Lady Wisdom, Lady Love (Artful Devotion)

Sophia by Lyuba Yatskiv
Lyuba Yatskiv (Ukrainian, 1977–), Sophia (Holy Wisdom), 2015. Design for the apse of the Church of Sophia, Wisdom of God, Ukrainian Catholic University, Lviv, Ukraine.

Wisdom has built her house;
she has hewn her seven pillars.
She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine;
she has also set her table.
She has sent out her young women to call
from the highest places in the town,
“Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”
To him who lacks sense she says,
“Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Leave your simple ways, and live,
and walk in the way of insight.”

—Proverbs 9:1–6

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Lady Wisdom, or Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia), is a female allegorical figure from the book of Proverbs (1:20–33, 2:13–18, 8:1–36, 9:1–6). I enjoyed searching for songs about her; the pool is ampler than I expected. I found a few that directly reference Sunday’s lectionary passage—“Wisdom (Has Built Her House)” by Angela Lashley, “Wisdom’s Table” by John L. Bell and Doug Gay, and “God’s Wisdom Spreads Her Table Well” by Kevin Keil—but didn’t find them as compelling as the two I settled on, below.

LATIN JAZZ INSTRUMENTAL: “Lady Wisdom” by Lannie Battistini, on Nomenclatura (2014)

FOLK ROCK: “Lady Wisdom” by PureFusion, on Elegy (2010)

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In Divine Wisdom: The Wisdom Writings of Vladimir Solovyov, Judith Deutsch Kornblatt writes,

The symbolism of icons of the Divine Sophia is far from standardized and is decidedly ambiguous. . . . Images of wisdom remain the most abstract of all holy pictures, for the Divine Sophia never existed as a real being. Even the gender of Sophia in Russian icons is ambiguous, as in different centuries and locations the personified figure is sometimes associated with Christ or Mary or depicted as an androgynous angel with “feminized” features otherwise attributed to Gabriel. (56)

In 2015 contemporary Ukrainian Catholic iconographer Lyuba Yatskiv secured a major commission to decorate the interior of the newly built Church of Sophia, Wisdom of God, on the campus of Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. Her design for the apse (the semicircular recess behind the church’s main altar), reproduced above, shows Wisdom as a winged bishop holding a cross-shaped crozier in her left hand while raising her right hand in a gesture of blessing. At her table are the wine and bread of the Eucharist, which she invites all to come and eat. The chi-rho monogram above her, with an alpha and omega on either side, is a reference to Christ, while the seven pillars bear symbols of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the bright star of the Father sheds light from above. Below Wisdom, there blossoms the tree of life in the Garden of Eden, with its four rivers flowing, and flanking her are personifications of the seven virtues.

To learn more about the project, including design proposals from other artists, click here.


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 Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, cycle B, click here.

Roundup: Jewish mosaics; New Psalm Contest; revising hymns; tree-inspired chapel; and more

I will be going on vacation soon and will be mostly unplugged, so you will notice less frequent blog posts for a few weeks. I’ll cue up some Artful Devotions to correspond with a select lectionary reading for each week while I’m gone but probably won’t be posting the links to the blog’s Twitter and Facebook pages as I usually do—so be sure to check the site instead! (Or subscribe by email by clicking the “Follow” link, located in the sidebar if viewing from your computer or at the bottom if viewing from your phone.) My regular publishing schedule will resume in September.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL FIND: “Discovery of Jewish Mosaics in Israel Bring Color to Biblical Accounts” by Sarah E. Bond: “At the ancient site of Huqoq, near the Sea of Galilee in modern Israel, a number of stunning mosaics depicting biblical, astrological, and historical narratives have been uncovered in a Jewish village that flourished during the late Roman empire. The colorful and large number of mosaics found in a synagogue challenge traditional views about Jewish art of the period as symbolic rather than representational of biblical texts, bland, and in decline during the period.”

