SONGS: The Holy Spirit Prayer is a traditional Catholic prayer that’s sung at Mass on the feast of Pentecost: “Come, Holy Spirit; fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth. O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy his consolations, through Christ our Lord. Amen.” The following two songs are settings of the first part of this prayer.
>> “Kindle in Us Your Love” by Deanna Witkowski: This funky refrain by jazz composer Deanna Witkowski “works well as a gospel acclamation, prayer response, or opening song,” especially for Pentecost. I’m planning to introduce it to my Presbyterian congregation this Sunday. (For church services, Witkowski charges a licensing fee of just $3 per use.) You can purchase the piano score here; it also appears in the Voices Together hymnal. Hear a high school choir perform the piece in the video below, with Witkowski accompanying on keys.
Come, Holy Spirit Kindle in us the fire of your love Come, Holy Spirit Kindle in us your love
>> “Holy Spirit, Come to Us” by Jacques Berthier (Taizé chant):Taizé is an ecumenical Christian monastic community in France comprising more than one hundred Catholic and Protestant brothers from some thirty different countries. They welcome in around a hundred thousand young pilgrims a year, who come for prayer, Bible study, and communal work and worship. The songs of Taizé use simple musical phrases and few words that are repeated. Composed in 1998, “Holy Spirit, Come to Us” is one of 232 songs Jacques Berthier wrote for Taizé. It consists of solo verses sung by a leader over an ostinato refrain sung by the people.
Holy Spirit, come to us Kindle in us the fire of your love Holy Spirit, come to us Holy Spirit, come to us
Jesus said, “It is by your love for one another That everyone will recognize you as my disciples.”
Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this: To lay down one’s life for those one loves.”
We know love by this, That Christ laid down his life for us.
This is love: it is not we who have loved God But God who loved us.
Taizé songs may be sung in public worship settings free of charge, provided their simplicity is preserved (i.e., no elaborate arrangements are permitted); for other uses, see here.
DIGITAL DOWNLOAD: Pentecost Party: Word & Wonder is offering a free twelve-page PDF of resources for celebrating Pentecost with children. Besides a list of party ideas, it includes an imaginative retelling of the Pentecost story from the perspective of a child, a prayer guide, prompts for talking about the Holy Spirit, coloring pages, and a pinwheel craft. On their website you will also find other family-friendly resources for the church year. [HT: Global Christian Worship]
BLOG POST: “Whitsun Week” by Eleanor Parker: “The week following Pentecost is a lost holiday. From the Middle Ages until the early 20th century the period around Whitsun was the principal summer holiday of the year – especially Whit-Monday”—which is June 6 this year. “It was the time for fairs, Morris dancing, games, ale-drinking, school and church processions, weddings, wandering into the countryside, and generally having a good time.” Gooseberries and cheesecakes were broken out for the occasion, and communities engaged in fun activities like cricket, archery, sack races, and donkey derbies.
British medievalist Eleanor Parker compiles several sources that describe the Whitsuntide festivities of medieval western Europe and calls her readers to revive the week’s outdoor merrymaking!
SHORT FILM: Stickmatch: Created in 2020 by London-born animator William Crook, this twenty-second stop-motion animation uses autumn leaves to simulate flames. [HT: Colossal]
With the feast of the Visitation coming up on May 31, I’ve been thinking about the song Mary sings in Luke 1:46–55 upon meeting up with her cousin Elizabeth in the hill country of Judea following their miraculous conceptions. It’s bold, exultant, and worshipful, oriented around the liberative power of God. As we continue to reel from the string of mass shootings in the US (Tuesday’s shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, was the 212th this year alone), I wonder how Mary’s song might speak to us in this moment—how we, too, might exclaim it with her same fervor and hope, truly believing that God is at work in the world, bringing about justice and healing, even though it is injustice and hurt that so often sound the loudest.
Here is a modern interpretation of the Magnificat by the Rev. M Barclay, cofounder and director of enfleshed, an organization that creates prayers, liturgies, art, meditations, teachings, and other spiritual resources for collective liberation. Written in 2019, it captures the verve of Mary’s words while also drawing out shades of sorrow and adding a petitionary element. Barclay uses the gender-neutral pronoun “They” to refer to the Triune God.
My soul is alive with thoughts of God. What a wonder, Their liberating works. Though the world has been harsh to me, God has shown me kindness, seen my worth, and called me to courage. Surely, those who come after me will call me blessed. Even when my heart weighs heavy with grief, still, so does hope abide with me. Holy is the One who makes it so. From generation to generation, Love’s Mercy is freely handed out; none are beyond the borders of God’s transforming compassion. The power of God is revealed among those who labor for justice. They humble the arrogant. They turn unjust thrones into dust. Their Wisdom is revealed in the lives and truths of those on the margins. God is a feast for the hungry. God is the great redistributor of wealth and resources. God is the ceasing of excessive and destructive production that all the earth might rest. Through exiles and enslavement, famines and wars, hurricanes and gun violence, God is a companion in loss, a deliverer from evil, a lover whose touch restores. This is the promise They made to my ancestors, to me, to all the creatures and creations, now and yet coming, and in this promise, I find my strength. Come, Great Healer, and be with us.
DOCUMENTARY SERIES: Taste and See, dir. Andrew Brumme: “Taste and See is a documentary series exploring the spirituality of food with farmers, chefs, bakers, and winemakers engaging with food as a profound gift from God. Their stories serve as a meditation on the beauty, mystery, and wonder to be found in every meal shared at the table.” The Rabbit Room, who is partnering with them for a virtual cinema event (see below), says, “If, in some blessed alternate universe, Robert Farrar Capon had decided to make a documentary with Terrence Malick, guided by the foundational wisdom of Wendell Berry, then they would have made something like the pilot of Taste and See.”
