Roundup: Advent art meditations, new songs, and more

VISUAL MEDITATIONS:

“An Advent Visio Divina” by John Skillen, CIVA blog: John Skillen, author of Putting Art (Back) in Its Place, discusses four works of Advent-themed art from Italy, where he lives for part of each year leading retreats and seminars through the Studio for Art, Faith & History. He starts in Florence with The Adoration of the Shepherds altarpiece by Renaissance artist Domenico Ghirlandaio, which invites worshippers to follow the shepherds’ (and patrons’) example of adoring the Christ child. Then he moves to Orvieto, spotlighting Karin Coonrod’s directing a medieval mystery play in the city’s streets and churches. (For more on this, read Skillen’s excellent essay in Image no. 96, “Fierce Mercy: The Theater Art of Karin Coonrod.”) Advent is also about the second coming, so Luca Signorelli’s apocalyptic frescoes in the Chapel of San Brizio in Orvieto Cathedral are appropriate. Continuous, in some ways, with these late fifteenth-century paintings are the bronze reliefs on the central doors by Emilio Greco from 1962; they depict the seven works of mercy, the criteria, according to Matthew 25, by which humanity will be judged.

Mary carries the Light of the World
Actor Patrice Johnson portrays Mary, who carries the light of the world, in this contemporary adaptation of The Second Shepherds’ Play directed by Karin Coonrod. Photo: Massimo Achille.

Signorelli, Luca_Antichrist
Luca Signorelli (Italian, ca. 1441/45–1523), Sermon and Deeds of the Antichrist (detail), 1499–1502. Fresco, Chapel of San Brizio, Orvieto Cathedral, Italy. The Antichrist is shown as a puppet of the Evil One.

“Passion for the Light” by Alexandra Jean Davison, ArtWay: For last Sunday, the first day of Advent, Culture Care RDU Director Alexandra Jean Davison wrote this wonderful meditation on a set of contemporary sculptures by Jaume Plensa at the North Carolina Museum of Art, connecting them to the season we’re in. She begins, “We see three identical nudes filled with light, the face and arms covered with names and Scripture. Each figure sits at rest horizontally on one of the three walls which form a triangle. The closed eyes and mouth are covered with embossed text of the names of the eight gates of the ancient city walls of Jerusalem: New, Herod, Damascus, Golden (two doors: Gate of Repentance and Gate of Mercy), Lions, Jaffa, Zion, and Dung. Tattoo-like passages from the Song of Songs emerge from the heart upon the arms.” Read more at ArtWay.eu.

Plensa, Jaume_Doors of Jerusalem I
Jaume Plensa (Spanish, 1955–), Doors of Jerusalem I, 2006. Resin, stainless steel, and light, 47 1/4 × 62 3/16 × 80 11/16 in. (120 × 158 × 205 cm). North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh. Photo: Victoria Emily Jones.

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VIDEO: “Matthew 1:18-23” by SALT Project: The Emmy Award–winning production company SALT Project released a short video this week setting a reading from Matthew’s Gospel (“This is how the birth of Jesus came about . . .”) against evocative time lapses of blooming flowers. They’re generously offering it for free download and use in worship services, online or in-person. It could be used as an opener, as one of the morning’s scripture readings, or in a number of other ways.

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SONGS (the latter two released this week!):

“Christ Child’s Coming”: This simple Advent song is based on the African American spiritual “The Train Is a-Coming” (where “train” is a multivalent metaphor having to do with salvation). While a musician at Christ Church East Bay in Berkeley, California, Keith Watts adapted the lyrics to relate more explicitly to Advent: “Christ child’s coming, oh yeah!,” “Light is coming, oh yeah!,” and “Our king’s coming, oh yeah!” The song is sung here by Trinity Majorins, accompanied by her mom, Sarah [previously], on the piano and her dad, Philip [previously], on guitar.

“Weight/Wait” by Mike McMonagle: “Hope . . . flicker[s] underneath the weight of the wait.” Introducing this new demo, Mike McMonagle, a roots rock musician from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, wrote on Facebook about how the pandemic has created an extended season of waiting in the darkness this year, which has helped him to feel both pain and longing more keenly: “For the past couple of months, I’ve found myself processing all the ups & downs of the current life experience in step with what I’d label the deepest dive into the Advent season that I’ve ever done. All my life, Advent was just a church-y word for rat race otherwise known as The Holidays. There were happy hours, shopping trips, family outings – things that made it hard to focus on the Advent season for more than an hour each Sunday. This year has been different.”

“In Distress” by the Pharaoh Sisters: Written by Austin Pfeiffer and Jared Meyer and based on Psalms 120 and 121, this song blends Latin and Appalachian folk music influences and has lyrics in both English and Spanish. “The song’s creation began in the spiritual angst after the 2016 [US presidential] election,” Pfeiffer writes. “Calling on believers to put their hope in Christ as King, the song has broad themes of Kingdom orientation, raises questions about social divisions, but also leans into Advent ideas, specifically Isaiah 9.” It premiered at the 2017 Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly but didn’t end up fitting on the Pharaoh Sisters’ 2020 debut album, Civil Dawn. “Now as our nation plunges deeper into distress and unrest, be it political and/or social, the band is eager to release the song for Advent 2020.”

