by Catelyn Mailloux
A year and a half ago I began attending a small rural church where my husband was hired to play the organ. The church is a modest congregation located about thirty miles south of where we live in southern Ohio. Throughout the last year on Sunday mornings, my husband and I would wake up early, grab our travel mugs of coffee on the way out the door and make the forty-minute drive to church.
While my husband rehearsed with the choir director, I would sit, listen, and take in the visual language of the sanctuary. The sanctuary is dome-shaped; its zenith two very large stained-glass windows shaped like arches, one at the front of the sanctuary and one at the back. They stretch through two stories with the back wall bisected by the balcony. Jesus the Good Shepherd is depicted in the glass at the front, and in the back window is Mary, at the tomb of the resurrected Christ. Her robes are a brilliant blue, a color that my fellow congregant whispered to me during choir practice was her “favorite color blue”.
In my initial months at the church, before I joined the choir and sat at the front to face the congregation, I sat in a pew on the ground floor right behind the organ. My view there privileged an odd, unassuming wooden latticework inset into the wall, which I came to realize hid the speakers for the organ.
The lattice is a criss-cross design, made of a grid filled with intersecting diagonal lines, forming small repetitive triangles of negative space. Though I loved the soft, colorful light sieved through the stained glass, my eyes always drifted to study the rhythmic, patterned shapes of the latticework in the wall.
I have spent a lot of my life in contemporary-looking churches, aside from the church I grew up in. That sanctuary was full of pews with stained glass windows running down the wall parallel to the aisle. In the years our family attended there, the church built an addition of a large auditorium to accommodate the growing congregation. It had large screens at the front and had chairs like the ones you find in a movie theater. I have often found myself in churches making do with school gyms or renovated warehouses, complemented by a stage, lights, and a well-groomed and hip worship team.
This observation is not meant to dismiss those places of worship, for as Jesus said “where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.” But it is to notice. I have a deep appreciation for the sacred spaces that craftsmen and artisans through the ages sought to create, a bridge between the physical and the spiritual, an experience that could allow one to hold corporeality and eternity at once. Anni Albers, a skilled American weaver of the 1950’s wrote in her essay “Material as Metaphor” that “to make it [the invisible and the intangible] visible and tangible, we need light and material, any material.” Her thesis is that we need material to lead us to the divine.
Because I am an artist, I began to draw the latticework, first as a pen drawing in my notebook, then in a series of iterations in colored pencil. Now, I am working to translate the pattern into fiber through quilted forms, trying to capture the sense of atmosphere and peace I felt when looking at the lattice.
As Christmas nears, I am contemplating incarnation. The marking of a God who took on flesh. I am also pondering my own dueling desires for immanence and transcendence, that which is right in front of you, or even in you, and that which rises above, transcends.
Immanence and transcendence mirror Christ. Christ embodies miraculous and mysterious states of being through his incarnation and resurrection. Christ is, perhaps, the perfect manifestation of immanence and transcendence. As the apostle John wrote, Christ is the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us.
In my Christian life, I am tempted too often to focus wholly on the transcendent—that impulse to transcend, be above, to rise, to leave behind, to feel a sense that I have finally arrived. Immanence is being present, being fully in the body, right here. Immanence, I remember, was Christ’s impulse, to take on a human form out of deep and moving love. Christ was, as we are, immanent in love, immanent in pain, immanent in fear, immanent in joy, immanent in pleasure, immanent in humanity.
On Sunday mornings as I sit, listen, sing and pray, I also look. My eyes take in the stained glass. They notice the irregularity of the handmade, wooden crosses that flank the front wall. My eyes find the latticework and skip across the criss-cross pattern. As my visual senses are absorbed in their density, I can hold both ways of knowing, the corporeal and the divine.
Cat Mailloux lives and works out of central Ohio, currently serving as an Assistant Professor of Studio Art at Cedarville University specializing in the areas of sculpture and ceramics. She received her MFA in Sculpture from Ohio State in 2018 and BFA in Sculpture and Certification in Art Education from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2014. Her visual work, which revolves around the exploration of materiality and spirituality, has been shown throughout the United States. Her practice as a visual artist extends into community work as a teaching artist in Columbus, OH, where she teaches free sewing workshops for children and adults in the neighborhood of Milo-Grogan. Her creative work can be found at catmailloux.com or on Instagram at @maillouxcat