By Deborah Risa Mrantz

Damascus Through Jerusalem

Slow Work of God ©2009 LOGOS DIVINITY™ digital laminate to black aluminum | LOGOS DIVINITY DESIGN STUDIO Santa Fe New Mexico

 As I reflect on my journey of faith, it appears in my entire life, every piece, even the ones that don’t fit, fit. Culturally and genetically I am Jewish; and I am also Christian — a friend’s unique appellation for me is ChristJew. But labels matter less than living a passionate, faithful life in God.

Liturgical season of Advent, 2007

I’m crammed into Santa Fe’s Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis with everyone else in the city. In some quintessential way owing to Santa Fe’s rich diversity, Christmas Eve midnight Mass becomes an interfaith service, in one of the oldest, most beautiful Catholic churches in the country. I sit with folks both privileged and poor. World-class artists, professionals, and tradespeople worship together with bodega owners and farmers. It is a taste of the Kingdom of God.

Politely navigating the dense crowd I find an available seat and gather myself into the pew directly below the tenth station of the Cross. Jesus is stripped of his garments. I contemplate the traditional Spanish wood and tinwork, wondering into the humility and humanness this station speaks to, as we prepare to welcome the incarnation into the world — light in the life of humankind and the word becoming flesh to dwell among us. Midnight mass begins directly at midnight in Santa Fe — a loud rapping on the massive Cathedral Basilica doors begins the service with Las Posadas, a reenactment of the Holy Family’s search for a place the Savior will be born. ‘Do you have lodging for Mary, the Mother of the Divine word?’ All night the Holy Spirit is at work.

It is not a typical midnight mass for me. The service ends past 1:00 a.m. and I stay rooted to the pew. Later, compelled beyond the baptismal fountain, I’m drawn toward the steps of the sanctuary. Although I’m acutely aware of what is happening in me I’ve never experienced this before. Everything is quiet except for the voice that doesn’t speak aloud — but starts forming into language as I walk through the nave. The sound is so clear, it is everything I hear.

Walking into the icicled, star-filled night I leave the Cathedral where the city is filled with flickering lights of farolitos. Permeating thin altitude air, piñon-scented smoke lingers from luminarias as our Hispanic tradition of Christmas Eve bonfires keeps carolers warm. Turning from the Basilica, at the edge of the Church grounds, clearly, startlingly I hear God’s voice forming in me through the words: It is time finally. You are coming back to Me.

In the duration it takes to drive the short distance home, I have been returned to the path begun in me at age 19. A path from which I’ve been derailed by life’s extreme exigencies. But God’s callings don’t end. A plan to return not to Yeshiva but to a divinity school begins to manifest…

The next morning, by now Christmas Day, my memory travels back thirty-four years. Moved by God’s voice in me at midnight mass I am intent on reconnecting to the person who cultivated spiritual formation in my early years, my school chaplain, John Heidel. Finding him still in Hawaii, I telephone him and within ten minutes it’s as if no time has passed over the decades. We talk about my childhood involvement in the ecumenical and spiritual life of my school chapel, a place I’ve always considered my home, my true North, and of the seeds planted there in the soil and spring of God. By the end of the conversation, a sense of calling and pastoral intention are emerging in me.

New Year approaches; people plug in to watch the ball drop in Times Square, but I am almost solely focused in the echoing words You are coming back to Me. I decide to explore theology sources and re-obtain Ari Goldman’s The Search for God at Harvard, a book that played a significant part earlier in my spiritual journey. I’m curious to know if in this interim time Goldman has written a sequel to his bestseller, and my search appropriately brings up a title, Finding God at Harvard. I believe I’m tracking the next part of Goldman’s journey, but I notice its author is not Goldman, but Kelly Monroe, a Harvard chaplain. I order the book. After reading just the preface and introduction of Finding God at Harvard, inexplicably, suddenly, I’m in tears, feeling a simultaneous upwelling and epiphany. I sense, and know a kinship and resounding echo in this author from entirely different background than mine, but whose voice and love for God are crystalline and passionate, in common ground of God. Uncertain, and also apprehensive but convinced of my direction, I initiate an email exchange with Kelly.

April 2008

Over the past year a defiled, declining economy has loomed, based largely in real estate’s greed. My business is built primarily of real estate clients and is also declining. At any other time of life this would be a severe discouragement. Now, it confirms in me the intention in God’s insistent words. The time for returning to God is now. I’ve been planning in two dimensions but God is speaking into my heart in three dimensions, in Kairos. God is working in me and I’m trying to listen well, to discern humbly, what and where I’m supposed to be placing myself.

