June 8, 2011

Drawing Heaven

Heaven, oh heaven….” I close my eyes and hear in my mind the smooth style and soul filled music of Duke Ellington. 

My first encounter with Ellington’s “Sacred Concerts” songs came during Sunday worship, when Caroline, a parishioner with a stunning soprano voice, sang during communion with Janet, our music director, at the piano. Those couple of pieces, including “Heaven” and “Praise God and Dance” (based on Psalm 150) overwhelmed my senses. It was divine, really.

I tracked down copies of the recordings and sheet music of these unique concerts that Ellington created and performed from 1965 – 1973 at three of our Episcopal/Anglican landmarks: Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, St. John the Divine in New York City, and Westminster Abby in London. To this day I’m captivated by Ellington’s music and theological interpretations, often finding myself singing these tunes as I ride the train or walk the streets of New York.

One of the powerful realities of art: it sticks with us. It stirs us and can spur us to further imagination and creativity. 

A few weeks ago I was stopped in my tracks – literally – by images of heaven. Here’s what I saw: 

After standing in amazement, taking in the beautiful drawings on the sidewalk in front of me, a friend told me it was part of the 50 Days of Heaven project. The organizer Karen Moody and the Church of Our Savior in Chicago invited people and groups across their diocese to create sidewalk art depicting their image of heaven. Moody says:  

In Eastertide, as we observe with joy the days that Jesus walked the earth before his ascension into heaven and before the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles at Pentecost, we engage this question: what does heaven look like? Is it simply the sky, a whirl of color, a swath of comfort? 

For 50 days, ending with Pentecost, squares of sidewalk all around Chicago have been transformed into visions of heaven. Photos like these have been collected and shown on the project’s website, noting all the people and places involved in this participatory art project.

In these few days between the Ascension and Pentecost, I urge you to check it out. It may serve as a delightful prompt for spiritual reflection.

But it’s also a prompt to encourage all of us – lay and professional artist alike – to unleash the spirit of creativity in our lives and churches. We may just offer others a compelling glimpse of the Divine.