“Merry Autumn” by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Grossmann, David_Autumn Flight
David Grossman (American, 1984–), Autumn Flight, 2018. Oil on linen panel, 30 × 40 in. Private collection.

It’s all a farce,—these tales they tell
About the breezes sighing,
And moans astir o’er field and dell,
Because the year is dying.

Such principles are most absurd,—
I care not who first taught ’em;
There’s nothing known to beast or bird
To make a solemn autumn.

In solemn times, when grief holds sway
With countenance distressing,
You’ll note the more of black and gray
Will then be used in dressing.

Now purple tints are all around;
The sky is blue and mellow;
And e’en the grasses turn the ground
From modest green to yellow.

The seed burrs all with laughter crack
On featherweed and jimson;
And leaves that should be dressed in black
Are all decked out in crimson.

A butterfly goes winging by;
A singing bird comes after;
And Nature, all from earth to sky,
Is bubbling o’er with laughter.

The ripples wimple on the rills,
Like sparkling little lasses;
The sunlight runs along the hills,
And laughs among the grasses.

The earth is just so full of fun
It really can’t contain it;
And streams of mirth so freely run
The heavens seem to rain it.

Don’t talk to me of solemn days
In autumn’s time of splendor,
Because the sun shows fewer rays,
And these grow slant and slender.

Why, it’s the climax of the year,—
The highest time of living!—
Till naturally its bursting cheer
Just melts into thanksgiving.

“Merry Autumn” by Paul Laurence Dunbar originally appeared in Oak and Ivy (Press of United Brethren Publishing House, 1893) and is now in the public domain.

Dives and Lazarus (Artful Devotion)

Lazarus and the Rich Man (11th cent.)
“Lazarus and Dives,” fol. 78r from the Codex Aureus of Echternach, ca. 1035–40. German National Museum, Nuremberg, Germany.

There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.” But Abraham said, “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” And he said, “Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” But Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” And he said, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” He said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”

—Luke 16:19–31

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SONG: “Dives and Lazarus” | Traditional English ballad | Performed by Cooper, Nelson & Early, on Love & War (2004)

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The illuminated manuscript page above tells visually, in three sequential strips, the parable of the rich man (“Dives”) and Lazarus. (The personal name Dives is not given in the scripture text but is traditionally used as shorthand for the rich man, as dives is Latin for “rich.”) The top register shows Lazarus, a sick homeless man, dying at Dives’s door; the middle, Lazarus’s soul being carried off to paradise by two angels and seated in Abraham’s bosom; and the bottom, Dives’s soul being carried off to hell by two devils and tortured.

This is one of four full-page miniatures that preface the Gospel of Luke in the Codex Aureus (“Golden Book”) of Echternach, a Vulgate edition of the four Gospels produced at the Benedictine Abbey of Echternach in Luxembourg in the eleventh century shortly after the Ottonian dynasty came to an end. It is a preeminent example of the Ottonian style.


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

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Proper 21, cycle C, click here.

Roundup: Sketch notes from “Seeing the Story,” worship music for Spanish-speaking immigrant children, and more

Last weekend I was in Atlanta giving a talk on art and theology at North Decatur Presbyterian Church as part of the church’s “God’s Creative Story” program, enabled by a Vital Worship Grant from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. One of the attendees, Ross Boone (aka Raw Spoon), a local artist, took “sketch notes” of the talk, which I am so delighted by! I am posting them here with his permission. He does a lot of faith-inspired digital illustration, often in partnership with churches; you should definitely check him out.

"Seeing the Story" Sketch Notes by Raw Spoon

For “Seeing the Story: Visual Art for the Liturgical Year,” I used fifteen artworks, a mix of historical and contemporary, to chart a way through the church calendar, showing how art opens us up to the beauty of God’s story and helps us to see ourselves as participants in that story.

I really enjoyed getting to meet and worship with the folks at NDPC, and to continue the art conversation with them over the weekend. There was lots of engagement, which was really encouraging. Ellen Gadberry showed me some of the projects made by the liturgical art group she leads at the church. Many involved repurposed bulletins, which I love! One that’s currently in progress picks up on the lozenge shape present in the church’s architectural design, drawing on its symbolic use in Celtic art. Ellen also brought me to the High Museum of Art to see the new Romare Bearden exhibition and, at my request, the Clark Atlanta University Art Museum, where three new exhibitions, curated from the museum’s wonderful permanent collection, opened Sunday afternoon. (The museum was closed when we were there on Friday, as the art and signage were still being hung, but the curator graciously let us in for an unofficial preview!)