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ONLINE PANEL: “Religious Art,” December 9, 6:00–7:15 p.m. London time (1:00–2:15 p.m. ET): “The relationship between religion and art is ancient and complex, varying across religious traditions and cultures. In this event, Mehreen Chida-Razvi, Ben Quash, and Lieke Wijnia consider how these traditions of religious art differ and what role art plays in religion today. How should we display religious art? Might art be a way of opening interfaith dialogue? And has art itself become a kind of religion?” This free Zoom event is organized by the Forum for Philosophy and the Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method at the London School of Economics. I’ll be attending! (Note: The promotional image below is David LaChapelle’s Last Supper.)

Religious Art panel

Advent, Day 6: Coming

LOOK: Christmas Dreams by Elena Markova, acrylic on canvas, 27 9/16 × 35 3/8 in.

Markova, Elena_Christmas Dreams

Born in Kargopol, Russia, and now living in Oregon in the western US, artist Elena Markova is inspired by the spiritual traditions of her homeland and its vibrant folk art. Her lyrical paintings reflect her love of folk tales, myths, religious narrative, and the magic of the natural world.

LISTEN: “Advent Moon” | Words by Angier Brock and music by Cecilia McDowall, 2013 | Performed by the Choir of King’s College London and organist Michael Butterfield, on Advent Carols from King’s College London, 2019

I prefer the King’s College performance above, but you’ll need a Spotify account to listen. For an Oxford Choir performance from 2014, see SoundCloud:

Let the coming of the One
who arranges Orion and the Pleiades
begin in darkness.
Let the night be cold, with drifts of snow.
Let there be one lily blooming,
and whispered messages, and kneeling.

The fierce earth spins in expectation
beneath the long night’s moon, Advent moon.
Like the restless fox crossing frosted meadows,
the silvered owl in focused, silent flight,
each of us is hungry.
In rooms of untold longing,
we sing our seasoned carols,
watch, and wait.

Let the coming of the One
who kindles fires of hope,
whose faithfulness runs far beyond our sight,
be like the coming of a child.
Let there be milk, forgiveness, quiet arms.
Come quickly, Love, our dearest deep
and sweetest dawning.
Come, fill us with your light.

This choral anthem was a collaboration between lyricist and composer, commissioned by Bruton Parish Episcopal Church in Williamsburg, Virginia, where Angier Brock lives. (Cecilia McDowall lives in London.) It premiered at the church on December 1, 2013, sung by the Choirs of Bruton Parish. I’m blown away by the beauty of Brock’s text. The Creator of the constellations, descended from heaven to dwell with us—light in our darkness, food for our hunger, warmth in the cold. Reminds me a bit of Rowan Williams’s poem “Advent Calendar.” I will definitely be returning to this one each Advent!


For each day of the first week of Advent I am publishing one art-and-song pairing as an invitation for seasonal reflection.

Advent, Day 5: Peace

LOOK: John August Swanson (American, 1938–), Peaceable Kingdom, 1994. Serigraph, edition of 250, 30 × 22 1/2 in.

Swanson, John August_Peaceable Kingdom

John August Swanson, a Los Angeles–based artist of Mexican and Swedish heritage, says his style is “influenced by the imagery of Islamic and medieval miniatures, Russian iconography, the color of Latin American folk art, and the tradition of Mexican muralists.” In this forty-seven-color serigraph (limited-edition screen print), monkeys, frogs and lizards, mice and rabbits, owls and peacocks, a pig and a turtle accompany the wolves, lambs, leopard, goat, lion, ox, and snake of Isaiah 11, a vision of creation restored and at peace.

LISTEN: “O Day of Peace” | Words by Carl P. Daw Jr., 1982 | Music by Josh Garrels, on The Light Came Down, 2016

O day of peace that dimly shines
Through all our hopes and prayers and dreams
Guide us to justice, truth, and love
Delivered from our selfish schemes

May swords of hate fall from our hands
Our hearts from envy find release
Till by God’s grace our warring world
Shall see Christ’s promised reign of peace

Then shall the wolf dwell with the lamb
Nor shall the fierce devour the small
As beast and cattle calmly graze
A little Child shall lead them home

Then the meek shall learn to love
All creatures find their true accord
The hope of peace shall be fulfilled
For all the earth shall know the Lord

(Related post: “The Peaceable Kingdoms of Edward Hicks”)


For each day of the first week of Advent I am publishing one art-and-song pairing as an invitation for seasonal reflection.

