The Flood | Art for A Advent 1

Matthew 24:39-40 …and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.

The Flood
(b. ca 1500, Cherbourg, d. 1564, Sotteville-lès-Rouen)
The Flood
Ceramic mural composition
Musée National de la Renaissance, Écouen
Click image for more information.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

The Flood, ceramic tile, 1550, Masséot Abaquesne, c.1500-1564

Clay often is regarded to be a lowly substance. It is formed by decomposed rock and organic matter and is used to make bricks and drainpipes. It is underfoot as pavers, and in art it is a material associated with pottery and the crafts. It is not used regularly by artists as a surface on which to paint. Masséot Abaquesne’s “The Flood,” depicting the landing of the ark, is an example of the problem with categories when art is shoe-horned into being either “fine arts” or “crafts.” Abaquesne used tiles, glaze, and metal oxides to create a painting on clay; not on wood panels or canvas.

Abaquesne had a successful ceramics business in Rouen, France. His studio specialized in majolica (muh-JAHL-i-kuh) and faience (pronounced fay-AHNS – French for Faenza, a major ceramic center in Italy), and he was influenced generally by Italian art. For “The Flood,” Abaquesne used a tiled surface instead of a large single piece because clay shrinks when it is fired and in the process, large pieces will tend to warp and not remain flat.

To make “The Flood,” a majolica technique was used. The earthenware tiles were fired at a low temperature then covered entirely with a white glaze but not fired again until after Abaquesne created his painting (on the unfired white surface) using coloring pastes made with oxides: cobalt for blue, iron for dark reddish brown and antimony for yellow. It was then fired in the kiln a second time. The work shown here is one of three created by Abaquesne on the subject of the flood. [Building the ark and boarding it are the subjects of the other two works.] This scene depicts the flood after the water has subsided and the ark has landed. In a dramatic depiction of the aftermath of the event, drowned figures are strewn about and a carrion-eating bird is dining on a dead horse. On the right side of the sky, a dove is returning to the ark with an olive branch and God is in a cloud on the left side observing everything below.


Majolica ware originated in Spain and during the Renaissance it became very popular throughout Europe. The name is believed to be derived from the Spanish island, Majorca.

In addition to a glazing technique,” faïence,” is a term given to a low fired non-clay material used in ancient Egypt for crafting objects such as small blue scarabs and hippopotami. When archeologists discovered these objects, the color reminded them of the blue glaze that was made famous in the town of Faenza, Italy. They referred to the material as “faience.” Although Egyptian faience is not glazed clay, the term has remained in use.

Hovak Najarian © 2013

A Chirst the King, Art for Readings November 20, 2011

(b. 1475, Caprese, d. 1564, Roma)
Click to open Web Gallery of Art Artist Biography and to explore other works by this artist.

Last Judgment (extra large size image)
Fresco, 1370 x 1220 cm
Cappella Sistina, Vatican

Click to open Web Gallery of Art display page. Click on their image to enlarge/fit page etc.
Also on the Web Gallery search page, enter ‘MICHELANGELO’ in the Author box, ‘LAST JUDGMENT’ in the Title box, then click on the SEARCH! button for a variety of detail images and commentary.

9/11 story shows the way to bring Paul’s words to life

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good
—Paul to the Romans a long time ago

“Do something extraordinary!” was probably not in the mind or heart of Susan Retik as she grieved the loss of her husband in the events of 9/11. Susan was pregnant with their third child, at home in Boston, when she heard that her husband had died as United Flight 11 was crashed into the North Tower in New York by terrorists.

At the right time, however, she and Patti Quigley, another 9/11 widow, did something extraordinary. Together they started Beyond the 11th Foundation. The Foundation helps widows in Afghanistan to earn a living to support their families.

We have presented Susan’s story here: Is it possible to forgive? It is the subject of a documentary, Beyond Belief, available on DVD (and streaming on Netflix). I bring her story to your attention again after reading it again in USA Today: “Lessons from one widow to another

As we prepare for Sunday (8/28/11) I offer this to you: What Susan and Patti did in the sorrow and grief following 9/11 was (purposefully or not) to give flesh and blood, voice and touch, to the words of the Apostle Paul: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

In our day with the 24/7 stream of news about evil and its aftermath it is so tempting to do nothing because the evil is so great and so pervasive. Long ago Paul spoke words to shatter such temptation, inaction, and defeat. In our own country, in our own day, Susan and Patti have not only spoken the same words but they have acted, they have done something extraordinary, to shatter the same temptation and defeatist attitude. They continue to work to overcome evil with good. And so must we.

