Tomorrow begins Allhallowtide, a three-day Christian festival in which the saints in heaven are remembered. Several friends of mine have lost loved ones this year—siblings, parents, uncles—and just this month my church said goodbye to one of its dear members who passed on. All Hallows’ Day, the central observance of the triduum, recognizes that a spiritual bond still exists between the departed saints and those on earth, whom Christ binds together in one communion. So let us honor this week the memory of those who have gone before us in faith, praising our great and gracious God who sanctifies his people—and who is preparing a family reunion like no other!
. . . they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be an affliction, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace. . . . Their hope is full of immortality.
—Wisdom of Solomon 3:2–4
(Note: The Wisdom of Solomon, or the Book of Wisdom, is a deuterocanonical book, meaning it is part of the Septuagint but not the Hebrew canon and therefore is not recognized as canonical by Protestants. However, it still contains spiritual wisdom and, as Martin Luther believed, is “useful and good to read” alongside the inspired scriptures.)
SONG: “Sky World” | Words and music by Theresa Bear Fox, 2015 | Performed by Teio Swathe (vocals) and Supaman (dance), 2017
“Sky World” was written in Mohawk and English by Theresa Bear Fox of the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation as a song of remembrance for those who have passed on. An abridged version was recently recorded by Teio Swathe and released as a music video with Apsáalooke hip-hop artist Supaman fancy-dancing (that’s actually the name of the style!) in White Sands, New Mexico. On October 12 the video won a Nammy Award.
Ha io ho we iaa
Ha na io ho we ia he
Io ha io ha io ho we ia
Ha na io ho we ia he
Ha io ha io ho we ia
Ha na io haioho we ia
Iooho we ia
We ha na io ho we ia he
Let’s put our minds together as one
And remember those who have passed on to the sky world
Their life duties are complete, they are living peacefully
In the sky world, in the sky world
Supaman lives on the Crow Nation reservation in south-central Montana. His own music fuses rapping with traditional Native American sounds and aims to inspire hope; he is best known for his “Prayer Loop Song,” which has over 2.3 million views on YouTube. In 2011 Supaman was interviewed on NPR’s All Things Considered, where he shared the story of his conversion to Christianity as an adult and the influence it has had on his life and work.
This world is not conclusion;
A sequel stands beyond,
Invisible, as music,
But positive, as sound.
This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.
To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for All Saints’ Day, cycle B, click here.
JOHN PIPER ON IMAGINATION: “Obey God with Your Creativity: The Christian Duty of Imagination”: Within evangelicalism (the tradition I belong to), the imagination is often deemed more of a liability than a virtue, something to be distrusted, at the very least, and at most, to be rejected as evil. So I was thrilled earlier this month to hear John Piper, one of America’s leading evangelicals, speak out in strong affirmation of imagination, which he calls “one of the great duties of the Christian mind.” It can be used destructively, he cautions, but it’s a God-given capacity that God wants us to exercise and strengthen, like a muscle, so that we can see more clearly what is and what could or what will be.
“The imagination,” Piper writes, “calls up new words, new images, new analogies, new metaphors, new illustrations, new connections to say old, glorious truth—whether from the world or from the word of God. Imagination is the faculty of the mind that God has given us to make the communication of his beauty beautiful.” To communicate breathtaking truth in a boring way is “probably a sin,” he says, for God is “infinitely worthy of ever-new verbal, musical, and visual expressions.”
“A college—or a church, or a family—which is committed to the supremacy of God in the life of the mind will cultivate many fertile, and a few great, imaginations. And oh, how the world needs God-besotted minds that can say the great things of God and sing the great things of God and play the great things of God in ways that have never been said or sung or played before.”
INCLUSIVE DANCE: Founded by Marisa Hamamoto in 2015, Infinite Flow is a professional dance company and nonprofit whose mission is “to use dance as a vehicle to create an inclusive world and eliminate the stigma and inequality associated with disability,” especially wheelchair use. Artistic excellence, social innovation, empowerment, community, and integration are among its values, which are played out through dance classes, workshops, and outreach events that incorporate people with and without disabilities. You can view snippets from classes and rehearsals as well as polished, artfully filmed choreographed routines on their Facebook page—like this most recent one, in which Hamamoto dances with Piotr Iwanicki, a multiple wheelchair World Latin Champion.
After twenty years of training in ballet and contemporary dance, Hamamoto suffered a spinal cord infarction, which left her temporarily paralyzed from the neck down. Upon recovery, she developed an interest in and pursued ballroom dancing, which led her to imagine what an inclusive form of the genre might look like. To learn more about Infinite Flow, see these twopromo videos, and follow them on Facebook. You’ll also want to check out “Gravity.”