Some of the people you see in the series trailer are Shamu Sadeh, cofounder of Adamah Farm and Fellowship in Connecticut, which integrates organic farming, Jewish learning, sustainable living, and contemplative spiritual practice (Adamah is the focus of the pilot film); The Soul of Wine: Savoring the Goodness of God author Gisela Kreglinger, who grew up on a winery that has been in her family for generations and who leads wine pilgrimages in Burgundy and Franconia (“a spiritual, cultural, and sensory exploration of wine”); Norman Wirzba, a professor at Duke who teaches and publishes at the intersections of theology, philosophy, ecology, and agrarian and environmental studies (see, e.g., his Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating); Kendall Vanderslice, a North Carolina baker, author, and founder of Edible Theology, which offers “curriculum, community, and communications that connect the Communion table to the kitchen table”; and Joel Salatin, who raises livestock on his Polyface Farm in Swoope, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley.
You can buy tickets to a virtual screening of the hour-long pilot, which is happening twice daily from June 3 to June 19 and includes exclusive access to a panel discussion with singer-songwriter Andrew Peterson, theologian Norman Wirzba, and director Andrew Brumme. Revenue from ticket sales will fund the production of future films, some of which are already in the works. “The funding raised will determine how far we can go and which stories we can pursue,” Brumme tells me. “We’re hopeful the virtual event will bring together enough of a supportive base of people who want to see this series made.” There’s also an option on the website to donate.
DISCUSSION PANEL: “Art Between the Sacred and the Secular,” June 6, 2022, Akademie der Künste, Berlin: Moderated by the Rev. Professor Ben Quash, this free public event (reserve tickets here) puts in conversation artist Alicja Kwade; Dr. María López-Fanjul y Díez del Corral, senior curator of the Bode Museum and the Gemäldegalerie; and Dr. Neil MacGregor, former director of the British Museum and the National Gallery, London. The questions they’ll address (see below) sound really intriguing!
“The abiding power of Christian motifs, ideas and styles in a host of modern and contemporary works that superficially look un- or anti-Christian indicates that visual art and Christian tradition have not become complete strangers. This invites analysis and understanding.
“How have Christian artworks and artistic traditions found new articulations, caused new departures, or provoked new subversions in the last 100 to 150 years? What forms of engagement between theology and modern and contemporary art do such developments in the relationship between art and Christianity invite and reward?
“How do viewers (Christian and non-Christian) interact with historical Christian art today, and how do modern sensibilities affect our viewing of earlier Christian artworks and artistic traditions?
“Is contemporary art an alternative to religion or can it sometimes be an ally? How do contemporary art and religion each respond to human experiences of the absurd or the tragic? What do contemporary art and the spaces in which we encounter it, tell us about the histories of both Western Christianity and Western secularisation?”
FUNDRAISER: New Ordinary Time Album: The indie folk trio Ordinary Time is one of my favorite musical groups—I heard them in concert at a church here in Baltimore a few years ago!—so I’m really excited to see that they’re working on their sixth full-length album, their first since 2016. It will be produced by the esteemed Isaac Wardell, founder of Bifrost Arts and the Porter’s Gate. Per usual, it will comprise a mix of original and classic sacred songs, including the new “I Will Trust,” demoed in the second video below. Help fund their production costs through this Indiegogo campaign, which ends June 15. A donation of just $25 will get you an early download of the album.
The music video was shot in February at a bar in Daphne, Alabama, with some eighty of Kimbrough’s friends and supporters, and it premiered May 13. It was his way of saying farewell to his Church of the Apostles community in Fairhope, Alabama, where he served as worship leader and artist-in-residence for eight years. He left this spring to take a new job as uptown artist-in-residence at Church of the Incarnation in Dallas.
“From the time I wrote ‘Oh Give Thanks,’ I always pictured it as a bar tune, specifically set in New Orleans,” Kimbrough says. “The image Psalm 107 conjures for me is a group of friends sitting together swapping stories of God’s deliverance and raising their glasses to celebrate his goodness.” He has noted that some people are uneasy about singing the line “We cried like drunken sailors” in church, but he points out that it’s there in the Old Testament psalm! (Recounting how God rescued a group of men from a storm at sea, the psalmist says that as the waves rose, “they reeled and staggered like drunkards / and were at their wits’ end. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, / and he brought them out from their distress,” vv. 27–28).
CHURCH ARCHITECTURE: Santa Maria Goretti Church, Mormanno, Italy: In 2013 architect Mario Cucinella won a competition held by Italy’s assembly of Catholic bishops to create the new parish church of Santa Maria Goretti in the hilltop town of Mormanno in Calabria. Because a third of the funds had to be raised locally, the project wasn’t completed until last year. Cucinella says that gave him time to win over its most important constituency: the elderly women who go to Mass every day, and who at first “were suspicious of its modernism.” [HT: My Modern Met]
Cucinella designed an elegantly minimalist concrete building with sinuous surfaces that form the shape of a four-leaf clover, a reinterpretation, Cucinella says, of the shape of Baroque churches. The enclosure has only a few openings. “On its north side, two walls part to create an entrance—while also contributing edges to a cross cut into the curves and lit by LEDs at night. On its south side, a small window is positioned to focus afternoon sunlight on a crucifix on July 6,” Maria Goretti’s birthday.
Inside, the walls are hand-finished in plaster mixed with hemp fibers and lime, which give them a mottled, earth-toned look. The most dominant feature of the interior is the twelve-foot-deep scrim that falls from the ceiling in swirls, filtering in sunlight. Artist Giuseppe Maraniello (b. 1945) was commissioned to create the lectern, tabernacle, baptismal font, and figure of the Virgin Mary, while the simple steel and wood seating is by Mario Cucinella Design. Click on any of the three photos above to view more.
The church’s namesake, one of the youngest saints to be canonized, was stabbed to death in 1902 at age eleven while resisting a rape. She is the patron saint of purity, young women, and victims of sexual assault.
