Approach (Artful Devotion)

Christ exalted (Santa Prassede)
This 9th-century mosaic of Christ between the cherubim is located above the apse of the Basilica of Santa Prassede in Rome. Photo: Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP.

Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

—Hebrews 10:19–22

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SONG: “Approach, My Soul, the Mercy Seat” | Words by John Newton, 1779 | Music by Kevin Twit, 1999 | Performed by Indelible Grace on Indelible Grace Side B, 2008

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Lord, how excellent are Thy ways, and how devious and dark are the ways of man. Show us how to die, that we may rise again to newness of life. Rend the veil of our self-life from the top down as Thou didst rend the veil of the Temple. We would draw near in full assurance of faith. We would dwell with Thee in daily experience here on this earth so that we may be accustomed to the glory when we enter Thy heaven to dwell with Thee there. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

—A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Proper 28, cycle B, click here.

Eugene Peterson and the poetic imagination

American-born pastor, professor, author, and poet Eugene H. Peterson passed away on October 22 at age eighty-five. He’s best known for his idiomatic translation of the Bible, The Message, which has sold twenty million copies worldwide since its publication in 2002. He developed this translation over his nearly three decades as a Presbyterian pastor in Bel Air, Maryland, as a way to reinvigorate his congregation’s engagement with scripture. Its most quoted verse is John 1:14, describing the incarnation: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”

Eugene Peterson

The church culture I grew up in regarded The Message with disdain, as they thought it plays fast and loose with the words of scripture and lacks all reverence. Nurtured on a KJV-only diet, I felt rebellious purchasing an NIV Study Bible in middle school, and though I had overcome a lot of this kind of unhealthy narrowness by the time I had finished college, adding a used copy of The Message to my checkout basket at the Montague Bookmill a few years later still felt a little awkward. But I was finally ready to imbibe this translation (or as some would say, paraphrase) of which I had heard so much but read so little.

What I found was that Peterson’s scripture translation, while no doubt sounding very different than the translations arrived at by committee, is full of reverence—and joy, and play, and wonder. It takes the familiar words of the Bible and re-presents them in a new way so as to really bring out their tone and meaning. Take, for example, Psalm 96:4–7. The King James Version reads,

For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,
but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!

The Message has

For God is great, and worth a thousand Hallelujahs.
His terrible beauty makes the gods look cheap;
Pagan gods are mere tatters and rags.
God made the heavens—
Royal splendor radiates from him,
A powerful beauty sets him apart.
Bravo, God, Bravo!
Everyone join in the great shout: Encore!
In awe before the beauty, in awe before the might.

Now, I love the poetry of the King James Version. But I also love Peterson’s renderings. They enliven the texts. That’s not to say God’s word isn’t already living and active, but that sometimes it can grow stale in the ears of those who have been reading it for a lifetime. The jubilance of Psalm 96 in The Message is amplified by the use of contemporary expressions—Bravo! Encore!—to denote enjoyment and praise. As I read this, I am enticed to “join in the great shout.”

While I wouldn’t advise using The Message as your sole or even primary Bible (which Peterson himself agrees with in the preface), I do uplift it as a wise, fun, and spiritually nourishing supplement. You’ll see that I occasionally feature Peterson’s verse translations in Artful Devotions because they communicate God’s truth with such color and force (see, e.g., Ps. 19, Ps. 51, Rom. 8:6, 2 Cor. 4: 1–6Eph. 2:1–10). His motivation all along was to expose a new generation to the beauty of the gospel. “Getting the words of the Bible into [people’s] heads and hearts, getting the message lived,” is what he characterized as the primary work of his life (preface, The Message).

When I think of Eugene Peterson, I think imagination. He exemplified that Christian duty not only in his Bible translation but in his various professional ministries: as pastor, professor, and author. In each role, he sought to awaken Christians to the goodness of imagination. Listen to him speak on the topic with On Being’s Krista Tippett, in a podcast episode recorded in 2016.

My pursuit of the arts has been indirectly influenced by Peterson, because he was a critical influence on and mentor to W. David O. Taylor, one of the three people in the field whom I look up to most. An assistant professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary, Taylor wrote a beautiful personal tribute to Peterson the other week. “It’s one thing to be given permission to do a thing,” Taylor writes. “It’s quite another to be encouraged, and supported, and patronized, and inspired, and resourced to do a thing. Eugene’s one of those key people in my life who encouraged me to pursue the arts.”

Peterson was Taylor’s professor of spiritual theology at Regent College in Vancouver. “He used the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins and the literature of George Eliot, Karl Barth’s theology and Frederick Buechner’s novels, Greek mythology and stories from his Pentecostal childhood as a way to help his students understand who God was and what God was on about it in this expansive vision of Holy Scripture,” Taylor says. “All of it felt immensely exhilarating to me; it still does.” I’ve come to Peterson’s other writings mainly through Taylor, who cites them with deep respect.

