Apr 18, 2016

Billie Holiday's Strange, Beautiful Fruit

by Kael Moffat

William P. Gottlieb's iconic portrait of Billie Holiday, taken at the famous Downbeat Club in New York, 1947  (image from the Library of Congress, Public Domain)
Billie Holiday's 1959 New York Times obituary claimed that the Baltimore native was "more influential than...almost any other jazz singer, except the two who inspired her, Louis Armstrong and the late Bessie Smith." (1)  In the decades since her passing, this evaluation of her career still holds true.  Holiday's career spanned just thirty years (1930-1959), a relatively short period for jazz artists, but her impact is still felt today. (2)  Cassandra Wilson, herself a living jazz legend, claimed that Holiday's approach to singing was "the beginning of the jazz vocal age." (3)  

Cassandra Wilson (image by Scott Penner from Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA)
Holiday was born April 7, 1915 and moved to New York with her mother in 1929.  She was never formally trained, so her voice always had a kind of plainness and innocence that connected with members of the audience so deeply that many of her admirers almost felt as if she were singing just to them.  In a very real sense, her bluesy, sometimes slightly off-pitch voice was more expressive than more polished singers of her time.  I'm thinking, for example, of a famous contemporary act, the Andrews Sisters, who were known for their peppy, tight arrangements that were "hits," but meant to take audiences minds off the struggles of their lives.  (4)  Holiday's approach, on the other hand, was to confront the messiness of life and find dignity in the struggle.  Her music was not an escape, but an acknowledgment and a wrestling with the scramble of everyday living.

What made Holiday such an influential artist is the fact that she approached singing in the same way that great soloists like trumpeter Louis Armstrong, pianist Count Basie, and saxophonist Lester Young (one of Holiday's closest friends until they had a falling out just a couple years before both of them passed away).  Though she stayed true to the lyrics of the song, she regarded the notes and the rhythms of the lyrics open to interpretation, subject to the particular mood of the performance and her emotional state.  Sometimes, she would sing on the beat, but she often sang slightly behind the beat to create and release tension, the way an instrumentalist stretches time and snaps it back for effect.  By taking this approach, her performances offered an incredibly intimate expression of her deepest sense of self as an artist, as an African American, and as a woman.  Even now (even especially now), she is most admired for her emotional honesty.  

One of Holiday's greatest songs was "Strange Fruit," an incredibly rich and understated protest about the unbearably cruel treatment of African Americans in the South.  In the Thirties, Fourties, and Fifties lynching was still an every-day fact of life in a region that had not been able to let go of it's violently racial heritage.  The song was originally written by Abel Merropol, a Jewish New York school teacher who was appalled by the racial violence in America.  He published the lyrics as a poem and later set it to music with the help of his wife.  Holiday was introduced to the song two years after its publication and recorded it in 1939 and again in 1944. (5)

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop. (6)
Here's a clip of Holiday's version of the song:


Cassandra Wilson, has also recorded a rather haunting version of the song:


Holiday's impact on her listeners was memorialized in John O'Hara's poem on her death, "The Day Lady Died," which is a play on her nickname, Lady Day:
It is 12:20 in New York a Friday 
three days after Bastille day, yes 
it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine 
because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton   
at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner 
and I don’t know the people who will feed me 

I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun   
and have a hamburger and a malted and buy 
an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets   
in Ghana are doing these days 
                                                        I go on to the bank 
and Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard)   
doesn’t even look up my balance for once in her life   
and in the GOLDEN GRIFFIN I get a little Verlaine   
for Patsy with drawings by Bonnard although I do   
think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore or   
Brendan Behan’s new play or Le Balcon or Les Nègres
of Genet, but I don’t, I stick with Verlaine 
after practically going to sleep with quandariness 

and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE
Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and   
then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue   
and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and   
casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton 
of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it 

and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of 
leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT
while she whispered a song along the keyboard 
to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing (7)



