My latest art project is my most ambitious: a pair of angel wings, each wing on a 40″ x 60″ piece of foamcore. The feathers will be made out of colorful paper. My hope is that these will be displayed in different place where people can stand in front of them to have their own angel picture taken. I’m borrowing from others’ ideas on this one; my twist is the collage of colored paper.
My friend who’s also a spiritual director and an artist is always encouraging me to consider what my current project is saying about me. I’ve thought about that with the angel wings. I’m just back to the church after a three month sabbatical, and I must confess there’s a part of me that would like to fly away back into the Land of Sabbatical Zen. So there’s that.
I’ve started working on the wings during the week of the abysmal confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh. I’ve wondered about the timing of that, too, and what – if anything – these wings are saying about the hearings.
Well, I imagine there have been plenty in that room who would wish they could just fly away. Those wings could have given Dr. Ford an escape out of that apathetic place, a flight above the heads of politicians and reporters. I’d like to add beauty in the midst of so much ugliness. I’d like us to rely on the better angels of our natures.
I’m making these wings because I love beautiful paper and I like to make pretty things. I’m also making them because I know so many people who are doing so much good in my community and the world, and I want them to know that I consider them to be angels, messengers of good news, of hope, of justice.
But then I thought (and yes, I do tend to overthink) what if someone poses with the wings who isn’t a good person? Who ridicules them? Who pretends to be angelic when they are anything but?
In Arthur C. Clarke’s 1953 novel Childhood’s End, mysterious aliens who have been hovering in earth’s skies for fifty years finally reveal themselves. These benevolent Overlords look like demons – horned, winged, hooved, and tailed. People are shocked – how can these good creatures look like the epitome of evil?
What if an evil or just bad person poses with my angel wings?
This week, while prepping for the wings and avoiding broadcast news, I’ve also been working on a sermon which attempts a hint of a suggestion of how a divided people might move forward. It’s iffy. I’m not sure I want to move forward because I want the bad guys to lose. I just do. I want to make devil’s horns and a pitchfork and a barbed tail for them to stand in front of so everyone can see their true colors.
Jesus still has a lot of work to do with me. Obviously.
What if we all have wings? What if we are all in possession of something that allows us to fly away to escape, to fly away so we can run away? What if we all have wings that when unfurled will push aside those who hinder us? What if we all have wings that can embrace and comfort? With our wings we can pester, too, or shoo away that which annoys us.
* * * * *
In order to make these wings, I first make feathers. I take my stencil, and trace it out, and cut it out. Then I fold the paper in half, and to make the barbs, cut slits in the paper, up and down. It’s time consuming and the repetition is meditative. Cutting those slits has felt like putting notches in a belt or scratches on the wall – a cut for every survivor of sexual assault who isn’t believed; for every survivor who is afraid to come forward; for every person of privilege who is afraid of losing their power; for every man who treats a woman as a second-class citizen. So far I’ve make about 50 feathers, each one having about 100 slits. That’s 5,000. I have a lot more cuts to make to keep up with all the things I’m keeping track of.
If I ever finish these feathers, and if I ever finish these wings, and if they are ever on display and people pose with them, few will know everything that was going through my mind as I made them. That’s okay.
But I hope if someone does pose with them, they will consider – at least for a moment – the deep responsibility of being an angel, of being a messenger. And I wish that I could make magical wings that would fold up on the unworthy. Perhaps with such a thought, I would be the first to be swallowed up by my own creation.
Finished piece, “Better Angels”, 10/10/18