Saturday, March 25, 2006

Illuminating the Word

Our two sons came home for Spring Break from the University of Missouri last night.
The older son joined us for a trip to the Joslyn Museum to see the magnificent exhibit "The Saint John's Bible". Since 2000, scribes and artists in Wales have been crafting The Saint John's Bible, the first illuminated bible made since the advent of the printing press more than 500 years ago. Go to
for more information, but here's a brief sketch.

Saint John's University and Abbey in Minnesota commissioned this unique bible as a richly ornamented masterwork, written and illustrated by hand on oversized vellum with hand-ground pigments and gold leaf. A modern English translation is used, with illuminations reflecting a multicultural world and humanity's strides in science, technology, and space exploration. In the Joslyn exhibit 100 original pages from this project are featured along with sketches, tools, and other materials.

Those who commissioned the work make this statement: "The Saint John's Bible aspires to be ecumenical as well- to unite humankind, not further divide will speak in words and pictures to people of all faiths."

Our experience at the exhibit seemed to validate this claim. I saw an extraordinarily diverse group of people today. Lots of young people, children and teenagers and college students were present. Imagine that! Standing in front of one of the bible pages I saw a teenage boy wrap his arms around his girlfriend while they talked about a scene from one of the gospels. A middle aged woman was pushing what must have been her mother in a wheel-chair as they talked. Several hundred people of varied ages and races were present. I ran into an Hispanic pastor I've come to know. African Americans, pale faces such as myself, Asians, and who knows how many other ethnicities were present to enjoy this exhibit on the Bible. I thought to myself, What a powerful experience to see the Saint John's Bible draw such a varied group of people!

Standing in front of the large page from the Gospel portraying Jesus feeding the 5,000 I saw a father holding his 4-5 year daughter in one arm while a somewhat older daughter was holding his other hand. They talked about the story as the older girl read about Jesus feeding people. I saw lots of parents with young children pushing them in strollers.

This was my third visit to the exhibit and each time a new page among the 100 exhibited has captured my interest. Today it was the scene of Lazarus being raised to new life after his death. On the page, Lazarus is pictured in dark swirling shapes and forms as if he's in a deep cave on the left-hand margin of the page. To the far right, in smaller perspective there's a circle of light with the figure of Jesus calling Lazarus to come out and live. But the figure of Lazarus is leaning backward, almost as if he's reluctant to come toward the light. The note card beside the page offers the thought that this page has been influenced by descriptions of near-death experiences individuals have reported. The tunnel or shaft of light mirrors the near-death encounter some have described.

This portrait of Lazrus, who in the gospel of John, does come forth, also includes the account of witnesses having to unbind him, so that he can fully live. In this Lenten season, it's a good reminder of the near-death lives of despair or bitterness or desperation that some people face in life. Being called to a fuller experience of life by Christ is an ongoing spiritual journey for us all.

Another page that caught my attention was the page where I saw the father with his two daughters. Colorful baskets of bread influenced by Native American art are part of the page. The comment posted next to this page is memorable. "The baskets symbolize the multiplying effect of any act of love, such as sharing."

I came away today realizing once more how powerfully Word and Image serve to engage our fuller response to the text of Scripture. Seeing hundreds of people of all ages and conditions in life affirmed the intention of those who commissioned this Bible as an effort to "unite humankind, not further divide it." Sadly, the Bible has far too often been used to create division and sow disharmony. That's not what I experienced today. I'm grateful!


At 12:28 PM, Blogger Rodger Sellers said...

Great post Hart. I think I would be willing to trade you... The Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit that's currently here for the St. John's Bible! I've been fascinated and mesmerized by the images I've seen online of it. Didn't know it was touring. Hope it does come our way!

Hoping all well.



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