Peterson was an especial lover of poetry. He discussed the topic on film with former Poetry editor Christian Wiman and with U2 star Bono (in an interview by Taylor on the Psalms, above), and he has written about it in numerous books of spiritual theology. He’s even written a volume of original poetry called Holy Luck, from which I featured the poem “Aaron’s Beard” last year, and has contributed to some of Luci Shaw’s poetry anthologies, like A Widening Light: Poems of the Incarnation (see “Tempted”). Here is some of what Peterson had to say about poetry:

  • Poets are caretakers of language, shepherds of words, protecting them from desecration, exploitation, misuse. Words not only mean something, they are something, each with a sound and rhythm all its own. Poets are not primarily trying to tell us or get us to do something. . . . I do not have more information after reading a poem; I have more experience.” (Holy Luck, xiv)
  • People who pray need to learn poetry, even if they’re not adept at it.” (source)
  • “Poets tell us what our eyes, blurred with too much gawking, and our ears, dulled with too much chatter, miss around and within us. Poets use words to drag us into the depth of reality itself. Poetry grabs us by the jugular. Far from being cosmetic language, it is intestinal.” (Answering God, 11)
  • “We cannot speed-read a poem. A poem requires rereading. Unlike prose which fills the page with print, poems leave a lot of white space. . . . There is a lot to see, to feel, to sense. We sit before the poem like we sit before a flower and attend to form, relationship, color. We let it begin to work on us. When we are reading prose we are often in control, but in a poem we feel like we are out of control. . . . In prose we are after something, getting information, acquiring knowledge. . . . But in poetry we take a different stance. We are prepared to be puzzled, to go back, to wait, to ponder, to listen. This attending, this waiting, this reverential posture, is at the core of the life of faith, the life of prayer, the life of worship, the life of witness. . . . Read it again, read it again, read it again.” (Subversive Spirituality, 180)
  • “It takes a while to get the poets. . . . It takes a while to get the gospel. . . . We have to quit getting in a hurry. . . . I think the besetting sin of Americans is impatience.” (source)

Though I never met Eugene Peterson, I am so grateful for his witness, and for the many ways he has blessed the church over the years. His words, be they on the screen or on the page, have tutored, and continue to tutor, my imagination and, yes, deepen my love for Jesus and his gospel.

C’mon! (Artful Devotion)

Resurrection of the Dead (stained glass)
The angel Gabriel awakes the dead on Resurrection Day in this medieval stained glass tondo from the Musée de Cluny in Paris. Photo: Spencer Means.

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

—Hebrews 9:27–28

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SONG: “Get Happy” | Words by Ted Koehler, 1930 | Music by Harold Arlen, 1930 | Performed by the Puppini Sisters, on Hollywood (2011)

See also the Judy Garland version from Summer Stock (1950), below, which the American Film Institute ranked #61 in its survey of top tunes in American cinema.

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“The Day of Judgment” by Henry Vaughan

O day of life, of light, of love!
The only day dealt from above!
A day so fresh, so bright, so brave,
’Twill show us each forgotten grave,
And make the dead, like flowers, arise
Youthful and fair to see new skies.
All other days, compared to thee,
Are but Light’s weak minority;
They are but veils, and cypress drawn
Like clouds, before thy glorious dawn.
O come! arise! shine! do not stay,
Dearly loved day!
The fields are long since white, and I
With earnest groans for freedom cry;
My fellow-creatures too say “Come!”
And stones, though speechless, are not dumb.
When shall we hear that glorious voice
Of life and joys?
That voice, which to each secret bed
Of my Lord’s dead,
Shall bring true day, and make dust see
The way to immortality?
When shall those first white pilgrims rise,
Whose holy, happy histories
—Because they sleep so long—some men
Count but the blots of a vain pen?
Dear Lord! make haste!
Sin every day commits more waste;
And Thy old enemy, which knows
His time is short, more raging grows.
Nor moan I only—though profuse—
Thy creature’s bondage and abuse;
But what is highest sin and shame,
The vile despite done to Thy name;
The forgeries, which impious wit
And power force on Holy Writ,
With all detestable designs,
That may dishonor those pure lines.
O God! though mercy be in Thee
The greatest attribute we see,
And the most needful for our sins,
Yet, when Thy mercy nothing wins
But mere disdain, let not man say
“Thy arm doth sleep,” but write this day
Thy judging one: descend, descend!
Make all things new, and without end!

(Related post: “Get Ready (Artful Devotion)”)


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Proper 27, cycle B, click here.

Exhibitions

James Webb: Prayer, Art Institute of Chicago, September 6–December 31, 2018: A sound installation that began, said the artist, with the question “What would it be like to listen to all the prayers of a city simultaneously?” “Prayer is an ongoing project, remade around the world since its first presentation in Webb’s home city of Cape Town in 2000. The Chicago version is the 10th and largest to date, as well as the first in North America. The work consists of recordings of prayer from individuals who belong to dozens of faiths and spiritual affinities in the host city. Listeners are invited to remove their shoes and walk the length of the carpet . . . or to kneel or otherwise lower themselves next to a speaker to listen more closely to particular prayers.”

Prayer by James Webb
Photo: Anthea Pokroy
Prayer by James Webb
Photo: Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune

In his review for the Chicago Tribune, Steve Johnson interviewed several listener-participants. One woman said she stumbled into the museum after missing her train stop on her way home from work; it was a fortuitous accident, she said, because she had been feeling overwhelmed by the suffering in the city (addiction, gun violence, etc.), and hearing the praying, singing, chanting in the gallery helped give her hope.