Some questions to considerWhat small, ordinary, commonplace action are you called to share in order to overcome evil with good? What community, working to overcome evil with good, are you invited to join (for many together can do more than one alone)? To what community do you already belong where, working together, you strive to overcome evil with good? How will you overcome evil with good in your own time, with the skills you have, in the time you have, in the place you are? Be sure to leave a comment here to encourage me and others.

Well. . . what do you think?

This week we have (haven’t we?) been thinking about Spiritual Gifts (the main topic of conversation on Sunday Morning in the Forum). Rather than cite scholarly sources (which I have been reading), rather than offering extensive quotes, I will offer my current understanding of Spiritual Gifts as an invitation for you to also share.

You and I do not have to be experts, scholars, or theologians, to have an opinion and an understanding by which we live our faith—though it is helpful to let these opinions and understandings mature as they guide us (i.e., let them change as we gain more experience and understanding).

For brevity I will offer an “Executive Summary” of my current understanding. This is not meant to be exhaustive or the definitive “last word” on the topic of Spiritual Gifts—you know, I’m still learning a lot.

  • Everyone, including me, is gifted by God in some way
  • Gifted by God is foundational: God chooses which Spiritual Gift to offer, God takes the initiative, always
  • We choose to accept the gift or not (we always have this freedom, another gift of God’s initiative)
  • We choose to exercise the gift or not (don’t you love this gift of free will?). My own experience tells me that the choice to exercise the gift (or not) ebbs and flows like a tide (though not so regularly). Sometimes I do this easily and well and for a prolonged period (you could float a boat); at other times it is as if I have amnesia (or sloth) and the gift is not used (that boat is mired in the tidal mud).
  • The Spiritual Gift is meant (by God) to be used for the well-being of the Body of Christ (=the Church) and for the welfare of all God’s people and all of God’s creation (=the world). It is not meant to be hoarded, it is not meant to a personal delight nor a self-esteem booster—it is meant to be shared for the good of all (inside and outside the Church, indeed, to be shared for the good of all creation).
  • I’m still working out what the Spiritual Gifts are (according to our “teachers” in the Bible and in our Christian Tradition). As you heard Stan mention on Sunday there are multiple internet resources for exploring the meaning of and kinds of Spiritual Gifts.
  • Believing the Church (at its best) to be organic, living, changing, adapting—the “Body” of Christ—the gifts (from God) are meant to part of an organic whole, not part of some grand Organizational Flow Chart.
  • Closely linked to the organic nature of the Church is that the local church may need different gifts at different times (as communities and their needs change) so I believe a couple of things can happen: the gift you’re given changes to meet the new needs and/or new members are brought into the community with the necessary gifts to meet the new (changing) needs.

That’s probably enough for now. What do you think? What would you like to add (for me and others)? How can we grow together in our understanding of God’s generosity? Leave a comment, please. Let’s see where the Spirit will lead us.

What do you know about faith within the chaos? Maybe more than you think.

Remember? The week began with a story about Jesus walking on the water. Before heading into the weekend and the next (lectionary) story let’s take one more look at Matthew’s account of Jesus and Peter and water and storm and … faith. Let’s take another look at what it could mean to us, far removed from that night and the Sea of Galilee, but plenty acquainted with chaos. I commend this reflection about our Gospel Story to you:

In Matthew’s Gospel, the story of Jesus walking on water morphs into a story of Peter walking on, then sinking into, the same water. It begins as a statement about Jesus’ authority; for Jesus’ contemporaries had learned from scripture that such mastery over the waters is God’s accomplishment. When Peter tells Jesus to call him, too, onto the lake, the story transitions into an illustration of what it looks like when people express faith in Jesus. Read the entire post: Matthew 14:22-33: Faith within the Chaos

I invite you to also check out St. Peter is walking on the water by Luis Borrassa in our Art & Music category.

Please make the time to leave a comment or two. Please get a conversation started as you consider this reflection on an ancient story which has a lot to say to us 21st Century citizens.

The Yaakov Cycle

I quite like scholar’s section introductions. Unlike issues, arguments and conclusions which I may or may not welcome, follow or share, good introductions are forward looking – full of hope. The writer seems freer, almost stating the obvious while pulling us onward.

I find Everett Fox’s following introduction to the Yaakov  Cycle most helpful as our lectionary reads highlights of  the Jacob Cycle through these last and coming few weeks. It is taken from his  excellent English translation and commentary “The Five Books Of Moses”

I especially like his last paragraph reminder of “the two levels of biblical reality.”

Last week our discussion ranged from “reads like a novel” to “dysfunctional family” to other literature e.g. “The Red Tent” and I would hope these and Fox’s thoughts below would lead us to read beyond our lectionary samplings and encounter the whole story.