Blogger’s note: I’m fascinated by the history of hymns—all the creative hands they pass through (lyricists, translators, composers, harmonizers, arrangers, hymnal editors, church musicians, worship pastors, recording artists, etc.) to become what we use in our churches today. In this essay, poet, translator, and literary critic Kimberly Johnson traces in fragments the history of “All Creatures of Our God and King” [previously], interweaving that history with snippets of the authors’ biographies, musical analysis, personal confession, and observations from the time she spent in and around the hymn’s origin place of Assisi in the Umbria region of Italy.
Copyright credit: The essay “On ‘Laudes Creaturarum’ (‘All Creatures of Our God and King’): A Polyphony” by Kimberly Johnson is from Stars Shall Bend Their Voices: Poets’ Favorite Hymns and Spiritual Songs, edited by Jeffrey L. Johnson (Asheville, NC: Orison Books, 2018). It is reproduced here by permission of the publisher. I’ve added in the photos for visual reference.
Altissimu onnipotente bon signore tue so le laude la gloria e l’ onore e onne benedictione. Ad te solo altissimo se konfano e nullu homo ene dignu te mentovare. Laudatu si mi signore cum tucte le tue creature spetialmente messor lu frate sole lu quale iorno et allumini per loi. E ellu è bellu e radiante cum grande splendore de te altissimu porta significatione. Laudatu si mi signore per sora luna e le stelle in celu l’ ai formate et pretiose e belle. Laudatu si mi signore per frate vento e per aere e nubilo e sereno et onne tempu per lu quale a le tue creature dai sustentamentu. Laudatu si mi signore per sor aqua la quale è multo utile e humele e pretiosa e casta. Laudatu si mi signore per per frate focu per lu quale n’ allumeni la nocte e ellu è bello e iucundo e robusto e forte. Laudatu si mi signore per sora nostra matre terra la quale ne sustenta e governa e produce diversi fructi e coloriti fiore e erba. Laudatu si mi signore per quilli ke perdonano per lo tue amore e sostengono infirmitate e tribulation beati quelli ke ‘l sosterranno in pace ke da te altissimu sirano incoronati. Laudatu si mi signore per sora nostra morte corporale da la quale nullu homo vivente po skappare guai a quilli ke morranno in peccata mortale. Beati quelli ke troverà ne le tue sanctissime voluntati ke la morte secunda no ’l poterà far male. Laudate e benedicete lu mi signore e rengratiate e servite a lui cum grande humilitate. Amen.
Francis of Assisi, c. 1225
Praises of the Creatures
Highest, omnipotent, good our Lord, yours are the praises, the glory, the honor, and all blessing. To you alone, Most High, they are owed, and no mortal is worthy to mention you. Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my Lord Brother Sun, who brings the day, and you shed light through him. And he is beautiful and radiant in his grand splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness. Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars; in heaven you formed them, bright and precious and beautiful. Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Wind and through the air, cloudy and serene, and through all weathers by which you give your creatures sustenance. Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water, who is so useful and humble and precious and chaste. Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you illuminate the night; and he is lovely and playful and robust and strong. Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us and who brings forth varied fruits with vibrant flowers and herbs. Be praised, my Lord, through those who give pardon for love of you, and bear infirmity and tribulation; blessed are those who persevere in peace, for they will be, by you Most High, endowed a crown. Be praised, my Lord, through our sister, Death-of-the-Flesh, from whom no living mortal can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Blessed whom death finds abiding in your most sacred will, for the second death shall do them no harm. Praise and bless my Lord, and render thanks to Him, and serve Him with great humility. Amen.
Translated from the Italian by Kimberly Johnson, 2018
All Creatures of Our God and King
All creatures of our God and King, lift up your voice and with us sing: Alleluia, alleluia! O burning sun with golden beam, and shining moon with silver gleam, O praise Him, O praise Him, Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
O rushing wind so wild and strong, white clouds that sail in heaven along: Alleluia, alleluia! New rising dawn in praise rejoice; you lights of evening find a voice, O praise Him, O praise Him, Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
Cool flowing water, pure and clear, make music for your Lord to hear: Alleluia, alleluia! Fierce fire, so masterful and bright, providing us with warmth and light, O praise Him, O praise Him, Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
Earth ever fertile, day by day, bring forth your blessings on our way: Alleluia, alleluia! All flowers and fruits that in you grow, let them his glory also show, O praise Him, O praise Him, Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
All you who are of tender heart, forgiving others, take your part: Alleluia, alleluia! All you who pain and sorrow bear, praise God and on him cast your care, O praise Him, O praise Him, Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
And thou most kind and gentle death, waiting to hush our latest breath: Alleluia, alleluia! Thou leadest home the child of God, and Christ our Lord the way hath trod. O praise Him, O praise Him, Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
Let all things their Creator bless, and worship Him in humbleness: Alleluia, alleluia! Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son, and praise the Spirit, Three in One! O praise Him, O praise Him, Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
Translated from the Italian by William Henry Draper, 1919
In Assisi, the sky vaults clouded and serene against the foothills.
Pietro, known as Francesco, devoted brother of his order, put quill to thirteenth-century parchment and began to praise. His inspiration was Psalm 148, whose Hebrew exhortations spur the sun and moon, the stars and highest heavens, tempests and mountains and wingèd birds to sing their Lord’s splendid name. Barchu and Hallelu.
In the trees that ring the great cathedral at Assisi, birds trill an antiphon in the innumerable dialects of their collected species.
“Laudatu si mi signore per sora nostra morte corporale,” Francis wrote in his backwater dialect, “da la quale nullu homo vivente po skappare.” Be praised, my Lord, through our sister, Death-of-the-Flesh, from whom no living mortal can escape.
William Henry Draper lost his first wife in childbirth. He lost his second wife in her youth. He lost three sons in World War I and a daughter in her childhood.
