To Elizabeth she came,
over the hills,
bearing the Lord flowering in her womb—
sacrament of her flesh,
bud richly taut—
the warmth of her
containing His infinity,
the sun His fire.
The dark earth of her body
seemed to encompass all things.
The terraced fields of Juda
pregnant with seed
called out to her
as she passed,
praising the Child
she was yet to bear,
invoking His blessing
on their expectancy.
These must call out,
full in their fullness,
barren beside hers,
then how should a child
six months conceived
adore with stillness
in his mother’s womb?
“The Visitation” by Calvin B. LeCompte Jr., based on Luke 1:39–45, appears in I Sing of a Maiden: The Mary Book of Verse, ed. Sister M. Thérèse (New York: Macmillan, 1947).
In this poem Calvin B. LeCompte Jr. compares the embryonic Christ to a flower bud about to bloom from the warm, dark seedbed of Mary. The glorious abundance of the spring hills, he writes, is nothing—“barren beside hers”—compared to the abundance and glory Mary holds within her, soon to be revealed. LeCompte personifies the Judean countryside that Mary passes through, in her first trimester, on her way to her cousin Elizabeth’s house, who is herself six months pregnant. Like these women, the fields are “pregnant with seed.” And they recognize with reverence the Christ who travels past them, borne in the womb of his mother. They (the grasses) wave, they bow; they call out to him, seeking blessing. If even nonhuman nature is moved by the as-yet-latent Jesus and can’t help but react with praise, then how much more ought the unborn John, kinsman and appointed forerunner, to leap and rejoice when, momentarily, his mom and Jesus’s embrace belly to belly and sing Magnificat.
Calvin Byrd LeCompte Jr. (1922–2001) was a Black Catholic educator, musician, literary critic, and occasional poet from Washington, DC, the son of a prominent medical doctor. He earned a BA in English in 1943 and an MA in linguistics in 1948, both from the Catholic University of America, and he attended a number of the “literary salons” Ezra Pound held at St. Elizabeths Hospital in DC while Pound was a psychiatric patient there. LeCompte also studied piano under Cecil Cohen, giving lecture-recitals at colleges around the country in the late forties, and taught voice at the Frederick Wilkerson studios for some twenty years. He then went on to serve for twenty-three years as music director at Epiphany Catholic Church in Georgetown, as well as music director at the classical radio station WGMS, where he created and hosted the program Music in Our Time as a showcase and teaching forum for contemporary classical music. A professor of English and music at the University of the District of Columbia, he also lectured at Howard University, Temple University, the University of Pennsylvania, the Kennedy Center, the Opera Guild, and the Folger Library. In addition, he translated in eight languages for the National Catholic News Service.
AVANT-GARDE CLASSICAL: Klang—Die 24 Stunden des Tages (Sound—The 24 Hours of the Day) is a cycle of chamber-music compositions by the avant-garde German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, which he worked on from 2004 until his death in 2007. (The intention was for there to be twenty-four pieces, but the cycle was unfinished at twenty-one.) The first two pieces in the cycle, on the themes of Ascension and Pentecost, were commissioned for the interdisciplinary Pause festival at Milan Cathedral by artache, a Milan-based nonprofit committed to showcasing contemporary artworks in public places of worship. The artistic director of artache at the time was Don Luigi Garbini, a priest at the church of San Marco in Milan and cofounding director of the artache initiative the Laboratorio di Musica Contemporanea al Servizio della Liturgia (Laboratory for Contemporary Music in the Service of the Liturgy).
>> No. 82: “KLANG, 2nd Hour: Freude (Joy)” by Karlheinz Stockhausen, for two harps and voice, 2005: This forty-minute piece premiered at Milan Cathedral on July 6, 2006. The text is taken from the medieval Pentecost hymn “Veni Creator Spiritus” [previously], which the harpists sing in spurts, “in alternation or sometimes together . . . , while plucking, picking, caressing, stroking, pinching, rubbing, striping, striking, pinking, jubilating,” as Stockhausen put it. In program notes dated February 15, 2006, he writes, “There is something unique about the adventure to combine two harps which are normally tuned in diatonic scales and to synthesise them into one large chromatic harp. . . . Pentecost unites what has been separated. My work FREUDE too.” For musical analysis by Ed Chang, see here. The performance below is from the Stockhausen Memorial Concert in Kürten, Germany, on December 16, 2017, featuring Marianne Smit and Miriam Overlach.
