Yesterday I got to the Art/Faith Forum Conference in Dublin - plenty
of thought provoking ideas there, not to mention quite a few artists and
poets. The conference title was "The Baptised Imagination" and
the whole idea of the religious imagination was central to the event.
Main speaker in the morning was Fr Michael Paul Gallagher SJ who has written
many books about the interface of faith and culture. It was a deep and
complex talk and I'll try to get hold of the text for more in-depth reflection.
He quoted Cardinal Newan's comments "The heart is commonly reached,
not through the reason, but through the imagination" (find the context
of this observation here).
Colette Clarke gave a presentation on the art of iconography and displayed
several appealing examples of the genre, and flagged the work of the Association
of Iconographers of Ireland (more info here).
In the afternoon there was another interesting talk, this time from Gregory
Wolfe an American author and editor of "Image
- a Journal of the Arts and Religion".
been a fan of Jennifer Warnes for years - the first album of hers I bought
was just titled "Jennifer Warnes" and among other great songs
she sang Oh God of Loveliness (clip on left). Her most famous album
is "Famous Blue Raincoat" when she recorded some of the songs
of Leonard Cohen, and some she co-wrote with him. This album included
the beautiful Song of Bernadette (see video
page) and Joan of Arc. She has also recorded some traditional Christmas
songs which featured on a Hallmark Christmas album some years ago. Her
most recent album is The Well and one could certainly find some
Biblical imagery in the title track, though it's not overt and may not
even have been intended. A new album is apparently in the works. For a
sampler of her work there's always a selection of songs playing on her
On Sunday last
RTE 1 broadcast Mass for the Ascension, live and outdoors from
the Claddagh in Galway city. The music was provided by the Tribal Chamber
Choir - their selections from Haydn and Handel were excellent but didn't
facilitate congregational singing! However the small congregation did
join in on Ár nAthair and the recessional Praise My Soul the
King of Heaven. You can look back on this programme here
and for a while on the RTE
music was also to the fore on Songs of Praise, BBC 1's long running
show, which provides a comfortable kind of spirituality. Last Sunday Eamonn
Holmes presented the show from Northern Ireland, where Daniel O'Donnell
was one of the contributors - he sang a fine acoustic version of "Here
I Am Lord", with just guitar accompaniment, while the choir at a Presbyterian
church (Hamilton Road, Bangor I think) sang well throughout the programme.
I really enjoyed Artist Ross Wilson's few words on C.S. Lewis, and his
visually arresting wardrobe sculpture was a fitting tribute to the author
- Lewis' letter to a young reader explaining the Christian allegory of
his Narnia books was also inscribed on the work.
night BBC 1 Wales carried the first part of The Passion of Port Talbot,
an intriguing documentary on a community based passion play in the Welsh
town that had suffered over the years from poor development. The initiative
was led by local man, Michael Sheen, now a famous actor (he played Tony
Blair in The Queen)but it seemed he mainly wanted to tell the story
of Port Talbot using the Jesus story as a vehicle, complete with crucifixion
scene. At one stage he said this was all he wanted to do, but later when
local clergy became uneasy about the direction the play was taking, he
did listen and reassure them that it actually was the story of Jesus (in
the guise of "The Teacher"), told in a different way. Fascinating theatrically,
but I thought it felt somewhat empty spiritually. The performance itself
will feature in part 2 this Sunday night.
Finally got to see The Way last night, and I wasn't disappointed.
This new film is about a father-son relationship and is set against the
background of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain. Martin Sheen
plays the father, while his son Emilio Estevez plays the son, and also
wrote and directed.