In Francesco’s hymn, the psalm’s call to worship forges familial bonds, each voice enfolded into the household: My Lord Brother Sun. Sister Moon and Sister Water, Brother Fire and Brother Wind.
Twice widowed, four times unfathered, William Henry Draper served as rector of the parish church in Leeds, where, in 1919, he translated a centuries-old poem by an Umbrian monk for a Whitsunday children’s concert.
On Whitsunday, the Assisi cathedral is afire with cloven tongues, pilgrims murmuring a babel of prayer.
Thou rushing wind that art so strong
At the wind of the day I walked the fortress wall on Assisi’s hilltop as the houselights came on below. “A mighty fortress is our God,” another word-dazzled monk would write three centuries after Francesco threw open the enclosures of monastic care to the lazar-house, the beggars, the birds.
At a piazza dinner in the hilltop town of Perugia, against which the young soldier Pietro called Francesco marched impenitent and won a year in prison for his pains, I overhear a tourist family at the next table. In New Jersey cadence, the mother suggests a next day’s trip to the basilica in Assisi. She sells it: “It’s where St. Francis is from.” Her son whines, “Who’s St. Francis?” The mother pauses. The pavement birds are belled into the evening sky. “He’s this really famous Franciscan monk.”
In the basilica, the nave vaults with sky, a gloaming blue clouded with verdant green. Gold stars fan out like finches. Like gilt notes on an ethereal staff.
Ralph Vaughan Williams, son of a vicar, took up an old German tune, “Lasst uns Erfreuen” (“Let Us Rejoice”), harmonizing his Anglican to that melody’s spare Jesuit. And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?
It’s not the repeated alleluia. It’s not the catalogue of earthy beauty. It’s not the open-throated Ptolemaic chime. What undoes me is the single minor chord.
The minor chord: unheard in the tune’s Teutonic plainchants, unheard before Vaughan Williams’s harmonies. It falls at the end of the penultimate line of each verse—in some versions of Draper’s English text, the minored syllable is Him, and in some it is Jah; either way, God takes the fall.
Vaughan Williams’s minor chord is the musical cognate of Francesco’s steadfast praise in and through the death of the flesh: a gut punch that refuses to be redeemed by the next line’s joy.
Confiteor: The next line’s return to D major requires a resolve that, many days, I don’t have.
In the Upper Church in Assisi, the fresco cycle attributed (probably wrongly) to Giotto includes San Francesco d’Assisi predica agli uccelli. There are doves, of course, in the saint’s congregation. There is a woodcock, I think. A robin. They will not fly until his sermon is finished. Until he follows the downpour with worms.
Nearby, another fresco shows Francis struck with stigmata; each wound an asterisk, a caveat. A flurry of wings above his head.
You lights of evening
At the altar in Assisi, my vespers are belled into the vault, where they flock and cloud.
Outside, rain. The birds tangle among the leaves, sustain their refractory antiphon. All with one accord in one place.
“perdonano per lo tue amore / infirmitate e tribulatione”
Pardon and love, weakness and wrack. Blame and whine, and worms and no escape. O praise Him.
A creaturely hymn for us creatures: Pietro called Francesco, faux Giotto, bereft William, Ralph, the variant birds, and myself. Each of us cloven by major and minor, each our own Pentecost.
EXHIBITION: Here After, Bridge Projects, Los Angeles, May 7–July 30, 2022: This latest offering from the spirituality-forward art gallery Bridge Projects looks amazing! I appreciate their commitment to featuring religiously and ethnically diverse artists, as well as a range of styles and media.
The group exhibition features thirty-seven artists who explore the idea of paradise—both how it has been pursued on earth across history, and how it is imagined after life. From Pure Land Buddhism’s chant “Namu Amida Butsu” (“I take refuge in Amida Buddha”) to Christianity’s prayer for the Kingdom to be “on earth as it is in heaven,” the concepts of paradise are as diverse as those who hope for it.
In Here After, works like William Kurelek’s Farm Boy’s Dream of Heaven (1963) envision an eschatological beyond in figurative form, while works by Bonita Helmer and Zarah Hussain do so in more abstract terms. Andrea Büttner and Claire Curneen’s works point to a vulnerable, sensual bodiliness, embedded in the surface of the world where all things come to pass. There is a land beyond the river by Gyun Hur and Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s The Boat People make space for remembrance of those who have passed, while Afruz Amighi, Mercedes Dorame, and Charwei Tsai position the viewer between worlds, feet firmly planted on the ground yet gazing at the glory and wonder of the beyond. In his installation Skywall, David Wallace Haskins plunges into the boundless sky and its immaterial light, letting all the expansive beauty grip the viewer. Kate Ingold intones the rhythmic mantras of what the divine is not with minute stitches, employing almost impossible patience to painstakingly outline absence. Kris Martin lodges small contradictions in the mind, which, in time, grow to be distracting puzzles—the candle in a sealed box, whose existence cannot be proven with the senses. And Tatsuo Miyajima uses digital counters to display the uncountable, unending dimension of existence.
>> “O Jesus, Crowned with All Renown,” performed by Jon and Amanda McGill: The Monday to Wednesday preceding Ascension Day is known as Rogationtide, a short liturgical period (observed by most Anglicans, Episcopalians, Catholics, and others) in which we pray that God blesses the crops so that they yield a good harvest. It falls on May 23–25 this year. The hymn “O Jesus, Crowned with All Renown” is especially associated with the Rogation Days. It was written in 1860 by Edward White Benson, archbishop of Canterbury, and is typically paired with the tune KINGSFOLD.
O Jesus, crowned with all renown, Since thou the earth hast trod, Thou reignest, and by thee come down Henceforth the gifts of God. Thine is the health and thine the wealth That in our halls abound, And thine the beauty and the joy With which the years are crowned.
