Issue – 3
Edited by Madeleine Boyson
Eccentric Devotions is Femme Salée’s third zine issue. F&S publishes issues twice a year online & in print. These biannual publications include, but are not limited to, art, poetry, fiction and non-fiction writing, & scores. The fundamental objective of each zine is to promote & support creative bodies working within exceptional art communities while bringing disability, queer, BIPOC, and feminist narratives to the forefront of art & writing practice.
def: /ik-sen-trik, ek-/ adj. & n., (of a person, thing, practice, or idea) odd, peculiar, unusual, unconventional, whimsical; (of a person or thing) that behaves or exists outside the accepted norm, or deviates from the center or the customary.
def: /dih-vō-SHuhn/ n., ardor, fervor, prayer, practice, or dedication to a person or cause, especially a religious one; an ecclesiastical observance or practice.
Artists & Authors: Mary Aparicio Castrejón, Cal Duran, Lizzie Goldsmith, Katie Kut, Cristina Molina, Maria Molteni, Robin Lovett-Owen, Isabela Leonor Rosales, Ruth Speer, Lexi Stone-Wick, Victoria Wick, Ryn Wilson, and Parker Yamasaki.
Madeleine Boyson (she/her)
Deconstructed Seventh-day Adventist and ex-atheist
“Mystical, Empathic Alchemy”
“Perhaps not all artists are mystics, but the choice of art as one’s medium is nevertheless a sort of mystical confession. This is because, in designating visual materials to express things in the place of words, most if not all artists attempt to speak of things that can’t otherwise be articulated.”
(Christian K. Kleinhub, “Are All Artists Mystics? The Case of Leonardo da Vinci”) 
“We don’t just digest the world: we make it.”
(Siri Hustvedt, Living, Thinking, Looking) 
We make things.
I mean “we” in a literal sense, since many of us are creators in one form or another. The contributors in this issue, for instance, have graced the following pages with exquisitely wrought, handmade work, including collage, drawing, installation, painting, photography, print, sculpture, sound design, and writing. Some of them create in their spare time. Others make things, including sermons, for a living.
But I also mean “we” in the general, human sense, one that sees our material existence as a series of creative acts in which we perpetually make and remake the world around us. We make families, we make meals, we make homes. We make factories and the products engineered in them, schools and the curricula taught in them, computers and the codes that run them. We make faces at each other and scientific hypotheses and endless, endless mistakes. We make war…and sometimes peace. We make lots of noise. We make love. We strive to make ends meet. We endeavor to make the world better for our children and most of all, we try to make sense of it all.
Eccentric Devotions is a collection of works by thirteen extraordinary creators that reaches toward that last creative act: making sense. Through art and writing, the contributors in this issue meditate on the ways in which faith, spirituality, or a lack or deconstructed form thereof, inform creative practice. They question the impulses behind and the influences on invention and artistry. And by examining how or where their beliefs converge on artistic production, these contributors try to make sense of where religion, faith, mysticism, spirituality, agnosticism, or unbelief intersect with the need to create.
Religion itself is in the business of making sense. In her book of essays, The Givenness of Things, novelist and self-described Calvinist Marilynne Robinson notes that faith and spirituality are ultimately the workings of curiosity. She writes, “In fact religion, like science, addresses and celebrates mystery—it explores and enacts wonder and wondering.”  Robinson asserts that the faith experience is about cohering our reality to the belief that there is more out there than meets the eye. Spirituality is like a radio’s antennae, tuned by the user to look for meaning.
Creating (separate from faith) is also attuned toward sense-making. Siri Hustvedt, another essayist and novelist, contends in her book Living, Thinking, Looking that “…who we are and how we got that way remain open queries,” in both the humanities and the sciences.  Writing about the biology behind visual perception, Hustvedt points out that creativity is even embedded into our neurology, so fine-tuned as an anatomical process that it is not a conscious act. “We don’t just digest the world,” she states. “We make it.” 
Similarly, celebrated science fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin’s beautiful description of artmaking in her treatise “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction” affirms the conclusion that inquiry is the impulse behind making:
Science fiction properly conceived, like all serious fiction, however funny, is a way of trying to describe what is in fact going on, what people actually do and feel, how people relate to everything else in this vast stack, this belly of the universe, this womb of all things to be and tomb of things that were, this unending story. 
Artistic practice, precisely because we are hard-wired to make things, is naturally about the search for meaning. For the poet Nikki Giovanni, the impulse is simple. “The one thing that’s consistent in my work is that I try to make sense,” she says. 
And according to art historian Christian K. Kleinbub, an artist’s devotional background is almost beside the point, since the decision to create in an artistic fashion is itself a kind of spiritual practice. “Perhaps not all artists are mystics, but the choice of art as one’s medium is nevertheless a sort of mystical confession,” he argues. “This is because, in designating visual materials to express things in the place of words, most if not all artists attempt to speak of things that can’t otherwise be articulated.”  By this measure, makers become intercessors, bridging the veil between worlds.
