Namaste Sate (Artful Devotion)

Puccio, Pietro di_God Holding the Universe
Pietro di Puccio da Orvieto (Italian, active 14th century), “Universe Supported by God with the Signs of the Planets,” 1389–91. Fresco, north gallery, Camposanto Monumentale, Pisa, Italy.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

—Colossians 1:15–20

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SONG: “Namasté Saté” by Aradhna, on Namasté Saté (2011)

Namasté saté sarvalok-ashrayaya
Namasté chité vishwarup-atmakaya
Namo adwait tatwaya muktipradaya
Namo brahmane vyapiné shashwataya

Ultimate Reality, we greet You
In you the whole Universe is held together
Your life fills every nucleus that has ever been created
You dwell in our flesh and bones
Your Great Liberation is to bring us into loving oneness with you,
so full, that we can no longer feel any separation between us
We greet you, O Supreme One, all-pervading, and eternal

Founded in 2000 by Chris Hale and Pete Hicks, Aradhna (Hindi for adoration) is a band that writes and performs Christ-centered bhajans, Indian devotional songs. (Bhajans, says Hale, have been welcomed by Indian Christians for centuries; every Indian hymnal has a section devoted to the genre.) Both men are American but have roots in South Asia—Hicks was born in India, and Hale was raised in Nepal, where his parents served as medical missionaries. He developed fluency in Hindi and Nepali and, while attending boarding school in India, began training in sitar. After graduating from Berklee College of Music in the US, he returned to Lucknow, India, for further training in sitar and voice. He now lives in Toronto’s Little India with his wife, Miranda Stone, with whom he leads a monthly gathering of Christ-followers called Yeshu Satsang Toronto.

Many of the lyrics of Aradhna’s songs are derived from the writings of Yeshu bhaktas, Hindu devotees of Jesus.

To learn more about Hale and his ministry through contextualized music, read this Comment interview or listen to his lecture from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary—both from 2009.

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The Campo Santo, or Camposanto Monumentale (“monumental cemetery”), is an oblong Gothic cloister that, alongside Pisa’s cathedral, baptistry, and leaning tower, forms one of the finest architectural complexes in the world.

Camposanto Monumentale aerial view
Aerial view of the Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles) in Pisa. The Campo Santo is the rectangular edifice with the open courtyard at the bottom.

Camposanto Monumentale interior courtyard

Completed in 1464, it is filled with funerary monuments, many of which reuse ancient Roman sarcophagi, as well as a classical art collection. In addition, its long walls are covered with frescoes painted during the transitional period between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. These were badly damaged during World War II, but some have been restored.

Puccio, Pietro di_God Holding the Universe

The fresco that shows Christ holding the universe, sometimes referred to by the title Theological Cosmography, was painted by a minor artist named Pietro di Puccio. In the second volume of his History of Mediaeval Christianity and Sacred Art in Italy, published in 1872 (well before the Allied bombing), Charles Isidore Hemans writes that the fresco

mystically sets forth the origin of the universe and its dependence upon the Almighty Creator. A colossal figure of Deity, with the aspect proper to the Second Person, supports an immense disk containing numerous concentric circles, with figures, emblems, inscriptions: first in order, the nine Angelic Hierarchies; next, the three Heavens—the first (empyreal) without sign or symbol, the second (crystalline) with the signs of the Zodiac, the third (the firmament) with the starry host; internal to these, a succession of other circles enclosing at the centre a miniature view of the three known continents. At the angles below are the two illustrious Doctors, severally representatives of the theological mind of ages, S. Augustine and S. Thomas Aquinas.

This geocentric model of the universe, with several earthly and (further out) heavenly spheres circling around a motionless earth, was conceived by Ptolemy, who based it on Aristotle. It was the dominant model during the classical, medieval, and Renaissance eras and can be found in the work of other visual artists.

During an extensive restoration process, this and other frescoes were detached from the walls and placed on panels. This led to the discovery of sinopie, or preparatory drawings, underneath, which were also detached and are now kept on display in the Museo delle Sinopie, of special interest to art historians.

Theological Cosmography sinopia
Sinopia (red underdrawing in plaster) of the Theological Cosmography fresco from the Campo Santo, relocated to the Sinopia Museum, also in the cathedral square.

Puccio’s Theological Cosmography has since been returned to its original location in the north gallery of the Campo Santo—at the end of the left hallway in the panoramic shot below. The neoclassicist architect and painter Leon van Kleunze, on a visit to Italy in the mid-nineteenth century, painted a view of the Campo Santo’s north gallery in all its prewar glory.

