Ned is someone I accidentally ran into through Facebook. I soon found out how talented he is, as well as how alike our theology and our thinking is. Once I found out how he is currently contributing to the global church through his theology and doctrine on art, I contacted him. He was generous enough one day to take his lunch break in order to help develop my five sermon series on art (within my series on the Ten Commandments).
Months later I found out that he was the artist for the artwork in the book “Every Moment Holy” written by Douglas Kaine McKelvey in conjunction with The Rabbit Room. I declared this was the one book I needed this year (and if you know me, to choose one to make such a declaration is an endorsement itself). I waited with great anticipation and refreshed the tracking order about 25 times over the three-day wait, until it arrived as if any other package was being delivered.
I then discovered that Ned was going to be doing a solo art exhibit at Square Halo Gallery, which he runs in Lancaster, PA. My wife and I moved mountains to make sure that we could attend with some family members.
Many of us grew up in circles where “liturgy” was foreign, or at least that’s what we thought. I also was raised with little knowledge of art. My thirst for art has grown tremendously over the last decade. Liturgy, on the other hand, seemed foreign, although Ned would correct me on this. I wanted to know it’s value, how I could incorporate it into my life, and maybe the life of the church I pastor. I desired to know how art and liturgy work together. Here is my interview with Ned.
TIM: Ned, for those who don’t know you, can you tell us a little about yourself?
NED: My daughter once asked me what I did, so that she could explain me to a friend. But I couldn’t give her a straight answer. I’m a graphic designer. I’m an illustrator. I’m a printmaker. I’m a gallery curator. I’m an author. I have a delightful wife and three wonderful daughters. I plan the worship at the church which my wife and I helped to plant over twenty years ago. I’m creative director for Square Halo Books, Inc. And I’m on two boards—The Association of Scholars of Christianity in the History of Art (ASCHA) and The Row House, Inc.
TIM: The book itself is a compilation of liturgies. Some of my readers may think that liturgy doesn’t belong in their denominations. Can you define liturgy for us and give us an explanation of what liturgy is?
NED: I always laugh when people say they don’t like liturgy. EVERY church has a liturgy. Every person has their own liturgies. It is what you do when you do it. James K. A. Smith has a great book called You Are What You Love, which I recommend to everyone. In an interview he said, “The core of the person is what he or she loves, and that is bound up with what they worship … The rituals and practices that form our loves spill out well beyond the sanctuary.”
Basically liturgy is the order of in which we do things. It isn’t just written prayers in highly formal services (though that is often what people associate with the word “liturgy”). For example, when my family goes to the movies we have a liturgy. We go to the concessions stand – my wife gets pretzel bites and I get Snow Caps. We give the attendant our tickets and go into the theater, find our seat, and push the button back to adjust our recliner. We do it the same thing almost every time. It is our liturgy. In the same way at my wife’s church when she was growing up their liturgy included the same number of songs each service, the Lord’s Prayer, an offering, a pastoral prayer, a sermon, etc. A book like Every Moment Holy is simply a tool to help us be more thoughtful and intentional about our worship.
TIM: I think that one of the huge advantages of having written liturgy is that we often have deep feelings of joy, regret, guilt, celebration, appreciation, and we don’t know how to express those ideas. Having a written liturgy at hand aids those of us who don’t know how to express ourselves to God or each other in a proper way. I found myself reading some of them thinking, “This is how I feel. I just didn’t know how to say it.”
NED: I agree completely. There have been many times in my life when I was at the end of my rope physically, emotionally, or spiritually and I was able to pull out my grandfather’s old Book of Common Prayer and pray with words that spoke in ways that I couldn’t pray. And, of course, whenever we read or recite a Psalm we are using King David’s liturgical musings to glorify and petition God.
TIM: I also greatly appreciate how the liturgies are Gospel-centered. I’m a hawk when it comes to theology in our church library, and everything I’ve read so far is cross-centered and scriptural. Someone who would use this book regularly in their life would develop their theology just by the recitation of great theology.
We know that the Psalms or Lamentations are full of great liturgical readings. Douglas Kaine McKelvey, the author of these liturgies,, has provided us with more specific liturgies for everyday use in our modern era. That being said,I believe this will become an heirloom book for many families.
NED: That was the intent The Rabbit Room Press had when making it the way they did. You don’t make a leather-bound book with gilded pages if you think it will be a trendy, disposable project.
TIM: Every Moment Holy provides us with the words to say for things that we just seem to breeze through life and disconnect from God. In reality, if everything in life we do should be done to God’s glory, down to what we eat and drink (I Corinthians 10:31), then we should have conversations with God or about God concerning everyday things, which is the focal part of the book thinking about every moment of our lives being a holy moment. I’m continually amazed me at how many things we just skim past in life and disconnect from God.