Since artmaking is as much about making sense of the world as is mysticism, creative practice can become a form of devotion in and of itself. And by viewing artistic production in the light of spiritual belief, the art and writing in Eccentric Devotions suggests that regardless of, but especially in, the context of faith, lack of faith, or even active disbelief, art is an attempt to demystify who we are and why we are here. Artmaking is a genuine, if not divine, quest to illustrate the shape of our humanness. And I believe that the more eccentric the art or the devotion, the closer we come to making sense of that shape.
The word “eccentric” means odd, peculiar, unconventional, or whimsical. Most often it refers to something that exists outside the accepted norm, a person or idea that deviates or deconstructs from the center or the customary. This word conveys a departure from established practice, but it also suggests an individualized experience. To be eccentric is to be unique. But more importantly, to be eccentric is to be yourself on purpose.
“Devotion” is similarly original, relating a personalized ardor, prayer, practice, or dedication to a person or cause, especially a religious one. And so let me be clear: this issue is not an exhaustive look at art’s relationship to religion, or spirituality, or the occult, or atheism, or anything else so stunningly complex as the metaphysical emprise. There are as many spiritual experiences as there are people who have them, and there are a trillion times more than that if we are to believe that the human psyche evolves and shifts and believes differently over time. This zine does not encompass more than a handful of personal mysticisms. Rather, it suggests a glimpse at creativity through keyhole of faith. If nothing else, Eccentric Devotions is a modest effort to open one door of many in a dialogue about religion, a topic I’m only beginning to unravel myself.
Taken together, “eccentric devotions” is an encompassing phrase that evokes the deeply individualized side to both spirituality and creative practice. Beyond the unifying curiosity to find the shape of our humanness, each contributor brings their background and a peculiar perspective to bear on this issue’s broad theme. Everyone explores their devotional histories with vulnerability and intense personal reflection, and I am grateful to these artists for their thoughtful contributions to such an important (if elusive) topic.
Alongside the usual information—name, pronouns, title of work, medium, artist statement, etc.—the reader will find two topical descriptors. Each is an answer to the prompts: What is your religious or spiritual affiliation or background? And, what are one (or two or three) word(s) you would use to describe your religious or spiritual experience? The variety of answers provide context for the contributions, but past that, each submission is as open to interpretation as the provided statements or biographies allow. I encourage readers to remain open to every viewpoint, every eccentricity, which range from a Lutheran pastor to an unaffiliated religious observer to an exvangelical to a Curandero.
The theme of this issue was borne of my curiosity about the roles that spirituality plays in our creative lives. My own artistic practice has grown out of a fraught background in Seventh-day Adventism—a small, Protestant Christian denomination that notably observes Saturday as the day of worship and doesn’t put much stock in visual aesthetics—and a subsequently heavy-handed theological swing into atheism. Today, I might describe my spiritual experience as “mystical.” But in truth, I am still searching, both as a Being and as an Artist, which I am increasingly convinced are the same thing.
Robinson writes that religion is based on “…the intuition that Being has a greater life than what we see…and touch,” and I believe we can apply that assessment to any methodology that helps us make sense of things.  Art (like the biblical Creation) is a sensitivity to and a search for the shape of our humanness. This issue is proof to me that creative practice is, if nothing else, an eccentric communion with the self, whether or not we are religious. Moreover, these meditations show how art in light of the faith experience may, as bell hooks describes of artist Alison Saar’s work, put us in contact with “…the presence of holy spirit in our daily life.” For it is “there [within the context of everyday life] that our spirits dwell and stand in the need of comfort and shelter.” 
To do this, we’ll need all of our creative practices, all of our eccentricities, all of our devotions. As the poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote:
Let not one god pass away. We all need each of them now,
let each be valid for us, each image formed in the depths.
Don’t speak with the slightest disdain of whatever the heart can know. 
May you find some of your humanness and, perhaps, some of your divinity in these pages.
We are all simply trying to make sense of things.
 Christian K. Kleinbub, “Are All Artists Mystics? The Case of Leonardo da Vinci,” The Brooklynn Rail, July 2021, https://brooklynrail.org/2021/07/editorsmessage/Are-All-Artists-Mystics-The-Case-of-Leonardo-da-Vinci.
 Siri Hustvedt, Living, Thinking, Looking: Essays (New York: Picador, 2012), 35.
 Marilynne Robinson, The Givenness of Things: Essays (New York: Picador, 2015), 151.
 Hustvedt, Living, Thinking, Looking, ix.
 Ibid., 35.
 Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction,” The Anarchist Library, 1986, https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/ursula-k-le-guin-the-carrier-bag-theory-of-fiction. Italics added for emphasis.
 Nikki Giovanni, interview by Amy Rose Spiegel, April 24, 2017, transcript, “On trusting your own voice,” The Creative Independent, October 29, 2020, https://thecreativeindependent.com/people/nikki-giovanni-on-trusting-your-own-voice/.
 Kleinbub, “Are All Artists Mystics?”
 Robinson, The Givenness of Things, 151.
 bell hooks, Art on My Mind: Visual Politics (New York: The New Press, 1995), 20.
 Rainer Maria Rilke, “Appendix to the Sonnets to Orpheus [VI],” Duino Elegies and The Sonnets to Orpheus, ed. and trans. Stephen Mitchell (New York: Vintage International, 2009), 205.
The Faith of Folk
Parker Yamasaki (she/her)
His name was Leonard; I don’t know his last name. It’s probably on the Internet somewhere because a lot more people know a lot more about Leonard now than when I met him. I hadn’t expected to meet him there, although I don’t know where I thought he’d be. Home, I guess. I hadn’t considered that his home was Salvation Mountain, the three-story high straw-and-paint testament in the middle of the desert that proclaims, among other messages, “GOD IS LOVE.”
When Leonard originally arrived in Niland, California, he’d tried to spread his message of God’s love via hot air balloon. It didn’t have the impact he had hoped for, and, accepting defeat, he started to move on. At the town’s edge, Leonard decided tomake one more attempt with his message, this time in a small monument. He piled dirt, concrete, and leftover paint that he found at the dump. He scrawled something about the love of the Lord on top of it all. Then he parked his car and then kept working on it for 28 years.
The first time I visited Salvation Mountain was in 2008. The mountain was wider than I had imagined and more thoroughly sun-faded. At its summit stood a white, wooden cross. On its south side was a maze of multi-colored caverns stitched together by spindly branches. There was a shrine room and an adobe of hogan (a traditional Navajo structure) to provide cooler temperatures and shade during the summer. Still, Leonard chose to live out of his car.
We arrived in a borrowed, white Prius covered in Hawaiian flowers and Trader Joe’s logos. My mom and her friend Lisa both worked for Trader Joe’s at the time, and their store had sold the most turkeys that holiday season. The prize was a company Prius that employees could “check out” like a library book for one year. At the time, the Prius may as well have been a spaceship. Myself, my mom, and Lisa were unabashedly mesmerized by its wide, digital displays and impossible gas mileage. When it was our turn to drive it, we did the only reasonable thing we could think of: we drove it into the middle of the desert to look for aliens.
We didn’t find any aliens, per se, but we stumbled upon extraterrestrial life in plenty. Naturally, we packed our trunk full of Trader Joe’s snacks. If we broke down in the middle of the California desert at least we’d have pretzel slims and pub cheese.
When we got to Salvation Mountain, we offered all of the food to Leonard. He refused everything except for a jug of water. I was baffled—the only food I’d seen for miles was a Mini Mart and a bar back in Niland (certainly no Trader Joe’s), and the man was as brittle looking as the straw he used to shape his monument. But Leonard was confident, quiet, and satiated by his faith in the Lord. Until that point, I had never seen such devotion.
I had friends that went to church. I knew which ones went to church specifically so that I could avoid sleeping over at their houses on Saturday nights. On the occasions that I did accidentally wake up at a devout friend’s house on a Sunday morning, my mom always suggested that I go to church with them. In fact, she encouraged both my brother and me to attend whenever we were invited. I guess she was just open-minded enough to think that maybe her kids would find something in it that she never had.
We never did. One time, after another altruistic family attempted to save our souls, my mom asked my brother and me, “How was church?”
“I don’t yike that place,” my younger brother answered, “all they talk about is God.”
She had apparently failed to explain what church was before agreeing to let him go. For all he knew he was off to play soccer and LEGOs.
My mom was respectful, but she never went to a service herself. If there were any internal reasons to avoid church she never divulged them to us as kids, but she was vocal about the external reasons. I hesitate to say that she was a gay rights “activist” because I didn’t know her in the ‘80s—which would have been her prime time—but let’s just say that by the time I could walk she had me laced up in tiny Doc Martens, collecting money for different HIV/AIDS foundations. My mom was, what we’d call in today’s terms, an “ally.” In short, she couldn’t handle the hypocrisy of “loving thy neighbor” in concept but excluding entire groups of real people from that love.
Different denominations of faith offered good intentions, but my mom found shortcomings in all of them. And she didn’t just find them, she fixated on them. For that reason, religion in general remained a vague and distant term in my house.