Click here to see a short video feature of the Stockholm version of Prayer, which took place last year.

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Encounters, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London, September 18–November 19, 2018: For the past decade, artist and visual social historian Nicola Green has been granted access to private meetings between religious leaders around the world from a variety of faith traditions. These meetings have gone largely unreported in the media, and there has been limited reflection on the encouraging trend they represent. To help remedy the situation, Green has produced thirty-one portraits depicting leaders like Pope Francis, the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former Grand Mufti of Egypt Ali Gomaa, Emeritus Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, and many more—each set against a unique patterned background inspired by liturgical vestments or objects, manuscript illuminations, or sacred architecture particular to the sitter. The faces are obscured to prompt reflection on the relationship between the individual and his office.

“Green makes a compelling case through her art and writings that we have entered a new era in interreligious relations. What is remarkable today is the depth of relationships being formed by faith leaders across historically deep divides. . . . At its heart, the Encounters project is an exploration of difference. It asks: How can people of different faiths, or none, communicate strongly held convictions, whilst respectfully allowing others to do the same? What can be gained from such encounters, and how can we identify common goals whilst working from different perspectives? And how can deep religious commitments become an asset rather than an impediment to understanding and appreciating diversity? Green invites viewers to think about our relationship to those we consider wholly ‘other’ to ourselves, and how this, in turn, shapes our own identity.”

Encounters by Nicola Green

The exhibition is accompanied by the publication of a new multiauthor book, Encounters: The Art of Interfaith Dialogue, as well as a series of lectures, the most recent of which will be taking place Monday.

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Armenia: Art, Religion, and Trade in the Middle Ages, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, September 22, 2018–January 13, 2019: “This is the first major exhibition to explore the remarkable artistic and cultural achievements of the Armenian people in a global context over fourteen centuries—from the fourth century, when the Armenians converted to Christianity in their homeland at the base of Mount Ararat, to the seventeenth century, when Armenian control of global trade routes first brought books printed in Armenian into the region. Through some 140 objects—including opulent gilded reliquaries, richly illuminated manuscripts, rare textiles, cross stones (khachkars), precious liturgical furnishings, church models, and printed books—the exhibition demonstrates how Armenians developed a unique Christian identity that linked their widespread communities over the years.”

Adoration of the Shepherds (Armenian)
Astuatsatur Shahamir, Adoration of the Shepherds, 1691. Repoussé silver book cover with jewels and enamel, made in present-day Kayseri, Turkey. Inside is an illuminated Gospel from the 13th century.

Read the Washington Post review by Philip Kennicott, and see the exhibition catalog put together by Helen C. Evans.

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Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War, British Library, London, October 19, 2018–February 19, 2019: This “largest ever exhibition on the history, literature and culture of Anglo-Saxon England, spanning all six centuries from the eclipse of Roman Britain to the Norman Conquest,” brings together art objects, manuscripts, and other artifacts from various European collections and from the British Library itself. Because Christianization of the kingdom began in the sixth century, much of its art reflects that. Two highlights are the Codex Amiatinus (a giant Northumbrian Bible taken to Italy in 716 as a gift to the pope and returning to England for the first time since) and the Lindisfarne Gospels (the earliest surviving example of the Gospel texts in English and an exemplary fusion of Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, Pictish, and Mediterranean art styles)—which will be the subject of a lecture on Monday.

Other illuminated manuscripts in the exhibition include the St. Augustine Gospels, the Echternach Gospels, the Utrecht and Eadwine Psalters, the Junius manuscript (a volume of religious poetry), and, from the British Library’s collection, Ælfwine’s Prayerbook, the St. Cuthbert Gospel, and the Vespasian, Harley, and Tiberius Psalters. And manuscripts represent only a portion of the vast number of objects on display! To learn more, see the new webpage launched by the library and the catalog edited by Claire Breay and Joanna Story.

Cross (Lindisfarne Gospels)
Carpet page from the Lindisfarne Gospels, ca. 698. British Library Cotton MS Nero D.IV, fol. 26v.
King David and his musicians
King David and his musicians, from the Vespasian Psalter, 8th century. British Library Cotton MS Vespasian A. I, fol. 30v.
Eadwine Psalter
From the Eadwine Psalter, ca. 1150. Trinity College, Cambridge (MS R.17.1, fol. 108v). Illuminates Psalm 64:1-3: “Hear me, my God, as I voice my complaint; protect my life from the threat of the enemy. Hide me from the conspiracy of the wicked, from the plots of evildoers. They sharpen their tongues like swords and aim cruel words like deadly arrows.”
Harrowing of Hell (Tiberius Psalter)
“The Harrowing of Hell,” from the Tiberius Psalter, ca. 1050. British Library Cotton MS Tiberius C.vi, fol. 14r.

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Attending: Paintings and Prints by Julie Shelton Snyder, Gallery at Convergence, Alexandria, Virginia, October 26–December 22, 2018: This exhibition features new work by the artist completed during her residency at the foot of Mount Fuji in Japan, which she spent studying the mokuhanga traditional woodblock printmaking technique. “In my work,” says Snyder, “I explore movement and stillness, being in control and letting go. . . . My longing for stillness is a physical and spiritual quest, and this quest has led me to the practice of Centering Prayer. Through art making, I am given the means to express spiritual truths I cannot otherwise articulate. Expressing the ineffable and the invisible is the aim of my work, and I view abstraction as the best means for this expression.”

