Monday, January 12, 2009

First day of school / African American religion course / Holy Angels mural

I guess blog break is over, de facto, though I will still be absent-minded and not all there till February, mas or menos.

Classes began today and despite all the grumpiness, lack of sleep, and hours in the office of this past weekend, I have first-day-of-school excitement after the first class of the semester. A nice group of students, racially mixed and also mixed in types of students ("traditional-age" i.e. 18-22 and adult students called "CCE" at our college, stands for "Center for Continuing Education") and I like the subject. This is a course I created for the college three and a half years ago when I arrived, African American Religion and Theology.

Below is the illustration from the cover of the syllabus, and below that is the explanation of the illustration on page two of the syllabus, before all the blabla about requirements and office hours and percentages and accommodations and outcomes and the course calendar with detailed list of assignments. As you will see, this is from Holy Angels Catholic Church in Chicago, an African American congregation. Note the Nativity scene in the middle and the heavenly host, who are all Black - as are all the angels from the biblical scenes depicted in the mural.

I may have already posted this a long while back, because as I was saving the photo to my "blog photos" file, the computer told me I already had it in there. I'm going to assume most readers either haven't yet seen this, though. It's worth gazing at again, for those of you who already know it.

Click to enlarge and see detail!

The Holy Angels Church Mural

The mural whose reproduction is on the front page of your syllabus is from an African American Roman Catholic parish church named Holy Angels in Chicago. The parish (which started as a largely Irish-American congregation) and its school have a long and proud history full of struggle and triumph. They continue to serve as centers of worship, education, and community for African Americans.

The mural was painted by the late Rev. Engelbert Mveng, S.J. The letters S.J. after someone’s name mean that person is a member of the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits, a Roman Catholic religious order of men. Father Mveng was a Catholic priest, theologian, and artist from Cameroon. He was murdered a dozen years ago in Yaoundé, Cameroon. His writings and art live on.The mural is a testimony to the bonds of art, spirit, and faith between Africans and African Americans

This is the home page of Holy Angels Church:

Here is a reproduction of the mural, the same one as on your syllabus; it is a little larger here, so you may be able to see the detail better.

And here is an explanation of the illustrations and symbolism.

There is a small mistake – the last book of the Christian Testament (“New” Testament, the second half of the Christian Bible) is Revelation, with no “s” at the end, not “Revelations.” This is such a frequent mistake that few people notice it, but if you look at a Bible, you’ll see that there is no “s” there. Of course, the original is in Greek so that’s not the book’s original name anyway…

Enjoy the art.

You’ll be hearing some African American Catholic music a little later in the course, from a gospel music Mass by the composer and musician Rawn Harbor, now Director of Liturgy at St. Columba, an African American Catholic church in Oakland.


FranIAm said...

Ahhh.... I was thinking about St. Charles Borromeo in Harlem and a mass that I went to at that church.

It is an African American parish and it was amazing liturgy.

African cloth for the vestaments, a huge steaming bowl of incense as part of the entrance procession, Gospel music, liturgical dance.

Oh, I wish I was in your class.

eileen said...

I wanna take this class!!

Ken said...

Classes don't do much for me anyone unless I teach them, but an African American parish rocks. I walked into one by accident: St. Mary's in Newark, across the street from the Benedictine monastery. I thought the Sunday 10:30 was a sedate, chanted experience involving a bunch of monks. WRONG. I thought I needed quiet, but instead I got St. Mary's, packed to the rafters, and I was one of only four or five white people there. One of the white guys, I noted was the priest, a monk from across the street.

Right, they used African cloth, the women all wore long multicolored gowns with gorgeous headdresses. The men and kids were all dressed...for church! No jeans, shorts, displays of leg. The music, as I recall, was from an African American service book and hymnal. No organ: instead, guitars, a keyboard, djembes, and conga drums. The whole building seemed to be swaying. The homilist was Monsignor from one of the African nations. Sadly, I could not make much of what he said because his accent was extremely thick.

At the Peace, people didn't do this perfunctory handshake routine that I saw before and have seen since. They pumped your hand, hugged you, said "Come back!" It didn't feel fake, and I don't believe it was.

But I didn't. Alas, back in those days I was more attuned to places that made me uncomfortable