In my other hand, I cradled Holiness and the Feminine Spirit: The Art of Janet McKenzie. It’s a beautiful and inspiring book that pairs McKenzie’s art with personal, poetic, and scholarly reflections. She gained national and international fame when she was won the “Jesus 2000” competition from the National Catholic Reporter’s contest for her painting “Jesus of the People.” Although her most famous, this painting was but one of her many accomplishments. Her others feature Mary with Gabriel, the Holy Family, and even a touching homage to 9/11. Her art is visually stunning, and it induces for many an avalanche of spiritual reflection. McKenzie’s work is borne of religious conviction, and she, in her own words, strives “to reflect in my art … that sacred and inherent place within that connects us all beyond race and gender where no judgment exists.”
As I thumb through the pages, I see images of Mary next to Gabriel. The sacred wings, as Mary E. Haddad (a former Toyota sales-woman from Detroit and now pastor in California), writes, “enclose and embrace Mary.” Heaven and earth “stand side by side” and the distance that former artists had put between the two figures is dissolved in a fellowship of foreseen terror. The book has poetic responses to McKenzie’s “Holy Mother of the East” and “Magna Mater.” The amazing theologian Diane Hayes works from “Woman Offered #5,” a startling image of a black woman being crucified. For Hayes, it is time for women who have suffered, have had pain, have carried the “weight of the world on their shoulders” to “come down from the cross” and to “choose for themselves the paths they should take, the lives they should lead, the tapestries they will weave.” And finally, McKenzie’s “Homage to 9/11” portrays the Twin Towers as two women who support one another. An essay by educator Sally Goodrich follows. Goodrich lost her eldest son in the 9/11 attacks, but inspired by McKenzie’s art, Goodrich joined her grief to giving: she ventured to Afghanistan and help the young there. What amazing stories, reflections, and images. For scholars, McKenzie’s book offers tremendous insight into how individuals respond to the visual arts, and for the spiritually inclined, it offers a vibrant array of considerations.