Camposanto Monumentale

Camposanto, north gallery
Leo von Klenze (German, 1784–1864), The Camposanto in Pisa, 1858. Oil on canvas, 38 1/10 × 57 4/5 in. (97 × 147 cm). Neue Pinakothek, Munich.

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 the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, cycle C, click here.

Rise Up (Artful Devotion)

Worn Out by Iyah Sabbah
Iyad Sabbah (Palestinian, 1973–), Worn Out, 2014. Fiberglass sculptures covered in clay.

God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
“How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” . . .

Arise, O God, judge the earth;
for you shall inherit all the nations!

—Psalm 82:1–4, 8

Verses 2–4 are God speaking to his court, whereas the final verse is the psalmist Asaph speaking to God in prayer. The identity of “the gods” (elohim) in this psalm is much debated among scholars, with some thinking it refers to human rulers and others thinking it an assembly of spiritual beings to whom God delegates authority. Either way, God is upset that these judges have been neglecting justice in failing to uphold the cause of orphans, the elderly, the sick, the poor, and other marginalized groups.

Further reading:

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SONG: “Rise Up” | Words and music by Isaac Wardell, with the verse melody based on a melody by Evan Mazunik | Performed by Lauren Goans, on Lamentations by Bifrost Arts (2016)

For the lonely and forgotten,
for the weary and distressed;
for the refugee and orphan,
and for all who are oppressed;
for the stranger who is pleading
while insulted and despised:
Will You rise? Will You rise?

Rise up! Rise up!
The earth will fear the Lord
when You avenge the poor.
May Your kingdom come . . .
O rise up!

Hear how Rachel, she is weeping.
How she will not be consoled.
And the children in our keeping,
are their bodies bought and sold?
And the watchmen, he is sleeping.
Do You see them with Your eyes?
Will You rise? Will You rise?

Rise up! Rise up!
The earth will fear the Lord
when You avenge the poor.
May Your kingdom come . . .
O rise up!

As Your will is done in heaven,
Let it now be done below.
Let Your daily bread be given,
Let Your kingdom come and grow.
Lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us, we cry.
Will You rise? Will You rise?

Rise up! Rise up!
The earth will fear the Lord
when You avenge the poor
and bare Your holy arm
to keep them safe from harm.
May Your kingdom come . . .
O rise up!

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Several times throughout scripture, God’s people call on him to “Rise up!” (or, as some translations have it, “Arise!”) against oppression, against evildoers. In other words: Move; take action.

Arise, LORD, in your anger;
rise up against the rage of my enemies.
Awake, my God; decree justice. (Ps 7:6)

Rise up, LORD, confront them, bring them down;
with your sword rescue me from the wicked. (Ps 17:13)

Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and oppression?

We are brought down to the dust;
our bodies cling to the ground.
Rise up and help us;
rescue us because of your unfailing love. (Ps 44:23–26)

Do not let the oppressed retreat in disgrace;
may the poor and needy praise your name.
Rise up, O God, and defend your cause . . . (Ps 74:21–22a)

The whole biblical story is about God rising up again and again in defense of the weak. On more than one occasion the prophet Isaiah uses the language of “rise up” to express God’s activism:

The LORD longs to be gracious to you;
therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him! (Isa 30:18)

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Worn Out by Iyad Sabbah

Worn Out by Iyad Sabbah

In October 2014, Palestinian artist Iyad Sabbah installed the seven-piece clay sculpture group Worn Out on the beach of Shuja’iyya, a Gaza neighborhood that was decimated that summer by Israeli military forces. Commemorating the victims of the Gaza war, it depicts a family fleeing the rubble of what used to be home. The figures are all flecked with red pigment, signifying blood, and have an eroded appearance. They stagger on through the detritus left by three days of shelling, in desperate need of deliverance.

As I view photos of this installation set amid the ravages of war, by a man who is himself from Gaza, I feel helpless to redress the wrongs suffered. And so I lean on this ancient prayer of beseeching, echoed so beautifully in the above song by Isaac Wardell: Rise up, God. Do not turn away from our misery. In your love, rescue us. For those displaced by war, forced to become strangers in a strange land: rise up. For those who have lost loved ones, homes, limbs, livelihoods to violence: rise up. Put a stop to the unjust whose policies and actions deal in death rather than life.


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 the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, cycle C, click here.

