Advent, Day 11: Waiting Bride

LOOK: Dim Gold (Feast of Brides) by Mandy Cano Villalobos

Cano Villalobos, Mandy_Dim Gold (Feast of Brides)
Mandy Cano Villalobos (American, 1979–), Dim Gold (Feast of Brides), 2022. Miscellaneous found objects, dimensions variable. Installation at Bridge Projects, Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Mandy Cano Villalobos is an interdisciplinary artist whose projects span installation, painting, drawing, performance, sculpture, and video. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Drawing on the archetype of the waiting bride, the found-object installation Dim Gold (Feast of Brides) was commissioned by Bridge Projects for Here After, an exhibition exploring humanity’s hope for paradise. The artist writes,

Dim Gold is an allegory of marital covenant, bodily death, and the hope of love’s consummation in afterlife. The throne heap consists of discarded clothing, broken appliances, old lamps, unwanted toys, bruised furniture, fake flowers, stained curtains, human and synthetic hair, scratched glasses, deflated soccer balls, faded photographs, worn shoes, chipped figurines, kitchen utensils, costume jewelry, yellowed wedding decorations, cracked dishes, Christmas ornaments, mildewed books, and bathtub plugs.

From baby bottles and children’s playthings to a cane and a pillbox, the pile contains a life. (In fact, Cano Villalobos said she acquired most of the items from an old woman’s estate sale.) It’s a full life, but one of brokenness and decay. There is no permanence in this world. The otherworld—the new heaven, the new earth (a transfigured thisworld)—is what endures.

Cano Villalobos, Mandy_Dim Gold (detail)
Cano Villalobos, Mandy_Dim Gold (detail)

The Dim Gold construction is throne-like, all its components leaning in toward a central chair topped by seven white, ribbed shafts that fan out and that are suggestive, with the flame-colored flowers at the terminals, of a menorah. Lace, silk, and draped strings of pearls form the throne’s backing. With its dressed but empty seat that calls forth a presence, the piece evokes the hetoimasia (prepared throne of the second coming) of Eastern Orthodox icons.

The scattered, lit bulbs on shadeless lampstands allude to the burning oil lamps in Jesus’s parable of the ten bridesmaids (Matt. 25:1–13), which signify readiness for the Bridegroom’s return.

Cano Villalobos combines earthly and heavenly imagery in Dim Gold, an Advent ensemble that pictures the church-as-bride’s waiting with lights on, amid the ephemera of this life, for her groom to come take her home, where an eternal feast is spread in bright, delicious glory, and the two of them will become one at last.

LISTEN: “When the Bridegroom Comes” | Words by David Omer Bearden, 1973 | Music by Judee Sill, 1973 | Performed by Judee Sill on Heart Food, 1973

See the bride and the Spirit are one.
Then won’t you who are thirsty invite him to come?
With your door open wide,
Won’t you listen in the dark for the midnight cry?
And see, when your light is on, that the Bridegroom comes.

Into cold outer darkness are gone
Guests who would not their own wedding garment put on.
Though the chosen are few,
Won’t you tarry by your lamp till he calls for you?
And pray that your love endure till the Bridegroom comes.

When the halt and the lame meet the Son,
And he sees for the blind and he speaks for the dumb,
Let their poor hearts’ complaint,
Like the leper turned around who has kissed the saint,
Lift like a trumpet shout, and the Bridegroom come.

See the builders despising the stone,
See the pearl of great price and the dry desert bones.
By the Pharisees cursed,
Be exultant with the rose when the last are first,
And see how his mercy shines as the Bridegroom comes.

Hear the bride and the Spirit say, “Come!”
Then won’t you who are weary invite in the Son?
When your heart’s love is high,
Won’t you hasten to the place where the hour is nigh?
And see that your light is on, for the Bridegroom comes.
See that your light is on, for the Bridegroom comes.

Judee Sill (1944–1979) was an American singer-songwriter whose genre of music Rolling Stone refers to as “mystic Christian folk.” Themes of temptation, rapture, redemption, and the search for higher meaning permeate her work.

Sill survived ongoing physical and verbal abuse in childhood from her mother and stepfather. As a teenager, she committed a series of armed robberies that landed her in reform school, where she learned to play the organ for church and became interested in gospel music. Upon her release, after briefly attending a junior college and working in a piano bar, she got caught up in the California drug culture, developing a crippling heroin addiction and resorting to prostitution and check forgery to fund it.

While she was serving a prison sentence for narcotics and forgery offenses, her only sibling, Dennis, died of an illness, and she was devastated. But this seems to have given her the impetus to pursue a career in songwriting and performing. She gigged in clubs around Los Angeles while living in a Cadillac, and she was eventually signed by the new Asylum Records. Graham Nash (of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) produced her first single, “Jesus Was a Cross Maker.” Her two albums, Judee Sill (1971) and Heart Food (1973), received some acclaim but failed to chart. Discouraged, and suffering back pain from a car accident and later a fall, she returned to hard drugs. She died of a cocaine and codeine overdose at age thirty-five.

Why do I rehearse Sill’s turbulent biography? Because songs don’t come out of a vacuum. The longing in “When the Bridegroom Comes”—those piano chords, that voice—is real. Her thirst, her questing, her waiting and hoping. Though she herself didn’t write the lyrics (David Omer Bearden, her romantic partner at the time, did, though she likely gave input), she sings them with fervency, makes them her prayer.

The song melds together the parable of the ten bridesmaids from Matthew 25 with the bridal theology of Revelation. In one, which has more of an individual focus, we are put in the place of the bride’s attendants and warned to be prepared for the imminent wedding celebration, lest we get locked out in the dark; in the other, Christ’s church as a collective is likened to the bride herself, eagerly anticipating the arrival of her groom and the sweet union that will follow.

The song’s primary referent is Revelation 22:17, from the final chapter of the Bible:

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

In this verse, the voice of the bride (the church) through whom the Spirit speaks calls out, “Come.” Because of the interchange of speakers and subjects in the broader passage, it’s unclear whether the addressee of this imperative is Christ or the masses. The church could be crying out for Jesus’s return, as they do in verse 20, or they could be inviting people far and wide to the gospel feast, bidding them come and eat. I think the latter, which would make it continuous with the third and fourth lines, but it could really go either way. Because as sure as there’s the final coming of Christ to the world, there’s also the coming of the world to Christ. He comes to us, and we come to him.

Sill’s whole song is full of biblical references—Jesus’s healing ministry, Jesus as the rejected cornerstone (Matt. 21:42), Jesus as the pearl of great price (Matt. 13:45–46), the Spirit breathing life into dry bones (Ezek. 37:1–14), Jesus’s upside-down kingdom in which the last are first and the first are last (Matt. 19:30). It celebrates divine mercy and grace and encourages us to respond in the affirmative to Christ’s wedding invitation, and to persevere in love while he tarries.

2 thoughts on “Advent, Day 11: Waiting Bride

  1. I saw Judee Sill perform in LA in the early 1970s, and vividly remember her singing Jesus was a Cross Maker. I wasn’t a Christian at the time, but the song made a big impression on me, and was one of the things that began my journey. Listening to this song today, hearing her voice, makes me hope that she has found the peace she seems so desperately have wanted.

    Like

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