Oddly, her aversion to religious institutions was balanced by an equally strong taste for religious art. It was her idea to visit Salvation Mountain that year—after stops at Sanchez’s Beer Bottle Chapel and Desert Christ Park. These were folk art monuments, over-the-top kitschy structures built with fewer resources than they needed and made glamorous by their insistence on holiness. They were eccentric.
We never went looking for any architecturally profound basilicas or cathedrals, but we regularly pulled off the road for every single-owner, self-taught, DIY display of faith.
As remote as these places were—in concept and in location—these folk-religious sites became our own sort of pilgrimage. But for us, it was about the people. Every artist we ever met, and many that we didn’t but whose art we enjoyed nonetheless, had a story that wound “from Amboy to Zzyzx,” as Joshua Tree-based radio host Ken Layne would say. These artists had a relentlessness about them. A devotion so deep that they didn’t need traditional methods or materials or even a consistent source of water. Their reverence inspired our own. Not of God, but of them.
Leonard was not the only one. Just down the road from Salvation Mountain is an abandoned army base called Slab City, referring to the slabs of concrete that army barracks once rested on. The residents of Slab City are mostly squatters or people who spent most of their time on the road before the road hit a dead end. A lot of them are also creative, also eccentric, and also devout. If you Google Slab City you’ll find landmarks like “The Blue Church,” “East Jesus,” and “Church of Enlightenment.” Each of them is a wily ode to the possibility of heaven and the certainty of earth.
It doesn’t seem like coincidence that these exhibits all stand in the wide California desert. This is the type of place where too much exposure to the elements—simply being there in the sun and heat—can have a hallucinatory effect. The desert is a place where paranoia and prophecy go hand in hand, where all kinds of “contact” has been made, where you can choose to believe all of it or none of it but “some of it” is not an option. Ken Layne put it best when he described the desert as a place where “even God is a possibility in a universe that is filled with such things.” 
There are people in the desert—people like Leonard—to whom God seemed to be the only possibility. I’ve never known such devotion. And maybe it’s because I’m too afraid to be wrong. I think about Leonard the same way I think about a scientist or an engineer or an assembly line worker—so uniquely focused on one task that it seems almost impossible. And what if it turns out that he was wrong all along? What if, like Trey Parker suggests in the “Probably” episode of South Park, “it was…the Mormons. Yes, the Mormons was the correct answer.” 
The thing is, we either know or we don’t and it doesn’t matter either way. I’ve derived my own view of faith from a repurposed Kendrick Lamar line which goes, “…what happens on earth stays on earth.”  No matter where Leonard is now, he did something on earth that is akin to a miracle. He created a mountain in the desert using resources that were not locally available, surviving in the shade of a reclaimed military net, drinking only water, eating God knows what and God knows how often, full of his love for the Lord.
The second time I made the trip to Salvation Mountain was in 2015 to scatter my mom’s ashes. Leonard was dead by then, too. His car was still parked in front of the mountain. Under the military netting where he once sat with his water jugs at his feet—his “front porch,” you might call it—was a small donation box. Salvation Mountain, Inc., had taken over the property and the donations were spent on upkeep and “efforts of charity on Leonard’s behalf.”
When my mom died a lot of well-meaning people said things like, “She’s in a better place now.” And while I’d nod silently at them I’d think only, “No, she had it pretty good here, and now she’s gone.” She didn’t leave me with a reliance on faith or an unrealistic expectation that her spirit would be with me wherever I go. She did what she could while she was on Earth and that was more than enough. I do see her wherever I go, though. Not in a spiritual way, but in an earthly, aesthetic way. I see her in books, film, illustrations, and art—especially folk art.
My brother and I took some of her ashes to Salvation Mountain because it’s a work of folk art that embodied those earthly things she believed in— making do, spreading joy, endless love. Maybe she’s “up there somewhere” with Leonard, chilling with a jug of water under some army netting. I don’t dispute anyone who chooses to believe so. Personally, I choose to believe that she’s in the rolling ocean and the dusty deserts where we scattered her, in my favorite place on earth, on earth.
 Desert Oracle Radio, “Mojave Spaceport,” aired April 23, 2021, on KCDZ 107.7 FM, Joshua Tree, CA, https://www.desertoracle.com/episode-126-mojave-spaceport/.
 South Park, season 4, episode 11, “Probably,” directed by Trey Parker, written by Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and David R. Goodman, aired July 26, 2000, Comedy Central.
 Kendrick Lamar, “ELEMENT.,” by Kendrick Lamar, Mark Spears a.k.a. Sounwave, James Blake, and Ricci Riera, recorded 2017, on DAMN., Top Dawg Entertainment.
Robin Lovett-Owen (she/her)
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
“Lutheran Pastor/Spiritual Leader”
As a Lutheran pastor and artist, I am intrigued by the connection between our subconscious and spiritual lives. The biblical accounts of Jacob are fertile for this kind of exploration. Jacob ran into the wilderness to escape a threat from his brother, and ran until he was exhausted. He put his head on a rock and slept, where he had a vision of messengers (the word “angels” just means “messengers”) from the Divine ascending and descending upon the spot where he slept. When he woke up, he exclaimed, “Surely God is in this place and I did not know it!”
