Upcoming conferences

I’ll be attending the first two, intermittently working the Daily Prayer Project table at Calvin. If you’re there, be sure to say hello!

Calvin Symposium on Worship
Date: February 8–10, 2023
Location: Calvin University, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Cost: $180 (or $25 for students and faculty of any school)
Organizers: Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and the Center for Excellence in Preaching
Presenters: James Abbington, Latifah Alattas, Jeremy Begbie, Carlos Colón, Justin Giboney, Wendell Kimbrough, Te-Li Lau, Karin Maag, Debra Rienstra, W. David O. Taylor, and many more
Description: “The Calvin Symposium on Worship is an annual conference (since 1988) that brings together people from many different denominations and traditions, from a variety of roles in worship and leadership, including pastors, worship planners and leaders, musicians, scholars, students, worship bands and teams, organists, visual artists, preachers, chaplains, missionaries, liturgists, council and session leaders, and more; and encourages leaders in churches and worshiping communities of all sizes and settings.” This year’s theme is Paul’s letter to the Colossians.

Ordinary Saints Conference

Ordinary Saints—Creativity, Community, and Collaboration
Date: February 17–18, 2023
Location: The Trust Performing Arts Center, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Cost: $210
Organizer: Square Halo Books
Presenters: Malcolm Guite and Elissa Yukiko Weichbrodt (keynotes)
Description: Celebrating Square Halo’s twenty-fifth year publishing “extraordinary books for ordinary saints,” as its tagline reads. Coincides with the release of Ordinary Saints: Living Everyday Life to the Glory of God, an anthology of essays by forty-plus writers on such topics as knitting, home repair, juggling, traffic, pipes, chronic pain, pretzels, and naps. Art historian Elissa Yukiko Weichbrodt, author of the forthcoming Redeeming Vision: A Christian Guide to Looking at and Learning from Art, will be speaking on “Corporeality and Modern Art in Dialogue” and will participate in a panel discussion with Ed Knippers and Ned Bustard, and poet Malcolm Guite will be giving several talks. There will also be breakout sessions led by a range of guests, a pop-up printmaking studio, songwriting roundtables, a performance by Reverie Actor’s Company, and a concert by The Arcadian Wild.

Society for Christian Scholarship in Music (SCSM) Annual Meeting
Date: March 2–4, 2023
Location: Duke Divinity School, Durham, North Carolina
Cost: $100–$150
Organizer: Society for Christian Scholarship in Music
Presenters: Luke Powery (keynote) and others
Description: The Rev. Dr. Luke A. Powery, dean of Duke Chapel and associate professor of homiletics at Duke Divinity School whose publications include devotionals based on the African American spirituals, will offer the keynote address. The conference will also include twenty-three research paper presentations, panel sessions, a lecture recital, a choral concert, and more. Full details will be published soon on the SCSM website.

Art, the Sacred, and the Common Good: Renewing Culture through Beauty, Education, and Worship
Date: April 21–22, 2023
Location: Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey
Cost: Free
Organizer: Scala Foundation
Presenters: Aidan Hart, Jonathan Pageau, Anna Bond, Peter Carter, David Clayton, Margarita Mooney Clayton, Paul Coyer, Robert Jackson, and RJ Snell
Description: “The modern myth that beauty emerges from the subconscious of a self-seeking creative genius goes against the traditional understanding that beauty emerges from a living tradition under the inspiration of God. For example, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien met regularly in Oxford’s pubs to discuss their writing and their faith. In the early 20th century, Russian exiles in Paris formed a community focused on the re-establishment of the great tradition of iconography so central to Christian worship. Composers like Handel and Mozart created beautiful music accessible to all people that directed listeners to the transcendent.
        Conversations and community among creators and thinkers have always been essential to shaping culture. These eminently human moments—and the friendships they inspire—must be cultivated if we are to illuminate America’s darkening culture and society.
        “American culture is in rapid collapse in large part because of an abandonment of beauty in education and worship. The Scala Foundation’s 2023 conference on art, the sacred, and the common good grows out of its deep work around Princeton to bring together artists, students, teachers, and scholars. In a world increasingly hostile to the idea that beauty is anything more than self-aggrandizement or yet one more tool of oppression, this event offers the warmth of community to anyone who is passionate to restore the connections between beauty and truth and between reason and creativity.”

Hutchmoot UK (*open to UK residents only)
Date: May 18–21, 2023
Location: Hayes Conference Center, Swanwick, Derbyshire
Cost: £365 (all-inclusive)
Organizer: The Rabbit Room
Description: A weekend of live music, delicious food, conversation, and a series of discussions centered on art, faith, and the telling of great stories across a range of mediums.