1. http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/bday/0407.html
2. Ellis Marsalis, pianist and father of world-renowned Wynton and Branford Marsalis, has an active career that spans all the way back to the 1940s.  Wynton Marsalis, by the way, is still the only person to have ever won Grammy Awards for best classical and jazz albums in the same year (1989).
3.  http://www.npr.org/2015/04/05/397321378/cassandra-wilson-couldnt-wait-to-reinvent-the-billie-holiday-songbook
4.  This is not to entirely dismiss the Andrews Sisters.  They were fantastic vocalists and high-caliber musicians and their recordings still hold up very well.  In fact, contemporary vocal groups could still learn a thing or two from them.
5.  In the jazz and blues world, re-recording songs is not all that unusual.  Some contemporary rock/pop singers do it as well.  Sting, for example, has recorded "Shadows in the Rain" as a member of The Police (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FR2TAdDiOC) and as a solo artist (https://youtu.be/H2h8ZqMe0TY).
6. http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/fruitholiday.html
7. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/42657

Apr 11, 2016

Congo Square, New Orleans

Video clips from a drum circle in Congo Square, New Orleans from 2015, including shots of Mardi Gras Indians around 2:30 (video from DanieleCreole from Youtube)


As tragic and inhumane as slavery was, it played a key role in the development of jazz through introducing African elements into the American musical vocabulary.  Wynton Marsalis, a trumpeter and one of the greatest living jazz musicians, characterized jazz as a music that “broke the rules of European conventions and created rules of its own that were so specific, so thorough and so demanding that a great art resulted” (1).

Wynton Marsalis  (image by music 2020 from Flickr, CC BY)

The acknowledged birthplace of jazz, New Orleans, had a unique social structure that allowed the music to develop.  Being a former French colony, there developed a bit more lax attitude about slaves (though it was still a brutal place to be a slave).  On Sundays, slaves were allowed to gather in what became known as Congo Square to play drums and African stringed instruments called bolons and ngonis, similar to banjos and acoustic guitars and dance in ways that hearkened back to their homelands.  


 

The illustrations above were drawn by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, the architect who designed both the US Capital Building and the White House.  His journal entries and drawings are some of the oldest and best source documents on Congo Square (both images from Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain).

These gatherings were regularly held until late in the 1800s.  While they seemed like celebrations to outsiders, these gatherings were, in fact, based on West and West Central African festivals that “[spoke] to the very real concerns” of the slaves and were part of the “resistance-focused ethos [and] expressive culture” of Africans in the New World as Daniel Walker points out (2).

An 1885 illustration of a Congo Square gathering from E.W. Kemble  (image from Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)
These gatherings began to draw crowds of onlookers, both whites and Native Americans like the Mardi Gras Indians.  Eventually, these native groups joined in the celebrations, adding their own musical concepts to the mix.  Among the white onlookers were a number of musicians who began to experiment with more complex rhythms in their own music, drawn primarily from European folk and classical traditions.  This synthesis of European concepts of melody and harmony combined with African and Native American rhythms, especially the central role of drums, became jazz, which has had a strong effect on American and world music for more than a hundred years.  Congo Square is now part of the Luis Armstrong Park and the site of jazz performances and drum circles that honor the place’s musical legacy.  

A brass band plays in Congo Square during the 2013 New World Rhythm Festival (image by Derek Bridges from Flickr, CC BY) 




1. Marsalis, W.  (July 31, 1988).  What jazz is-and isn’t.  The New York Times.  Retrieved 24 March 2016 from http://www.nytimes.com/1988/07/31/arts/music-what-jazz-is-and-isn-t.html?pagewanted=all

2. Walker, D. E.  (2004).  No more, no more: Slavery and cultural resistance in Havana and New Orleans.  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.  Retrieved 24 March 2016 from ProQuest ebrary.

Apr 6, 2016

Jazz and American popular music


by Kael Moffat

April has been declared Jazz Appreciation Month by the Smithsonian Institution, so in conjunction with that, I thought it might be helpful to write several posts this month about what many consider to be the US's only original art form--though the blues deservedly clears its throat and raises its hand, demanding recognition.

That being said, defining what jazz “is” may be somewhat like trying to describe green to a color blind chameleon.  Louis Armstrong, one of the early masters of jazz, supposedly responded to a question of what jazz is with, “Man, if you have to ask, you must not know what it is.”  


Louis Armstrong   (image by Herbert Behrens from Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA)


Roughly, jazz was birthed by the collision between African and European musical traditions, along with South American, Caribbean, and Native American elements in the violent and inhumane crucible of American slavery.  And now, I need to go to the confessional, “Forgive me padre for I have been simplistic.” 