How often do we allow ourselves to see the Holy in places we did not expect? How often do we allow ourselves to flee for our lives out of our comfort zones, into wild places—either in our hearts or on this Earth?
I drew and carved this linocut with little planning, hoping that it would look more childlike and dreamlike—more connected to my own subconscious. I hope my art allows myself and others to find moments to exclaim, “Surely the Holy is in this place and I did not know it!”
A Sea Bird
Maria Molteni (they/she)
Mystic, Witch/Seawitch, Catholic upbringing, Member of Lake Pleasant Spiritualist Church, Shaker academic
“Mysticism, Channeling, Dreamwork”
Artist + NCAA Biography
Maria Molteni is a multi-media and performing artist, educator, organizer, and mystic. Their practice has been based in Fort Point for eight of the twenty years they’ve lived in Boston. Molteni’s work is conceptual, formal, socially engaged, deeply researched, and contemplative. From fiber to found-object sculpture, textile to movement, performance to publication, they choose media per its ability to intersect conceptual rigor, formal satisfaction, and spiritual depth. Exploring seemingly separate fields like athletics, craft, entomology, feminism, urban planning, Spiritualism, and queerness, they seek to interrupt binary thinking, crossing otherwise siloed communities and research. Their work pulls from a well of historical contexts, reimagining traditional narratives for visionary revolution. The artist often imagines they are the P.E. Coach of visionary communities like the Shakers, Bauhaus, or Black Mountain College.
In 2010 Molteni launched the international collective New Craft Artists in Action (NCAA), which encourages participation over spectatorship, bringing artists and athletes together through DIY public projects as well as gallery/museum exhibitions. In 2014 they self-published Net Works: Learn to Craft Handmade Basketball Nets for Empty Hoops in Your Neighborhood, a knit and crochet instruction manual complete with patterns for crafting expressive basketball nets. Under “Team Captain” Molteni’s direction, they pioneered the field of community-centered basketball court “murals,” vibrant spaces that encourage a wider spectrum of identities to play. From hiring crew members to consulting with local youth, these court projects welcome folks who may have been previously pushed to the sidelines. NCAA’s work has been replicated by artists, educators, and organizers internationally, particularly since their Dorchester court Hard in the Paint, Harambee Park received a national public art award from Americans for the Arts.
Molteni, a former competitive athlete, combines their love for embodied spiritual expression, site specific installation, and inclusive art/athletic cultures to create immersive ground works. These paintings have become anchored in conversation between the land/sea/body and sky/celestial beings. Astronomical and Astrological occurrences are often incorporated into the process, creating designs in and for real-time engagement with movements of the heavens. Additionally, their love for anarchic community devotion led them to view courts as collective neighborhood altars that pose new models for outdated, figurative, public monuments. The monumental scale invites visitors to inhabit the works on a level(ed) playing field rather than peering up at problematic people atop static pedestals. As a form of urban “land-art,” they bounce messages off of the pavement toward something greater than the game alone, but fully within its power.
Athletics, like religion, are a dominant arena for culture that generate monumental attention and emotional investment. I grew up ritually shooting free throws and praying the rosary, taught to do both by bead slinging, basketball dunking Dominican nuns. My current mystical practices have branched far from my strictly Catholic upbringing, but I still recall helpful non-binary structures such as the “Holy Trinity” that informed my queer identity today. My fondness for the ocean and island lore, particularly myths about near-alien, femme beings like mermaids and sirens, further shaped my complex expressions of gender and embodiment. Much of my work, including a 20-minute film A Visitors Guide to Orientation on Spectacle Island (in collaboration with Hermione Spriggs and Sue Murad) and performance There Are Plenty of Single Ladies in the Sea investigates reclaimed narratives of these mythic, sex-less sea beings. There is a particular narrative about the Sirens, called “Bird Termination,” in which the goddess Venus was “so annoyed with their persistent chastity that she changed them into birds.” I also like to reframe them as protective alarm systems that sound a warning when we humans believe our bodies to be so separated from the land or sea.
