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

+++

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.

+++

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.

Roundup: Obits; breast cancer saint; exhibitions; gospel jam

ARTIST DEATHS:

This August saw the homegoing of two beloved Christian art-makers.

> “Making meaning out of suffering and loss is one of poetry’s most fundamental aims,” wrote poet Anya Silver, who passed away from inflammatory breast cancer on August 6 at age forty-nine. Since her diagnosis in 2004, she published four volumes of poetry that wrap up faith with deep, honest questioning of God. Many of her poems contain imagery related to cancer and its treatment and describe with unswerving candor what it’s like to live under the threat of imminent death. When she received a Guggenheim Fellowship this year, the foundation described her work as “engag[ing] with the trauma of chronic and terminal illness, and with religious faith and mystery, storytelling, memory, and the risks and rewards of being human.” One of her best-known poems is “Psalm 137 for Noah,” written for her only child, whom she gave birth to during her illness.

“I have a tremendous amount of joy in my life, and my joy exists with pain,” Silver said in an interview with Georgia Public Radio in January. “I don’t see those two things as completely separate. All of life is woven together, and separating the strands is impossible.” Read her obituary in the New York Times, and a sweet tribute by Elizabeth Palmer in the Christian Century.

Anya Silver

Anya Silver books

> A giant of contemporary French sacred art, Jean-Marie Pirot, known professionally as Arcabas, died August 23 at age ninety-one. He is best known for his paintings, which feature biblical characters and scenes, but he also worked in sculpture, engraving, tapestry, mosaic, and cabinetry, as well as in the theater making scenery and costumes. His magnum opus is the interior decoration of Saint-Hugues-de-Chartreuse in the Isère region of France, which comprises over a hundred works by the artist created over a span of thirty-five years.

There has been much published about Arcabas in French (e.g.) but unfortunately very little in English—though for starters, I recommend this ArtWay article. A YouTube search of his name yields several video interviews and feature news segments—again, in French. I’ve embedded a recent video homage below, which shows you inside Saint-Hugues as well as his designs for the stained-glass windows inside the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Grenoble, a project he was working on when he died. I’d love to help bring out some of these books, or even a brand-new catalogue raisonné, in English, so if any of you have connections to Arcabas’s French publishers or people close to him, or have experience translating from French to English, let me know!

Arcabas

+++

SAINT AGATHA’S GRIEF BY MELISSA WEINMAN: October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so what better time to get acquainted with Agatha of Sicily, patron saint of breast cancer patients. Agatha was a third-century Christian from a noble family whose martyrdom has been authenticated, although its details have not. According to legend, fifteen-year-old Agatha made a vow of virginity and rejected the amorous advances of the Roman prefect Quintianus. After consistently being spurned, Quintianus had her arrested for her faith (this was during the persecutions of Decius) and tortured. Among the tortures she underwent was the tearing off of her breasts with pincers. She died in prison, probably in the year 251.

St. Agatha's Grief by Melissa Weinman
Melissa Weinman (American), Saint Agatha’s Grief, 1996. Oil on canvas, 42 × 42 in.

In traditional portraiture, Agatha is shown holding her severed breasts on a platter (see, e.g., Francisco de Zurbarán). More recently, though, American artist Melissa Weinman painted a double portrait of Agatha as a modern-day woman in a white tank top enduring the tortuous experience of breast cancer. The two women stand back to back, the left figure having presumably just received the diagnosis, and the right figure bearing blood stains on the chest that indicate a mastectomy. There is an immediate sense of violation in the image, but also a sense that God’s glory is at work. While the one figure is cast in darkness, the other leans toward the light, suggesting hope and faith in the purposes of God, even in the groaning.

+++

RECENT EXHIBITION: “Creença”: This summer fifty artists from a variety of disciplines participated in a two-month residency at Konvent, a nineteenth-century convent (now an art center) in Cal Rosal, Catalonia, Spain. Organized by Void Projects, the residency culminated in a three-day pop-up exhibition from August 30 to September 2, titled “Creença” (Belief), which included not just visual art but live theater, talks, and music.

Jofre Oliveras and Stefan Krische installation
Site-specific installation by Jofre Oliveras and Stefan Krische, 2018, in Konvent, Cal Rosal, Catalonia, Spain.

