Turn Over the Tables (Artful Devotion)

Christ Overturning the Money Changers' Table by Stanley Spencer
Stanley Spencer (British, 1891–1959), Christ Overturning the Money Changers’ Table, 1921. Oil on canvas, 74 × 60 cm. Stanley Spencer Gallery, Cookham, England.

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

—John 2:13–17 (cf. Matthew 21:10–13)

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SONG: “Turn Over the Tables in My Heart” by Wesley Randolph Eader, on Of Old It Was Recorded (2012) [Chord chart]

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Hosanna! Welcome to our hearts! Lord, here
Thou hast a temple too; and full as dear
As that of Sion, and as full of sin:
Nothing but thieves and robbers dwell therein:
Enter, and chase them forth, and cleanse the floor:
Crucify them, that they may never more
Profane that holy place
Where Thou hast chose to set Thy face!

—Jeremy Taylor (1613–1667)

Savior, who dost with anger see
The lusts which steal my heart from thee,
The thieves out of thy temple chase,
And plant thy Spirit in their place,
And when my God inhabits there,
My heart shall be thine house of prayer.

—Charles Wesley, from Short Hymns on Select Passages of the Holy Scriptures (1762)


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

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for the Third Sunday of Lent, cycle B, click here.

Lent 2018 exhibitions, installations, and art trails

Besides the self-guided “Stations of the Cross” audio tour of the Smithsonian’s American art collection, here are some other opportunities to engage in person with visual art this Lent:

Crossings exhibition view
Hanging the “Crossings” exhibition at Southwell Minster. Pictured at left: Enzo Marra (British, 1975–), Observers Raphael (The Mond Crucifixion), 2018. Oil on board, 24 × 20 in. Photo courtesy of the cathedral.

“Crossings: Art and Christianity Now,” February 9–May 10, 2018, Southwell Minster, Nottinghamshire, England: Featuring works in a variety of media by thirty-six contemporary artists, this major exhibition will unfold in two parts: “Crucifixion Now,” on view during Lent through March 21, and “Resurrection Now,” on view during Easter from April 1 to May 10. Each artist produced two new works, one for each phase, exploring the twin aspects of the gospel story: death and new life. Supporting events include music, lectures, workshops, and a conference on March 10, “The Spirit in Art Now.” Entry is free, and exhibition guides (with color photos and descriptions of all the artworks) are available for £5.

One outstanding work from the exhibition is a triptych by Sophie Hacker (artist previously featured here), formed from a variety of found materials, including cedarwood, Icelandic black sand, rusted metal, and metallic leafs. During Lent it will remain closed, showing a jagged cross “marked with stark wounds” against a background of soil and blood, but on Easter it will open, “giv[ing] way inside to rounded forms and lustrous colours, revealing all at once the stone rolled away, the cave filled with glory and the triumph of God in Trinity.”

Crucifixion Now by Sophie Hacker
Sophie Hacker (British), Triptych: Crucifixion Now, Resurrection Now, 2017. Mixed media, 32 × 24 in. (closed).
Resurrection Now by Sophie Hacker
Sophie Hacker (British), Triptych: Crucifixion Now, Resurrection Now, 2017. Mixed media, 32 × 48 in. (open).

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“Chichester Art Pilgrimage Trail,” Chichester, West Sussex, England: A twelfth-century Norman-Gothic structure filled with medieval, Victorian, and modern art, Chichester Cathedral is a beautiful blend of old and new. I’ve come across many of its modern art treasures before in essays and books—the tapestry by John Piper, Noli me tangere by Graham Sutherland, the Icon of the Divine Light altarpiece by Cecil Collins, and Marc Chagall’s Psalm 150 window. All these artists, commissioned by Walter Hussey (one of the twentieth century’s biggest champions of religious art), were giants in the field.

Psalm 150 window by Marc Chagall
Stained-glass window by Marc Chagall (Russian/French, 1887–1985), installed in Chichester Cathedral in 1978. Photo: Jonathan Evens.

These pieces and more are the subjects of an audio tour released this Lent on the Alight app. (If geography prevents you from walking the trail in person, travel it from your armchair, like me!) Starting at one of the three old Roman gates to the walled city, the trail runs via the “market cross” to the cathedral, with thirteen stops inside. Besides those listed above, they are the rare Anglo-Saxon Lazarus reliefs, the Arundel Tomb, the Lambert Barnard panels, the nineteenth-century south transept window, a St. Richard icon, The Baptism of Christ by Hans Feibusch, the Anglo-German Tapestry by Ursula Benker-Schirmer, The Refugee by Diana Brandenburger, and Five Wounds by Michael Clark. The latter two, pictured below, are new to me; in addition to learning more about them through the Alight commentary, you can also read a discussion group report (a debrief of visitor reactions) on the Bishop Otter Scholar’s blog.