Wade Right In (Artful Devotion)

Naaman
Plaque from an altar retable showing the cleansing of Naaman, made in the Meuse Valley, ca. 1150–60. Gilt bronze and champlevé enamel, 10 × 10 cm. British Museum, London.

Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” So Naaman went in and told his lord, “Thus and so spoke the girl from the land of Israel.” And the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.”

So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” And when the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.”

But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house. And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

—2 Kings 5:1–14

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SONG: “The River of Jordan” by Hazel Houser, ca. 1959 | Performed by the Louvin Brothers, on Satan Is Real (1959)

First recorded by the Louvin Brothers in 1959, “The River of Jordan” is now a country gospel standard that has been covered countless times, especially at bluegrass festivals. Just a note: the song’s second verse mistakenly identifies Namaan as a king (he was the commander of the king’s army, in fact), and Ira Louvin seems to mispronounce Elisha as Eliza—an error that I hear repeated in a lot of other recordings (either that, or Elijah).

Anyway, there are a few good covers of this song online that feature strong female vocals, like this one by The Tuttles with AJ Lee, from 2014:

And I love Colby Crehan’s voice, from the now dissolved Bluegrass Gospel Project:

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The inscriptions on the medieval plaque above are as follows:

FAMULI = servants
CURATIO NAMAN = The Curing of Namaan
IORDANEM = Jordan


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 the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, cycle C, click here.

Album Review: Jude by Psallos

Jude is one of the least-studied books of the Bible, certainly among the epistles, probably owing in part to its shortness (only one chapter) and to its overall harsh, judgmental tone. A polemic against heretics, it lacks the robust soteriology of Romans and Christology of Hebrews—and yet purity of doctrine is precisely what this book aims to protect, as Jude warns against the danger of false teachers, libertines, who would enter the church surreptitiously and corrupt the Way.

Jude by Psallos (front cover)

After bringing us Romans and Hebrews (read my reviews here and here), Psallos has now released Jude, a half-hour musical journey through all twenty-five verses. The lyrics, music, and orchestration are by Cody Curtis, a doctor of musical composition who founded Psallos to proclaim scripture through artful song and who endeavors to adapt all twenty-one New Testament epistles. The vocalists are Thomas Griffith and Kelsie Edgren.

As in Psallos’s previous two albums, there is so much musical interest here, from a video-game-esque adventure theme (“fight”) and a sea shanty to a wispy waltz and a mournful lullaby to jazz and blues and even a portion reminiscent of traditional East Asian music. Curtis’s sense of play comes out in this variety of genres, which move us along the arc of the book. The music captures all the drama and shade of Jude’s rhetoric—denunciations (including allusions to historical rebellions and an angelic dispute), exhortations, and promise and blessing. The lyrical content is likewise skillful and rich. Importantly, all the words are intelligible throughout, sometimes even colored with vocal inflections and/or instrumentation, such as with wind, creeping, woe, and gloomy and utter darkness.

The track titles are all wonderfully poetic, many of them taken straight out of Jude 12 and 13 (ESV), where they serve as metaphors for false teachers: “hidden reefs,” “waterless clouds,” “fruitless trees,” “wild waves,” “wandering stars.” These evocative images form the basis of the first trailer for Jude (video text by Cody Curtis):

Deceivers lurk beneath a veneer of Christianity, threatening to run aground our “most holy faith” (v. 20) without our even noticing; their promises are empty (cf. Prov. 25:14); fruitless, rootless trees they are, lacking stability, bearing nothing of substance; they are like the restless waters of the sea that cast up dirt (cf. Isa. 57:20); they are, as Eugene Peterson translates, “lost stars in outer space on their way to the black hole” (v. 13, MSG).  Continue reading “Album Review: Jude by Psallos”

God, Swing Down Low (Artful Devotion)

Johnson, William H._Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
William H. Johnson (American, 1901–1970), Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, ca. 1944. Oil on paperboard, 28 5/8 × 26 1/2 in. (72.6 × 67.2 cm). Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC.

And as [Elijah and Elisha] still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more.

