A Visible God is an anthology featuring psalms, thoughts and images from the minds of select artists and theologians.
It’s an easily made mistake to think of the Psalms as a “book,” for most of the time we encounter them either in reading or as spoken, complete with chapters and verses. They’re found in the middle of the Bible (aka the “Big book”), alongside other diverse writings, so we often locate them among the literary genres such as histories, legal works, teachings, satires, prophecies, letters and even gospels.
While they work well that way too, it’s always helpful to remember that the Psalms were a hymnbook for the people of God, the Jews, who used these songs to give voice to their life circumstances in relationship with that God. With 150 opportunities, a wide range of experiences come to the fore, both similar and unique. And they can be wonderfully personal. Though there is a power to common experience, be it in worship or in a concert hall (or a roadhouse), we all hear the music differently. From the wild hope of Psalm 91 (God as “refuge”) to the brutality of Psalm 137 (v.9 “Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!”), there may be something for everyone, something for anything. This also applies to the expressions. Even in modern times, the best musicians who use words are characterized by a diverse “catalog.” Take for example Aretha Franklin – from the play and pointedness of “Respect” to the sheer grandeur of her best takes on “Amazing Grace,” or the Beatles – the giddy hopefulness in “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to the pathos of “Eleanor Rigby.” Great musical art emerges from real life’s varieties, then transcends them, only to return us to terra firma, perhaps different than we were before. In that spirit, a number of artists produced the works found in this book. Inspired by their own experiences with particular Psalms, these people of God give form to how the texts have spoken to them. As it should be, they vary considerably, multiple voices of faith collected under one roof. I suspect that nothing in the Bible works as well as the Psalms with the practice of “bibliomancy,” the practice of randomly opening it up to see what you may see.
Often, I have found myself with a half an hour and no agenda, probably between things, so out has come the book, flipped open near the middle, and it has (sometimes) sung as it may. It is my hope that the pieces of art included herein will encourage and complement the same. Many have noted over the centuries that Psalm 1 and Psalm 150 bookend the psalter, starting with a call to participation based on common sense (1:3 “They are like trees planted by streams of water”) and concluding with sheer joy (150:6 “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!”). We like it when life’s wisdoms “work,” but what we really want is to end in joy. Individually and collectively, the Psalms can address and transform our journeys. So be it.
Editor: Erin GH Beardemphl
Rev. Erin GH Beardemphl is a liturgical artist and Honorary Minister for Arts and Worship at Redlands United Church of Christ. She is a regular contributor to the Living Psalms Project of the United Church of Christ, and was a featured artist of the “52 Project” at the Riverside Art Museum in 2019. Her ministries change and evolve over time, but her first love is teaching others how to find their own spirituality in artistic and creative experiments. You can follow Erin on Instagram.