Attending exhibition (Julie Shelton Snyder)

Accompanying the exhibition is a series of events, including workshops, prayer services, and, on December 2, “Attending to Advent: A Multisensory Advent Experience”—which I will be, ahem, attending.

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The Renaissance Nude, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, October 30, 2018–January 27, 2019: “Inspired by a renewed interest in classical sculpture and closer study of nature, Renaissance artists made the nude body ever more vibrant, lifelike, and central to their practice. Yet, pious European Renaissance society was troubled by the nude and its new sensuality—a conflicted response echoed in the world today, where images of nudity have become ubiquitous. This exhibition, with more than 100 objects by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, Dürer, and others, traces the nude’s controversial emergence and its transformative effect on European art and culture.”

Madonna and Child (detail) by Jean Fouquet
Jean Fouquet’s Virgin and Child, which forms the right wing of the Melun diptych, shows Mary baring her breast in what most read as an erotically charged manner. (click to see full image)

It was interesting to hear from curator Thomas Kren that “artists’ and viewers’ attitudes toward the nude were as varied and complex centuries ago as they are today,” provoking conflicting feelings of shame, admiration, curiosity, desire, disgust, anger. Learn more in his fascinating Getty blog post “Deconstructing Myths about the Nude in Renaissance Art,” and in the catalog he edited. Also worth checking out is the blog post by art historian Jill Burke: “Sex, Power, and Violence in the Renaissance Nude.” The exhibition focuses on the period 1400–1530, but even within that narrow slice of history, the unclothed body, male and female, functioned in diverse ways in art.

A large number of biblical figures are represented in the exhibition’s list of artworks, including Adam and Eve, Job, Bathsheba, Mary and the infant Christ, Christ at his baptism and in his passion, and the saved and the damned on the last day, as well as extrabiblical martyrs (especially Saint Sebastian) and devout ascetics.

Man of Sorrows by Michele Giambono
Michele Giambono (Italian, active 1420–1462), Man of Sorrows, ca. 1430. Tempera and gold on wood, 54.9 × 38.7 cm (21 5/8 × 15 1/4 in.). Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
The Way to Paradise by Dieric Bouts
Dieric Bouts (Netherlandish, ca. 1415–1475), The Way to Paradise, 1469. Oil on panel, 115 × 69.5 cm (45 1/4 × 27 3/8 in.). Palais des Beaux-Arts, Lille, France.

Joyful on the Way (Artful Devotion)

The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire, in 2011 by David Hockney
David Hockney (British, 1937–), The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven), 2011. Oil on 32 canvases, 365.8 × 975.4 cm (each 91.4 × 121.9 cm); one of a 52-part work. Photo: Jonathan Wilkinson.

Psalm 119:1, three translations:

Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD. (KJV)

Joyful are people of integrity,
who follow the instructions of the LORD. (NLT)

You’re blessed when you stay on course,
walking steadily on the road revealed by GOD. (The Message)

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SONG: “Beati quorum via” (Blessed are those whose way) | Music by Charles Villiers Stanford, ca. 1892 | Performed by VOCES8, 2017

Stanford’s “Beati quorum via,” op. 38, no. 3, is a motet for mixed unaccompanied six-part choir, a setting of Psalm 119:1 in Latin: “Beati quorum via integra est, qui ambulant in lege Domini.” It is the last of Stanford’s Three Latin Motets, published in 1905—the other two being on the subjects of Christ’s ascension and the souls of the just at rest in heaven.


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Proper 26, cycle B, click here.

Sky World (Artful Devotion)

Tomorrow begins Allhallowtide, a three-day Christian festival in which the saints in heaven are remembered. Several friends of mine have lost loved ones this year—siblings, parents, uncles—and just this month my church said goodbye to one of its dear members who passed on. All Hallows’ Day, the central observance of the triduum, recognizes that a spiritual bond still exists between the departed saints and those on earth, whom Christ binds together in one communion. So let us honor this week the memory of those who have gone before us in faith, praising our great and gracious God who sanctifies his people—and who is preparing a family reunion like no other!

Visitations by Joseph Kinnebrew
Joseph Kinnebrew (American, 1942–), Visitations: Gifts; A Slight Lapse of Purpose; Hand Stands; Yea; Majorette, 1994–97. Cast iron, 54 to 69 inches tall. Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Photo: Victoria Emily Jones.

. . . they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be an affliction, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace. . . . Their hope is full of immortality.

—Wisdom of Solomon 3:2–4

(Note: The Wisdom of Solomon, or the Book of Wisdom, is a deuterocanonical book, meaning it is part of the Septuagint but not the Hebrew canon and therefore is not recognized as canonical by Protestants. However, it still contains spiritual wisdom and, as Martin Luther believed, is “useful and good to read” alongside the inspired scriptures.)

