Welcome the Word (Artful Devotion)

Rays by Denis Sarazhin
Denis Sarazhin (Ukrainian, 1982–), Rays, 2012. Oil on canvas, 150 × 90 cm.

Rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

—James 1:21

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SONG: “He Is Able” by Josh White, on Achor (2010)


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

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Proper 17, cycle B, click here.

Siyahamba (Artful Devotion)

Zionists by Charles B. S. Nkosi
Charles B. S. Nkosi (South African, 1949–), Zionists, 1979. Watercolor on paper. Source: Christliche Kunst in Afrika, p. 260.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God . . .

—Ephesians 6:10–17

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SONG: “Siyahamba” (We Are Marching) | South African folk song | Arrangement by Walt Whitman performed by the Soul Children of Chicago, July 21, 2008, as the finale of “Hope in Action,” a celebration of Nelson Mandela’s ninetieth birthday | For a congregational hymn arrangement, see African American Heritage Hymnal #164

This exultant hymn, which likely originated during South Africa’s apartheid era, consists of permutations of the Zulu phrase Siyahamb’ ekukhanyen’ kwen khos’ (“We are marching in the light of God”), with subsequent verses substituting alternate verbs like “dancing,” “singing,” and “praying.” In 2008 Walt Whitman arranged the song for Soul Children of Chicago, a choir he formed as a means of “encouraging our youth and providing hope and inspiration in a world filled with challenges and despair.” His version is a lot of fun, albeit busier than others, with a more densely textured, orchestral sound. For a more straightforward rendition with clear vocals and simple percussion, check out the University of Notre Dame Folk Choir’s Crossroads of Praise album from 1999.

To learn more about “Siyahamba,” see “History of Hymns: ‘Siyahamba’” by C. Michael Hawn.


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

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Proper 16, cycle B, click here.

Lady Wisdom, Lady Love (Artful Devotion)

Sophia by Lyuba Yatskiv
Lyuba Yatskiv (Ukrainian, 1977–), Sophia (Holy Wisdom), 2015. Design for the apse of the Church of Sophia, Wisdom of God, Ukrainian Catholic University, Lviv, Ukraine.

Wisdom has built her house;
she has hewn her seven pillars.
She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine;
she has also set her table.
She has sent out her young women to call
from the highest places in the town,
“Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”
To him who lacks sense she says,
“Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Leave your simple ways, and live,
and walk in the way of insight.”

—Proverbs 9:1–6

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Lady Wisdom, or Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia), is a female allegorical figure from the book of Proverbs (1:20–33, 2:13–18, 8:1–36, 9:1–6). I enjoyed searching for songs about her; the pool is ampler than I expected. I found a few that directly reference Sunday’s lectionary passage—“Wisdom (Has Built Her House)” by Angela Lashley, “Wisdom’s Table” by John L. Bell and Doug Gay, and “God’s Wisdom Spreads Her Table Well” by Kevin Keil—but didn’t find them as compelling as the two I settled on, below.

(Update, 11/28/20: I’ve just come across “How Long?” by Ordinary Time, based on the Call of Wisdom in Proverbs 1. It’s quite good!)

LATIN JAZZ INSTRUMENTAL: “Lady Wisdom” by Lannie Battistini, on Nomenclatura (2014)

FOLK ROCK: “Lady Wisdom” by PureFusion, on Elegy (2010)

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In Divine Wisdom: The Wisdom Writings of Vladimir Solovyov, Judith Deutsch Kornblatt writes,

The symbolism of icons of the Divine Sophia is far from standardized and is decidedly ambiguous. . . . Images of wisdom remain the most abstract of all holy pictures, for the Divine Sophia never existed as a real being. Even the gender of Sophia in Russian icons is ambiguous, as in different centuries and locations the personified figure is sometimes associated with Christ or Mary or depicted as an androgynous angel with “feminized” features otherwise attributed to Gabriel. (56)