+++

CURRENT EXHIBITION: “Wrestling the Angel: A Century of Artists Reckoning with Religion,” Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, Charlotte, North Carolina: Through October 28, the Bechtler is showing 219 pieces of religious-themed art spread out across its large fourth floor, including works by Dalí, Rouault, Chagall, Warhol, Manessier, Bearden, and other modern greats. I visited last weekend, and while I feel that the theme was treated too loosely and therefore the exhibition lacked the full impact it could have had, I thoroughly enjoyed individual portions, and I appreciate the Bechtler, and in particular curator Jen Edwards, for bringing together these diverse works that speak in some way to religion, spirituality, or morality.

This was the first time I’ve seen Rouault’s entire Miserere (“Have Mercy”) series—all fifty-eight aquatints!—in one space, and it was stunning. Its display alongside Charlotte artist Gina Gilmour’s Break Your Guns and Stacy Lynn Waddell’s Untitled (Mike Brown’s Battle at Normandy) reinforces the theme of lament for violence and suffering inherent in all three. In the same room the set of small bronze crucifixes by Elizabeth Turk, which in their original gallery installation in 2002–03 contained lit candles in the hollows of the heads, invite further reflection on death, subtly connecting (through strategic placement) Christ’s crucifixion with the “crucifixions” of those slain in the past century through acts of war, gun violence, and police brutality.

Wrestling the Angel installation view
Installation view: “Wrestling the Angel,” Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, Charlotte, North Carolina, 2018. Left: Prints from Georges Rouault’s Miserere series, 1927. Right: Break Your Guns by Gina Gilmour, 1980. Photo: Victoria Emily Jones.
Poppyfields (detail) by Elizabeth Turk
Elizabeth R. Turk (American, 1961–), untitled bronzes from Poppyfields, 2002–03. Installation view: “Wrestling the Angel,” Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, Charlotte, North Carolina, 2018. Photo: Victoria Emily Jones.
The Annunciation by Romare Bearden
Romare Bearden (American, 1911–1988), The Annunciation, ca. 1967. Collograph, 11 3/4 × 15 1/2 in. (29.6 × 39.4 cm). Courtesy of Jerald and Mary Melberg. Photo: Victoria Emily Jones.

For other reviews of this exhibition, see those by Andy Smith and Barbara Schreiber. And word to the wise: avoid the last day, because it’s a Carolina Panthers NFL home game, and the stadium is right across the street from the museum. (I wish I had thought to check the schedule before I made the cumbersome trek last Sunday!)

+++

JAM SESSION: I love this impromptu gospel music performance by Karen R. Harding (right), Steve Brock, and Sharon Walker. They sing “Give Up (And Let Jesus Take Over)” by Howard Goodman and “Can’t Nobody Do Me Like Jesus” by Andraé Crouch. [HT: Global Christian Worship]

The Rich Young Ruler (Artful Devotion)

'For he had great possessions' by George Frederic Watts
George Frederic Watts (British, 1817–1904), ‘For he had great possessions,’ 1894. Oil on canvas, 139.7 × 58.4 cm. Tate Britain, London.

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”

And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”

And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

—Mark 10:17–22 (cf. Matthew 19:16–30; Luke 18:18–30)

+++

SONG: “Iesū Me Ke Kanaka Waiwai” (Jesus and the Rich Young Man) | Words and music attributed to John Kamealoha Almeida, 1915 | Performed by Mark Yamanaka, with Sean Naleimaile, 2018

The origins of this song are debated, which is why it often circulates with the credit “Traditional,” but many sources attribute it to John K. Almeida (1897–1985), a famous singer, songwriter, and bandleader from Oahu, who said he wrote it in 1915. According to music archivist Harry B. Soria Jr., Almeida offered “Kanaka Waiwai” to the Mormon Church, of which he was a member, but his gesture was turned down when the piece was deemed too “hula sounding” and unsuitable for a worship service [liner notes, John Kameaaloha Almeida (HanaOla Records, 2003)].

