“A Blessing for Back to School” by Sarah Bessey

Hsu Tung Han_The Trend of Autumn
Han Hsu-Tung (韓旭東) (Taiwanese, 1962–), The Trend of Autumn (秋天の潮), 2013. Walnut wood, 155 × 98 × 50 cm. [artist’s website]
As we head back into our classrooms, may you go forth fully convinced of our love and your capacity. May you be the head and not the tail, leading others—and yourself—on a path of flourishing. 

May your roots go down deep into God’s soil so you will bear the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. 

May you remember your people, where you come from, and find your place of belonging. 

May you become even more fully who you were always meant to be this year. We delight in you, darling.

We pray that you would sow seeds of life and hope wherever you find yourself, cultivating a harvest of shalom.

May you be prepared for every good work that lies ahead of you. 

May your mind be clear and engaged, your memory sharp, your wisdom beyond your years. May you ask for what you need without fear or shame.

May you be safe, beloved child, protected from anything that seeks to steal, kill, or destroy in any measure. When you are afraid, may you feel our love wrapped around you and take heart.

When disappointments or disasters come—and they will—may you find the depths of the resilience we already see in you and rise, rise, rise again. 

May you do what is right and good and kind and just, no matter what everyone else might do. Don’t submerge your true self into the dreams, plans, behaviors, or agendas of others. Bring your full beloved self to these days, knowing you are created in the image of God.

We pray that you would be a blessing to your teachers and the school staff, and we pray that they, in turn, would see and affirm you in the fullness God has created. 

We pray for good friendships that will sharpen and delight you. 

We pray you would have eyes to see the lonely ones. May you have many opportunities to practice being both brave and kind. 

Beloved child of God, we send you out in the power and peace of Love itself, prepared and anointed, knowing you walk upon steady ground.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit, one God and Mother of us all.

Amen.

This adaptable parental benediction for a child’s return to school is from the August 8, 2022, edition of Sarah Bessey’s Field Notes and is reproduced here with Bessey’s permission.

Pádraig Ó Tuama on using power well

Gollon, Chris_Jesus and the Woman Taken in Adultery
Chris Gollon (British, 1953–2017), Jesus and the Woman Taken in Adultery (Jesus Draws in the Dust) (triptych), 2015. Acrylic on canvas, each panel 48 × 36 in. (122 × 91 cm).

Jesus of Nazareth was not a powerless man. . . . Jesus knew exactly what he was doing, and he just used a different kind of power. When, in John’s Gospel [8:1–11], I read about a woman being stoned, I see Jesus using power. He bent down and scribbled in the ground, writing words that we do not know. He did that, knowing—I am guessing—that many of those who were about to throw stones couldn’t read the words even if they could have strained their necks to see them. He used his privilege to deflect attention, and in so doing he undid the story that held the slew of stoners together. This was not powerlessness. It was power and it is deep in us.

The woman was about to be stoned because of the addictions of the stoners. They were addicted to a violent kind of belonging, a kind of community that forges its borders through selective exclusion. She was about to be stoned with their bone-breaking morals that would prefer to kill a woman rather than examine their own complicity. We all need to be rescued from this kind of power—from both its appeal and its effect. An undoing of this power is seen when power is used for love. Power, used well, should be empowering, contagious, and protective. It should be self-critical, curious, and brave. It should know its own limits and be prepared to risk its own reputation. This kind of power asks questions to which it does not know the answers and listens because in listening is learning, and in learning is life.

Hello to the power of learning.

—Pádraig Ó Tuama, In the Shelter: Finding a Home in the World (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2015; Minneapolis, MN: Broadleaf Books, 2021), 240–41

“O Christ, Thou Art Within Me Like a Sea” by Edith Lovejoy Pierce (poem)

Parlar, May_Salt IV
May Parlar (Turkish, 1981–), Salt IV, 2018. From the photograph series Once I Fell in Time.

O Christ, thou art within me like a sea,
Filling me as a slowly rising tide.
No rock or stone or sandbar may abide
Safe from thy coming and undrowned in thee.

Thou dost not break me by the might of storm,
But with a calm upsurging from the deep
Thou shuttest me in thy eternal keep
Where is no ebb, for fullness is thy norm.

And never is thy flood of life withdrawn;
Thou holdest me till I am all thy own.
This gradual overcoming is foreknown.
Thou art within me like a sea at dawn.

This poem appears in Therefore Choose Life by Edith Lovejoy Pierce (Harper and Brothers, 1947).

Edith Lovejoy Pierce (1904–1983) was a Christian poet and pacifist. Born in Oxford, England, she married an American in 1929 and moved to the US the same year, settling in Evanston, Illinois. In her writing she drew inspiration from the Bible, Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolent resistance, music, history, and mysticism, among other sources.