Having lived in and visited the Fort Point neighborhood for over a decade, I spent a lot of time meditating on these concepts in the late Our Lady of Good Voyage Chapel. It was built in the 1950s as one of several “workers chapels” that gave various labor forces access to a convenient place of worship. Because of my connection to sea goddess/witch culture, I felt comfortable kneeling before a mother-protector of the ocean and ships. Around this time I also joined the Boston Rowing Center through the Hull Life Saving Museum. When the original Our Lady of Good Voyage Building was torn down and the former foundation surrounded by luxury skyscrapers, I honored its ghost through a body of work called “Fall of a Sea Bird” or “Ruina Avem Maris.” One can see the hidden phrases written in nautical flag coding, painted into the four square and hopscotch sections of the court. In full they spell a poem that I also see as an anti-gentrification spell: “Bird Asea, Wave of Grace, Brace. Brace.” (Brace Brace is code language on an aircraft when it is headed for the water). The repeated cloud motif and other simple geometry echo the visual language of the original chapel’s stained glass windows. As with the ascension of Mary, the protective energy of the building rose and still soars around the neighborhood. This sea-court in the Seaport is named after and dedicated to Our Lady of Good Voyage, our proud and majestic Sea Bird and Siren.
Before I began this work, I rewrote a version of the Hail Mary that I’ve prayed since a child, in devotion to the great Sea Goddetc and Matriarchal Protector of the Sea. I prayed this each day and rang bells over small Shell altars built at every corner of the court:
Wave of Grace
The Ocean is within you
Blessed are you
And blessed is your salt in our wounds
Mother of Tides
Call to your Sirens
(Pray for Poseidon)
Now, and in our hours of depth
Thou Shalt Create—But in These Ways Only
Lexi Stone-Wick (she/her) & Victoria Wick (she/her)
There was a time in the history of the Western world when people with artistic gifts flocked to the Church to share them, and believers and non-believers alike wandered through church doors into lavishly adorned sanctuaries hoping to catch a glimpse of heaven. For centuries, the Christian Church was the primary patron of the arts, refusing to waste the time and talents God had so generously bestowed upon humanity. The Church knew that the world cried out for the return of its savior, but in the meantime, a little beauty couldn’t hurt.
By the time the Seventh-day Adventist Church was formed, the relationship between the Church and the arts had changed. Seventh-day Adventism is a fundamentalist denomination that arose during the Second Great Awakening, a period of Protestant revival that swept the United States in the mid-nineteenth century. Their foundational belief was simple: Jesus is coming back soon—very soon. Perhaps this is why Adventists vowed not to distract themselves with things as frivolous as dancing, well-seasoned food, or women’s ordination. There was simply never enough time!
What we did have was music. We grew up in the Adventist Church, and as girls filled with things to say in an environment that didn’t give women a platform to speak, we took what opportunities we could to sing. At the age of eleven, we joined our mom in leading music for the new contemporary worship service. It became our main source of community; instead of attending the youth group with our peers, we spent four hours every Wednesday night with our middle-aged bandmates rehearsing whichever five praise songs we were reprising that week.
The contemporary service struggled to get off the ground, but when a new preacher arrived at our congregation, he brought with him dreams of elevating the contemporary service to show-stopping splendor. With giddiness, he showed us the YouTube videos that he longed to replicate. We watched as thirty golden-robed choristers glittered with each choreographed sway, each singer holding their own microphone as they belted contemporary praise songs in unison:
Yes, Lord! Yes, Lord! Yes, yes, Lord! Yes, Lord! Yes, Lord! Yes, yes, Lord! Yes, Lord! Yes, Lord! Yes, yes, Lord! AMEN!
We were skeptical, but we were in.
As the years went on, we gained a few new singers but never the additional 24 we would need to realize his—nay, our—dream. With each passing fiscal year, the possibility of individual microphones grew more remote, and we stopped talking about the golden choir robes altogether. Our dream retreated, but our intensity grew. As we dedicated more of our rehearsal time to perfecting our two-part harmonies, there was less time available for the shoulder rub trains. Morale was waning.
It was around that time our pastor requested that we start a newsletter for and about the praise band. Why he asked two high school girls to write a newsletter was beyond our understanding at the time—praise bands aren’t typically the kind of associations to require newsletters, and seventeen-year-olds aren’t typically entrusted to edit church publications. But we agreed nevertheless, eager for an opportunity to share our thoughts and crack a few jokes. We couldn’t have known it then, but our newsletter would turn out to be the creative outlet that would reflect back to us the ways our church and religion had failed us, silenced us. It showed us once and for all that we needed to leave. We distributed two issues, and then we left for good.
Our pastor’s motivations for suggesting a newsletter are less mysterious in retrospect. He was simply leveraging an age-old ministerial tactic: outsourcing care labor to the unpaid women (or girls) in the church. Artistic opportunities often overlap with care labor. He needed someone to build morale and rather than treat us better, he charged us to rally the troops. We couldn’t have been the only band members feeling discouraged and devalued, but doing anything about that himself clearly fell outside his understanding of his pastoral duties.
It has now been ten years since we left the Seventh-day Adventist Church and ten years since we have revisited those fateful pages. At the time we wrote them, we knew they came off “sarcastic,” which was the only way we knew to express our boiling anger.
