Know thine Enemies

Chicago cathedral exhibit a faithful reaction to ‘war on terror’
April 1, 2006

Lent traditionally is a time of reflection, contemplation and sacrifice. For some Midwest artists, it’s also a time for expression.

Richard Gage, a parishioner of Chicago’s St. James Episcopal Cathedral since 1983, has organized two art exhibits at the cathedral during Lent. Last year, Gage coupled original poetry with black-and-white photos of the Holy Land to create a powerful Stations of the Cross exhibit. This year’s exhibit is titled Enemies.

Despite its name, the exhibit carries an underlying message of peace and understanding. Gage was discussing politics with friends last year and found they all shared the concern that the United States was unpopular abroad, and that it was collecting enemies. Gage began to wonder how to reconcile these political feelings with his Episcopal faith.

“So much of what we talk about it is: What I don’t like, what I’m different from, who are my enemies,” Gage said. “What do you do in response to that if you have faith of any kind?”

Gage responded by organizing the Enemies exhibit and contributing to the “national discourse [about] the ‘war on terror.’”

The exhibit features 18 works created by 15 artists, with pieces ranging from charcoal drawings to prose poetry to jewelry. Most of the artists are from Chicago, although artists from Michigan and Nebraska created handful of pieces.

Enemies is one of many ways St. James supports the arts. Exhibits often are displayed at the cathedral, located just blocks from Chicago’s Magnificent Mile and surrounded by trendy restaurants and shops. Before Enemies, St. James exhibited photographs of Chicago-area churches.

The cathedral also has provided a venue for modern, concept-driven art exhibitions. Last year, an audio artist taped ambient sounds during a church service and replayed the tape during Sunday services over the course of the installation.

Patricia Mukley’s contribution to Enemies exhibit was a poem called The Blessing, describing war’s horrors. In one stanza, Mulkey, a Franciscan Sister ministering to Chicago’s Native American community, wrote that the world needs a healing angel to bring peace:

“We need, not an avenging angel, nor a weak one — but a listening angel.
We need a restraining angel — a Healing-of-God angel — a Raphael.
A journey-companion who shouts forgiveness until all can understand.”

“The present-day conflicts did not come about in a day, nor will peace be made in a short time. Still, common ground needs to be sought,” Mulkey said in a statement about her poem. “We would do well to call upon Raphael, ‘The Healing of God,’ as our companion during these times.”

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