Lent, Day 7

Today’s two featured artists draw on the mythology of the phoenix, a fantastical bird that dies in flames but then is born again out of its own ashes. (An alternate legend, not as popular, says the phoenix dies and decomposes but then rises out of its rot.) In Christianity the phoenix became a symbol of resurrection—Jesus’s, and our own. The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians from the late first century CE is the first Christian writing to make this connection. And the phoenix points to not only the reconstitution of our bodies after death but also the spiritual regeneration we undergo in this life. Out of the ashes of our sin, the death of the old self, the new self rises with Christ.

Apart from (but not opposed to) this theological framework, the phoenix can be seen as a symbol of resilience through trials, of withstanding the forces of destruction, and it seems that’s the sense that life coach and creative Yolonda Coles Jones [previously] is after in her song. The chorus is a mantra that anyone, regardless of faith tradition, can make their own: “Rise from the ashes.”

LOOK: Nathan Florence (American, 1972–), Winging Phoenix, 2010. Oil on printed cotton, 20 × 20 in.

Florence, Nathan_Winging Phoenix

LISTEN: “Phoenix Bird” by Yolonda Coles Jones, 2019

Amazed at what I’m able to do
Lookin’ back on all I’ve been through
Survived unimaginable things, yeah
Phoenix bird claps her wings

Rise from the ashes (×4)

Spread your wings and fly
Phoenix bird, rise

Note to reader: I’m not able to sustain daily posts for the duration of Lent (I’m a one-woman show here!), so there won’t be a “Lent, Day 8,” etc., but I will continue to provide regular content throughout the season. In the meantime, I hope you’re enjoying the Lent Playlist I put together.

Lent, Day 6

LOOK: Mark Newport (American, 1964–), Mend 9 (detail), 2016. Embroidery on muslin, 17 × 13 in.

Artist’s statement: “As I fold my son’s laundered clothes, the holes in the knees of his pants remind me of my childhood exploits, the falls that punctuated each adventure and the scars I carry from those accidents. My body and most often the knees of my pants would be repaired the same way: wash then patch (an iron-on patch for the pants and a Band-Aid for me). When things were more serious, stitches might be required for the body and the clothes would be discarded. Even then, darning and suturing leave a mark, a scar. Each pierces the substrate it is repairing, performing a modest violence upon what is to be mended, and reminding each of us of our sensitivity, vulnerability, and mortality.”

LISTEN: “Fix You Up” by the Wild Reeds, on The World We Built (2017)

[Chorus]
Let my love fix you up when you’re coming undone
Let my love fix you up when you’re coming undone

[Verse]
Do you believe me when I say:
“My mind is a radio calling your name”
When you’re heavy with uncertainty
Tune in and I’ll sing you to sleep

[Pre-Chorus]
’Cause the silver strings from my heart to yours
Send signals back and forth
And when we’re apart if you listen close
They play our favorite chord

[Chorus]
Let my love fix you up when you’re coming undone
Let my love fix you up when you’re coming undone

[Bridge]
Close your eyes, open your mind
I’ll meet you there outside of time
When you fall apart across the great divide
I’m a satellite, a telescope
I’m a pyramid, a secret door
I’m a mystery that’s pointed straight at you

. . .

This song is featured on the Art & Theology Lent Playlist on Spotify.

Lent, Day 5

LOOK: (1) “St. Juliana of Nicomedia, the devil at her feet,” from a Picture Bible made at the Abbey of Saint Bertin, Saint-Omer, France, ca. 1190–1200. KB, 76 F 5, fol. 32r. Koninklijke Bibliotheek (Royal Library), The Hague, Netherlands. (2) “St. Juliana of Nicomedia binding the devil,” from the Passionary of Weissenau, made in Germany, 12th century. Codex Bodmer 127, fol. 44v. Fondation Martin Bodmer, Cologny, Switzerland.