Almeida first recorded it, along with secular mele (songs), in 1946, accompanied by Genoa Keawe’s Trio. It gained immense popularity in 1971, when the Sons of Hawaii recorded it with Moe Keale on vocals. Now it is one of Hawaii’s best-loved hymns and is widely performed not only in recording studios but in churches. I’ve combed through dozens of performances to find what I consider the best, which is Mark Yamanaka’s. You’ll notice he employs a characteristic Hawaiian vocal technique known as leo ki’eki’e (“high-pitched voice”), a yodel-like break between registers. The video above is from a HiSessions acoustic live session shot earlier this year, but you can also hear him singing the song on his 2013 album Lei Maile.

Ma ke alahele ʻo Iesû
I hālāwai aku ai
Me ke kanaka ʻōpio hanohano
Kaulana i ka waiwai
Pane mai e ka ʻōpio
ʻE kuʻu Haku maikaʻi
He aha hoʻi kaʻu e hana aku ai
I loaʻa e ke ola mau?

E hāʻawi, e hāʻawi lilo
I kou mau waiwai
Huli a hahai mai iaʻu
I loaʻa e ke ola mau ia ʻoe

Minamina e ka ʻōpio
I kona mau waiwai
I ke kūʻai a hāʻawi lilo aku
I ka poʻe nele a hune
Huli aʻe ʻo Iesū lā
Pane aku i ka ʻōpio
ʻAʻole aʻe hiki ke kanaka waiwai
I ke aupuni o ka lani

A literal English translation, by Haunani Bernardino, is as follows:

Along the road, Jesus
Met
With a distinguished young man
Who was known for his wealth.
The young man said,
“My good lord,
What must I do
To gain eternal life?”

“Give, give away all
Of your possessions,
Then come and follow me
In order to gain eternal life.”

The young man grieved
Over his wealth,
Unwilling to sell and give all
To the poor and destitute.
Jesus then turned
And answered the man,
“Rich man, you will not enter
The Kingdom of Heaven.” [source]

When the song is sung in English, however (even by native Hawaiians), a completely different set of lyrics is used, going something like this:

Let me walk through paradise with you, Lord
Take my hand and lead me there
All my earthly treasures I will gladly give
Teach me how to love and how to share

Greed and lust and vanity were mine, Lord
Till I found your love divine
Now on my knees I pray that I will find a way
Let me walk through paradise with you

Oh, my Lord, my Savior
Guide my poor feet along that lonely road
Faith and hope and love will light the way before me
And I’ll walk through paradise with you

Oh, my Lord, my Father
Take my hand and lead me to paradise
Oh, my Lord, let me follow in your footsteps
Let me walk through paradise with you

I’m not sure where these lyrics originated, nor why a closer approximation of the original has not been attempted. This English rewrite drastically changes the content of the song, shifting it from a retelling of a Gospel narrative that ends on a sad note to a personal prayer that, while touching on some of the themes of the rich man’s encounter with Jesus, is sweet and bright and indicates conversion. One could say it’s a revisionist account told in the rich man’s voice—if he had surrendered to Jesus’s call rather than resisted, unwilling to give up his material wealth. He is thus held up as a positive model in this version, and we are enjoined to respond with similar boldness of vow (“All my earthly treasures I will gladly give”) and fervency of petition (“Let me walk through paradise with you”).

In the following video, an unnamed woman with beautiful vocals performs this English version to a simple ukulele accompaniment:


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 23, cycle B, click here.

Roundup: New books and conferences; refugee memorial removed; icon against animal cruelty

PUBLIC ART CONTROVERSY: Olu Oguibe’s Monument to Strangers and Refugees, commissioned for last year’s major quinquennial art exhibition Documenta, was removed on October 3 by order of the Kassel City Council after, it is presumed, mounting pressure from Germany’s anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. Designed as a site-specific work for Königsplatz (King’s Square), a pedestrian zone in the city center, where it had stood since June 2017, the fifty-three-foot concrete obelisk prominently features an excerpt of Jesus’s words from Matthew 25:35—“I was a stranger and you took me in”—inscribed in gold letters in German, English, Arabic, and Turkish. This quote reflects Jesus’s revolutionary ethic of love at the expense of personal comfort, of disadvantaging the self for others, so it’s no surprise that even today, it still offends. (Later in the passage, Jesus issues a sobering warning for those who fail to heed his command to welcome strangers.)