NEW DOCTORAL COHORT:The Sacred Art of Reading: The Eugene Peterson Center for Christian Imagination at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan, is offering a new, mostly remote, three-year DMin track called “The Sacred Art of Reading,” which begins this October, taught by Professor Chris E.W. Green. The program is centered on the reading of scripture—the Old Testament narrative books (Year 1), Old Testament poetry and wisdom literature (Year 2), and the Gospels and Apocalypse (Year 3)—alongside a number of additional primary texts, whose titles you can view on the website; authors include, among others, Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, Amy-Jill Levine, Daniel Berrigan, Robert Alter, Shusaku Endo, and of course Eugene Peterson! Participants get together in person for one week each semester (times six semesters) and are responsible for, in addition to the $17,280 tuition, travel and lodging costs. The application deadline is June 30, 2023. Applicants must hold an MDiv degree or its educational equivalent and have at least three years of ministry experience since completing the MDiv. Here’s a condensed program description:
The Sacred Art of Reading cohort will be dedicated to collaboration in “the forbidding discipline of spiritual reading,” confident that such an undertaking cultivates the loving attentiveness, prophetic discernment, and childlike openness to surprise that characterize what St. Paul calls the faith that works by love. . . . The cohort is designed to cultivate an alternative awareness, one shaped by the slow, painstaking work of collaborative interpretation. And to that end, the heart of the program is the reading of the Christian Scriptures. The aim will be both philosophical and devotional, critical and celebratory, mystical, and pastoral. No one reading method will be stipulated, but students will be encouraged to find ways to honor the traditions of the communities in which they learned to argue, to muse, and to pray.
Besides Scripture, the cohort will engage a wide range of texts including poems, memoirs, essays, treatises, sermons, and stories old and new, familiar, and strange, sacred and “worldly,” in part and in whole, not so much in order to “plunder the Egyptians” as to bear glad witness to the wonder that God is never left without a witness because all truth, truly received, trues.
This approach really wets my whistle! I don’t have a master’s degree, so I’m out, but I feel so energized by the reading list and wanted to share the opportunity with you all, as the program seems doable for those with full-time jobs. A virtual interest meeting is being held on June 1. Click here to view other doctor of ministry cohorts at Western.
FUNDRAISING CAMPAIGN: The Soil and The Seed Project: I’ve mentioned this project several times on the blog before, as I’m a big fan. A ministry of VMMissions (Virginia Mennonite Missions), The Soil and The Seed Project releases original music, art, and liturgies throughout the Christian year, especially suitable for families with littles. They launched in December 2021 and since then have put out seven collections, with their latest and largest yet—Vol. 7 // Ordinary Time—dropping this week. (Request a free download through their website, or stream through your favorite service.) Coinciding with this release, they have also launched a campaign to raise $27,000 by June 18 to cover the costs of recording, mixing, shipping, etc., for future collections. Learn more in the five-minute video below, which features the new songs “In the Little Moments,” “Teach Me, O LORD,” and “Because of Jesus.”
The Soil and The Seed Project offers all their content for free, including physical CDs (as stock permits), and are committed to keeping it that way—which is why they need the support of donors. Donate to their campaign, and you can opt to receive stickers, notecards, and/or a T-shirt as a thank-you. Also note: they’ll be giving a concert at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 3, at the Brethren & Mennonite Heritage Center in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
SONG: “Holy Spirit” by Victoria Williams: “Part front-porch soothsayer, part quirky bayou princess, and part eternal child, Victoria Williams writes songs of indescribable originality that embrace the earthly and the divine with wit, charm, and understated vision,” writes Josh Kun for Bomb magazine. The song “Holy Spirit” [read lyrics] is from her 1990 album Swing the Statue!. It opens with the familiar invocation from a Gullah spiritual: “Kum ba yah, my Lord” (which translates to “Come by here”). She seeks God’s presence and then, given a renewed sensitivity to it, identifies and celebrates its flow throughout her daily goings. She feels the Holy Spirit while building a raft with friends on the shores of Louisiana’s Lake Bistineau and riding a New York City subway beside a whistling stranger, as well as in graveyards and at bars and out under open night skies. The Spirit flows through all of life. I can’t find the song online anywhere other than in this YouTube fan video, which sets it to photos. [HT: Jonathan Evens]
ARTWORK: Fire by Teresita Fernández: In the collection of SFMOMA, this ring of warm-colored silk yarn conveys something of the flickering quality of fire. At the link is a short video interview with the artist about the piece. Fernández says she is interested in the sensorial aspects of viewer engagement with art.
Fire was a highlight of the 2013 exhibition Beyond Belief: 100 Years of the Spiritual in Modern Art, jointly organized by SFMOMA and the Contemporary Jewish Museum. Here’s a video of the Lick Wilmerding High School Vocal Ensemble singing “Famine Song” by VIDA around the installation that year, a song inspired by the basket weavers of Sudan, who persist in their craft during times of hardship, their hands working natural fibers into beautiful, colorful vessels. “Weave, my mother; weave, my child; weave your baskets of rushes wild . . .”
I used to think of you
as a symphony
full of no surprises.
Now I see you as
a saxophone solo
into the night,
a tongue of fire,
flicking in unrepeated
From Poems by Steve Turner, compiled by Rebecca Winter (Oxford: Lion Publishing, 2002)
Steve Turner is a music journalist, biographer, and poet from the UK who has spent his career chronicling and interviewing people from the worlds of music, film, television, fashion, art, and literature. He has contributed to newspapers such as The Mail on Sunday and The Times, and among his many books is the influential Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts. He lives in London.