—2 Kings 2:11–12a

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SONGS: “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” attributed to Wallace Willis, ca. 1840; “Swing Down, Chariot,” author unknown, 19th century

Most Negro spirituals are of unknown authorship, but one of the best loved, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” was, according to several accounts, written by Wallace Willis, the black slave of a Choctaw Indian who had been forced out west into what is now Oklahoma. Uncle Wallace, as he was known, was hired out part-time by his master to Spencer Academy, a Choctaw boys’ school, and this is one of the songs he sang to entertain the students. It became popular among them, and during the Fisk Jubilee Singers’ inaugural tour in 1871, the academy’s superintendent, Alexander Reid, shared the song with the all-black group. They had never heard of it but added it to their repertoire, performing it on concert stages throughout the US, along with other slave songs. It was one of twelve songs that their successor, the Fisk University Jubilee Quartet, chose to record for the first time in 1909, further cementing its longevity.

In 2002 the Library of Congress added this historic recording to the United States National Recording Registry, to be preserved for future generations. The accompanying essay by Toni P. Anderson recounts, in addition to Uncle Wallace’s story, an alternate origin account that says “Swing Low” was the creation of Sarah Hannah Sheppard, a southern slave who had set out to drown herself and her daughter in the Cumberland River, until an elderly slave woman intervened, urging her to instead “let de chariot of de Lord swing low”—rescue would come, she prophesied. And for Sarah and her little Ella, it soon did.

In one sense, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” is a plea for death: come and carry me over, God. “Home” is heaven, the promised land, just “over Jordan,” and the chariot refers to the divine vehicle that swept down to take Elijah there. In another sense, “home” could signify an earthly place outside the bounds of slavery, a place of relative safety and liberation and reunion with family—such as the North, just over the Ohio River. A clandestine “chariot” was in operation during the antebellum period, run by Harriet Tubman and a network of others (a “band of angels”), who transported slaves up to freedom, and this is the chariot to which the unnamed prophet of Sarah Hannah Sheppard’s story refers.

The song is often performed slowly, solemnly, as a weary surrender to death—as in this bluesy version by contemporary gospel singer Robert Robinson:

But it can also be inflected differently—with joyful anticipation and celebration. Such is the musical interpretation of The Lower Lights:

“In biblical tradition,” writes Old Testament scholar Iain W. Provan,

both chariotry and fire have strong associations with God’s self-disclosure. Both images come together in the most common natural form of divine appearing (“theophany”) in the OT: the thunderstorm—the storm cloud representing the divine chariot or throne (Ezek. 1; Hab. 3:8) and the fiery lightning bolts representing the divine weapons (Ps. 18:14; Hab. 3:11). [ESV Study Bible, p. 648]

Tim Mackie of The Bible Project calls the eccentric theophanic vehicle of Ezekiel 1 the “God mobile.” It’s God’s glory on the move. And it was probably what (or at least similar to what) Elisha witnessed when his predecessor, Elijah, was whisked away into the heavens. It may also be what the prophet Habakkuk had in mind when he wrote about God’s “chariot of salvation” that flashes forth lightning (Hab. 3:8, 11).

“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” is sometimes sung in medley with “Swing Down, Chariot” (variant title: “Swing Down, Sweet Chariot”), a fast-paced spiritual popularized by the Golden Gate Quartet in the 1940s. See, for example, this clip from the 2003 movie The Fighting Temptations, featuring Beyoncé:

This clip from Elvis’s movie The Trouble with Girls (1969) is also a lot of fun:

“Swing Down, Chariot” references Ezekiel’s vision of the God mobile, humorously nicknaming the prophet Zeke. It has him chancing upon an angel repairing a chariot wheel in the middle of a field. Having never seen such a vehicle, he approaches it, runs his hand over the exterior. The angel offers him a ride, which he gladly accepts. It’s a bumpy one, but Zeke doesn’t mind; “he just wanted to lay down his heavy load.”

Listening to these two spirituals side by side can help us make connections between Bible passages, as we see God’s fiery chariot present not only at Elijah’s ascension but also at Ezekiel’s call to the office of prophet. When mapped onto the context of enslavement, the chariot’s meaning is made real and intensified, a symbol of hope, release, freedom, of God’s wild and transporting glory.

As previously mentioned, the Negro spirituals were multivalent. To some, the chariot was this-worldly, effecting a passage to the northern states where slaveholders held reduced power. To others, to beckon the chariot meant to beckon death, to initiate a departure to the otherworld. The chariot songs held both meanings to their early singers, marking the tension between the slave’s will to live, to survive trauma, and his or her desire to be with God in the flesh, the ultimate freedom.

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William H. Johnson (1901–1970) is one of my favorite artists—I wrote about him in stations 3 and 13 of the Stations of the Cross audio tour at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and in my review of Beholding Christ and Christianity in African American Art.

