Rise Up (Artful Devotion)

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

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

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

—Psalm 82:1–4, 8

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

Further reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Worn Out by Iyad Sabbah

Worn Out by Iyad Sabbah

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

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


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

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Proper 10, cycle C, click here.

4 thoughts on “Rise Up (Artful Devotion)

  1. I love your posts. I have followed your blog and your mothers web page for a long time. I am so proud of what yo u are doing for God.I use your music choices to play and lead into thoughtful prayer.
    Now with regard toy your “art choice”
    I feel sad , that in the Israeli /Arab conflict, it is always the Israelis who are seen as the evil aggressors. This is a picture which is especially” politically correct” in England. I have friends in Israel, and the story they see is very different. Schools used as cover for snipers,gunmen hiding in homes or behind Children , I wish you had chosen art that did not reflect THAT conflict.It perpetuates a myth, and takes away from the potency of your blog regarding
    ” the oppressed” Did you know that christians are currently the most persecuted religion in the world?

    Like

    1. Hi Sue,

      Thank you for your comment and for voicing your concerns. I didn’t arrive lightly at this art selection, knowing that it would likely be controversial, and I’d like to explain a little more of my thinking on the issue.

      To me, this is a moving artwork in itself. I could have posted it without any context, without even mentioning the artist’s nationality, but because it was created in a very specific context, I felt it important to share that. Obviously, it’s from a Palestinian perspective. I’m not denying that there are aggressors on both sides (Israelis have suffered too, for sure), but I want to give ear to this one artist’s heart-cry, pictured here and echoed by many other Palestinians who have been displaced from their homes through no fault of their own.

      A few weeks ago I posted a video of novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie cautioning against the “single story,” and that applies here. I feel that a lot of Christians have a “single story” of Israel-Palestine: Palestinians are terrorists, or even just unwanted, and Israel is completely within its right to push them out, because it’s Israel’s land; God will always bless Israel. The real story is more complicated than that, and I’ve heard stories from people on both sides of the conflict (including Palestinian Christians!) that confirm that. You said that you more frequently encounter the opposite perception: that “it is always the Israelis who are seen as the evil aggressors”; that one-sided story is just as dangerous.

      By lifting up this particular artwork from Palestine, I’m not implying that all Israelis are cruel warmongers or that no actions ought to be taken against actual terrorists. But I am trying to challenge a simplistic narrative and to promote compassion across religious lines. It might be interesting to consider this question: If the artwork were by an Israeli sculptor whose family home was bombed by Hamas, would it be more acceptable to you? I think that wherever people are suffering, we can call on God to “rise up” on their behalf. There are hundreds of other examples of modern-day oppression that I could have chosen as visual aids to this devotion, but I chose this one, knowing well that it could risk offending readers, who may acknowledge Palestinian suffering but see it as justified. However, I don’t want to privilege some people’s stories over others’. This is one person’s story of suffering, one person’s lament. I was intrigued by the possibilities opened up by the complicated pairing with Psalm 82. A perspective switch.

      Like

  2. I agree with Sue. It’s an arresting piece of art, but too often the “oppressed” is a euphemism for societal or racial groups favored by the left, which is not to say the right does not do the same in their media mileu. But the Palestinians as victims is a popular rallying cry used by popular politicians in the U.S. these days, while verbal attacks against Israel are quickly forgotten. It’s cool to be pro Palestinian. Anyway, your blog is great.

    Like

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