In 2015 contemporary Ukrainian Greek Catholic iconographer Lyuba Yatskiv secured a major commission to decorate the interior of the newly built Church of Sophia, Wisdom of God, on the campus of Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. Her design for the apse (the semicircular recess behind the church’s main altar), reproduced above, shows Wisdom as a winged bishop holding a cross-shaped crozier in her left hand while raising her right hand in a gesture of blessing. At her table are the wine and bread of the Eucharist, which she invites all to come and partake of. The chi-rho monogram above her, with an alpha and omega on either side, is a reference to Christ, while the seven pillars bear symbols of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the bright star of the Father sheds light from above. Below Wisdom, there blossoms the tree of life in the Garden of Eden, with its four rivers flowing, and flanking her are personifications of the seven virtues.

To learn more about the project, including design proposals from other artists, click here.


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

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Proper 15, cycle B, click here.

Roundup: Jewish mosaics; New Psalm Contest; revising hymns; tree-inspired chapel; and more

I will be going on vacation soon and will be mostly unplugged, so you will notice less frequent blog posts for a few weeks. I’ll cue up some Artful Devotions to be published automatically each Tuesday I’m gone but won’t be posting the links to the blog’s Twitter and Facebook pages as I usually do—so be sure to check the site instead! (Or subscribe by email by clicking the “Follow” link, located in the sidebar if viewing from your computer or at the bottom if viewing from your phone.) My regular publishing schedule will resume in September.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL FIND: “Discovery of Jewish Mosaics in Israel Bring Color to Biblical Accounts” by Sarah E. Bond: “At the ancient site of Huqoq, near the Sea of Galilee in modern Israel, a number of stunning mosaics depicting biblical, astrological, and historical narratives have been uncovered in a Jewish village that flourished during the late Roman empire. The colorful and large number of mosaics found in a synagogue challenge traditional views about Jewish art of the period as symbolic rather than representational of biblical texts, bland, and in decline during the period.”

Fish swallowing Pharoah's soldier
A giant Red Sea fish swallows one of Pharaoh’s soldiers in this mosaic detail from the late Roman (ca. 5th century) synagogue at Huqoq, Israel. Photo: Jim Haberman, via UNC-Chapel Hill.

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SONGWRITING CONTEST: “In an effort to encourage Psalm-singing, Church of the Servant [in Grand Rapids, Michigan] invites congregational songwriters to submit a Psalm-based song to its 2018 COS New Psalm Contest. The winner will receive a $500 award. There is no entry fee and the contest is open to all. Submissions must be emailed or postmarked by October 1, 2018. The song will be premiered in worship on January 27, 2019. Church of the Servant is a Christian Reformed Church with a rich history of encouraging the arts in worship. Its worship is Reformed, liturgical, participatory, eclectic, and open to creative new worship expressions.”   Continue reading “Roundup: Jewish mosaics; New Psalm Contest; revising hymns; tree-inspired chapel; and more”

An On-Time God (Artful Devotion)

Waiting by Susanne Mitchell
Susanne Mitchell (American, 1973–), Waiting (from the series Silence of the Ordinary), 2015. Oil and mixed media on canvas, 162.6 × 149.9 cm (64 × 59 in.).

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope.

—Psalm 130:5

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SONG: “Wait on the Lord” by Ben Keyes, on Were You There? Are You Here? (2007)

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O Master, my desires to work, to know,
To be aware that I do live and grow—
All restless wish for anything not thee
I yield, and on thy altar offer me.
Let me no more from out thy presence go,
But keep me waiting watchful for thy will—
Even while I do it, waiting watchful still.

—George MacDonald, from A Book of Strife in the Form of the Diary of an Old Soul (1880)


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

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Proper 14, cycle B, click here.