Monument to Strangers and Refugees by Olu Oguibe
Olu Oguibe (Nigerian American, 1964–), Monument to Strangers and Refugees, 2017. Concrete, about 53 ft. tall (3 × 3 × 16.3 m). Installation in King’s Square, Kassel, Germany.
Immigrant memorial removed
Olu Oguibe’s Monument to Strangers and Refugees was dismantled early on October 3 following orders by the city of Kassel. Photo: Regina Oesterling.

Germany has become increasingly polarized since 2015, when Chancellor Angela Merkel initiated an open-door immigration policy, leading to an influx of over one million refugees and asylum seekers at the height of the European refugee crisis. The city council had raised funds to purchase Oguibe’s monument for permanent display, and negotiations with the artist were in motion, but on September 24 they changed course, voting to remove the monument instead. According to Councilman Thomas Materner, a member of the AfD party, the obelisk is “ideologically polarizing, disfigured art.”

[Update, 10/12/18: The city and the artist have agreed on a new public location for the monument: Treppenstrasse, a nearby pedestrian area. (via)]

+++

CONFERENCES

“The Saddleback Visual Arts / CreativeChurch Arts Conference is a unique, full three-day conference and retreat October 18–20, 2018 at the beautiful Saddleback Rancho Capistrano Retreat Center. Creative leaders, arts ministry practitioners, and renowned artists will share visionary ideas and practical applications during sessions, workshops, creative and interactive performances and experiences. Attendees will explore applications for the arts and creativity in the local church, discover creative inspiration, experience refreshing and empowering ministry, connect with their creative tribe, and have the opportunity for personal or team retreat time in a beautiful setting. . . . For more information, and to register, please visit the CreativeChurch Arts website, here.”

Another conference taking place that same weekend, October 19–20, 2018, is “Visual Theology I: Transformative Looking Between the Visual Arts and Christian Doctrine (1850–Now).” The inaugural conference of the Visual Theology Symposia, it’s being held in Chichester, England, and it may sound familiar to you, since I publicized the call for papers back in April. One of my favorite writers and thinkers in the field, Jonathan A. Anderson, will be speaking there, along with others. The focus will be scholarly, whereas Saddleback’s conference will be more practical, hands-on, and ministry-focused.

+++

LECTURE: “Cathedrals from the Outside: Questions of Art, Engagement, Commemoration and Celebration” by Sandy Nairne: At the National Cathedrals Conference in Manchester last month, Nairne, who served as director of London’s National Portrait Gallery from 2002 to 2015, spoke on the spiritual in art—in public spaces, galleries, and cathedrals. His starting questions: “How does contemporary art function in museums in ways that are of interest to cathedrals? And are there new ways in which art is playing a part in cathedrals that is important to the cultural world as a whole?” Click on the link to read the transcript.

The White Doves by Michael Pendry
Michael Pendry (German, 1974–), Les Colombes – The White Doves, 2017. 2,000 white paper doves, 49 ft. (15 m). Pentecost installation at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London. (Shirazeh Houshiary’s East Window is in the background.) Photo: Marc Gascoigne.

+++

NEW ICON: Christ Breaking the Bonds of Animal Suffering: Iconographer Aidan Hart writes, “Sometimes I am commissioned to paint an icon of a saint for whom nothing yet exists, or at least no satisfactory icon. This is usually a pre-schism Western saint. But more rarely, the subject is a new theme, a new emphasis or combination. This was the case when Dr Christine Nellist approached me to create an icon that embodied some of the Orthodox Church’s teaching about our relationship with animals. The icon was to be used as flagship for her newly founded organisation Pan-Orthodox Concern for Animals and to illustrate her pending book on the subject. This article tells the story of its genesis and explains its design.” Fascinating!

Breaking the Bonds of Animal Suffering by Aidan Hart
Aidan Hart (British, 1957–), Breaking the Bonds of Animal Suffering, 2018. Tempera on wood.

+++

BOOK REVIEWS

The Hymnal: A Reading History by Christopher N. Phillips, reviewed by Leland Ryken: Who knew hymnals didn’t take the form of a songbook until the 1870s! Before then, says Phillips, they were essentially volumes of poetry, used in family and private devotions. “The focus [of this book] . . . is an exploration of the hymnbooks that preceded our familiar hymnal. These were books containing the texts of the hymns without accompanying music. . . . [The author] doesn’t deal with the history of hymn-singing in church services but with the private reading of hymns as poems. I can’t imagine a more original approach to hymns for our generation.” Definitely adding this one to my to-read list.