Advent, Day 4: Waiting

LOOK: Grant Wright Christian (American, 1911–1989), Waiting for the Mail (mural study, Post Office in Nappanee, Indiana), 1937. Oil on canvas, 7 7/8 × 20 7/8 in. (20 × 53 cm). Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC.

Waiting for the Mail by Grant Wright Christian

LISTEN: “Every Valley (It’s Hard to Wait)” by Flo Paris Oakes, on Waiting Songs by Rain for Roots (2015)

When you write a letter to a friend
And you don’t when
You’ll hear back again
Well, it’s hard to wait
It’s hard to wait
So hard to wait

When the one you love
Leaves on a plane
And you know that she’ll
Come back someday
It’s hard to wait
It’s hard to wait
So hard to wait

There is gonna be a day
Every low valley He will raise
There is gonna be a day
Hills and mountains gonna be made plain
There is gonna be a day
Winding roads gonna be made straight
Comfort, comfort, comfort, comfort
It’s hard to wait
So hard to wait

When you plant a seed
In the garden bed
But you don’t see green
Growing up just yet
Oh, it’s hard to wait
It’s hard to wait
Comfort, comfort, comfort, comfort
It’s hard to wait
So hard to wait
There’s gonna be a day
But it’s hard to wait

Rain for Roots is a collective of musicians and songwriters who create scripture songs for kids and their grown-ups. Its core members are Sandra McCracken, Flo Paris Oakes, Katy Hutson Bowser, and Alice Smith. This December Rain for Roots is booking virtual, thirty-minute Advent singalongs with two or more of these ladies, to be hosted by churches, schools, and other groups. For more information, visit https://rainforroots.com/advent-singalong.


For each day of the first week of Advent I am publishing one art-and-song pairing as an invitation for seasonal reflection.

Advent, Day 3: Womb

LOOK: Pregnant Madonna, 9th century, fresco, crypt of Santa Prassede, Rome

The Madonna del Parto (Our Lady of Parturition) is an iconic depiction of the Virgin Mary as pregnant, usually pointing to or cradling her belly, where God is being made flesh. The ninth-century fresco in the crypt of Santa Prassede in Rome is the earliest known depiction of a visibly pregnant Mary. I believe she is flanked by saints Praxedes (Italian Prassede) and Pudentiana (Italian Pudenziana), sisters and martyrs, since the painting is from a chamber that contains their relics. In the most famous Madonna del Parto image, however—by Piero della Francesca, ca. 1457—Mary is attended by two angels.

LISTEN: “In the Virgin’s Womb” by Kaitlyn Ferry | Performed by Sister Sinjin (Kaitlyn Ferry and Elise Erikson Barrett), on Incarnation (2016, re-released 2019)

In the Virgin’s womb He lay;
God made flesh, the mortal babe.
In her body she has held
That which heav’n cannot contain.

In the Virgin’s womb He lay;
Born to die, His flesh a grave.
In her arms she has held
He whom death could not hold down.


For each day of the first week of Advent I am publishing one art-and-song pairing as an invitation for seasonal reflection.

Advent, Day 2: Fire

LOOK: Jyoti Sahi (Indian, 1944–), Jesus Offering the Light (Arathi), 2004. Oil on canvas. Collection of the artist. For commentary by the artist, visit his blog.

Sahi, Jyoti_Jesus Offering the Light

LISTEN: “Within Our Darkest Night” by Jacques Berthier (Taizé community), 1991 [sheet music]

Within our darkest night
You kindle the fire that never dies away
That never dies away


For each day of the first week of Advent I am publishing one art-and-song pairing as an invitation for seasonal reflection.

Advent, Day 1: Wonder

For each day of the first week of Advent I will publish one art-and-song pairing as an invitation for seasonal reflection.

LOOK: Francisco Collantes (Spanish, 1599–1656), Winter Landscape with the Adoration of the Shepherds, 1630–50. Oil on canvas, 72.2 × 105.7 cm. Museo del Prado, Madrid. (Click on image to zoom in.)

Collantes, Francisco_Winter Landscape with the Adoration of the Shepherds

LISTEN: “Wonder (Advent)” | Words by Pedro de la Cruz | Music by Colleen Nixon | Performed by Marian Grace (Colleen Nixon and Jimmy Mitchell), on In the Bleak Midwinter, 2013

O blessed Mary and dearest Joseph
Allow me to journey with you
To Bethlehem
I am a lowly pilgrim making my way
To the center of history
The birth of Christ the Lord
With unspeakable awe and expectant wonder
I long to behold
I long to behold
I long to behold
The promised Messiah
Time will stand still forever
Divided by the entry
Of the Creator into his creation

Roundup: Advent calendar of songs, free Alvin Ailey season, Bill Murray plays Job, and more