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CALL FOR RESEARCH PROPOSALS: Through its new Art Seeking Understanding initiative, the Templeton Religion Trust anticipates granting $12 million in funding over the next five years to research projects that connect art and spirituality. In particular: “Is there an empirically demonstrable connection between art and understanding? And if so, what distinctive cognitive value does engagement with the arts (production and/or consumption) generate? Under what conditions and in what ways does participation in artistic activities encourage or stimulate spiritual understanding, insight, or growth (meaning- or sense-making)?

“We’re bringing together writers, poets, painters, sculptors, musicians, dancers, filmmakers – artists of all kinds – as well as art historians and musicologists with philosophers, theologians, and scientists from a variety of sub-disciplines within the psychological, cognitive, and social sciences to conceive and design empirical and statistical studies of the cognitive significance of the arts with respect to spiritual realities and the discovery of new spiritual information.”

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POETRY BOOK CONTEST: Paraclete Press invites poets to submit a book-length (unpublished) manuscript for consideration of the inaugural Paraclete Poetry Prize, with a deadline of January 30, 2020. Two winners will be selected by a three-judge panel and announced April 1, 2020. Both prizes involve cash and book publication. Paraclete, the publishing arm of the Community of Jesus, publishes some of today’s best spiritual poets, including Scott Cairns, Paul Mariani, Jeanne Murray Walker, Luci Shaw, and Tania Runyan.

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ALBUM FOR IMMIGRANT CHILDREN: Somos Ovejas del Señor by Alabanzaré: Jared Weatherholtz is the director of a South City Church Latinx ministry called Refugio, through which he teaches the Bible, develops worship resources, invests in relationship, and helps immigrants navigate life in St. Louis. He said US immigration policy has been taking a toll on the community he serves, especially its children, who fear going to school not only because of the bullying they encounter (“Go back to where you came from!”) but also because they could come home to no parents (detained by ICE).

As “a way to care for [the kids] and show them God’s goodness and promises to them through music,” Weatherholtz wrote the song “Somos Ovejas del Señor” (We Are the Sheep of the Lord), based on Psalm 23. The kids really took to it, and it became the seed for an entire album, recorded last year in Mexico City under the moniker Alabanzaré (“I Will Praise”). To learn more about the inspiration behind and making of the album, watch the half-hour documentary below. For English subtitles, click the “CC” button on the video player.

“I want immigrants and children of immigrants to hear and to know that they are important, that they have worth in this life, that they bear the image of God,” Weatherholtz said. “God is present, taking care of them.”

The album gives children a language of prayer and praise that they can sing amid their present circumstances. The opening track, “Espíritu Santo, Compañero Fiel,” celebrates the Holy Spirit as a faithful companion in good times and bad, accompanying us at school, when we play, and when we sleep. In “Como Niños,” Jesus invites boys and girls to “come closer,” tells them they’re small in size but big in faith—they’re wise and revolutionary. “Necesito Tu Ayuda, Oh Dios” is a prayer for protection, beginning “I need your help, oh God / Great sorrows I bring today / I feel sad and I don’t know what to do / Come to me soon, Protector.”

Somos ovejas del Senor

Stream or purchase Somos Ovejas del Señor on Bandcamp. Also available is an instrumental edition, released this summer.

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ARTICLE: “The Hidden Life of a Forgotten Sixteenth-Century Female Poet” by Jamie Quatro, New Yorker: Quatro writes about her distant relative Anne Vaughan Lock, a poet, translator, Calvinist religious figure, and, significantly, the first writer to publish a sonnet sequence in English. A gloss of Psalm 51, Lock’s “A Meditation of a Penitent Sinner” comprises twenty-six poems, published in 1560, thirty-one years before Philip Sidney’s “Astrophil and Stella” (long held to be the world’s first English sonnet sequence). “Lock’s cardinal place in the history of the sonnet cycle may not be news to scholars. But for me—a poetry-loving, feminist, conflicted Protestant English-Ph.D. dropout—it was an endorphin-surge of a discovery.” [HT: ImageUpdate]

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DANCE: Last month I posted a dance number from my favorite television dance show, So You Think You Can Dance, and now I’m going to post another one—from September 2’s episode. Choreographed by Talia Favia, “Amen” is danced by Ezra Sosa, Gino Cosculluela, and Bailey Muñoz to a song by Amber Run. It’s not a religious song, but it does use the language of prayer (and is performed with a choir), which the choreography and set design highlight. The speaker of the song is presumably talking to his recently deceased lover, trying to come to terms with his grief, to accept the painful loss. An anguished “Amen”—“Let it be”—repeats throughout. The dance routine expresses rage in the face of death and the struggle to submit to what is. It’s a phenomenal performance by these three young men.

When I post dance videos here, they tend to be emotionally volatile, but dance can be joyous and fun and sassy too, and SYTYCD has the full spectrum! Season 16 just wrapped, but if you want a taste, check out the final episode, which reprises a lot of my favorite routines of the season—sweet ones like “I’ll Be Seeing You,” “Slide,” and “The Girl from Ipanema”; comedic ones like “Mambo Italiano” and “Long Tall Sally”; and sexy ones like “You Can Leave Your Hat On,” “Tempo,” “Need You Tonight,” and “I Can’t Stand the Rain.”