St. Juliana of Nicomedia and the devil
St. Juliana binding the devil

Saint Juliana (ca. 286–ca. 304) was a Christian from Nicomedia in present-day Turkey—the eastern capital of the Roman Empire in her day—who suffered martyrdom under the Diocletian persecutions. Legend has it that she engaged in some serious combat with the devil, so in art she is sometimes shown beating him with a club, binding him with a rope or chain, or otherwise incapacitating him. Bam!

[Related post: “Stomp (Artful Devotion)”]

LISTEN: “Satan, Take Your Hands Off Me” by Essie Mae Brooks, on Rain in Your Life (2000)

. . .
Satan, take your hand off me.
I’m in God’s hand.
Jesus, my Jesus,
Has got his arm,
They wrapped all around me,
And the world can’t do me no harm.
. . .

Born in 1930, Essie Mae Brooks is a gospel singer-songwriter from Houston County, Georgia. Rain in Your Life is her debut album, which was followed up by I’ve Been Washed in the Water in 2002.

These two projects were financed by the Music Maker Relief Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the musical traditions of the South by directly supporting the musicians who bear those traditions. Cofounder Tim Duffy realized, while studying folklore in college, that preservationists tended to focus on documenting and archiving rather than on taking care of the artists themselves, and he wanted to take a more people-centered approach. So he and his wife Denise launched the foundation in 1994, seeking to empower and sustain folk and blues musicians in and around Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and beyond.

Music Maker provides tour booking, management, and recording services to its artists in addition to grants, but more than that, it offers ongoing support that helps artists pay their bills. The organization focuses on the most vulnerable musicians: those over fifty-five who live on less than $25,000 a year.

To learn more, you can listen to the 2019 NPR segment “Capturing the Undersung Blues People of the Rural South” (or, from 2014, “Preserving American Roots Music Begins with Keeping the Lights On”). And visit the Music Maker website to explore more artists.

“Satan, Take Your Hands Off Me” by Essie Mae Brooks is featured on the Art & Theology Lent Playlist on Spotify.

Lent, Day 4

LOOK: Antonello da Messina (Italian, ca. 1430–1479), Christ Crucified, 1475. Oil on wood, 41.9 × 25.4 cm. National Gallery, London.

Messina, Antonello da_Christ Crucified

I’m struck by the strong verticality of this painting, which, by elevating Jesus so far above the ground, gives it a certain solitariness. Antonello composed the picture with a low viewpoint so that we, like John the apostle on the right, also have to look up to view the crucified Christ.

LISTEN: “Staff” by Josh Compton, on Awake, Awake by A Ship at Sea (2012)

As they looked upon the staff
That Moses wrapped the snake around
So my eyes behold the cross
That my Lord is placed upon

Bring me healing, bring me sight
Bring me feeling, bring me light
Bring anointing to my head
Make alive what once was dead

This song is inspired by Jesus’s words in John 3:14–15: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” Jesus is, of course, referring not only forward to his crucifixion but also back to the episode in Numbers 21:4–9, in which the people of Israel were healed from fatal snake bites by casting their gaze on a bronze serpent raised up on a pole.

Josh Compton is a singer-songwriter from Canton, Ohio, whose collaborative music projects have been recorded under the names The Brothers of Abriem Harp (I reviewed their Last Days album here) and A Ship at Sea [previously]. The latter’s Awake, Awake is one of my favorite albums.

“Staff” by A Ship at Sea is featured on the Art & Theology Lent Playlist on Spotify.

Lent, Day 3

LOOK: C. F. John (Indian, 1960–), Gathering Fragments 1, 2012. Mixed media on canvas, 12 × 12 in.

John, C.F._Gathering Fragments 1

C. F. John is an internationally exhibited, award-winning artist and social activist based in Bangalore, India. I learned about him from my friend Jyoti Sahi [previously], whose art ashram John lived at from 1984 to 1986. He works in oils, mixed media, and installation and has even designed a few architectural spaces. Spirituality and ecology are important in his practice.

The featured artwork here is from John’s Gathering Fragments series. To me it’s evocative of an emptying of self and the desire to be filled with God—a characteristic Lenten posture. The woman in the collage holds out her bowl with a readiness to receive.