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SONG: “Sky World” | Words and music by Theresa Bear Fox, 2015 | Performed by Teio Swathe (vocals) and Supaman (dance), 2017

“Sky World” was written in Mohawk and English by Theresa Bear Fox of the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation as a song of remembrance for those who have passed on. An abridged version was recently recorded by Teio Swathe and released as a music video with Apsáalooke hip-hop artist Supaman fancy-dancing (that’s actually the name of the style!) in White Sands, New Mexico. On October 12 the video won a Nammy Award.

Ha io ho we iaa
Ha na io ho we ia he
Io ha io ha io ho we ia
Ha na io ho we ia he
Ha io ha io ho we ia
Ha na io haioho we ia
Iooho we ia
We ha na io ho we ia he

Let’s put our minds together as one
And remember those who have passed on to the sky world
Their life duties are complete, they are living peacefully
In the sky world, in the sky world

Supaman lives on the Crow Nation reservation in south-central Montana. His own music fuses rapping with traditional Native American sounds and aims to inspire hope; he is best known for his “Prayer Loop Song,” which has over 2.3 million views on YouTube. In 2011 Supaman was interviewed on NPR’s All Things Considered, where he shared the story of his conversion to Christianity as an adult and the influence it has had on his life and work.

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This world is not conclusion;
A sequel stands beyond,
Invisible, as music,
But positive, as sound.

—Emily Dickinson


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for All Saints’ Day, cycle B, click here.

Roundup: Imagination; inclusive dance; art theft; singing through divorce; and more

JOHN PIPER ON IMAGINATION: “Obey God with Your Creativity: The Christian Duty of Imagination”: Within evangelicalism (the tradition I belong to), the imagination is often deemed more of a liability than a virtue, something to be distrusted, at the very least, and at most, to be rejected as evil. So I was thrilled earlier this month to hear John Piper, one of America’s leading evangelicals, speak out in strong affirmation of imagination, which he calls “one of the great duties of the Christian mind.” It can be used destructively, he cautions, but it’s a God-given capacity that God wants us to exercise and strengthen, like a muscle, so that we can see more clearly what is and what could or what will be.

“The imagination,” Piper writes, “calls up new words, new images, new analogies, new metaphors, new illustrations, new connections to say old, glorious truth—whether from the world or from the word of God. Imagination is the faculty of the mind that God has given us to make the communication of his beauty beautiful.” To communicate breathtaking truth in a boring way is “probably a sin,” he says, for God is “infinitely worthy of ever-new verbal, musical, and visual expressions.”

“A college—or a church, or a family—which is committed to the supremacy of God in the life of the mind will cultivate many fertile, and a few great, imaginations. And oh, how the world needs God-besotted minds that can say the great things of God and sing the great things of God and play the great things of God in ways that have never been said or sung or played before.”

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Wheelchair dancing (Infinite Flow)

INCLUSIVE DANCE: Founded by Marisa Hamamoto in 2015, Infinite Flow is a professional dance company and nonprofit whose mission is “to use dance as a vehicle to create an inclusive world and eliminate the stigma and inequality associated with disability,” especially wheelchair use. Artistic excellence, social innovation, empowerment, community, and integration are among its values, which are played out through dance classes, workshops, and outreach events that incorporate people with and without disabilities. You can view snippets from classes and rehearsals as well as polished, artfully filmed choreographed routines on their Facebook page—like this most recent one, in which Hamamoto dances with Piotr Iwanicki, a multiple wheelchair World Latin Champion.

After twenty years of training in ballet and contemporary dance, Hamamoto suffered a spinal cord infarction, which left her temporarily paralyzed from the neck down. Upon recovery, she developed an interest in and pursued ballroom dancing, which led her to imagine what an inclusive form of the genre might look like. To learn more about Infinite Flow, see these two promo videos, and follow them on Facebook. You’ll also want to check out “Gravity.”

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PODCAST: Speaking with Joy: Lately I’ve been devouring this podcast by Joy Clarkson, a doctoral candidate at the Institute for Theology, Imagination, and the Arts at St. Andrew’s University in Scotland (she’s studying the role of the affections and the arts in moral formation). Though it was launched last November, I first discovered it in July at the tail-end of her summer book series on The Great Divorce, an allegorical tale by C. S. Lewis, in which she discusses themes such as desire, grace, the real, incurvatus in se (St. Augustine), self-choice, being seen and known, and need-love versus gift-love. I was hooked! Now I’m a Patreon supporter.

Speaking with Joy

Speaking with Joy is such a bright corner of the Internet, full of hope, wisdom, and delight. The standard episode format is an exploration of a given theme through three pieces of art: one literary, one visual, and one musical. I really enjoyed the last three I listened to: “The Army of Emotions,” featuring St. Macrina, Mister Rogers’s ditty “What Do You Do with the Mad That You Feel?,” and the Irish animated film The Song of the Sea; “The Wisdom of Whimsy,” featuring Manalive by G. K. Chesterton, the illustrations of Beatrix Potter and Breezy Brookshire, and “On the Radio” by singer-songwriter Regina Spektor; and “Decent Men in Indecent Times,” which explores why and how we tell stories of the two world wars by looking at the contrasting poetry of Wilfred Owen and Laurence Binyon, the movie Dunkirk, and John Williams’s score for Schindler’s List.

