Sunday, November 15, 2015

2015.11.15 A Bow In The Sky, On the Highway and In the Soul

“God put a bow in the sky.”  So Corita Kent put one on a huge Boston gas tank and named it "Rainbow Swash."

According to the biblical story of the great flood, the “bow” is a rainbow which God/Creator placed across the sky to symbolize the everlasting covenant with all humanity—a terrific forever love deal.
This so-called Noachian covenant is the best thing God ever did, surpassing even the covenant God made with Christians through Jesus the Christ. (Be selective when you say this to Christians.) But why do I, faithful Christian that I am, think this? Well, Noah's covenant is so unimaginably big! Its enormity is all-encompassing, inclusive—and best of all, colorful. Any kid gets it.

Oh, those Bible stories stories are only myths, some say. Yes, and . . . within a myth is buried wonder and mystery—stuff that makes your heart leap. Kids love to tell the story of Noah's Ark over and over. They re-enact the drama as they play with the animal couples, name them, march them up the plank and into the wooden ark.

Children play God easily.

Then when a rainbow appears in the sky they know God is just like them, loving all animal couples, and arks, and stuff. Just think how your heart leaps when you see a rainbow in the sky. Watch children’s faces at the sight. They light up. It’s proof—and praise.

This is what artist, Corita Kent (1918-1986), imagined for the Boston Natural Gas company. In 1971 it was painted onto the Boston Gas Tank. “Rainbow Swash” looms into view as you drive on Morrissey Boulevard along the Southeast Expressway through Dorchester—a landmark for Boston drivers, a sign for Noah, and an image for God.

Last weekend it was already dark by 4:30 p.m. as I drove west along the Southeast Expressway, headed home to Cambridge. Navigating Boston's “big dig” highway accesses and egresses is confusing enough—more so to someone as directionally challenged as myself, and worse in the dark when roads look suddenly unfamiliar. I said to myself, “If I can just spot that rainbow gas tank, I’ll know I’m okay," I thought. Then it appeared! My heart leaped and I grinned hello. At night the tiny stairway along the side of the great tank is all lit up. The name CORITA is painted in red on the side. You can see her soul on her face, right?
Corita Kent was born Frances Elizabeth Kent in Fort Dodge, Iowa. She joined the Immaculate Heart of Mary, an order of Roman Catholic sisters, in 1936 and left in 1968 to pursue her vocation as graphic artist and activist for the reformist aspirations of the Vatican II  Council. She was passionate about her religion and about her art. Ironically, her reformist zeal in both made her an outlier in both. She is also the artist who designed the United States Post Office Love stamp.

“I delight in both billboards and the natural landscape beyond them and around them,” she wrote. And: “You learn from what you print and from what you misprint.” That’s a good definition of the kind of wholeness spiritual endeavor commands.  

Although not as prominent as, say, Andy Warhol of tomato-soup-can fame, Corita often included her handwritten words and is more capricious and delicious. “Mary Mother is the juiciest tomato of them all,” she wrote.


I mean this is more heart-leaping than a can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup, right? Corita's soup can, by the way, is chicken noodle soup. Seriously.

Now, and through January 3, 2016, at the Harvard Art Museums, “The Language of Pop” exhibit includes much of her work. We visited the museum last week and grinned as if we had seen many rainbows ourselves—or never seen one before in our lives.