The Refugee by Diana Brandenburger
Diana Brandenburger (British, 1932–2008), The Refugee, 2008. Bronze. Chichester Cathedral, West Sussex, England. Photo: Keith Gulliver.
Five Wounds by Michael Clark (detail)
Michael Clark (British, 1954–), Five Wounds (detail), 1994. Layers of glaze on five canvases, 2.2 × 2.2 in. each. Chichester Cathedral, West Sussex, England.

Clark’s piece comprises five tiny canvases built up with layers of jewel-like glaze and set into the cathedral’s walls—two at the west end (representing Christ’s foot wounds), one in each transept (hand wounds)—and high altar (side wound). The Rev. Canon Dr. Anthony Cane, chancellor at the cathedral, says,

When I see Michael Clark’s Wounds of Christ, they remind me that the imposing cathedral building would not exist without the particular flesh and blood of a human life, a life visibly marked by suffering. The five wounds are mapped onto the cruciform shape of the architecture, so that the very space I walk through becomes the body of Christ. Most artworks are looked at; this one is lived within.

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“Stations of the Cross” in New York City, February 14–April 1, 2018: After success with the “public art pilgrimage” model they used in London in Lent 2016 and then later in Washington, DC, Aaron Rosen and a team of other theologians and art writers decided to organize a contemplative journey across Manhattan. Weaving through religious as well as secular spaces, from The Cloisters museum to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine to the 9/11 Memorial, this trail aims to raise awareness of those in need of refuge through art. The same app that hosts the Chichester Art Pilgrimage also hosts this Stations tour, providing easy navigation through the city and audio commentary on each artwork. Participating artists come from different faith backgrounds, and programmed events include concerts, artist talks, panel discussions with local refugee organizations, and interfaith scripture readings related to hospitality and care for the stranger. The next event is Monday, February 26, at 7 p.m.: a free performance of Marcel Dupré’s Stations of the Cross organ suite at St. James’s Church.

Sacrifice/Embrace by Nicola Green
Nicola Green (British, 1972–), Sacrifice/Embrace, 2010. Silkscreen print, 152 × 102 cm (paper) / 64 × 64 cm (image). No. 6 of 7 from the series “In Seven Days.”

I found Nicola Green’s Sacrifice/Embrace silkscreen print, on view as station 7 at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle, particularly engaging. Read or listen to Fr. Frank Sabatté’s reflection on the work on the Art 2018 page.

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“Through Light,” February 23–April 8, 2018, Patmos Art Center, Community of Jesus, Orleans, Massachusetts: In this two-person show of abstract sacred art, Italian Catholic artist Filippo Rossi and American Protestant artist Susan Kanaga, CJ, explore imagery of light. I’ve been to the ecumenical monastery on Cape Cod where this exhibition is being held and had the privilege of seeing both artists’ work there on the grounds. I don’t usually take to nonrepresentational paintings, but theirs drew me in richly. If you attend the exhibition, be sure to spend some time nearby inside the beautiful Church of the Transfiguration and Priory Books and Gifts. (Paraclete Press, whose catalog is full of books on the visual and literary arts and choral music recordings, is the publishing arm of the Community of Jesus.)

Kanaga-Rossi-01
LEFT: Filippo Rossi (Italian, 1970–), Reflections (detail), 2017. Acrylic, gold leaf, wax, and polystyrene, 220 × 120 cm. RIGHT: Susan Kanaga, CJ (American, 1954–), Joy, 2017. Acrylic, mixed media, gold leaf, and gold smalti on canvas, 20 × 20 cm.

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INSTALLATION: Doubt by Susie MacMurray, February 14–March 30, 2018, Southwark Cathedral, London: For the seventh year in a row, Southwark Cathedral has commissioned a contemporary art installation during the season of Lent. This year Susie MacMurray has created a large nest of black plastic netting suspended from the ceiling above the high altar, evoking a dark cloud; it’s called Doubt. The Very Rev. Andrew Nunn, dean of Southwark, says,

Popular imagination might expect faith to be lived out in bright clear sunshine, but from that moment when Moses climbed the holy mountain, shrouded in cloud, and experienced the presence of God, [darkness] has been a familiar experience and theme. . . . And as Jesus died on the cross the clouds brought night into day and the onlookers were plunged into darkness.