BIBLICAL COMMENTARY: “Ascension Sunday (Year A): Luke 24:44-53 and Acts 1:1-11” by SALT Project: This Sunday marks the risen Jesus’s departure after forty days of dwelling with the community of disciples. While SALT Project’s commentary doesn’t plumb all the meaning of the Ascension, I was struck by its pointing out of the significance of the Mount of Olives (in light of Zechariah’s prophecy and the “choreography” of Palm Sunday) and the resonances with Elijah’s ascent, particularly with Christ’s passing on his mantle to the church.
>> Music by Rowland Hugh Prichard, 1830: The hymn is often paired with the public-domain Welsh tune HYFRYDOL (which I know best from its association with “Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners”). It’s sung here by Ben Lashey and Chris Joyner:
>> Music by Rebecca Almazar and Brian Gurney, 2020: I really love this new tune that Almazar and Gurney wrote for the hymn while they were at New City Fellowship in Manassas, Virginia, which was released on the church’s EP A Liturgy. Gurney is now the director of contemporary worship at The Falls Church Anglican in Falls Church, Virginia. The song is not yet available on CCLI, but in the meantime, he has granted permission for license-free church use; here are the chords.
CALL FOR ENTRIES: 2023 Sacred Art Competition and Exhibition: “Seeking the finest contemporary sacred art for an online juried exhibition hosted by the Catholic Art Institute, with a world-wide audience and the opportunity to sell work, be featured on the Catholic Art Institute website.” The top prize is $2,500. The deadline for submission is November 6, 2023. From what I can tell, participants need not be Catholic, but the artwork(s) should be suitable for devotional and/or liturgical use by Catholics.
In the fourteenth century, Hamman says, fathers generally loved their children but were less involved in the day-to-day tasks of caring for their physical and emotional needs, whereas mothers were deeply present. Julian wrote about how Christ gave birth to his children on the bed of the cross, how he nurses them from his side, and how he acutely hears and responds to their individual cries. This podcast episode is an excellent summation of a theological idea that may sound odd and unorthodox at first but that is in fact biblically derived, appearing throughout church history, and that grants us fuller insight into who Christ is.
BOOK: Mother God by Teresa Kim Pecinovsky, illustrated by Khoa Le: Dovetailing with Hamman’s recent podcast episode is this beautifully unique children’s book that came out last year from Beaming Books. “With lyrical, rhyming text and exquisite illustrations, Mother God introduces readers to a dozen images of God inspired by feminine descriptions from Scripture. Children and adults alike will be in awe of the God who made them as they come to know her as a creative seamstress, generous baker, fierce mother bear, protective mother hen, strong woman in labor, nurturing nursing mother, wise grandmother, and comforting singer of lullabies. This gorgeous picture book welcomes children into a fuller, more diverse understanding of what it means to be made in the image of God.” Born in South Korea, raised in Iowa, and living in Texas, author Teresa Kim Pecinovsky (MDiv, MEd) (pictured below) is a hospice chaplain ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and a former elementary school teacher. Khoa Le is an artist from Vietnam.
Some traditionalists will no doubt have a visceral reaction against the cover and concept—“God reveals himself as Father, not Mother!” they’ll say, or “The Bible uses only masculine pronouns for God”—but it’s important to remember that God is nongendered, although God does contain both the masculine and the feminine (see, e.g., Gen. 1:27). “Father” is a metaphor, same as “mother.” God became incarnate as a male, Jesus, but as Hamman shows (see previous roundup item), Jesus also exhibited some qualities traditionally associated with women and mothers in particular, and therefore we can speak metaphorically of Christ as mother, as we can, too, of the First Person of the Trinity. Having an academic background in literature, I’m very comfortable with (and enthralled by!) metaphor, but I can understand, lamentably, how it trips some people up.
ARTICLE: “Waking Ancient Seeds: Why the Middle Ages Matter” by Matthew J. Milliner, Comment, May 10, 2023: “For the medievals, Jesus is the Rosetta stone of cosmic meaning, with whom all things are aglow in the polyphonic resonance of truth, and without whom the world hurdles into centrifugal disconnection,” writes Matt Milliner, a theologically trained professor of art history at Wheaton College, an evangelical institution in Illinois. “It is our world that has been flattened, lacking the full-orbed splendour of medieval significance and depth.” In this article he contrasts the symbolism and sense of wonder and reverence of the Middle Ages with the deficits of the present, identifying several, sometimes unlikely places in which these “ancient seeds” are sprouting again.
Celebrated fifty days after Easter, Pentecost is one of the great feasts of the Christian year. It commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus’s apostles when they were gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks ten days after Jesus ascended to heaven, marking the birth of the church. Acts 2 describes the Spirit’s coming as accompanied by a “rushing mighty wind” and “tongues of fire”—quite the dramatic entry! The Spirit filled the apostles with the miraculous ability to preach in speech that was comprehensible to all the many Jewish pilgrims, from various language groups, who were gathered in the city, resulting in the conversion that day of three thousand to the Jesus Way.
I’ve compiled a Spotify playlist of one hundred-plus Pentecost songs that celebrate God’s Spirit poured out over the face of the earth, bringing life and power. The indie folk genre is heavily represented, but there’s also an Appalachian fiddle tune, a Renaissance motet, a Native American dance song, a Russian Orthodox kontakion, Sacred Harp hymns, modern classical, Pentecostal gospel, blues, jazz, pop, lo-fi, and more. I hope to capture something of the Spirit’s dynamism with these selections.
