By Jerry Hames
The online group Episcopal Church & Visual Arts (www.ecva.org) has opened its first 2022 exhibit, “Stories from the Road.”
With the Epiphany journey of the Magi as inspiration, contributors were invited to offer reflections on how God’s grace is at work in people’s lives. Curated by Mel Alhborn, a fine artist, manuscript illuminator and gilder, the exhibition consists of 38 works by 25 artists.
“The Epiphany story is one of graces and of trials,” said Ahlborn, a former ECVA president. “Stories of the star-gazers and the Holy Family, their travels on the road and their willingness to listen with the ear of their hearts, can teach us something of how God’s grace is at work in our own lives.”
The artworks show that the story is seen and experienced in their own lives and creative practices. Some are color-drenched like Alisa Clark’s “From Where I Glean My Faith.” Others, like Sally Brower’s “Pilgrim Cross,” record moments of private pilgrimage.
Steven Schroeder visits Tibet and, in “Lhasa,” shares a miracle of the road in text and painting. Jack Pachuta visually retells the Nativity/Epiphany story in one of iconography’s classic presentations, “Romanesque Nativity.”
The exhibited art and reflections from five of the artists follow.
Lisa Thorpe. “A while back my husband and I were struggling with some hard decisions…about making an uprooting change that would not just affect us but our demi adult son and my aging mother living with us. We had a great deal of angst and lack of clarity that seemed to be affecting all layers of our lives” she recalled.
They decided on a 17-mile round trip beginning at the Pacific Ocean near their home in northern California. “The beginning was a chorus of gulls circling the small rocky beach with crashing white waves. We began our climb up through grassy cow grazing land, then into a wood land of oaks and bay trees [and after] a break for lunch a sign warned of the impending steep climb. The last two miles were a hard push. Near the peak a raven pair began to circle and call and cheer us on, ‘you can do it, you’re almost there’ they seemed to say. We made it! Proud of ourselves we soaked in the 360-degree view.”
On the way down the raven gave them one more pass. That night they were exhausted but buoyed by their accomplishment, according to Thorpe. But what had they learned?
“We came off the hill that day with resolve that it was time to change our life. Make a bold move — we learned we are strong, together we could face the challenge. A day of letting our bodies take over the journey had taught us what our tangled heart and brains could not.” (The Thorpe family, who subsequently left California, now resides in Little Rock, Ark.)
Zachary Roessemann. “All journeys end with one journey: when we at last go home,” he writes. “On that last journey, we have the ultimate protector, the Archangel Michael, to guide us safely to the Promised Land.”
His icon depicts Michael, “the mighty captain of the heavenly hosts, beautiful but strong, always listening for God’s commands and acting swiftly on what he hears. He is the great protector of God’s people, battling evil on a cosmic scale, and protecting and escorting souls on the great journey out of this life and into the presence of God.”
Frank Logue. In August 2020, Logue and his wife, Victoria, hit the road from Georgia to Arizona to visit their daughter, planning to make the journey as important as the visit.
“As we crossed into Memphis, we saw a sign for the Lorraine Motel and the National Civil Rights Museum and, though it was unplanned, felt that we needed to exit. As we pulled up, we saw another group making pilgrimage to the site of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s martyrdom. I heard some of the group speaking Kiswahili, which I know a little of from serving as an intern in the Anglican Church in Tanzania while in seminary.
“I learned the group was a mix of people from East Africa, and with others they met in the Bronx, drove from New York to visit the site. They asked me to photograph their visit and I felt doing so was keeping a divine appointment that [had drawn] us onto the exit ramp. Victoria and I felt a kinship with these fellow pilgrims and gratitude for being on a journey with them.” (Frank Logue is the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia.)
Elizabeth de Sherbinin. We are all on a journey somewhere, she believes. “Most of us are heading toward a home like the Wise Men were after seeing the Christ Child, or home at the end of our earth-bound time. Each journey is different for each of us, yet most are full of challenges, hard climbs, dark places with little light, restful moments, sad times, and joyful celebrations. This painting is the suggestion of part of our journey home. The most wonderful part we understand as Christians is that we never journey alone.”
Tobias Haller. Not all pilgrimages take the form of physical journeys, believes this artist who is a life-professed member of the Order of St. Gregory. “Sometimes one is immobile, isolated, literally deserted by others, alone in a desert of solitude, yet still and constantly inwardly praying, ‘I call upon you from the ends of the earth’ (Psalm 61:2) For many of the desert monks the call took the form of the Jesus Prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.’”
In his image, an elderly monk is surrounded by the words of an ancient prayer — “a halo not of his own righteousness or virtue, but a reminder of the One who has redeemed him, and who is with him and upholds him in all of his journeys and resting places, in a pilgrimage of the heart.”
The next exhibition for ECVA members, to be released in the spring, will be “Sacrament and Image,” with Mary Jane Miller as curator. “What is liturgy and what is ritual and why do we need them in our lives?” she asks. Artists are invited to submit work until March 18 to the curator at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jerry Hames is editor emeritus of Episcopal Journal.