It was quite moving, challenging and thought provoking. Gradually we get
to know the Sheen character and the motley crew he meets up with. It's
a strongly human film, and its empathy with the characters is what makes
it involving and touching. The Pilgrimage motif is of course a powerful
one - the journey through life, the baggage we carry apart from our backpacks,
the varying paths we take, the people we journey with. Estevez uses the
motif subtly enough, but may have been worried about critical reaction
as he has the Irish writer (played by James Nesbitt) revel in the "metaphor
bonanza" and yet wonder if he is being over fanciful - things may be what
they seem and no more than that. Perhaps Estevez wishes to distance himself
from having an overly religious film - at one stage a minor character
says it's not about religion at all, and stresses the point. None of the
characters makes an obvious connection with God in any way, yet the film
is imbued, in a positive way, with religion, without being heavy handed
in any way. The Sheen character prays, though at the beginning he doesn't
see the point. In a key scene the woman struggles with prayer. Churches
and religious images abound, and there are at least two positive priest
There are some fine set pieces, and such scenes may well be useful in
RE, though the full film is probably too long and leisurely for youngsters.
Near the start a French policeman explains the nature of the pilgrimage,
and later, on the road, the pilgrims discuss the nature of the "true pilgrim"
(both clips useful in classes on pilgrimage). For symbolism there's a
scene at one point where the tradition is to say a prayer and leave a
stone at a particular monument (useful for ritual as well). The scene
where they arrive at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostella is really
well done, and really captures a sense of awe and wonder. Among the interesting
conversations on the road, one has a subtle pro-life message as a woman
wonders about her unborn baby. Some elements raise questions of suitability
for young viewers - in particular there's an ambiguous attitude to soft
drugs, but I think it will give mature viewers a warm glow. Many films
deal with journeys (physical and metaphorical) of self discovery but The
Way has carved out a distinctive little niche of its own.
the last few days I've been showing parts of the film Sophie Scholl,
The Final Days, with 3rd Year students. (Sophie Scholl was a real
life character who campaigned against the Nazis in Germany - she was arrested
for leafletting). It fits in really well with the morality element of
the course. I even used the clip on left as past of my assessment with
the TY students. This clip is the final interrogation of Sophie, and the
script is based on transcripts of the original interrogation. One could
get several classes out of this ten-minute clip - issues raised include
conscience, the state and religion, empathy, world view, persecution of
the Jews and the mentally ill, and God. Sophie is a great role model for
young people, but even the interrogator is an interesting character. I
was glad to see the third years absorbed by this, as there's a lot of
talk, and it's subtitled.
We had a visit from the Diocesan Advisor earlier this
week for presentation of certificates from the Diocese in recognition
for the students' work in RE during the year. We've opted for this scheme
for the last few years and I think it's a great way to give some positive
feedback to the students. Some of them spoke enthusiastically about their
work, some did not! As part of the course students were required to produced
a work of art with religious themes, and some displayed their wares on
the day. The results varied.... There were a few hurried drawings, a few
interesting poems, a visual presentaion on the moving statues phenomenon
of the 80's and some music. Looking back on the year most had positive
memories of their retreat with Net Ministries and the concert with John
Angotti back in September. Tomorrow is the start of their RE assessment
- questions on a poem (I've chosen Love by George Herbert) and
a song that I'll play for them (on CD I hasten to add)- God Bless the
Artists by the Roches (see clip above left), an appropriate end to
a module on religion and the arts.
Will hopefully be on Spirit Radio this coming Monday around 10.25
or so. Should have been last Monday but technical hitches got in the way.
This week I hope to be reviewing the newly released film The Way
starring Martin Sheen.
the Edmund Rice story just after Easter (May 5th is his day) and got a
lot of mileage out of artist Desmond Kyne's wonderful Icon of Edmund Rice.
We have a copy in the school hall, but the folks at ERST produced a special
Powerpoint version that takes students through all the panels of the icon.
Among other resources when doing the Resurrection I used
this year for the first time the Resurrection scene (see clip from this
on left) at the end of The Miracle Maker, the beautifully animated
version of the life of Jesus. Apart from a few giggles at Mary Magdalen's
very emotional reactions (I teach boys) it seemed to hold the attention.