For those readers who are new, welcome! I want to alert you to (and remind others of) the Art & Theology Advent Music Playlist. I released it last year on Spotify and have made some additions since then, including all six songs from Lo Sy Lo’s excellent album St Fleming of Advent, selections from recent releases by the Porter’s Gate’s, Andrew Bird, and Caroline Cobb, some Nina Simone and Jackson 5, a musical setting of an Emily Dickinson poem by Julie Lee and a Count of Monte Cristo quote by the Duke of Norfolk, the shape-note hymn “Bozrah,” and more. I’ve structured the list as a journey from the early promise of a Savior in God’s covenant with Abraham (Gen. 22:18), through Isaiah’s prophecies about a great light dawning and a shoot springing up out of a stump and valleys being lifted and swords being beaten into plowshares, to the angel’s announcement to Mary and her subsequent Magnificat and pregnant waiting, which I transition into the church’s waiting for Christ’s second coming, with warnings to keep our lamps trimmed and burning, to stay awake, to watch and pray. Sprinkled throughout are groanings from God’s people as well as expressions of joyful expectancy.

A Christmas playlist will be forthcoming in just two weeks.

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Bard and Ceilidh Advent Calendar: This Advent, multi-instrumentalist and melodist Mary Vanhoozer (aka Bard and Ceilidh) is offering a digital “Advent calendar” with twenty-four traditional, Celtic-infused Christmas carols played on various folk instruments. For $20, you will receive a code that unlocks a new song daily for download. Here are two of Vanhoozer’s previous releases, to give you a sense of the style she plays in. The first is her own arrangement of “I Saw Three Ships” with “Branle des Chevaux” (The Horse’s Brawl). The second, “When Icicles Hang by the Wall,” is an original setting of the winter hymn from Shakespeare’s Love’s Labours Lost, which celebrates the season of biting cold and red, runny noses and sloshy roads and singing owls and simmering crabapples and interior warmth.

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“Veni Emmanuel: A brief meditation on the meaning of Advent” by John B. Graeber: This short piece published last year in Curator is a great introduction to the liturgical season we’re entering into on November 29. It begins, “Advent is the hope of redemption, sung in minor key. It is the promise of resurrection, and the sorrow of that hope not yet fulfilled. In this the midnight of the liturgical year, these few weeks before we celebrate the birth of Christ, we confront a world not yet reborn and embody what Saint Paul calls the ‘hope against hope,’ a hope that endures when the world says it should not. A hope that looks back to the birth of our savior, and forward to His coming again, when all will be made new.”

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VIRTUAL DANCE PERFORMANCES: On December 2, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is launching its first-ever virtual winter season—and, in the spirit of making dance accessible to all, it’s free! The season will feature the world premiere of the dance films A Jam Session for Troubling Times (choreographed by Jamar Roberts) and Testament (Matthew Rushing, Clifton Brown, and Yusha-Marie Sorzano), plus sixtieth anniversary tributes to Alvin Ailey’s Revelations, a classic that “explores the places of deepest grief and holiest joy in the soul . . . using African American spirituals, song-sermons, gospel songs, and holy blues.” The season will run through December 31. Learn more here.

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DRAMATIC READING AND DISCUSSION: The Book of Job: On Sunday, December 6, 4–6 p.m. ET, Theater of War Productions will be hosting a free online event where actors, including Bill Murray, will be performing Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the book of Job, adapted and directed by Bryan Doerries. “The Book of Job is an ancient Hebrew poem that timelessly explores how humans behave when faced with disaster, pestilence and injustice,” Doerries writes, and this dramatic reading aims to serve “as a catalyst for powerful, guided conversations about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic upon individuals, families, and communities.” After the reading, four community panelists will kick off the discussion with their gut responses to what resonated with them, and then discussion will open up to the audience. RSVP here.

“Theater of War Productions works with leading film, theater, and television actors to present dramatic readings of seminal plays—from classical Greek tragedies to modern and contemporary works—followed by town hall-style discussions designed to confront social issues by drawing out raw and personal reactions to themes highlighted in the plays. The guided discussions underscore how the plays resonate with contemporary audiences and invite audience members to share their perspectives and experiences, and, helping to break down stigmas, foster empathy, compassion, and a deeper understanding of complex issues.” Their many past projects include A Streetcar Named Desire (followed by a discussion on domestic violence), scenes from King Lear (the challenges of aging and dementia), and Sophocles’s Ajax (the invisible wounds of war).

Beginning in May, the company started presenting their projects online. Because they want to cultivate “a dynamic space to participate in an ephemeral experience, in which risks can be taken, interpretations shared, and truths told,” the projects are not available afterward for on-demand views. To get an idea of the format they follow and some of the work they’ve done, see the Theater of War trailer below.

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INTERVIEW: “Grief Is Hard to Look At: An Interview with Wayne Brezinka” by Brooke West, The Rabbit Room: Wayne Brezinka, a Nashville-based mixed media artist specializing in multidimensional portraits, recently launched a Kickstarter to crowdfund 2020 Disrupted: A Re-Assembled Life. (I just missed the deadline, but it turns out the project was successfully funded!)

