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Meet the First Winner of the Dal Schindell Prize

January 12, 2021
"I hope to continue to cultivate a life that responds humbly to the wonder of God’s presence."

Last year, Regent inaugurated a new convocation award: the Dal Schindell Arts and Theology Prize. In addition to honouring a graduating student who has demonstrated excellence in the study of Arts and Theology, this award celebrates the legacy of Dal Schindell, a cherished faculty and staff member who nurtured a deep and thoughtful love for the arts in the Regent community.

Blythe Kingcroft (MATS ’20), the first winner of the Dal Schindell Arts and Theology Prize, exemplifies the intellectual curiosity, creative energy, and interdisciplinary engagement that Dal cultivated in his students. In the following interview, Blythe shares about her work, her artistic perspective, and the hidden theological depths of the colour blue.

How did you decide to come to Regent?

Growing up in Victoria, just a ferry away, I encountered lots of folks who had studied here in some capacity. I was always drawn to Regent’s interdisciplinary spirit, as well as its commitment to both the arts and the world, alongside its academic emphasis. It seemed like the right place to continue my exploration of the subjects that interested me in my English undergrad: ecology (etymologically the study of home, of oikos) and poetics (the theory of literary forms, the study of what we make), and their many intersections. I wanted to deepen my understanding of these subjects within a theological framework. To me, how we think about God feels inseparable from how we think about both the world and the art that bears witness to this world. I felt like I would be able to explore that connection at Regent.

Did you come to Regent planning to study Theology and the Arts?

Yes and no. I knew I was interested in this intersection, but wasn’t sure I’d do an IPIAT—perhaps just a concentration in Interdisciplinary Studies that explored literary theory. I also thought a lot about a concentration in Spiritual Theology, because I love the texts assigned for that track. When I realized I could weave all three interests together in an IPIAT, while practicing fidelity to my own creative practice, I decided to concentrate in the Arts. Also, sometimes I need some extra motivation (read: deadlines) to produce my own creative work. The IPIAT gave me just that!  

Could you share a bit about your IPIAT project?

I wrote a chapbook of poems titled Lapis Lazuli. It’s a poetic exploration of the colour blue, written with a curiosity for three things: St. Augustine’s language theory, a sacramental theology, and the symbolic economy of blue.

The title comes from the lapis lazuli stone, which became famous in the West during the Italian Renaissance for its use in a rich blue paint called ultramarine. This particular colour has a long tradition of being used to signify that which transcends us: the immaterial, the divine, the beyond, the horizon. As a result, this colour has a tendency to captivate the imaginations of those who are more mystically or apophatically inclined—those who are drawn to that which eludes us. St. Dionysius (or Pseudo-Dionysius) was intrigued by the colour as a sign of hiddenness. The late medieval painter Giotto saturated his depiction of heaven with ultramarine paint. And in A Field Guide to Getting Lost, contemporary writer Rebecca Solnit calls blue “the color of longing for distances you never arrive in.” This colour has a long symbolic history of representing the transcendent.

And yet, blue is as earthy and material as it gets. First, we have this blue stone, lapis lazuli, but even more so, we have this blue planet. With that in mind, I view blue as something that signifies God’s transcendence and God’s immanence held together—a paradoxical fusion that refuses an escape into that which is purely abstract, and instead charges our imaginations with an awareness of divine presence here and in front of us. There is nothing materially special about blue, of course, but it’s a helpful heuristic for understanding the world as "charged" with God's presence, the world as sacrament.

How has your time at Regent made a difference in your life?

I’ve certainly deepened in my understanding of the world as sacrament—of God’s presence throughout the world, which infuses the world with sacredness. And as a writer, I’ve come to see how language can be rife with this presence too. This concept articulates a reality I’ve always felt but for which I previously lacked language.

This was made possible by widening my view of our faith tradition, which was facilitated by a few key faculty at Regent. The voices shaping me are now more diverse: Catholic, Orthodox, medieval, patristic, and contemporary philosophers and thinkers, eco-theologians, a wider array of artists, and more. I think this openness towards other voices is critical because it furthers dialogue, exchange, and curiosity.

It’s not just my mind that’s been formed at Regent, but my whole way of being. I hope to continue to cultivate a life that responds humbly to the wonder of God’s presence. A life of sacramental attention. And I hope to highlight this way of being in all my future work—whether as a partner, friend, neighbour, mother, preacher, writer, academic, or any other facet of my vocation.

If you could teach the church today one thing about art and theology, what would it be?

Art has always been an essential part of our tradition. Of our good news. Our scripture is filled with art—poems, songs, stories, parables, temple construction. Our history teems with it. In its unique way of offering an encounter with beauty and mystery, art has always led people to encounter God in unique ways. It’s the idea that metaphor tells the truth in a way plain speech can’t.

There’s a story, told by David Bentley Hart and many others, about Russia’s conversion to Christianity in the tenth century. Maybe you’ve heard it. Essentially, the ruling monarch sent some folks out to investigate religious options. These religion-seekers ended up in Constantinople—I believe in Hagia Sophia—where they were moved by the art of this worship space: its icons, its walls, its transcendent song, its liturgy, its beauty. They wrote back to their ruler that this religious expression transcended description but revealed that “God dwells among [humanity]” and that “we cannot forget that beauty.”

This seems profound to me. And essential. A whole people encountered God because of art, because of beauty—not because of compelling rhetoric or convincing analysis. It was an aesthetic mystery that moved them to meet God, that drew their imaginations towards God.

How does your faith continue to influence your imagination and work?

To me, these things are inseparable. The imagination is an essential faculty in any life of faith, as vital as reason. We cannot understand the mysteries of our faith—the incarnation, resurrection and ascension—without our imagination. But in turn, my imagination is deeply shaped by my faith. It enables me to see God in corners of the world and works of art where others may not.

The Regent community is grateful to the many friends and colleagues of Dal Schindell whose generosity allowed the establishment of both an annual prize and a scholarship in his name.

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