Fish swallowing Pharoah's soldier
A giant Red Sea fish swallows one of Pharaoh’s soldiers in this mosaic detail from the late Roman (ca. 5th century) synagogue at Huqoq, Israel. Photo: Jim Haberman, via UNC-Chapel Hill.

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SONGWRITING CONTEST: “In an effort to encourage Psalm-singing, Church of the Servant [in Grand Rapids, Michigan] invites congregational songwriters to submit a Psalm-based song to its 2018 COS New Psalm Contest. The winner will receive a $500 award. There is no entry fee and the contest is open to all. Submissions must be emailed or postmarked by October 1, 2018. The song will be premiered in worship on January 27, 2019. Church of the Servant is a Christian Reformed Church with a rich history of encouraging the arts in worship. Its worship is Reformed, liturgical, participatory, eclectic, and open to creative new worship expressions.”   Continue reading “Roundup: Jewish mosaics; New Psalm Contest; revising hymns; tree-inspired chapel; and more”

An On-Time God (Artful Devotion)

Waiting by Susanne Mitchell
Susanne Mitchell (American, 1973–), Waiting (from the series Silence of the Ordinary), 2015. Oil and mixed media on canvas, 162.6 × 149.9 cm (64 × 59 in.).

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope.

—Psalm 130:5

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SONG: “Wait on the Lord” by Ben Keyes, on Were You There? Are You Here? (2007)

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O Master, my desires to work, to know,
To be aware that I do live and grow—
All restless wish for anything not thee
I yield, and on thy altar offer me.
Let me no more from out thy presence go,
But keep me waiting watchful for thy will—
Even while I do it, waiting watchful still.

—George MacDonald, from A Book of Strife in the Form of the Diary of an Old Soul (1880)


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 Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, cycle B, click here.

You Are There (Artful Devotion)

Nimbus II by Berndnaut Smilde
Berndnaut Smilde (Dutch, 1978–), Nimbus II, 2012. Lambda print, 125 × 186 cm. Saatchi Gallery, London.

Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the LORD, for he has heard your complaining.’”

And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud.

—Exodus 16:9–10

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SONG: “I Cry Out” by a ship at Sea, on Awake, Awake (2012)

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This is one of several passages in the Old Testament in which God appears to Israel in a cloud during their desert journey to the Promised Land, signifying both his aboveness and beyondness and his withness. Here he shows up in response to the Israelites’ groans of hunger, showering down quail and manna (see earlier Artful Devotion, “Open Your Mouth”).

Dovetailing with this divine manifestation described in Exodus is Berndnaut Smilde’s photograph Nimbus II, which shows a cloud hovering inside the sixteenth-century Lady Chapel (Mariakapel) in Hoorn, the Netherlands. Smilde created the cloud by misting the area with water vapor and pumping smoke from a machine; the water particles then stuck to the smoke to form a fleeting installation, lasting only about thirty seconds. The photograph plays with the idea of presence and absence: the Lady Chapel has been vacant since 1968, and yet filling the emptiness is this sign of God’s glorious presence. Like us sometimes, the ancient Israelites had trouble seeing God in their wilderness wanderings. But he was overshadowing them in his protective care the whole time. When they truly looked (per Aaron’s instruction), they saw. When they cried out, God answered.

Nimbus II is one of many photographs from Smilde’s Nimbus series, shot in a variety of locations, from museums and factories to castles and dungeons. The title is a play on words, as a nimbus is both a type of cloud and another word for halo, the divine radiance that encircles the head of Christ and the saints in religious art. For more on this series, see “An artist creates miniature clouds in spaces around the world” by Jim Martin or the book Builded Remnants. You can also take a glimpse behind the scenes in this short video, and this one.


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 Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, cycle B, click here.

How Measureless (Artful Devotion)

Breadth by Stephen Watson
Stephen Watson (American), Breadth, 2013. Tape-measure shards. From the solo exhibition “Slapdash and Sacred” at the Arnold Art Gallery, Shorter University, Rome, Georgia.