The Hymnal: A Reading History

Everything Tells Us about God by Katherine Bolger Hyde, with illustrations by Livia Coloji, reviewed by Amanda McGill: This children’s book from Ancient Faith Publishing begins, “The world is like a giant puzzle God made to tell us about Himself—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Every piece whispers one of His secrets—all we need to do is listen.” “I love the message of the book,” writes McGill: “finding God in the ordinary elements of creation. I think it affirms what children already suspect: that the world is meaningful, personal and infused with specialness. One of the first things I was thankful for was the inclusion of baptism and the Eucharist at the beginning of the book. It situates the sacraments within the normal experiences of life.”

Everything Tells Us about God

“Matins” by George Herbert

Industrial Cottage (detail) by James Rosenquist
James Rosenquist (American, 1933–2017), Industrial Cottage (upper right detail), 1977. Oil on canvas, 80 × 182 in. (203.2 × 462.3 cm). Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC. Photo: Victoria Emily Jones.

I cannot ope mine eyes,
But thou art ready there to catch
My morning-soul and sacrifice:
Then we must needs for that day make a match.

My God, what is a heart?
Silver, or gold, or precious stone,
Or star, or rainbow, or a part
Of all these things, or all of them in one?

My God, what is a heart,
That thou shouldst it so eye, and woo,
Pouring upon it all thy art,
As if that thou hadst nothing else to do?

Indeed man’s whole estate
Amounts (and richly) to serve thee:
He did not heav’n and earth create,
Yet studies them, not him by whom they be.

Teach me thy love to know;
That this new light, which now I see,
May both the work and workman show:
Then by a sunbeam I will climb to thee.

Let the Children Come (Artful Devotion)

Jesus with Children (thangka)
Detail of a Himalayan “Life of Christ” thangka, 19th century. Private collection of Terry Anthony. (Click on image to learn more)

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.

—Mark 10:13–16

+++

MUSIC: “Children’s Medley” | Solo piano arrangement by Marilynn Ham, 1985 | Performed by Cheryl Johnston, 2011

Marilynn Ham is probably my favorite arranger of sacred piano music—I own many of the books she’s published over the decades. “Children’s Medley” is from Ivory Exaltation: Arrangements for the Advanced Pianist, and here a parishioner from Green Valley United Methodist Church in Henderson, Nevada, performs it at the beginning of a worship service as an acolyte processes forward to light the two candles at the altar. In this context, the piece functions as a call to worship, combining “Praise Him, All Ye Little Children” by Carey Bonner with excerpts from Mozart’s Piano Sonata in C Major, “Jesus Loves Me” by William Batchelder Bradbury, and “Music Box Dancer” by Frank Mills. While these two primary songs are often sung by kids (whose belonging they affirm), they hold truth for people of all ages, for we are all called to come into God’s presence like little children—praising him with wonder and excitement, loving him without conditions, relying on his strength, receiving his love.

I have fond memories of singing both of these songs in children’s church when I was young. “Praise Him, All Ye Little Children,” not quite as familiar as “Jesus Loves Me,” was written by a Baptist minister from England who served as the General Secretary of the National Sunday School Union from 1900 until 1929. In 1905 it was published in The Sunday School Hymnary: A Twentieth Century Hymnal for Young People, a 674-page songbook Bonner compiled, now in the public domain. Here’s an adorable little two-year-old girl singing the first verse:

Praise Him, praise Him, all ye little children,
God is love, God is love;
Praise Him, praise Him, all ye little children,
God is love, God is love.

Love Him, love Him, all ye little children,
God is love, God is love;
Love Him, love Him, all ye little children,
God is love, God is love.

Thank Him, thank Him, all ye little children,
God is love, God is love;
Thank Him, thank Him, all ye little children,
God is love, God is love.