As we sit in the year 2020 and struggle to remember what normal even feels like, I’ve been wondering about people’s emotions and how I might capture the painful realities of human existence we all seem to be feeling this year. In this new work, I will explore the pain and anxiety of massive disruption and how we are changed by it. I’ve been thinking about the biblical character Job from the land of Uz. What might he look like, plucked out of the ancient text, and plopped into modern-day? This is my attempt to bring a re-imagined 21st century Job to life in a way that encapsulates not only his experience, but also our own. I’ll be using a combination of found and repurposed objects, multi-media visuals, and incorporating input from the public on multiple panels that measure 8 feet by 5 feet—my biggest project to date.

Brezinka, Wayne_Job
Early working prototype for 2020 Disrupted: A Re-Assembled Life by Wayne Brezinka

Next year Brezinka will be taking the completed art on tour across the country in a glass box truck. “The plan is to park at notable cathedrals or churches and community centers in each city. I want to give those who funded this project and the general public an opportunity to pause, interact with the art, and reflect on the last year—the disruptions, the beauty, and the changes it all brings.” He says the art is an invitation for people to feel their sorrow and their grief. Read the interview to find out more about his process and his hopes for the project.

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NEW SONG RELEASE: “O Love That Casts Out Fear”: This is my favorite track from the new sacred chamber pop EP by Bobby Krier, Jon Green, and friends, Cast Out All Our Fears. The hymn text was written by Horatius Bonar in 1861, and the music is by Bobby Krier and Justin Ruddy [previously], who collaborated often as musicians at Citylife Presbyterian Church in Boston. (Their retuned version premiered on the 2013 album Castle Island Hymns; they have since moved on from Citylife.) This rendition is sung by Molly Parden.

Ten Poems of Gratitude

One of the reasons I love poetry is because it brings me into more intimate contact with the world. It slows me down and asks me to give my attention to things that, in my constant, often self-inflicted busyness, I fail to notice. And it shepherds me into a deeper sense of gratitude and awe. It’s really easy for me to see the world’s ugliness—sin, suffering—and to be scared, angry, disgusted, horrified, or overwhelmed. My inclination is to see what’s wrong instead of what’s right. While poetry can perform many different functions, one of them is to attune us to the daily gifts and graces that come to us from, I believe, the hand of God.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, here are ten contemporary poems of gratitude that can be read online. A popular tradition for this holiday is, when gathered round the feasting table, to take turns sharing what you’re thankful for. The three most typical answers for adults are: my family, my health, my job. These are perfectly fine answers. But poets can show us what it feels like to be blessed with family, for example, and can teach us how to offer praise even when our health is declining or we’re unemployed. Moreover, poets help us expand our repertoire of thanksgivings, naming things with specificity: “the incense of butter on toast” (Siegel), “the honey-colored toes of mice” (Singleton), “two daughters and one cloud, an old oak / and a great love” (Wiman), the moon that “shakes a dress of light onto my body” (Silver) and “shuffl[es] its soft, blind slippers over the floor” (Hirshfield).

Lichtman, Susan_Orchard Bag and Bouquet
Susan Lichtman (American, 1952–), Orchard Bag and Bouquet, 2015. Oil on linen, 24 × 22 in.

(Related post: “A prayer of thanksgiving”)

I’ve listed the volume that each poem is published in—I’ve read all but the Browning one, and they’re all excellent. I hope this tiny sampling from the trove of contemporary poetry enlarges your thankfulness and inspires you to read more! Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

  1. “When the sun returns” by Sarah Browning, in Killing Summer (2017): Jesus said to consider the birds. Browning does. “it is hallelujah time, / the swallows tracing an arc / of praise just off our balcony, / the mountains snow-sparkling / in gratitude . . .”

  2. “A Song of Praises” by Robert Siegel (scroll to bottom of page), in Within This Tree of Bones (2013): In this very textural, sensory poem, a humdrum morning routine becomes a litany of more than two dozen in-the-moment gratitudes, for everything from warm washcloths to the snap of elastic to grapefruit flesh to a beautiful face at the breakfast table.

  3. “I Praise Unsalted Butter” by Sharron Singleton, in Our Hands a Hollow Bowl (2018): Another litany of thanksgivings for the mundane, like pearl buttons, babies’ fingernail parings, freckles, delphinium’s cobalt, unseen dendrites, the word “rhubarb,” and so on. In spite of great evil (the poet references the famous “Napalm Girl” photograph), there is still much to wonder at.

  4. “Fifty” by Christian Wiman, in Survival Is a Style (2020): “I never thought I’d live to the age of fifty, so my inclination these days is to praise,” says Wiman, who was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer in 2006 during his first year of marriage. “I wasn’t able to write about joy until I got sick. It wasn’t that sickness brought joy. It’s made me much more conscious of how much joy was in my life and gave me some impetus to articulate it.”

