Art from my bookshelf

Churches, if not actively engaging the arts, are at least reading about them. Some are actually beginning to think--and I mean truly, deeply reflect--on how the arts affect their spiritual lives. As they should. The tendency these days seems to point to the unavoidable fact that artistic expression is an important element in many people's spiritual walks. In the past couple of years there has been an abundance (relatively speaking) of books that are either artistic initiatives themselves, or that reflect on the issue of art and faith. Here are two very recent endeavours and my top picks at the start of 2009:

Worship that Changes Lives: Multidisciplinary and Congregational Perspectives on Spiritual Transformation
Edited by Alexis Abernethy
Baker Publishing House

Alexis Abernethy, professor of psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary, gathered writers, artists and theologians and asked them to contribute to an intercultural, cross-denominational reflection on worship. Much of the book is dedicated to the study of the arts in worship (dance, film, visual art, poetry and music) and how they shape the famous "agogic moment," referred to by contributing writer Todd Farley, which he defines as a "human and personal encounter, whether ordinary or extraordinary, that releases a motive power that generates change."

Worship leaders be warned: this is not a how-to book with easy-to-follow recipes. If anything, it is an essay that pleads for deepened worship experiences and for a better understanding of how the arts can provoke us, pull us out of a broken state and move us from "passive listening" to involved transformation. It also pleads for an enriched variety of artistic expressions in the worship space.

African drum dance, visual arts, spoken word, film excerpts--you name it--this book talks about its potential involvement in church service. Tyson Chung and Charsie Sawyer's chapter on jazz improvisation alone is worth the purchase.

"The ultimate consequence to being exposed to the call-and-response nature of jazz music is that we are pulled into the conversation, and our hearts and minds are opened and vulnerable, allowing God an opportunity to intervene in our lives," they write.

Does this mean our churches should now become stages for talent shows? Not at all. It means we need to rethink, or at the very least better think through the worship experience as something entirely human: expressive, sensual and holistic.

D.S. Martin
Wipf and Stock

D.S.Martin (ChristianWeek's music columnist) launched his first full book of poetry in December 2008, titled Poeima (Greek for poem). It is lovely.

Martin won an Award of Merit at The Word Guild's awards gala last spring for his chapbook So the Moon Would Not Be Swallowed. His poetry has been published in several journals including Canadian Literature, Books & Culture and The Christian Century. He has been receiving his fair share of well-deserved accolades.

His work is peacefully embedded with imagery, his words and metaphors cleverly woven together--subtle and never forced. There are the slightest hints of the stories of the Old and New Testaments which nod to the biblically literate, yet don't leave behind those who are not. I won't say anything more; just buy the book.

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