Our Book of Common Faith by Stephen Mead
Reviewed by Seth Jani
Reviewed by Seth Jani
Stephen Mead’s multimedia work Our book of Common Faith is a subtly woven but easily accessible montage tying together strands of many different religious/spiritual traditions and disciplines to voice a simple, but powerful message… one evoking world peace and openness to the many layers of being.
The book, which is comprised of roughly seventy pages, beautifully blends together Mr. Mead’s colorful, particularly surreal paintings and photography with short, enigmatic poems that serve to both interpret the visuals as well as accompany them with crystallized passages informed by the spirit of many traditions.
Our Book of Common Faith starts off with a painting of two great hands seemingly cupping the globe, underneath is a short poem that consists primarily of questions, ones that concern the birth of the universe and which effectively establish western man’s troubling dichotomy between the extremes of science and religion (From what gases did creation come/Did they belong to some god with looking-on angels/or, by accident, did star meld with star).
At this point the author offers no answers, and one enters the following pages in a proper state of wonderment.
From this opening page right until the closing lines, Mr. Mead creates a multi-sensory journey that quietly, but progressively introduces the reader to one religious/spiritual motif after another. Including fully illustrated references to Egypt’s Scarab mythology, the perennial importance of baptism, and the archetypal lost realm of Edenic innocence (Look for those treasures/Navigate their maps/in the golden time buried).
At times these themes are presented in ways that are startlingly fresh and it is in these moments that one truly appreciates the power inherent in the multimedia approach, witnessing the way in which the words and imagery reflect and deepen each other. As evidenced in the fifth plate, which so pristinely depicts the childhood joy of bubble blowing, while the poem below boldly states “These boys are bubbles also”, reminding one of the old Zen poets who were apt to describe all living things as soap-bubbles vibrantly reflecting light as they blow and burst through eternity.
Or in the instance where one turns the page to be greeted by two rough hands tenderly breaking bread, while the text underneath urges the reader, and perhaps the world, to “Break now and cast your bread upon the current, a Eucharist for the gulls, a bounty of plenty to be shared for harvests and gratitude.” A statement which in its own subtle but revolutionary way seems to be encouraging our often human-centric spirituality to touch again upon our primal roots; the body of Christ eaten not for self-redemption, but offered to the world, to redeem in our awareness our own repressed connection with the greater organism of the earth.
The book though is not all air and spirit, there is gravity too and it doesn’t fear to hint at some of our world’s more tangible, practical problems (still in its own vague way of course).
“The dirt of it is sacred in every land, especially with beginnings of fertility without toxins.” The word toxins hits you like a bullet. After pages of the most delicate, sublimated imagery, “Toxins” breaks in with its mouthful of negative connotations and one realizes that Our Book of Common Faith is a call not only to open, integrated spirituality but to a renewed sense of ecological commitment.
There are far too many plates, poems and nuances to this seemingly simple book to be able to adequately contemplate them all in one review, but the book does have some crowning moments that deserve mention.
The first comes perhaps only ten pages from the end and it consists of one exceptionally dazzling illustration (depicting a phantom-like being surrounded by stars with robe flying open to reveal a vibrant yellow temple centered underneath) accompanied by the single question “What, if not global conscience, can continue to lift the purpose of our gravity back to assisting light?”. One reads this and cannot help but chime in with Mr. Mead in asking the question; what if not a shared love of the world, with all its diverse cultural and natural manifestations, will help us to lift the lonely burden of our lives back into the assisting light of the cosmos, what indeed?
The second of these crowning moments comes at the very end, when Mead seemingly makes his confession as to which forces will show us the way into this new visionary future, he says “Imagination will lead us/Earth will return us with its Kingdome of familiars.”
The way to this other future rests not in our logic, in our ability to divide and conquer, but through the boundary melding power of the imagination, and through a reconnection with the earth, with its many other inhabitants, our silent brothers and sisters, our “loyal companions”. The book rightly ends with a painting of one of these inhabitants, looking expectantly out from the wavering depths.
To conclude, this reader must happily say that the book works…it really works. It is able to do what many so called multi-media works set out to do, create a collaborative effort between two unique art forms in which each component informs and enriches the others.
The paintings could most certainly stand alone (the poetry perhaps less so) but together they form a cohesive whole that more than fulfills the book's intent as espoused in the title, and one leaves the pages feeling as though they have really gotten a peak into what a book of common faith would look like if we could only work through our borders and begin to embrace the first luminous inklings of a greater “global conscience.”
Cheers to Mr. Mead.