Several clips from this film can be viewed (and downloaded if you subscribe
to the free account or higher) on the relevant
Wingclips page. I also got students drawing their own Resurrection
scenes - some interesting images resulted, many having Jesus exclaiming
Last Saturday night in the National Concert Hall I got to see
The Armed Man - A Mass for Peace, a striking work by Welsh composer
Karl Jenkins. I had seen it before in Cork, but this time Jenkins himself
conducted and it was accompanied by film clips to illustrate its powerful
message of peace amidst all the war and militarism, mostly of the 20th
Century. The orchestra and choirs were great, but I found myself mostly
absorbed by the film clips - quite a saddening panorama of our times,
but after all the menace and violence the piece certainly ends on a calming,
peaceful and hopeful note. This performance will be repeated in the University
of Limerick on Sunday 8th May. One of the movements is the Benedictus,
and the clip on left gives a flavour of the experience though it's not
from Saturday's performance.
Just came across an intriguing article, where Jennifer Fulwiler, a blogger
and Catholic convert, list her ten favourite Rap songs. The title of the
article caught my eye - "Top 10 Rap Songs for Catholics "!
Rap is not one of my favourite music genres but every class we teach has
probably got a few rap fans (and probably a few who can't stand it!).
I remember having one student who was constantly referencing Tupac, and
I notice that one of his songs is on the list. This kind of music often
gets a bad rap (!) for bad language and violent lyrics, but Fulwiler has
navigated her way to what seems likes some interesting material. Click
to read the article.
Tuesday night last I headed up to Tobar
Mhuire, the Passionist Monastery in Crossgar Co. Down to hear a L'Angelus
concert. Unfortunately the band didn't do any gigs down south during
this mini-tour (back in July, and doing World Youth Day in August)), but
it was certainly worth the trip up north. As usual the band gave a great
show, and their new songs were well up to standard. The old standards
were on the setlist too, and along with the good-time Cajun songs they
performed some of their sacred repertoire - including Be Thou My Vision,
Ave Maria, and those beautiful watlzes - The Waltz of St Cecila
and The Waltz of the Sorrowful Mysteries. It was an appropriate
venue for these songs as it was in the multi purpose room that mainly
serves as the church for the Passionist Community in Crossgar. Thanks
to Fr John and the other members of the community for the excellent hospitality
and the sing song that followed the gig for those staying over.
The monastery also featured a striking Stations of the Cross - figures
arranged in the recesses of girders sunk into the courtyard - very effective.
For St Patrick's Day I made up a slide show of images of the saint - now
I've a new one to add - the rather modern sculpture of the saint on the
way out of Downpatrick - pic above.
While passion plays have a long history, it was inevitable that the movies
would eventually tell the story of Jesus. The first feature length version,
"From the Manger to the Cross" (1912) was the subject of the documentary
First Passion, on TG4 last week. It was intriguing on many levels
- there were clips from the movie, and while I would like to have seen
more, they were rather melodramatic as usual for silent movies, and it
was strange that a film about The Word featured so few words! In a move
that was revolutionary for its time they shot the film in the original
Holy Land locations. One contributor suggested that this was partly to
provide American audiences with a sort of virtual pilgrimage of the area.
Robert Henderson-Bland played Jesus and wrote extensively about it. The
role had a profound effect on him, some even said it unhinged him, but
he went on to become a decorated World War I hero.
As cinema at the time was widely regarded as a gimmick, the venture was
regarded as potentially blasphemous by some and efforts were made to diffuse
criticism - for example scripture quotes were displayed on screen between
some of the scenes. Cinemas were given tips as to how to create a respectful
atmosphere - no eating, drinking or laughing! In fact the programme made
out that the film had an impact on how cinema audiences in general responded
to cinema, as it was longer and more serious than what the average audience
was used to. Pre-screenings were given to clergy and posters carried an
"endorsed by the clergy" tag - surely the kiss of death for any film today!
