Roundup: A sign of the times; multifaith art exhibit; Hildegard of Bingen musical; and more

After nudges from several readers, I’ve decided to join Instagram! Follow me @art_and_theology. I’m still trying to settle on how I’d like to use the platform, but in the meantime, I’ve been sharing photos I’ve taken on visits to art museums and spaces that house sacred art. (And in case you don’t already know, Art & Theology is also on Facebook and Twitter.)

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DANCE: “Sign of the Times,” choreographed by Travis Wall: Premiering August 19, 2019, on Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance (season 16, episode 11), this contemporary dance piece is choreographer Travis Wall’s response to the gun violence epidemic in America. It’s a communal lament through movement, really—an expression of fear, sadness, pain, anger, frustration, and defiance. It is performed by this season’s “top ten”: Benjamin Castro, Gino Cosculluela, Eddie Hoyt, Madison Jordan, Anna Linstruth, Bailey Munoz, Sophie Pittman, Mariah Russell, Ezra Sosa, and Stephanie Sosa.

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FEATURED POET: Marjorie Maddox: The latest installment of Abbey of the Arts’ Featured Poet series is, as usual, wonderful! I’ve read some of Maddox’s poems in magazines and anthologies but haven’t yet gotten my hands on one of her collections. This feature has incentivized me to request a copy of Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation through my local library.

“The work of poetry,” Maddox writes, is “empathy and epiphany. The process of writing and reading allows us to better understand this world and the next. Poetry connects the local and universal, the mundane and the miraculous. It gives us those ears to hear and eyes to see that we might, then, head back into the turning world sustained, nourished, and willing to learn more. And will this not lead us to the Sacred? Yes, I say. Yes.”

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ESSAY: “Acts of Attention: On Poetry and Spirituality” by Robert Cording: I really enjoyed this essay from Image journal about the importance of attending to the world. “Attention is simply a loving look at what is,” writes Cording, a poet and birdwatcher. He discusses seeing not as a physiological act but as perceiving the fullness that exists in each moment. “Seeing is impossible without love or reverence,” he says. Along the way he engages with Marie Howe, Aristotle, Emerson and Thoreau, Tolstoy, Ruskin, Heidegger, Hopkins, Czesław Miłosz, and Marilynne Robinson. He also walks us through three poems: Robert Frost’s “Two Tramps in Mud Time,” Wallace Stevens’s “Man on the Dump,” and Seamus Heaney’s “The Pitchfork.” So much goodness here!

If you enjoyed this essay as much as I did, be sure to also check out “Cloud Shapes and Oak Trees,” also by Cording, from 2017.

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EXHIBITION: Abraham: Out of One, Many, curated by Rev. Paul-Gordon Chandler of Caravan: Caravan is an international nonprofit that uses the arts to build sustainable peace around the world. “Our peacebuilding work is based on the belief that the arts can serve as one of the most effective mediums to enhance understanding, bring about respect, enable sharing, and facilitate friendship between diverse peoples, cultures and faiths.”

Caravan’s current exhibition is built around Abraham, a key ancestral figure shared by the world’s three major monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Caravan commissioned three Middle Eastern artists, one from each of these faith traditions, to each create five paintings on these subjects: Living as a Pilgrim, Welcoming the Stranger, Sacrificial Love, The Compassionate, and A Friend of God. The exhibition of resulting works opened May 3 at St. Paul’s Within the Walls in Rome. From there it has traveled to Paris and Edinburgh and, starting September 8, will be in the States, touring through 2021 with stops in Boston, Atlanta, Houston, Washington, DC, Chicago, and more (see schedule). There’s an excellent digital catalog available, which contains full-color reproductions and descriptions of all fifteen paintings.

Hussein, Sinan_Living as a Pilgrim
Sinan Hussein (Iraqi, 1977–), Living as a Pilgrim, 2019. Mixed media on canvas, 45 × 60 cm. Part of the “Abraham: Out of One, Many” exhibition organized by Caravan.
Sindy, Qais Al_Welcoming the Stranger
Qais Al Sindy (Iraqi, 1967–), Welcoming the Stranger, 2019. Oil and collage on canvas, 60 × 45 cm. Part of the “Abraham: Out of One, Many” exhibition organized by Caravan.