YAAKOV (Jacob)


BEFORE  COMMENTING ON THE YAAKOV CYCLE, IT IS APPROPRIATE TO CONSIDER WHY HIS father  Yitzhak (Isaac), the second of the Patriarchs, receives no true separate group  of stories on his own.

Yitzhak functions in Genesis as a classic  second generation-that is, as a transmitter and stabilizing force, rather than  as an active participant in the process of building the people. There hardly  exists a story about him in which he is anything but a son and heir, a husband,  or a father. His main task in life seems to be to take roots in the land of  Canaan, an admittedly important task in the larger context of God’s promises in  Genesis. What this means, unfortunately, is that he has almost no personality  of his own. By Chapter 27, a scant two chapters after his father dies, he  appears as (prematurely?) old, blind in both a literal and figurative sense, and as we will see, he fades out of the text entirely, only to die several
chapters, and many years, later.

The true dynamic figure of the second  generation here is Rivka (Rebeccah). It is she to whom God reveals his plan,  and she who puts into motion the mechanism for seeeing that it is properly  carried out. She is ultimately the one responsible for bridging the gap between the dream, as typified by Avraham (Abraham), and the hard-won reality, as  realized by Yaakov.

Avraham is a towering figure, almost  unapproachable as a model in his intiimacy with God and his ability to hurdle nearly every obstacle. Adding to this the fact that Yitzhak is practically a noncharacter, and that Yosef (Joseph), once his rise begins, also lacks dimension as a personality, it becomes increasingly clear that it is Yaakov who emerges as the most dynamic and most human personality in the book. The stories about him cover fully half of Genesis, and reveal a man who is both troubled and triumphant. Most interestingly, he, and not Avraham, gives his name to the people of Israel.

Distinctive themes of the cycle include physical struggle, deception, and confrontation. These are expressed through the key words of Yaakov’s name (“HeellHolder” and “Heel-Sneak,” then Yisrael (Israel), “God-Fighter”), “deceive” and similar words, and “face.” Also recurring are the terms “love,” ‘bless,” “firstborn-right,” and “wages/hire” (one word in Hebrew). The cycle is structured partly around etiologies (folk explanations of place-names and personal names) and also around Yaakov’s use of stones in several of the stories.

Continuing from the Avraham cycle are such earlier themes as wandering, sibbling rivalry, the barren wife, wives in conflict, the renaming of the protagonist, God perceived in dreams and visions; and particular geographical locations such as Bet-EI, Shekhem, and the Negev (Cassuto 1974).

Finally, it should be mentioned that the Yaakov stories are notable in the manner in which they portray the two levels of biblical reality: divine and human. Throughout the stories human beings act according to normal (though often strong) emotions, which God then uses to carry out his master plan. In this cycle one comes to feel the interpretive force of the biblical mind at work, understanding human events in the context of what God wills. It is a fascinating play between the ideas of fate and free will, destiny and choice – a paradox which nevertheless lies at the heart of the biblical conception of God and humankind.

Everett Fox,
The Five Books of Moses: A New English Translation with Commentary and Notes
(New York: Schocken Books, 1995).

The kingdom of heaven is like

On Sunday, July 24, 2011 Brian got us all thinking about the parables of Jesus in his sermon. We were invited to consider Jesus’ words more deeply, including the fact that his images may not be as neutral as one would think (or as you have been led to believe). While we wait for the podcast and posting of his sermon, here is another preacher, a Lutheran, raising the same issues for us in her own words:

… Today we heard Jesus say that The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that when it has grown becomes the greatest of all shrubs. Um, the greatest of all shrubs?  What kind of off-brand kingdom is this?   It’s like saying someone is the smartest of all the idiots or the mightiest of all baby dolls. Yet he says Heaven’s kingdom is like Shrubs, and nets and yeast  – and the yeast part might be the worst when you realize that yeast is considered impure – we’re not talking little packets of Flieshman’s we find at King Soopers – we’re talking big lumps of mold which contaminate….and that in fact, Jews were required to  rid their entire house of yeast before celebrating some Holy Days.

We mistakenly may think that the kingdom of God should follow our value system and also be powerful or impressive and shiny. But that’s not what Jesus brings.  He brings a kingdom ruled by the crucified one – populated by the unclean, and suffused with mercy rather than power. And it’s always found in the unexpected.… Read the whole sermon

Share your thoughts about Brian’s sermon  and Nadia’s sermon and the words of Jesus in Matthew 13. Keep the conversation going, leave a comment; two fine preachers have set us to thinking about the kingdom…

A Proper 13 Art for Readings July 31, 2011

 SOGLIANI, Giovanni Antonio
(b. 1492, Firenze, d. 1544, Firenze)
Click to open Web Gallery of Art Artist Biography and to explore other works by this artist.

Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes
Drawing, black chalk and white on prepared paper, 217 x 335 mm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
Click to open Web Gallery of Art display page, and an interesting comment for why this design was rejected.
 Click on their image to enlarge/fit page etc.

Design rejected for the Convent of San Marco, Florence. Click to see the finished work accepted by the order.
 Click on their image to enlage/fit page etc.

Click here and scroll down to the 9th paragraph For Vasari’s account of the painting of the fresco for the Convent of San Marco, Florence.

Jacob dreamed

On Sunday, July 17th we read from the book of Genesis:

10    Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran.

11    He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place.

12    And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

13    And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring;

14    and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring.

15    Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

16    Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!”

17    And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

18    So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it.

19    He called that place Bethel. —Genesis 28:10-19a

How is this (Genesis 28) our story?

Consider these questions about Jacob’s dream.

  • Do you believe this story?
  • Do you think that God has ever spoken to “mere mortals” in dreams?
  • Do you think that God, to this day, uses dreams as one way to communicate with us?
  • Do you know anyone who has dreamed and in that dream has heard God? If yes, do you believe what you have heard from this person? What clue(s) did the person use to know it was of God?
  • Have you ever “heard” God in a dream? How did you know it was God?
  • When was the last time God spoke to you in a dream?

These are a few of the questions that occur to me as I hear Jacob’s story. In the Sunday Morning Forum we shared our answers to some of these questions. We invite you to share your answers here as we continue to live in the light of this reading from Genesis. –djr

For further consideration and reflection

Consider that Jacob encountered God (v. 13), “a very personal Being.” within his dream, and was transformed. Dreams are mysterious in their power because of the One who meets us there at just the right time. —djr

Nearly midway into life I had come into a dark woods, into a blind alley. I found my way out of that stalemate through an understanding of dreams. I worked with a Jungian analyst, a Jew who had escaped from a Nazi concentration camp. He believed that the Holy One still spoke to both sleeping and waking human beings in dreams in the silence of the day and in the night. With his help I discovered that my dreams were wiser than my well-tuned rational mind and that they gave me warnings when I was in danger. They also described in symbols the disastrous situations in which I found myself. These strange messengers of the night also offered suggestions on how to find my way out of my lostness. When I followed these symbolic suggestions, much of the darkness lifted, and my situation no longer seemed hopeless. Many of my psychological and physical symptoms of distress disappeared.

In addition to all this, I found a very personal Being at the heart of reality who cared for me; my theological dry bones were covered with sinew and flesh. And then, as I continued to listen to my dreams, I experienced the risen Christ in a way that I had not thought possible. And last of all, I realized that the Holy One continued to knock on the doorway of my inner being in my dreams even when I paid no attention to them, and he would also be waiting for me when I deliberately opened the door of my soul to the risen Christ. Prayer, contemplation, and meditation, then, became real and necessary aspects of my life as I journeyed toward fulfillment and wholeness.

Morton T. Kelsey, God, dreams, and revelation,
Kindle edition, Preface (search: stalemate)

About flesh and body

As we continue to read in Paul’s Letter to the Romans we find a passage filled with words that made sense to the first audience without a lot of explanation, but which need some interpretation in 2011. Here is an excerpt opening the English words “flesh” and “body” as used by Paul in Greek in this letter and in his theology. Walter F. Taylor, Jr. is the Ernest W. and Edith F. Ogram Professor of New Testament Studies at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, OH.

Our text [Romans 8:1-11] uses several times the word flesh, making what seem to be almost nonsensical statements such as “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (verse 8).  If that is the reality, why even try to live in God-pleasing ways?  The key is what Paul means by flesh (sarks).  To understand his usage, we turn first to its apparent twin, body (soma).  For Paul the body is neither good nor bad in and of itself.  The issue is how the body is used.  When the body is used as God intended, the body is good.  But when the body is used inappropriately and opposed to God’s intention, it is for Paul a sinful body.  Paul’s shorthand expression for a body that is misused is the term flesh.  And so to live inappropriately is called living according to the flesh (kata sarka).  Read more about Paul’s theology. (Select “2nd Reading” tab)

What helps you to live fully for God? How has your living for God changed over the years? What kinds of “grown up” things do you do as you seek to know and do God’s will?

Leave a comment, reply to a comment, keep the Sunday conversation going. Thank you for participating in the Sunday Morning Forum.