Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

Freedom Friday: Cracking God

March 2, 2012 by Courtney Swafford


Editor's note: Every Friday throughout the run of From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen, we will feature unique and original posts by staff writers, musicians, visual artists, and more, with a focus on a range of issues including protest, dissent, and the role of art in politics and political campaigns. Today's post is from Courtney Swafford of Wilmington, DE who was recognized with a Scholastic Art & Writing Award for the following story.

‘Wolf,’ featured in the ART.WRITE.NOW. exhibit, was created by Komrorng Bo, a graduate of Central High School in Philadelphia.

To write is to share. I write in order to communicate to others, in the hopes that they can somehow appreciate what I mean to tell them. When I won my medal from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, that hope was realized; I knew that I’d succeeded, and I was beside myself. Knowing that someone else had read my work and understood me, that they could connect to it themselves–this knowledge gave me affirmation that I’d never had before.

The world often judges by class rank or sports trophies, and as a homeschooler I simply didn’t have opportunities like these to prove myself. The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards changed that. They gave me a sense of validation, not as a homeschooler compared to those from more standard forms school, but as a writer compared to other writers. Recognition like this is invaluable, and I cannot thank the people at the Awards enough for all that they’ve done for me and for other young artists and writers.

Jesus’ face fell off a long time ago. I’ve watched the spidery cracks spread through the paint of the icon from the day I first noticed them in sixth grade, as I pretended to watch the priest. Now the picture hangs in the small recess where the priest stands, at the front of the chapel. The niche is so small that the priest, old, fat and insipid, has to squeeze around the corner to get behind the pulpit. The poor lighting back there hits his crinkled face at odd angles so that it looks like a dress shirt that’s been slept in. His sagging, crumpled skin scrunches and creases in an endless maze of flesh as he deadpans the Book of Judith to his audience of lethargic schoolchildren. No one really listens. They just stare, glassy-eyed, while the monotone slogs through the heavy air in the vestry. Who was Judith? Nobody knows, and nobody really cares. The air is too muggy for that. The priest reads on for a few lines more, then stops and intones, “This is the word of the lord.” Then he steps out from behind the pedestal, and his flowing sleeve brushes some flakes of paint off from Jesus’ hair. There’s a small heap of these paint chips on the floor under the painting. The priest steps on them every time he goes back there, grinding them into the burgundy carpet. Down in the pews, all of the students laboriously stand themselves up and pull out their Psalters. The books are old, the tune is old, 264 ShOrT ShOrT STOrY the words are old, and we can’t read music. Our indistinct mumble flounders its way through the meaningless characters on the pages. No one knows the song, and no one really cares. After all, who wants to praise a faceless god?

Swafford's piece won a Gold Key, the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers highest level of achievement on the national level.

ART.WRITE.NOW., a traveling exhibition featuring works by winners of the prestigious Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, will be on display at the National Constitution Center through Wednesday, March 14, 2012.

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