Another way to think about jazz is in terms of dynamic equilibrium--a term from chemistry that describes how “reactants are converted to products and products are converted to reactants,” resulting in a state that is both stable and changing. (1)  Jazz balances defined form and improvisation, group playing and individual expression, focusing less on familiar/predictable reproduction of songs and more on the spirit of the moment.  Wayne Shorter, another giant in the form, pointed out that jazz is a kind of alchemy, an art that tries


...to change the negative thing to a positive thing, to make the most value out of it.  We call it changing poison to medicine.  Not avoiding the poison--you drink it--but you change it to medicine.  You face it.  (2) 

Wayne Shorter  (image by Mattia Luigi Nappi from Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA)


It’s not much of a stretch to say that almost all American popular music since the late 1800s stems from jazz and the blues to some degree or another.  Gunther Schuller, a French horn player for the Metropolitan Opera and composer of both classical and jazz music, observed, “The American popular song is inextricably and profoundly linked with jazz.” (3)   In a CNN.com column, Abigail Daniels wrote about a

...music of rebellion and youth. Artists traded witty improvisations onstage chronicling the pain and the promise of being black in America, inspiring inner-city and rural Southern audiences alike in nightclubs and on street corners.  (4)
That music, she pointed out, is jazz but acknowledges that the same description could very easily apply to hip-hop.  That is actually not a coincidence.  Without jazz, genres like rock and roll, country, funk, and hip-hop would not exist--even contemporary bluegrass has been influenced by jazz.  (5)

Below is an example of an early hip-hop track that openly pulls from jazz, Us3's "Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia):

 

"Cantaloop" is a play on "Cantaloupe Island," from contemporary jazz legend Herbie Hancock.  Below is a performance of this track by Hancock and his band at a music festival in Japan.  Hancock's band includes Wayne Shorter on saxophone, along with Stanley Clarke on bass and Omar Hakim on drums, both masters of their instruments:

 


In the weeks to come, I hope to introduce you to other aspects of a truly sublime and sometimes challenging art form from our own metaphorical backyard.  Ya dig?




2)  Breskin, D.  (1994).  24 Shorter solos.  In  M. Rowland & T. Scherman (Eds.) The jazz musician: 15 years of interviews: The best of Musician Magazine.  New York: St. Martin’s Press.  3-23; p. 16, italics in original.

3) Tanner, P. O. W, Megill, D. W., & Gerow, M.  (1997).  Jazz, eighth ed.  Madison, WI: Brown & Benchmark.  p. 3.

4) Daniels, A.  (2009).  Hip-hop and jazz: Sharing a similar destiny?  CNN.com  Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2008/SHOWBIZ/Music/08/15/hiphop.jazz/ 

5) Traditional bluegrass combines many different elements European folk music, relying heavily on Scottish and Irish forms, but more recent developments pull in elements that draw from jazz and jazz-influenced music.

 

Mar 11, 2016

ProQuest Outage

Tomorrow night (March 12, 2016) starting at 7:00 p.m. and running for eight hours, ProQuest products will be unavailable.  This will affect the ProQuest databases and ProQuest Research Companion.  ProQuest will be updating their servers.


Feb 11, 2016

Gravitational waves directly measured: Big news from the world of physics and astronomy!

by John W. Weiss
Assistant Professor of Physics
Saint Martin's University


Gravity waves -- slight ripples in spacetime caused by any object with mass that accelerates -- were predicted 100 years ago by Albert Einstein based on his (now well-tested) Theory of General Relativity. Physicists have known that they exist for 30 years thanks to seeing their effects on the orbits of two pulsars (super-dense stellar remnants) orbiting each other. But this morning we awoke to the news that one of the gravity wave detecting teams has positively directly observed these ripples and it may well be the most exciting and significant physics discovery in most of our lifetimes.

Gravity waves are emitted by nearly every object in the universe, but most emit very weak, small waves. Even massive black holes, such as the ones detected, emit waves that make a person stretch or compress by one billionth of a trillionth of a meter. Such a small change is very challenging to detect -- to say the least -- but huge teams of scientists (the teams run in the hundreds) working hard to solve the myriad of technical hurdles has positively identified the signal of two merging black holes.