We were angry that despite all the time we invested in creating a meaningful worship experience for other congregants, many continued to debate whether it could even count as worship.
We were angry that although we were highly visible in the church as worship leaders, we felt our needs and identities were invisible.
We were angry we couldn’t even hold our own damn microphones.
We were angry because we knew full well the music truly did suck—nothing but boring melodies and embarrassing lyrics.
We were angry that being up front for worship gave people more opportunities to comment on how we dressed or filled out a bra.
We were angry that the creepy men always found their way next to us for the pre-service group prayer hug.
It turns out that anger is a great fuel. It helps us create. It helps us leave.
We present the original pages of our newsletter to you as artifacts from a different time in our lives, documentation of what we experienced.
When we wrote it, we hoped our newsletter might function as a pressure release valve, allowing us to blow off enough steam until only sacred joy remained in our hearts. It turns out the volume of steam was far greater than the size of the valve. So we were faced with that age-old question that arises when things are no longer working: Do you stay and try to make change from within, possibly trading a piece of yourself in the process? Or do you leave, hoping to create something new elsewhere?
On impossible things
Mary Aparicio Castrejón (she/her)
Mary Aparicio Castrejón is the editorial page editor for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. Artistically, she aims to pair unlikely subjects and concepts with recycled and/or thrifted materials. In general, she tries to make the best out of whatever she’s been given.
Ryn Wilson (she/her)
Does not follow any religion, but is most closely aligned with the Goddess Movement
My work takes a cinematic approach to narratives with an emphasis on feminism, the environment, and mysticism. Exploring the many archetypes of women throughout history offers insight into society’s views on gender and equality. I look at past and current cultural narratives and create new mythologies from a perspective that empowers and honors women, the marginalized, and the environment. Film, fairy tales, and religious texts all offer stories that shape who we are and how we interact with our world. My work looks at expected and traditional roles of women in society to create new mythologies for a modern age of equality.
Oneiromancy is a series of photographs that recreate images from dreams as a form of intuitive divination. Dreams are a medium between our subconscious and conscious minds, and I’m interested in exploring this symbolism and its psycho-spiritual implications. This project acknowledges the role of women in mysticism and how that connects to intuition and dreams. Historically, one the few spaces where women have had authoritative power were as spiritual mediums such as oracles, spiritualists, and psychics. Many of our current problems with inequality, intolerance, violence, and environmental degradation have roots in the human tendency to think primarily of how to advance oneself rather than working together as a community for the benefit of all. This creates a feeling of scarcity rather than abundance, which leads to fear and greed. I believe that deep alignment with intuition and the collective unconscious could offer an alternative to our current lack of harmony and interconnectedness with the planet and other people.
Dancing for the Star Family
Cal Duran (he/him)
Have you had a dream where it felt as if it was real? Do you feel the earth guide you to something that feels right? Have you felt a portal of some distant reality exist alongside us?
Art has been a portal to channel my Indigenous ancestors, where I slip under an emotional spinning vortex of creation. The makers of my blood flow through me. I channel the artisans, craft-makers, mud-dwellers, star-makers, dream-weavers, and earth-brothers and sisters—the ones who paved the way and forged the path. My work carries spirit and my truth is in everything I create.
I grew up in Colorado, my mother was adopted and my father was not quite in the picture. I have roots that bridge India and the natives of this land. I find myself exploring parallels between my hybrid identities found in myth, religion, and ritual.
Katie Kut (she/her)
Memento Mori is about many things, but one aspect of this piece is about the emotional burdens we carry, not only from our own personal histories, but also that of our ancestors. Unhealed parts of our ancestors are passed down through the actions, behaviors, and the DNA of our caretakers. Our deceased and living relatives’ stories are inherently our own stories as well.
The year 2020 instigated a lot of “shadow work” for me, and as I unraveled my own history of chronic depression, suicidal ideation, trauma, and wounding, I began to see how my ancestors’ unseen shadows were inextricably tied to my own. Locating and identifying this aspect of my experience instigated multiple practices that included acknowledging and healing the pain that was inflicted by, or on, my relatives both past and present. This piece is meant to honor the unseen, unhealed, dark, and painful parts of my relatives and of myself, and to acknowledge that pain cannot be healed unless it is first recognized.
What It Sounds Like to Your Faith
Lizzie Goldsmith (she/her)
I am a Denver-based writer, producer, and sound designer dedicated to telling fiction and nonfiction stories in innovative ways. Spiritual journeys and deconstructions are of particular interest to me, given my own deconstruction from evangelical Christianity over the last several years. This soundscape was the first time I tried to translate my own experience into sound, and it remains meaningful to me as both a process and a final product. I continue to seek out stories to tell that represent the breadth of the human experience, probably best exemplified by a spiritual memoir I adapted into an audio drama in 2019, which touches on the complexities of relationships and mental health in addition to, of course, religion and spirituality.