Doubt by Susie MacMurray
Susie MacMurray (British, 1959–), Doubt, 2018. Plastic netting. Southwark Cathedral, London.

An embodiment of the difficulties of faith, the cloud is nevertheless made of open mesh that allows some light to pass through. As sub dean Michael Rawson points out, “As you look at the cloud, above is a representation of Jesus in the stained-glass window, so Jesus is shining through that cloud of doubt.”

I like the concept but am unsure how I feel about its dominant placement in the sanctuary. I’ve only seen photos, but its presence seems oppressive, like it could impinge on worship. I’d be interested to hear how parishioners have responded.

To see more of MacMurray’s site-specific installations, click here.

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INSTALLATION: De profundis by Miguel Rothschild, St. Matthew’s Church, Berlin: Over eight meters long and suspended by 1,500 strands of fishing wire, the fabric installation De profundis by multimedia artist Miguel Rothschild mimics the texture of an ocean surface. Its title is the Latin incipit for Psalm 130, translated as “Out of the depths” (it’s a traditional Lenten practice to pray the penitential psalms):

De profundis by Miguel Rothschild
Miguel Rothschild (Argentinian, 1963–), De profundis, 2018. Print on fabric, fishing line, lead balls, 900 × 800 × 400 cm. St. Matthäus-Kirche, Berlin.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!
O LORD, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
O LORD, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the LORD
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities.

Recalling the medieval German liturgical use of what’s known as a hungertuch (read more here), the fabric will cover the high altar until Easter. Water has many associations in the Bible, both positive and negative. Sometimes it signifies judgment, as in the story of Noah, or turbulent suffering, as in Psalm 42:7 (“Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.”). But God’s praiseworthy righteousness is also referred to as a “mighty flood” that crashes into our moral deserts (Amos 5:24), and the psalmist proclaims, “With you is the fountain of life” (Psalm 36:9). Rothschild’s installation, which looks like a rushing stream inundating the sanctuary, is a strong and multivalent visual—and I imagine it’s all the more so for those who live with it for weeks as worshipers in that space.

De profundis (detail) by Miguel Rothschild

The Promise Rests on Grace (Artful Devotion)

The Promise by Renata Fucikova
Renáta Fucíková (Czech, 1964–), The Promise, 1996. Illustration from the book Stories from the Old Testament, published in France and the Czech Republic.

For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

—Romans 4:13–25 (cf. Genesis 17:1–7, 15–16)

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SONG: “The Story of Abraham” by Psallos, on Romans (2015)

 

This is one of twenty-three songs by Cody Curtis that comprise a complete musical setting of the book of Romans. See my review of the concept album 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 the Second Sunday of Lent, cycle B, click here.

Upcoming lectures

“The Perils and Peculiarities of Visually Depicting the Trinity”
Speakers: Dr. Ben Quash, Professor of Christianity and the Arts at King’s College London; Dr. Scott Nethersole, Senior Lecturer in Italian Renaissance Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art
Date: February 21, 2018
Location: Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London
Organizer: Department of Theology and Religious Studies at King’s College and the Courtauld Institute of Art
Cost: Free
Description: Nethersole will discuss Botticelli’s Trinity Altarpiece, with special attention paid to its unsettling disjunctions of scale and space—a theological decision on the part of the artist. Then Quash “will examine some of the larger theological problems that are raised by trinitarian visual imagery, and look at . . . some of the successes and failures of various artistic experiments, including one or two very recent ones.” Q&A and informal reception to follow.

Holy Trinity by Sandro Botticelli
Sandro Botticelli (Italian, ca. 1445–1510), Holy Trinity with Mary Magdalene, John the Baptist, and Tobias and the Angel, 1491–93. Tempera on panel, 215 × 192 cm. Courtauld Gallery, London.

“Religion in Museum Education” (conference)
Speakers: Dr. Caroline Widmer, Dr. Anna Chiara Cimoli, et al. (see link for full list)
Date: February 23, 2018
Location: Lorenzo de’ Medici Institute, Florence
Organizer: Forum on Museums and Religion, an initiative of the Lorenzo de’ Medici Institute’s Museum Studies MA program
Cost: Free
Description: This one-day conference will bring together museum educators and religious authorities to discuss how secular museums housing religious objects might develop educational programming that highlights sacred functions without risking the impression of a religious agenda. Lecture topics include “Understanding Religion through Art,” “Sharing the Sacred with Schools,” “Teaching from Paintings with Religious Subject Matter,” “Churches as Living Museums,” and more, and case studies will come from the British Museum, the Uffizi in Florence, Museum Rietberg in Zurich, the National Museum for the History of Immigration in Paris, and the Shoah Memorial and Pinateca di Brera in Milan. The conference will conclude with a roundtable discussion.

