So, here are some of the things that I’ve been doing lately. The choice on this one was to do a 25 paged research paper, or a creative offering and a 5 page explanation paper.

It was a no-brainer.

So I present to you, pictures of what I’ve made, and the paper that explains it all. For those of you who are not liturgically inclined, a stole is worn by a priest during mass/communion, and a chasuble is worn by the priest who is in charge of the service. This particular set is purple, for the season of Lent.

Thanks to my dear friend Meli who is modelling in the pics.

Tell me what you think, eh?

Fragile: Chasuble Fragile: Chasuble
This Fragile Earth, Our Island Home: the chasuble

Fragile: Stole Fragile: Stole
This Fragile Earth, Our Island Home: the stole

THEOLOGY

A god who can be perceived in feminine form is not a god that will tolerate the subordination of the feminine. For the people that worship such a god, that subordination becomes at worst deeply uncomfortable, and at best intolerable. A god who can be understood through the lenses of both femininity and masculinity is a god for whom issues of sin and redemption are not issues connected with gender.

Rosemary Radford Ruether’s treatment of gender, sin, and redemption in her work Women and Redemption, together with the above meditation provides a basis for questioning, the reflection of which created the impetus for the liturgical vestments that this paper seeks to explain. In examining and reexamining the historic interpretations of Christian scripture and traditions, Ruether underlines the importance of the gendered nature of sin and the impact gender has on redemption, particularly in the Western world. Centered around creation and the fall, the questions of whether or not a particular influential theologian thought women were created naturally subordinate, and whether or not “coercive servitude” was an appropriate penitential response for the fall weighed heavily on the daily lives of women as well as the existential cosmology embraced by countless cultures for whom norms, mores, and legislation created and maintained structures to systematically subjugate women, sanctioned by the Church, and thus, God. (Ruether, 4)

If then rejection of a vision of God that sanctions the subjugation and coercive servitude of women is called for, the symbol of which is a vision of God depicted in the feminine, then there must be a replacement for the focus of sin and redemption. In order to understand sin, it is necessary to trace back what it means to be made in the image of God. Zizioulas posits that the imago dei is to exist in the way that God exists.(Zizioulas, 15) To be in the image of God is to be in relationship with the world, with people, and with God, and in that sense to be in communion.(Ibid) Zizioulas is quick to point out, however, that being in communion in a way that is destructive, a way “which denies or suppresses the person, is inadmissible.”(Ibid, 18) This vision of God and being in the image of God connects with the concept of sin when the possibility of broken communion is laid bare, along with all such actions that “break the bonds of affection”(Windsor) and all such ways of being in communion that prove inadmissible because of the denial or suppression of the people involved.

In order to understand a concurrent vision of redemption we look to Ruether’s work Gaia & God. Herein we see a vision of redemption that is one of healing, and healing particularly of relationships.(Ruether, 4) If sin is the bonds of affection broken, then redemption is seeing the bonds of affection healed and whole once more. Redemption as healing means healed relationships between people, nations, demographies, and the earth. Healing is living in “just and loving relationships.”(Ibid, 3) Opening up what is possible for the object or other in relationship, Ruether radically suggests that we be in, and encourage others to be in right relationship with the entire economy of the Universe.

Understanding God as Trinitarian is a foundational element in a relational vision of both sin and redemption, and indeed, a foundational element in understanding God, one the West has been quick to shy away from. As Zizioulas points out, “the Holy Trinity is a primordial ontological concept and not a notion which is added to the divine substance or rather which follows it. [emphasis original]”(Zizioulas, 17) A moving description of that primordial ontology that expounds on the theology of Metropolitian Zizioulas was described originally in the 1988 Lambeth Conference, and quoted later in a release from the Anglican Consultative Council on the Ordination of Women, entitled The Virginia Report:

Thus our unity with one another is grounded in the life of love, unity and communion of the Godhead. The eternal, mutual self-giving and receiving love of the three persons of the Trinity is the source and ground of our communion, of our fellowship with God and one another. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we are drawn into a divine fellowship of love and unity.(Virginia)

From this understanding of God, it is a short leap to a vision of Creation as the original act of self-giving and receiving of the love of God toward Us, the first step in the economy of relationship which encompasses, among other things, both sin and redemption. The exploration of the Trinity in the moment of Creation is one of the subjects of the liturgical fabric art under description.

The choice of Lent as a season in which to set the vestments that explore and reflect this understanding of God and God’s economy is the invitation of the Lenten season to introspection on the subject of both sin and redemption.

Before turning to an in-depth explanation of the symbolism of the vestments, it is appropriate to note that a significant creative influence on the artist has been the liturgical artistry of Juliet Hemingray of Derby in Great Britain.

CHASUBLE

The tie-dyed and sparkly blue-white-purple fabric that constitutes the “Y-cross” serves as a large visual reminder that the source and revelation of our redemption is the Resurrection, to which all eyes are turned, in Lent. The egg-shaped container of the image set on the crossing harkens back to the egg shape prevalent in many of the visions of Hildegard of Bingen.

The image within the egg takes much of its inspiration from the Celtic Trinity (Trinity Icons), a contemporary icon depicting a feminine vision of God creating the world. Here the maiden, an impression of a Zulu woman gives birth to the world. The mother, an impression of an American soccer mom, is the one who will nurture and protect it. The crone, an impression of a Navajo woman, will bring the world wisely to its end. There are some differences between the traditional Celtic image of the Trinity, the contemporary icon, and the chasuble. The traditional image did not represent a global perspective. This was changed in the contemporary icon, which depicts the crone as a Native American, the maiden as an African, and the mother as a Mediterranean – possibly Greek or Hebrew. The contemporary icon continued in the traditional style to include the iconography of a raven with the crone, a symbol of life and death, as well as an encircling snake consuming its tail, a symbol of femininity, the sacred, and immortality.(Ibid) The chasuble does not incorporate the raven or the snake, and changed the mother to reflect an American. The animal symbols were left out because they seemed to the artist redundant and potentially confusing to parishioners. The identity of the mother was changed to reflect the artist’s own perspective and current reality.