In his painting Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, a two-wheeled horse-drawn car sweeps in from the upper left, fiery orange and red and filled with stars. Eleven angels in brightly colored dresses and anklet socks hover above, one of them waving hello to the aged man on the opposite side of the river, who runs to catch his ride. His arms are stretched out wide, ready to embrace his new home.

This is probably the best artistic representation of death in the Christian tradition that I know of. It’s glorious and sweet and evocative. The old man’s body is just on the verge of release from its pains, and I feel it. His heaviness is already giving way to lightness, to nimbleness. I feel the joy that awaits him across the river, which the yellow flowers seem to anticipate (they vibrate!), and I sense the community of friends that the thin, magenta-winged beings will be escorting him to. God’s presence, the sun’s orb, glows intensely, the same deep orange as the chariot’s exterior. That’s the glory into which the man is heading.

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There are so many wonderful renditions of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” What’s your favorite?


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 the Third Sunday after Pentecost, cycle C, click here.

Roundup: Too much religion; the single story; fore-edge paintings; choral evensong; and more

EXHIBITION REVIEW: “Overstating the religious?” by Christopher Knight, Los Angeles Times: Michael Wright brought to my attention an old review of the 2003 LACMA exhibition “The Circle of Bliss: Buddhist Meditational Art,” in which art critic Christopher Knight harshly faults the curators for using religion as the organizing principle . . . of an exhibition of religious art. He says it’s “bizarre” and “inappropriate” that

traditional artistic concerns of art museum exhibitions – style, historical context, connoisseurship, artist biography, etc. – play no part in [the objects’] presentation. Instead, LACMA’s galleries unfold as the articulation and embodiment of a religious philosophy. . . . You will leave this exhibition having not a clue who these artists were . . . and how (or if) their imagery evolved. Instead, the reason for the art’s inclusion is to instruct us in various aspects of the embodiment of perfect compassion – that is, to provide experience with critical theological nuances of “the Middle Way.”

Mandala of the Buddhist Deity Chakrasamvara
Mandala of the Buddhist deity Chakrasamvara, Nepal, 1490. Mineral pigments on cotton cloth, 46 × 34 5/8 in. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California.

The review itself struck me as bizarre—that Knight decries the exhibition’s focus on the religious meaning of these Tantric paintings, which he considers secondary to their aesthetic qualities and altogether outside the purview of an art institution to comment on. I was glad to see that several readers responded in letters, such as Andy Serrano, who wrote that “up until recent centuries, people did not make art for art’s sake. People who made religious art made it in order to enhance the religious experience in one way or another. Separating religious art without the context of religion is like trying to swim without getting wet.” Phil Cooke chimed in, “The fact that Knight sees no legitimate connection between art and the religious faith that inspired it is at once outrageous and yet sadly typical of current critical assumptions.” [HT: Still Life]

A decade and a half after this exhibition closed, I’ve observed that curators, critics, and art historians oftentimes still struggle to discern or articulate (or else they simply neglect) the theological content and/or devotional purposes of religious art, as they preoccupy themselves instead with the “traditional artistic concerns” Knight mentions. But I do feel that the situation is improving overall, with wider-spread recognition that evaluating certain works of art through the primary lens of religion—if that’s the context in and for which they were created—is not only permissible but essential.

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TED TALK: “The Danger of a Single Story” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The single story, says Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, is when one story (about a person, place, or ethnicity) becomes the only story, creating stereotypes, or a flattened perspective. Adichie admits to having had a single story of her household servant growing up (“poverty”), and later on, of Mexicans (“the abject immigrant”). Many Americans have a single story of Africa. But the problem is, we are all formed by many stories, no single one more definitive than another—and we need to talk about them all. [HT: Sarah Quezada]

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ESSAY: “And God Said to Pastors: Use More Sermon Puns and Plan More Parties” by W. David O. Taylor, Christianity Today: Taylor gives three reasons to practice levity and humor in public worship, quoting Augustine, Chesterton, Lewis, Barth, Capon, Buechner, Ratzinger, and Eugene Peterson along the way. I especially like his first point about grace and hyper-abundance.

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ESSAY: “In Defense of Owning Too Many Books” by Daniel Melvill Jones, The Curator: I relate to this author’s tottering stacks of books throughout his house—having exhausted my shelf space, I also have them in closets, hutches, and chests. I’m a bibliophile, what can I say. Probably about a third of the books in my personal library I haven’t read yet, which, I affirm with Daniel M. Jones, is both humbling and tantalizing, a “promise of ideas to explore.”