PODCAST: Speaking with Joy: Lately I’ve been devouring this podcast by Joy Clarkson, a doctoral candidate at the Institute for Theology, Imagination, and the Arts at St. Andrew’s University in Scotland (she’s studying the role of the affections and the arts in moral formation). Though it was launched last November, I first discovered it in July at the tail-end of her summer book series on The Great Divorce, an allegorical tale by C. S. Lewis, in which she discusses themes such as desire, grace, the real, incurvatus in se (St. Augustine), self-choice, being seen and known, and need-love versus gift-love. I was hooked! Now I’m a Patreon supporter.
Speaking with Joy is such a bright corner of the Internet, full of hope, wisdom, and delight. The standard episode format is an exploration of a given theme through three pieces of art: one literary, one visual, and one musical. I really enjoyed the last three I listened to: “The Army of Emotions,” featuring St. Macrina, Mister Rogers’s ditty “What Do You Do with the Mad That You Feel?,” and the Irish animated film The Song of the Sea; “The Wisdom of Whimsy,” featuring Manalive by G. K. Chesterton, the illustrations of Beatrix Potter and Breezy Brookshire, and “On the Radio” by singer-songwriter Regina Spektor; and “Decent Men in Indecent Times,” which explores why and how we tell stories of the two world wars by looking at the contrasting poetry of Wilfred Owen and Laurence Binyon, the movie Dunkirk, and John Williams’s score for Schindler’s List.
NEW IMAGE STAFF: Last week Image journal announced that James K. A. Smith, a professor of philosophy at Calvin College, will be taking the helm of Image as the journal’s new editor in chief. What a perfect choice! I’ve been hearing a lot of Smith since the publication of his book You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit in 2016 and have appreciated his recognition of the important role of artists. “If you want to change how the world thinks, you first have to change how they imagine,” he once said. “That’s why, today, artists are our apologists.” More recently, in a letter to the Image search committee, he wrote,
The arts speak to aspects of human nature ignored or denied by a culture captivated by brutal notions of “efficiency” or quasi-scientific narratives that reduce us to animality. It’s in literature, poetry, film, and so many other art forms that we hear echoes of a biblical understanding of humanity—that we are created in God’s image, animated by hungers and hopes, made to delight and play. In other words, the arts are evidence of what I’ve called “cracks in the secular”—the recalcitrant mystery at the heart of the human that refuses to be eviscerated. Art continues to shout Nein! to our disenchantment.
I’m looking forward to this next chapter of Image.
NEW ALBUM: Yesterday Moda Spira (the stage name of Latifah Alattas) released Divorce, an intimate musical chronicle of the unexpected end of her marriage and the journey of grief she’s been on since. “I hope it helps those of you that might feel alienated or lost in the throes of divorce or disconnection from someone you love,” she says. In response to a request, Alattas released a series of podcast episodes that discuss each song on the album in depth; listen here. I first learned about the project back in July when Stephen Roach interviewed Alattas on the Makers & Mystics podcast—such a rich and memorable conversation that deepened my empathy for the loved ones of mine who have had to endure the pain of divorce.
One of the blogs I follow is Good Letters, run by Image journal and authored by a diverse, gifted team of spiritual writers. Updated each weekday, it features short personal essays that make fresh connections between the world of faith and the world of daily life. Here are a few posts from the past month that I particularly enjoyed.
“Beginner Ballet” by Melissa Florer-Bixler: Like the author, I too took a beginner’s ballet class at a late age (mid-twenties), and her words capture my felt experience so well:
I assumed ballet would be an interesting and different way to exercise, the chance to try a new fitness routine and to escape the general chaos of my life for an hour each week.
But in this dance class, the ballet one does in socks after work, I discovered that dance offers an aesthetic world, a way for me to discover new possibilities for my body. How strange it was to push my energy down a smooth line as my body sunk to the floor, to wonder over the shape of my fingers, to imagine a string lifting me up, off my toes, to float an inch above the gleaming rehearsal studio floor.
Everything in ballet was strength in the service of beauty. Even the language was beautiful. . . .
“The Ordinary Time” (poem) by Dana Littlepage Smith: I love Good Letters’ ongoing “Poetry Fridays,” in which a writer will introduce a poem with brief commentary. A few weeks ago Suzanne Nussey introduced this little gem in which the speaker learns through the observance of barnyard creatures how to slow down and be more attentive to life’s ordinary moments, how to enter God’s time. (The title references the liturgical season the church is currently in.) As she considers the birds, she sees how they work with joy, singing as they build, and are content just to be. The poem opens with a beautiful image and a subtle admonition:
Goldfish in the horse trough
nibble at morning’s surface.
