Walking with Siebenga and God
When I was growing up in my tight-knit CRC triangle of home, church and Christian school, our communal economy was sustained by an unwritten code. You supported your own. You patronized CRC businesses and hired kids from your own congregation. If you had to pay a bit more for produce at Vandenbergs’ Market, well, so be it. It’s what you did. You invested in faith.
Those days are gone. The cohesion that undergirded such tribal loyalty has dissipated. Those in the know will probably hasten to point out that there was a concomitant undercurrent of negative peer pressure that generated its own drawbacks and complexities. For the record, I do try to buy my spring bedding plants from all four local nurseries owned by Christians. And here at Christian Courier, we do encourage you to support our advertisers!
Christian artists in particular, though, still deserve that old-fashioned communal kind of backing. Christianity Today (June 2016) profiles David Taylor, a professor, pastor and arts leader whose vocation is to promote “art making by the church, for the church, for the glory of God in the church, and for the world.” Taylor’s mission, even today, bumps against three age-old tensions between Christian artists and their church communities: suspicion about art and its meaning, a misappropriation of art for didactic or evangelistic purposes and a dismissal of art as recreational or elitist, a diversion from the more important tasks of the church.
In contradistinction to those attitudes, Christian Courier has always been a welcome venue for highlighting artists who produce art from within the church. A case in point is Linda Siebenga. I have 1989 and 1995 CC issues featuring poems by Siebenga. Most recently, CC published her poem “Jeremiah and the Linen Belt” (June 27, 2016) and “Watching a Glacier” (July 25, 2016). That’s a long record of dedication to the arts for both CC and Siebenga! I applaud such resilient insistence that creating art is a God-glorifying activity. As David Taylor notes, “The arts are a fundamental way to be human. They are rooted in the work of the Triune God.”
Siebenga’s latest book, A Bruised Reed, continues her faithful poetic work of “voicing the whys of our existence” as she explained in a CC interview long ago. The book is divided into four parts with poems on Nature, Life, Books, Art and Poets and Theology. These categories demonstrate the breadth of her curiosity, her attention to both the created world and the transcendent sphere. In “Two Sets of Crimson Wings,” Siebenga alludes to that intertwining of realities: “we are some poet and a farmer / scraping the heavens with the galoshes of life.” The collection as a whole should be especially treasured by CC readers because these poems emerge from our shared heritage of faith.
Siebenga’s sensitivity to the ordinary beauties of farm and prairie is acute. Her experiential and tactile awareness of the “stuff” of creation sits easily and familiarly beside spiritual and artistic reflection, as in a stanza like this one:
Crimson flash of red-winged blackbird
in the thicket by the slough
singing and calling into the morning,
poems only dream of.
For Siebenga simply everything can be a revelation of God’s provision or a “still life” moment propelling praise. From “khaki-coloured cornstalks” to “carrots with earth in their creases” to “pink-cheeked potatoes,” Siebenga’s lively descriptions renew hope. God’s munificence is all around us for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.
While the poems about Nature and Life sparkle with fresh images and crisp wording, the poems about Books, Art and Poets and Theology have a plainer feel. Nonetheless, there is something about the bald directness of these poems that fits, that feels measured and right. Rather than an esoteric faith in an abstruse deity, Siebenga’s poems present a factual relationship with an everyday God who eagerly approaches us, who speaks to us conversationally in the Bible and who desires our companionship.