If you’re an advanced pianist and you liked Ham’s medley arrangement above, you will also want to check out “The Child in Each of Us” in Notes from a Thankful Heart, a medley of “Chopsticks,” “Deep and Wide,” “Running Over,” “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” and “I Am a ‘C.'” I have such fun playing these!


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 22, cycle B, click here.

Biblical art curricula for small groups

As a dedicated church member and art enthusiast, I’m thrilled to see products popping up that are designed to lead church groups—Sunday school classes, outreach classes, midweek Bible-study classes—through masterworks of religious art, fostering visual literacy and an appreciation for the church’s rich cultural heritage. Last year, two of these were released: Imaging the Story: Rediscovering the Visual and Poetic Contours of Salvation by Karen Case-Green and Gill C. Sakakini and “Inspired to Follow: Art and the Bible Story” from London’s St. Martin-in-the-Fields. These come after the Through Artists’ Eyes series of Bible-study guides published in 2010 by Standard, which shares a similar intent.

While these are far from the only books/written materials available on the intersection of Christianity and the visual arts, they are among the very few that were created with group participation in mind, which means that discussion questions and/or activities are provided. (Of course, you can go through them as an individual, but a group approach would probably prove more fruitful.) Furthermore, they do not assume any previous knowledge of art history, making them suitable for your average churchgoer. All three reproduce the images in full color and, while not obviously sectarian, were written by Protestants.

Despite the common aim to use biblical art to inspire deeper engagement with scripture, each product takes a different approach. Here I’d like to offer some comparative reviews so that you can decide which curriculum, if any, is right for your small group. (Note: I read these on my own, not with a group, so I cannot offer feedback on the group experience.) I hope these inspire even more offerings in the same vein so that churches will have a wealth to draw from.

+++

Imaging the Story: Rediscovering the Visual and Poetic Contours of Salvation
Authors: Karen Case-Green and Gill C. Sakakini; foreword by W. David O. Taylor
Publisher: Cascade Books/Wipf & Stock (Eugene, Oregon)
Year: 2017
Product format: Paperback or Kindle
Number of sessions: 10

Imaging the Story

Each of the ten chapters of this book has four primary components: Read, Respond, Reflect, and Make. Like the other curricula, this one brings together scripture texts, visual art, and discussion questions—but unlike the others, it also integrates poetry, and, most notably, places emphasis on making. Projects include mosaic tiles, breviaries (using cards bound with ribbon), still lifes, and others that are even more open-ended, inviting the use of any media, including words. An appendix advises on how to mount an exhibition of the art produced during the course.

One of the authors, Gill, is herself a visual artist; the cover image is a painting of hers, titled Incarnation. Her coauthor, Karen, is a preacher, writer, and former lecturer in English literature. “Making something and then setting it free,” they write,

is to share in something of our Creator’s own respect for what he makes. If God allows his creation to be enjoyed—and interpreted—by others, then we too can set what we make free (be they poems, paintings, sculptures, children, sermons) for others to receive, or reject, as they will. This may seem a risk, but it is one our Creator took long ago! (12)

Because of this emphasis on making, and also because of the discussion of artistic vocation woven throughout, I would recommend this book to artists or “creative types.” The project instructions are clear enough that even those who aren’t accustomed to art making could complete them, and I appreciate the desire to get readers to exercise their own imaginations, but I think “noncreatives” would be resistant to this form of scripture exploration, and probably too self-conscious. It might work for those who already have the inclination to try, but I do not see it working for every small group.

I am not an artist, so I admit, I forwent the art projects, but even without that component, there is still a lot of rich substance in the book. I especially like how the authors guide the reader in looking at a variety of art images—a mixture of famous works throughout history, like Michelangelo’s Awakening Slave and Munch’s The Scream, and contemporary pieces from their circle of artist friends in the Grünewald Guild. Viewing art, they contend, can support the act of interpreting scripture:

One way to enliven biblical exegesis is to read a passage, take time to look at a painting or other artistic interpretation, then return to the text to see how the imaginative encounter has permitted fresh insights. This is a form of artistic midrash (mid, meaning to seek out, rash, meaning to inquire) that still has deep respect for the text. (126–27)

(Yes! This is precisely the approach I use in the Artful Devotion series.)

All the images in the book were chosen with intention and serve to bolster the story line of scripture. And to these are added insightful extracts from poems and theological prose, as well as questions to engage.

