I believe one of the very highest highlights of my writing life so far has been to open a book that I wrote (published last week), The Art of The Saint John’s Bible: The Complete Reader’s Guide, and read this blurb by Sister Wendy Beckett, the contemplative British nun (hermit) who does art series for the BBC.
“In The Saint John’s Bible the art, plentiful and beautiful, is not there as decoration or even as illustration: it is there to illuminate, to light up Holy Scripture from within. It is sacred art, focused intently on Sacred Revelation. Susan Sink’s magnificent book is above all a biblical book. She leads us into every section of the Bible, puts it in context for us, and makes clear how the art springs from and refers back to a salvific meaning. It is a book almost impossible to comprehend; it does not ask us to comprehend. What it does ask is that we open our minds and hearts and allow the Word of God, written, drawn, and painted, to transform us. These pages are not for mere reading. They are for lectio divina, as befits a Benedictine book.”
I know Sister Wendy is given to hyperbole, but it was still nice to read!
Over the past seven years, I’ve been lucky to be involved with The Saint John’s Bible project at Saint John’s University here in Collegeville, Minnesota. When I first started working for the Liturgical Press in 2006, the editor, Peter Dwyer, asked me if I would be interested in writing a guide that would give some background and insight into the techniques and texts behind the illuminations of The Saint John’s Bible.
This was right up my alley. I love art and I love the bible, and this gave me the opportunity to consider both. Over the years, as the volumes of The Saint John’s Bible were finished, I worked with the art, the text, commentaries and answers to specific questions by theologian Michael Patella, OSB, (chair of the theological side of the project) and Donald Jackson (artist, calligrapher and art director of the project), to write slim volumes that introduced people to the art and work.
From the beginning, this work felt imbued with the Holy Spirit. As I wrote, the Scripture was written on my heart. The images are there, too. For example, last Sunday’s Gospel was the story of Dives and Lazarus, and I can’t hear the passage without seeing the image created by Donald Jackson of Lazarus being carried by angels to heaven, and Abraham peering over the edge at Dives where he squirms in the flames. In my imagination, Adam and Eve are no longer only drawn by Milton’s poetry but include images of the faces of African children, reflecting back the joy and innocence, the dance of creation.
The volumes of The Saint John’s Bible were completed out of order: first Gospels and Acts, then Pentateuch, Psalms, Prophets, Wisdom Books, Historical Books and, finally, Letters and Revelation. So this past year I began again, starting with Genesis and moving through to Revelation. In some cases I was revisiting individual pieces and essays, but in many ways I was experiencing the project from beginning to end, with all the art and themes in mind. Because it is a Christian bible, I was aware of the “salvific” message throughout. But more than anything, what I am aware of when I read and write about The Saint John’s Bible is that our God is a creative God. We are created in God’s image to create.
I continue to give occasional introductory talks and day retreats on The Saint John’s Bible, and it is always a fruitful time for me. I have a lot of enthusiasm for these texts and images! And so I hope that this work will never be quite completely complete.