NED: So true! This book is intentionally trying to get the reader to understand that EVERY MOMENT IS HOLY. When I was younger I really bought into the Sacred/Secular divide that plagues much of the Church. But eventually I came to understand that all of my life is worship … all of my work is made to the glory of God (I even made a book about that—It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God). Working on this project was a healthy reminder to me to work harder to see the sacred in the mundane. From changing diapers and washing floors to trimming a Christmas tree and feasting with friends, every moment is holy, every act is one of worship.
TIM: I enjoyed some of the apparent quirky liturgies in the book. The idea of focusing on God before welcoming a new pet home, or going to a yard sale, or keeping bees is great. It reminds us that even the unusual things we do in our individual lives are important to God. When we think of liturgy, many think only of corporate worship at church. What benefit is there to having a book of private liturgy?
NED: Every Moment Holy was designed for both individual AND corporate use. As such, I believe that it is a great tool for times of solitary worship of God. I often find that even though I love to wordsmith, I often do not have the words in me to speak to God. Or if I do, they tend towards “vain repetition.” One of the things I’m militant about when planning worship at my church is finding songs with good lyrics. The words we choose to describe our faith and to frame our praise shapes our theology and practice. If I limit myself to “Lord, I just want to thank you for this day” and “Jesus loves me this I know” I may not be worried about heresy in my life but I am worried about stunting my growth – living a more bland life than God has made possible to me.
TIM: How did you end up getting involved as the artist of the book?
NED: The sovereignty of God, pure and simple. From a human perspective it shouldn’t have happened. I had no exposure to The Rabbit Room Press and I only knew about Doug’s writing through album lyrics written over two decades ago. What happened was that my daughter was at a faculty retreat for her new job teaching at the Geneva School of Manhattan and they had brought in Andrew Peterson as the guest speaker. Following one of his talks she thanked him for his insights during the lecture and said that he and her parents were saying all the same things about Story and Beauty, and then suggested that we’d all be great friends.
Out of the blue, several months later, Andrew was in my city giving a concert. With time on his hands he reached out to me. We met at my favorite used bookstore, DogStar Books, then spent the afternoon talking books, music, poetry, and more. He told me about the liturgy book and I shamelessly suggested myself for the project. He liked my book “Revealed: A Storybook Bible for Grown-Ups” so he said he’d encourage his brother to hire me for the job. But when he got home he learned the job was already spoken for.
Fast forward a few months: I get a call from The Rabbit Room saying the other guy was no longer available and I was asked if I would still like to take on the project? I jumped at the chance and in a third of the time it should’ve taken, we had created a gilded, leather-bound book of quirky illustrated liturgies. Creating the relief prints consumed my summer, and as I’d work on it I found myself wanting to work on it more. Thankfully, they welcomed my offer to design the book as well. To be part of fulfilling their vision for the book in its totality made the project even more satisfying to me.
TIM: What is your favorite liturgy from the book?
NED: That is a painful question! How to choose? I got choked up when I read the “Husband and Wife at the End of the Day” one. I’m proud of the coffee one (because I lobbied hard with Doug to get him to write that one), and I also love the fact that there are not one but two prayers for changing diapers!
TIM: Funny enough, the liturgy on changing diapers was the first one my wife picked to read out of the entire book. Having a seven month old, and probably feeling like it is such a mundane task, it was what she needed. I asked her what she thought of it. She smiled and stated, “It was very good.” It was as if she were reminded once again of how this tedious task could bring glory to God and it’s (or His) purpose in life.
NED: Recently Doug did an informal poll on Facebook and the Diapers prayer was second only to the Coffee prayer in readers’ favorites.
TIM: Can you explain the artwork in the book and why you chose that form?
NED: The art in Every Moment Holy is relief printmaking. The pieces were made using linoleum so they are called linocuts (in the same way that if they were made using wood they’d be called woodcuts). The Rabbit Room folks chose printmaking because of its rich history in illustrated Bibles of the past. They also liked my work for this project because I tend to cram my art with tons of symbolism from the history of Christian Art. For example, in “A Litany for a Husband and Wife at the End of the Day” symbolically points to some of the beautiful aspects of the Marriage Bed—the work contains square halos (yes, square—read about them here: http://www.squarehalobooks.com/about/ ), the Ark of the Covenant (Tim Keller has written,”Sex is a covenant renewal ceremony for marriage, the physical reenactment of the inseparable oneness in all other areas—economic, legal, personal, psychological—created by the marriage covenant.”), an apple (Song of Solomon 2:3) and seven lilies (Song of Solomon 2:16).
