There where the lion dines on straw
and walks at ease with dogs and men,
and a boy’s idling fingers draw
the unfanged adder out of his den;
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
there is our home. Then lead us there.
Lord, teach me to listen. The times are noisy and my ears are weary with the thousand raucous sounds which continuously assault them. Give me the spirit of the boy Samuel when he said to Thee, “Speak, for thy servant heareth.” Let me hear Thee speaking in my heart. Let me get used to the sound of Thy voice, that its tones may be familiar when the sounds of earth die away and the only sound will be the music of Thy speaking voice. Amen.
—A. W. Tozer, from The Pursuit of God
This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your e-mail or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.
To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for the Second Sunday after Epiphany, cycle B, click here.
This Saturday, January 6, marks Epiphany, a Christian feast celebrating the manifestation of God incarnate to the peoples of the world, encapsulated in the visit of the Magi to the newborn Christ. In the first lectionary reading I’ve excerpted, Isaiah speaks to Israel, rejoicing that God will one day cause his light of revelation to shine upon them, drawing the nations—a prophecy fulfilled at Christmas; in the second, Paul writes to the church at Ephesus about the glorious expansion of God’s family made possible through Christ, and the unity experienced therein across barriers of race, culture, geography, and so on:
And nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising. . . .
Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and exult,
because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you,
the wealth of nations shall come to you. . . .
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall bring good news, the praises of the LORD.
—Isaiah 60:3, 5–6
The mystery of Christ . . . was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed. . . . This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
“Miladuka” is a Christmas troparion, or liturgical hymn, from the Byzantine church. Its English translation, from the CD liner notes, is as follows:
Thy Nativity, O Christ our God,
Hath given rise to the light of knowledge in the world.
For they that worshipped the stars did learn therefrom to worship thee,
O son of justice,
And to know from the east of the highest
Thou didst come.
O Lord, glory to thee.
This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your e-mail or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.
To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Epiphany, cycle B, click here.
ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY: “Art and theology” books published in 2017: I had fun compiling this book list for ArtWay, which spans the disciplines of art history, theological aesthetics, visual theology, philosophy, museum studies, liturgical studies, and Christian ministry. Let me know if I’m missing any titles. (For books published on art and theology between 2014 and 2016, click here.)
But there are also books that focus on the contemporary art world, encouraging Christians to engage works beyond just those with explicitly Christian content or just those made by Christians.
Several books published this year engage with the ideas of leading early Protestant theologians, like Luther, Calvin, and (later) Kuyper, as they relate to visual art, and one even examines Reformational influences on Michelangelo’s late work. A smorgasbord indeed!
Today is the seventh day of Christmas—the celebration continues! Here are two fun songs for your listening pleasure.
^^ “Angels We Have Heard on High,” arranged and performed by the Piano Guys: In this unique piano arrangement for eight hands, Jon Schmidt, Al van der Beek, Steven Sharp Nelson, and Paul Anderson strike, pluck, bow, and percuss the instrument, creating a more complex texture than you would expect. All the sounds you hear (except for the voices) are produced by the piano.
CALL FOR PAPERS: “Art as a Voice for the Church,”Princeton Theological Review: I regret not finding out about this opportunity earlier, as the due date is just a week away, but I’m posting it so that you can be sure to look out for this art and theology–themed issue in the spring!
Graduate students and early-career scholars are invited to submit papers to the spring 2018 edition of the Princeton Theological Review. We welcome papers from various disciplinary perspectives (theology, philosophy, church history, biblical studies, social sciences, etc.) as they relate to the theme of art and the church. How does theology manifest in all different forms of art (painting, poetry, photography, sculpture, music, theater, film, literature, dance, or any other creative endeavors)? How does artistic expression give voice to piety, critique, worship, or spiritual struggle? How has art influenced and been influenced by biblical interpretations, theological movements, historical context, or cultural conditions? Why is art such a powerful medium for Christian expression? All submissions are due January 8, 2018.