  5. “Morning” by Yahia Lababidi, in Barely There: Short Poems (2013): This six-liner celebrates the newness and invitation of each day. (For a bonus poem by the same author, see “Breath.”)

  6. “Psalm” by Marilyn Nelson, in The Fields of Praise (1997): Reflecting on the inherently dangerous act of driving, Nelson is thankful for (God’s) ongoing protection in the car. The poem ends with a classic line from the biblical book of Psalms.

  7. “How Rarely I Have Stopped to Thank the Steady Effort” by Jane Hirshfield (scroll down to fourth poem), in The Beauty: Poems (2015): I would have never thought to be thankful for walls that stand up! But yes, the basic architecture of my little suburban home is a marvel—how it all holds together. In a pause in conversation, the speaker of this poem ponders all that’s going on in the silence: tree bark absorbing the scent of crow feathers, honey dissolving into tea, DNA replicating. The poem then turns into an expansive reflection on all the invisible phenomena of bodies and lives, of emotions and desires that ebb and flow as their building blocks get rearranged.

  8. “A Handful of Berakhot” by Anya Krugovoy Silver, in The Ninety-Third Name of God (2010): Silver [previously] is one of the consummate poets of gratitude, particularly gratitude amid illness. She was pregnant with her first and only son, Noah, when she was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer in 2004. She died in 2018. Her body of work is characterized by a stubborn holding on to joy even as she wrestles honestly with God through many painful years of chemo and a mastectomy.
       Silver, a Christian, married a Jewish man, whose faith tradition inspired this poem. “In Judaism, a berakhah (pl. berakhot) is a formula of blessing or thanksgiving, recited in public or private, usually before the performance of a commandment, or the enjoyment of food or fragrance, and in praise on various occasions. The function of a berakhah is to acknowledge God as the source of all blessing” [source]. Silver’s nineteen custom berakhot are for such occasions as “buckling my son’s shoes,” “slipping my prosthetic breast into my bra,” “riding the ferris wheel,” and “going to the post office.”

  9. “Gratitude” by Anna Kamieńska, in Astonishments: Selected Poems (2007): “I was full of thanks / like a Sunday alms-box,” Kamieńska writes in this rapturous poem, which bursts with love for everyone and everything.

  10. [O Thou who by Thy touch give form] by Wendell Berry, in This Day: Collected and New Sabbath Poems (2013): A short prayer by one of today’s most popular writers, whose other vocation is farming.

Lectionary Art and Music

For the last three-plus years I’ve been publishing a weekly blog series called Artful Devotion, choosing one of four scripture texts from the Revised Common Lectionary for the coming week and then selecting one visual artwork and one musical work that resonate with that scripture in some way—sometimes directly, sometimes more obliquely. I’m interested in the meaning that can open up in one’s Bible reading when the arts are engaged alongside that discipline.

After having covered all three lectionary cycles and then some, I’ve decided to end the series so that I can direct my energies toward developing other blog content. I still plan to use the lectionary as a guide throughout the year and to continue including “bite-size” posts at regular intervals, but by not committing myself to a formula and a particular text and a weekly deadline, I will have freedom to experiment with other modes of presentation and time to pursue more in-depth lines of research and other curatorial projects.

For a quick reference, I’ve compiled links to all the Artful Devotions below. Or, if you prefer, you can scroll through them from newest to oldest by following this tag: https://artandtheology.org/tag/artful-devotion/. If you want more context for the series, read the introduction.

In this archive you’ll find a mixture of art from different countries and eras: early Christian mosaics, late medieval Italian frescoes, a Chinese scroll painting, a Japanese woodcut, a Dutch still life, a Tongan stone carving, an Indian batik, African American folk art, contemporary Ukrainian icons, an installation in a vacant chapel in London, a hand-embroidered photograph from the Ivory Coast, biblical door carvings from Zimbabwe, a Jewish illuminated manuscript, an eighteenth-century Moravian devotional card, a Victorian “spirit drawing,” a modernist painting from New Zealand, a Quechua illustration of Christ’s Presentation in the Temple, a bronze fountain in Poland, and so much more.

In addition to shape-note hymns, spirituals, Black gospel, jazz, bluegrass, and indie folk from America and choral and classical music from Europe, there are also songs from Polynesia, Argentina, Congo, Israel, Georgia, China, Jamaica, and more. There’s an Armenian funeral tagh, an Indian bhajan, a Hollywood musical number, an English ballad about Mary Magdalene, a reggae setting of Psalm 137, and lots of other treasures!

Thank you for journeying with me through the church calendar here at Art & Theology. If you have found joy and inspiration from the Artful Devotion series, please consider making a small donation toward the further development of this website.