I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

—Ephesians 3:18–19

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SONG: “O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus” | Words by Samuel Trevor Francis, 1875 | Music by Thomas J. Williams, 1890 (Tune: Ebenezer) | Performed by the John Brown University Cathedral Choir, 1997

O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free,
Rolling as a mighty ocean
In its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me,
Is the current of Thy love;
Leading onward, leading homeward
To my glorious rest above.

O the deep, deep love of Jesus—
Spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth,
Changeth never, nevermore!
How He watcheth o’er His loved ones,
Died to call them all His own;
How for them He intercedeth,
Watcheth o’er them from the throne.

O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Love of ev’ry love the best;
’Tis an ocean vast of blessing,
’Tis a haven sweet of rest.
O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
’Tis a heav’n of heav’ns to me;
And it lifts me up to glory
For it lifts me up to Thee.

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SONG: “The Love of God” | Words and music by Frederick M. Lehman, 1917, with third verse by Rabbi Meir ben Isaac Nehorai, ca. 1050 | Performed by Jonathon Strauss Brenner, 2018

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.

O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

When hoary time shall pass away,
And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
When men who here refuse to pray,
On rocks and hills and mountains call,
God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
All measureless and strong;
Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

Frederick M. Lehman, the writer of this hymn, says it was inspired by lines scrawled on the walls of a psychiatric hospital cell (the third stanza), which as it turns out are from an eleventh-century Jewish liturgical poem by Rabbi Meir ben Isaac Nehorai, a cantor (Heb. hazzan) in Worms, Germany. Written in Aramaic, the ninety-line Akdamut (Prologue [to the Ten Commandments]) is chanted in Ashkenazic services on the first day of Shavuot (Pentecost) before the reading of Exodus 19–20, the revelation on Mount Sinai.

The reference to all the seas being ink and all the reeds pens is found also in Christian and Muslim traditions, as well as in earlier midrashic writings. It is unknown who originated the expression—for Jews, its ultimate formulation is the opening of Rabbi Meir’s Akdamut; Christians know it best from the hymn “The Love of God” (though it is also present in medieval Christian literature); and Muslims have it enshrined in the Koran (Surah Al-Kahf 18:109 and Surah Luqman 31:27).

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Stephen Watson is a multidisciplinary artist and an assistant professor of art at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. Many of his artworks originated as accompaniments to the Sunday services at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where they would be temporarily displayed throughout the year in the church foyer. “My art is my contribution to the church body,” says Watson, “and I aim to meaningfully expand the worship experience for the congregation with each artwork I share.” His liturgical installations are fantastic, and I plan to feature more of them in a future post. In the meantime, you can follow Watson on Instagram @stewatson.art.

Inspired by Ephesians 3:18–19, Breadth emphasizes the absurdity of trying to measure God or put limits on his love, a love that, as one of our songwriters puts it, is “vast, unmeasured, boundless, free.” The Breadth installation shown above, consisting of tape-measure shards arranged in a zigzag pattern, is from a gallery setting, but the concept has also been iterated in sacred spaces—for example, as a twisting, tangled mess of tape measures descending from the ceiling like a beam of light, or as a series of looped-tape sunbursts gradually opening from the niches along the north and south walls of a sanctuary.

Breadth by Stephen Watson
Stephen Watson (American), Breadth and Length and Height and Depth, 2012. Temporary installation at Trinity Presbyterian Church, Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Breadth by Stephen Watson
Stephen Watson (American), Breadth (detail), 2014. Site-specific installation of tape measures, Sojourn Community Church, Louisville, Kentucky.
Breadth by Stephen Watson
Stephen Watson (American), Breadth (detail), 2014. Site-specific installation of tape measures, Sojourn Community Church, Louisville, Kentucky.

When I was little, my mom and I would try to outdo each other in expressing with the extent of our arm span how vast was our love: “I love you THIS much!” “Well, I love you THIS much!” How much more immeasurably does God, whose arms are infinitely wide, love us.