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NEW IMAGE STAFF: Last week Image journal announced that James K. A. Smith, a professor of philosophy at Calvin College, will be taking the helm of Image as the journal’s new editor in chief. What a perfect choice! I’ve been hearing a lot of Smith since the publication of his book You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit in 2016 and have appreciated his recognition of the important role of artists. “If you want to change how the world thinks, you first have to change how they imagine,” he once said. “That’s why, today, artists are our apologists.” More recently, in a letter to the Image search committee, he wrote,

The arts speak to aspects of human nature ignored or denied by a culture captivated by brutal notions of “efficiency” or quasi-scientific narratives that reduce us to animality. It’s in literature, poetry, film, and so many other art forms that we hear echoes of a biblical understanding of humanity—that we are created in God’s image, animated by hungers and hopes, made to delight and play. In other words, the arts are evidence of what I’ve called “cracks in the secular”—the recalcitrant mystery at the heart of the human that refuses to be eviscerated. Art continues to shout Nein! to our disenchantment.

I’m looking forward to this next chapter of Image.

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ART HEIST: “Police back on the trail of ‘world’s most wanted’ stolen Caravaggio painting”: On October 15, nearly fifty years after Caravaggio’s Nativity with San Lorenzo and San Francesco was stolen from the Oratory of San Lorenzo in Palermo, Sicily, experts met at the Vatican to discuss reinstating an active search. Speculation of mafia collusion and espionage have circulated around the case, which ranks second on the FBI’s list of top ten unsolved art crimes.

Nativity by Caravaggio
Caravaggio (Italian, 1571–1610), Nativity with San Lorenzo and San Francesco, 1609. Oil on canvas. The angel’s banderole reads, “Gloria in eccelsis Deo.”

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NEW ALBUM: Yesterday Moda Spira (the stage name of Latifah Alattas) released Divorce, an intimate musical chronicle of the unexpected end of her marriage and the journey of grief she’s been on since. “I hope it helps those of you that might feel alienated or lost in the throes of divorce or disconnection from someone you love,” she says. In response to a request, Alattas released a series of podcast episodes that discuss each song on the album in depth; listen here. I first learned about the project back in July when Stephen Roach interviewed Alattas on the Makers & Mystics podcast—such a rich and memorable conversation that deepened my empathy for the loved ones of mine who have had to endure the pain of divorce.

Below is a video promo Alattas made for the album’s Kickstarter campaign. Click here to view the variety of streaming and purchase options.

Son of David, I Want to See (Artful Devotion)

Christ and Bartimaeus by Julia Stankova
Julia Stankova (Bulgarian, 1954–), Christ and Bartimaeus, 2017. Painting on wooden panel, 36 × 45 cm.

And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.

—Mark 10:46–52 (cf. Matthew 20:29–34; Luke 18:35–43)

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SONG: “Son of David” by Ghost Ship, on The Good King (2013)

Here’s an introduction and acoustic performance by band leader Cam Huxford, who cowrote “Son of David” with fellow Ghost Ship member Shay Carlucci:

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“The Blind Suppliant” by Richard Crashaw

Silence, silence, O vile crowd;
Yea, I will now cry aloud:
He comes near, Who is to me
Light and life and liberty.
Silence seek ye? yes, I’ll be
Silent when He speaks to me,
He my Hope; ah, meek and still,
I shall ’bide His holy will.
O crowd, ye it may surprise,
But His voice holdeth my eyes:
O have pity on my night,
By the day that gives glad light;
O have pity on my night,
By the day would lose its light,
If it gat not of Thee sight;
O have pity on my night,
By day of faith upspringing bright;
That day within my soul that burns,
And for eyes’ day unto Thee turns.
Lord, O Lord, give me this day,
Nor do Thou take that away.


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Proper 25, cycle B, click here.

Good Letters roundup

One of the blogs I follow is Good Letters, run by Image journal and authored by a diverse, gifted team of spiritual writers. Updated each weekday, it features short personal essays that make fresh connections between the world of faith and the world of daily life. Here are a few posts from the past month that I particularly enjoyed.

Ballet

“Beginner Ballet” by Melissa Florer-Bixler: Like the author, I too book a beginner ballet class at a late age (mid-twenties), and her words capture my felt experience so well:

I assumed ballet would be an interesting and different way to exercise, the chance to try a new fitness routine and to escape the general chaos of my life for an hour each week.

But in this dance class, the ballet one does in socks after work, I discovered that dance offers an aesthetic world, a way for me to discover new possibilities for my body. How strange it was to push my energy down a smooth line as my body sunk to the floor, to wonder over the shape of my fingers, to imagine a string lifting me up, off my toes, to float an inch above the gleaming rehearsal studio floor.

Everything in ballet was strength in the service of beauty. Even the language was beautiful. . . .

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“The Ordinary Time” (poem) by Dana Littlepage Smith: I love Good Letters’ ongoing “Poetry Fridays,” in which a writer will introduce a poem with brief commentary. A few weeks ago Suzanne Nussey introduced this little gem in which the speaker learns through the observance of barnyard creatures how to slow down and be more attentive to life’s ordinary moments, how to enter God’s time. (The title references the liturgical season the church is currently in.) As she considers the birds, she sees how they work with joy, singing as they build, and are content just to be. The poem opens with a beautiful image and a subtle admonition:

Goldfish in the horse trough
nibble at morning’s surface.

