Heavy Gleam of Domesticity: The Seven Sacraments by Abigail O’Brien


Abigail O’Brien, Communion 1/3 (Triptych), 1998.

Abigail O’Brien, an Irish artist, took a decade to complete her magnanimous series of installations The Seven Sacraments. A visual meditation using different mediums—photographs, found objects, needlepoint, sculpture—this series explores the interplay of domestic life and its tangible chores with the tangibility of the sacraments, and their concrete expressions of grace. Basin, water, linen, flour, bread, fish, goblet, lilies, grapes: this list conjures items both mundane and holy—daily tasks in the realm of home as well as those made vital to the public ministry of Jesus Christ and ecclesiastical rituals.

Let Me Be Maladjusted

By Colin Mutchler from Brooklyn, United States (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama. Photo by Colin Mutchler [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
Amos 5:24

Like most people, I’ve heard Martin Luther King, Jr. invoking the prophet Amos in old film footage.  In the 1960s, this particular verse inspired many people to advocate for civil rights, and later to advocate against US involvement in the Vietnam conflict. Even now, Amos’s words are almost synonymous with Martin Luther King, Jr. and his work for justice. Yet King’s reason for calling up Amos was to petition his own followers to become “maladjusted.” That’s an astonishing call, not what I’d expected.

Behold the Power of Gesture

By Thesupermat (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Calvary. The churchyard of Saint Thegonnec in Finistere. By Thesupermat [CC BY-SA 3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

It’s so staged, so false, so politician of him. After a days-long drama of political wrangling over authority and jurisdiction that extends into the dream world of his wife, the man of power ends the debate with a gesture. Perhaps it’s his political signature: staged events to render judgments. Perhaps, backed into a corner, it’s only this time that he does it. Perhaps it’s simply functional, a way to communicate to those in the back of the crowd who can’t hear. Whatever the case, to put an end to the problem of Jesus of Nazareth, Pontius Pilate resorts to gesture: a subordinate appears on stage bearing a bowl and a towel; the man washes his hands, dries them, leaves the stage.



Robert Rauschenberg, White Painting [three panel], 1951

I do not know which to prefer,   
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.
Wallace Stevens

I hear it first thing in the morning. Though it’s not really silence. There’s the whir of the fan, the slowly ticking clock. It’s not so much the absence of sound that defines silence, but a moment when the second hand slows the spinning Earth and creates an expansiveness of time. Not just on the borderlands of waking and sleeping, we cross the threshold into this broad space more often than we realize. Usually artists take us there.

Shrouded In Myth

“Stick to the daily learning targets. Do not get off track.” This is one of my administrators, the one that meets with me once a week to go over my lesson plans. Daily Learning Targets are like Bible Memory Work: we are to write these words on our hearts and minds. Do not stray from these words. And it’s not that I stray, but if I were to claim a characteristic of my teaching it’s that when I begin to study and discuss a story, I tend to walk my students down a path that we didn’t know we were going to walk down. Mayella Ewell’s geraniums, for example. The grace in Mercutio. Voldemort’s broken heart. All of these are bulls’ eyes; I just didn’t know I was shooting in their direction at the time.