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 Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, cycle B, click here.

Sheep May Safely Graze (Artful Devotion)

Landscape, Cornish, N.H. by John White Alexander
John White Alexander (American, 1856–1915), Landscape, Cornish, N.H., ca. 1890. Oil on canvas, 30 3/8 × 45 in. (77.2 × 114.2 cm). Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul . . .

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff,
they comfort me.

—Psalm 23:1–3a, 4

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MUSIC: “Sheep May Safely Graze,” from BWV 208 | Composed by Johann Sebastian Bach (1713) | Performed by London Symphony Orchestra, on Night in Berlin (2001)

The aria “Schafe können sicher weiden” (Sheep May Safely Graze) comprises the ninth movement of Bach’s Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd (The Lively Hunt Is All My Heart’s Desire)—known informally as the Hunting Cantata. Written for the thirty-first birthday of Duke Christian of Saxe-Weissenfels, the cantata was performed as a surprise at a banquet at the ducal hunting lodge, and it’s full of flattery. The text of “Sheep May Safely Graze,” written by Solomon Franck, praises Christian for his wise, protective leadership (in actuality, he was a lousy ruler):

Sheep may safely graze and pasture
In a watchful shepherd’s sight.

Those who rule, with wisdom guiding,
Bring to hearts a peace abiding,
Bless a land with joy made bright.

At 1:31 in the above recording, you can hear potential danger lurking nearby, but the attentive shepherd neutralizes the threat, keeping safe his flock.

Bach originally scored this piece for soprano with two recorders and continuo, but it has since been transcribed for orchestra and countless other combinations of instruments and is most popular without words. I enjoy playing Egon Petri’s transcription for solo piano, performed here by Alessio Bax:

Its pastoral mood, befitting Psalm 23, and its celebration of a good shepherd’s care have led it to be applied to the Good Shepherd and performed in church services. I’ve even come across some piano arrangements that interfuse it with “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us” (for an intermediate arrangement of such by Cindy Berry, see Classical Hymns).

(Related post: “The evolution of ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring'”)


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 Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, cycle B, click here.

No Other Fount (Artful Devotion)

Precious Blood of Christ (retablo)
La Preciosa Sangre de Cristo (The Precious Blood of Christ), Mexico, ca. 1875. Oil on tin, 10 × 7 in.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us . . .

—Ephesians 1:7–8a

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SONG: “Nothing but the Blood of Jesus” by Robert Lowry (1876), with “Power in the Blood” by Lewis E. Jones (1899) | Medley performed by Redeemer Presbyterian Church of Indianapolis, on Good News, Vol. 1 (2007)

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Blood that bled into a cry!
The elements
felt its touch and trembled,
heaven heard their woe.
O life-blood of the maker,
scarlet music, salve our wounds.

—“Antiphon for the Redeemer” by Hildegard of Bingen, translated from the Latin by Barbara Newman


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 Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, cycle B, click here.

Thorn in the Flesh (Artful Devotion)

Transcendence by Brandon Maldonado
Brandon Maldonado (American, 1980–), Transcendence, before 2010. Oil on panel.

. . . a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

—2 Corinthians 12:7b–10

For a collection of commentaries on this scripture passage, visit Textweek.com.

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SONG: “Cold Is the Night” by the Oh Hellos, on The Oh Hellos (2011)

 


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 Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, cycle B, click here.

New Every Morning (Artful Devotion)

Enclosed Field with Rising Sun by Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853–1890), Enclosed Field with Rising Sun, 1889. Oil on canvas. Private collection.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

—Lamentations 3:22–23

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SONG: “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” | Words by Thomas O. Chisholm, 1923 | Music by William Marion Runyan, 1923 | Arranged and performed by Sam JC Lee on bass, with Gabriela Martina on vocals, 2013


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 Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, cycle B, click here.

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.