They are not busy;
they are breathing.
“On Writing Odes: Taking Time to Celebrate”by Tania Runyan: Runyan has been doing a Good Letters teaching series on poetic forms—sonnets, sestinas, villanelles, and now odes, which are characterized by praise and celebration. Here she presents the ode “To Autumn” by John Keats as a choice example, and then shares one of her own, “Ode to a Bodhran Player.” (A bodhran is a traditional Irish drum.) She concludes with an assignment: “Find something that you love, or maybe even something you don’t, and regale it with an ode. Give yourself to the true, noble, lovely, and excellent practice of praise.”
“To Autumn” by John Keats
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
“Emmy Watch: This Is Us”by Tania Runyan: Eric and I enjoy watching this TV show together and appreciate its complex portrayals of familial relationships: husband-wife, parent-child, and sibling (including siblings-in-law). Even within the parent-child category, different forms of parenthood are explored—biological, adoptive, and foster. Here Runyan writes about the show’s positive portrayal of open adoption, which is now more common in the US than traditional “closed” adoption. When Runyan and her husband adopted their son, Samuel, they chose the open option, which in their case means they deliberately entered into and maintain in-person relationships with Samuel’s biological family. (To read more about Runyan’s experience, see “He Fits Right In: Our Story of Open Adoption.”) Runyan shares a conversation she had with her son’s biological grandmother about the show.
The third season of This Is Us began September 25. It airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.
“Leonard Cohen’s Holy and Broken Hallelujah”by Alisa Ungar-Sargon: Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is one of the most-covered songs of all time, and it’s full of biblical references. (Like the writer, my first introduction to it was also as a preteen through the movie Shrek!) “The song’s central premise is the value, even the necessity, of praise in the face of confusion, doubt, or dread,” writes Ungar-Sargon, who led her high school English students in an analysis of its lyrics as poetry.
Here’s a cover by the husband-wife duo Gungor (that is, Michael and Lisa Gungor).
Ever been phubbed? It’s annoying, and it can hurt.
To phub someone is to snub them in favor of your smartphone. I’ve never owned a smartphone, so I can’t say I’ve been a perp of this particular act, but I have been a victim on many occasions. Thankfully, my husband is rarely guilty; he has above-average self-control when it comes to phone use. I love that he loves me enough to be present to me when we’ve intentionally set aside time to be together. When we disconnect from our devices, we connect more meaningfully with each other.
I’ve made dates before with friends or family, only to be subjected to regular disruptions as nonurgent text threads or Facebook pop-ups are attended to or, even worse, they feel the need to Internet-surf or scroll through social media feeds. This interferes with the sense of connection I feel with that person and immediately dampens the quality of our conversation. It’s no surprise that multiplestudies have shown that phubbing can be detrimental to relationships. It’s something I think we all know and yet we’re unwilling to break our excessive attachment to our phones.
I’m not a technophobe. I really appreciate technology, and smartphones are useful tools. But when they start controlling you rather than the other way around, something must be done. For a book-length treatment of this topic from a Christian perspective, see 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You by Tony Reinke; I’ve heard nothing but good things about it.
But sometimes art can give us a bigger kick in the pants than discursive prose, circumventing our defenses to show, not tell, what is (exposing our faults) and what could be (directing us toward a better alternative). And thus I present two excellent artworks, a dance and a poem, each one exploring what an undisciplined use of one’s cell phone looks like.
Keone and Mari Madrid are creative visionaries specializing in hip-hop dance and choreography. They are also a Christian married couple. Last summer they competed on NBC’s World of Dance with, among other numbers, “Like Real People Do.”
The first half of the dance expresses how routine it has become to reject face-to-face interaction in favor of screen time. Each partner glances sideways to assess the other’s desire, but at different times, so their gazes don’t meet, and they return to their devices. Though they move in step with each other, they lack any kind of interpersonal connection. It’s not until they lower their phones simultaneously that their eyes lock and intimacy becomes possible. They can play and converse and kiss and grow together “like real people do.”
For an uncut version of the dance filmed outdoors, click here. Also check out their audition, which is one of the most adorable, most joyous performances I’ve ever seen! (Dare you not to smile.) And there’s plenty more where that came from on their YouTube channel, covering a wide emotional range. You might also be interested in their recently released Ruth, an enhanced ebook that combines story, illustration, music, and dance—available on iTunes and Google Play.
