Ordinary Time: Proper 27

A Storm in the Rocky Mountains, Mt. Rosalie by Albert Bierstadt — Oil on canvas, 83 in × 142.25 in, 1866. Acquired by the Brooklyn Museum in 1976.

November 6, 2022 Lectionary Texts — Year C
Haggai 1:15b-2:9 and Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21 or Psalm 98 • Job 19:23-27a and Psalm 17:1-9 • 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17 • Luke 20:27-38

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Image description: A grand landscape painted on a canvas that is approximately 7 x 12 feet in size, a group of Indigenous peoples hunt deer in the foreground while an encampment of teepees is located at a distance along a stream. In the lower right is a clear pool fed by a small waterfall. Beyond is a glassy lake reflecting the dark and ominous approaching storm clouds above. The mountains towering on either side of the lake are dramatically bathed in sun and shadow. The light accentuates a waterfall flowing down the mountain at right. Through the clouds above the storm is a grand snow capped peak which the artist has named Rosalie after the woman he would later marry.

Now may our Lord Jesus (the Anointed One Himself) and God our Father (who has loved us, comforted us eternally, and given us a good hope by His grace) bring comfort to your hearts and strengthen your wills to accomplish every good work and word. — 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17
I will lift my praise above everything to You, my God and King! I will continually bless Your name forever and always. My praise will never cease — I will praise You every day; I will lift up Your name forever. The Eternal is great and deserves endless praise; His greatness knows no limit, recognizes no boundary. No one can measure or comprehend His magnificence. One generation after another will celebrate Your great works; they will pass on the story of Your powerful acts to their children. Your majesty and glorious splendor have captivated me; I will meditate on Your wonders, sing songs of Your worth. — Psalm 145:1-5

The subject of a Bierstadt landscape is not the scene he has so skillfully rendered, but rather the wave of awe washing over you when standing in the presence of something utterly beautiful. This is my observation.

Bierstadt was among those American artists who traveled west to explore and document the natural beauty of the continent. He often included the Indigenous people he met in his paintings, a detail that was widely criticized. And while he did experience some acclaim during his lifetime, Bierstadt’s work fell out of favor for many decades for being too dramatic, too romanticized. One could say Bierstadt painted landscape “delusions of grandeur”.

So how might this aspect of his work hold spiritual meaning and significance?

Practicing Visio Divina:

  1. View the artwork
    What do you see?

    Note shapes – color – style – movement
    What stands out for you?
    What are you curious about?
    What questions do you have?
    Hold back any feelings – judgments – opinions
  2. Read the accompanying scripture and look over the artwork again
    What connections do you make?

    Between the image and text?
    What is coming to mind from your own experience?
    What feelings are rising in you?
    Are you uncomfortable with something?
    There are no right or wrong answers
  3. Read the scripture again and explore the artwork a third time
    What do you hear?

    What is God saying to you?
    What do you wish to speak to God?
    What blessing or prayer is rising in you?

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