TIM: Can you take us through the process of how one piece of art is made?
NED: A quick summary is that you draw the image on the linoleum and then cut out the image. You then cover the block with ink, then press paper onto the linoleum to transfer the image.
TIM: How much time do you typically need to come up with a creative idea for each piece? How long does it take to make each piece?
NED: Too long! The initial sketches took anywhere from 30 minutes to over 3 hours—depending on if I was able to come up with a preliminary sketch The Rabbit Room folks liked. After the concept was approved, then it is less than an hour to transfer the image to the block, followed by one to three hours cutting away the unwanted parts of the illustration. Pulling the print might take ten minutes to several hours, depending on my deftness with ink and paper. After the art dried then the illustrations were scanned into the computer and cleaned up in photoshop. How long did that take per image? I don’t want to do the math.
TIM: Wow! After enjoying the images already, I’ll have to go back and appreciate them again knowing the time it took to make them. Some may wonder why have artwork in liturgy at all? Isn’t liturgy just text? Isn’t artwork a distraction to the meditation? What can people gain by having artwork along with the liturgy?
NED: For most people it is impossible to not construct some mental image while praying. So if you are going to have a mental picture, where are you going to get it? My hope is that the illustrations in this book help to beautify the text. Much of the imagery in the art is rooted in and drawn from the text of the prayers in hopes that they will help the reader to see even more in the liturgies as they use them. For example, in “A Liturgy for Those who Have Done Harm” Doug writes, “I have hidden myself in shadows, seeking to avoid your face, even as did my father Adam and my mother Eve in their first guilt.” So I did an illustration of Adam and Eve, but in the picture there are also four pieces of fruit on the tree and a lily in the lower corner. Why? Well, later in the liturgy it says, “Restorer of all things, redeem the damage I have done. Restore, remake, rekindle, rebuild . . ..” The fruit is there to link to those four R’s of hope and the lily, as a traditional symbol in Christian art of Mary, points to the ultimate hope of the coming of Christ—as the liturgy ends, “. . . your pardon alone is sufficient to my peace; and your death to my resurrection. Embrace me again to life and to right standing with you, O God . . .”
TIM: What kind of release has the book had so far and what has the reception been?
NED: Initially the book was made available to supporters of The Rabbit Room. They all have been effusive in their praise. It is fun to follow the hashtag #EveryMomentHoly on Facebook and Instagram to see where folks are using it and what prayers resonate the most. The book is now available for anyone to purchase by following this link: https://store.rabbitroom.com/products/every-moment-holy?variant=45501189838
I think the short answer to your question is that the first printing completely sold out. I would call that kind of reception rather positive!
TIM: Thanks for your time, Ned. I enjoyed getting to know you more through this interview, appreciate your time to direct me as a pastor when it comes to understanding the theology of art, and highly enjoyed the gallery with my wife.
TIM: Can you list the books that you’ve been a part of? I will put Amazon links to them at the end of this blog post.
Ned: All my books can be found on Amazon, but I like to direct people to www.HeartsAndMindsBooks.com to help support one of my favorite independent booksellers. As I said at the beginning, as it is hard to explain what I do, it is also hard to make a list of my books—they’re rather random. In addition to developing all of the Square Halo Books ( http://www.squarehalobooks.com ), I’ve had the pleasure to develop various readers’ guides, phonics readers, a geography storybook series, and more. A few of my favorite books I’d like people to know about are: The Reformation ABCs: The People, Places, and Things of the Reformation—from A to Z, Revealed: A Storybook Bible for Grown-Ups, A Book for Hearts and Minds: What You Should Read and Why, History of Art: Creation to Contemporary (flashcards and textbook), It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God, Bigger on the Inside: Christianity and Doctor Who, The Chronicles of Narnia Comprehension Guide, and Squalls Before War: His Majesty’s Schooner Sultana. And early next year I hope to release It Was Good: Performing Arts to the Glory of God.
Thanks, Tim for letting me ramble, and thanks for getting the word out about Rabbit Room’s wonderful book Every Moment Holy!
Thanks for taking time to read this Maddening Theology post. If you enjoyed this content you can find Pastor Tim’s sermons at www.cornerstoneforestcity.org. You can also join us at 520 Marion St. Browndale, PA 18421 on Sundays at 10:45 AM. To make following the blog easier you can also register. You can also join us on Facebook at Cornerstone Forest City. Also, don’t forget to download our APP on iTunes or Googleplay.