th and 17th, I was showing icons and doing some painting at the Glenwood Ave Arts Fest.  This is the second time I’ve done “live art” at a festival and been painting icons in public.  I’ve shown my icons at the Glenwood Ave. Fest for several years now.   Not surprisingly the public display of  art that is of a particular spiritual and religious tradition leads to conversation, allowing people to see the process also elicits conversation.

Not sure why, but this year I noticed a change in tenor and tone of those who approached me to talk to me about icons and why I paint them.  In the past the conversations tended to revolve around the juxtaposition of religious art (or the act of painting religious art) in a public and “secular” art space.   Most of these conversations centered on people’s troubled or antagonistic relationship with Christianity.  This year the conversations settled mostly around how each persons own spiritual journey connected up with an icon, or icons, or my presence at the festival painting icons. While I did speak with a number of Christians, the majority of those with whom I spoke weren’t identifying as Christian or identified as post-Christian in someway, as in past years. However, this year no one I talked with had stories of their struggle with Christianity or how Christians or the church had hurt them.  Also, no one seemed terribly taken back by “Priestly Goth”, well except that to some I had to explain what Goth was, which was new.  Not a single person asked how I could be a pastor and a goth.  Though, most did comment with surprise when it came out that I was a pastor.

Here’s a few pictures from the weekend:

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The Spirituality of Place and Physicality (Leaving Our Marks)

I recently talked with a low church evangelical who recently went on pilgrimage to Palestine/Israel.  He reported that it was amazing, but that before the trip he hadn’t given much credence to the possibility that space, architecture, and place could be imbued with Spirit.  Based on his experience at the  pilgrimage sites in Jerusalem, he was convinced that those places were Spiritual, whether other space and places could also be he remained agnostic.

I’m astounded by how often I run across  this attitude that all places and spaces are the same that the Spiritual and the holy don’t attach themselves to place or architecture or space.  This seems particularly strange to me among those whose very belief system claims that God became united with matter and a body in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, who as his name states was from a particular place and at a particular time, 1st century Palestine.

We perhaps get caught up in how this might be?  We can’t believe that a reality free of the constraints of physicality would allow itself to be  limited by the physical.  Yet this is exactly the claim of the incarnation.  As St John of Damascus says in his defense of icons in On Orthodoxy ” the uncircumscribable became circumscribed.”

In The Life of the World, Alexander Schmemann claims that our sense of the separation of the physical and Spiritual, mater and divinity isn’t the ultimate truth.  Rather God intended that all creation be the place of meeting between creature and creator.  The Sacraments work because in our unfallen state the whole world was Sacrament to us, God had always intended to meet us in and through the physical and material world.

I’m drawn to forms of Christianity that take seriously that space, architecture, place and physicality are Spiritual.  I’m also drawn to those forms of Christianity that then say what we do with the reality of the coincidence of the material and the Spiritual means certain things for the spaces we pray in, the images we look at, and the way we sing.  All of this isn’t necessarily as bounded (from my current point of view) as these Christians may assert.  I do believe that the tradition of the Church has a form, and not all Christian activity fits into that form.  I’m still questioning that form, I’m still seeking to think into that form.

My sense is that the Church has left its mark.  The Holy Spirit as the spirit of Christ comes to us through forms created and passed down (that is Tradition).  Place matters, the forms our buildings take matter.  These things have meaning.  I encourage us to take pay attention to the physicality of our spirituality, and to recognise it doesn’t necessarily mean all the same thing.  Difference in form is also difference in spirituality and faith.

Interior of the New Digs – The Community of the Holy Trinity

As The Rule of the Community of the Holy Trinity suggest community life is the sharing and holding in common spaces and the objects in that space.   We hold in common property, at the moment a rented apartment in a two flat in the Albany Park neighborhood of Chicago.  The community moved into this location in August of last year. We have called the new space the New Digs.

One of the challenges of living in community is keeping  common spaces common.  For a community like ours this challenge stems from that much of the  furniture and decor in common spaces members from items each brings into the community.    As new members move in decisions about what furniture the new member has will go into the common spaces.  This decision depends on what the new member brings, if she wishes to have an item used by all or if she wishes these items to only be in her room.  The decision also depends on the needs of the community and fit within the current arrangement of space. Thus, common space is a negotiated space and one that is re-negotiated upon receiving a new member.

This way of negotiating common space; what we use in the common spaces and how we decorate those spaces, can bring about tensions between members.  There have been times where some members have not felt at home in the spaces because they perceived that the items in the spaces as belonged to other members and was an expression of certain members aesthetic.

When holding things in common through bringing together our property and making it available to the community as a whole works, the common spaces and the items in them express the character of the community through the contributions of each member.  So that while one may be able to guess that a certain item of decor came from this or that member, the result of the combination is the expression of the community as a whole.  This is achieved both through a willingness to let go of the property one brings into the community and means truly receiving the gift of property that is offered by the other members and the community as a whole.

The other challenge of common space in an intentional community is maintaining the space so that all are comfortable in its use.  This is a balance between maintaining a clean and aesthetically pleasant space that is also lived in.

Lastly, this approach to common space lends itself to an eclectic aesthetic, a blending of various opinions and desires, as well as seeking the best way to make use of the space of the house or apartment.

This is the current iteration of these negotiations in the Community of the holy Trinity’s space the New Digs: