First Sunday of Lent

Snake, Positive and Negative by Imogen Cunningham — 1929. Image from

February 26, 2023 Lectionary Texts — Year A
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 • Psalm 32 • Romans 5:12-19 • Matthew 4:1-11

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Image description: Side by side are two images. On the left is a black and white photo of a snake gliding on top of a marled and knotted piece of wood in bright daylight. On the left is mirrored the negative of the same snake image – black and white tones appear opposite those of the photograph.

Of all the wild creatures the Eternal God had created, the serpent was the craftiest.
Serpent (to the woman): Is it true that God has forbidden you to eat fruits from the trees of the garden?
Eve: No, serpent. God said we are free to eat the fruit from the trees in the garden. We are granted access to any variety and all amounts of fruit with one exception: the fruit from the tree found in the center of the garden. God instructed us not to eat or touch the fruit of that tree or we would die.
Serpent: Die? No, you’ll not die. God is playing games with you. The truth is that God knows the day you eat the fruit from that tree you will awaken something powerful in you and become like Him: possessing knowledge of both good and evil.
— Genesis 3:1-5

When I refused to admit my wrongs, I was miserable, moaning and complaining all day long so that even my bones felt brittle. Day and night, Your hand kept pressing on me. My strength dried up like water in the summer heat; You wore me down. [pause]
When I finally saw my own lies, I owned up to my sins before You, and I did not try to hide my evil deeds from You. I said to myself, “I’ll admit all my sins to the Eternal,” and You lifted and carried away the guilt of my sin. [pause]
— Psalm 32:3-5

So here is the result: as one man’s sin brought about condemnation and punishment for all people, so one man’s act of faithfulness makes all of us right with God and brings us to new life. Just as through one man’s defiant disobedience every one of us were made sinners, so through the willing obedience of the one man many of us will be made right. — Romans 5:18-19

The Spirit then led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the devil…
Devil: If You bow down and worship me, I will give You all these kingdoms.
Jesus: Get away from Me, Satan. I will not serve you. I will instead follow Scripture, which tells us to “worship the Eternal One, your God, and serve only Him.”
— Matthew 4:1,9,10

Imogen Cunningham was a member of Group f/64 – a famous band of photographers (greats like Ansel Adams) working in the 1920’s and 1930’s who held common interests and professional values striving to practice a “pure” form of photography — presenting the world to viewers as it really is. The images produced by this group were high quality, full of extreme detail and good contrast and were most importantly, unaltered.

So passionate was Group f/64 about their cause, they wrote a manifesto. They saw themselves in something akin to a battle against the “tide of oppressive pictorialism”. Pictorialism was a highly popular artform involving the blurring of photographic images with heavy manipulation of negatives. This often involved painting techniques with visible brush strokes. This would be the equivalent to what we would say today looks “airbrushed” or “photoshopped” — in other words… fake.

Present in this week’s texts are depictions of battle: the battle within the human heart, Christ’s specific battle with Satan in the desert and the great ongoing cosmic battle of good versus evil – life versus death. While the pairing of these two alternate images makes for a great metaphor of such, I find the backstory to Cunningham’s work as much of a connecting point to these passages. What other connections or metaphors do you find?

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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