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Finding spirituality in the world around us
In a time-deprived world in search of the sacred, just look around you.

Date published: 10/18/2012

By Ed Jones

"SPIRITUAL" is not a word I would have chosen to describe Gari Melchers, the fabled artist who spent his final years on a Stafford County estate overlooking Fredericksburg.

After all, Melchers, the master of Belmont in the early 20th century, was one of the leading American proponents of naturalism, a type of art that portrays things as they are, not in some mystical, otherworldly way.

Yet, as noted by David Berreth, the director of the Gari Melchers Home and Studio at Belmont, spiritual values infuse the paintings of this famous American artist.

Berreth's observations, which he will share at a forum this Sunday at 9:15 a.m. at St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Colonial Beach, confirm for me a phenomenon I've been noticing more and more.

Spirituality or sacredness or godliness keeps popping up all around us--in paintings, music, sunrises and sunsets. Maybe it's because we're looking for it more intently. We seem to feel a particular need these days for the sacred.

For all the surveys and talk about people leaving organized religion, I sense a real hunger for embracing something spiritual and foundational, simple and noble, in a 21st-century world filled with instant analysis and sound-bite communication.

Melchers found spirituality in the rural villages of late 19th-century Holland. As Berreth notes, Melchers joined many artists of that time in looking for "subjects in rural villages that celebrated the simple, noble and spiritual values of the countryside."

The search for purity and simplicity back then was spurred by the squalor and pollution of the Industrial Revolution. Today it's pushed by the desire of people for moments of reflection in lives that seem to be stuck in overdrive.

Berreth points out that Melchers "immersed himself in the daily life of the Dutch working class." His paintings show the important role the church played in their lives.

In fact, Melchers transformed people from the villages into biblical subjects. As Berreth notes, "By adding a halo, the local mother and her baby became the Madonna and child; local fishermen became Jesus and his apostles at the Last Supper."

Last Sunday at St. Mary's, a forum about the "Spirituality of Music" produced a similarly surprising "find." Kevin Crowder, a Baptist minister involved with pastoral care at Mary Washington Hospital, and other members of the Fredericksburg String Quartet played a medley, from the "Ashokan Farewell" of Ken Burns' Civil War series to selections from Broadway. His question was this: Where can we find the "sacred" in this music?

For me, it was in the touching, heartbreaking "Somewhere" from "West Side Story," a musical ode to lovers from different backgrounds who forge a romantic and spiritual bond in a polarized, combative community. Sound familiar to the world of today?

As I said, spirituality is popping up all over.

Ed Jones: 540/374-5401
Email: edjones@freelancestar.com