And this despite the fact that there wasn't a resurrection scene. As regards
school use I could see myself using some of this documentary in class
- as part of the films and religion module in Transition Year I look at
the issues relating to films about Jesus and this certainly a trailblazer
of the genre.
At the time of writing the documentary is still available to watch on
the TG4 website in three segments - for the first part click here.
in the Pale (RTE 1 last night) was a most absorbing and entertaining
programme. The main element was coverage of a passion play performed in
the streets of Dublin in 2010. Good to see the passion play tradition
getting such a fresh treatment, and good to see the whole process for
the actors and director starting with a gospel reading. As often happens
with such a venture, some of the actors spoke of being quite moved by
taking part. Watching the rehearsals was fascinating, and on performance
day the rain added to the sad atmosphere - the tears of wailing women
around Jesus blended in particularly well. Another striking touch was
the way the cross was sitting on the Last Supper table - effective but
unnerving! Running parallel to this was a performance of St Matthew's
Passion by Bach in the Pro-Cathedral, with orchestra and several choirs,
including loads of youngsters. I'm not sure that the two elements of the
film blended or were balanced together that well, but the common passion
motif did provide a degree of unity, and all in all film maker Patrick
Butler who wrote, edited and produced this work deserves our gratitude
and compliments. I can see myself using this, or parts of it at least
when I do the drama section of my Religion and Arts module with Transition
Year class next year. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to be available on
the RTE Player.
got to see a preview of new film There Be Dragons, on the Spanish
Civil War and the early days of St Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus
Dei. I'll post a more detailed review nearer the time for its Irish release.
Directed by Roland Joffé (The Mission, The Killing Fields), it's
quite inspiring, thought-provoking, even poetic at times, with really
creative use of imagery. And there are times when it sad, and even unsettling.
The most prominent theme is that of forgiveness, and there are many scenes
useful for Religious Education - e.g. on forgiveness, Eucharist, Reconciliation
(there's a great clandestine confession scene in a zoo!). THE IMDB Entry
for the film is here.
back on Spirit Radio last Monday - it's now a monthly slot with
more time available - 2nd Monday of the month sometime 10.20 to 10.40.
Last Monday presenter Ronan Johnston and I discussed Josh Groban's new
album Iluminations (pic on left) - some spiritual imagery in there,
including in Declan O'Rourke's song "Galileo". I'll post full
review of that album shortly. I wasn't much into Groban's music but this
album is impressive - excellent production by Rick Rubin, who has worked
with a wide range of artists, from Johnny Cash to Slayer!
We also discussed a CD I picked up at the weekend - Laudate features
Taizé music recorded in Gort Mhuire in Dublin. - originally it
came out on cassette but I hadn't got my own copy, so I was thrilled to
find one copy in Veritas Cork last weekend. It's one of the best Taizé
albums and I've already used it in class.
I flagged the forthcoming John Michael Talbot album, Worship and Bow
Down due out in June (see News page) and was glad that Ronan was familiar
with his work, and also a great fan like myself.
I was able to talk about the Emmanuel concert I attended recently, and
the Teen SpiriT concerts in Cork and Kerry featured on Nationwide of 6th
April (may be available on the RTE
Finally I recommended the new film There Be Dragons - more of that
on the blog in a day or two.
I got to use my first film clip downloaded from Wingclips
- a brilliant web resource where you can watch and download readymade
film clips on a huge range of themes. The clip I used (included above)
was of the Last Supper from The Miracle Maker. It is animated
but done really well. This was available in the free section of the site
and though it was supposed to be low quality I was very happy with it
- I played it full screen from a data projector. The clip downloaded in
a format that Windows Media Player can handle, so it was convenient. We
had already used the equivalent sequence from Jesus of Nazareth
and the students had been drawing their own Last Supper scenes (heavinly
influenced by Leonardo!). There were a few giggles at the animated apostles,
but it held the attention.