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MUSICAL: In the Green by Grace McLean: Lincoln Center Theater’s LCT3 produces shows by new playwrights, directors, and designers, and for this summer, they commissioned a musical about the twelfth-century German mystic Hildegard of Bingen. (It finished its run on August 4, so I’m late in publicizing it—sorry!) A Benedictine nun and later abbess, Hildegard was also a composer, poet, dramatist, theologian, botanist, and healer—a true polymath. In the Green focuses on her relationship with her mentor, Jutta, just six years her senior.

Here’s Grace McLean, the show’s lyricist, composer, playwright, and player of Jutta, performing “Eve” (which uses looping technology!), followed by a short conversation between her and one of the other cast members. [HT: Still Life]

Roundup: Andrew Wyeth’s Pentecost, moon in a cathedral, dandelion wishes, and more

VISUAL MEDITATION: Pentecost by Andrew Wyeth, written by Victoria Emily Jones: In 2017 I took a day trip up to Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, to attend the major Andrew Wyeth retrospective organized by the Brandywine River Museum of Art. Though some critics dismiss him as a “regional nostalgist” who, in sticking to realism, failed to keep with the times, I was enthralled by his hundred-plus paintings on display, not least of which was Pentecost. Created in 1989, it shows a pair of old fishing nets blowing in the wind on the Maine island his wife purchased and revitalized. Wyeth was not religious, but he was fascinated by the supernatural, and his paintings are often celebrated for their spiritual quality, for the sense of presence they evoke. Click on the link to read my reflection on this painting, named after the annual Christian feast that the church celebrates today (June 9) in honor of the Holy Spirit’s descent.

Pentecost by Andrew Wyeth
Andrew Wyeth (American, 1917–2009), Pentecost, 1989. Tempera with pencil on panel, 20 3/4 × 30 5/8 in. Private collection. Photo © Artists Rights Society (ARS).

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SONG: “Come, Holy Ghost,” arranged and performed by Nichlas Schaal and friends: The ninth-century Latin invocation “Veni Creator Spiritus,” attributed to Rabanus Maurus, has been translated into English more than fifty times since the English Reformation, under such titles as “Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire” and “Creator Spirit, by whose aid.” Originally seven verses sung in Gregorian chant, the hymn is usually condensed to four verses in modern hymnals and paired with one of three tunes. This super-fun arrangement by the Schaals, so full of joy (and “la-da-da-das”!), uses a nineteenth-century translation by Edward Caswell and tune by Louis Lambillotte. I’ve been listening to it on repeat all week as I’ve been gearing up for Pentecost. [HT: Liturgy Letter]

Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest,
And in our hearts take up thy rest;
Come with thy grace and heav’nly aid
To fill the hearts which thou hast made,
To fill the hearts which thou hast made.

O Comforter, to thee we cry,
Thou heav’nly gift of God most high,
Thou fount of life, and fire of love,
And sweet anointing from above,
And sweet anointing from above.

O Holy Ghost, through thee alone
Know we the Father and the Son;
Be this our firm unchanging creed,
That thou dost from them both proceed,
That thou dost from them both proceed.

Praise we the Lord, Father and Son,
And Holy Spirit with them one;
And may the Son on us bestow
All gifts that from the Spirit flow,
All gifts that from the Spirit flow.

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DANCE PERFORMANCES: Grounds That Shout!, curated by Reggie Wilson: It interests me to see how sacred spaces, especially Christian ones, inspire new artistic creations. Here’s one example from last month: “Curated by award-winning choreographer Reggie Wilson, Grounds that Shout! (and others merely shaking) is a series of performances that respond to the layered histories of Philadelphia’s religious spaces through contemporary dance, reflecting on the relationships and connections between practices of movement and worship. Over two weeks, eight choreographers and performance groups . . . perform[ed] in four historic Philadelphia churches, drawing from site and spirit to present original and re-situated works of dance.”

