The following comes from a Sept. 1 email from one of our correspondents.
On August 27, the Manresa Gallery, the art gallery inside St. Ignatius Church, the church of the (Jesuit) University of San Francisco hosted Meditation Wednesday. The gallery described the event:
“Come enjoy a moment of presence.
“The 30 minute sessions will recharge you and it is a great way to end a work day and prepare for the evening.
“Ali Naschke-Messing writes, ‘Meditation is simply a practice of presence; it hones our capacity to allow all things to be naturally as they are. This can occur in any moment, in any environment.’ She is excited to host opportunities for communal silence. There will be a little instruction, but mostly silence. No experience with meditation necessary, just an open mind.
“See-Through-Silence is available for the public to host mindful gatherings and events. If you have a book club, choir, group meeting or special project that could utilize this alcove, please contact us. We want to be able to share the warmth of the space and build appreciation for this artist-designed communal project. Reasonable restrictions apply.”
Manresa Gallery’s website describes some of the meditation exhibits: “Join Manresa Gallery and Ali Naschke-Messing for a special extension of her meditation series begun during our previous exhibition, Thresholds of Faith: Four Entries into the Beyond. That exhibition “includes four visual artists of differing faith backgrounds (Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim) who used the gallery spaces to investigated (sic) the meaning of their spiritual practices and religious backgrounds through their art making…. Utilizing one of Manresa’s missions and key concepts of gallery as lab, the exhibition provided four independent studio-like alcove spaces where investigations and experiments can take place, creating a platform from which critical contemporary interfaith dialogues and exchanges can occur….”
The description continues, “Thresholds of Faith…stretches the more traditional understanding of the limits expected of (imposed by) a faith and allows a flexibility to see how one can move beyond our fixed expectations (of wholeness and holiness) in a personal/communal journey that seeks completeness.
“On Sunday, April 13th, 2014, Manresa Gallery hosted the first in a series of performances curated by Taraneh Hemami for her installation Reverberations of Stone. Reverberations of Stone is a depiction of a Mehrab, which is a devotional niche marking the direction of prayer in a Mosque. The installation is an experiment that collapses spaces and overlapping systems of belief, creating a temporary coexistence. The inside of the alcove serves as a reorientation of perspective.”
The installation of the art gallery in Saint Ignatius required the removal and destruction of the church’s confessionals in order to create the non-Catholic space. The replacement was celebrated by USF’s Jesuits in a 2008 announcement: “St. Ignatius Church, a Jesuit parish in San Francisco, celebrated the opening of its new Manresa Gallery on September 18. Formed by four interior alcoves, which previously housed confessional boxes, the gallery is a permanent testament to St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Composition of Place…”
In 2013, the removal of confessionals was followed by the removal of pews from the back of the church to make room for ‘social gatherings.’ (See the November 19, 2013 Cal Catholic article “Secularization continues at USF’s Church.”) St. Ignatius’ August 4, 2013 parish bulletin contained the entry “Pardon Our Dust! In the next few weeks, the last three pews in the southeast corner of the church (by the statue of St. Ignatius) will be removed and put in storage. The purpose is to create space at the back of the church for social gatherings….”
The Recent Past exhibitions page on the Manresa Gallery website shows that the Cal Catholic description did more accurately reflect the motive for the pews’ removal. The page has a series of photos of large “social gatherings” –gallery openings and exhibits–by the entrance to the art gallery in the space formerly occupied by the pews. The photos show crowds of people paying great attention to the art and artists. No attention is paid whatsoever—backs are turned—to Jesus Christ, God Himself, in the Tabernacle.