Lord, in their change, let frost and heat And winds and dews be giv’n; All fostering power, all influence sweet, Breathe from the bounteous heav’n. Attemper fair with gentle air The sunshine and the rain, That kindly earth with timely birth May yield her fruits again.
That we may feed the poor aright, And gathering round thy throne, Here, in the holy angels’ sight, Repay thee of thine own: That we may praise thee all our days, And with the Father’s name, And with the Holy Spirit’s gifts, The Savior’s love proclaim.
“Rogation” is derived from the Latin verb rogare, which means “to ask.” In the liturgies of Rogation Days, we ask the Lord to bless the fields, the crops, and the hands of farmers who produce our food. Worship on Rogation Days teaches us that we depend upon God’s favor over his land. We ask him for goodness over not just an abstract idea of our “land” but the very real earth beneath our feet in our backyards, our neighborhoods, and whatever part of the earth our feet hit the ground. As we’ve become a post-industrial society, the prayers for Rogation Days have expanded to include not only prayers for farmers and fishermen, but also for commerce and industry, and for all of us as stewards of creation.
>> “The Twelve: An Anthem for the Feast of Any Apostle,” words by W. H. Auden and music by William Walton: In 1965 the dean of the choir school at Christ Church, Oxford—Dr. Cuthbert Simpson—approached poet W. H. Auden and composer William Walton to write a choral anthem for use on apostolic feast days. “The Twelve” is the result. In this video filmed at Keble College, Oxford, in July 2021, it is performed by the vocal ensembles VOCES8 and Apollo5 (both directed by Barnaby Smith), with Peter Holder on organ. Learn more about the background and structure of the anthem here.
This performance appears on Renewal?, a concept album released February 25 that combines new works by Paul Smith (cofounder of VOCES8) and Donna McKevitt with works by three influential modern composers: William Walton, John Cage, and William Henry Harris. “Multifaceted texts by Lal Ded, Edmund Spenser, W. H. Auden, Lord Byron, Pablo Neruda, Maya Angelou, and Edna St. Vincent Millay offer space to consider our world, past and present, and meditate on a response to build a better future.”
You can read the full text of “The Twelve” in the YouTube video description. It begins,
Without arms or charm of culture, Persons of no importance From an unimportant Province, They did as the Spirit bid, Went forth into a joyless world Of swords and rhetoric To bring it joy.
Ascension Day occurs every year on the Thursday that falls forty days after Easter (see Acts 1:1–3). This year it is May 26. Here are two Ascension-themed visual meditations from ArtWay.eu.
>> On the Reidersche Tafel, by Nigel Halliday: This ivory bas-relief, which was probably originally embedded in a book cover, is the earliest known representation of the Ascension. It shows Jesus striding up a mountain, being pulled up into heaven by the hand of God the Father. (Mark and Luke use the passive voice to describe the Ascension: “he was taken up into heaven.”) He is dressed in a toga and holding a scroll. Learn more from Nigel Halliday at the above link, or visit this Instagram post I made two years ago.
>> On Ngambuny Ascends by Shirley Purdie, by Rod Pattenden: Ngambuny is the Gija name for Jesus. Aboriginal Australian artist Shirley Purdie sets his ascension within the indigenous landscape of the Bungle Bungle Range, using her characteristic style of dotted outlines. “Purdie draws on her cultural tradition to locate the presence of God within the skin of her land,” writes the Rev. Dr. Rod Pattenden. “Her work is literally painted with the earth, as she collects ochres from the land she is responsible for and mixes it with glue to attach to her warm hued canvases.” Pattenden offers a fascinating reading of Purdie’s Ngambuny Ascends, discussing the use of black ocher, God as Creator Spirit alive in the earth, and more.
Sessions are free and open to the public and will not be livestreamed (and the conversations require advance registration):
June 4, 7–9pm: Live Concert (Seattle, WA)
June 5, 9:45–11am: Worship Service (Normandy Park, WA)
June 5, 7–9:30pm: A Conversation on: Faith and the Arts (Seattle, WA)
June 6, 6:30–8:30pm: A Conversation on: Faith and Technology (Bellevue, WA)
June 7, 7–9pm: A Conversation on: Faith and Work (Seattle, WA)
Guite and Bell have been collaborating for years. Below are two snippets of them performing together. In the first video Guite comedically performs (to rhythmic accompaniment!) a villanelle he wrote in response to something a woman who worked at the venue of one of his poetry talks exasperatedly said to him when his hurried photocopying caused a paper jam. The second video showcases a sonnet by Guite on the baptism of Christ, from his collection Sounding theSeasons: Seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year, and the song that Bell adapted it into, released on Keening for the Dawn.
ESSAY: “The Listening Heart: Corita Kent’s Reforming Vision” by Michael Wright:Corita Kent (1918–1986) [previously] was an American pop artist who was also, for over three decades, a nun. Michael Wright writes about how “she became interested not just in depicting scenes from the Bible but answering this: what might happen if a Christian imagination engaged the world around us through the arts? That art might look less like an illustration from a children’s Bible and more like exploring seeing the stuff of life—even a bread bag—as dialogue partners with mysteries of faith.” wonderbread is one of four works he discusses—“a playful meditation on sacred time, wonder, and communion.”
While I do think even Kent’s biblical artworks push the genre of religious art forward, I appreciate how Wright challenges Christians to give a chance to her works that are less straightforwardly religious, as these are often the most imaginative and profound. And they, too, are “deeply Christian work.” Let’s not think so narrowly about what “Christian art” must look like!
