POSTCARDS: ART AND FAITH IN NYC

29th June, 2005

JO HOPPING

As a girl born and raised on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast and who attends a community-based, ‘sporting ministry’ focused local church, it’s not often that I get to experience ways in which the church sets the pace for the artistic community. Yet over the past couple of weeks I’ve enjoyed a precious gift - holidaying with friends at their Bradley Beach, New Jersey, home, and wandering around New York City for days at a time with no schedule and no expectations.

POETIC INSPIRATION; Poet's Corner in the Cathedral of St John the Divine in Manhattan. PICTURE: Jo Hopping.

My friend, Jo, is an author of mostly non-fiction books and recently released her first novel, The Sound of My Voice, detailing the struggle between father and daughter and the tension between art and faith, while her husband, Chris, works in the media department of Redeemer Presbyterian Church - a congregation that has as its mandate church planting in the city and works within the context of its intended community. Redeemer is happy to preach the good news of Heaven in any style, from hip-hop to the academic community to ethnic gatherings in the buroughs.


‘The Poet’s Corner really exists, doesn’t it?’ I asked Jo while settling in. It had been the place in her novel where the protagonist, Jordan, finds respite and inspiration when the pressures of city life threatened to engulf her.

Jo nodded, a twinkle in her eye.

‘I’ll have to do the pilgrimage, you know. You’ve started something!’

Imagine my delight, then, when I stepped off the subway at Manhattan’s 110th street and wandered around the block to discover the Cathedral of St John the Divine - large enough for a couple of games of football to be underway inside - and its Poet’s Corner. The Poet’s corner was inspired by one in Westminster Abbey, and quotes carved onto large stones paved into the floor pay tribute to the great American writers.

‘Give me truths, for I am weary of the surfaces,’ said Ralph Waldo Emerson; and ‘Dust thou art, to dust returnest, was not spoken of the soul,’ noted Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Oh, that we would have the courage to look past the ‘surfaces’ and to more deeply recognise that the souls which surround us daily are indeed eternal and need to be nourished!

The part I like best, however, was the ‘Poet’s Wall’. Moderated by staff of the cathedral, any poems offered are posted. Some are from children, others from prisoners and still more are from authors who are doing well and winning prizes, according to their bios. Contributions come from all over the world, with the good bit being that those from prisoners are read by children to their class in nearby schools, with a student responding by writing a postcard to the author. This, to me, is community.

Not usually one to be awed by the ‘things of stone and wood’, I lingered longer than I’d planned before heading out once again into the daylight and more of that ridiculously exhausting walking around Manhattan. It was time to meet Chris for lunch at his office on Broadway.

 


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