Donate here

Year A

First Sunday of Advent: Romans 13:11–12
Second Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 11:1–5, 10
Third Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 35:5–6a, 10
Fourth Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 7:14

Nativity of the Lord: Luke 2:7; Psalm 96:10; John 1:1, 14
First Sunday after Christmas Day: Matthew 2:13–18
Second Sunday after Christmas Day: John 1:3b–4, 9

Epiphany of the Lord: Isaiah 60:1; Psalm 72:10–11; Matthew 2:1–12
Baptism of the Lord: Isaiah 42:1–9; Matthew 3:13–17; Acts 10:37–38, 42–43
Second Sunday after Epiphany: Psalm 40:1–3
Third Sunday after Epiphany: Isaiah 9:1–5; Matthew 4:12–17
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany: 1 Corinthians 1:18–25
Presentation of the Lord (Candlemas): Luke 2:25–32
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany: Matthew 5:14–16
Sixth Sunday after Epiphany: Matthew 5:21–24
Transfiguration Sunday: Matthew 17:1–9

Ash Wednesday: Joel 2:1, 12–13; Psalm 51:8, 17
First Sunday of Lent: Genesis 3:6–7
Second Sunday of Lent: Psalm 121
Third Sunday of Lent: John 4:7–14
Fourth Sunday of Lent: Ephesians 5:14
Annunciation of the Lord: Luke 1:26–38
Fifth Sunday of Lent: John 11:1–45

Palm Sunday: Matthew 21:8–11
Holy Monday: John 12:1–11
Holy Tuesday: John 12:23–36
Holy Wednesday: John 13:18b–19, 21–30
Holy Thursday: John 13:1–17, 31b–35
Good Friday: Isaiah 53:1–12
Holy Saturday: John 19:38–42

Resurrection of the Lord: Matthew 28:1–6; John 20:1–8; Acts 10:39–41
Second Sunday of Easter: Acts 2:22–32
Third Sunday of Easter: 1 Peter 1:18–22
Fourth Sunday of Easter: Psalm 23
Fifth Sunday of Easter: John 14:1–3
Sixth Sunday of Easter: John 14:15–21
Ascension of the Lord: Acts 1:1–9
Seventh Sunday of Easter: Psalm 55:22; 1 Peter 5:7
Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth: Luke 1:39–55

Pentecost: Acts 2:1–21
Trinity Sunday: 2 Corinthians 13:14

Proper 6: Romans 5:5b
Proper 7: Psalm 69:1–3, 13–17
Proper 8: Genesis 22:1–14
Proper 9: Matthew 11:28
Proper 10: Psalm 65:5–13; Romans 8:6
Proper 11: Psalm 86:12–13, 15; Matthew 13:43
Proper 12: Romans 8:31b, 35, 37; Matthew 13:31–32
Proper 13: Genesis 32:22–31; Isaiah 55:1–2
Proper 14: Psalm 85; Matthew 14:29b–33
Proper 15: Psalm 133
Proper 16: Isaiah 51:3; Romans 12:1–2
Proper 17: Exodus 3:1–15; Romans 12:9–18; Romans 12:21
Proper 18: Exodus 12:1–14; Psalm 119:37
Holy Cross: Numbers 21:4–9; John 3:14–15
Proper 19: Exodus 14:19–31 (also)
Proper 20: Psalm 105:4; Jonah 3:10–4:11
Proper 21: Psalm 25:4–5; Ezekiel 18:26–32
Proper 22: Psalm 19:7–10; Philippians 3:13b–14
Proper 23: Psalm 106:4; Isaiah 25:6–9
Proper 24: Exodus 33:18–23; Psalm 96:1
Proper 25: Psalm 90:14; Matthew 22:37–38
Proper 26: Psalm 43:3
All Saints’ Day: Matthew 5:3–11; Revelation 7:9–12
Proper 27: Joshua 24:14–15; Amos 5:21–24
Proper 28: Psalm 90:1–6, 10, 12; 1 Thessalonians 5:2b–10
Reign of Christ: Ephesians 1:17–23

Year B

First Sunday of Advent: Psalm 80:1–3
Second Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 40:3–5; Mark 1:1–8
Third Sunday of Advent: Luke 1:39–55 (Visitation)
Fourth Sunday of Advent: Romans 16:25–26

Nativity of the Lord: Luke 2:10–12, 14, 16
First Sunday after Christmas Day: Isaiah 61:10–11
Second Sunday after Christmas Day

Epiphany of the Lord: Isaiah 60:3, 5–6; Ephesians 3:4–5
Second Sunday after Epiphany: 1 Samuel 3:9
Third Sunday after Epiphany: Mark 1:17
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany: Mark 1:23–28
Presentation of the Lord (Candlemas): Luke 2:28–32
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany: Psalm 147:3
Sixth Sunday after Epiphany: 2 Corinthians 4:3–6
Transfiguration Sunday

Ash Wednesday
First Sunday of Lent: Genesis 9:8–17
Second Sunday of Lent: Romans 4:13–25
Third Sunday of Lent: John 2:13–17
Fourth Sunday of Lent: Ephesians 2:1–10
Fifth Sunday of Lent: Psalm 51:1–2, 8