“The New Iconoclasm: A Christological Reflection on Making and Breaking Images”
Speaker: Dr. Natalie Carnes, Associate Professor of Theology at Baylor University
Date: February 28, 2018
Location: Alumni Memorial Common Room, Duke Divinity School, Durham, North Carolina, USA
Organizer: Duke Initiatives in Theology and the Arts (DITA)
Cost: Free
Description: Carnes’s lecture will draw on the content of her new book from Stanford University Press, Image and Presence: A Christological Reflection on Iconoclasm and Iconophilia. “Christians of many epochs—glutted with images, shocked by them—have resorted to the iconoclast’s hammer or its successor, the authoritarianism of empty space. Natalie Carnes proposes a better way to live through our senses” (Mark D. Jordan, Harvard University). “A major contribution to the discussion of image as and in theology” (Judith Wolfe, University of St. Andrews).

Image and Presence (book cover)

“‘In the manner of smoke’: Leonardo, Art, and Faith” (5-hour mini-course)
Lecturer: Rev. Iain Lane, Tutor in Christian Doctrine and the Visual Arts
Date: March 3, 2018
Location: Holywell Lodge, St. Albans, Hertfordshire, England
Organizer: St. Albans Cathedral
Cost: £25
Description: “Leonardo da Vinci produced some of the most compelling images in the history of Christian art. . . . This study day explores each of Leonardo’s surviving, overtly Christian works in detail, exploring their meaning and setting them in context. The picture which is revealed is of an artist of profound religious sensibility rooted in both scientific rationality and a deep awareness of the human condition: a man who embodied a unity of vision which has arguably been lost in our own age.”

Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci (Italian, 1452–1519), Annunciation, ca. 1472. Oil on panel, 98 × 217 cm. Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

“Swords into Ploughshares: The Ambivalent Role of the Arts and Religion in Building Peace”
Lecturer: Dr. Jolyon Mitchell, Professor of Communication, Arts, and Religion at the University of Edinburgh
Date: March 7, 2018
Location: Sarum College, Salisbury, England
Organizer: Centre for Theology, Imagination, and Culture at Sarum College
Cost: Free (advance booking required)
Description: This lecture will explore the role of different media arts in both inciting violence and promoting peace, drawing on examples from countries such as Israel-Palestine, Mozambique, Rwanda, and the UK.

“Scandal and Glory: The Cross in the Bible and Poetry”
Speakers: Paula Gooder, Director of Mission, Learning, and Development in the Birmingham Diocese; Mark Oakley, Canon Chancellor of St. Paul’s Cathedral
Date: March 13, 2018
Location: St. Paul’s Cathedral, London
Organizer: St. Paul’s Cathedral (Adult Learning initiative)
Cost: Free
Description: “Is Christ on the cross our brother in suffering or our King in triumph? Jesus’ death is at the heart of Christianity, but the four Gospel accounts are very different and the cross has been seen as both the throne of God’s glory and the place of ultimate desolation and defeat. In addition we have 2,000 years of interpretations, paintings, poems, theologies, and liturgies that add to the complexity, and sometimes to the confusion. . . . Paula Gooder and Mark Oakley will look at different aspects of the cross through the Gospels and poetry, exploring some of what we might learn from it not only of sin and reconciliation, but also of new life, love, freedom, and creation made new.” Q&A to follow.

“Art and the Apocalypse: The Book of Revelation and Visual Exegesis”
Speakers: Dr. Natasha O’Hear, Lecturer in Theology and Visual Art at ITIA, University of St. Andrews, Scotland; Dr. Anthony O’Hear, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Buckingham
Date: March 16, 2018
Location: The Gallery, 70 Cowcross Street, London
Organizer: Art and Christianity
Cost: £12
Description: Drawing on their recent award-winning book Picturing the Apocalypse: The Book of Revelation in the Arts over Two Millennia, the O’Hears will explore the visual history of the book of Revelation as well as the notion of the artist as biblical exegete. The focus will be on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Rev. 6) and the Rider on the White Horse (Rev. 19).

