Evangelical Art: Psalm 139
I’ve decided to rip off a blog post genre from the popular blog Purgatorio, a nearly exhaustive documentation on the pathology of evangelical media and kitsch. This blog makes light of church signs, testamints, and other sanctified paraphernalia, but my favorite of its recurring features is “art critic,” a forum that invites reflections on evangelical artworks, if they can be called that, ranging from the trite to the obscure. I want to add to the discussion here by occasionally providing more examples and by inviting similar reflection.
This week’s selection is Amanda Patrick’s Psalm 139. This undated painting makes the same connection between the Psalm and the contemporary debate over abortion. Those familiar with the context informing the abortion debate in recent years surely recognize Psalm 139 as a “go-to” passage for those who form their ethic of life according to the conception and gestation periods of white, affluent Americans.
The painting echoes some of Psalm 139’s memorable lines: “For you created my inmost being; / You knit me together in my mother’s womb. / I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made […] My frame was not hidden from you / When I was made in the secret place. / When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, / Your eyes saw my unformed body” (NIV). Yet amidst the seeming chaos of the colored quilt (is this meant to resemble an AIDS quilt?), the unmistakable image of a fetus emerges to dominate our persective and suggest that abortion is, in fact, a black and white issue. The fetus, as it appears in this painting, cannot be separated from its 20-21st century context as an image in the highly political “pro-choice / pro-life” debate.
How is it that Patrick manages to read Psalm 139 in its current context? Can’t we imagine this Psalm to function not as a commentary on the ethic of life, but rather as a poetic expression of the totalizing and pervasive knowledge the divine holds over all of creation?