Art, Poetry, Music, and Nature for the New Year
Thursday, January 21 2021
The Reverend Dr. Katie Snipes Lancaster
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you. Jeremiah 1:5
The Zone (Outside the City Walls), 1882–83, by Georges Seurat
Even if it’s been a while since you’ve been to the Art Institute, it’s hard to forget the larger-than-life painting A Sunday on La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat, often entirely surrounded by a crowd of art lovers. Seurat spread tiny dots of color across his ten-foot-wide canvas revealing parasol-covered ladies, top-hat adorned men, sailboats, dogs, and even a monkey. But there are no dabs of color here, in The Zone (Outside the City Walls). The lack of color—only grease-pencil-induced shadow—is in direct contrast to our experience of Seraut’s more celebrated work of art.
La Grande Jatte is a portrait of aristocracy, fashion, and a relaxed atmosphere of luxury and leisure. The Zone, on the other hand, with the rising smokestacks, murky Seine River, and billowing clouds of smoke expose a dire state of affairs out on the far side of Paris’ borders, where the industrial worker population took shelter. The snow-covered hill draws us into a stark landscape where hand-to-mouth poverty was the norm.
When our own city is covered in snow and ice, The Zone reminds us to look out beyond places of comfort to places of need. It brings to mind, for me at least, The Night Ministry (among many other agencies) who transform housing and health care into human connection, bringing hope and connection to hard places. Send a donation their way or ask Silvi Pirn what hands-on service opportunities are coming up. Let us not adopt the interpretation of the medieval church that “the actual poor were blessed because they would eventually inherit heaven—so we need not worry about their situation” but instead with open eyes, crowd around Seurat’s Outside the City Walls instead of the more comfortable La Grande Jatte, to find a way to participate in the healing of the world.
God of billowing clouds of smoke and snow covered hills, may we find energy, imagination, creativity, and hope to participate in your kingdom on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven. Amen.