To explore more of C. F. John’s art, visit https://cfjohn.com/.

LISTEN: Chorus from “Fill My Cup, Lord” by Richard Blanchard, 1959 | Performed by CeCe Winans, on Alabaster Box, 1999

Fill my cup, Lord;
I lift it up, Lord;
Come and quench this thirsting of my soul.
Bread of Heaven, feed me till I want no more.
Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole.

Richard Blanchard (1925–2004) was an American Methodist minister and gospel songwriter. This most famous song of his was inspired by the story of the marginalized Samaritan woman whom Jesus engaged in conversation as the two of them were gathering water at a public well (John 4:1–45). Seeing that the woman was not only physically thirsty but also had a deep spiritual thirst, Jesus offered her “living water.” “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life,” he said. To which she replied, “Sir, give me this water!”

Though Blanchard’s song has three verses that make this connection explicit, gospel recording artists sometimes isolate the chorus and sing it as a standalone piece, as it’s such a powerful, concentrated expression of Godward yearning.

[Related posts: “Open Your Mouth (Artful Devotion)”; “Jesus Gave Me Water (Artful Devotion)”]

“Bread of Heaven” is a Christological title derived from John 6, a dialogue between Jesus and the crowds the day after he miraculously multiplied five loaves and two fishes a thousandfold.

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.  For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

—John 6:25–40 (emphasis mine)

Some modern hearers get confused by the request “Feed me till I want no more,” wondering at what point we would ever be so full of God that we wouldn’t want to be fed any more of him. But the word “want” is being used in the archaic sense of “lack”—the same way it’s used in Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” (And in “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah,” which contains the same exact line.) So it’s asking of God, “Feed me till I lack nothing.”

I love CeCe Winans’s rendition best, posted above. But if you want to watch a performance, here’s Tasha Cobbs Leonard singing live at Passion City Church in Atlanta:

And here’s a recording of the full song released just last month by the Living Stones Quartet from India. I’m not opposed to the verses, but they are a little hokey. Regardless, they bring back warm memories for me of singing this in church as a child. I’ve always been moved by the chorus.

“Fill My Cup, Lord,” as performed by CeCe Winans, is featured on the Art & Theology Lent Playlist on Spotify.

Lent, Day 2

To you, silence is praise, O God . . .

—Psalm 65:1*

LOOK: Valérie Hadida (French, 1965–), Nuage (Cloud), 2013. Hadida is a contemporary figurative sculptor from France who works mainly in bronze and clay. Many of her “petites bonnes femmes” (little women) sculptures are available for sale through websites like Artsper and Artsy. View process photos on the artist’s Facebook page.

Hadida, Valérie_Nuage

LISTEN: “Dumiyah” by Richard Bruxvoort Colligan, on Our Roots Are in You: Short, Quiet Psalms (2013), feat. Trish Bruxvoort Colligan

Dumiyah
Tibi silens laus

English Translation:
Silence
For you, silence is praise

Dumiyyah (alternatively transliterated as dumiyah, dumiyya, or dûmîyâ) is one of several Hebrew words for “silence.” It’s used four times in the Psalms, most famously in Psalm 62:1—“For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation”—but also in Psalm 65:1. In addition to its straightforward sense, the word implies waiting or repose.

(Related post: “The savasana of Lent”)

The song above is a contemplative setting of the opening phrase of Psalm 65 in two languages. It layers the Hebrew dumiyyah with the Latin Vulgate translation of Leka dumiyyah tehillah.

In “Mystery of the Missing Silence,” Christian spirituality writer Carl McColman ponders why so many English translations of Psalm 65:1 eliminate or obscure the word dumiyyah that’s in the original text. The few well-established ones (in Christian circles) that retain it are:

  • The Darby Bible (DBY): “Praise waiteth for thee in silence, O God, in Zion . . .”
  • The New American Standard Bible (NASB): “There will be silence before You, and praise in Zion, O God . . .”
  • The GOD’S WORD Translation (GW): “You are praised with silence in Zion, O God . . .”
  • The English Standard Version (ESV) has “Praise is due you,” but a footnote provides the alternate translation “Praise waits for you in silence.”