NASA visualization of  gravity waves produced by merging black holes.
Image by NASA, from Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Apart from the excitement of finally detecting Einstein's predicted waves, this discovery has physicists and astronomers buzzing thanks to the opportunities it will hopefully open up. Every time physicists have found new waves to look at signals from the universe (the telescope; other, invisible wavelengths like infrared; neutrinos; etc.), astronomers have quickly been able to learn exponentially more about our universe from the new perspectives offered. Gravity waves will hopefully similarly give us a fresh view of our universe and let us see things we were previously unable to observe.

The Northern Leg of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory on the Hanford Reservation in Benton County, WA which helped measure gravitational waves.
Image by Umptanum from Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA



Jan 26, 2016

One Less Password to Remember!

Interlibrary loan just got a bit easier!

Scot Harrison, Dean of the O'Grady Library, announced that ILLiad, Saint Martin's interlibrary loan management system, has been updated to accept your standard SMU login information rather than requiring a separate username and password.

Now when you click a link in Saints search or any of the academic databases to request an item or click the direct link to ILLiad on the library's homepage, you will be taken to the login screen below:


From here, simply enter your regular SMU login information.  

Your ILLiad requests and history should be readily available to you.  First-time users will be taken to a new registration screen and will need to provide a minimum amount of information.  If you have any questions please contact Stefanie Gorzelsky, the circulation manager, or Joyce Hall, interlibrary loan processor.

Jan 19, 2016

Ever Struggle with Printing in the Library?

Thanks to the efforts of Jessilyn Dagum (SMU sophomore), Stefanie Gorzelsky, and Serin Anderson, the library has newer, easier to use instructions for the printer on the main level.

Stefanie Gorzelsky, Serin Anderson, and Jessilyn Dagum stand by their newly-designed posters in the main-level library print alcolve.
Posters are being created for the printers on the upper and lower levels, which have different machines.


Jan 11, 2016

Changes to Saints Search

Saint's Search on the O’Grady Library home page will have a small update within the next 24 hours.

Currently the Saints Search system (http://saintssearch.stmartin.edu) does not require a login.

However, logging in provides a number of benefits including:
  • Retrieval of all possible results for a search.  Some databases – Scopus and MLA are good examples – require that a searcher be logged in to see citations.
  •  Access to “My Account” to see all library materials checked out and O’Grady/Summit requests.
  •  Use of the e-Shelf, a handy tool for saving citations with a single click.
  • Ability to request items through Interlibrary loan and Summit.

To ensure that all students, faculty and staff see and experience a full range of resources and functionality in Saints Search, we will be implementing an automated sign-in feature.  Running a search will look exactly the same, but a sign-in box will appear that looks like the image below.  All current faculty, staff and students will simply need to sign in with their normal network ID and password.


Please send any questions or comments to sanderson@stmartin.edu

Nov 16, 2015

Students Create Whiteboard Animations

By Olivia Archiblad


As part of their creative writing projects in Dr. Olivia Archibald’s UNI 101 class this fall, students made  RSA animated-style videos in the O’Grady Library’s new multimedia center.  Dr. Belinda Hill, Associate Professor in the Education Department, directed the project.

Dr. Belinda Hill advises Sarah McCreary and Alexis Schupbach on their animation

RSA animations, also known as whiteboard animation and video scribing, involve an “artist” creating cartoon images on a whiteboard as a voice-over narrator explains a concept or, in the case of the UNI project, a personal narrative (we only see the artist’s hand and the whiteboard’s illustrations).

Brooks Ellingsen and Daniel Echtle work out their animation


In the UNI 101 project, students created whiteboard drawings that depicted creative nonfiction stories that they had written in an earlier UNI project.  Each student used an IPAD to create a stop-motion camera effect as the student drew the illustration representing events in the narrative, and then created a voice-over by developing a 1-2 minute telling of the story.

Gabriela Virgen and Emma work out their project


The project was one that, as with other assignments in the class, focused on creativity, imagination, and experimentation, while also encouraging Community as most of the students worked in pairs.

Shea Kelly and James Fielder prepare to start shooting their stories

Nov 6, 2015

How Saint Martin's Came to Be

Fr. Peter Tynan, O.S.B.


How did Saint Martin’s University get here? We often take this beautiful place for granted, but just you have a family history, Saint Martin’s has a family history. Why not take a moment to find it out?