Next I want to highlight the poem “The Phone Is Too Much with Us” by Benjamin Chase, originally published April 10, 2017, in Second Nature, an online journal of the International Institute for the Study of Technology and Christianity. It’s a very clever adaptation of the early nineteenth-century sonnet “The World Is Too Much with Us,” in which the English Romantic poet William Wordsworth criticizes the rampant materialism of his contemporaries that led them to break their communion with nature and the spiritual. “We have given our hearts away,” “we are out of tune,” Wordsworth laments.
In his riff on Wordsworth, Chase retains the form of the original and much of its end rhyme while transposing the speaker’s frustrations with thing-obsessed humanity into the present era, where phones are what tend to draw us away from breadth and depth of life. God grants us the power and the blessing to “live in moments that are ours,” but “we’ve given here away”; we’d rather be there, in a virtual world, disseminating our every moment to faceless followers.
Lines 5 and 6 make use of wordplay: The photo “eclipses” the actual moon—it obscures it, reduces its grandeur. Video “lapses” the blooming flower—captures the phenomenon at a low frame rate, making for a nifty playback, but at the same time mediates it through a screen and thus lets slip away, cease, go out of existence the actual eye-to-petal (not eye-to-pixel) miracle. The speaker of this poem would rather be a firsthand witness to life’s beauty than a secondhand, to “see that which is the very thing I see.”
That goes with human encounters just as much as with nature encounters. Being present and open to whatever unfolds, not trying to manipulate it for optimal social media presentation, is a better posture to have. And experiencing emotions truly and bodily is essential if we are to be “a man [or woman] alive”—to “feel joy as joy” rather than merely through emojis or GIFs, and to genuinely sorrow over the devastating headlines we impulsively retweet or share.
None of this is to say that photos, videos, text messages, and social media are bad. They can be helpful in connecting us to people who cannot be physically present for special moments in our lives, and in documenting events we’d especially like to remember. It’s only when these activities hamper our ability to appreciate the people and events in front of us, and especially when they bear no relevance to our immediate context, that they become harmful. It’s worth asking yourself: Is my phone too much with me?
“The Phone Is Too Much with Us” by Benjamin Chase
After William Wordsworth
The phone is too much with us, now and soon.
Searching and scrolling, we bypass our powers.
Little we live in moments that are ours—
we’ve given here away, forgotten boon.
The photo eclipses the actual moon.
Video lapses the blooming flower.
It all uploads like a captured hour—
what we have missed will be our ruin.
Well, as for me, I’d rather be
a man alive, in body outworn.
So might I, standing in truly me,
feel joy as joy, sorrowing forlorn.
See that which is the very thing I see,
until it ends or ending comes to me.
Consenses is a global, multidisciplinary arts initiative developed by singer-songwriter Sally Taylor in which participants contribute to “interpretive chains,” responding to an assigned artwork in their own medium. The aim is to promote a more expansive view of the world through the engagement of all five senses and through exposure to diverse ways of seeing, as well as to foster connectedness across geographic divides. I found out about the project two years ago when proofreading herbalist Holly Bellebuono’s The Healing Kitchen: she said she was invited to interpret a photograph of a woman reclining in the sunshine as a tea blend—which was in turn brewed and enjoyed by another artist, who interpreted the blend as a short film.
Launched in 2012, the initial series of chains went like this: Taylor collected twenty-two photographs, each by a different photographer, and then commissioned twenty-two musicians to write a song based on one of those photos. Those songs were then given to dancers to interpret as movement, and then recordings of those dances were given to painters, whose painted responses were given to perfumers, who extracted the essence of the paintings and gave the resultant perfumes to poets, whose poems were given to chefs, whose culinary creations were given to sculptors. And no artist in this chain was allowed to see more than one link back. The final chains were then given to set designers, who created a physical space within which all the art could live. These twenty-two sets opened to the public in August 2014 and toured for four months, attracting more than seven thousand attendees.
Here’s a video excerpt of one of the chains:
Consenses continues, in part through a “Monthly Challenge” posted on the website—a catalytic work of art that invites creative responses. This month’s is a photograph titled Dreamhouse. The media in past months have been very diverse, including a woven basket, a graffitied wall, a comic strip, and a LEGO set.
Over the past few years, primary and secondary schools and colleges have approached Taylor, wanting to incorporate Consenses into their curricula, so she has been hard at work designing and overseeing those efforts. The fruits of one such partnership are about to go on display at MASS MoCA’s Kidspace in North Adams, Massachusetts, where “Come to Your Senses: Art to See, Hear, Smell, Taste, and Touch” opens tomorrow (June 23) and runs through May 27, 2019. In this exhibition, paintings by fifth-grade students in North Adams and Northern Berkshire schools will be on display, which respond to the prompt of either “Joy” or “Fear.”