Potential is not in the books you’ve read but in those that remain unread. Therefore, you ought to expand the rows of what you do not know as much as your resources allow, and expect them to keep growing as you get older and accumulate more knowledge.

The books you surround yourself with “will feed [your] life and output in unseen ways.” So stock up!

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FORE-EDGE PAINTINGS: The Boston Public Library has one of the world’s finest collections of fore-edge paintings, an art form originating around the tenth century but popularized in the eighteenth, utilizing as a surface the edge of a book opposite its spine. Over time, the content of these paintings evolved from decorative or heraldic designs to landscapes and narrative scenes, like these two from volumes 1 and 2 of a Bible printed in Edinburgh in 1803. [HT: Public Domain Review]

Annunciation (fore-edge painting)
The Annunciation after Fra Lippo Lippi, painted on the fore-edge of a Bible (vol. 1 of 2) printed in Edinburgh in 1803. Collection of Boston Public Library.
Last Supper (fore-edge painting)
The Last Supper after Leonardo da Vinci, painted on the fore-edge of a Bible (vol. 2 of 2) printed in Edinburgh in 1803. Collection of Boston Public Library.

Great Big Story recently featured contemporary fore-edge painter Martin Frost, who specializes in the vanishing variety. Cool!

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MUSIC DOCUMENTARY: “Elizabeth I’s Battle for God’s Music,” presented by Lucy Worsley: Aired in October 2017 on BBC Four, this hourlong program presents a history of choral evensong, the Protestant church service of music and prayer born out of the English Reformation and still performed today. Worsley moves through the Tudor monarchs, discussing their relationship to sacred music—from Henry VIII, who broke away from the Catholic Church but didn’t want to abandon the Latin mass, and who thus hired Thomas Tallis to compose in a more austere style in which the words of the liturgy could be more easily understood; to his son Edward VI, who, in his dislike of elaborate music, ordered the disbanding of choirs and the destruction of organs, but also supported the creation of the first complete English prayer-book (Thomas Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer) and John Marbeck’s musical guide to it; to Mary I, who returned England to Catholicism, with its high-church music, all in Latin; and finally Elizabeth I, a moderate Protestant whose compromising spirit led to the reinstatement of English evensong but with much leeway given as to how it is set, whether in monophony, homophony, or polyphony. Elizabeth’s patronage and legal protections of church music made possible the glorious compositions of, among others, William Byrd, and ensured the survival of choral evensong. [HT: Global Christian Worship]

Choral evensong is a continuing tradition, and Worsley concludes by highlighting its new possibilities, such as the Oxford Blues Service by Roderick Williams. Listen to an excerpt on the SoundCloud player below.

As the Deer (Artful Devotion)

Jacobson, Ruth Taylor_The Eternal
Ruth Taylor Jacobson (British, 1941–), The Eternal, 2005. Antique glass, acid-etched and painted, 170 × 80 cm. Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?

. . .

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

—Psalm 42:1–2, 5

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SONG: “Psalm 42” | Music by Mike Cosper and Rebecca Dennison, on These Things I Remember by Sojourn Music (2005) | CCLI #5165227

 

 

For a detailed description of the stained glass panel, click here (under the “More information” tab).


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 the Second Sunday after Pentecost, cycle C, click here.

Exalted Trinity (Artful Devotion)

Trinity (Getty MS)
Miniature from a 15th-century French manuscript (Ms. Ludwig XI 10, fol. 2, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles).

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, . . . and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

—Romans 5:1, 5

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SONG: “Doxology” | Text: From Canticle 12, “A Song of Creation,” in the Book of Common Prayer | Music by Uptown Worship Band, performed on Songs from Earth, Our Island Home (2014)

Let us glorify the Lord: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit;
praise him and highly exalt him forever.
In the firmament of his power, glorify the Lord;
praise him and highly exalt him forever.

Uptown Worship Band leads contemporary worship at Church of the Incarnation in Dallas, Texas.

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All efforts to visualize the Trinity are obviously deficient. The doctrine resists figuration. (How do you convey three distinct divine persons who share one essence?) But that hasn’t stopped artists from trying. Over the centuries, several different types evolved to represent the Three-in-One. The example above, from a late medieval French translation of Augustine’s City of God, shows the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit enthroned in heaven—the Father as an old man holding a globe, at his right hand the Son still bearing the wounds of his passion, and the Holy Spirit hovering between them in the form of a dove. The two male figures share a royal robe and jointly hold open a book, their word of truth.