Picturing the Apocalypse

“Women Artists and the Modern Church in Britain”
Lecturer: Dr. Ayla Lepine, Visiting Fellow in Art History at the University of Essex
Date: April 4, 2018
Location: The Gallery, 70 Cowcross Street, London
Organizer: Art and Christianity
Cost: £14.21
Description: “From the turn of the twentieth century to the present, women have produced diverse and complex works of art for and in response to the Church. This talk explores the relationship between Christian sacred spaces, from vast and well-known cathedrals to rural chapels, and women artists in a period in which feminism, culture, and Christianity engaged in new dialogues.” Artists include Winifred Knights, Elizabeth Frink, Enid Chadwick, and Tracey Emin.

For You by Tracey Emin
Tracey Emin (British, 1963–), For You, 2008. Neon. Liverpool Cathedral, England.

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Many of these events I found out about through the weekly Arts and the Sacred at King’s (ASK) e-bulletin compiled by Dr. Chloë Reddaway. If you would like to be added to the ASK listserv or announce a relevant event through it, contact her at chloe.1.reddaway@kcl.ac.uk.

Note: The two book cover images on this webpage are Amazon affiliate links, meaning that Art & Theology will earn a small commission on any purchase that originates here.

“Highway Song for Valentine’s Day” by Luci Shaw

This year the lunar calendar has given us a unique confluence of holidays on today’s date: Valentine’s Day, and the first day of Lent. Journalists are really playing up their antithetical nature . . . but maybe the two observances aren’t entirely at odds. After all, Lent is about reconnecting and deepening our intimacy with Love himself.

In the following poem Luci Shaw reflects on how human love, despite bold attestations to the contrary, is often ephemeral, whereas God is a “longer Lover” whose vow to love and to cherish is truly eternal, and is evidenced by daily tokens.

Via dell'Amore, Cinque Terre

“Highway Song for Valentine’s Day” by Luci Shaw

“Kim, I love you — Danny”
roadside graffito

On overhead and underpass,
beside the road, beyond the grass,

in aerosol or paint or chalk
the stones cry out, the billboards talk.

On rock and wall and bridge and tree,
boldly engraved for all to see,

hearts and initials intertwine
their passionate, short-lived valentine.

I’m listening for a longer Lover
whose declaration lasts forever:

from field and flower, through wind and breath,
in straw and star, by birth and death,

his urgent language of desire
flickers in dew and frost and fire.

This earliest spring that I have seen
shows me that tender love in green,

and on my windshield, clear and plain,
my Dearest signs his name in rain.

“Highway Song for Valentine’s Day” is published in Accompanied by Angels: Poems of the Incarnation by Luci Shaw (Eerdmans, 2006) and is used here by permission of the publisher. Reproduction of the poem without express permission from Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company is a violation of copyright.

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Unlike in her other poems, Shaw uses here a simple, singsongy meter (iambic tetrameter) that evokes the standard Valentine’s Day fare. Hinging the poem at stanza five, she spends the first half musing on the myriad ways in which young couples broadcast their love, and the second half recounting, by contrast, God’s declarations through nature, through miracle, through beauty. With a love both passionate and tender, he romances us. A soft wind, a starry night, the green of spring—these are his love letters.

This poem urges us to open ourselves to this divine wooing. While we’re busy longing and searching for some perfect love, we may be missing the tokens of God’s affection lavished on us right now.

Today, these words or something like them will be spoken by pastors all over the world:

Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.
Repent and believe the Good News: God longs for you to be whole.

And this scripture read: “Return to the LORD your God, for he is . . . abounding in steadfast love” (Joel 2:13).

We can still celebrate romantic love with our partner—which itself can be a gift and a blessing—but with our foreheads marked with ash, we ought to realize that this love is not ultimate. It is a shadow of a greater, fuller love offered to us from on high, by One who spared no expense in proving it, to the point of giving up his own life. “Greater love has no one than this” (John 15:13a).

And this Lover sends us valentines all year round.

So the next time you’re driving down the highway, caught in a rain shower, remember that you are beloved of God, and that he will never stop reaching out to you, beckoning you into a deeper relationship with him.

Via dell'Amore, Cinque Terre

About the photos: In Cinque Terre, Italy, young couples wanting to declare their eternal love write their names on padlocks and attach them to wire mesh and cables along the Via dell’Amore (Lovers’ Lane). I took these photos in 2009.