Taylor met with these kids last year and guided them through first steps, telling them to close their eyes with the blank piece of paper in front of them and ask themselves, “What would fear taste like if it were a flavor? What would it feel like as a texture? What would it be as a weather system? What would it look like if it were a painting?” She did the same with “joy.”
One child wrote, “Fear is sticky. It is large rocks. It is fire. It is the sound of thunder. It is the last petal falling. My pain of this is fear of darkness and large spiders. This is something trying to escape. Trying to escape from terror.” Another wrote of joy: “If joy were a flavor it would be cotton candy. It would be pink and light and smell like lemons on a sunny day. It would be confetti, balloons, night mist and starlight in the night sky. My painting is a starry night with confetti over it. It gives me joy because it reminds me of bright colors in the world.” (Read more about Taylor’s process with the kids here.)
After the kids finished their paintings, Taylor enlisted the talents of musicians, dancers, poets, photographers, painters, perfumers, a tea maker, a chef, sculptors, animators, and set designers to respond in Consenses-like fashion; among them were Taylor’s parents, James Taylor and Carly Simon, the latter of whom will be performing, along with others, at “An Evening with Sally Taylor and Friends” at MASS MoCA on opening night (Saturday, June 23).
To learn more about Taylor’s background and her vision for Consenses, listen to her TEDx talk from 2015:
Also be sure to check out https://consenses.org/, where you can browse past interpretive chains and participate in new ones.
ANGLO-SAXON ASCENSION POEM: Excerpts from “Christ II” by Cynewulf, probably ninth century, translated from Old English by Eleanor Parker: Dr. Eleanor Parker lectures on medieval literature at Oxford University and runs the excellent blog A Clerk at Oxford, where she often shares her translations of Anglo-Saxon poetry, with commentary. The poem she shares here reflects on Christ’s ascension—the disciples’ grief, the angels’ joy. To me the most remarkable section is the one that, indirectly referencing a sermon of Gregory the Great, describes Christ “leaping” up to heaven, taking an active bound toward his homeland, a movement read in light of Song of Solomon 2:8: “Behold, he comes, leaping over the mountains, bounding over the hills.” This leap is one of six he took: from heaven (1) into Mary’s womb, (2) into a manger, (3) onto the cross, (4) into the tomb, (5) into hell, and finally, (6) back into heaven. “Prince’s play”! Parker pairs the poem with an exquisite, near-contemporary manuscript illumination, also from England; there’s also a lot of resonance between the poem and the Ascension image I published Tuesday by Bagong Kussudiardja, which shows a more balletic ascent.
UNDERWATER DANCE: “AMA,” a short film by Julie Gautier: This wonderfully expressive silent film shows French free diver and underwater artist Julie Gautier dancing in a single breath for several minutes inside the world’s deepest swimming pool, Y-40 Deep Joy in Montegrotto Terme, Padua, Italy, to a minimalist piano piece. The final shot shows Gautier slowing rising to the water’s surface while releasing a giant air bubble, her pose evocative of the crucified Christ (and her upward movement an Ascension of sorts!). Titled “Ama” (Japanese for “sea woman,” the name given to Japan’s pearl divers), the film is “dedicated to all the women of the world,” Gautier says. The choreography is by Ophélie Longuet.
Gautier and her husband, Guillaume Néry, a free-diving champion, own the underwater filmmaking company Les Films Engloutis. Their most well-known project has been a music video featuring Beyoncé, codirected by Gautier and starring Néry.
KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN: Help Andy Squyres finance his next album: Andy Squyres is a super-talented singer-songwriter whose lyrics don’t stay in the shallows but, rather, dive into the depths of the faith experience. They are also supremely hope-filled. Below is a video of Squyres performing “Labor in Vain” at a house concert; the song is from his last album, Cherry Blossoms, which I reviewed here. Click on the boldface link above to hear Squyres discuss his new album project and to donate toward it.
ICON PAINTING COMPETITION: The Interparliamentary Assembly of Orthodoxy (IAO) is hosting an international icon painting competition on the subject of Christ’s Resurrection. “Our purpose is to explore and bring to the foreground the numerous stylistic trends in existence today, enabling the visualization of a creative dialogue with tradition and, at the same time, the personal artistic expressions of artists who reframe tradition without, however, digressing from the doctrinal framework of Christian icon painting set by the 7th Ecumenical Council.” The submission window is closed—there are sixty-three great entries!—and now it’s time to cast your vote. Five winners will be selected to receive cash prizes, the topmost being €3,000, and other honors. Popular votes will be taken into account by the twelve jury members, among whom are esteemed iconographers George Kordis from Greece and Todor Mitrovic from Serbia.
