SALVATION AT THE SUPERMARKET

Today we are celebrating our new year by sharing the vision of Sister Mary Corita Kent,
who was a member of the Immaculate Heart Community in Los Angeles for many years.

Nun, printmaker, and activist, Corita Kent developed and used a striking Pop sensibility
in her religious art. Drawing on the visual language of advertising and the daily world,
her screen prints combine images and words to create bold messages of joy. Leading
the art department at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles, she became part of an
enthusiastic community of socially engaged artists who revolutionized campus life. Her
adventurous approach in art and life unsettled many, including the Church hierarchy;
she left the Immaculate Heart Community in 1968 and moved to Boston, where she
continued her pursuit of social justice through art until her death in 1985.  Her forceful i
magery and message led to her great popularity which continues to this day. Corita
always said of the art department “We have no art.  We do everything as well as we can.”

Corita's art was her activism, and her spiritually-informed social commentary promoted love and tolerance.

Kent’s theological innovation is evident in her visual meditations on canned tomatoes as well as on Wonder Bread. One of her most memorable prints, and certainly one of the most controversial, is her 1964 the juiciest tomato of all. Inside block letters that spell out “TOMATO,” a handwritten text proclaims, “If we are provided with a sign that declares Del Monte tomatoes are juiciest it is not desecration to add: ‘Mary Mother is the juiciest tomato of them all.’”

Kent’s papers illuminate her continual experimentation with the hyperbolic language of Del Monte and Hunt’s tomato advertisements to depict Jesus and Mary in new, modern ways. In Kent’s 1966 booklet of writing and photo collage, “Choose Life or Assign a Sign or Begin a Conversation,” she arranges Hunt’s tomato catsup advertisements cut from magazines. The clippings proclaim that Hunt’s tomatoes are “ripened on the vine for 40 days and 40 nights,” evoking the time that Jesus spent fasting in the desert. In the accompanying text, Kent calls the advertisements “very biblical” and recommends using them as bible covers. Two years after Andy Warhol made his plywood Heinz ketchup boxes, Kent’s suggestion of a Bible wrapped in Hunt’s catsup advertisements stands as a theological innovation as well as a fresh, sly take on a pop art theme.

Today we will explore her sense of spirituality by looking at our everyday lives and activities and hopefully seeing a different dimension.

Rather than our usual format, we will have readings inspired by Corita’s work, along with the slides of serigraphs in which she used these words.

Our first reading is Corita’s collection of rules for the Art Department at Immaculate Heart College.  We use these, not because we are in need of more rules, but as a guide to seeing our world a bit differently.

  1. Find a place you trust and then try trusting it for a while.

  2. General duties of a student:Pull everything out of your teacher.Pull everything out of your fellow students.

  3. General duties of a teacher:Pull everything out of your students.

  4. Consider everything an experiment.

  5. Be self disciplined.This means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them.To be disciplined is to follow in a good way.To be self disciplined is to follow in a better way.

  6. Nothing is a mistake.There’s no win and no fail.There’s only make.

  7. The only rule is work.If you work it will lead to something.It’s the people who do all of the work all the time who eventually catch on to things.

  8. Don’t’ try to create and analyze at the same time.They’re two different processes.

  9. Be happy whenever you can manage it.Enjoy yourself.It’s lighter than you think.

  10. “We’re breaking all the rules.And how do we do that?Be leaving plenty of room for X quantities.”

Helpful hints:  Always be around.  Come or go to everything.  Always go to classes.  Read anything you can get your hands on.  Look at movies, carefully, often.  Save everything—it might come in handy later.  There should be new rules next week.

Many of Corita’s serigraphs in the mid 1960 used popular advertising and marketplace items.  Across from Immaculate Heart was a grocery store called “Market Basket” where Corita and her students spent a fair amount of time.  In one of her serigraphs Corita writes the words “Mary does laugh and she sings and runs and wears bright orange.  Today she’d probably do her shopping at Market Basket.”

The serigraph with the “Tomato” words which were mentioned earlier this evening actually were authored by Sam Eisenstein.  The full text of his remarks which are on this print will be our second reading :

The time is always out of joint…if we are provided with a sign that declares Del Monte tomatoes are juiciest it is not desecration to add “Mary Mother is the juiciest tomato of them all.”  Perhaps this is what is meant when the slang term puts it “She’s a peach” or “What a tomato!”  A cigarette commercial states:  “So round, so firm, so fully packed” and we are strangely stirred, even ashamed as we are to be so taken in. 

We are not taken in.  We yearn for the fully packed, the circle that is so juicy and perfect than not an ounce more can be added.  We long for the “groaning board”, the table overburdened with good things, so much we can never taste, let alone eat all there is.  We long for the heart that overflows for the all-accepting of the bounteous, of the real and not synthetic, for the armful of flowers that continues the breast, for the fingers that make a perfect blessing. 

There is no irreligiousness in joy, even if joy is pump-primed at first.   Someone must enter the circle first, especially since the circle appears menacing.  The fire must be lit, a lonely task, then it dances.  The spark of flame teaches on person to dance and that person teaches others, and then everyone can be a flame.  Everyone can communicate.  But someone must be burned.  Perhaps everyone who would participate entirely in the dance must have some part of himself burned, and may shrink back.  They look for some familiar action to relate to.

There is too yawning a gulf between oneself and the spirit, so we turn to our supermarkets, allegories, a one-to-one relationship.  You pay your money, you get your food, you eat it, it’s gone.  But intangibly, during the awkward part of the dance, with the whole hears not in it, with the eye furtively looking out for one’s own ridiculousness, allegory becomes symbol, wine becomes blood, wafer flesh and the spark flames like bright balloons released, and the “heart leaps up to behold” and somehow we have been taken from the greedy signs of barter and buying, from supermarket to super mundane. 

We have proceeded from the awkward word to the whole.  The rose of all the world becomes, for a while, and in our own terms, the “pause that refreshes” and possibly what was a pause becomes the life.

Emmaus Community in Sonoma County                              707 787-8207

P.O. Box 776, Kenwood, CA 95452                                      jimkeck42@gmail.com