The Holy Spirit ministers in a handful of ways. He renews, purifies, transforms. He gifts and empowers. He guides and illumines and comforts. He dwells within, a constant friendly presence. He intercedes for us with wordless groans. He unites believers across lines of difference, making us one. He enables us to bear fruit—love, joy, peace, etc.—for God’s glory and the world’s good.
So many songs centered on the Holy Spirit have an individualistic focus and a gentle, subdued tone. The Spirit does of course minister to the individual, and can be gentle and soothing (Jesus refers to him as the Comforter, after all!), and we often invoke him in our weariness. But the Spirit is also wild and uncontainable. And the life he brings is not merely of an inward spiritual kind; his impact manifests itself in tangible deeds out in the community, as those whom he fills go forth to serve their neighbors after the example of Christ.
In terms of energy, consider the vigor with which Bach ornaments the final line of the Gloria, “Cum Sancto Spiritu in gloria Dei Patris” ([You, Jesus Christ, alone are the Most High] with the Holy Ghost in the glory of God the Father), in his B minor Mass. And for wildness: the loud clashing of the piano chords in Daniel Glover’s “The Descent of the Holy Spirit”from Misteria, evoking a sense of the disorientation that must have been felt on that historic day when the Spirit came suddenly sweeping in and the apostles started speaking multiple languages at once. (Some observers thought they were drunk!)
“Let the Waters” is another high-octane Pentecost song—this one in a rock style—which Michael Gungor wrote in 2014 when he was part of the Liturgists. In 2020 he revisited it with the Good Shepherd Collective, adding as a tag the African American spiritual “Wade in the Water” [previously]. In this context the spiritual references both the Spirit’s tendency to disrupt and the ancient Jewish folk belief that an angel would periodically come down to stir the waters of a certain pool in Bethesda, activating its healing properties (see John 5:4). The GSC released this new arrangement later in 2020 under the title “Pentecost,” featuring on vocals Gungor, Liz Vice, and Charles Jones.
Let the waters cool ya Let the Spirit move ya Feel the fire on your lips and sing your hallelujah Sing your hallelujah
O my soul, sing hallelujah
Wade in the water Wade in the water, children Wade in the water God’s gonna trouble the water
Led by Betty Pamptopee of Isabella Reservation, Michigan, “Methodist Hymn” is the first verse of “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” in Ojibwe (but to the tune of “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed”). Even though “tongues” in the song’s titular first line is probably referring not to languages but to the individual’s desire to maximize God’s praise—as in “Oh, that I had more tongues to praise you with!”—I love the implications for Pentecost, when the gospel went out in many tongues, the beginning of the “proclaim[ing] and spread[ing] through all the earth abroad / the honors of [Jesus’s] name.” I think there’s massive potential for a multilingual choral arrangement of this hymn. (I’m thinking, for example, of Laurel MacDonald’s “Qui habitat,” featured here.)
Several of the songs on the playlist highlight the Spirit’s creativity, such as verse 1 of “Come, Holy Spirit” (alt title: “Holy Spirit, Groaning”) by David Benjamin Blower. Genesis 1 says that in the beginning, the Spirit hovered over the waters of chaos—implying that he was active in creation. And he is still a creative force, bringing forth new life.
Hildegard of Bingen [previously], a twelfth-century nun and polymath from Germany, wrote several beautiful Latin antiphons to the Holy Spirit, both words and music, which together convey a sense of mystery and awe. One of them is “Spiritus sanctus vivificans,” from her Symphony of the Harmony of Celestial Revelations, sung here by soprano Anna Sandström:
Here are two English translations; I can’t decide which I like best, so I proffer them both:
giving life to all life,
moving all creatures,
root of all things,
washing them clean,
wiping out their mistakes,
healing their wounds,
you are our true life,
awakening the heart
from its ancient sleep.
Trans. Stephen Mitchell
The Spirit of God
is a life that bestows life,
root of the world-tree
and wind in its boughs.
Scrubbing out sins,
she rubs oil into wounds.
She is glistening life
alluring all praise,
Trans. Barbara Newman
For example, we might ask the Spirit to increase our love for God and others. In Watts’s “Come, Holy Spirit, heav’nly dove,” we beseech him to come “with all Thy quick’ning pow’rs; come, shed abroad a Savior’s love, and that shall kindle ours.” Or elsewhere, similarly, to “light up our mortal frame” with love, “till others catch the living flame” (Ambrose). The Spirit also kindles belief and trust. “Revive our drooping faith,” prays Hart.
