by Elizabeth Davis
"Dinner on the Grounds of the Corinth Baptist Church". Minnie Smith Reinhardt, American, North Carolina, Catawba County, Vale, 1898-1986 oil on canvas. Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Growing up, I have fond memories of the “homecomings” at my grandfather’s small Baptist church in the mountains of North Carolina. After a formal conclusion of the church service, congregation members and their families would head outside to their cars to get their best dishes out, and place them on a long communal table for everyone to enjoy, in the same way as Reinhardt depicts in her painting. These events were not exclusive, but rather involved anyone and everyone who wanted to partake in a celebration of the Sabbath. Does the act of worship carry over to these types of feast?
The title of Reinhardt’s work implies that the meal in itself is holy, Dinner on the Grounds of the Corinth Baptist Church. She did not entitle the work Dinner Outside the Church, but rather emphasizes that the feast takes place on holy ground. In his work “The Sabbath: It’s meaning for modern man,” Abraham Heschel analyzes the significance of sacred time and sacred space, as well as their differences. This contrast began, as Heschel discusses, in the Book of Exodus in the Torah when the Israelites made gold “into an idol cast in the shape of a calf” (Exodus 32:4, New Revised Standard Version) and consequently broke one of the Ten Commandments. It was then that the holiness of space was mandated by the erection of a Tabernacle, according to Heschel. The Sabbath allows people to come together in a holy space and partake in acts of worship together.
But what constitutes a holy space? Does it solely lie within the walls of a church, tabernacle, mosque, or temple? Or can it extend into the outside world? In Reinhardt’s painting, it seems as though the church members are still residing in a holy space, although they are outside the walls of the church. The long table is covered in a white tablecloth much like the white church, perhaps indicating holiness and innocence. Similarly, the trees frame the church grounds and themselves become the walls of the holy space. From the perspective of the viewer, the church grounds are surrounded on three sides by trees and the church members, the human beings are only pictured within the clearing. There are horses in the painting, but they are pictured within the trees, suggesting that animals cannot enter the holy ground. In addition, those who are pictured away from the feast table are dressed in dark clothing, while those surrounding the table flaunt colored garments, suggesting that life in its most vibrant sense exists at the feast table.
Within the ideals of the Sabbath, there is an inherent idea of the feast. God intended the Sabbath to be sanctified with “all thy senses” and “by choice meals, by beautiful garments” (Heschel, 19). The act of coming together in holy space for a feast is a form of worship. It is a celebration of God’s bounty and is separate from any other meal had throughout the week. A feast on the Sabbath is filled with love, kindness, and a freedom from the concept of time that occupies the other six days of the week. As the congregation of the Corinth Baptist Church, as pictured by Reinhardt, as well as the members of my grandfather’s rural church celebrate the day by not only the hands of man but with the tongue and soul as well (Heschel, 14).
“Dinner on the Grounds of the Corinth Baptist Church.” Art at the Ackland. Ackland Art Museum at the University of North Carolina. http://www.unc.edu/ackland/collection/?action=simple&search=dinner%20on%20the%20grounds&department=&classification=&artist=&title=&medium=&culture=&year_begin=&year_begin_search=&year_end=&year_end_search=&credit=&accession=&results=25&sort=&order=&ea=&et=&ec=&em=&action=details&page=1&search_type=simple&object_id=11086027
Heschel, Abraham Joshua. The Sabbath, Its Meaning for Modern Man. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1977.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible: With the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, New Revised Standard Version. Michael D. Coogan, editor. New York: Oxford UP, 2001. Print.