LIVING PRAYER PERIODICAL: Pentecost 2022: One of the organizations I work for is the Daily Prayer Project [previously], which publishes seven ecumenical Christian prayer periodicals a year, structured around the liturgical calendar. I do the curation for the Gallery section, which comprises three art images with written reflections, and the editing. Our latest edition covers June 5 (the feast of Pentecost) through August 6, and it includes prayers from India, Japan, Korea, Algeria, Italy, the Choctow Nation, and more. I’m excited to feature on the cover Corita Kent’s word picture: gift of tongues! As many of her screenprints do, it integrates image and text—in this case Acts 2:1–2a, which sprawls out through the sky and onto a billowing banner, like a sail, over a crowd of people aflame with the fire of the newly descended Spirit of God.
On the website there are options for one-time purchase or group subscription, and for digital only or print and digital.
PRAYER: “The Lord’s Prayer, Extended Dance Mix” by Nadia Bolz-Weber: In March, actor Jennifer Garner asked Lutheran pastor and author Nadia Bolz-Weber if she could offer a prayer and a benediction on her InstaLive. Bolz-Weber vamped on the traditional words of the Lord’s Prayer, the text of which you can read at the boldface link.
I haven’t always agreed with Bolz-Weber, but this prayer is beautiful. One of the things I appreciate about her spiritual teaching is her avoidance of clichés. She gives fresh language to the experiences of faith and life in general and to theology, which often reawakens me to the beauty of God and of Christ’s gospel. Describing why she regularly turns to prayer, she says in the Instagram video:
When I don’t have enough—like if I don’t have enough patience, if I don’t have enough compassion for myself or other people, when I don’t have enough resources—prayer is this way in which I can remind myself that there is enough. That I have a connection to my own divine source. I have a connection to God. And in the heart of God there’s enough forgiveness when I don’t have enough. In the heart of God there’s enough compassion when I don’t have enough. And so for me, it’s about reminding myself of that connection.
SONG: “Dry Bones” by Gregory Porter: From Gregory Porter’s 2021 album Still Rising, this song was inspired by Ezekiel 37. The official music video features dancing skeletons in yellow cowboy boots(!), animated by L’Incroyable Studio. The song’s bridge quotes the African American spiritual “Dem Bones.”
The first verse goes,
I won’t die, won’t bury, won’t sink ’Cause love is the spirit I drink I’ll be free in the morning light ’Cause your touch is the medicine of life There’s a dance to this beat, let’s shake Every move—feel my body awake There’s a sound—you and me are one And your hope is the rhythm I drum
Christ came juggling from the tomb,
flipping and bouncing death’s stone pages,
tossing those narrow letters high
against the roots of dawn spread in cloud.
This Jesus, clown, came dancing
in the dust of Judea, each slapping step
a new blossom spiked with joy.
Hey! Listen—that chuckle in the dark,
that clean blast of laughter behind—
Christ comes juggling our tombs,
tossing them high and higher yet,
until they hit the sun and break open
and we fall out, dancing and juggling
our griefs like sizzling balls of light.
This poem is from Christographia by Eugene Warren (St. Louis, MO: The Cauldron Press, 1977), a chapbook of thirty-two numbered poems that “attempt to express personal views of, & perspectives on, Christ.”The book’s title comes from a series of sermons by the Puritan poet and preacher Edward Taylor.
Gene Warren Doty (1941–2015) was an American poet in the Anabaptist tradition who taught in the English department of Missouri S&T for forty-two years. Throughout his career he explored a variety of non-Western poetic forms, including haiku, renga, tanka, sijo, and ghazals. He is the author of seven books of poetry: Christographia, Rumors of Light, Geometries of Light, Fishing at Easter, Similitudes, Nose to Nose, and Zero: Thirty Ghazals. Until 1988 his books and poems were signed “Eugene Warren,” Warren being the surname of his adoptive father, George, who raised him; but from 1988 onward he used the surname of his biological father, Floyd Doty.
BLOG POST: “An open letter to pastors (A non-mom speaks about Mother’s Day)” by Amy Young: There’s disagreement among church leaders on whether Hallmark holidays, such as Mother’s Day, should be recognized during a worship service, and if so, how. Having mothers stand (while women who are not mothers in the conventional sense remain seated) can be very othering and bring up feelings of sadness or shame. It’s also a day when people are thinking about their own mothers, which can evoke a complex range of emotions.
Amy Young believes there is a way to honor mothers in church without alienating others, as well as to acknowledge the breadth of experiences associated with mothering. She has drafted a pastoral address that I find so wise and compassionate. Some women are estranged from their children. Some have experienced miscarriage or abortion. Some have had failed adoptions, or failed IVF treatments. Some placed a child for adoption. Some have been surrogate mothers. Some are foster mothers, or are the primary guardian of a relative’s child. Some are spiritual moms. Some women want to be mothers but have no partner or have had trouble conceiving. Some were abused by their mothers. Some have lost mothers. Some never met their mother. Young puts her arms around all these people who are potentially in the pews on Mother’s Day, making room for the complexity of the day—which does include celebration!
I resonate so much with Johnson’s approach of bringing together works from different artistic disciplines to interpret one another and to invite the viewer into worship. Her curation is stellar! To cite just one example, the contemporary choral work Stars by Ēriks Ešenvalds plays as we see, among other images, an Aboriginal dot painting of the constellations Orion and Canis and a nighttime landscape by realist painter Józef Chełmoński. Another: John Adams’s double piano composition “Hallelujah Junction” is brought into conversation with Psalm 150 and a painting by Jewish artist Richard Bee of David dancing before the ark.
The video opens with the theme of awe and wonder—expanses of sky and sea and field; the beauty and vastness of God mirrored in the natural world—and then moves to lament—of the prospering of the wicked; of exhaustion, anxiety, and other forms of mental or spiritual anguish and their causes; of personal sin—and finally ends with an assurance of grace and with exultation. Johnson shows how the longings of modern people overlap with those of the biblical psalmists. Here’s her description:
In his famous work titled Confessions, St. Augustine writes this: “Yet to praise you, God, is the desire of every human.” Is this true? What does this look like?
