Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Small Wonder(s)--St. John's Bible


He's the Queen's scribe, the man--the artist--responsible for the creating England's most important state documents. He's the royal calligrapher, an artist, a past chair of the Society of Scribes and Illuminators, a word so rare my spellcheck red-lines it.

He's a Brit of course, and he carries levels of sophistication capable of leaving Yanks like me stuttering in envy, despite our 250-year-old revolutionary history. 

Oddly, however, the story he relishes telling is of a morning walk to a place where the St. John's campus map told him there once was an Indian burial ground. There, in the quiet of pre-dawn, a fawn stepped out of the woods, simply stood and looked at him until her mother came along and unhurriedly drew her back into cover. 

Just then, a shadow moved across the ground beneath his feet. He looked up to see a crow passing over. Describing spiritual experience is as difficult as documenting it, as it has been since human beings began seeing visions; but right then the Queen's scribe, Donald Jackson, says he felt, in Collegeville, Minnesota, perfectly at one with nature.

He claims he carried that transcendent moment into the meeting for which he'd come to Minnesota, a meeting to determine how this grand idea of his--and others--would come to pass. The highest art for a true calligrapher, he'd long thought, would be an illuminated holy scripture. In a newly fashioned but old-fashioned way, he wanted to create a new Holy Bible, just as Benedictine monks had done for centuries. 

That bible, the St. John's Bible, is something unlike anything you've ever seen. Today, it has its own museum on the St. John's campus. As the monks at the abbey like to say, that Bible "ignites the spiritual imagination."
With the same dynamic relationship that existed between medieval Benedictine houses and the scribes whose talents they engaged, Saint John's Abbey and University and calligrapher Donald Jackson, in collaboration with many from the wider community, produced a Bible, a work of art, which serves to ignite the spiritual imagination of believers throughout the world.
Yes it does. 

It's not quick and easy, and it's huge--two feet tall and three-feet wide. You can't carry it in a sport coat or slip it into a motel drawer. It has 1100 pages of paper thicker than anything in your or my library. Each page is 24 ½” x 15 7/8”. You can't just whip it out of a rucksack at a campfire.

But then, consider this: the only place in the world you'll find its particular lettering is in its pages. Donald Jackson designed its lettering for this volume alone. It has 160 illustrations--and illustrations pitiably understates what's there because those each of those illustrations is a work of art. 

Dinner at the Pharisee's Home
Everything about the St. John's Bible is stunning. It is to the making of books what the Sistine Chapel is to architecture. Protestantism has worked hard to destroy images, but often mistaken grace for idolatry. To a world who seeks it, the St. John's Bible preaches nothing less than beauty.

If you're in the neighborhood, stop by and see for yourself. It's worth a pilgrimage.

Still, the Queen's own scribe can't help but smile when he remembers how, once upon a time on a pre-dawn walk through an Indian burial ground in Minnesota, he felt himself totally alive in the eyes of a fawn, the flight of a crow, and the face of a rising sun. That transcendent moment was itself a birthplace, he says.

Word became flesh

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