On the lower level of the O’Grady Library, just outside the curriculum room you will find a display that talks about our school’s early history. Saint Martin’s comes from a long lineage of monastic schools. In 1890 monks from Saint John’s Abbey in Minnesota heard about the need for priests and schools out in the newly established Washington State (1889). They first came to Tacoma and founded Holy Rosary Parish, whose steeple is easily recognizable from I-5. Once this base parish was established the monastic priest, Fr. William Eversman, began looking for a good location to build a school and monastery. The search was not easy. Land to the north was at a premium. An available location west of Centralia was deemed too remote. What to do?

Fr. William Eversman

Fortunately, the former Olympia mayor and businessman, A. H. Chambers, heard of the monks desire to build a school and felt it would benefit his community. So Chambers contacted the monks and used his connections to have some public land near the Lacey (then called Woodland) train station put up for auction so the monks could build there. Not everyone was excited to have Roman Catholic monks move into the area, however. Members of an anti-Catholic organization attempted to outbid the monks for the land. They failed because the auctioneer deemed the sale to be cash only, which the Chambers and the monks had fortunately brought with them.

A. H. Chambers


The monks began building in January 1895 and sent out a prospectus to towns in the region. Despite having a tuition of $100 plus fees only one student arrived in September at the newly finished schoolhouse, Angus McDonald. Fortunately for the school, more students began to come here and the rest, as they say, is history.


Caricature of Angus McDonald


Come down and learn more about our University’s beginnings at the O’Grady Library.



Oct 14, 2015

JSTOR access issues

For the last few days, there have been intermittent problems accessing journal content on the JSTOR platform.  This is an issue affecting all users of JSTOR (not just here at Saint Martin's), and they are working to correct it.  For more information, please see the link below for updates.

http://about.jstor.org/jstor-help-support/jstor-updates

Sep 25, 2015

Day Five • Page Five: Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes



Bailey Walter, M. Div

Assistant for formation and outreach at the School of Theology and Seminary at Saint John's University

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus’ heart is moved by a group of people who are hungry.  Upon receiving the
request to let the people go and buy food, Jesus tells his disciples to feed them. With five loaves and two fish, Jesus and his disciples feed the crowd.  This beautiful illumination captures the multiplication of the loaves and fishes with its abundance of gold and color that consumes much of the page, alluding to the abundance at the divine banquet. Today, our world contains a much larger crowd of hungry people than the 5,000 that Jesus encounters in this story; close to one billion people go hungry each day.

In his Message for World Food Day in 2013, Pope Francis called world hunger a global scandal. Many of us who live in developed countries view food as a luxury and have access to it in abundance. Catholic Social Teaching and Pope Francis remind us that the primary function of food is to nourish our bodies and sustain life. Food is a basic human right for all people. We each have a responsibility to heed Jesus’ instructions that he gave to his disciples when he said, “You give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37).  There are many ways in which we can help: participation in a local food shelf, getting involved with national relief efforts such as Catholic Relief Services, and being conscious of personal food consumption and waste, just to name a few.  How will you respond to Jesus’ call to feed the crowd?


Image credit: Multiplication of The Loaves and Fishes, Donald Jackson, © 2002, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Catholic Edition, © 1993, 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. 

Sep 24, 2015

Day Four • Page Four: A Reflection on Peter’s Confession



 Rev. Michael Patella, OSB

Professor of New Testament and seminary rector at the School of Theology and Seminary at Saint John's University, Collegeville, MN

In this illumination, Jesus is rendered entirely in gold. He is shown in the center with the enlarged text, “You are the Messiah the Son of the Living God” (Mt 16:16). He is alive, fully incarnate, standing in the midst of a contemporary representation of hell.

The Church is the sacramental presence of Christ in the world.  Just as Satan and the forces of evil tried in vain to eliminate Christ by death, they attempt, also in vain, to eradicate those baptized in Jesus’ name by the same means.  Christ’s words to Peter, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18) is the guarantee that sin and death have long failed in subverting God’s ultimate plan of redemption.

