“The Word Made Fresh” Highlights Christian Imagination

From February 16-18, Duke Divinity School and Blacknall Memorial Presbyterian Church in Durham hosted “The Word Made Fresh,” a series of lectures, concerts, and workshops that focused on theology and the arts through the lens of poetry, music, and Scripture. The events featured poet, priest, and English literature scholar Malcolm Guite, singer-songwriter Steve Bell, and Duke Initiatives in Theology and the Arts director and theologian Jeremy Begbie. Audio recordings of the event are available on DITA’s Warpwire Page.

“The formation of a distinctly Christian imagination is imperative for the health of our witness in an increasingly pluralistic [society],” said The Rev. Allan Poole, a pastor at Blacknall. “The arts in particular seem to have a direct path to the formation of the imagination, for good or for ill. ‘The Word Made Fresh’ highlighted some of the distinctive ways that the musical and literary arts in particular contribute positively to that formation. We [want to see] these gifts more fully part of congregational practice.”

Events began at Blacknall’s Sunday morning worship service with a poem, a song, and a sermon that illustrated the Gospel of Matthew passage on the baptism of Jesus. That night, the artists shared stories of how their faith journeys and their journeys in music and literature have intertwined and coinhered. Events continued Monday and Tuesday with two Divinity School lectures on Shakespeare, Seamus Heaney, and George Herbert by Guite; another evening teaching/performance session at Blacknall; and a final concert Tuesday evening.

Tuesday’s lecture on Herbert, co-sponsored by the Anglican Episcopal House of Studies, admitted standing-room only, and the final concert drew themes from the previous two days together. The concert included Begbie with Debussy’s “Des Pas sur La Neige,” two rock/blues riffs on Guite’s work, several of Bell’s original songs, and folk renditions of Guite’s poetry, including an improvised encore of “Descent.” For some songs, the artists were accompanied by Divinity School Dean Richard Hays on electric guitar and student Tyler Smoot on bass guitar.