McColman’s word study led him to reach out to Jewish friends with a familiarity of Hebrew, including one in rabbinical school, who pointed him to the Stone Edition Tanach from ArtScroll. First published in 1996, this translation by an international team of Torah scholars renders Psalm 65:1a as “To you, silence is praise, O God in Zion.” (Other modern Jewish translations, like Rabbi A.J. Rosenberg’s, have something similar.) A footnote in the Stone Edition cites commentary from the medieval rabbinic scholar Rashi (1040–1105), who said, “The praises of infinite God can never be exhausted. Silence is his most eloquent praise, since elaboration must leave glaring omissions.”

“Dumiyah” by Richard Bruxvoort Colligan is featured on the Art & Theology Lent Playlist on Spotify.

* Note: In most modern Jewish translations, which tend to count the original headings in the Psalms as verses, this is Psalm 65:2. In the Vulgate and in Eastern Orthodox Bibles, which follow the Septuagint numbering system instead of the Hebrew (Masoretic) one, it is Psalm 64:2. However, for consistency, I refer to it throughout this post as Psalm 65:1, following the numbering in Protestant Bibles.

Lent, Day 1 (Ash Wednesday)

LOOK: Bradford Johnson, Untitled, 1987. Mixed media, 12 × 28 × 3 in. This image is featured in the essay “Wreckage and Rescue: The Art of Bradford Johnson” by Joel Sheesley in Image no. 25 (Spring 2000).

LISTEN: “Child of Dust” by Thrice (words by Dustin Kensrue, music by Dustin Kensrue, Edward Carrington Breckenridge, James Riley Breckenridge, and Teppei Teranishi), on The Alchemy Index, vols. 3–4: Air and Earth (2008)

“Child of Dust” is the final song of a four-EP cycle structured on the four basic elements: Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. It’s written as a sonnet in the voice of Earth.

Dear prodigal, you are my son and I
Supplied you not your spirit but your shape,
All Eden’s wealth arrayed before your eyes.
I fathomed not you wanted to escape.

And though I only ever gave you love,
Like every child you’ve chosen to rebel,
Uprooted flowers and filled the holes with blood.
Ask not for whom they toll, the solemn bells.

O child of dust, to Mother now return,
For every seed must die before it grows.
And though above the world may toil and turn,
No prying spades will find you here below.

Now safe beneath their wisdom and their feet,
Here I will teach you truly how to sleep.

The earth personified laments how humanity has not reciprocated the care she gives. We’re made of her (Gen. 2:7) and are invited to enjoy her beauty, and yet we abuse and destroy her and each other.

The second stanza alludes to Cain’s murdering Abel. “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground,” God tells Cain in Genesis 3:10. Line 8 is a reference to John Donne’s “Meditation 17” from Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, which uses a metaphor of land erosion to express humanity’s interconnectedness:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

In other words, when one person dies, a part of the whole of humanity is severed, and in that sense any time a funeral bell rings, we ought all to mourn the loss of a piece of ourselves.

Line 10, in the third stanza, references Jesus’s parable of the grain of wheat: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Jesus was talking about his own literal death and resurrection, but the principle applies to our dying to sinful desires, an act that enables new life to spring up in us (see, e.g., Rom. 6; Gal. 2:20, 5:24; Col. 3:2–5; 1 Pet. 2:24).

Kensrue’s lyrics have Mother Earth asking her prodigal children to return to her. As they sing the final couplet, the band puts the microphone in a wooden box (a “coffin”) and shovels dirt on top of it, creating a muffled sound effect. The last sixty seconds of the track are near silence, just the faint clinking of shovels into dirt and rocks. It’s as if we, the listener, are being buried.