Joyful Lent (Artful Devotion)

Genesis 9:13 by Sawai Chinnawong
Sawai Chinnawong (Thai, 1959–), Genesis 9:13, 2004. Acrylic on canvas, 27 × 27 in.

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”

God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

—Genesis 9:8–17

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MUSIC: Keyboard Sonata in C Major (K. 159, L. 104) by Domenico Scarlatti | Arranged for banjo by Béla Fleck and for mandolin by Edgar Meyer | Performed by Béla Fleck and Chris Thile on Perpetual Motion (2001)

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This art and music may seem inappropriately light and bright for the first Sunday of Lent, a season that’s stereotypically thought of as gloomy and self-deprecating. But the Old Testament reading the Revised Commentary Lectionary assigns to this day is God’s covenant with Noah after the Flood, a passage filled with great hope.

Contrary to popular misconceptions, Lent does not mean forty days of beating yourself up. It literally means “springtime,” and it’s a time of renewal in preparation for Easter. Self-examination is a major component, yes, but so is grabbing hold of the divine promise—of God’s wondrous love and mercy.

In my church’s liturgy (and this is common across denominations), the confession of sin is always followed by words of assurance—a verse of scripture, spoken by the pastor, that reminds us of the pardon we receive through Christ. We are not left in the darkness of our failures; we are brought into the light, and given power to live as children of the light. Repentance is a joyous thing! That’s why the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, a Second Vatican Council document, refers to Lent as the “joyful season.” It’s joyful because God’s mercy is amazing.

After forty days on a dark boat, and then some, Noah, his family, and a whole bunch of animals come out to a renewed earth, and to a promise painted across the sky in bright colors that never again will all God’s creation be destroyed. Similarly, during Lent we choose to enter a period of darkness, taking stock of our sin. It can seem like a rocking journey, but it’s really a period of regeneration, and when we arrive at Easter we receive, as confirmation of the new life that’s possible, the resurrected Christ. He’s there for us all along—we need not wait till Lent’s over to enter his forgiveness and to rise with him. But we also don’t want to skip over the necessary steps of first acknowledging the depth of our sin, and confessing it with a contrite heart.

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Excerpt from “The Agreement” by Henry Vaughan, from Silex Scintillans:

But while Time runs, and after it
Eternity, which never ends,
Quite through them both, still infinite,
Thy covenant by Christ extends;
No sins of frailty, nor of youth,
Can foil His merits, and Thy truth.

And this I hourly find, for Thou
Dost still renew, and purge and heal:
Thy care and love, which jointly flow,
New cordials, new cathartics deal.
But were I once cast off by Thee,
I know—my God!—this would not be.

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Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, and I have a poem planned for publication here at Art & Theology. But I also wrote a short visual meditation for the Anglican Church in North America, which you can find at the bottom of their Lent website, https://giftoflent.org/. It’s on Ted Prescott’s mixed-media artwork All My Sins, which incorporates paper ash, the residue left over from the artist’s burning of a list of his personal sins.

All My Sins by Ted Prescott
Theodore Prescott (American, 1944–), All My Sins, 1996. Cherry, lead, hand-blown glass, paper ash, and silicon, 36.5 × 24.5 × 5 in.

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

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for the First Sunday of Lent, cycle B, click here.

Stations of the Cross at the SAAM

Welcome to the Stations of the Cross audio tour at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM), developed by Victoria Emily Jones at ArtandTheology.org.

SAAM Stations of the Cross 2018

Originating in the thirteenth century, the Stations of the Cross is a Christian devotional practice whereby participants immerse themselves in the story of Jesus Christ’s final sufferings by metaphorically journeying with him from his trial to his entombment. The road between is known as the Via Dolorosa (“Way of Sorrows”) or Via Crucis (“Way of the Cross”).

In this eighteen-stop tour we will walk this road with Jesus, recognizing along the way the many other paths of sorrow that were traveled in America’s history and that are still being traveled today. Migrant workers, soldiers, prisoners, victims of racial discrimination and violence, the poor and the homeless, the grieving, and the mentally ill are among the many people we will meet through these paintings, sculptures, and mixed-media works that bear witness to human suffering.

The American novelist and social critic James Baldwin said of Beauford Delaney, one of the artists on our tour, “The reality of his seeing caused me to begin to see.” That is my hope: that as we encounter these visual narratives of suffering from our nation’s past and present, we will begin to see. This tour obviously doesn’t cover all the oppressed groups in the US, but this is a starting point for further conversation, discovery, intercessory prayer, confession, and action.