They are not busy;
they are breathing.

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“On Writing Odes: Taking Time to Celebrate” by Tania Runyan: Runyan has been doing a Good Letters teaching series on poetic forms—sonnets, sestinas, villanelles, and now odes, which are characterized by praise and celebration. Here she presents the ode “To Autumn” by John Keats as a choice example, and then shares one of her own, “Ode to a Bodhran Player.” (A bodhran is a traditional Irish drum.) She concludes with an assignment: “Find something that you love, or maybe even something you don’t, and regale it with an ode. Give yourself to the true, noble, lovely, and excellent practice of praise.”

“To Autumn” by John Keats

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
   Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
   With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;

[Read the rest on Good Letters]

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This Is Us

“Emmy Watch: This Is Us by Tania Runyan: Eric and I enjoy watching this TV show together and appreciate its complex portrayals of familial relationships: husband-wife, parent-child, and siblings (including siblings-in-law). Even within the parent-child category, different forms of parenthood are explored—biological, adoptive, and foster. Here Runyan writes about the show’s positive portrayal of open adoption, which is now more common in the US than traditional “closed” adoption. When Runyan and her husband adopted their son, Samuel, they chose the open option, which in their case means they deliberately entered into and maintain in-person relationships with Samuel’s biological family. (To read more about Runyan’s experience, see “He Fits Right In: Our Story of Open Adoption.”) Runyan shares a conversation she had with her son’s biological grandmother about the show.

The third season of This Is Us began September 25. It airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.

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“Leonard Cohen’s Holy and Broken Hallelujah” by Alisa Ungar-Sargon: Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is one of the most-covered songs of all time, and it’s full of biblical references. (Like the writer, my first introduction to it was also as a preteen through the movie Shrek!) “The song’s central premise is the value, even the necessity, of praise in the face of confusion, doubt, or dread,” writes Ungar-Sargon, who led her high school English students in an analysis of its lyrics as poetry.

Here’s a cover by the husband-wife duo Gungor (that is, Michael and Lisa Gungor).

Creation Psalm (Artful Devotion)

And the Mountains Rose by Barbara Wolff
Barbara Wolff (American), “And the Mountains Rose” (vv. 5–8), from Psalm 104: You Renew the Face of the Earth, 2006–10. Contemporary pigments and precious metals on goatskin. Morgan Library and Museum, New York, New York. MS M.1190, fol. 2.

Bless the LORD, O my soul!
O LORD my God, you are very great!
You are clothed with splendor and majesty,
covering yourself with light as with a garment,
stretching out the heavens like a tent.
He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters;
he makes the clouds his chariot;
he rides on the wings of the wind;
he makes his messengers winds,
his ministers a flaming fire.

He set the earth on its foundations,
so that it should never be moved.
You covered it with the deep as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
At your rebuke they fled;
at the sound of your thunder they took to flight.
The mountains rose, the valleys sank down
to the place that you appointed for them.
You set a boundary that they may not pass,
so that they might not again cover the earth.

You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
they flow between the hills;
they give drink to every beast of the field;
the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell;
they sing among the branches.
From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.

You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth
and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man’s heart.

The trees of the LORD are watered abundantly,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
In them the birds build their nests;
the stork has her home in the fir trees.
The high mountains are for the wild goats;
the rocks are a refuge for the rock badgers.

He made the moon to mark the seasons;
the sun knows its time for setting.
You make darkness, and it is night,
when all the beasts of the forest creep about.
The young lions roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.
When the sun rises, they steal away
and lie down in their dens.
Man goes out to his work
and to his labor until the evening.

O LORD, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom have you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
Here is the sea, great and wide,
which teems with creatures innumerable,
living things both small and great.
There go the ships,
and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.

These all look to you,
to give them their food in due season.
When you give it to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
When you send forth your Spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the ground.

May the glory of the LORD endure forever;
may the LORD rejoice in his works,
who looks on the earth and it trembles,
who touches the mountains and they smoke!
I will sing to the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the LORD.
Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more!
Bless the LORD, O my soul!
Praise the LORD!

—Psalm 104

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SONG: “Psalm 104” | Text: Psalm 104:1–5 (Hebrew) | Traditional Jewish Babylonian melody, arranged by Yonnie (Jonathan) Dror | Performed by Yamma Ensemble, 2012

An ancient setting of the first five verses of Psalm 104, composed by the Jewish diaspora community in Babylon and passed down aurally, is refreshed through this modern arrangement by Yamma Ensemble, whose instrumentation blends the old and the new. It opens with a virtuosic oud solo by Sefi Asfuri. At 1:13, the other instrumentalists come in, creating rhythmic complexity: Yonnie Dror (clarinet and flute), Aviad Ben Yehuda (darbuka), and Avri Borochov (double bass). The lead vocalist, Talya G.A Solan, enters at 2:00. At 3:48, all the instruments drop out, and male vocals are added.