The first person of the Trinity is not a human, nor even male, but in Scripture God reveals himself as father and as Ancient of Days, so anthropomorphic depictions developed, though they have always been controversial. These are meant not to be taken literally but, rather, to tell us a little something about God: that he relates to us like a father relates to his children . . . and that he’s ancient! Authority and personhood are more easily shown through figuration, and our anonymous artist here (through the single robe and single seat) conveys the idea that Father, Son, and Spirit are enthroned together as one, together vested with divinity. This is only one aspect of the rich doctrine that is the Trinity.


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 Trinity Sunday, cycle C, click here.

Roundup: Andrew Wyeth’s Pentecost, moon in a cathedral, dandelion wishes, and more

VISUAL MEDITATION: Pentecost by Andrew Wyeth, written by Victoria Emily Jones: In 2017 I took a day trip up to Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, to attend the major Andrew Wyeth retrospective organized by the Brandywine River Museum of Art. Though some critics dismiss him as a “regional nostalgist” who, in sticking to realism, failed to keep with the times, I was enthralled by his hundred-plus paintings on display, not least of which was Pentecost. Created in 1989, it shows a pair of old fishing nets blowing in the wind on the Maine island his wife purchased and revitalized. Wyeth was not religious, but he was fascinated by the supernatural, and his paintings are often celebrated for their spiritual quality, for the sense of presence they evoke. Click on the link to read my reflection on this painting, named after the annual Christian feast that the church celebrates today (June 9) in honor of the Holy Spirit’s descent.

Pentecost by Andrew Wyeth
Andrew Wyeth (American, 1917–2009), Pentecost, 1989. Tempera with pencil on panel, 20 3/4 × 30 5/8 in. Private collection. Photo © Artists Rights Society (ARS).

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SONG: “Come, Holy Ghost,” arranged and performed by Nichlas Schaal and friends: The ninth-century Latin invocation “Veni Creator Spiritus,” attributed to Rabanus Maurus, has been translated into English more than fifty times since the English Reformation, under such titles as “Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire” and “Creator Spirit, by whose aid.” Originally seven verses sung in Gregorian chant, the hymn is usually condensed to four verses in modern hymnals and paired with one of three tunes. This super-fun arrangement by the Schaals, so full of joy (and “la-da-da-das”!), uses a nineteenth-century translation by Edward Caswell and tune by Louis Lambillotte. I’ve been listening to it on repeat all week as I’ve been gearing up for Pentecost. [HT: Liturgy Letter]

Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest,
And in our hearts take up thy rest;
Come with thy grace and heav’nly aid
To fill the hearts which thou hast made,
To fill the hearts which thou hast made.

O Comforter, to thee we cry,
Thou heav’nly gift of God most high,
Thou fount of life, and fire of love,
And sweet anointing from above,
And sweet anointing from above.

O Holy Ghost, through thee alone
Know we the Father and the Son;
Be this our firm unchanging creed,
That thou dost from them both proceed,
That thou dost from them both proceed.

Praise we the Lord, Father and Son,
And Holy Spirit with them one;
And may the Son on us bestow
All gifts that from the Spirit flow,
All gifts that from the Spirit flow.

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DANCE PERFORMANCES: Grounds That Shout!, curated by Reggie Wilson: It interests me to see how sacred spaces, especially Christian ones, inspire new artistic creations. Here’s one example from last month: “Curated by award-winning choreographer Reggie Wilson, Grounds that Shout! (and others merely shaking) is a series of performances that respond to the layered histories of Philadelphia’s religious spaces through contemporary dance, reflecting on the relationships and connections between practices of movement and worship. Over two weeks, eight choreographers and performance groups . . . perform[ed] in four historic Philadelphia churches, drawing from site and spirit to present original and re-situated works of dance.”

For “Souls a-Stirring” by Germaine Ingram, two female dancers shuffled around the large stone baptismal font at Church of the Advocate, sounding out rhythms as Ingram joined them and sang, “When temptation calls out to me / When dark clouds merge and follow me / I ask god to take my hand / Can he not / Can she not / Inspire a woman to teach God’s love?” Photo: Daniel Kontz/Hyperallergic.

