The Artist Alive: Explorations in Music, Art and Theology (May 2019)

I’ve just been reviewing the final proofs of a new book manuscript that has been many (many!) years in the making. The book rises from my own spiritual journey and above all from the classroom, where for some 25 years I’ve looked with my students to music, poetry, and the visual arts as windows into the deepest spiritual, theological, and social questions that face us. It has been a privilege to work with folks at Anselm Academic, who specialize in producing outstanding texts for use in the undergraduate classroom. I can say gratefully that their exhaustive editorial process has yielded a far better manuscript than when we began our partnership some 4 or 5 years ago. Our expected publication date is May 15, 2019.

Below you’ll find a partial cover image, table of contents, and a first endorsement of the book from Dr. Kimberly Vrudny, Professor of Systematic Theology at St. Thomas University. Dr. Vrudny is also the editor of the journal ARTS: The Arts in Religious and Theological Studies, one of the finest interdisciplinary theological journals anywhere on the planet. I’m very grateful for the time she took in reading the manuscript and for her generous endorsement, as well as those that follow by iconographer William Hart McNichols and Fordham professor Thomas Beaudoin.

The cover painting is by the Italian artist Pasquale Rapicano, entitled, “Rust (David Gilmour Live at Pompeii).” The image somehow captures for me the human yearning for transcendence and grace that I have discovered in music since my childhood, not least in the artistry of Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour. I am very grateful to Rapicano for the permission to use and to share his beautiful work.

With the spiritual depth and cultural humility that have become his signature, Christopher Pramuk’s newest title invites readers to participate in meaning-making through engagement with the arts in general, and with music in particular. Pramuk lives in the imagination that one is transformed, for good or for ill, by that with which one keeps company. Readers are introduced to some of the guests with whom Pramuk has shared hospitality in his own interior spaces—to the musicians who have formed him, as well as to the thinkers who have informed him. Without any hint of patronization, the reader has the keen sense that one is being nurtured by the author who, like a hen hovering over an egg to hatch a chick, attends to one’s well-being, such that as members of society, we live into healthier, even holier, lives of meaning—into persons awakened, indeed, into artists alive. By engagement with Thomas Merton as well as other prophetic voices who respond with encouragement in times of “endless war, crushing poverty, and horrific violence,” Pramuk’s book is filled with practical insights and ample resources for teaching and discussing such things as paying attention, struggling for holiness, and uniting the secular with the sacred. Pramuk’s latest offering is itself a work of wonder, resistance, and hope.

Kimberly Vrudny Professor of Systematic Theology and Chair, Theology Department, University of St. Thomas, Senior Editor | ARTS: The Arts in Religious and Theological Studies

Christopher Jerome Pramuk’s deft, utterly unique, theological and literary voice is in beautiful harmony with all the musicians and other artists he lovingly and brilliantly looks into.

William Hart McNichols, Painter, Illustrator, Iconographer, Albuquerque, NM

Christopher Pramuk shows with teacherly care how popular art, especially music, opens the way to transformation of self and society. . . . The Artist Alive empowers readers not only to appreciate the Christian significance of everyday art, but to become artists in their own right who can learn new ways of Christian experiencing. 

Tom Beaudoin, Associate Professor of Religion, Fordham University

Christopher Pramuk’s The Artist Alive is a multivalent exploration of how the arts hold the potential to transform consciousness. It is also a profound investigation for people of all ages into the transformative power of art in its myriad forms. I envy the young people who have the privilege of sitting in Chris’s classes where theology is taught not as a series of propositions or doctrines, but as the existential basis of all genuine religion that ties us to planet earth by opening us to mystery, “radical amazement,” and compassion. Pramuk’s book establishes that everyone has access to a common core of creative power from which abundant life, “aliveness,” pours continuously in a living stream despite the sorrows, injustices, suffering and brokenness we all experience.

This is a book that takes a hard look at the world of our times yet offers hope. Enter its pages and find yourself recovering “beginner’s mind,” checking out youtube recordings of your favourite artists, discovering new ones, moving and grooving to a deeper music that enables the mind to slowly descend into the heart and make the world a better place. As Pramuk puts it, “This is one of our most urgent and beautiful tasks today: to teach to the imaginations of young people, to feed their wonder, to dare them to imagine, in spite of it all, a future of peace.”

Susan McCaslin, poet, and author of Superabundantly Alive: Thomas Merton’s Dance with the Feminine (Wood Lake, 2018)

Christopher Pramuk asks, “Can art be a vehicle of hope, stirring that wondrous if elusive capacity in human beings to imagine a more just, humane, and joyful future?” Pramuk does not take an easy path to answer the question. He probes topics that have been the source of deep questions and divisions: sexuality, race, technology, death, and our search for love and identity.

His approach is contemplative, seeking to listen attentively to a song or gaze deeply into a painting, carefully teasing out how it illuminates human experience or points towards a deeper reality. Yet Pramuk’s approach is simultaneously communal, consistently inviting us to listen to the music, read the story, view the art, and note our own responses prior to reading his. It is an invitation to be fellow pilgrims, to bring our insights and experiences into play with the author’s. He is not offering definitive answers, but opportunities to open our restricted imaginations.

Pramuk crosses the boundaries of time, culture, and genre to explore each topic. One chapter brings into conversation the music of the Indigo Girls, letters and poems of Rilke, and the Song of Songs, to explore sexuality, love, and identity. The uniqueness of Pramuk’s approach, however, goes beyond his method and sources. His carefully crafted prose weaves sources, questions, and insights into a rich tapestry of love and hope, crafting a poetic and imaginative theological vision, a work of art in its own right.

Paul Pynkoski, International Thomas Merton Society, Church of the Redeemer, Toronto, Canada

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