Spring becomes summer and I find Kelly’s return email. Over the summer and into the fall sporadic dialogs become longer… of faith, and Christianity, and Judaism. Kelly encourages me to spend focused, concentrated time in Scripture. I set to the serious task of re-reading the New Testament, immersing myself in the Gospels, and sharing mutually in discourse from the foundational roots of my source Judaism. We speak of how the early years of my history are at work in this calling. Now I know Isaiah’s words, Do not despise the day of small things. Each small thing has added up to this place, these conversations. I also know something more lies ahead, and I wait restlessly.

Amidst these conversations, falling asleep over theology books stacked around me, and the worries of work drying up, I’m particularly unrestful, feeling something churning I cannot make sense of, something more to be revealed. We enter the uncomfortably hot month of August, the Gulf of Mexico pouring its moisture down on Santa Fe’s desert in flooding rains and sultry, humid nights.

Anxious and unable to sleep except fitfully, I enter into a dream. In the vision I’m witnessing Paul’s conversion on the Damascus road. Every hoofbeat, the blinding light, the dust, the awe, the fear, the awakening and trembling meeting with the Lord. All night I toss, wrestling, sweating and laboring alongside Paul. I feel as if my entire being is in “a sense of crisis and dislocation [in which] Christ disrupts the mundane world.” [1] Disheveled and exhausted and in a lucid-dream state, I finally wake into the sun-filled moment Paul responds to Jesus saying, “What shall I do, Lord?” ”Get up,” the Lord said, ”and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.” (Acts 22:10 NIV)

Acutely experiencing Paul’s conversion throughout the night, and coming into the City of Damascus in my reverie, I barely manage to re-enter the day’s Chronos. I feel my heart and soul revitalized in deep devotional life, contemplative order, and artistic faith, both Jewish and Christian. And instantly I also realize I know exactly ”what I have been assigned to do.”

Thirty years of expertise as a designer, and twenty years in Santa Fe, “the City of Holy Faith” where my spiritual life has been incubating, renew my passion for God, converging in a desire to integrate contemporary design with Scripture, and giving way to a new company in and of God’s holy Word, LOGOSdivinity.

I make a leap of faith and set aside the demanding desire for commercial work. Frameworks dissolve. New models of Scripture, pastoral care, and invitation to dialog with those of Abrahamic faiths begin to emerge and solidify in me. In LOGOSdivinity each artwork fuses modern design and Scripture in typographically sculpted layers; melded typography and liturgy become part of God’s pastoral invitation.

I have come to Damascus through Jerusalem: from Judaism, to common intertestamental ground, into Christianity. In due course, I’m accepted to seminary in California, and start forming a new paradigm for intertestamental, interfaith ministry. Artworks. Typography. Ministry. And building another business from scratch entailing fine art production, sales, distribution, and above all pastoral presence in bringing the Word of God to dwell. I am in a new place of calling. I am working, driven, as the Apostle Paul says in Colossians: “For this I labor [unto weariness], striving with all the superhuman energy which He so mightily enkindles and works within me.” (Col. 1:29 Amplified Version).

Forged in Judaism’s love of words and language, of the Logos in Christ and the calling of midnight mass in Santa Fe, of dust and rock of the Damascus road, I’m given back in service to my calling. A path I now discover I left only in order to return to fully, completely of heart and soul in God. “It is time, finally. You are coming back to me.” Behold, I make everything new.



 Author’s note: Currently, together with the initial body of artworks now on the website, a full, forthcoming larger body of LOGOS DIVINITY GUILDWORKS artworks is in progress and will come to fruition during the next month. Our prayer is for you to fully experience these initial works including what attends them pastorally and theologically; and that you’ll bookmark and return to the site frequently to view new artworks as they come into being, bringing God’s Word to dwell.

Find the complete story of Damascus through Jerusalem here.

Attributed to Caravaggio biographer Helen Langdon describing the style of Conversion.
About the Author

Deborah Risa Mrantz is Founder and principal creative of LOGOS DIVINITY GUILDWORKS and MINISTRIES™. LOGOS DIVINITY GUILDWORKS™ is a faith-based artists guild and Abrahamic interfaith initiative bringing together new models of theology, worship, arts-ministry and pastoral chaplaincy in combined creative enterprise. Deborah’s calling has evolved over thirty years from beginnings in music and fine art apprenticeships to Jewish ecclesiastical work in sculpture, culminating in artistic work within publishing, printing, and multi-sensory digital design. She is an incoming MDIV seminarian at Pacific School of Religion, where her journey into seminary has re-formed these long-held arts vocations within a life of God’s Word and pastoral ministry. Through LOGOSdivinity she fashions liturgical artwork for individual and community religious spaces, monasteries and faith-based retreat-centers, churches and synagogues. 

Comment via Facebook