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ART INSTALLATIONS

Museum of the Moon at Ely Cathedral: Today’s the last day to see Luke Jerram’s Museum of the Moon installation at Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire, a twenty-three-foot replica of the moon that utilizes high-resolution NASA satellite imagery and a sound composition by Dan Jones. The internally lit spherical sculpture hovers under the cathedral’s painted nave ceiling and is the main attraction of the cathedral’s science festival, “The Sky’s the Limit,” celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the first moon landing (July 16, 1969). Jerram has produced several moons, which are touring the world, hoisted up in churches and other spaces, indoor and outdoor. For some really stunning photos as well as a tour schedule, check out https://my-moon.org/.

Museum of the Moon by Luke Jerram
Installation view of Luke Jerram’s Museum of the Moon at Ely Cathedral, May 2019. Photo: Joe Giddens/Press Association.

Jerram has also created replicas of Earth, scaled down by a factor of 1.8 million and titled Gaia. They are currently being displayed inside Salisbury and Liverpool cathedrals and will thereafter continue their world tours. (The bronze font by William Pye at Salisbury, designed to reflect and extend the surrounding architecture, makes for some truly amazing photographs of Gaia! Not to mention the significant meaning generated by the interaction of the two.)

Dandelions by The Art Department: From May 11 to 12, a decommissioned building at the Laguna Bell electrical substation in Commerce, California, was transformed into a “wish-processing facility,” where visitors submitted their wishes for questioning and analysis before taking a dandelion and blowing its seeds down a chute. Part installation, part performance, Dandelions was put together by the anonymous collective The Art Department. When asked to define wish, the collective replied, “For some, a wish is a prayer fulfilled by a higher power. For some, a wish is an aspiration imbued with rational optimism. For some, wishes represent unfulfilled longing.”

Art often gives us occasion to confront who we are and what we desire, and with this piece, that was done in a playful way, with a mock bureaucracy that included the Department of Small Things That Float and various logistical assessments. View more photos and read an interview with the creators at My Modern Met, and see also the Hyperallergic review.

Dandelions
Photo: Michèle M. Waite, courtesy of The Art Department
Dandelions installation
Photo: Michèle M. Waite, courtesy of The Art Department

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EXHIBITION: “Renewal: Icon Paintings by Lyuba Yatskiv”: Through June 30, the Iconart Contemporary Sacred Art Gallery in Lviv, Ukraine, is hosting a solo show of new work by Lyuba Yatskiv, one of the country’s several experimental iconographers. Among the subjects on display are the Creation of the World (he’s got the whole world in his hands!), Noah’s Ark, David the Psalmist, the Annunciation, the Flight to Egypt, John the Baptist, and the Holy Women at the Tomb.

Creation of the World by Lyuba Yatskiv
Lyuba Yatskiv (Ukrainian, 1977–), Creation of the World, 2019. Acrylic and gold on gessoed board.
John the Baptist triptych by Lyuba Yatskiv
Lyuba Yatskiv (Ukrainian, 1977–), St. John the Forerunner, Angel of the Desert, 2019. Acrylic and gold on gessoed boards.

I’ve featured Yatskiv’s work several times before on this website: in an Artful Devotion, a compilation of baptism icons, a roundup, and here by association.

Like a Wildfire (Artful Devotion)

Pentecost by Solomon Raj
P. Solomon Raj (Indian, 1921–), Pentecost, 1980s. Batik.

. . . Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them. . . .

—Acts 2:3–4, The Message

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MUSIC: “The Elements: Fire” by Hiromi Uehara and Edmar Castaneda, on Live in Montreal (2017)

“Fire” is a collaborative composition and performance by Japanese jazz pianist Hiromi and Colombian jazz harpist Edmar Castaneda. Their virtuosity is amazing! And they have such a fun synergy on stage together.

“I was born to play the harp,” says Castaneda. “It is a gift from God, and like every gift from God, it has a purpose. The purpose of my music is to worship Him and bring his presence and unconditional love to people.”

Thanks to Global Christian Worship for introducing me to these music artists and to this piece in particular.

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Dr. P. Solomon Raj is a Lutheran theologian and visual artist from Andhra Pradesh, India. He works mainly in batik (a wax-resist method of dyeing cloth) and woodcut. He is ninety-eight years old.

View additional Pentecost artworks from Asia, by Raj and others, at https://artandtheology.org/2016/05/15/pentecost-art-from-asia/.

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O God, may the fire of the Holy Spirit burn up the dross in our hearts, warm them with love, and set them on fire with zeal for your service. Amen.

—Ancient Collect (source: The Hodder Book of Christian Prayers)


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 Pentecost, cycle C, click here.