For “Souls a-Stirring” by Germaine Ingram, two female dancers shuffled around the large stone baptismal font at Church of the Advocate, sounding out rhythms as Ingram joined them and sang, “When temptation calls out to me / When dark clouds merge and follow me / I ask god to take my hand / Can he not / Can she not / Inspire a woman to teach God’s love?” Photo: Daniel Kontz/Hyperallergic.

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ART INSTALLATIONS

Museum of the Moon at Ely Cathedral: Today’s the last day to see Luke Jerram’s Museum of the Moon installation at Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire, a twenty-three-foot replica of the moon that utilizes high-resolution NASA satellite imagery and a sound composition by Dan Jones. The internally lit spherical sculpture hovers under the cathedral’s painted nave ceiling and is the main attraction of the cathedral’s science festival, “The Sky’s the Limit,” celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the first moon landing (July 16, 1969). Jerram has produced several moons, which are touring the world, hoisted up in churches and other spaces, indoor and outdoor. For some really stunning photos as well as a tour schedule, check out https://my-moon.org/.

Museum of the Moon by Luke Jerram
Installation view of Luke Jerram’s Museum of the Moon at Ely Cathedral, May 2019. Photo: Joe Giddens/Press Association.

Jerram has also created replicas of Earth, scaled down by a factor of 1.8 million and titled Gaia. They are currently being displayed inside Salisbury and Liverpool cathedrals and will thereafter continue their world tours. (The bronze font by William Pye at Salisbury, designed to reflect and extend the surrounding architecture, makes for some truly amazing photographs of Gaia! Not to mention the significant meaning generated by the interaction of the two.)

Dandelions by The Art Department: From May 11 to 12, a decommissioned building at the Laguna Bell electrical substation in Commerce, California, was transformed into a “wish-processing facility,” where visitors submitted their wishes for questioning and analysis before taking a dandelion and blowing its seeds down a chute. Part installation, part performance, Dandelions was put together by the anonymous collective The Art Department. When asked to define wish, the collective replied, “For some, a wish is a prayer fulfilled by a higher power. For some, a wish is an aspiration imbued with rational optimism. For some, wishes represent unfulfilled longing.”

Art often gives us occasion to confront who we are and what we desire, and with this piece, that was done in a playful way, with a mock bureaucracy that included the Department of Small Things That Float and various logistical assessments. View more photos and read an interview with the creators at My Modern Met, and see also the Hyperallergic review.

Dandelions
Photo: Michèle M. Waite, courtesy of The Art Department
Dandelions installation
Photo: Michèle M. Waite, courtesy of The Art Department

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EXHIBITION: “Renewal: Icon Paintings by Lyuba Yatskiv”: Through June 30, the Iconart Contemporary Sacred Art Gallery in Lviv, Ukraine, is hosting a solo show of new work by Lyuba Yatskiv, one of the country’s several experimental iconographers. Among the subjects on display are the Creation of the World (he’s got the whole world in his hands!), Noah’s Ark, David the Psalmist, the Annunciation, the Flight to Egypt, John the Baptist, and the Holy Women at the Tomb.

Creation of the World by Lyuba Yatskiv
Lyuba Yatskiv (Ukrainian, 1977–), Creation of the World, 2019. Acrylic and gold on gessoed board.
John the Baptist triptych by Lyuba Yatskiv
Lyuba Yatskiv (Ukrainian, 1977–), St. John the Forerunner, Angel of the Desert, 2019. Acrylic and gold on gessoed boards.

I’ve featured Yatskiv’s work several times before on this website: in an Artful Devotion, a compilation of baptism icons, a roundup, and here by association.

Makers & Mystics (podcast recommendation)

Readers often ask me what podcasts I listen to, so today I want to share one of them with you, which comes out of my home state of North Carolina: Makers & Mystics.

Makers and Mystics logo

Hosted by Stephen Roach, Makers & Mystics is a biweekly podcast that aims to “develop a greater cultural understanding of why creativity abides at the core of our spirituality and why artists are called to be ‘architects of hope’ for our cities.” It is run by The Breath & the Clay, an organization based in Winston-Salem, which, in addition to producing regular online audio content, also hosts an annual conference and artist retreats. (Their 2019 conference already passed—you can purchase audio of all the presentations here—but two retreats are still being offered this year, in June and October; I just added them to my recent roundup, but you can also just go directly here for all the info.)

