Spirituality, art, and prophetic justice

Though the artist must be willing to enter into the crux of human suffering, anxiety, and the propensity for violence against both self and other, the artistic spark comes from a deeper place.

Here is Juan Diego responding to Our Lady of Guadalupe’s visitation to him even as he struggles with his own deep sense of loss from the ravages of colonialist violence:

“Then he dared to go to where he was being called. His heart was in no way disturbed, and in no way did he experience any fear; on the contrary, he felt very good, very happy…The mesquites, the cacti, and the weeds that were all around appeared like feathers of the quetzal, and the stems looked like turquoise; the branches, the foliage, and even the thorns sparkled like gold. He bowed before her, heard her thought and word, which were exceedingly re-creative, very ennobling, alluring, producing love.”

Here I am reminded of one of Gurdon‘s last sculptures, the overpowering Prophetic Thunder. I remember him telling me about how tired he was of images of King that sanitized his prophetic fire.

And I imagine that in order to articulate this fire into bronze, he must have had to discipline himself with exquisite attentiveness: returning again and again to this ‘re-creative, very ennobling, alluring…love,” in order not to go astray into bitterness and resentment as he worked. This spiritual discipline of the artist is deeply analogous to what King had to do day after day as he faced the violence of American racism and economic and political inequality. Art, spirituality, and social justice are intimately related in this tradition Gurdon brought to Cornell and shared for so many years.

In this inspired sculpture, currently on display at the Tompkins County Public Library, we see that in Gurdon’s time with Daddy King and the beloved community, he learned his lessons well.

20160115GH GURDON BREWSTER Sculptor Martin Luther King Jr. Sculpture

20160115GH GURDON BREWSTER Sculptor Martin Luther King Jr. Sculpture

Sermon for Third Easter at Church of the Epiphany Trumansburg, NY

disciples-on-the-road-to-emmaus-tissotThis sermon was preached on Sunday, April 30, 2017.

Listening: The Heart of Spiritual Direction


The biblical word that is often translated as obedience is hypakoē in the Greek, a word whose root is from the verb which means to listen attentively.

This is what makes discernment so crucial, because we hear many voices and many words and it is not always easy to know which are God’s. Some of these words are our own, others those we inherit from our culture, still others from our personal stories, wounds, past traumas. And God’s word may speak through these words, but God can also issue forth a new song previously unheard, at the periphery of our spiritual-auditory landscape.. So we sift through all of this slowly-in God’s time, not our own.

A quiet word, as in the whisper to Elijah in the whirlwind of our doubts and fears, may often be the one we must strain to hear and follow.

And when such a word calls us, as it did the people of Israel, into unfamiliar territory, even a wilderness without clear landmarks, obedience means to listen to this call and to follow it in trust.

This is hard work, and it involves suffering as we let go of our attachments to the familiar and secure. We may launch out, as Peter did, in fear and trembling, and at times draw back in fear and need God’s forgiveness for our faltering.

As always, for those of us in the church, Jesus is our guide for this attentive listening:

8 Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9 and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him
(Hebrews 5:8–9).

Running to Places production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat


Photo by George Cannon Images

My daughter Annie was in her first production of this remarkable local youth theater group. Here are a few thoughts of mine from a recent Facebook post:


Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is truly a wonderful work of pastoral theology–the story of Joseph is read as a story of how our gifts are often also our afflictions–in Joseph’s case his gift of dreams and dream interpretation–leading him to isolation and ostracization at the beginning of the show–but at the pivotal moment when he is thrown in jail and everything seems dark and he feels utterly isolated (Close Every Door), the chorus comes to tell him no, we’ve read the book, Joseph and you come out on top. This is a remarkable affirmation of the importance of faith, and for those of us who are biblical people, a reminder of how important it is to read the scriptures as our story, not just that of ancient history.

They then sing Go Go Go Joseph and tell him that the way forward is to realize that this gift is to be affirmed, understood, and used for the good of others–which he does for the starving people of Egypt and then his brothers.

And in the end, the coat of many colors is taken off his shoulders–he is only special when he shares that gift. It is meant for the good of others, not self-adulation, as the good book says.

In R2P’s remarkable staging, as the coat is taken off Joseph’s shoulders the lighting on stage becomes technicolor; now the community is technicolor–showing that the gift that was the affliction and isolating can, with work and group discernment, become a gift for the whole community in its great diversity of gifts and dreams.

When Jasper as Joseph raised his hands up at the end, the whole community did too and we see the power of love and mutual recognition of our gifts. The joy and redemption and release were palpable and I for one was moved to tears of great joy and gratitude.

This is truly a remarkable work. Thank you Jeremy Pletter and Joey Steinhagen and R2P. I look forward to coming to many more of these wonderful productions!

A Biker Bishop and the gift of the Episcopal Church at Cornell

Audio: This is my last sermon as chaplain of the Episcopal Church at Cornell. It has been an incredible honor and privilege to serve this remarkable community for the past eight years.


Audio of My Last Compline Meditation 2017

Here is a picture of my dear friend, teacher, and living bodhisattva, G. Victor Sogen Hori, professor emeritus of Zen Buddhism at McGill University. For him and for all the mercies and blessings he gave me, thanks and praise to the living God!


P.S. If you listen to the meditation–a special thanks to brother Jeremy Pletter, who bought me my drink at CTB, an Ithaca Ginger Beer-and who is teaching my daughter Annie to sing with power and joy.

Montreal Zen Poetry Festival 2009

Audio: We Shall Walk Through the Valley in Peace by Anabel Taylor Chapel Singers

At  a recent celebration of the rich tradition of African American spirituals, our chaplain emeritus Gurdon Brewster heard the Dorothy Cotton Singers sing the incomparable Moses Hogan’s setting of We Shall Walk Through the Valley in Peace. It so moved him that he arranged to have it sung in his parish church, Epiphany Trumansburg, on Palm Sunday this Holy Week. Sadly Gurdon died before hearing his beloved community sing this wonderful piece of music, but we sang it with spirit and love, and then sang it again at his graveside service at Greensprings Cemetery.

This past Thursday night, the Anabel Taylor Chapel Choir, led by our director Ms. Anna O’Connell of the Cornell Roman Catholic community,  sang Hogan’s piece at their regularly scheduled Choral Compline service led by ECC chaplain Clark West. Here is an audio recording of their song, dedicated to the memory and legacy of Gurdon Brewster and the beloved community.


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