The current issue of PTR, released this fall, is on the same topic and is available for free download. Subtitled “A Festschrift for Gordon Graham,” it includes reflections by three leading thinkers on Professor Graham’s latest book, Philosophy, Art, and Religion: Understanding Faith and Creativity, as well as three essays: “Visual Images and Reformed Anxieties: Some Scottish Reflections” by David Ferguson; “The Scandal of the Evangelical Eye” by Matthew J. Milliner; and “God, One and Three—Artistic Struggles with the Trinity” by Gesa E. Thiessen. [HT: millinerd.com]
COMPANION EXHIBITIONS October 10, 2017–January 14, 2018 J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
“Sacred Landscapes: Nature in Renaissance Manuscripts”: “In Renaissance Europe, many people looked to nature for spiritual inspiration and to guide their contemplation of the divine. In manuscripts created for personal or communal devotion, elements of nature—such as rocks, trees, flowers, waterways, mountains, and even the atmosphere—add layers of meaning to the illuminations, which were painted with careful observation of every minute detail. These landscapes remind readers to appreciate, and respect, the wonder of creation.” Read more at The Iris, the blog maintained by Getty curators, educators, conservators, and other staff.
“Giovanni Bellini: Landscapes of Faith in Renaissance Venice”: “Giovanni Bellini’s evocative landscapes are as much the protagonists of his paintings as are the religious subjects that dominated 15th-century Italian art. One of the most influential painters of the Renaissance, he worked in and around Venice, and while his landscapes are highly metaphorical, they also accurately reflect the region’s topography and natural light. Created for sophisticated patrons, Bellini’s works present characters and symbols from familiar sacred stories, set in a dimension of reality and lived experience to a degree unprecedented in the history of Italian painting.”
TEMPORARY INSTALLATION: Yesterday was the last day to see “Nativity Scenes of the World” by Ejti Štih, an installation of thirty culturally diverse, life-size cut-out figures inside the concert hall of Slovenia’s famous Postojna Cave. What a location! Click here for a quick video tour of all the figures.
I’m excited to dig into the new books I got for Christmas! Thanks, family—you’re the best. (And no, Mom, the book-length bibliography of ekphrastic poetry was not a mistake on my wishlist. Yes, really.)
What Alfred Lord Tennyson instructs the church bells in canto CVI of “In Memoriam A.H.H.,” I am begging the Holy Spirit to do in my own heart and mind, my communities, and across the world for the new year:
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.
This passage, from one of the greatest (and longest!) poems of the nineteenth century, is the source of the popular expression “ring out the old, ring in the new.” Ringing church bells at midnight on New Year’s Eve was already a deep-set tradition in England, and people understood the ringing as ushering in both life (the new year ahead) and death (saying good-bye to the past). But Tennyson’s poeticization of this symbolic practice has made its symbolism all the more enduring, and his list of specific qualities to let go of and others to welcome in provides a helpful template for new-year prayer and resolution making.
Tennyson apostrophizes his city’s church bells, telling them to ring out all of last year’s sins and griefs, falsehoods, feuds, strife, greed, bad-mouthing, economic disparities, political posturing, spite, war, and disease—all the year’s coldness and darkness, be gone. And ring in, sweet bells, truth, redress, purity, peace, joy, righteousness, love of the good, large hearts and kind hands, courage, freedom. And most important, “ring in the Christ that is to be.” Extending the cry of Advent, this final line acknowledges that although Christ was born into our world at Christmas, he is still yet to come in all his power and glory. That’s why we pray, “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”—or, “ring in the Christ that is to be.” Savior, come, uprooting all wrongs, setting all to right.
In 1948 Mormon composer Crawford Gates set Tennyson’s text to music; the hymn sheet can be downloaded for free from the LDS website, and authorization is given for live church performances, no license required.
Then in 2014 singer-songwriter Callie Crofts wrote an absolutely beautiful three-part a cappella arrangement of Gates’s hymn, which she performed with her sisters, Colette Butler and Devri Esplin, on their family Christmas album, Sparrow in the Birch. (The entire album is a treasure; the title track—wow!)
