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Gonzales-Aden - VM - Elizabeth Khorey

Christopher Gonzales-Aden: The Holding

The Gestured Gospel

by Elizabeth Khorey

Your hands made me and formed me;
    give me understanding to learn your commands.

Psalm 119:73

The seasonality of Lent has many textures. In 2017 I was co-pastoring an Anglican parish and tasked with the spiritual formation and curation of the worship environment. As liturgist one of many seasonal ways I ushered our congregation into liturgical embodiment was through visual art which contoured the contemplative atmosphere and invitational setting of each service. It was during that particular Lent I wanted to capture a tacit visual expression of being “imprinted” by the story of Jesus’ human journey as we traveled with him through the Lenten lectionary readings (Year A).

The thematic thread began to emerge as I gave myself to reflection on the art of being carved, imprinted, marked and made by the hand of God, who is the Divine Image-Maker. “The hand of God” anthropomorphisms and metaphoric idioms are replete in Scripture for the ways God intimately touches, makes, renews, holds, guides, and rescues humanity. Lent characterizes a time period when we give ourselves to spiritual practices of simplicity where the roadway into the wilderness teaches by subtraction and reduction and fosters humble gratitude for what is essential. As we do without and taste our need, we attune ourselves to what’s within. During Lent we carve out space in our being for new seeds of forgiveness, charity and largesse to spread and take root. We hollow out excess to help us embody the fullness of emptiness. During Lent, we learn to embrace human weakness and allow it to become the new faculty of understanding. During Lent surrender and death are not a concession, but welcomed as a place of encounter with the God who is God, who dies to usher in the eternality of life.

As someone who is interested in the spiritual theology of human formation in Christ, I often utilize the varied genres of art as an imaginative lens by which I translate the concrete into metaphor which helps me move down the road a bit, to learn, see and embody spiritual truth. Eugene Peterson explained, “Comprehension of the invisible begins in the visible. Metaphor is the witness of language that spirit and matter are congruent. Metaphor uses the language of sense experience to lead us into the world of the unseen: faith, guilt, mind, God.”

My reflections on this particular Lenten theme led me to look at the genre of wood-cut printing. The artist carves and cuts away at the surface of an organic material. The area cut away doesn’t carry the ink. The area that remains carries the ink, bears the image.

As I searched historical files for woodcut images to frame our Lenten liturgy and worship services, a friend referred me to artist Christopher Gonzales-Aden. Chris is a maker of woodcuts. Chris and I had a conversation about the Lenten theme I imagined. He told me of his recent linoleum print made at a Glen Workshop with American poet, Scott Cairns. After hearing one of Scott’s stories about meeting a monk at Mt. Athos, Chris was impressed by the way the monk talked to Scott about “holding” Christ in the center of the body and being. The Holding was printed in his room that night. Chris asked me if this is what I imagined in my musings on Lent.

The theme “Gesture: Language of the Heart” was birthed and Chris became our artist-in-residence. He shared his craftsmanship, he shared himself, and he shared his lived experience of Jesus and the Story. Chris took on the weekly readings as his own meditative practice. In the immediacy of his own reflections on the most impressionable aspects of the story, hand-gestured prints emerged. Some represent Jesus’ own human hands, others represent ours. Each week Chris delivered an image for our liturgical worship and several which the congregation could purchase. And, they did!

Each week, as a priest-spiritual director, I’d welcome our parish with opening acclamation, invocation, and gentle prompts to unfold, unwind as the Word, made visible by hand-prints, led us into silent reflection and response to God. After the Gospel reading expanded space for silence was offered to reflect on the Word, look again at the hand prints and meet with God. Our Lenten journey became less about words preached and more about the quietness of the heart’s native tongue speaking in ways the heart knows to speak. It was a communal experience of learning a new prayerful language as we leaned into silence and offered up holy hands in attentive response to Jesus. We held onto Jesus’ hand by way of Chris’ companioning art. We were tutored and marked by the resonance of the visual Gospel articulation. We understood intuitively we were being held by the hand of God and learned to hold others in the space we inhabit in God on earth.

I invite you, dear reader, to sit with the Gospel stories offered in the Lenten Lectionary for Year A noted under each hand-print. Pause to look at the gestured imprints. Let them prompt you into a posture of receptivity and responsiveness. Then, let words and wordiness drop away. In your own imaginative way, sign the prayer-language of your heart with your own hands and body to God. Blessed Lent.

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For personal reflection:

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All lino prints were made in 2017 and are 4”x6”.

Christopher Gonzales-Aden: is an artist from Los Angeles, CA. Chris has a B.S. from Biola University in Drawing and Painting. He is primarily a charcoal and graphite drawer and printmaker but has also explored mosaic and sculpture. Most of his images involve the human figure. “The figure is the most personal and intimate yet universal and communal thing among humans. Its unique yet shared experience between individuals makes it the ideal vehicle to express and evoke ideas, feelings, and stories. I use the figure to understand my own experience and to understand the idea in my faith tradition of God taking on flesh in order to redeem mankind.” www.Christophergonzalesaden.com ; Instagram: chrisgaart ; Facebook: Christopher Gonzales-Aden

Elizabeth Khorey is an Anglican Priest, teacher, spiritual director, creator and curator of sacred environments of worship gatherings and retreats. She lives in Southern California and is completing her doctorate in spiritual formation at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (South Hamilton, MA, USA).

ArtWay Visual Meditation 19 March 2023