Now in its fifth season, Makers & Mystics features interviews with a broad swath of culture creators, many of whom are professional artists and Christians. Guests include an iconographer, an assemblage artist, an illusionist, a contemporary dancer, a classical pianist, an experimental opera singer, an antiquarian horologist, a filmmaker, an actress, a food writer and photographer, a spoken word artist, a children’s book illustrator and YA novelist, abstract painters, poets, a performance artist, a woven sculpture artist, several well-known singer-songwriters of faith (Liz Vice, Latifah Alattas, Audrey Assad, Josh Garrels, John Mark McMillan), and more, as well as pastors, theologians, and spiritual directors. These are people who pursue goodness, truth, and beauty in their work and in their lives. They are “makers”—people who make things, be they clocks or found-object sculptures or baskets or magic or “visual haiku”—and “mystics,” people who seek an intimate connection with God. Art, they recognize, can help strengthen that connection—not only to God but to self and to others and to the world at large.

Besides interviewing people from our own time, Roach and friends also highlight historical figures who have contributed to the practice or discourse of art, faith, and spirituality. These short (ten- to fifteen-minute) scripted episodes make up the Artist Profile Series. Spotlighted individuals include Hans Rookmaaker, Dorothy Sayers, Hildegard von Bingen, Wassily Kandinsky, and Sadhu Sundar Singh, among others.

The Breath and the Clay
The Breath & the Clay creative arts gathering is held in North Carolina every March.

I love to find out about the various creative endeavors that the people of God are engaged in, and Makers & Mystics is one of my primary avenues for doing that. I’m impressed by the wide variety of disciplines and styles that Roach has curated in his selection of interview subjects, and I appreciate the mix of fine and folk art (some people reject this distinction, but you know what I mean). Though there are recurring themes in some of the interviews—things like the importance of honesty and integrity, and how to live a life awake to wonder—I find each episode so unique. It’s fun to hear different people’s stories and creative processes.

If this is the first time you’re encountering Makers & Mystics, you might want to start with one of the foundational episodes, which do not follow an interview format:

The very first things we learn about God in Genesis, Roach says, is that he’s a creative being, and that he takes immense joy in the creative process. So when we’re told in Genesis 1:26 that humans are created in God’s image, Roach continues, our only concept of God up to this point is that he’s a creator who delights in creating. That’s why creativity is not ornamental but, rather, is in our blood; it’s our birthright as human beings.

“Lawgivers don’t shape culture,” says Ray Hughes. “Artists do. They’re the ones that tell us who we are. That’s why I say, songwriters: hey, you’re not writing next year’s most popular chorus; you’re writing the next generation’s language for accessing God.”

To sample some interview highlights from Makers & Mystics, check out the 2017 year-in-review episode. I’ve enjoyed all the episodes, but a few that have particularly stood out to me, in addition to the ones I list above, are “On Vocation and Calling” with Josh Garrels (+ part 2), one of my favorite music artists; “Evergreen” with Audrey Assad, where Audrey discusses overcoming religious trauma, dealing healthily with emotions, and her love of Celtic spirituality and music; and “Ring of Fire” with Moda Spira, which I linked to last fall, on the grief that accompanies divorce.

To explore the Makers & Mystics archives, hop on over to their website, http://www.makersandmystics.com/, and check them out on Patreon if you’re interested in giving financial support. You can also download episodes from iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast-listening app.

Sky World (Artful Devotion)

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!

Visitations by Joseph Kinnebrew
Joseph Kinnebrew (American, 1942–), Visitations: Gifts; A Slight Lapse of Purpose; Hand Stands; Yea; Majorette, 1994–97. Cast iron, 54 to 69 inches tall. Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Photo: Victoria Emily Jones.

. . . 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.)

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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.

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This world is not conclusion;
A sequel stands beyond,
Invisible, as music,
But positive, as sound.

—Emily Dickinson


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.