Book Review: The Faithful Artist: A Vision for Evangelicalism and the Arts by Cameron J. Anderson

The Faithful Artist
296 pp. | 5 color plates, 38 halftones | Trim: 6 × 9 | Published 11/10/2016 | InterVarsity Press

“I write fully persuaded that art, in its most exalted form, can be used by God to transform women and men, to extend his common grace to the world and to lead the church to worship,” writes Cameron J. Anderson in the introduction to his book The Faithful Artist: A Vision for Evangelicalism and the Arts, the second in IVP Academic’s Studies in Theology and the Arts series. Based on the title, I wasn’t sure whether the book was meant for me, a nonartist, but I found that it speaks to the evangelical church at large, whose ambivalent and sometimes hostile attitude toward art is kindheartedly challenged by this insider to both worlds. How Christian artists can faithfully pursue their vocational calling in contemporary culture is a major concern of the book, but so is how Christians of any professional background can pursue art as worship.

Since 2009 Anderson has served as executive director of Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA), a North American organization founded in 1979 with the mission of weaving serious art and serious faith into whole cloth. (It was recently announced that at the end of the year he will be retiring from this position, while continuing to be active in the organization.) Born and raised in the postwar evangelical subculture, Anderson encountered tall barriers to his vocational pursuit of the visual arts. First was his church’s utter disregard for art—their ignorance of art history and palpable disdain for modern art—which left him without a mentor. But just as formidable was the art world’s hostility to sincere, conservative religious belief.

In chapter 1, “A Double-Consciousness,” Anderson describes his dual identity as both an evangelical and an artist and the alienation he felt from both communities while attending art school in the 1970s. He says it seemed his only two options at the time were to either privatize his religious identity in the art world or produce sentimentalized art for the church—neither of which were tenable to him. Why the impasse? Part of it is due to competing stances: while evangelicalism embraces absolutes and is determined to safeguard tradition, modern art aggressively dismisses absolutes and is given to renouncing tradition. But an even bigger factor is the stereotypes each world perpetuates about the other: artists are narcissistic, profane, rebellious, elitist, while evangelicals are unsophisticated, superstitious, naive, irrelevant. Rather than seeking to interact with or understand each other, the art world and the church simply characterize each other as ridiculous.

Combating the assumption that modern art is completely devoid of any signs of faith, Anderson discusses Wassily Kandinsky, Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, and other canonical artists who regularly probed spiritual reality (including, in some cases, the Christian story) in their work.

Stations of the Cross by Barnett Newman
Barnett Newman (American, 1905–1970), Stations of the Cross panoramic view (stations 3–13), 1965. Acrylic on canvases. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Photo: Hillary Kelly.

In chapter 2, “The Body They May Kill,” Anderson explores the theological significance of our embodiment, challenging the assumption held by some Christians that the spirit is good and the body is evil. “A biblical understanding of the self,” Anderson writes, “must regard physical being as an essential component of true spirituality. . . . Corporeality is not the enemy of one’s spirit but rather the stage on which moral goodness and evil are both acted out and acted on” (69, 77). He looks at how the clothed and unclothed body has been treated in the visual arts over time and in popular culture. He also reflects on the ongoing discord between faculty and administrators at Christian colleges and universities over whether art students should be allowed to draw unclothed models (figure drawing is a fundamental building block of art education), and whether such works should be displayed on campus.

Chapter 3, “Secular Sirens,” highlights how “the biblical narrative accredits substantial virtue to our sensate being” (88)—our ability to see, hear, smell, touch, and taste. We know the world through our senses, and yet evangelicalism too often bypasses a role for them, save for music, in many cases fearing that the senses can enflame sexual desire. While acknowledging that an unrestrained indulgence of the senses can lead to vice, Anderson also warns that hard-and-fast resistance tempers our ability to enjoy God and his good creation. He insists on the need to hold ascetic discipline (the denial of one’s senses for some greater spiritual good) in concert with aesthetic delight (the stimulation of one’s senses through the arts).

In chapter 4, “Be Careful Little Eyes What You See,” Anderson discusses the place and meaning of religious images in biblical history onward into Protestant culture. He examines God’s commands to tear down idols against those to construct an image-filled tabernacle, a bronze serpent, and stone memorials, and Christ’s command to remember him through bread and wine.   Continue reading “Book Review: The Faithful Artist: A Vision for Evangelicalism and the Arts by Cameron J. Anderson”