Further, the Spirit knits together diverse peoples into a brand-new family whose head is Christ. Fr. Peter Raymond Scholtes, a Catholic priest living on the south side of Chicago, penned the post–Vatican II hymn “One in the Spirit” (aka “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love”) against the backdrop of the civil rights movement. It proclaims that Christians are united by their share in, as the apostle Paul puts it, “one body and one Spirit . . . one hope . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all . . .” (Eph. 4:2–5), and prays “that all unity [across all humankind] will one day be restored.” It also emphasizes the importance of the church’s public witness through acts of love. As Jesus says in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love is the primary fruit of the Spirit that Paul lists in Galatians 5:22–23. Here’s a jazz arrangement of the hymn performed by Ruth Naomi Floyd:
Unity is also the theme of one of four featured hymns from the Orthodox liturgy for Pentecost, the text of which translates to: “When the Most High descended and confused tongues [at the Tower of Babel], he scattered the people; but when he distributed the tongues of fire, he called all to unity. Therefore, with one voice, let us praise the most Holy Spirit.” Pentecost is often referred to as a reverse Babel.
There are several musical settings of scripture on the playlist, including:
“O Children of Zion” by Seth Thomas Crissman (The Soil and The Seed Project), a setting of Joel 2:23a, 28: “O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the LORD your God. . . . I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.”
“If Ye Love Me” by Thomas Tallis, a setting of John 14:15–17: Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate [/Helper/Comforter; Gr. parakletos, Paraclete], to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”
“The Spirit of Life” by Cody Curtis (Psallos), a setting of Romans 8:1–17, about living not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit, who is “life and peace” and who abides in us, enabling us to resist sin and bearing witness that we are children of God and therefore join heirs with Christ
There are also a few songs that reference the story of Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones [previously], in which God brings his prophet to a desolate landscape littered with human bones. But then: “Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. . . . Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live” (Ezek. 37:5, 9). And the bones reassembled, took on flesh, and became animated once again—a picture of the regenerative power of God’s Spirit. (The Hebrew word for “spirit” is ruach, which can also be translated “breath”; same with the Greek pneuma.) Here’s Caroline Cobb’s “Dry Bones”:
I hope the Art & Theology Pentecost Playlist helps you to more fully exult in the myriad workings of the Spirit, who came in a blaze some two thousand years ago and burns still, all over the globe, where Christ’s kingdom has taken root.
Looking for hymns for Ascension Day (which is May 18 this year), I came across “A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing.” Originally written in Latin, it is attributed to the Venerable Bede (673–735), a monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Monkwearmouth and one of the most important scholars of the Early Middle Ages.
“Hymnum canamus gloriæ” circulated throughout medieval Europe in various versions, with the earliest known surviving example appearing in the mid-eleventh century in Beinecke MS 481.36, fols. 2r–2v.
Below is the fairly standardized seven-stanza version that appears in the Hymnale Secundum Usum Insignis Ac Praeclarae Ecclesiae Sarisburiensis (London, 1850), pages 163–64, which in turn is taken from the Psalterium cum Hymnis ad usum insignis Ecclesiae Sarum et Eboracensis, a quarto edition printed in Paris by Byrkman in 1516. The English translation on the right, from the 1852 edition of the Hymnal Noted, is by Benjamin Webb.
Hymnum canamus gloriæ,
Hymni novi nunc personent,
Christus novo cum tramite
Ad Patris ascendit thronum.
Apostoli tunc mystico
In monte stantes chrismatis
Cum matre clara virgine,
Iesu videbant gloriam.
Quos alloquentes angeli,
Quid astra stantes cernitis?
Salvator hic est, inquiunt,
Iesus triumpho nobili;
Sicque venturum asserunt,
Quemadmodum hunc viderunt,
Summa polorum culmina
Scandere Iesum splendida.
Da nobis illuc sedula
Quo te sedere cum Patre
In arce regni credimus.
Tu esto nostrum gaudium,
Qui es futurus præmium,
Sit nostra in te gloria,
Per cuncta semper sæcula.
Gloria tibi, Domine,
Qui scandis supra sidera,
Cum Patre et Sancto Spiritu
In sempiterna sæcula.
Sing we triumphant hymns of praise,
New hymns to heav’n exulting raise;
Christ, by a road before untrod,
Ascendeth to the throne of God.
The holy apostolic band
Upon the Mount of Olives stand,
And with the Virgin Mother see
Jesu’s resplendent majesty.
To whom the angels, drawing nigh,
“Why stand and gaze upon the sky?
This is the Savior,” thus they say;
“This is his noble triumph day.”
“Again shall ye behold him so
As ye today have seen him go,
In glorious pomp ascending high,
Up to the portals of the sky.”
O grant us thitherward to tend,
And with unwearied hearts ascend
Unto thy kingdom’s throne, where thou,
As is our faith, art seated now.
Be thou our joy, and thou our guard,
Who art to be our great reward:
Our glory and our boast in thee
For ever and for ever be!
All glory, Lord, to thee we pay,
Ascending o’er the stars today;
All glory, as is ever meet,
To Father and to Paraclete.
Numerous layers of translation and revision have marked the transmission of this hymn text. Two other nineteenth-century English translations are by
John David Chambers, from Lauda Syon, Ancient Latin Hymns of the English and Other Churches, Translated into corresponding Metres (London, 1857), 198–99
Elizabeth Rundle Charles, from The Voice of the Christian Life in Song; or Hymns and Hymn Writers of Many Lands and Ages (London, 1858), 165–66
O grant us thitherward to tend and, with unwearied hearts, ascend unto thy kingdom’s throne, where thou, as is our faith, art seated now.