Birds are singing on a clear morning as she walks down the sidewalk. We hear faint music in the background that reveals itself to be an organ when she opens a door. People are talking and laughing in the background as she makes her way to a pew and sits down with a deep sigh. The assembled congregants begin to sing the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”:
Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let Thy goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
She can’t bring herself to sing along. Instead, she starts to cry, and runs out of the church. It is now raining and thundering outside, and she wanders through puddles, overcome with emotion, as the music fades behind her. The rain is now snow, and she is tromping through it, up, up, up, as the wind whistles all around her. She unzips a tent and climbs inside, cutting off some of the chill. Now she can give way to the tumult of emotions inside her. She cries. Then, for a few seconds, she hears tortured screams and the lick of flames, coming as if from a great distance away. She shudders.
A music box begins to play as the screams recede, accompanied by what sounds like the breath of life. She is calming down now, even as the storm continues to rage outside. She reaches for a portable radio and turns it on. First, it’s all static, then she hears the muffled sounds of that hymn again. She turns the dial, but finds no other signal or sound cutting through the storm. After a few moments of channel surfing, she stops on the hymn, which picks up where it left off:
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it
Prone to leave the God I—
She shuts off the radio, and then the wind fades.
Ruth Speer (she/her)
Deconstructing Christ Follower
“A Good Nebulous Mess”
My work begins and ends with both concealment and storytelling. I paint narrative scenes to convey personal, emotional experiences through staged tableaux, using character archetypes, settings, and symbolism to translate something intensely private into a metaphorical, allegorical spectacle. The most rewarding part of this telling-and-not-telling happens when the puzzle of a finished painting resonates as a wealth of interpretations, and I can connect with people over a shared feeling while the original experience is processed in solitude.
The creation practice plays out like a theatrical production in my studio. After casting the roles and sourcing costume pieces, props, and backdrops to frame the figures, the stories in my paintings are told through the visual language of Western painting history, particularly the ornate landscapes and flat fleshiness of the Northern Renaissance, the romance and jewel-toned palettes of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, and the solemnity and earnestly-staged compositions of religious iconography. I’m drawn to these influences for their technical beauty, symbolism, and mystery, even in an opulence of intricate detail, and am also interested in the way these commonly recognized Eurocentric aesthetics can lend the illusion of implied importance, timelessness, and inscrutability.
Altars for Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Zora Neale Hurston
Cristina Molina (she/her)
Prefers not to disclose
Altars for Marjorie Stoneman Douglas and Zora Neale Hurston were made within the South Florida Everglades, a unique, biodiverse ecosystem once deemed as a stagnant swamp. The images were produced late at night while I was in residence at the Everglades National Park.
In the dark, with only a projector to light the scene, I arranged flora, fruit, images from the historical park archives, specimen samples, and projected imagery of the landscape into tableaus that combined materials of the past and present. Among the objects were the seminal texts “River of Grass” and “Their Eyes Were Watching God” two books that highlighted the beauty, complexity, and importance of the Everglades landscape and recounted the lives of the people who dwelled there at the turn of the 20th century.
Through literary means, Marjorie Stoneman Douglas and Zora Neale Hurston were able to shape consciousness and reveal just how vibrant and critical the Everglades ecosystem was to South Florida and the country at large. The presence of these two women truly served as “inspiration”; moved by their lasting legacy to protect and preserve the Everglades, I felt compelled to pay a humble homage to my new-found creative guides in art and magic.
A Flourishing Encounter
Isabela Leonor Rosales (she/her)
Raised Roman Catholic, currently faith-aware and respectful as long as human flourishing and agency as well as eco-justice-oriented values are prioritized
“Constantly Deconstructing and Decolonizing”
Isabela Leonor Rosales is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Religion with a certificate in Latinx Studies in the Joint Doctoral Program with the University of Denver and Iliff School of Theology. Isabela is an anti-racist community organizer and equity advocate in gender-inclusive rights and has done contract work for the Colorado Organization of Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights and Women’s Voices for the Earth. She is currently working as a research assistant with both the University of Denver Latino Center for Scholarship and Engagement and the Iliff Institute for Religion, Politics, and Culture. When she is not engaged in her scholarship and organizing work, she finds nourishment in the outdoors with her three dogs or with a black pen in hand to create art that honors identity, intersectionality, decolonization, and transcendence through life-giving encounters with the other.
This zine was published in 2021 by Femme Salée.
© 2021 Femme Salée
Individual artworks, poems, and essays © 2021 the author/artist.
Cover: Robin Lovett-Owen, Jacob’s Ladder (Dreamscape), 2021, Linocut print © Robin Lovett-Owen.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any other information storage and retrieval system, or otherwise without prior permission in writing from publisher.