The stripes of cloth in the background of the image were symbolic; green for the growing things of earth, blue for the purifying water of earth, purple for the presence of God on the earth and in the Universe, and gold for the glory of God. The green, blue, and purple stripes are of a cotton cloth that has chaotic, vapor like swirls and tendrils of its own, printed on the material. This pattern was chosen to represent humanity’s faulty and chaotic understanding of God’s presence in the Universe. The stripe of shimmery gold cloth replaces the individual nimbus of each person of the Trinity, and speaks of the unity of the glory of God. These stripes will be repeated in the stole, with some additional symbolism.

STOLE

The stole has several things going on as well. Beginning at the neck, there are constellations of the sky embroidered, studded with beads as stars, patterns of stars as seen from the earthly perspective, both northern and southern hemispheres. Beginning from Crux, or the Southern Cross, at the back of the neck, constellations and portions of constellations radiate out to the left and right, ending on both sides with Polaris, or the North Star. To the left, as one holds the stole, looking at Crux the following constellations are visible: the forelegs of Centarus, all of Lupus, most of Scorpius, most of Ophiuchus, all of Hercules, all of Draco, all of Ursa Minor, and Polaris. Similarly, starting at Crux and looking to the right, the hindlegs of Centarus, most of Vela, all of Pyxis, and part of Puppis (the last three, which used to be considered one giant constellation, The Argo), some of Monoceros, all of Canis Minor, most of Gemini, all of Lynx, and Polaris can be seen.(Chartrand, 19-20) From Crux to Polaris to Crux again is designed to represent a vision of the rest of the Universe, encompassing all there is of the created order. Behind the stars at the neck there are felt stripes with a diamond harlequin-like pattern, studded with printed stars. This cloth symbolizes simultaneously the beauty of the heavens and the silliness and absurdity of attempting to categorize by means of anthropomorphic personification, the rest of the Universe.

At the bottom of the stole on one side, the green, blue and purple stripes are quite thick and are accompanied by additional stripes of purple with silver stars. On this side is the earth and the thickness of these stripes is to lend perspective to the other side, displaying relatively thin stripes, the gold stripe, and God. The earth-side of the stole is the embodiment of the name of the work, “This Fragile Earth, Our Island Home.” The title is a quote from The Book of Common Prayer, 1979, held by the Episcopal Church of the USA, held not only as a book of prayer by our church, but also as a statement and confession of our belief. Lex orandi, lex credendi. In the third Eucharistic Prayer in our contemporary rite, there are the following words:

…at your command all things came to be: the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home.(BCP, 370)

The God-side of the stole was inspired by a medieval icon out of the Moscow school, written by the monk Andrei Rublev, c. 1411, of the St. Sergius monastery. The continuation of the feminine and global imagery from the chasuble is an obvious departure from the traditional medieval iconography, but in Rublev’s practice of iconography as well as his icon, Trinitas, this artist found many resonances. Rublev’s own iconography is the summation of several generations of creative thought and reflections on and interpretations of scripture, national character, and artistic skill. The same can be said about the stole.(Vzdomov)

One of the understandings of the Trinity fostered at St. Sergius, embraced by Rublev, and influential for this artist is that “being undivided, the Trinity denounced strife and called for togetherness; being individualized, it condemned oppression and called for liberation.”(Ibid) Remembering that Mongol domination of Russia was only beginning to be challenged at the battle of Kulikovo Field in 1380, 20 years after Rublev’s birth, this understanding of the Trinity has practical, national, and political implications at the time, and implications that continue to this day.(Ibid)

Though the stole lacks certain elements from Rublev’s icon, such as Mt. Horeb looming in the distance, the sheltering oaks, Abraham’s dwelling and evidence of hospitality, the equality in size of the persons of the Trinity and their conversational grouping that seems to invite us into their dialogue are all very reminiscent of Trinitas, the first icon of the Orthodox Church to adhere to doctrine and depict all persons of the Trinity with an equal stature. Their on-going conversation, while certainly more vague in the medium afforded by the stole than in the paint of the icon, speaks to the concept of relationship and the model of relationship that is the Trinity.

BIBLIOGRAPHY
Chartrand, Mark R., and Tirion, Wil. National Audubon Society Field Guide to the Night Sky (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991) 19-20.

Episcopal Church of the United States of America, The. The Book of Common Prayer (New York: Church Publishing, 1979) 370.

Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission. The Virginia Report (London: Anglican Consultative Council, 1997) 130. http://www.anglicancommunion.org/lambeth/reports/report1.html

Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission. The Windsor Report (London: Anglican Consultative Council, 2004). http://www.anglicancommunion.org/windsor2004/.

Ruether, Rosemary Radford. Gaia & God (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2002) 3, 4.

Ruether, Rosemary Radford. Women and Redemption (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1998) 4.

Trinity Icons, “Celtic Trinity” (2005) http://www.trinitystores.com/?detail=606&artist=17.

Vzdornov, G. Trinity by Andrei Rublev (Moscow: Ishusstvo Publishers, 1981) 205-212. Translation found on http://park.org/Guests/Russia/moscow/sergiev/rublev.html.

Zizioulas, John D.. Being as Communion (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985) 15, 17, 18