Crofts’s version, which omits Tennyson’s fourth and sixth stanzas, captures a dual sense of lament (this is what we’ve done to each other; this is the darkness we’ve created) and expectation (God’s light will shine into this; this is what we want him to do). A modulation from the minor mode to the major occurs on the word “peace” in the penultimate verse, a sudden flash of hopefulness. The rich voice blending continues, the key melting gently back into A minor, until that final chord sounds—a Picardy third—surprising, again, with its brightness.
A form of resolution, a Picardy third is a major chord of the tonic that occurs at the end of a minor-key musical section or piece, achieved by raising the third of the expected minor triad by one half-step. So while we would expect the middle note of the final A chord to be C, Crofts raises it up by one semitone to C♯, creating a “happier triad.” Originating during the Renaissance, this harmonic device was especially used during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to end solemn organ preludes and toccatas.
Western composers, expressing the “rightness” of happiness by means of a major third, expressed the “wrongness” of grief by means of the minor third, and for centuries, pieces in a minor key had to have a “happy ending”—a final major chord.
There was so much wrong committed this past year, so much closing down of possibilities, it would be easy to dwell in that minor mode. But we need to lean into the major. We need to confidently claim the promise of a bright and happy future, through the Christ who was and is and is to be, to whom belong all power, honor, and glory.
Below is a list of other musical settings of “Ring Out, Wild Bells.” It’s fun to hear the various interpretations, but of all of them, I still prefer Gates/Crofts:
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD;
my whole being shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.
SONG: “Amen” | Negro spiritual, arr. Jester Hairston | Performed by Harry Belafonte on Streets I Have Walked, 1963; re-released on Belafonte’s 2001 compilation album, Christmas
The word “Amen” is a transliteration of the Hebrew word for “surely,” “indeed,” or “truly.” Here’s Hairston introducing and leading his arrangement at a concert in Odense, Denmark, in April 1981:
For a fantastic overview of the song’s recording history, including audio, click here. I was excited to find it included in The Presbyterian Hymnal I recently bought, #299, arranged by Nelsie T. Johnson. My church always sings the Danish Amen at the conclusion of our worship service, but I think this African American call-and-response “Amen” would be a fun twist for high holy days like Christmas or Easter.
Messenger: Don’t be afraid! Listen! I bring good news, news of great joy, news that will affect all people everywhere. Today, in the city of David, a Liberator has been born for you! He is the promised Anointed One, the Supreme Authority! You will know you have found Him when you see a baby, wrapped in a blanket, lying in a feeding trough. . . .
Heavenly Choir: To the highest heights of the universe, glory to God! And on earth, peace among all people who bring pleasure to God! . . .
Shepherds: Let’s rush down to Bethlehem right now! Let’s see what’s happening! Let’s experience what the Lord has told us about!
Ding dong! merrily on high,
In heav’n the bells are ringing:
Ding dong! verily the sky
Is riv’n with angel singing.
Hosanna in excelsis!
E’en so here below, below,
Let steeple bells be swungen,
And “Io, io, io!”
By priest and people sungen.
Hosanna in excelsis!
Ding dong! merrily on high,
The curse of sin is broken:
Ding dong! open up your eyes,
The celebration’s starting.
Hosanna in excelsis!
[The third verse above, by Rend Collective, replaces the original:
Pray you, dutifully prime
Your matin chime, ye ringers;
May you beautifully rhyme
Your evetime song, ye singers.]
At the birth of God’s Son, heaven and earth danced. For heaven and earth embrace. All things are filled with divine music, and we too are invited to move our lives with grace, in harmony with divine love.
Do you blame me that I sit hours before this picture?
But if I walked all over the world in the time
I should hardly see anything worth seeing that is not in this picture.
—G. K. Chesterton on Botticelli’s Mystic Nativity, from his notebooks (mid-1890s)
The dance of the Mystery of Christ is always going on: the band playing the music of forgiveness never takes a break. . . . The real job of Christians as far as the world is concerned is simply to dance to the hidden music—and to try, by the joy of their dancing, to wake the world up to the party it is already at.