Lent is a time when, beneath the world’s incessant noise and toil, we sow ourselves; we reground ourselves in God. The song can be interpreted in several ways, but I see it as calling us to die to self so that we might truly live. Dying and rising is a lesson that Earth, with her seasons and agricultural cycles, can teach us. The seed must be buried before it can experience growth.

(This song is featured on the Art & Theology Lent Playlist on Spotify.)

Lent Playlist

Wednesday, February 17, is the start of Lent, a forty-day season of penitence and renewal. It’s not so much about making resolutions as it is about drawing near to God and encountering his grace afresh—at the foot of the cross.

That closeness entails confronting, confessing, and repenting of sin—sins of commission and omission. (The Book of Common Prayer reminds us that we sin “by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.”) It’s an uncomfortable process, but one that grows us, makes us healthy. It makes our relationships and communities healthier too. Jesus’s grace is not just warm fuzzies in the hearts of private individuals but, rather, works itself out in the world.

As a companion for the Lenten journey, I’ve curated a Spotify playlist of songs for the season, a mix of prayers and praises to the Triune God whose strength avails to meet us in our weakness and our need. Some are invitational, others are penitential, and others are celebratory. Along with images of dust, blood, wilderness, and death, there are themes of victory and rising, healing and wholeness, rivers that cleanse, rivers that quench thirst, agricultural metaphors of planting and growth, calls to lay down one’s burden and to rest in the Savior’s love. There are songs of pursuing and of being pursued (us calling out to God, God calling out to us), for as we deepen our desire for God, we come to realize how deep God’s desire is for us.

The playlist opens with “That We Might See” by Indianapolis folk duo Sister Sinjin, a setting (with slight modifications) of this Christina Rossetti poem:

Lord, purge our eyes to see
Within the seed a tree,
Within the glowing egg a bird,
Within the shroud a butterfly:

Till taught by such, we see
Beyond all creatures Thee;
And hearken for Thy tender word,
And hear it, “Fear not: it is I.”

I chose this as the introductory song because, first, it expresses how out of “death” or dormancy can come great life and beauty—as with the buried seed that, once germinated, brings forth lushness. This is one of the prime metaphors of Lent, and this song is a supplication that we would have eyes to see it and, what’s more, participate in it (see Rom. 6). Second, I like how it reminds us of the tenderness and approachability of Jesus. Some people enter Lent with a sense of dread, fearing that their sins are too great, or that they will never measure up to some set standard of piety. But Jesus tells us not to be afraid. His love and mercy know no bounds. He wants to set us free from our illusions of self-sufficiency and for us to rely on his Spirit to work good things in and through us.

Let me share just a handful of other song highlights.

“Simple Gifts” is a one-verse Shaker hymn from 1848, performed here by the amazing female trio Mountain Man (Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, Amelia Randall Meath, and Molly Erin Sarle). The Shakers, a Christian sect, were known for their use of dance during worship, and “bowing,” “bending,” and “turning” are dance instructions as much as they are instructions for life. Simplicity is another hallmark of the Shakers, a virtue and a discipline that Lent summons us to.

Another Lenten virtue is silence. In 2018 Paul Zach released the EP God Is the Friend of Silence, whose title track is inspired by a Mother Teresa quote: “We need to find God, and God cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence.”

There are many originals from the past decade on the playlist, but there are also a lot of classic hymns: “Amazing Grace” (to the tune of “House of the Rising Sun”), “Softly and Tenderly” (intriguingly reharmonized by the Wilderness of Manitoba), “I Am Thine, O Lord,” “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” “I Need Thee Every Hour,” “Grace That Is Greater,” “Nothing but the Blood,” “Near the Cross,” “Just as I Am,” “Jesus Paid It All,” “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” “Where He Leads Me.” And a beautiful adaptation of “I Surrender All” by Chanda Rule, who revised the first verse to this:

O Beloved, I surrender
All my heart I freely give
Ever open, ever trusting
Breathing with my Source, I live

Also included are several settings of the ancient liturgical prayer Kyrie (“Lord, have mercy”)—by Hildegard of Bingen, Josquin des Prez, Isaac Wardell, and the monks of Keur Moussa Abbey in Senegal (sung in Wolof). Plus the fourteenth-century prayer known as the Anima Christi, with music composed by jazz master Mary Lou Williams using a 6/8 rhythm pattern and a bass clarinet.