During my time at Samford, I have felt my heart and mind overflow with love for the arts. As a Christian, they have played a devotional role in my life. I find such joy in seeing connections between music, art, and literature that may seem unrelated on the surface. I believe that all humans have a longing for the goodness of God and we find “echoes” of Him everywhere, and most beautifully in artistic expression.
I wanted to show others how I understand the world as a Christian artist. This project is a journey through the Psalms, using art to reinforce the idea that the Psalms capture the full universal human experience. Across time and space, we have all felt the same things and we have all had the same deep longing for “something higher.”
I hope you can allow this project to wash over you. Make time to watch it alone or with someone you love, distraction-free. Turn the lights out, light a candle, watch it on a big screen with the volume up loud. Be cozy under a blanket with a cup of coffee, or grab a journal and write down anything that sticks out to you! It is my earnest desire that you will be moved by the artistic expression of humanity, and that you may realize that God has always been the goodness you most deeply desire.
>> “Broken Healers” by Elise Massa: Singer-songwriter Elise Massa is the assistant director of music and worship arts at Church of the Ascension in Pittsburgh. A meditation on Christ as Wounded Healer, this song from her 2014 album of demos, We Are All Rough Drafts, was inspired by an Eastertide sermon.
Here’s the final stanza (the full lyrics are at the Bandcamp link):
Broken healers are we all In a living world, decayed With broken speech we stutter, “Glory” As broken fingers mend what’s frayed Holy Spirit, come, anoint us As you anointed Christ the King Who wore the crown of the oppressed Who bears the scars of suffering
>>“Agnus Dei” by Michael W. Smith, performed by the Ukrainian Easter Choir: This is one of the few CCM songs I listened to as a young teen (Third Day’s version from a WOW CD!) that I’m still really fond of. In this video that premiered April 17, an eighty-person choir conducted by Sergiy Yakobchuk was assembled from multiple churches in Ukraine to perform for an Easter service in Lviv organized by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Michael W. Smith’s “Agnus Dei” is one of three songs they sang, in both English and Ukrainian. The name of the soloist is not given. Many of the vocalists in the choir have been displaced from their homes by the current war with Russia. One of them says, “With the war, celebrating the Resurrection means for us now life above death, good above evil.”
PRAYER EXERCISE: “Visio Divina: A 20-Minute Guided Prayer Reflection for the Crisis in Ukraine”:Visio divina, Latin for “divine seeing,” is a spiritual practice of engaging prayerfully with an image, usually an artwork—allowing the visual to invite you into communion with God. On March 17 Vivianne David led a virtual visio divina exercise with Natalya Rusetska’s Crucifixion, hosted by Renovaré. I caught up with the video afterward and found it a very meaningful experience. As the painting is by a Ukrainian artist and represents Christ’s passion, the war in Ukraine is a natural connection point.
I appreciate David’s wise guidance, which includes these reminders:
Stay with the image, regardless of whether or not you “feel” something happening right away. There is something beautiful about faithfully waiting with that space, having dedicated it to God as a time of prayer.
Notice what draws your attention, what invites you into the image—let that become a space for conversation with Christ.
Notice what sort of emotions arise as you stay with the image. How does it awaken desire? Let these emotions lead you back to continued dialogue with God.
This kind of quiet, focused looking with an openness to encounter is something I encourage on the blog. Any of David’s three tips above I would also suggest for any art image I post—a corrective to hasty scrolling habits. Stick around for the last four minutes of the video to see dozens and dozens of impressions from participants, which may reveal new aspects of the painting to you.
This early sixteenth-century poem by William Dunbar of Scotland—who served as poet in the court of King James IV and was also an ordained Catholic priest—is an imaginative retelling of the extrabiblical episode known as the Harrowing of Hell, wherein Christ descends to the realm of the dead on the eve of his resurrection to free the souls being held captive there by Satan.
The original poem, in Middle Scots, is reproduced below, followed by my translation into modern English, with the assistance of the Dictionary of the Scots Language. I’ve provided hyperlinks to Scots words that don’t have an obvious English correlative. The Latin refrain translates to “The Lord is risen from the grave.”
Done is a battell on the dragon blak, Our campioun Chryst confountet hes his force; The yettis of hell ar brokin with a crak, The signe triumphall rasit is of the croce, The divillis trymmillis with hiddous voce, The saulis ar borrowit and to the blis can go, Chryst with his blud our ransonis dois indoce: Surrexit dominus de sepulchro.
Dungin is the deidly dragon Lucifer, The crewall serpent with the mortall stang, The auld kene tegir with his teith on char Quhilk in a wait hes lyne for us so lang, Thinking to grip us in his clowis strang: The mercifull lord wald nocht that it wer so, He maid him for to felye of that fang: Surrexit dominus de sepulchro.
He for our saik that sufferit to be slane And lyk a lamb in sacrifice wes dicht, Is lyk a lyone rissin up agane, And as a gyane raxit him on hicht: Sprungin is Aurora radius and bricht, On loft is gone the glorius Appollo, The blisfull day depairtit fro the nycht: Surrexit dominus de sepulchro.
The grit victour agane is rissin on hicht That for our querrell to the deth wes woundit; The sone that wox all paill now schynis bricht, And, dirknes clerit, our fayth is now refoundit: The knell of mercy fra the hevin is soundit, The Cristin ar deliverit of thair wo, The Jowis and thair errour ar confoundit: Surrexit dominus de sepulchro.
The fo is chasit, the battell is done ceis, The presone brokin, the jevellouris fleit and flemit, The weir is gon, confermit is the peis, The fetteris lowsit and the dungeoun temit, The ransoun maid, the presoneris redemit, The feild is win, ourcummin is the fo, Dispulit of the tresur that he yemit: Surrexit dominus de sepulchro.