Rozhdestvo (The Nativity) (1996), written and directed by Mikhail Aldashin: I am blown away by this wordless animated short from Russia. Using a naive art style washed in sepia tones and set to a soundtrack of Bach and Beethoven, it tells the story of how angels, humans, and animals came together on the first Christmas to worship the newborn Christ. It opens with Gabriel peeking out from behind a tree at Mary hanging laundry, then chasing her down a footpath to tell her what God is up to. For every person and critter he encounters, Gabriel flashes open the book of God’s word, pointing them to the shalom it prophesies and inviting them to enter in. By the end, shepherds, fishermen, kings, rabbits, lambs, and lion are participating in a round dance outside the stable, while an angel orchestra (which includes violins and timpani!) plays from the rooftop.
An emphasis on the sweet humanity of the holy couple—scared, tired, joyful, loving—makes this film especially endearing, and the roles given to animals reminds us that under Christ, all creation will be redeemed. I’m adding this to my annual Christmas watchlist! [HT: ArtWay]
Note: For a more pleasurable viewing experience, click on “vimeo” in the bottom right corner, then click the fullscreen icon on the new video page that pops up.
O Little Town of Bethlehem (2012), directed and edited by Tim Parsons: Commissioned by St. Paul’s Arts and Media (SPAM) in Auckland, New Zealand, this film tells the story of Christ’s Nativity through the voices of those who currently live in and around his birthplace of Bethlehem. A Palestinian shepherd, taxi driver, street vendor, midwife, peace activist, and antiquities dealer are among those interviewed, each reflecting on the significance of Christ’s story and providing a window into Middle Eastern culture. Some are Christian, others are Muslim (the Koran has its own account of the virginal conception and birth of Jesus—or Isa, as he is known in that tradition).
Though filmed five years ago, the living conditions captured in this video still exist. The West Bank’s 440-mile wall, built by Israel on seized land, plows through front yards, farms, and university campuses and restricts the movement of Palestinians—to water, work, prayer, and hospitals. Since the establishment of the modern State of Israel in 1948, many Palestinians have been displaced from their homes and live in refugee camps. The director said he didn’t want to make the film political but that he couldn’t avoid filming these realities. The hopes and prayers expressed by the film’s subjects we should adopt as our own this Christmas as we reflect on the birth of Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy two thousand years ago in this little Palestinian town.
“Glory in the Darkest Place” by Brittany Hope: Last December Brittany Hope Kauflin (whose professional name drops the “Kauflin”) wrote “a song for those in darkness this Christmas season,” video-recording it at home with her sister McKenzie and her dad Bob. The outpouring of appreciation she received made her recognize the demand for soft and somber Christmas songs that probe for the light—as for many people, the holidays are characterized more by sadness than by celebration. Now the song is available, along with seven others in the same vein, on the album Glory in the Darkest Place. To read an introduction to the song by Bob Kauflin and/or to download the chord chart, piano score, and lyrics, click here. [HT: Bruce Benedict]
“Hellige Natt” (O Holy Night), arr. Eirik Hegdal, feat. Kirsti Huke: This innovative Norwegian jazz arrangement of the Christmas classic “O Holy Night” is performed inside the medieval Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) Jazz Ensemble and the NTNU Chamber Orchestra. An impressive space whose grandeur is matched by this rich, expressive performance. [HT: Global Christian Worship]
“Goldfinch” by Robert Macfarlane, illuminated by Jackie Morris: Nature writer Robert Macfarlane’s critically acclaimed book The Lost Words: A Spell Book, illustrated by Jackie Morris and published this October, is a joyful celebration of the nature words that were dropped from the 2008 edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary. Aiming to “enchant nearby nature again” for both kids and adults, it comprises a series of acrostic poems whose main letters are gilded in gold leaf.
I’m pleased to see that Macfarlane’s collaboration with Morris has continued with his latest “Goldfinch”—a “‘charm’ about hope, harm, gift & darkness.” Handwritten over a painting by Morris, the poem begins
God knows the world needs all the good it can get right now—and
out in the gardens, the woods, goldfinches are gilding the land for free,
leaving little gifts of light . . .