Roundup: Imagination; inclusive dance; art theft; singing through divorce; and more

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.”

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Wheelchair dancing (Infinite Flow)

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 two promo videos, and follow them on Facebook. You’ll also want to check out “Gravity.”

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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

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.

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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.

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ART HEIST: “Police back on the trail of ‘world’s most wanted’ stolen Caravaggio painting”: On October 15, nearly fifty years after Caravaggio’s Nativity with San Lorenzo and San Francesco was stolen from the Oratory of San Lorenzo in Palermo, Sicily, experts met at the Vatican to discuss reinstating an active search. Speculation of mafia collusion and espionage have circulated around the case, which ranks second on the FBI’s list of top ten unsolved art crimes.

Nativity by Caravaggio
Caravaggio (Italian, 1571–1610), Nativity with San Lorenzo and San Francesco, 1609. Oil on canvas. The angel’s banderole reads, “Gloria in eccelsis Deo.”

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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.

Below is a video promo Alattas made for the album’s Kickstarter campaign. Click here to view the variety of streaming and purchase options.

Good Letters roundup

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.

Ballet

“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. . . .

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“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.

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“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;

[Read the rest on Good Letters]

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This Is Us

“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.

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“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).

C’mon, people, let’s stop phubbing each other

Mobile Lovers by Banksy
Banksy, Mobile Lovers, 2014. Graffiti on wood on stone wall, Clement Street, Bristol, England. Photo: Paul Green. See also Dan Cretu’s The Kiss (after Brancusi).

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 multiple studies 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.

For other similar poems by Benjamin Chase, see “Media Song of Myself” (after Walt Whitman) and “Every Screen.”

Consenses: An artistic game of Telephone

Consenses

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.

Dream House
Dreamhouse, a photograph by Jane Rosemont, is the prompt for Consenses’s June 2018 Monthly Challenge. Rosemont writes, “I recently photographed a remote town on the Salton Sea, in California. Many homes are abandoned and trashed. Someone lovingly placed items of comfort in one of the dilapidated homes, and it almost brought me to tears.”

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.

Roundup: Anglo-Saxon Ascension poem; underwater dance; Andy Squyres album; contemporary icons; Catholicism meets high fashion

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.

Ascension (10th c)
The Ascension, from the Benedictional of St. Æthelwold (BL Additional MS. 49598), f. 64v, England, 963–984 CE. British Library, London.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Contemporary Resurrection icon

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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.

Crucifixion by Natalya Rusetska
Natalya Rusetska (Ukrainian, 1984–), Crucifixion, 2017. Egg tempera on gessoed wood, 11 3/4 × 8 1/4 in.
Pilate Condemns Jesus to Death by Ivanka Demchuk
Ivanka Demchuk (Ukrainian, 1990–), Christ before Pilate, 2017. Mixed media on gessoed wood, 19 3/4 × 15 3/4 in.

I’m enthralled by the contemporary icons being produced in Lviv—I saw a bunch from Kohan’s collection last summer, and I featured some in a Baptism of Christ roundup earlier this year. The best way to keep abreast of the output from the Lviv school is to follow Iconart on Facebook, and for an even wider breadth of innovative eastern European icons, follow Międzynarodowe Warsztaty Ikonopisów w Nowicy (International Iconography Workshop in Nowica, Poland).

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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. A Fashionista 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.)

Rihanna as pope
The white Margiela minidress, cape, and headpiece Rihanna wore to Monday’s Met gala were inspired by Catholic pontifical vestments. Photo: John Shearer/Getty.
Sarah Jessica Parker
Sarah Jessica Parker wore a regal gold, long-trained Dolce & Gabbana gown, but the pièce de résistance of her ensemble was the Nativity headpiece.

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.)

What the World Needs Now (Artful Devotion)

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).

What the World Needs Now Is Love (Travis Wall)

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.

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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

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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;
and then,
I will know the joy of life to the fullest
when I truly die to myself.

Amen.

—David Haas, adaptation of the Prayer of St. Francis
(© 2017 by David Haas / The Emmaus Center for Music, Prayer, and Ministry)


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 the Fourth Sunday of Easter, cycle B, click here.