Palm Sunday: John 12:12–15
Good Friday: John 19:18

Resurrection of the Lord: Isaiah 25:7, 9b
Second Sunday of Easter: John 20:27–28
Third Sunday of Easter: Psalm 4:7
Fourth Sunday of Easter: 1 John 3:17–18
Fifth Sunday of Easter: John 15:5–8
Sixth Sunday of Easter: 1 John 5:3–4a
Ascension of the Lord: Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9
Seventh Sunday of Easter: Psalm 1:1–3 (cf. Jeremiah 17:7–8)

Pentecost: Ezekiel 37:14
Trinity Sunday: Romans 8:14–17

Proper 4: Psalm 81:10b
Proper 5: 2 Corinthians 4:16–5:1
Proper 6: 2 Corinthians 5:10
Proper 7: Psalm 107:23–31; Mark 5:35–41
Proper 8: Lamentations 3:22–23
Proper 9: 2 Corinthians 12:7b–10
Proper 10: Ephesians 1:7–8a
Proper 11: Psalm 23:1–3a, 4
Proper 12: Ephesians 3:18–19
Proper 13: Exodus 16:9–10
Proper 14: Psalm 130:5
Proper 15: Proverbs 9:1–6
Proper 16: Ephesians 6:10–17
Proper 17: James 1:21
Proper 18: Mark 7:31–37
Proper 19: Psalm 19:1–6
Proper 20: James 4:7
Proper 21: Psalm 124
Proper 22: Mark 10:13–16
Proper 23: Mark 10:17–22
Proper 24: Psalm 104
Proper 25: Mark 10:46–52 
All Saints’ Day: Wisdom of Solomon 3:2–4
Proper 26: Psalm 119:1
Proper 27: Hebrews 9:27–28
Proper 28: Hebrews 10:19–22
Reign of Christ: Daniel 7:9, 14

Year C

First Sunday of Advent: Luke 21:28
Second Sunday of Advent: Luke 1:68–79
Third Sunday of Advent: Zephaniah 3:14–20 (cf. Zechariah 9:9a)
Fourth Sunday of Advent: Micah 5:2–5

Nativity of the Lord: Isaiah 52:10; Titus 2:11; Luke 2:11
First Sunday after Christmas Day: Colossians 3:12–14
Second Sunday after Christmas Day

Epiphany of the Lord: Matthew 2:1–2, 9–11
Baptism of the Lord: Luke 3:15–17, 21–22
Second Sunday after Epiphany: Isaiah 62:1–5
Third Sunday after Epiphany: Luke 4:16–21
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany: 1 Corinthians 13:1–3
Presentation of the Lord (Candlemas): Luke 2:29–32
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany: Luke 5:1–11
Sixth Sunday after Epiphany: Luke 6:20b–23
Seventh Sunday after Epiphany: Psalm 37:4
Transfiguration Sunday: Luke 9:28–36

Ash Wednesday: Matthew 6:19–21
First Sunday of Lent: Psalm 91:9–10, 13–14
Second Sunday of Lent: Philippians 3:20
Third Sunday of Lent: Psalm 63:1
Fourth Sunday of Lent: Luke 15:11–32
Fifth Sunday of Lent: Psalm 126

Palm Sunday / Holy Week: Luke 19:28

Resurrection of the Lord: Psalm 118:14–17; Luke 24:6a
Second Sunday of Easter: John 20:24–29
Third Sunday of Easter: Revelation 5:11–14
Fourth Sunday of Easter: John 10:28–29
Fifth Sunday of Easter: Psalm 148
Sixth Sunday of Easter: John 14:23–29
Ascension of the Lord: Luke 24:44–53
Seventh Sunday of Easter: Revelation 22:13

Pentecost: Acts 2:3–4
Trinity Sunday: Romans 5:1, 5

Proper 7: Psalm 42:1–2, 5
Proper 8: 2 Kings 2:11–12a
Proper 9: 2 Kings 5:1–14
Proper 10: Psalm 82:1–4, 8
Proper 11: Colossians 1:15–20
Proper 12: Colossians 2:13–14
Proper 13: Psalm 107
Proper 14: Luke 12:32
Proper 15: Hebrews 12:1–2
Proper 16: Isaiah 58:11
Proper 17: Hebrews 13:1
Proper 18: Jeremiah 18:1–6
Proper 19: Luke 15:4–6
Proper 20: Jeremiah 8:18–22
Proper 21: Luke 16:19–31
Proper 22: Psalm 137
Proper 23: Psalm 66:12 (cf. Psalm 31:7–8)
Proper 24: Genesis 32:22–31
Proper 25: Psalm 84:5
All Saints’ Day: Luke 7:20–23
Proper 26: Habakkuk 1:2–4
Proper 27: Psalm 145:3–5
Proper 28: Isaiah 12:1–6
Reign of Christ: Jeremiah 23:5–6