Balm in Gilead (Artful Devotion)

Hirsch, Joseph_Lynch Family
Joseph Hirsch (American, 1910–1981), Lynch Family, 1946. Oil on canvas, 35 × 33 in. (88.9 × 83.8 cm). Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. [zoom in]

My joy is gone; grief is upon me;
my heart is sick within me.
Behold, the cry of the daughter of my people
from the length and breadth of the land:
“Is the Lord not in Zion?
Is her King not in her?”
. . .
“The harvest is past, the summer is ended,
and we are not saved.”
For the wound of the daughter of my people is my heart wounded;
I mourn, and dismay has taken hold on me.

Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of the daughter of my people
not been restored?

—Jeremiah 8:18–22

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SONG: “There Is a Balm in Gilead” | Negro spiritual | Arranged and performed by Archie Shepp (tenor sax), feat. Jeanne Lee, on Blasé (1969, reissued 2009)

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In this coming Sunday’s lectionary reading from the Prophets, Jeremiah grieves over the suffering of his people. “Is there no balm in Gilead?” he cries. Gilead was a region in ancient Palestine, east of the Jordan River. Now it is known primarily as the fictional locale of two famous contemporary novels, but back then it was known for the soothing, aromatic plant resins produced there, which were used medicinally. In Israel’s desolation, though, they could feel no balm—not even in the place where it was said to abound.

The anonymous writer(s) of the slave song featured above knew communal suffering well. He or she taps into Jeremiah’s poetic grief, extracting the “balm in Gilead” expression but bending it toward hope. There is a balm, the song attests, albeit wearily, through tears. And this balm makes the wounded whole. Archie Shepp’s soulful arrangement, with vocals by Jeanne Lee, express that woundedness and yearning for deliverance so poignantly.

As a visual point of focus, I’ve chosen Joseph Hirsch’s Lynch Family, a forward extension of the history of African American oppression. The gallery label for the painting reads,

Joseph Hirsch painted Lynch Family as a response to racial disturbances in the South in 1946. That year the number of lynchings rose from an all-time low in January to a fevered pitch by August. Citizens across the country urged President Truman and Congress to end the horrors. To capture the tragedy of Lynch Family, Hirsch presented a mother with her baby, presumably survivors of a lynching victim, in abstracted surroundings. The painting focuses on the mother’s intense yet restrained hold on her defiant child while she turns to hide her anguish. The blue background floats around the figures. It both highlights their pain and contrasts with the sheer beauty of Hirsch’s painterly technique.

Though painted in the 1940s, this work bears strong relevance for today. The figures could be any black mother and child left to grieve the loss of husband and father—to prison, or to death by shooting, choking, or other form of brutality.

For another painting by Hirsch from the blog, see “Stations of the Cross at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.”


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

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Proper 20, cycle C, click here.

The Lost Lamb (Artful Devotion)

Good Shepherd (Chinese)
Chinese scroll painting of the Good Shepherd, 1966. Collection of the Church of the Good Shepherd, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’”

—Luke 15:4–6

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SONG: “The Lost Lamb” by Abigail Washburn and Jingli Jurca | Performed by Abigail Washburn, on Song of the Traveling Daughter (2005)

Zai na yaoyuan de guxiang
Wo shiluo liao yi ge gulao de meng
Yi ge youshang de meng
Zai na yangyu wo de defang

Wo fenbian buliao muse he chenguang
Wo yanjuanliao chenmo he sixiang
Feng nanchui you zhuanxiang beifang
Jianghe ben hai, hai que bu zhang

Wo xin manliao choucheng
Yu lai you shi qing bu jiuchang
Fuzu tianbuman linghun de kewang
Zhihui dangbukai yongsheng de shuangjiang

Wo
Wo shi
Yi zhi
Mitu de gaoyang

Shei neng ying wo zouchu mimang
Nar you wo chongsheng de xiwang
Oh, muyangren ah
Ni zai hefang?

In that far distant land I call home
I lost the ancient dream
A sorrowful dream
In that place that raised me

I cannot discern the growing shadows of dusk
And the first faint rays of the morning sun
I’ve wearied in the silence and searching
Wind blows south and turns again north
River flows to the sea, yet the sea does not rise

My heart is filled with melancholy
The rains come, clear skies will follow soon
Even fortune and good blessings
Cannot quench the soul’s thirst
Wisdom cannot relieve us our eternal lot

I am a lost lamb

Who will lead me from this haze?
What will bring me hope again?
Oh shepherd
Where are you? [source]

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Before Abigail Washburn (previously featured here) became one of America’s most acclaimed folk musicians, she was a college student majoring in East Asian studies and Mandarin, traveling intermittently to China and ready to pursue a degree in international law at Beijing University. But before her planned departure, she heard at a party one night a recording of Doc Watson singing “Shady Grove,” and she instantly fell in love with American bluegrass music. She bought herself a banjo and traveled Appalachia, learning the instrument and developing a repertoire. Her skill and enthusiasm soon landed her at a recording studio in Nashville, the city where she now lives with her husband, Béla Fleck.