Also included throughout is a soft defense of the arts, including a corrective against the thinking that God calls only artists to care about art. Writing about the decoration of the Jewish tabernacle:

Note that everyone participates in the artistic venture—it is not for perceived creatives or for those who choose this activity over another. God invites all the Israelites, via Moses, to offer something in the way of materials in a very accessible manner. The list in Exodus 25:3–7 comprises precious as well as expensive items (“gold, silver, and bronze”) and also readily available ones (“goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, fine leather, acacia wood”). (134–35)

In other words, all of Israel was involved in supporting the arts, in ways both large and small.

Imaging the Story succeeds in stoking excitement for the gospel story through the arts, which the authors ably trace from Genesis to Revelation, pausing along the way with prompts for personal reflection and/or group discussion. For example, the questions in the chapter on Christ’s conception include:

  • What is Mary’s spiritual and mental state in Fra Filippo Lippi’s Annunciation?
  • What good news has God “announced” to you?
  • How easy do you find it to nurture a conception in the dark? How might you create a “photographic darkroom” or “nest” in which your own creativity can develop?
  • Why was it so important for Mary to find an Elizabeth?
  • Do you have an “Elizabeth” in your life? Would you like to pray for one?

My one grievance is that there are quite a few copyediting and proofreading mistakes, which became distracting, including typos, comma splices, and inconsistent heading and caption styles and name spellings.

+++

Inspired to Follow: Art and the Bible Story
Authors: Richard Carter, Jonathan Evens, Katherine Hedderly, James Johnston, Alastair McKay, and Chloë Reddaway
Publisher: St. Martin-in-the-Fields, in association with the National Gallery (London)
Year: 2017
Product format: Digital downloads (PDFs and PowerPoints)
Number of sessions: 22, divided into three terms

This discipleship course was developed by St. Martin-in-the-Fields, a historic Anglican church in the heart of London, in association with the National Gallery, conveniently located just across the street. Divided into twenty-two hour-long sessions, it uses paintings from the Gallery’s collections as a springboard into discussion of key elements of the Christian story and their personal implications. Two of the driving questions are “What does it mean to follow Jesus today?” and “How can I deepen my faith in God?”   Continue reading “Biblical art curricula for small groups”

If It Had Not Been (Artful Devotion)

Great Migration 54 by Jacob Lawrence
Jacob Lawrence (American, 1914–2000), The Migration of the Negro (panel 54), 1941. Casein tempera on hardboard, 18 × 12 in. (45.7 × 30.5 cm). Museum of Modern Art, New York.

If it had not been the LORD who was on our side—
let Israel now say—
if it had not been the LORD who was on our side
when people rose up against us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away,
the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone
the raging waters.

Blessed be the LORD,
who has not given us
as prey to their teeth!
We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
and we have escaped!

Our help is in the name of the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.

—Psalm 124

+++

SONG: “If It Had Not Been for the Lord” | Words and music by Margaret Pleasant Douroux, 1980 | Performed by Lynda Randle (vocals) and Andraé Crouch (piano), 2001


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 21, cycle B, click here.

Advent Materials

Advent begins December 2, and Christian resource providers have already started releasing content for the season so that you can start adapting and programming it into your church services or family devotional practices, if desired. Here are three sets plus a Kickstarter campaign that caught my eye.

from SALT PROJECT

SALT Project Advent
Photo by SALT Project

SALT Project is a faith-based media company dedicated to creating beautiful visual content, especially video, for churches and other clients. Below are three of the five videos they’ve put together for Advent, which can be purchased and customized for church use. The videos feature a few products, like illustrated Advent calendar notecards (with daily tasks like “Deliver sweets to a neighbor” or “Write a thank-you letter to God”) and coloring pages and posters inspired by Mary’s Magnificat, available for download from SALT’s online shop.

I love their aesthetic! (These videos make me really excited for Advent.) I also appreciate how the devotional activities can be done either as an individual, a family, or a congregation. Click here to see a roundup of all five videos, and be sure to also check out Advent in Full Color, a devotional booklet that features poetry by Mary Oliver and Howard Thurman, daily practices, scripture texts, meditations on the season’s key theological themes, and coloring pages.