Bede, trans. Benjamin Webb
The version used in most twentieth-century English-language hymnals appears to be a mashup of Charles (from whom comes the title and first line “A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing”) and Webb, with additional editorial alterations. For example, here’s what’s in Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal (1993), which is credited as a composite translation:
A hymn of glory let us sing! New songs throughout the world shall ring: Alleluia, alleluia! Christ, by a road before untrod, ascends unto the throne of God. Alleluia, alleluia! Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
The holy apostolic band upon the Mount of Olives stand. Alleluia, alleluia! And with his followers they see their Lord ascend in majesty. Alleluia, alleluia! Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
To them the shining angels cry, “Why stand and gaze upon the sky?” Alleluia, alleluia! “This is the Savior,” thus they say. “This is his glorious triumph day.” Alleluia, alleluia! Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
“You see him now, ascending high up to the portals of the sky.” Alleluia, alleluia! “Hereafter Jesus you shall see returning in great majesty.” Alleluia, alleluia! Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
Be now our joy on earth, O Lord, and be our future great reward. Alleluia, alleluia! Then, throned with you forever, we shall praise your name eternally. Alleluia, alleluia! Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
O risen Christ, ascended Lord, all praise to you let earth accord. Alleluia, alleluia! You are, while endless ages run, with Father and with Spirit one. Alleluia, alleluia! Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
Christian Worship pairs the text with LASST UNS ERFREUEN, a seventeenth-century tune from Germany that is most commonly associated with “All Creatures of Our God and King.” It works really well! Below you can listen to an abridgement of this version of “A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing” (verses 1, 5, and 6), plus a different version featuring a new, custom melody.
>> Tune: LASST UNS ERFREUEN, 1623 | Performed by the Good Shepherd Collective, 2023: The musicians who make up the Good Shepherd Collective are masters of their craft. Each week I tune in to the musical portion of the Good Shepherd New York virtual worship service for inspiration and nourishment, and to see what they’ve been up to. I always love their arrangements and the breadth encompassed by their selections. I’ve cued up their premiere performance of “A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing” from the GSNY April 30 service, located at 1:49–4:57. The lead vocalists are Jonathan Seale and Jayne Sugg.
>> Music by Steven Brooks, 2020 | Performed by Andrew Shubin, 2020: Dr. Steven D. Brooks is a pastor, author, professor of music and worship at Azusa Pacific University, and the founding director of Worship Quest Ministries, which serves as a resource for worship renewal and spiritual formation in the global church. A former student of Brooks’s, Andrew Shubin is a singer, guitarist, and actor living in Los Angeles. He has done session singing, appeared on TV, starred in musical theater productions, and written original songs. In this video he sings a retuned version of “A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing” by Brooks, which uses the three-verse translation from the United Church of Christ’s New Century Hymnal (1995) but adds a new refrain. For permission to use this song, email email@example.com.
A hymn of glory let us sing! New songs throughout the world shall ring: Christ, by a road before untrod, ascends unto the throne of God.
Refrain: Alleluia! Arise and let your praises ring. Alleluia! Arise and sing to Christ the King.
You are a present joy, O Christ, triumphant love once sacrificed, and great the light in you we see to guide us to eternity. [Refrain]
O risen Christ, ascended now, to your blessed name all knees shall bow; you are, while endless ages run, in Triune Godhead ever One. [Refrain]
You tiny who
Of Simeons song
You shepherds shock
You singular star-bright
For scholars light.
Of your mothers husband
Of weddings, picnics, graves
You thoughtful martyr
You thirsty man
You dying God—
But this concludes . . .
Heir of power
Of closed meetings
Sandra R. Duguid (b. 1947) is an American poet living in West Caldwell, New Jersey. For twenty years she taught literature, composition, and creative writing at colleges in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area and at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania, retiring in 2010 to devote more time to writing. She is a recipient of a Fellowship in Poetry from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and author of the poetry collection Pails Scrubbed Silver (North Star Press, 2013).
The Easter season is a time of hope. There still is fear, there still is a painful awareness of sinfulness, but there also is light breaking through. Something new is happening, something that goes beyond the changing moods of our life. We can be joyful or sad, optimistic or pessimistic, tranquil or angry, but the solid stream of God’s presence moves deeper than the small waves of our minds and hearts. Easter brings the awareness that God is present even when his presence is not directly noticed. Easter brings the good news that, although things seem to get worse in the world, the Evil One has already been overcome. Easter allows us to affirm that although God seems very distant and although we remain preoccupied with many little things, our Lord walks with us on the road and keeps explaining the Scriptures to us. Thus there are many rays of hope casting their light on our way through life.
—Henri Nouwen, A Cry for Mercy: Prayers from the Genesee (1981) [HT]
TRAVELING EXHIBITION: Arte de Lágrimas: Refugee Artwork Project: Started in August 2014 by the Rev. Dr. Gregory Cuéllar and Nohemi Cuéllar, Arte de Lágrimas (Art of Tears) is a traveling art exhibit and archive that aims to create greater public awareness of the lived migratory journeys of asylum-seeking children and youth from Central America. The Cuéllars and other volunteers have visited respite centers in Texas border towns like McAllen, Brownsville, and Eagle Pass, distributing art supplies to migrant children who are waiting for buses to take them to their longer-term destination. They want to give these children the option to express themselves or process their journeys through an artistic outlet. Some of the children have chosen to donate their artworks to the volunteers, and it is these that constitute the Arte de Lágrimas collection, which is currently on display at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.