Roundup: West African praise medley, reading poetry and fiction, and more

SPOTIFY PLAYLIST: August 2022 by Victoria Emily Jones: Most months I compile thirty songs and other musical selections into a nonthematic playlist as a way to share good music, mostly from the Christian tradition but otherwise Christian-adjacent. This month’s list includes a traditional Black gospel song performed by Chris Rodrigues and professional spoon player Abby Roach (featured here); a Zulu song from South Africa about holding on to Jesus (bambelela = “hold on”); a song in the voice of Christ Our Mother by Irish singer-songwriter Sinéad O’Connor, from her album Gospel Oak; a portion of Barbados-born Judy Bailey’s Caribbean-style setting of the Anglican liturgy; a brass arrangement of a Golden Gate Quartet classic; Palestrina’s beautiful multivoiced setting of a Latin hymn by Bernard of Clairvaux; a future-looking song of celebration by country artist Naomi Judd, who passed away in April; a condensation of “In Christ Alone” by Texas soul artist Micah Edwards; and more.

The two videos below are from the list: a medley of the Twi praise chorus “Ayeyi Wura” (King of Our Praise) from Ghana and “Most High God” from Nigeria, led by Eric Lige at the 2018 Urbana missions conference, and a new arrangement by Marcus & Marketo of “I’ve Got a River of Life,” a song that I have fond memories of singing in children’s church as a kid (with hand motions!) (you can hear a more standard rendition here). The first line is derived from Jesus’s saying in John 7:38 (“Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water”), and the refrain “Spring up, O well!” comes from Numbers 21:17, where the Israelites praise God for providing them water in the desert.

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Reading books is a key way that I grow intellectually and spiritually, and books are often where I find content to highlight on the blog, be it poems, visual art, people, or ideas. Because I’m not affiliated with an academic institution, I don’t have easy access to a lot of the books I need for my research, and I rely heavily on my personal library (as well as the Marina interlibrary loan system). If you’d like to support the work of Art & Theology, buying me a book from my wish list is a great way to do that! I’ll consider it a birthday gift, as my birthday is Saturday. 😊

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ESSAYS:

>> “Poetry’s Mad Instead” by Abram Van Engen, Reformed Journal: “I believe that poetry has a particular place in the church. I think it responds directly to the call and the invitation of God to ‘sing a new song,’” says Abram Van Engen, chair and professor of English at Washington University in St. Louis and cohost of the podcast Poetry for All. “And in the singing of poetry, the faithful can begin to understand and experience and engage God’s world afresh.” He adds, “Poets often invite us to practice thinking and noticing at a different pace. It is only at a slower speed of processing that we can begin to observe what we have too often missed or ignored.”

In this essay, Van Engen walks readers through the sonnet “Praise in Summer” by Richard Wilbur, which is what he begins with whenever he teaches poetry at church. He teaches you some of the poet’s tools so that you can feel more confident in approaching poems on your own.

>> “In Defense of Fiction: Christian Love for Great Literature” by Leland Ryken: An excellent article, by a professor emeritus of English at Wheaton College and author of The Christian Imagination: The Practice of Faith in Literature and Writing, A Complete Handbook of Literary Forms in the Bible, and more. “With so many valuable nonfiction books available to Christians, many wonder if reading fiction is worth the time. Others view fiction as a form of escapism, a flight from reality and the world of responsibility. But rightly understood, reading fiction clarifies rather than obscures reality. The subject of literature is life, and the best writers offer a portrait of human experience that awakens us to the real world. Fiction tells the truth in ways nonfiction never could, even as it delights our aesthetic sensibilities in the process. Reading fiction may be a form of recreation, but it is the kind that expands the soul and prepares us to reenter reality.”

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VISUAL MEDITATION: On Christ and the Samaritan Woman by Jacek Malczewski, by William Collen: William Collen introduced me to this unusual painting on the subject of Christ’s meeting with the woman at the well from John 4—a subject the artist painted several times (e.g., here, here, and here). Whereas Christ is traditionally shown pontificating to the woman with an air of formality, here there is an appealing casualness to their interaction, and the woman dominates the composition.

Malczewski, Jacek_Christ and the Samaritan Woman
Jacek Malczewski (Polish, 1854–1929), Christ and the Samaritan Woman, 1912. Oil on plywood, 92 × 72.5 cm. Borys Voznytskyi Lviv National Art Gallery, Ukraine.

Collen is an art writer and researcher from Omaha, Nebraska, who is a Christian and who blogs at Ruins. I’ve enjoyed following his posts, which include “The proper response to an art of sorrow”; “Dikla Laor’s photographs of the women of the Bible”; how household chores are approached differently by Koons, Picasso, Degas, and Vermeer; “Good art / bad art / non-art”; and “Artists and agency: assumptions and limits.” He writes in a conversational manner that’s really refreshing.