Soul of Christ, be my sanctification
Body of Christ, be my salvation
Blood of Christ, fill my veins
Water of Christ’s side, wash out my stains

Passion of Christ, my comfort be
O good Jesus, listen to me
Lord, have mercy on me

. . .

The entire Lent album by Liturgical Folk is inspired by specific Lenten readings from the Book of Common Prayer. My favorite song is “Willing Minds,” based loosely on the collect (succinct prayer) for the Fifth Sunday in Lent:

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The melismatic phrases (in which one syllable is stretched out across multiple successive notes) underscore the flightiness of the human will, our inconstancy, our lack of rootedness.

“Create in Me” by Terry Talbot, covered by The Acappella Company in the video below, is a prayer that’s pieced together from various verses of scripture, starting with Psalm 51:10:

Other favorites, which I’ve featured on the blog before, are Leon Bridges’s “River” [previously] and “Hallelujah” by MaMuse [previously]. “I’m gonna let myself be lifted,” the latter asserts.

As much as Lent is about dying to sin, it’s also about rising with Christ, so resurrection is present throughout—in biblical narrative songs about Jonah, Lazarus, Jairus’s daughter, and Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones, for example (foretastes of Easter), but also in songs of personal testimony and aspiration. The theme is especially punctuated in the final few selections. “Where All New Life Begins” by John Lucas seeks to define faith, landing on “Faith is laying your body down / And believing new life will come up from the ground.” Carrie Newcomer’s “Lean in Toward the Light” opens with a similar image of buried seeds, which stretch out underneath the cold winter earth as they prepare to sprout (that is, resurrect), their growth enabled by the light; “keep practicing resurrection!” exclaims the second stanza.

The last two songs are centered on Romans 8. “The Spirit of Life” by Psallos is a contemporary setting of verses 1–17 and part of a larger project. For the final, “sending forth” song I’ve chosen “Conquerors” by Hiram Ring, which is quieter, less anthemic, than the previous one, but its chorus rings of Romans 8:37 and makes for a powerful closing:

We are more than conquerors
Heading out into this world
Freed from chains and strengthened now
’Cause his love is all around

Lent playlist cover (Van Gogh)

This is just a sampling of the 150 songs on Art & Theology’s Lent playlist, which I will probably build on indefinitely. Later in the season I plan to publish a different list specifically for Holy Week.

To add the playlist to your account, open the link, then click on the More (…) icon and select “Save to Library.”

Playlist cover art: Vincent van Gogh, Rain (detail), Saint-Rémy, 1889, Philadelphia Museum of Art

+++

I recently started accepting donations to help support the running of this blog ministry. If the Lent playlist has value to you, please consider leaving a gift of $5 through PayPal. If you have already given, thank you. https://www.paypal.me/artandtheology

“Tripping over Joy” by Daniel Ladinsky

Leunig, Michael_Falling Fool
Falling Fool by Michael Leunig (Australian, 1945–)

What is the difference
Between your experience of Existence
And that of a saint?

The saint knows
That the spiritual path
Is a sublime chess game with God

And that the Beloved
Has just made such a Fantastic Move

That the saint is continually
Tripping over Joy
And bursting out in Laughter
And saying, “I Surrender!”

Whereas, my dear,
I am afraid you still think
You have a thousand serious moves.

This poem, inspired by the fourteenth-century Persian poet Hafiz, appears in I Heard God Laughing: Poems of Hope and Joy (Penguin, 2006) and is used here by permission of the author.

Roundup: Pippy the Piano, “The Cobblestone Gospel,” and more

The Lent 2021 edition of the Daily Prayer Project prayerbook is now available, covering February 17–April 3. (I serve as curator.) The stunning cover image is Prayers of the People I by Meena Matocha, who works in charcoal, ashes, acrylic, and wax. You can purchase the booklet in either digital or physical format.

