"The Word Made Fresh" Highlights Christian Imagination
Last week, February 16-18, Duke Divinity School and Blacknall Memorial Presbyterian Church (Durham) hosted “The Word Made Fresh,” a series of lectures, concerts, and teaching/performance workshops that focused on theology and the arts through the lens of poetry, music, and scripture. Poet, priest and English literature scholar Malcolm Guite, singer-songwriter Steve Bell, and DITA director and theologian Jeremy Begbie gathered as artists and friends to illustrate with piano, guitars, and sonnets some possibilities in the renewal of Christian imagination in the West.
The Rev. Allan Poole, a pastor at Blacknall, commented on the purpose behind the project:
"The formation of a distinctly Christian imagination is imperative for the health of our witness in an increasingly pluralistic [society]. The arts in particular seem to have a direct path to the formation of the imagination, for good or for ill. ‘The Word Made Fresh’ highlighted some of the distinctive ways that the musical and literary arts in particular contribute positively to that formation. We are looking at how to make these gifts more fully part of congregational practice."
Toward this end, events began with Sunday morning worship at Blacknall with a poem, a song, and a sermon, all illustrating the Gospel of Matthew passage on the baptism of Jesus. That night, the artists shared stories of the ways their faith journeys and their journeys in music and literature have intertwined and coinhered. Events continued Monday and Tuesday with two Divinity School lectures on Shakespeare, Seamus Heaney, and George Herbert by Guite, another evening teaching/performance session at Blacknall, and a final concert Tuesday evening. Tuesday’s lecture on Herbert, co-sponsored by the Anglican Episcopal House of Studies admitted standing room only, and the final concert drew themes of the previous two days together, in the words of one viewer, “showcasing the arts’ capacity to express the paradox of Christian faith and life: death, descent, and resurrection.” The setlist included Begbie with Debussy’s “Des Pas sur La Neige,” two rock/blues riffs on Guite’s work, and several of Bell’s original songs as well as folk renditions of Guite’s poetry, including an improvised encore of “Descent.” In other collaborations, the artists were accompanied by Divinity Dean Richard Hays on electric guitar and Divinity student Tyler Smoot on bass.
Tuesday evening ended the event series with the musical benediction: “He who watches over you / will never slumber nor sleep…” A Charlotte high school student attending the concert commented: "He who never slumbers nor sleeps… led our hungry hearts [this week] to a feast of beauty, goodness, and truth." Rev. Poole commented further: “Many thanks for DITA's role in this critical work."
Find event photos here.
Find recordings of events here in the coming weeks.