Although Washburn decided not to pursue a law career in Beijing, her love of Chinese language and culture has continued. In 2011 she embarked on a Silk Road Tour, where she collaborated with Chinese musicians at each stop along the way. That year also marks the founding of The Wu-Force, a self-described “kung fu-Appalachian avant-garde folk-rock” trio consisting of Washburn, guzheng (Chinese zither) virtuoso Wu Fei, and multi-instrumentalist Kai Welch. As her website says, “her efforts to share US music in China and Chinese music in the US exist within a hope that cultural understanding and the communal experience of beauty and sound rooted in tradition will lead the way to a richer existence.” Learn more by watching her 2012 TED talk, “Building US-China Relations . . . by Banjo,” or by listening to her (and Fleck’s) 2015 interview with Krista Tippett, “Truth, Beauty, Banjo.”

“The Lost Lamb” is one of several songs that Washburn co-wrote with her friend Jingli Jurca, a poet from Beijing. Washburn says it was inspired by one of the Chinese students she was teaching English to in Vermont in the early 2000s. He had come to the States to earn money to send back home, but four years later he received a letter from his wife saying that she and their daughter were going to start a new life without him. This mournful ballad gives expression to his feeling of exile, of rootlessness, of being far from home and unable to return to what was once a place of joy and connection.

The first time I heard this song, I was incredibly moved. Having no knowledge of Mandarin or the context of the song’s composition, I looked up a translation, finding that the lyrics have a beautiful resonance, whether intentional or not, with Jesus’s parable of the lost sheep, where he likens himself to a good shepherd who seeks out and restores those of his flock who have wandered off. I hear it as very psalmic, a grasping after God through pain. It’s hard to tell dusk from dawn, the speaker says. My soul thirsts. It ends, “Oh Shepherd, where are you?” Shepherd, who promises to lead us through dark valleys and bring us to still waters. The speaker is readily confessing that he’s lost; “come find me” is essentially what he pleads.

In the spirit of the biblical psalmists, the speaker appears to take God to task, questioning whether he will show up as he said he would. “Who will lead me from this haze? / What will bring me hope again?” It’s an earnest reaching, through tears and uncertainty, for something stable that he or she once knew.

Whether you want to interpret the song as lamenting a felt distance from one’s home country or culture or family or faith, it rings so true, so beautiful.

I’ve paired it with a visual artwork and scripture reading that fulfill its longing, showing a being found.


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 19, cycle C, click here.

Clay (Artful Devotion)

Photo by Alejandro Maestre Gasteazi
Alejandro Maestre Gasteazi (Spanish, 1979–), Untitled, 2010. Printed ink on cotton paper, 40 × 40 cm. Edition of 20.
Photo by Alejandro Maestre Gasteazi
Alejandro Maestre Gasteazi (Spanish, 1979–), Untitled, 2010. Printed ink on cotton paper, 40 × 40 cm. Edition of 20.
Photo by Alejandro Maestre Gasteazi
Alejandro Maestre Gasteazi (Spanish, 1979–), Untitled, 2010. Printed ink on cotton paper, 40 × 40 cm. Edition of 20.

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”

—Jeremiah 18:1–6

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SONG: “Have Thine Own Way, Lord” | Words by Adelaide A. Pollard, 1906 | Music by George C. Stebbins, 1907 | Performed by Johnny Cash, 1973, and released on Bootleg, Vol. I: Personal File, 2006

Update, July 25, 2021: Orlando Palmer, aka IAMSON, has just posted an Instagram video of himself singing the first verse of “Have Thine Own Way, Lord.” So beautiful:

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It is not you who shapes God, it is God who shapes you.
If then you are the work of God, await the hand of the artist
Who does all things in due season.
Offer God your heart, soft and tractable,
And keep the form in which the artist has fashioned you.
Let your clay be moist,
Lest you grow hard and lose the imprint of God’s fingers.

—Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.39.2

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The three photographs above by Alejandro Maestre Gasteazi are from a cycle of twenty portraits of the artist’s friend Julián Cánovas-Yañez, which show his mud-lathered form gradually taking shape—an effect achieved, in part, in digital postprocessing. Credit goes to Philip Chircop for first pairing these photographs with this quote by the second-century Greek bishop Irenaeus.


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 18, cycle C, click here.