ESSAY: “On the Border of East and West: Searching for Icons in Lviv” by John A. Kohan: The latest issue of Image journal features a wonderful essay on the Lviv school of iconography (represented in entries #4, #10, and #20 of the above contest), a movement by young Ukrainian Greek Catholic artists to contemporize the Byzantine visual tradition. Written by John A. Kohan, an avid religious art collector and former Time bureau chief in Moscow (1988–1996), it discusses the political history of the city; the role of Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky (r. 1901–1944) in preserving and supporting art for future generations; the opening of the Iconart gallery in 2010 to nurture and promote the new style; the broad training these icon makers receive at the Lviv National Academy of Arts; and the uneven reception by others in the denomination (especially official church bodies), who tend to prefer their sacred art in the Radruzh School style or as contemporary Catholic kitsch. Kohan writes from his firsthand experiences meeting the artists and visiting their studios, churches, and exhibition spaces. The essay is available to subscribers only; click here to subscribe.
MET GALA + EXHIBITION: “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” May 10–October 8, 2018, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City: The largest exhibition ever mounted by the Met’s Costume Institute, “Heavenly Bodies” features both religious vestments from the Vatican and runway fashions by famous designers inspired by Catholicism. AFashionista reviewer who attended a preview reports on the integrated displays:
A reliquary arm of Saint Valentine is displayed alongside a breastplate and crown of thorns from Alexander McQueen’s Givenchy days; sacred music serves as the auditory backdrop for a Rodarte collection that features a dress inspired by Bernini’s famous sculpture Ecstasy of Saint Teresa. Rows of mannequins wearing Dolce & Gabbana, Moschino and Raf Simons show the ways that the silhouettes of the cassock and nun’s habit have been explored on the runway time and again. There are even vestments by the likes of Yves Saint Laurent and Riccardo Tisci that were expressly designed to dress statues of the Virgin Mary in chapels in Italy and France.
Each year since 1948, the opening of the Costume Institute’s spring exhibition has been celebrated with a huge fundraising gala attended by celebrities who dress to the theme; this year’s took place May 7. There were lots of crosses and haloes, but also some more particularized outfits. Ariana Grande’s gown was inspired by Michelangelo’s Last Judgment; Gigi Hadid’s, by stained glass. Selena Gomez carried a Coach handbag embroidered with Proverbs 31:30b: “A woman who fears the Lord is a woman who shall be praised.” The most brazenly dressed was Rihanna, who wore a gem-encrusted bishop’s miter (not a papal tiara, as has been commonly reported). Another standout headpiece was Sarah Jessica Parker’s, which featured a Neapolitan Nativity scene set inside a mini baldachin. (The making of elaborate presepi, or Christmas crèches, is a longstanding tradition in Naples, reaching its height during the eighteenth century.)
Lana Del Rey went as Our Lady of Sorrows, wearing an immaculate-heart chest plate pierced through with seven daggers; it was comical to hear religiously illiterate reporters trying to interpret the symbolism, saying things like the daggers are a “reminder to repent your sins or suffer damnation!” (Wrong. The swords symbolize the Virgin’s seven sorrows, beginning with Simeon’s prophecy.)
How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
—1 John 3:17–18
For this week’s installment, instead of presenting for contemplation a song and a visual artwork, I want to share a contemporary dance number, in which the aural and the visual—music and bodily movement—are intertwined. Click on the image below to watch the performance on YouTube (will open in new tab; ends at 2:11).
This routine was choreographed by Travis Wall to Will Young’s cover of “What the World Needs Now Is Love.” It aired August 22, 2016, on season 13, episode 10 of So You Think You Can Dance on Fox. For this “Next Generation” season, contestants were between the ages of 8 and 13 and were paired with older dancers from previous seasons (“All-Stars”). The young dancers are Tahani Anderson, Leon “Kida” Burns, Ruby Castro, J. T. Church, Emma Hellenkamp, and Tate McRae. The All-Stars are Gaby Diaz, Comfort Fedoke, Marko Germark, Jenna Johnson, Paul Karmiryan, Sasha Mallory, Kathryn McCormick, Jonathan Platero, Robert Roldan, and Du-Shaunt “Fik-Shun” Stegall.