Done is a battle on the dragon black, Our champion Christ has confounded his force; The gates of hell are broken with a crack, The sign triumphal raised (that is, the cross), The devils tremble with hideous voice, The souls are redeemed and to the bliss can go, Christ with his blood our ransom does endorse: Surrexit dominus de sepulchro.
Beaten is the deadly dragon Lucifer, The cruel serpent with the mortal sting, The old sharp tiger with his teeth bared, Who in wait has lain for us so long, Thinking to grip us in his claws strong: The merciful Lord would not that it were so, He made him for to fail of that prize: Surrexit dominus de sepulchro.
He who for our sake allowed himself to be slain, And like a lamb in sacrifice was offered, Is like a lion risen up again, And like a giant raised himself on high: Risen is Aurora radiant and bright, Aloft is gone the glorious Apollo, The blissful day departed from the night: Surrexit dominus de sepulchro.
The great victor again is risen on high Who on our behalf to the death was wounded; The son that waxed all pale now shimmers bright, And, darkness cleared, our faith is now refounded. The knell of mercy from the heav’n is sounded, The Christians are delivered from their woe, The Jews and their error are confounded: Surrexit dominus de sepulchro.
The foe is chased, the battle is done, The prison broken, the jailers fled and banished, The war is gone, confirmèd is the peace, The fetters loosed and the dungeon emptied, The ransom made, the prisoners redeemed, The field is won, overcome is the foe, Despoiled of the treasure that he held: Surrexit dominus de sepulchro.
“Done Is a Battle” consists of five stanzas with a rhyme scheme of ababbcbc, dedeecec, and so on. (I wasn’t able to perfectly preserve this scheme in the translation.)
As was common in medieval European literature on the Resurrection, the poem portrays Christ as a heroic warrior who storms the gates of hell, freeing the souls imprisoned there by the Enemy—described here variously as a dragon, a serpent, and a tiger, who guards his stolen possession with ferocity. Carrying a cross as his battle standard and covered with his own blood, Jesus goes down into the beast’s lair to reclaim what is rightfully his.
The opening line is considered one of the finest of any poem: “Done is a battle on the dragon black.” Part of its power comes from the use of a literary device known as anastrophe—the inversion of the usual order of words in a sentence (usually subject-verb or adjective-noun). Dunbar uses it twice: “Done is a battle” instead of “A battle is done,” emphasizing finality rather than the conflict itself, and “dragon black” instead of “black dragon,” which gives more prominence to the creature than its color. “A battle is done on the black dragon” just doesn’t have the same ring. Anastrophe is used all throughout the poem (e.g., “sign triumphal,” “claws strong,” “confirmed is the peace”).
Cosmic and dramatic, the poem highlights the Christus Victor aspect of the atonement—that is, how Christ’s death and resurrection were a triumph over the powers of evil. Integrated into this model is the idea of ransom, redemption, emancipation.
While the Harrowing of Hell refers specifically to the salvation of those saints who died before Christ and were awaiting redemption in Sheol (aka Limbo, or Hades), it is representative of the act that Christ performs for all those who are in him—releasing us from Satan’s hold, bringing us out of the grave, letting us share eternally in the fruits of his victory in heaven. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the central icon of Easter is just such a scene: the risen Christ standing atop the broken-down doors of hell, pulling Adam and Eve and the other Old Testament faithful up from its pit. It’s called the Anastasis, Greek for “resurrection.”
Jesus conquered death by going through it. Stanza 3 describes the glory with which he rose from such a state. He died a sacrificial lamb, meek and lowly, but rose up like a lion—vigorous, strong. From the darkness of night, he rose like day—like Aurora, goddess of the dawn, or Apollo, god of the sun.
In the fourth stanza Dunbar uses a play on words that was particularly beloved in Middle English and Scots religious lyrics (and which still works in modern English): sun/Son. The sun/Son went dark at the Crucifixion (Luke 23:45) but reemerged brighter than ever on Easter morning, the dawn of a new day. Mercy sounds like bells from on high, and the world enters its liberation.
I don’t want to ignore the problematic nature of the penultimate line of this stanza: “The Jews and their error are confounded.” Their error was failing to see who Christ truly was and, because of that, calling for his execution. Attributing Jesus’s death to, broad brush, “the Jews” led to centuries of anti-Semitic persecution and violence in Europe. While the religious establishment of Jesus’s day certainly did play a driving role in his death, it’s important to remember that the Roman authorities were also key players; it was a collusion between synagogue and state. Both perceived Jesus as a threat, for different reasons. (And of course there’s a sense in which we all bear culpability, regardless of religious affiliation or time period, because it was for humanity’s sin that Christ went to the cross.) But casting blame is fruitless. Jesus died willingly. When I read old texts that charge all Jews across time and place with the crime of deicide, I can’t help but protest that it was also “the Jews” who stood by Jesus in the end—his mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea (members of the Sanhedrin!), John the Evangelist, and others—and who were among his closest followers. Not to mention that most of those whom Jesus “harrowed” from hell were Jewish! Across generations they trusted the promise given to them.
I alert you to this line so that if you use the poem in a worship context, you might consider a revision there (or at least a clarification), as the shorthand can cause confusion and breed prejudice. Though it doesn’t exactly honor Dunbar’s intent, I might suggest the following: “The people are delivered from their woe, / Resisters all most truly are confounded.”
Despite the undesirable generalization in line 31, I still believe “Done Is a Battle” is a poem worthy of our attention and engagement. It’s an exciting and culturally contextualized celebration of Christ the Dragon-Slayer, who “descended into hell,” as the Apostles’ Creed puts it, to save his people.
Try reading the Scots aloud! That way you can get a better sense of the musicality. I was surprised by how much of the language I was able to comprehend. Curious of its history, I discovered that most people claim, controversially, that Scots is not actually a separate language, but rather a dialect of English.