If you’ve been wondering why this blog has been so quiet this far into 2022, it’s partly because I’ve been working hard on a project that came to mind at the end of 2021 and came to fruition yesterday.
Last December I enjoyed several entries in The Advent Project, a multi-media devotional from the Center for Christianity, Culture, and the Arts at Biola University. Over Christmas break, it got me thinking that it might be possible to do something similar at Bethel for the season of Lent. That idea turned into Centered on Jesus: A Lenten Devotional from the Faculty of Bethel University.
(Longtime readers might recall that I organized similar projects in 2018, when we invited readers of The Pietist Option to contribute to a daily Lenten devotional, and 2021, when I recruited fellow members of the Conference of Faith and History to create an online Lenten sequel to our devotional book, Faith and History.)
After I extended an invitation to all our faculty in early January 2022, almost four dozen colleagues from all units of the university — mostly fellow professors, but also a few administrators, campus pastors, and librarians — signed up to write 300-word biblical reflections and accompanying prayers.
Almost everyone wrote about traditional themes of the season like contemplation, repentance, spiritual disciplines, and salvation. A few also used the project as a prompt to look back at Bethel history, as we near the end of our 150th year. But my personal favorites were the reflections that considered our theme of being “centered on Jesus” in the context of an academic discipline. For example, biologist Joy Doan recalls hearing God’s call while studying in a tropical rain forest, English professors Marion Larson and Dan Ritchie connect Lent to Dante and Augustine, respectively, social worker Nick Zeimet explain what’s “Christ-like and holy” about serving the needs of those on society’s margins, and international relations expert Chris Moore marks Palm Sunday with a reflection on how Jesus “utterly subverted the entire calculus upon which” political power is based.
Those are all college colleagues I know well. But I also appreciated how Centered on Jesus gave me a chance to work with Bethel grad school, adult program, and seminary faculty whose paths I rarely cross, like ethnographer Pauline Nichols, who sets the Gospel to the sound of a dance in northeastern India, and Old Testament seminary professor Alison Lo, who closes our booklet with an Easter meditation on Jesus as the cornerstone.
Then there’s the intersection of faith and art… Initially, I feared that our project would pale next to Biola’s because we didn’t have a long lead time for sophisticated multi-media design. But with significant help from some colleagues and a student, I think we’ve even added some visual elements that deepen the historical and spiritual meaning of the project.
First, to honor one of Bethel’s greatest artists, art professor and gallery director Michelle Westmark Wingard helped me choose two works by Stewart Luckman (d. 2020): for the cover, his marble sculpture of “Birth and Death”; and for the header image on each day’s reflection, “Apifany (Aunque Es De Noche),” which he made in collaboration with two J-terms worth of students, including now-University Professor of Art Ken Steinbach, who told me that piece’s story while we visited it in Bethel’s Prayer Chapel. (Read the devotional introduction to learn more about what made that piece such a powerful addition to the project.)
But the person who worked hardest to make this devotional not just read but look good is not a faculty member at all: my teaching assistant, Essie Shull, took on primary responsibility for the design and layout of the booklet. (She also selected most of the study abroad photos that make up the other recurring visual theme in the devotional.) A multi-talented young woman who is majoring in History and Digital Humanities, minoring in Music, and dabbling in art on the side, Essie has been a joy to work with all year, on this and other department projects.
Thanks to all those volunteers’ generous gifts of their time, energy, and talents, the devotional is available online at no charge. You can download it from Bethel’s website (it’s high enough resolution that you should be able to print the PDF, if you prefer a paper copy), or simply view it embedded below. If you find Centered on Jesus helpful, please share it with anyone else who might find it “a resource to help [them] re-center on Jesus this Lent.”