To subscribe to SALT’s weekly e-newsletter (which I highly recommend!), scroll to the bottom of this webpage; you can also follow them on Facebook @SALTyProject.

+++

from REFORMED WORSHIP

The cover story of the September 2018 issue of Reformed Worship magazine is “Advent in Narnia: An Invitation to Biblical Explorations Beyond the Wardrobe” by Cindy de Jong, which chronicles how seven different churches, including the author’s, used The Chronicles of Narnia last year to draw out some of the themes of Advent. In most cases this involved a six-week sermon series, or a service of lessons and carols, that integrated references to C. S. Lewis’s classic tale. At first I was skeptical of keying sermon series to a work of fiction, allegorical though it may be, but it turns out the worship service plans (reproduced in the article) were intelligently done, letting scripture drive and Narnia serve as a supplement to amplify God’s truth. One contributor even mentioned the need to be careful to not let Narnia be the focus; it can provide structural support but should not constitute the core of the sermon nor the worship service.

Reformed Worship cover

“The whole of Advent is this,” de Jong writes: “awaiting the birth of the Christ child in the same way we wait for the return of Christ’s kingdom. The whole of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe covers the same: waiting for Aslan and waiting for the triumph of Narnia.” Service plans, including songs, sermon titles and notes, Narnia references, and confessions, are included in the article with varying specificity. Though all drawing on the same text, there is a surprising diversity of approaches. Also included are ideas for how to decorate the sanctuary, how to engage children, and how to introduce the book and the sermon series to the congregation. Two additional books that are recommended are Advent in Narnia: Reflections for the Season by Heidi Haverkamp and The Lion’s World: A Journey into the Heart of Narnia by Rowan Williams.

Besides this eleven-page article, this month’s issue also includes an Advent reading for three voices by Joyce Borger, titled “What If . . . ?,” that reflects on the Flight to Egypt in light of today’s immigration debates, as well as an Advent worship service series that includes calls to worship, Advent readings, scripture texts, sermon themes and outlines, and song suggestions for five weeks’ worth of Sundays.

+++

from ADAM FARBIARZ via KICKSTARTER

Designed for daily use during December, One Night: An Advent Calendar is a large foldout storybook that reimagines Luke’s nativity narrative through the eyes of a shepherd. Printed on heavyweight paper wrapped around millboard, the product takes the form of a freestanding triptych with twenty-four numbered doors that open to reveal snippets of story. I’ve seen the mock-up, and it looks like a really quality endeavor, something for the whole family to enjoy (it’s pitched to adults but accessible to children). Help the creative team fund printing costs by contributing to their Kickstarter campaign in exchange for your own calendar in the mail by the end of November. Text and direction by Adam Farbiarz, illustrations by Rachael Clarke Hendel, hand lettering by Rachel Farbiarz, and design by Lizzie Stone.

One Night Advent calendar

One Night Advent calendar

+++

from THE HOMELY HOURS

These resources were published over the last few years, but I just found out about them this summer. Run by churchwomen from Christ the King Anglican Church in Dayton, Ohio, The Homely Hours is a website created out of a desire to encourage a deeper integration of the life of the church into the life of the home. It’s treated not so much as a blog (it’s not continually updated) as it is a repository, so search through the tabs and archives for creative ideas to celebrate the liturgical seasons in the domestic sphere.

Advent plans include Advent-wreath prayers, Jesus-tree ornaments, St. Nicholas Day treat bags, Advent Saints and Life of Mary coloring pages, a printable St. Lucy’s crown, poems, and more—all free. As a reminder that the observance of Advent with one’s family does not necessitate perfect planning or novelty or “lots of” (quite the contrary), see “If I handcraft artisan shoes for St. Nicholas Day but have not love . . .”

St. Nicholas treat bag
St. Nicholas Day treat bag by Bley Hack/The Homely Hours
Life of Mary coloring page
Life of Mary coloring page (detail) by Michelle Abernathy/The Homely Hours

Resist (Artful Devotion)

Prayer by Arcabas
Painting by Arcabas (French, 1926–2018)

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

—James 4:7

+++

SONG: “Way Down in the Hole” by Tom Waits, on Franks Wild Years (1987)


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 20, cycle B, click here.