Rites of Renewal
By Tom Wachunas
“Man reading should be man intensely alive. The book should be a ball of light in one’s hand.” – Ezra Pound
“The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story. —Ursula K. Le Guin
“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.”—Samuel Johnson
“You can make anything by writing.” -C.S. Lewis
A curious phenomenon – this consciousness of inspiration in making art. Inspiration. An indwelling idea, an implanting of…what? A force? A truth? A spirit? A person? Inspiration for me is all of that.
Most of my art of the past 20 years has been a response to Divine prompting - my response to a presence that pursues, reveals, counsels. That presence becomes all the more real when I read the Bible. The words therein are indeed a voice – his voice, the Creator’s voice - that holds me in its thrall just as a steady wind would fan the pulsing glow of embers from a fire. Inspiration.
So from inspiration to realization. The making of something. An arrival. My most recent arrival is called Rites of Renewal, a mixed-media painting/drawing on a wood panel, 16” (h) x 12” (w).
The piece is a convergence of multiple recollections and reflections. Among those is my memory of a homework assignment from my Catholic school days, requiring me to copy, in my very best penmanship, on unlined white paper, the complete biblical text of 1 Corinthians, chapter 13 (which the good Sister and her cohorts always called “The Love Chapter”). I can still recall having an uncanny sensation, though I didn’t then know exactly what to call it. Looking back, I know it was a key moment when reading and writing had joined to become for me a singular action, a potent rite of discovery and spiritual renewal. The words printed in my Bible, those “little black marks on wood pulp,” became a living form, and not just on paper. My very being had been imprinted.
Further, I was fascinated to read that Pope Francis recently held an inter-religious prayer service near the the ancient Ziggurat at Ur, in Iraq. This sacred structure is a towering, stepped pyramid (though not a tomb; think of the biblical Tower of Babel story) dating back to the ancient Sumerian civilization (c. 2100 BCE), which was the first to evolve a writing system, pre-dating Egyptian hieroglyphs, called cuneiform. Not an alphabet per se, cuneiform is comprised of pictograms - symbolic drawings - of observable realities. Hence my inclusion of brown cuneiform marks – my homage to the beginnings of writing itself. They appear to mingle with my green handwriting of a passage from The Love Chapter (1 Corinthians 13:8-13). To read my imperfect scrawl, you would need to hold the painting up to a mirror. In lieu of that action, I offer it to you here:
…Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.