The piece is reproduced in the latest issue of Elementum Journal, and the original has sold. Hear Morris read the poem in the SoundCloud player above.
Click here to read an interview with Macfarlane and Morris on the making of The Lost Words, and here to read Macfarlane’s response to a 2002 study that found that four- to eleven-year-old Brits are better at identifying Pokémon characters than native species of plants and animals, like oak tree and badger. Also, check out his other books, like Landscape, The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, The WildPlaces, and Mountains of the Mind.
James Romaine’s final “Art for Advent 2017” video is live, and it’s on Henry Ossawa Tanner’s Christ and His Mother Studying the Scriptures: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6GMl63pNudM. I wrote about this painting for Mother’s Day, but Romaine’s reading emphasizes an aspect I hadn’t considered before, and stems in part from his examination of Tanner’s compositional studies.
For an introduction to these two series, see my earlier roundup post.
Many of the artworks and resources I share on these roundup posts I discover through the individuals, organizations, or publications I follow on social media or via RSS. If I’m not introduced to the content directly by its maker, I will try to indicate an “HT” credit, shorthand for “hat tip,” meaning thank you, X, for bringing this to my attention! All descriptions and commentary, however, are my own, unless set in quote marks.
You’ve probably heard this lovely lilting Baroque piece performed as an instrumental at weddings. But the composer who popularized it—the inimitable J. S. Bach—originally programmed it as the finale to a ten-movement liturgical work celebrating the miraculous pregnancies of Mary and Elizabeth from the Gospel of Luke, and God’s subversion of the world order through the birth of Christ. “The wondrous hand of the exalted Almighty / is active in the mysteries of the earth!” the work proclaims.
Under Bach’s design, those pastoral triplets (DUM-da-da DA-da-da DA-da-da DA-da-da . . .) gird up a choir-song of praise to Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, our joy and our strength. Even when the light, bright major chords give way to the minor in line five, signifying the turning of life’s circumstances, the Christian’s confession remains the same: Jesus is mine; what shall I fear?
Though Bach is often cited as the melody’s originator, that credit in fact goes to Johann Schop; it was first published in 1642 with Johann Rist’s hymn text “Wach auf, mein Geist, erhebe dich” (“Wake, My Spirit, Rise”). In 1661 Martin Janus wrote a new text for the tune—of no less than nineteen stanzas!—titled “Jesu, meiner Seelen Wonne” (“Jesus, My Soul’s Bliss”). Bach took stanzas six and seventeen of this hymn, harmonized and orchestrated them, and placed them as the closings to part one and part two, respectively, of his cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben (Heart and Mouth and Deed and Life) (BWV 147).
These two chorale movements, titled “Wohl mir, daß ich Jesum habe” (“Blest am I, that I have Jesus”) and “Jesus bleibet meine Freude” (“Jesus shall remain my joy”), have identical musical settings, and their English translation is as follows:
Blest am I, that I have Jesus!
O how tightly I cling to Him,
so that He delights my heart
when I am sick and sad.
I have Jesus, who loves me
and gives Himself to me as my own;
ah, therefore I will not let go of Jesus,
even if my heart is breaking.
Jesus shall remain my joy,
my heart’s comfort and sap;
Jesus shall fend off all sorrow.
He is the strength of my life,
the delight and sun of my eyes,
the treasure and wonder of my soul;
therefore I will not let Jesus go
out of my heart and sight. [Source]
Bach wrote Herz und Mund in 1723 during his first year as the director of church music in Leipzig, basing it on an earlier cantata he had written in Weimar in 1716 for the fourth Sunday of Advent. Because Leipzig observed tempus clausum (a “closed time” of penitence) during Advent, allowing cantata music only on the first Sunday, Bach could not perform the cantata for the same occasion in Leipzig, so he adapted it for the feast of the Visitation on July 2.
Scored by Bach for four vocal soloists, a four-part choir, and an instrumental ensemble of trumpet, two oboes, violin, viola, and continuo, the chorale music was first given the title “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” in 1926 when Dame Myra Hess published a transcription for solo piano—which you can hear Benjamin Moser play in the video below.