My other hope is that we will be led to a deeper engagement with the biblical narrative—with Jesus’s way of sorrows and why he walked it, what it achieved.

Jesus began his public ministry by reading these words from an Isaiah scroll at his local synagogue at Nazareth:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Then, as Luke 4:20–21 tells us, “he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’” This was a very bold move: here, he is claiming to be the messianic servant of the Lord prophesied about in Isaiah 61, who would bring spiritual and, ultimately, material salvation to the world. But the cost of this salvation, the Hebrew prophet tells us, is suffering; the messianic servant must suffer and die. “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

Below you will find eighteen audio tracks of art commentary available for free streaming or download, as well as transcripts and artwork locations. If you are taking this tour virtually, you can click on any of the featured images to jump to that object’s museum page, where you can zoom in on details.

As you walk this Way of Sorrows, beholding the sufferings both of Christ and of those he came to redeem, may these artists’ seeing help you to see.   Continue reading “Stations of the Cross at the SAAM”

Lent devotionals with arts component

Next Wednesday, February 14, is the first day of Lent—a season of focused prayer and simple living. During this time I will continue publishing weekly “Artful Devotion” posts based on scripture readings from the Revised Common Lectionary, plus I have a few other posts planned. I’m especially excited about what I’ll be publishing this Sunday—the fruits of many months of labor; I hope you’ll check back!

If you are looking for daily devotional content during Lent that incorporates the arts, check out some of these resources. See also last year’s list: https://artandtheology.org/2017/03/07/art-resources-for-lent/.

“The Lent Project V” by Biola University: From Ash Wednesday through the first week of Easter, Biola University’s Center for Christianity, Culture, and the Arts will be publishing daily “aesthetic meditations” on Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. The scripture texts, art images, music, and poetry are curated by a CCCA team, and staff are invited to contribute written reflections that respond to them. “The mood of Lent can be beautifully captured through the arts, which are often cathartic expressions of longing, suffering, loneliness, love, death and rebirth,” says university president Barry H. Corey. “Art is a great chronicler both of the drama of human history and the aches of the human heart.” Here are some artworks Biola has featured in previous years; click on each to experience the full devotion:

The Bread by Michael Borremans
Michaël Borremans (Belgian, 1963–), The Bread, 2012. Oil on canvas, 29 × 23 cm.
Lamb of God by Arcabas
Arcabas (French, 1926–), Lamb of God. Stained glass, Notre-Dame des Neiges Church, Alpe d’Huez, France.
Deposition and Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary (Palestinian Museum)
The Deposition & Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary, 2014. Collage, from “The Presence of the Holy See” project at the Palestinian Museum. Photographs by Alexandra Boulat (French, 1962–2007); paintings by Raphael.
Jesus on the Shore by Maja Lisa Engelhardt
Maja Lisa Engelhardt (Danish, 1956–), Jesus on the Shore. Altarpiece, Turup Church, Assens, Denmark.

Lenten Readings 2018 by Kevin Greene: For the seventh year in a row, Kevin Greene, a teaching elder at West End Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Virginia, is publishing short daily devotions, each one containing an art image and a piece of music. (Last year I learned of lots of new artists through him!) For the prayer component he has used various resources in the past—the Revised Common Lectionary, sermons on the cross of Christ across the centuries, Wesley’s Scripture Hymns, and excerpts from the early church fathers—but this year he will be using collects (pronounced COL-lects) from the Book of Common Prayer. Unfamiliar with the term? Click here to read how a collect works.   Continue reading “Lent devotionals with arts component”

Light of Knowledge, Glory (Artful Devotion)

Golden Edges by Michael Cook
Michael Cook (British, 1966–), Golden Edges. Acrylic on handmade paper, 58 × 56 cm. For sale (click on image to contact artist).

Second Corinthians 4:3–6, two translations:

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (ESV)

If our Message is obscure to anyone, it’s not because we’re holding back in any way. No, it’s because these other people are looking or going the wrong way and refuse to give it serious attention. All they have eyes for is the fashionable god of darkness. They think he can give them what they want, and that they won’t have to bother believing a Truth they can’t see. They’re stone-blind to the dayspring of brightness of the Message that shines with Christ, who gives us the best picture of God we’ll ever get. (The Message)

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SONG: “I Saw the Light” by Hank Williams | Performed by the Lower Lights, on The Lower Lights: A Hymn Revival, Volume 2 (2012)


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

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for the Sixth Sunday of Epiphany (Transfiguration Sunday), cycle B, click here.