Historians agree that we are in a period of Christian persecution greater in scope than the Church has ever before faced, even greater than the persecutions under ancient Rome. The faith and hope etched on the face of current martyrs, such as the Coptic Christians on the beach in Libya just before ISIS beheaded them, is proof that the gates of Hades (Hell) will not “prevail against it” (Mt 16:18). In Pope Francis’ recent homily celebrating the feasts of Peter and Paul, he commended these martyrs for their supreme witness as they died with Jesus’ name on their lips. Additionally Pope Francis implored that those of us, who are fortunate to experience peace and prosperity, continue to witness to Christ as well as set aside time to pray to God, who does not abandon his children. How else might you stand in solidarity with our Christian brothers and sisters undergoing persecution?


Image credit: Peter’s Confession, Donald Jackson, © 2002,
The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sep 23, 2015

Day Three • Page Three: A Reflection on the Ten Commandments



Rev. Michael Patella, OSB

Professor of New Testament and seminary rector at the School of Theology and Seminary at Saint John's University, Collegeville, MN


Human society and civilization depend upon right relationships, and those relationships can only succeed when there is proper respect shown to God and neighbor.  The Ten Commandments, as a compendium of laws foundational to the well-being of all humankind, connects the homage due to God alone (Ex 20:1-11) with the obligations and deportment shown to neighbor (Ex 20:12-17).        

In Laudato Si’ Pope Francis proclaims that when we neglect to identify God as the all-powerful One who alone has created the world, “we end up worshiping earthly powers, or ourselves usurping the place of God” (75). When we place ourselves at the center of the universe, our personal and communal lives will disintegrate and vanish as do the letters at the bottom of the page. Only when we as humans recognize that God is the Lord of the cosmos and we are the fruit of his loving creation do human relationships function in a way that reflects the love and goodness of our Creator.  

Exodus 20:1 says, “Then God spoke all these words...” What does God’s voice sound like as you hear the Ten Commandments? In what ways do God’s commands allow you to love more freely? 


Image credit: Ten Commandments, Thomas Ingmire, © 2002 The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission.  All rights reserved.


Sep 22, 2015

Day Two • Page Two: A Reflection on Abraham and Sarah


Rev. Michael Patella, OSB

Professor of New Testament and seminary rector at the School of Theology and Seminary at Saint John's University, Collegeville, MN

The Menorah, the ancient symbol of Judaism, repeats across the double folio, dominating the illumination.  This is the moment in salvation history where the Lord seals the covenant with Abraham, a moment so important that it is recounted twice, once at Genesis 15:1-21 and again at Genesis 17:1-19.

While Abraham also has a son, Ishmael, through Sarah’s maidservant, Hagar, the Lord forms his covenant through Isaac, the son of Abraham and his wife, Sarah.  Their descendants include Isaac and Rebekah’s son, Jacob, and his twelve sons along with the whole royal line of David, a lineage that ends with Jesus.  For this reason, the Menorah also becomes the primary symbol in the Matthew frontispiece, which recites Jesus’ genealogy and confirms his connection with the Abrahamic Covenant.

Pope Francis reminds us in Evangelii Gaudium, that this covenant between God and the Jewish people has never been revoked (247). As Christians we must honor the sacred roots that our identity has in Judaism. We are enriched by the complementarity of our concern for justice and well-being of peoples, which we have inherited from the Jewish tradition (247-249).

In what ways do you hold the covenant sacred over time?

Image credit: Abraham and Sarah, Donald Jackson, © 2003, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University,Collegeville, Minnesota. Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Catholic Edition, © 1993, 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Sep 21, 2015

Day One • Page One: A Reflection on Creation


Dr. Barbara Sutton

Associate Dean for Formation and Outreach at the School of Theology and Seminary at Saint John's University


Image is Creation 2 from the Saint John's BibleIn this illumination Donald Jackson, artist and calligrapher, dares to illuminate that which leaves us speechless. Seven days of creation, choreographed by God: heavens and earth, sea and sky, birds and beasts. With eyes of faith, a new ‘world view’ emerges. Chaos turns into order. God calls forth light from darkness; and then breathes life into human kind. In this first panel we see a sliver of gold shining in the center of darkness and chaos.  It explodes outward as if driven by a powerful force that wrestles the remaining days into order with God hallowing the seventh day.  These seven days, hinged with gold, open the doors of a greater mystery that rest in silence on the horizon. Silence is golden. Entering the seventh day requires courage to enter the silence as the Unspeakable shows itself as the thread of light that holds the web of life together.

