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Evangelical Art: Psalm 139

May 8, 2008

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?

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3 Comments
  1. Josh Reid permalink

    Nothing fearfully or wonderfully made about this work of art. The cheezy quilt (with its pattern of hearts and crosses) is one of many examples of the mawkish quality of contemporary Christian art, which reflects in turn the “buddy jesus” sermons at the pulpit, where the depth, complexity, and difficulty of scripture is packaged into feel-good platitudes.

  2. Hi, I dont know you, but I found our page when I did a search on psalm 139 art. I really love that painting. I am 28 years old and have been fighting with an eating disorder and have been trying to find a painting or something with this verse…do you know were I could get it?

  3. Jonathan permalink

    I do not want to assume anything since I do not know you. But I wonder how much you have studied the Bible. The text in Psalm 139 is clear in the original text. Whether I like the painting or not does not change the meaning of the verse.

    God has told us in many scriptures that life begins a conception. Doctors can not deny this. Why is it you can go into an abortion clinic and have your baby killed and that is fine but, if a drink driver runs into your car on the way to the abortion clinic and kills the mother and baby that this person is charged with two murders. This is because they know it is a life and life is precious.

    You have given a lot of thought to what you hold as true. I hope you continue to study scripture with an open mind and you never know what you may find out.

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