Liberate us, we pray you, Lord, from the getting and grasping to which we are prone. Teach us the royal way of the law of the gift, that in giving not only things but ourselves we may know even now the life abundant you promise to bring to perfection in eternal life with you. Increase in us gratitude for your gift of yourself, and let that gift of gratitude inspire us to the greatness of living our lives as love in response to love.
—Richard John Neuhaus
God of all—
come now and transform my life
into becoming an instrument and embodiment of your peace.
May I bring, be, and sustain love over hate.
May I bring, be, and sustain pardon in the midst of harm.
May I bring, be, and sustain hope where there is none.
May I bring, be, and sustain light in the terror of the dark.
May I bring, be, and sustain rejoicing upon sadness.
Grant me the gift
to choose the consolation of others over my own;
to seek to understand over my need to be understood;
to seek in all things, to love well beyond myself.
Because in such ways,
I will receive much more if I give without reserve,
and I will know true reconciliation and restoration
when I forgive and restore others;
I will know the joy of life to the fullest
when I truly die to myself.
NEW BOOK:ESV Illuminated Bible (2017): In October Crossway released a new Bible illuminated by Seattle-based designer and lettering artist Dana Tanamachi. Printed in two-color (the illuminations are in gold ink), this volume contains one full-page illustration, custom icon, and illuminated drop cap for each book of the Bible, plus hundreds of hand-lettered Bible verses throughout the margins. There are no human figures in any of the illuminations; most consist of flora and fauna—olives, figs, pomegranates, peacocks, lions, lilies, deer, cedar, and so on—derived from the given book. Be sure to check out the book-opener illustration index, and the short video below, in which Tanamachi introduces herself, talks through her process, and explains some of her artistic choices:
“God loves beauty, so we wanted to honor him through this project with something that was beautiful,” says Josh Dennis, Crossway’s senior vice president of creative. “For this edition we really want people to engage with it, so there’s a lot of negative space and wide margins for people to write in it and to do their own Bible journaling.”
This publication comes six years after the release of Makoto Fujimura’s Four Holy Gospels, another illumination project. Fujimura’s is an oversize book with a $150 price point, containing original abstract paintings reproduced in full color alongside the first four books of the New Testament. By contrast, the ESV Illuminated Bible is more wieldy—it has a 6½ × 9 trim size—and less costly ($45), and it contains all sixty-six books. The aesthetic is also much different, as Tanamachi’s influences include art nouveau, the arts and crafts movement, and designers like William Morris and Koloman Moser. [HT: David Taylor]
CHRISTIAN HULA:“‘O ‘Oe ‘Io” (You Are God): Though reduced to tourist entertainment in some places, Hawaiian hula dancing, in its traditional context, is a form of teaching and worship. Because of its associations with polytheism, the early missionaries denounced it as sinful. Over the last half-century or so, however, most missionaries have changed their stance toward this and other traditional forms of artistic expression—not only in Hawaii, but in whatever their host culture—seeing how such forms can offer more authentic ways for the people to connect to and worship the Christian God.
In the video below, Moani Sitch and ‘Anela Gueco perform a hula noho (“seated hula”) at the 2006 Urbana student missions conference sponsored by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. It’s to the Christian hymn “‘O ‘Oe ‘Io” (You Are God), originally written in Maori by Luke Kaa Morgan but translated into Hawaiian by Moses Kaho‘okele Crabbe. The sacred name for Creator God—‘Io—is the same in both languages. The lyrics are below. [HT: Global Christian Worship]
‘O ‘oe ‘Io, e makuna lani (You are God, Heavenly Father) ‘O ‘oe ‘Io, ka waiola (You are God, the Living Water) ‘O ‘oe ‘Io, e kumu ola (You are God, the Source of Life) Ka mea hana i na mea apau (The one who has made all things) E ku‘u Haku (My Lord) Ka mauna ki‘eki‘e (Who is the Highest Mountain) ‘O ‘oe ‘Io (You are God)
For a fantastic religious history of Hawaii, see this PDF booklet published by Aloha Ke Akua (“God Is Love”) Ministries. Among the many things I learned is that Hawaiians regard the arrival of Christian missionaries as the fulfillment of their elders’ prophecies that the one true God would one day return to the islands.
