Commentary on the 2005 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Poster Art

The Word of Life Mural at Notre Dame

The poster art selection for the 2005 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is the Word of Life Mural adorning the south wall of the Father Theodore Hesburgh Library at the University of Notre Dame du Lac in South Bend, Indiana. It complements the theme taken from First Corinthians 3:1-23, "All things are yours... you belong to Christ... and Christ, the unique foundation, belongs to God." The mural is the creation of Millard Sheets.

Acknowledgements

The Word of Life Mural is the property of the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana. The Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute has been granted permission to use the photo of it credited to the University of Notre Dame and copy it for use in the 2005 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute thanks the University of Notre Dame, Mr. J. Roberto Gutiérrez, Notre Dame’s Vice President for Public Affairs and Communication, and Mr. Bryce Richter, Notre Dame Media Group, for permission to use the Word of Life Mural and for their generous assistance.

Commentary

Concerning the Word of Life Mural, Notre Dame’s web site notes the following:

When the Hesburgh Library opened, its most distinctive feature, the "mural," had not yet been installed. The artist Millard Sheets was commissioned to create a work large enough to cover the southern face of the tower, visible from the football stadium. Its theme was to be saints and scholars throughout the ages; this was suggested by Father Hesburgh. In an interview, Sheets explained that:

What they asked me to do was to suggest in a great processional the idea of a never-ending line of great scholars, thinkers, and teachers – saints that represented the best that man has recorded, and which are found represented in a library. The thought was that the various periods that are suggested in the theme have unfolded in the continuous process of one generation giving to the next. I put Christ at the top with the disciples to suggest that He is the great teacher – that is really the thematic idea.

As the composition evolved, the figure of Christ the Teacher was developed with arms raised in what has become known as the "touch-down" gesture. The official designation for the mural is the Word of Life Mural, because it is a representation of a passage from the Bible in the Gospel of John:

"The Word of Life"
In the beginning was the Word:
the Word was with God
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things came to be,
not one thing had its being but through him.
All that came to be had life in him,
and that life was the light of men,
a light that shines in the dark,
a light that darkness could not overpower.
                                                                 (John 1:1-5).

The mural was unveiled at the dedication of the Library on May 7, 1964. The Notre Dame web site goes on to note, "By strict definition it qualifies as neither mural nor mosaic; the process is a unique one in which 6,700 separate pieces of granite were used to create the composition. With its large size (134 feet high and 68 feet wide) and highly visible location, it continues to attract attention, and helps to make the Library among the most familiar of the campus landmarks."

Significance for the Week of Prayer 2005

"Touch-down Jesus" may seem a surprising choice to artistically capture the theme for the Week of Prayer 2005 from 1 Corinthians 3:1-23: "All things are yours... you belong to Christ... and Christ, the unique foundation, belongs to God." Hopefully, it is a pleasant surprise. The Word of Life Mural on the south wall of the Father Theodore Hesburgh Library at the University of Notre Dame quite readily transcends football, as important as football may be in general and winning football at Notre Dame in particular.

The theme sets the unity of the church on the unique or sure foundation of Jesus Christ. This foundation holds the separated churches together at their roots, whether historic roots over millennia, theological roots by way of faith, or both. Despite separations, the churches can not help but admit the truth of the unique foundation and his will to bind us together as one. We share the unique foundation, even if we do not all share in the rest of the building, with our various ways of describing exactly what that building looks like.

The open arms of Christ (a common theme long before the touch-down signal came into use), emphasizes the invitation to share fellowship, koinonia, with the Lord Jesus Christ in the Kingdom. Many answer this invitation to "belong to Christ" as "Christ belongs to God," so that in their fellowship with Christ Jesus, the faithful witnesses experience the depth of the meaning of the words, "all things are yours." Many disciples are placed in the mural, showing also the community of faith that ministers to the world, empowered by the grace of this invitation.

That the mural is on the wall of a building is itself significant to its choice for the Week of Prayer 2005. Some of the plain stone of the building itself is visible. This work of art is truly part of the building, and while it may not be the literal foundation of the building it is aesthetically the foundation: the Lord Jesus Christ, the unique foundation, the Word of Life, drawing to himself teacher saints throughout the millennia to support the center of academic life: the Library.

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Poster

Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute
PO Box 300, Garrison, New York 10524-0300