In the opening letter, Project Director Joel Littlepage writes, “Lent is a season that disturbs many people. Maybe that includes you. Among Protestant Christian communities that I have been a part of over the years, Lent can either be seen as a ‘graceless,’ ‘harsh,’ ‘legalistic’ part of the Christian year or, on the other hand, trivialized into a time to ‘pick something to give up,’ like a seasonal spiritual diet plan. Both these characterizations miss the mark.” He goes on to describe the bidirectionality of the Lenten journey: downward, as we are crucified with Christ, and upward, toward the victory of resurrection and new life. “It is a season to sense again the path of the Christian life.”

+++

NEW CHILDREN’S BOOK: Pippy the Piano and the Very Big Wave by Roger W. Lowther, illustrated by Sarah Dusek: My friend Roger Lowther [previously], director of Community Arts Tokyo and host of the Art Life Faith podcast, has written his first children’s book, which released in December. It’s inspired by the story of a church in Kamaishi, who after the 2011 tsunami found their beloved piano upside down and covered in mud and debris but, rather than discard it, decided to spend enormous amounts of time and money to restore it—a picture of God’s love for his precious creation, and the lengths he went to to demonstrate that love. Hollywood and Broadway actor Sean Davis reads the book in the video below. [Available on Amazon]

+++

EXHIBITION: The Cobblestone Gospel by Trygve Skogrand, Vår Frue Kirke (Our Lady Church), Trondheim, Norway, July 2020–April 2021: “An exhibition of collages of historic low-church art merged with photographs of our own contemporary surroundings. The essence of the works is the meeting. Between painting and photography, the mystical and the mundane, and how the meeting makes both worlds renewed and re-visibled.” The original advertising says the exhibition is open Mondays through Saturdays from 12 to 3 p.m., but I’m not sure whether COVID has changed that; you can contact the church here.

Skogrand, Trygve_Found
Trygve Skogrand (Norwegian, 1967–), Found, 2020. Collage / pigment print on paper.

Skogrand, Trygve_The Beloved
Trygve Skogrand (Norwegian, 1967–), The Beloved, 2020. Collage / pigment print on paper.

In October Skogrand described the impetus behind his work to Edge of Faith magazine:

When I was a child, I went to a Christmas party at our local church. At the end of the party, every child got a small bag of gifts to take home. In the bag: a pack of raisins, a small orange, some sweets – and a prayer card showing Jesus in paradise. Oh, how beautiful I thought the small prayer card was! Jesus and butterflies and a sunset and flowers AND a golden glittery border. A wonder of loveliness and holiness!

Move on twenty years. I was 30, had started working as an artist, and found the bible card again. I had changed, and the card too. Instead of seeing loveliness, I found the card rather sad. It looked to me as if Jesus was imprisoned in a dusty and suffocating make-believe paradise.

Then it struck me: What if I remove the paradise?

I have now been working with the merging of high and low historical Christian art with our contemporary surroundings for twenty years. For me, this process not only binds together what nowadays normally is shown as sundered but also re-actualizes the classical art and infuses the everyday, modern surroundings with holiness.

+++

MUSIC VIDEO: “Fear Thou Not” by Josh Garrels: This beautiful new setting of Isaiah 41:10 by Josh Garrels appears on Garrels’s 2020 album Peace to All Who Enter Here [previously]. “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; [and] I will uphold [you] with the right hand of my righteousness” (KJV).

+++

SHORT FILM: A Colorized Snowball Fight from 1896 Shows Not Much Has Changed in the Art of Winter Warfare: This is pure joy! “A short clip, originally captured by Louis Lumière in 1896, documents a rowdy snowball fight [bataille de boules de neige] on the streets of Lyon, France. Thanks to Saint-Petersburg, Russia-based Dmitriy Badin, who used a combination of the open-source software DeOldify and his own specially designed algorithms to upscale and colorize the historic footage, the video of the winter pastime is incredibly clear, revealing facial features and details on garments.”