This Thursday, April 27, Fuller is holding a gallery reception at Travis Auditorium (180 N. Oakland Ave., Pasadena) from 6 to 9 p.m., which will include a presentation by Gregory Cuéllar as well as a panel discussion; RSVP here. Cuéllar, who teaches Old Testament at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, is the author of Resacralizing the Other at the US-Mexico Border: A Borderland Hermeneutic (Routledge, 2020) and Voices of Marginality: Exile and Return in Second Isaiah 40–55 and the Mexican Immigrant Experience (Peter Lang, 2008).
If you can’t make it to the exhibition at Fuller, you can at least tour the Virtual Showroom that the Cuéllars developed, which hangs the images in a digital space that gives users the impression of being in a physical gallery.
ARTICLE: “‘He Is Not Here’: A Choral Easter Season” by Mark Meynell: This Rabbit Room blog post is part of 5&1, a weekly series from 2021 in which British chaplain Mark Meynell shares five short pieces of classical music and one long piece, drawing attention to some of their musical elements. For Easter he selected a setting of Psalm 118:24 by Renaissance composer William Byrd; “O dulce lignum” (O Sweet Wood) from Ēriks Ešenvalds’s Passion and Resurrection (below); “Christus Vincit” by Sir James MacMillan; an anthem for Ascension Day by Gerald Finzi; an Easter hymn from an Italian opera by Pietro Mascagni (also below); and the fifth movement of Mahler’s famous Resurrection Symphony. I appreciate that he provides lyrics and translations!
BLOG POST: “The Good Fridays of Our Eastertide Lives” by W. David O. Taylor, feat. Sam Wedelich: W. David O. Taylor, a theology professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, shares a visual interpretation of Matthew 28:8 by Sam Wedelich, at the time a member of Hope Chapel in Austin, where Taylor served as arts pastor. Wedelich’s collage shows how both fear and joy gripped the hearts of the two Marys on Easter morning, reflecting the complexities of our own often muddled-up feelings. Whether we’re skipping to the tune of “Hallelujah” this Easter or standing still, immobilized—or experiencing, like the Marys, some strange mixture of stances—the Risen Lord meets us, Taylor writes.
This is an early piece by Wedelich, which she made when she was a college student. She has since become well established as an illustrator. Follow her on Instagram @samwedelich. I especially like the series of “patron saint” paintings she did in 2020. Two of them are available for sale as prints from her online shop: Patron Saint of Keep Going and Patron Saint of Listen.
SONG: “To Thessalonica” by John Davis: Dedicated to his father, who passed away last month, Nashville-based rock singer-songwriter John Davis’s new album, My Hope Is Found in a God Who Can Raise Up the Dead, includes an original musical adaptation of 1 Thessalonians 4:14–18: “This we declare to you by word from the Lord: We who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who sleep in death. The Lord will descend with a cry of command; the voice of an archangel too. And with the sound of the trumpet of God, the dead in Christ will rise up first. The dead in Christ will rise up first. I know, I know, I know we’re gonna meet in the air. Yeah! The shout of command and the voice of the angel, the trumpet of God will declare. Yeah! I believe, I believe in, I believe, I believe in . . . My hope is found in a God who can raise up the dead, yeah! . . . My hope is found in a God who has raised up the dead. . . .” [HT: Crowdfunding Christian Music]
Death trampled our Lord underfoot, but he in his turn treated death as a highroad for his own feet. He submitted to it, enduring it willingly, because by this means he would be able to destroy death in spite of itself. Death had its own way when our Lord went out from Jerusalem carrying his cross, but when by a loud cry from that cross he summoned the dead from the underworld, death was powerless to prevent it.
Death slew him by means of the body which he had assumed, but that same body proved to be the weapon with which he conquered death. In slaying our Lord, death itself was slain. It was able to kill natural human life, but was itself killed by the life that is above the nature of mortals.
Death could not devour our Lord unless he possessed a body, neither could hell swallow him up unless he bore our flesh; and so he came in search of a chariot in which to ride to the underworld. This chariot was the body which he received from the Virgin; in it he invaded death’s fortress, broke open its strong room, and scattered all its treasure.
At length he came upon Eve, the mother of all the living. She was that vineyard whose enclosure her own hands had enabled death to violate, so that she could taste its fruit; thus the mother of all the living became the source of death for every living creature. But in her stead Mary grew up, a new vine in place of the old. Christ, the new life, dwelt within her. When death, with its customary impudence, came foraging for her mortal fruit, it encountered its own destruction in the hidden life that fruit contained. All unsuspecting, it swallowed him up, and in doing so released life itself and set free a multitude.