While this particular performance is from 2012, an earlier one, from 2011, can be heard on the album Yamma* under the title “Bless the Lord, O My Soul.” The lyrics are on YouTube.

Yamma Ensemble presents original contemporary Hebrew music in which group members stay true to the character of the Middle East, the region where they were born and raised. The soulful, exotic music is accompanied by ancient musical instruments (kopuz, duduk, ney, oud, shofar, hand drums), which are typical of the Middle East. In addition to this unique art, Yamma also performs the traditional music and material of the various Jewish diasporas. We present songs of the Jewish communities from Yemen, Babylon, and Sefarad, as well as Hasidic music, with the fascinating forms and rhythms that have been preserved by generations of Jewish traditions. [source]

To hear more from Yamma Ensemble, visit their Facebook page and YouTube channel. If you like their music, consider supporting them on Patreon.

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The manuscript illumination above is one of ten from Barbara Wolff’s unbound cycle Psalm 104: You Renew the Face of the Earth. The artist writes (in the third person),

The 104th Psalm is a song in celebration of all creation. The psalmist marvels at the infinite variety of life on earth. With words that reflect a deep awareness of our finitude and an implicit faith in the eternity of creation, we are reminded of the intricate web which connects all living creatures. In the ten illuminations which comprise Psalm 104: You Renew the Face of the Earth, Barbara Wolff has attempted to reflect some of the light and brilliance of this word picture of the cosmos and illuminate its profound sense of reverence for all creation. In a number of the paintings she has portrayed flora and fauna which the ancient Psalmist would certainly have known, and which still may be found in the land of Israel today. She has included the flowers and grasses of its fields and forests, birds which pass through the land each spring and fall, and sea creatures of the Mediterranean, from a precious Murex snail to the great whales.

Among the Branches They Sing by Barbara Wolff
Barbara Wolff (American), “Among the Branches They Sing” (v. 12), from Psalm 104: You Renew the Face of the Earth, 2006–10. Contemporary pigments and precious metals on goatskin. Morgan Library and Museum, New York, New York. MS M.1190, fol. 3.
To Bring Forth Bread by Barbara Wolff
Barbara Wolff (American), “To Bring Forth Bread” (v. 14), from Psalm 104: You Renew the Face of the Earth, 2006–10. Contemporary pigments and precious metals on goatskin. Morgan Library and Museum, New York, New York. MS M.1190, fol. 4.
Leviathan Whom Thou Hast Formed by Barbara Wolff
Barbara Wolff (American), “Leviathan Whom Thou Hast Formed” (vv. 25–26), from Psalm 104: You Renew the Face of the Earth, 2006–10. Contemporary pigments and precious metals on goatskin. Morgan Library and Museum, New York, New York. MS M.1190, fol. 8.
You Renew the Face of the Earth by Barbara Wolff
Barbara Wolff (American), “You Renew the Face of the Earth” (v. 30), from Psalm 104: You Renew the Face of the Earth, 2006–10. Contemporary pigments and precious metals on goatskin. Morgan Library and Museum, New York, New York. MS M.1190, fol. 9.

Prior to pursuing a career in fine art, Wolff spent many years illustrating natural science texts, honing her eye to see and her hands to reproduce the miniscule details of different plant, animal, and insect species. In the early 2000s, on a whim, she took a course in medieval manuscript illumination, learning, among other things, how to work with parchment, gesso, mineral pigments, and precious metal leaf (silver, gold, and platinum). “It just changed by life,” she said. She has since devoted the bulk of her time to illuminating Jewish texts, a focus made possible by individual and institutional patrons. Her Psalm 104 and Rose Haggadah were commissioned by philanthropists Daniel and Joanna S. Rose and subsequently donated to the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City. Other patrons of hers include the Israel Museum and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

Joanne Palmer, reviewing Wolff’s work for the Jewish Standard, writes,

Psalm 104 is about beauty. It is about other things as well, true, but it starts with beauty and returns to it as a touchstone. It describes the world with rapturous metaphor. God, who is “clothed with glory and majesty,” who covers himself with “light as with a garment, who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,” has made the world in his image.

When you [see Wolff’s illumination cycle], you are surrounded by the wild precise beauty of that creation, in rich, lush, exquisite, witty, masterfully detailed, controlled miniatures. To [view these paintings] is to be stunned by beauty.

To view all ten illuminations from Wolff’s Psalm 104 cycle and to purchase facsimiles, visit http://www.artofbarbarawolff.com/projects.php?psalm. To learn more about the materials Wolff uses and to read commentaries on individual folios, see the links below.

Further Reading:

“Hebrew Illumination for Our Time: The Art of Barbara Wolff,” Morgan Library and Museum press release, January 5, 2015.

Holly Cohen, “A conversation with Barbara Wolff,” Letter Arts Review 26:1 (Winter 2012): 47–58.

Mark Michael Epstein, ed., Skies of Parchment, Seas of Ink: Jewish Illuminated Manuscripts* (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2015). Wolff contributed a chapter to this book, and folio 9 from her Psalm 104 graces the front cover.

[* These are Amazon affiliate links, meaning that Art & Theology will earn a small commission on any Amazon purchase that originates here.]


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Proper 24, cycle B, click here.