The library in my school gets both ArtNews and Art in America. When the new ones come in each month, I usually page through them to see if there's anything that catches my eye. This month there was a notice of an exhibition of abstracts by Gerhard Richter, and I liked the one pictured so I wound up looking at and downloading some others. Then last night I was at Barnes and Noble looking in the poetry section to get a gift for a friend and I ran across a new book of poems by Robert Hass called Time and Materials, which, it turns out, has won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.) I turned to the title poem and there, as a subtitle, were the words "Gerhard Richter: Abstract Bilden" (Bilden being the German word for "pictures"). I took that as some kind of a sign and wound up buying the book.
When I was thinking about doing this post, I looked online to see if the text of "Time and Materials" might be available, and while the whole text was not, there was one site which quoted part of the text, and it turned out to be in the context of a sermon by a Galen Guengerich, the pastor of a Unitarian Church in New York City.
Now, I'm not usually a sermon-oriented person. But this sermon, entitled "A Steadiness of Days," was pretty interesting. How many preachers have you heard recently who would be likely, in one sermon, to reference not only Robert Hass, but Twitter, Technorati, Wired writer Clive Thompson, astrophysicist Richard Gott and (my all-time favorite writer) short story master Andre Dubus.
It turns out that Guengerich has posted pretty much ALL of his sermons online, and I've bookmarked them for future reference. I'll conclude this post with the closing paragraphs from his sermon, which include the Dubus reference:
To be sure, many religions seem fixed on the ends of the earth—either the creation or the apocalypse, or both. But enlightened faith thrives not in the miraculous but in the mundane, the steady unfolding of days. I recall a scene described by the late Andre Dubus in his book titled Essays From A Movable Chair. Dubus was an award-winning writer who had lost his leg in an auto accident. He tells about making sandwiches on Tuesdays for his second- and seventh-grade daughters and taking the sandwiches to school. He writes:
On Tuesdays when I make lunch for my girls, I focus on this: the sandwiches are sacraments. And each motion is a sacrament, this holding of plastic bags, knife, of bread, of cutting board, this pushing of the chair, this spreading of mustard on bread, this trimming of liverwurst, of ham. All sacraments, as putting the lunches into a zippered book bag is, and going down my six ramps to my car is. I drive on the highway, to the girls’ town, to their school, and this is not simply a transition; it is my love moving by car from a place where my girls are not to a place where they are; even if I do not feel or acknowledge it, this is a sacrament. If I remember it, then I feel it too. Feeling it does not always mean that I am a happy man driving in traffic; it simply means that I know what I am doing in the presence of God.
If I were much wiser, and much more patient, and had much greater concentration, I could sit in silence in my chair, look out my windows at a green tree and the blue sky, and know that breathing is a gift; that a breath is sufficient for the moment; and that breathing air is breathing God.
Enlightened religion is a way of life that humbly accepts the sufficiency of each moment. It embraces the steadiness of the days as they unfold, and the purpose we can fulfill within them, and the sacrament of gratitude we can express through them. Presenting us with time and materials, it asks: “What are you doing?”
That's a sermon that makes sense to me.