Mark Dean’s videos are not literal depictions of the Stations of the Cross, the journey Jesus walked on the day of his crucifixion. Instead, Dean appropriated a few frames of iconic film footage together with extracts of popular music and then slowed down, reversed, looped or otherwise altered these so that the images he selected were amplified through their repetition. As an example, in the first Stations of the Cross video, a clip of Julie Andrews as the novice Maria from the opening scenes of The Sound of Music was layered over an extract, from the Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho, of a car arriving at Bates Motel where Marion Crane would be murdered by Norman Bates. The blue of the sky and the innocence suggested by Maria’s religious vocation was in contrast with the footage from Psycho, which was indicative of the violent death to which Jesus was condemned. [Read more of the review, plus an interview with the artist, here.]
“Featured Artist: Nicholas Mynheer” by Victoria Emily Jones: This month I wrote a profile on British artist Nicholas Mynheer for Transpositions, the official blog of the Institute for Theology, Imagination, and the Arts at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. (There’s a glitch with their publishing tool that is preventing all the artworks from displaying, but all the ones I discuss in the article can be found at www.mynheer-art.co.uk.) A painter, sculptor, and glass designer, Nick works almost exclusively on religious subjects, in a style that blends influences from medieval, primitive, and expressionist art. I met him in 2013 and got to see his studio and his work in situ in various Oxford churches. His love of God and place was obvious from my spending just one afternoon with him. Other articles I’ve written are on Nick’s Wilcote Altarpiece, Islip Screen, and 1991 Crucifixion painting (which I own).
Season 14 of So You Think You Can Dancepremiered last Monday (the only TV show I never miss!). Watching dancers draws me into a deeper awe of God, as I see all the creative potentialities of the human body he designed. Here are my two favorite auditions from episode 1. The first is husband-wife duo Kristina Androsenko and Vasily Anokhin performing ballroom. The second is a modern dance number performed by Russian twins Anastasiia and Viktoriia; they gave no comment on the dance’s motivation or meaning, but it’s clear that it represents trauma of some kind.
“Why we need Mary Oliver’s poems” by Debra Dean Murphy: “Oliver is a mystic of the natural world, not a theologian of the church. . . . Her theological orientation is not that of orthodox Christianity. Nevertheless, Christians have much to gain from reading Oliver . . .” Her poems are “occasions for transfiguring the imagination and a summons to wonder and delight”; they remind us “of what it means to attend to what is before us in any given moment,” teach us to adopt “a posture of receptivity that Christians sometimes speak of as part of our vocation—the calling to live more fully into our humanity as persons bearing the imago dei, to mirror the divine dance of mutual presence, mutual receptivity, mutual love.” Some of my favorite Oliver poems are “Praying,”“I Wake Close to Morning,”“Messenger,”“The Summer Day,” and “How the Grass and the Flowers Came to Exist, a God-Tale.”
NEW SONG: “Weep with Me” by Rend Collective: Written last month in response to the Manchester Arena bombing, “Weep with Me” is a contemporary lament psalm in which the speaker asks God to do what the title says: weep with him. To feel his pain and respond. It’s introduced and performed acoustically by band member Chris Llewellyn in the video below.
Can worship and suffering co-exist? Can pain and praise inhabit the same space? Can we sing that God is good when life is not? When there are more questions than answers? The Bible says a resounding yes: these songs are called laments and they make up a massive portion of the Psalms.
We felt it was fitting to let you hear this lament we’ve written today as we prepare to play tonight in Manchester. We can’t make the pain go away. We refuse to provide cheap, shallow answers. But hopefully this song can give us some vocabulary to bring our raw, open wounds before the wounded healer, who weeps with us in our distress. We pray that we can begin to raise a costly, honest and broken hallelujah. That is what it means to worship in Spirit and in Truth.
The following dance, choreographed by Travis Wall, premiered August 4, 2010, on So You Think You Can Dance. It is performed by season 7 runner-up Kent Boyd and season 3’s Neil Haskell to DeVotchKa’s “How It Ends.”
I’ve never personally experienced a betrayal of this magnitude, so when I watch the dance, I think of that supremely infamous act of disloyalty recorded in scripture: Judas’s handing over his friend Jesus to the religious authorities in exchange for thirty pieces of silver.
The two men in Wall’s piece start out as buddies—they provide support for each other, and catch the other when he’s on his way down. But then one of them stabs the other in the back. Confusion, hurt, and anger ensue; pleas for restoration are made, and the two briefly rehearse their nostalgia for what used to be. But the betrayer will not relent: he proceeds to crush his former friend underfoot. In one last effort to repair the broken friendship, the betrayed one chases down and clutches his friend but ultimately realizes he has to release him, for he has chosen his path. The end of the dance shows the betrayer remorseful in the shadows as his victim moves on toward his own separate destiny. Continue reading “Betrayal danced out”→