He who was also the carpenter’s glorious son set up his cross above death’s all-consuming jaws, and led the human race into the dwelling place of life. Since a tree had brought about the downfall of humankind, it was upon a tree that humankind crossed over to the realm of life. Bitter was the branch that had once been grafted upon that ancient tree, but sweet the young shoot that has now been grafted in, the shoot in which we are meant to recognize the Lord whom no creature can resist.
We give glory to you, Lord, who raised up your cross to span the jaws of death like a bridge by which souls might pass from the region of the dead to the land of the living. . . .
We give glory to you who put on the body of a single mortal and made it the source of life for every other mortal.
You are incontestably alive! Your murderers sowed your living body in the earth as farmers sow grain, but it sprang up and yielded an abundant harvest of people raised from the dead.
Come then, my brothers and sisters, let us offer our Lord the great and all-embracing sacrifice of our love, pouring out our treasury of hymns and prayers before him who offered his cross in sacrifice to God for the enrichment of all.
—Ephrem the Syrian, sections 3–4 and 9 of the Eastertide sermon “On Our Lord,” trans. the International Commission on English in the Liturgy in TheLiturgy of the Hours, vol. 2 (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1976), 735–36
Ephrem the Syrian (ca. 306–373) was a prominent Christian theologian, hymnist, and teacher who is venerated as a saint and a doctor of the church. Born in Nisibis (in modern-day Turkey), he served as a deacon and later lived in Edessa, a center of Greek and Syriac theological and philosophical thought in Upper Mesopotamia. He spoke and wrote in Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic, and is the most significant of all the Syriac Christian fathers.
The three-paneled painting at the top of this post is by my friend Jyoti Sahi, one of the most theologically exploratory artists working today. I saw this triptych at an earlier stage of development when I visited his home in Silvepura Village, India, in 2019 and am so pleased by how it turned out. “It represents Christ ascending the cross (left), harrowing the underworld as the drummer (center), and rising like the sprout from the seed that is Mary, from whose womb he sprang forth (right),” Jyoti told me.
The central panel is based on iconography of the Anastasis, in which Jesus descends into Hades following his crucifixion to liberate those who have died. In such icons, Adam and Eve, who represent all of humanity, are “drawn up from the earth,” as Jyoti puts it. Jyoti portrays this rescue as a dance, with Jesus beating out the rhythms of redemption, as well as a time of planting and harvest (he wields a plow and a scythe). Jesus’s death tilled the soil, making conditions right for the dead to be raised to new life.
Jyoti has long been interested in the symbolism of the ladder and the seed, and both symbols are employed here. The ladder is an instrument of both descent and ascent, and the seed, as Christ himself taught, must “die”—be buried in the ground—before it yields life. In the right panel of the Triptych of Salvation, Jesus, having gone down into the earth, bursts forth from his casing, emerging as the tree of life, whose roots are watered by the river of life, which flows across all three panels. This tree is the cross transformed.
His arms raised again as they were on the cross but no longer pinned down, Jesus leads the dance of resurrection, and Adam and Eve and the others who have been delivered join in. They are the fruitful crop of Christ the Gardener.
In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn towards the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene.
The tomb, the tomb, that
Was her core and care, her one sore.
The light had hardly scarleted the dark
Or the first bird sung when Mary came in sight
With eager feet. Grief, like last night’s frost,
Whitened her face and tightened all her tears.
It was there, then, there at the blinding turn
Of the bare future that she met her past.
She only heard his Angel tell her how
The holding stone broke open and gave birth
To her dear Lord, and how his shadow ran
To meet him like a dog.
And as the sun
Burns through the simmering muslins of the mist,
Slowly his darkened voice, that seemed like doubt,
Morninged into noon; the summering bees
Mounted and boiled over in the bell-flowers.
‘Come out of your jail, Mary,’ he said, ‘the doors are open
And joy has its ear cocked for your coming.
Earth now is no place to mope in. So throw away
Your doubt, cast every clout of care,
Hang all your hallelujahs out
This airy day.’
This is the last of fourteen untitled, epigraphed poems from “Resurrection: An Easter Sequence” by W. R. Rodgers, originally published in Europa and the Bull and Other Poems (Farrar, Straus and Young, 1952) and compiled posthumously in Collected Poems (Oxford University Press, 1971) and later Poems, ed. Michael Longley (The Gallery Press, 1993). Used with permission of The Gallery Press.
William Robert “Bertie” Rodgers (1909–1969) was an Irish poet, essayist, radio broadcaster and scriptwriter, lecturer, and (for eleven years) a pastor. Born, raised, and educated in Belfast, he studied literature as an undergraduate and then entered theological college, becoming ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1935 and taking a post at Loughgall parish in County Armagh. He began writing poetry three years later, after a friend lent him books by contemporary poets, of whom Auden made the biggest impact. In 1946 he left pastoral ministry to work for the BBC in London and later to freelance, creating radio portraits of Irish writers using a pioneering sound mosaic technique that is now a staple of radio documentaries. He joined a community of writer friends that included Dylan Thomas and Louis MacNeice. During his lifetime he published two books of original verse, with themes including the landscape of Northern Ireland, war, myth, erotic love, and the life of Christ.