While this illumination appears to be a well-oiled machine, brought out of chaos and hinged together by God, it is not.  It does not run on its own!  It has been ruptured by sin.  Pope Francis in his Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ suggests that human life is hinged on three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor, and with the earth itself.  He writes, “The harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations.  This in turn distorted our mandate to ‘have dominion’ over the earth (cf. Gen 1:28), to ‘till and keep it’ (Gen 2:15)…our sin is manifest in all its destructive power in wars, violence and abuse, the abandonment of the most vulnerable, and attacks on nature” (66).

On the sixth day God looked at everything and saw it was very good. God wanted us to revel in the Garden and in love.  Woven into the sixth day of this illumination is Chris Tomlin’s coral snake leading us away from resting in God symbolized by the figures turning their backs away from the light.

We live in a world where constant activity is the norm. We run from one event to another, arriving at a new place before our minds and hearts are able to let go of what we were doing or where we were.  We pass through life and do not allow ourselves to experience deeply or be touched by people. We are in need of soul-searching.  We must learn again love, compassion and honor so that we might heal the earth.  How might you be held in the light? Restore harmony to creation?

Image credit: Creation 2, Donald Jackson, © 2003, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota, USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved. 

Sep 16, 2015

O'Grady Library helps celebrate Pope Francis's visit to the United States

In an effort coordinated by the Saint John's School of Theology and Seminary in Collegeville, Minnesota, the O'Grady Library at Saint Martin's University is participating in the "Illuminating the Mission: 7 Pages-7 Days" project to celebrate the historic first visit of Pope Francis to the United States.  In this effort, institutions that hold and display copies of the Saint John's Bible will display for seven days the same page and have a common brief reflection on the image featured on each page as a gesture of unity.

Rev. Michael Patella, OSB, of the Saint John's School of Theology and Seminary said, "These particular Illuminations were specifically chosen because they resonate with values Pope Francis holds dear: hospitality; concern for the poor, sick, and marginalized; the dignity of all people; and care for creation."

SMU's copy of the Saint John's Bible in the entry way of the O'Grady Library
The final volume of the of the Saint John's Bible was recently presented to Pope Francis in April.  Abbot John Klassen, OSB, of Saint John's Abbey reported that the Pope reacted to the illumination of the Vision of the New Jerusalem by "[lifting] his hands with a smile on his face in a gesture of joy and appreciation."1  The volumes are a contemporary illuminated Bible that were commissioned by Saint John's Abbey and University in 1998.

The 7 Pages-7 Days effort will feature illuminations for passages in in the books of Genesis, Exodus, Matthew, Mark, and the Acts of the Apostles.  If you are interested in seeing SMU's copy of The Saint John's Bible or have any questions about it, please contact Fr. Peter Tynan, University Chaplin and Archivist: Fr_Peter@stmartin.edu.

A list of participating institutions includes:

Assumption College - MA
Loyola Notre Dame Library - MD
Azusa Pacific University - CA
Loyola University Chicago - IL
Baptist Theological Seminary - VA
Malone University p OH
Berea College
Molloy College - NY
Brigham Young University - UT
Mount Marty College - SD
Carson Newman College - TN
Mount Saint Mary College - NY
Cathedral Church of St. John - AZ
Mount St. Benedict Monastery - Website
Cathedral of Christ the Light - CA
Saint Agnes Medical Center - CA
Chaminade University - HI
Saint John's University - MN
College of Saint Mary - NE
Saint Martin’s University - WA
Creighton University - NE
St Mary's University College - Canada
Edgewood College - WI
Saint Catherine University - MN
Fairfield University - CT
St. Hubert Catholic Community - MN
Franciscan Renewal Center - AZ
St. John's Cathedral - CO
George Fox University - OR
St. Mary's College - IN
Gonzaga University - WA
Saint Peter's University - NJ
Gustavus Adolphus College - MN
University of Dayton - OH
Holy Family Catholic High School - MN
University of Mary - ND
Houston Baptist University - TX
University of Minnesota - MN
John Carroll University - OH
University of Portland  OR
La Roche College - PA
Xavier University - OH
Loyola Marymount University – CA


1. See "His Holiness Pope Francis Received Final Volume of The Saint John's Bible at the Vatican" on The Saint John's Bible website: http://www.saintjohnsbible.org/promotions/lp/francis/