By Ann Laird Jones, Illuminating the Text course leader
February 9, 2017—The Broadway musical Hamilton (which I have only heard but never seen) catches you at every turn. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics, music, and choreography of space bring the story of Alexander Hamilton alive—a person whose face we have seen for years and years on every $10 bill we happen to come across, yet whose details have remained largely unknown—and in the process completely captures our imaginations. I have listened to the brilliant lyrics for twelve hours at a stretch, as I drive from state to state. Hamilton is a clear example of how the arts allow us to see text anew—an old text, an old story—brought to life as if for the first time.
The Saint John’s Bible does the very same thing: taking an old text that we know well, live by and refer to, but to which we all too often pay little attention, and using the arts to bring it alive so that we feel we are engaging with biblical texts as if for the first time. At the dawn of this 500th anniversary of the Reformation, what better way to reconsider the role we have assigned to visual arts and theology when it comes to biblical exegesis and theological reflection, than to have this beautiful work before us—a Bible for our time!
The Saint John’s Bible is written by hand, using the New Revised Standard Version. Originally planned as a project which would take six or seven years, the Bible took fifteen years…once it was actually started! During that time a weekly, active, ongoing conversation took place between a team of visual artists/calligraphers in Monmouth, Wales and an intentional community of scholar theologians at St. John’s Abbey/University in Collegeville, Minnesota.
The entire work divides the Bible into seven volumes of which the Gospel/Acts was the first to be finished. The result is a contemporary, ecumenical Bible, rooted in Benedictine spirituality: a gift for the millennium and a gift to the world. In fact, the stated mission of the Saint John’s Bible is to “ignite the spiritual imagination of the whole world.”
At its foundation the Saint John’s Bible is about hospitality, a basic precept that undergirds the whole of Benedictine spirituality. No longer do we need stone buildings to protect travelers, as in the middle ages, but now we need the power of God’s Word to launch a revolution of love and compassion and tender mercy: hospitality 21st century style.
As a result, “heritage” editions of the Saint John’s Bible were created so that everybody could see, touch, and experience Word in a new and revelatory manner. Unlike previous illuminated manuscripts, such as the Book of Kells in Dublin, Ireland, where one page is turned at a time and the Bible is kept under glass, the Saint John’s Bible is opened and used during worship and in the community of faith. It allows us to sit with scripture, and see scripture, and live with scripture and engage with scripture and touch scripture in a brand new way. How Reformed!
I had not heard of it before 2015, when Richard DuBose, the President of Montreat Conference Center, heard that the Saint John’s Bible had not really been in the south, much, and immediately said “Why, we’ll have it at Montreat next year!” in true Richard DuBose style.
The Bible, when not traveling or being used in worship, is housed at the Presbyterian Heritage Center at Montreat. In the months since its arrival in Montreat where it will remain until October 2017, the Saint John’s Bible has had the exact same effect on me as Hamilton: life changing, radical hospitality; arts and theology actively engaged, and engaging, one another, in the very same sentence; beauty and wonder, illuminating the presence of God in our midst!
I am especially excited that Columbia Seminary Center for Spiritual Formation will make use of the Saint John’s Bible in “Illuminating the Text,” a course being offered at the upcoming Columbia Theological Seminary Spiritual Formation Week in Montreat. Come and see!
About Ann Laird Jones: An artist and theologian, Ann is a Presbyterian (PCUSA) minister with degrees from Eckerd College (’77) and Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (’82). In addition to serving churches in Greenville, Jacksonville, Raleigh and Baton Rouge for the past twenty-six years, Ann has been the Director of Arts Ministries at Montreat Conference Center, Montreat, NC, for the past fifteen summers. Her passion is starting pottery and arts ministries in churches during the rest of the year. She recently received her Doctor of Ministry degree in Arts and Theology from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC, based on her work, “Arts and Theology Integrated: Pottery Ministry, Creation, Redemption and Sacramental Presence,” under the direction of Catherine Kapikian, author of Art in Search of the Sacred.
Ann lives in Greenville, Mississippi, with her husband, Mike Caulfield, children Sally (19) and Doug (16), and many animals. Her loves, in addition to her family, include playing the violin and piano, making pots, visiting, writing sermons, reading books, growing plants, drawing and painting, making pies with wild combinations of things inside the crust (there’s a sermon in that) and enjoying other people’s cooking.
You still have a little time to register for Illuminating the Text, Feburary 19 -22, 2017, with Ann Laird Jones at Montreat Conference Center.