Art in/as Sacred Space

Today I wish to give a special shout out to those who have worked so diligently on the Art in Our Sacred Spaces book that catalogs our current art collection at Rainbow.


We will celebrate and dedicate this book and project this coming Sunday, April 30 at 4 pm. So if you want to learn more about the art at Rainbow (both indoors and outdoors), join us! A powerpoint presentation of this tour will also be shown in Fellowship Hall for those who choose to stay in one place for this “walking tour.”

What follows is the introduction that I wrote for this book.

I spend a lot of time contemplating the beauty of the spoken and written word. And yet it is often while walking around our church building and grounds that I feel an extra sense of awe and wonder. That’s the gift of beautiful images—they often draw us to God, the source of all beauty, in ways the written and spoken word falls short.

That being said, Mennonites have at times been squeamish about visual arts in sacred space. Some have taken the Biblical prohibition against making graven images to mean that visual images are at best a distraction for Christians. Mennonite artist Bob Regier offers this helpful historical perspective on this subject of art in sacred space:

“There is a rich symbol tradition in the Christian church, reaching back to the early church and coming into full flower in the Gothic and Renaissance periods of the 12th through the 15th centuries. The Protestant Reformation interrupted this flowering. The reaction to the excesses, the opulence, and the misuse of power within the church swept away the rich visual traditions of painting and sculpture that were so completely integrated into the architecture and liturgy of the church. Indeed, there were excesses that needed abandonment or correction. But in retrospect we now see that this might have been another example of throwing out the baby with the bath water. In our own Mennonite tradition, especially, the primacy of the spoken word and healthy suspicion of embellishment swept aside any visual elaboration within our worship spaces. The visual symbol was suspect. While the visual arts in the church all but disappeared, with a few notable exceptions such as Jan Lluyken’s illustrations for The Martyr’s Mirror, music remained as a powerful non-verbal medium of expression. Slowly, the power of color, shape, texture, and line has returned to take its place alongside music and the spoken word. We are no longer afraid to allow all of our senses to be engaged in the worship experience.”

This is certainly true at Rainbow, a place that is alive with art of all kinds!

And so whether you join us on Sunday or not, here is an art-full prayer for us to consider written by John Johansen-Berg.

Divine Creator, your works delight us with sight, scent, and sound, bringing sensations of joy to all living creatures. We ask your blessing on all those whose creativity gives a reflection of your handiwork in the universe. Give inspiration to those whose use of paint and texture harmonizes colors and shapes with subtle interpretation; may they bring an extra dimension into the minds of those who view their art with pleasure.
We give thanks for those who work and mould the clay,
chisel and shape the stone and iron, carve and smooth the wood,
to make exquisite sculptures
which delight the heart and mind.
Heavenly Artist,
bless the painters, sculptors
whose creative gifts are a source of blessing for others.
Sneed Commitment to Community

Illustration near east staircase by Brad Sneed called “Commitment To Community”

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