MUSIC VIDEO: “River” by Leon Bridges

A song of confession and cleansing, “River” is from the Grammy-nominated debut album Coming Home (2015) by retro-style soul singer Leon Bridges. The music video, set during the 2015 Baltimore race riots and filmed on location less than a year later, brings together three separate redemption narratives that culminate in a neighborhood baptism via rain and water hose.

The story lines are very allusive, giving a wide berth to viewer interpretations, but here’s what I see. Three different families: a father who has perpetrated some act of violence, fleeing the site of the crime to be with his infant son; a grieving mother and her preteen boy, who lost a family member to violence; and an overworked single mother struggling to make ends meet, whose daughter longs for a better life for them both. Outside these story lines are Bridges and Brittni Jessie, who meet in a motel room after a long car ride to lift up this plea on behalf of the hurting. Into all these situations, they trust, God will bring forgiveness, healing, and hope.

At the end of the video, Bridges too enters the shower of divine grace, lifting his head high in wonder, then bowing it in humility.

Been traveling these wide roads for so long
My heart’s been far from you
Ten thousand miles gone
Oh, I wanna come near and give you
Every part of me
But there’s blood on my hands
And my lips are unclean
In my darkness I remember
Mama’s words reoccur to me:
“Surrender to the good Lord
And he’ll wipe your slate clean”

Take me to your river
I wanna go
. . .

“The river in my song is a metaphor for being born again,” Bridges told Uncut. He elaborates on his Facebook page:

A river has historically been used in gospel music as symbolism for change and redemption. My goal was to write a song about my personal spiritual experience. It was written during a time of real depression in my life, and I recall sitting in my garage trying to write a song which reflected this struggle. I felt stuck working multiple jobs to support myself and my mother. I had little hope and couldn’t see a road out of my reality. The only thing I could cling to in the midst of all that was my faith in God and my only path towards baptism was by way of the river.

When thinking about how to best visually represent this universal battle, I reflected on the depiction of black communities in our media and particular experiences within my own life. This video showcases the unique struggle many black men and women face across this country. However, unlike the captured images which tend to represent only part of the story, I wanted to showcase that through all the injustice, there’s real hope in the world.

I want this video to be a message of light. I believe it has the power to change and heal those that are hurting.

The speaker of the song acknowledges the personal guilt that separates him from God: “I wanna come near . . . but there’s blood on my hands” and, referencing Isaiah 6:5, “my lips are unclean.” But he also acknowledges the One who alone has the power to wash away sin, and to him he surrenders.

The actor with blood on his shirt in the video is Genard “Shadow” Barr (I recognized him from the recent HBO documentary Baltimore Rising) with his real-life son, Jaylin. He’s a former gang member, now community activist, whom Baltimore Police commissioner (at the time) Kevin Davis reached out to after the riots to better understand the needs and frustrations of the black community. “I got a bullet hole in my head, Chief, and that will not happen to my children,” Barr said in one of their meetings. “I will die doing this”—that is, advocating for the betterment of the city, which, as another on the film said, is underserved and overpoliced.

When asked how cops can help diffuse tensions and build the trust of the people, Barr and others suggested as a starting point a flag football game—cops versus the residents of Penn North and Sandtown-Winchester. Billed as the “Unity Bowl,” the game took place on November 29, 2015, the eve of the first trial for Freddie Gray’s death, and helped both sides get to know each other in a different light.

Besides facilitating conversations between police and Baltimore’s black community, Barr also works as a peer advocate and referral specialist for Penn North Recovery Center, which provides intensive outpatient treatment for substance abuse.

I’m not sure whether the other actors in “River” have personal connections to Baltimore—do you know?

(Related posts: “‘Stephen Towns: A Migration’ exhibit”; “From my private collection: ‘Wailing Wall: Song for Quin’ by Steve Prince”)

This music video has received over 17.5 million views on YouTube and lots of mainstream playtime—a rare feat for new gospel songs. “River” is essentially an invitation: Are you ready to be washed? Then come to the river. Experience the new birth offered through Jesus Christ.

For a live performance of “River,” see this excerpt from Saturday Night Live’s December 4, 2015, episode:

For another original gospel song from the same album, check out “Shine.” And consider catching Bridges somewhere on his world tour this year.

Coming Home album cover

Click on the album cover to preview and purchase. [Note: This is an Amazon affiliate link, meaning that a percentage of purchases made through it will go to support this blog.]