By Karen Hice Guzmán

Funeral Procession: Visio Divina 2021

As we publish the last piece in our Summer 2021 Visio Divina series, I want to say thanks for reading and reflecting with me. It has been my privilege and pleasure over the past several weeks to consider wonderful pieces of art along with Scripture and share some thoughts with you. It’s been a meaningful exercise for me and a helpful way to reflect on where and how God is at work in me these days. I hope you have enjoyed this practice and invite you to share with us your own reflections in the future as you consider art or other beautiful things in our world and the ways God uses them to speak to you.
— Karen Hice Guzmán

Interested in reading more? You can find all nine reflections at our Visio Divina landing page.

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We’ve developed a tradition here at The Well where each summer we offer something a little different to our audience — something to support the work of rest, restoration, and preparation that we hope is part of the season’s different rhythms. 

This year we are offering our Summer 2021 Visio Divina Series. You can read more about this practice in our introduction to the series. Today, we'll take a close look at a piece by artist Clementine Hunter. 

Clementine HunterFuneral Procession, (circa 1950, SCAD Museum of Art). Oil on Board. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Week 9: Funeral Procession

Questions for visio divina

  1. As you begin, take a few deep breaths. While we know God is always with us, invite the Holy Spirit to be present and to speak to you afresh in these moments. Spend some time looking at the image. What do you see? Similar to doing Bible study, make as many observations as you can. What do you like or dislike? Why? What questions do you have?
  2. How does the artist use color, light, style, composition, and material? What do you think the artist wanted to communicate? What stands out to you? Why do you think this is so?
  3. Read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 How does this add to what you are seeing? Is there other Scripture that comes to mind?
  4. Spend some time reflecting on the Scripture passage and looking again at today’s image. What is God’s invitation to you? What might you need to see, understand, or believe? How does your current life experience intersect with what you are seeing and reflecting on? How might this image help you pray today? What do you want to say to God? Ask from him?

Scripture passage: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore, encourage one another with these words.

Karen's Reflection

Clementine (pronounced Clem-en-teen) Hunter (1886/87-1988), a self-taught “folk artist,” lived and worked in the cotton fields and as a cook at the Melrose Plantation in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana. She was the first African-American artist to have a solo exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art. The majority of her paintings were about life and work on and around the plantation — cooking, doing laundry, picking cotton, going to church, etc. Funeral Procession is one of several done by Hunter with this theme. It is typical of her work in the “primitive” style of the figures, the stacking of elements to convey three-dimensional space, and its palette (bright primary colors). It’s the palette that caught my attention, particularly its juxtaposition to the subject matter, a funeral procession.

My family was still reeling from my brother’s unexpected death in December 2019 when the world closed down because of the pandemic in March 2020. By the end of that first weekend of lockdown, we’d lost my mother-in-law to natural causes, but because of the shutdown we were unable to gather to remember her or mark her passing. In the months since, over 600,000 people have died from COVID in the United States alone and worldwide it is over 4 million. And those are just the ones who have been counted. I have lost count of how many friends have lost their parents in the past year. The week between Christmas and New Year’s alone saw was four deaths. Yesterday I met with a good friend, recently back from her mom’s bedside as she breathed her last. And if this wasn’t hard enough, last week our community attended the double service for my neighbors — a father and 17-year-old daughter killed in a head-on collision as the family returned from vacation. 

The frequency of deaths and funerals has been overwhelming at times. The loss and the grief is real and it is hard. And that is perhaps why Clementine Hunter’s rendering of this funeral procession is so striking. Were I to paint this, my palette would be black, gray, and maybe a bit of off-white — certainly no bright colors. Only somber and serious. Yet look at this piece: fancy outfits, colorful hats, bright bouquets of flowers. You actually have to look close to see there is a flower-covered casket being carried to the burial site. The scene calls for grief. The colors call for celebration. Desolation and consolation intertwined in the same painting. How can this be?

I find assistance sorting this out from Saint Paul — it's because of the resurrection. We live in a world that is broken and messed up. Things are not as they should be. We grieve (desolation), but not as those who do so without hope (consolation). Death, it turns out, doesn’t have the last word. “For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” (1 Thessalonians 4:14) Life and death, sorrow and joy, light and dark dwell alongside one another on the canvas of our lives. But, as Tish Harrison Warren says, “Light, not darkness, is the constant.” Even in the midst of the hardest things, there are glimpses of God’s goodness and care. There is the stable, solid, light-filled reality of the resurrection of Jesus and that gives us hope.

“Therefore, encourage one another with these words."
— 1 Thessalonians 4:18

Prayer

Lord, the past eighteen months or so have been filled with loss and death and difficulty for all of us. There is so much trouble in our world, just as you said there would be. Thank you for your presence with us in the midst of all of it. How grateful we are that you have defeated our great and final enemy in your resurrection and that we have the hope of eternal life in your Kingdom where there is no mourning or death, where every tear is wiped away, and where righteousness and justice dwell. Grant us grace to walk with you and eyes to see glimpses of your light even when there is darkness all around us. Amen.

Further resources

I have found the daily practice of identifying and articulating places of desolation and consolation during the day to be quite helpful. The ancient Church fathers and mothers called this practice Examen. To learn more, I encourage you to read this helpful piece my colleague, Ann Boyd, has written describing the unique way she does this practice.

I highly recommend Tish Harrison Warren’s recent book, Prayer in the Night. It has been profoundly helpful to me in recent months as I have thought about and worked through all the loss and grief.

Where is God drawing your vision today? Take a photo and share your thoughts using our hashtag — #visiowell — on InstagramTwitter, or Facebook

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About the Author

Karen is the National Director of InterVarsity's Women in the Academy and Professions, and lives in Marietta, Georgia, with her husband and three boys. Except for some years taken off to raise her sons, she has spent her adult life in and around InterVarsity — originally as a student and campus staff member in Michigan and currently in Atlanta. An entrepreneur at heart, she and some student leaders started the grad fellowship at Michigan State and the MBA fellowship at Georgia Tech. She loves to use her gifts of hospitality and teaching to create a welcoming place for people to connect with God and with each other. Although she rarely has time for it, you can find Karen at her sewing machine when ministry progress gets hard to measure and she needs to see tangible results from her efforts. She loves dark chocolate, good coffee, and British television.

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