Epiphany: Glory

And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.

—Colossians 3:4

Epiphany, meaning “revelation,” is the capstone of the Christmas season. In this final post of this year’s Christmas series, I leave you with a striking, light-flecked painting from Japan and a slow-tempo Black gospel song from the US. What marvel, that God’s glory fills such places as ours, and that he invites us not only to behold his glory but also to participate in it.

May God’s light continue to guide and enfold you throughout the year, and may you never stop seeking his face.

To view a compilation of this season’s numbered Christmas posts, click here; for Advent, here.

LOOK: Morning Star by Hiroshi Tabata

Tabata, Hiroshi_Morning Star
Hiroshi Tabata (田畑弘) (Japanese, 1929–2014), Morning Star, 1998. Oil on canvas, 90.9 × 72.7 cm. Private collection. Photo courtesy of the Estate of Hiroshi Tabata.

Born in Takaoka City, Hiroshi Tabata (1929–2014) studied art at the University of Toyama, later moving to France for two years for further art education. He exhibited his work throughout Japan and at Parisian salons. From 1966 to 1972 he lived intermittently in Brazil among the Xingu people, which led to his conversion to Christianity. From then on until his death, he painted biblical subjects. “The Bible is the ultimate theme for me,” he said; its world is “infinitely deeper” than we can comprehend.

In Tabata’s expressionistic Morning Star, starlight falls in a luminescent sheen over the face of the Christ child, whom Mary looks upon in tender adoration as Joseph wonders at the angelic activity above. The tight cropping around the Holy Family heightens the sense of intimacy. A sheep, donkey, and Amazon parrot (the latter a callback to his time in Brazil) crowd into the foreground, while on distant hills shepherds behold the glorious light display, hear the announcement that will propel them to their newborn Messiah. The wise men, too, are on their way. Epiphany is at hand. Heaven’s raining down (Isa. 45:8).

This visual reflection (by me) originally appeared in the Christmas/Epiphany 2022–23 edition of the Daily Prayer Project. Tabata’s art appears on the cover, by kind permission of his son-in-law. To view more biblical art by Tabata, see the beautifully produced, full-color book 田畑弘作品集 一つの星 (Hiroshi Tabata Works: One Star); the text is all Japanese.

LISTEN: “A Star Stood Still (Song of the Nativity)” | Words and music by Barbara Ruth Broderick and Johnny Broderick, 1956 | Performed by Mahalia Jackson with the Falls-Jones Ensemble, conducted by Johnny Williams, on Silent Night: Songs for Christmas, 1962

And we shall share
In the glorious light

In Bethlehem
The wind had ceased
The Lamb lay sleeping
On the hill

When all the earth
Was stilled with peace
Then lo, a star stood still

A star stood still
On yonder hill
Praise God that star still
Shining still

And we shall share
In the glory of love
Because a star stood still
That night a star stood still

A star stood still
On yonder hill
Praise God that star still
Shining still

And we shall share
In the glory of love
Because a star stood still
That night a star stood still

Note to readers: Art & Theology is noncommercial, but I do accept donations (monetary, or in-kind books!) to help keep it running. Learn more here.

Christmas, Day 12: Bright and Glorious

LOOK: Epiphany by John August Swanson

Swanson, John August_Epiphany
John August Swanson (American, 1938–2021), Epiphany, 1988. Serigraph, 38 × 12 in. Edition of 210. [for sale]

Tomorrow, January 6, is the feast of Epiphany, commemorating the visit of the magi to the infant Christ, an episode that represents God’s manifestation to the nations beyond Israel. Printmaker John August Swanson visualizes their journey in a starkly vertical composition that was conceived as the right wing of a triptych (three-paneled artwork), the other two panels depicting the Annunciation to the Shepherds and the Nativity. In subsequent years he added A Visit (depicting the Annunciation to Mary), Flight into Egypt, and Presentation in the Temple to the set.

Here’s what Swanson says about the piece:

Epiphany depicts the journey of the three Magi as they travel up a serpentine trail. One of the Wise Men is seated as he looks at a map of the constellations with his magnifying glass; his servant holds a lamp so that he can see. Another Magi searches with his telescope into the sky. They look up in search of their beautiful guiding star as angels surround and point to it. They have exotic birds, peacocks, and dogs among their animals. I have tried to capture the details of the many plants, bushes, and trees and to create a variety of colors of green.

I used many symbols within the tapestries draping the animals. These patterns depict the Lion of Judah, the lamp in the darkness, the rain falling on the parched ground, the key to the locked door, the crown and the heart, and the gates to the city.

This is part of a series of three images (triptych). They were inspired by the Mexican tradition that I am familiar with for Christmas. Families will each create a beautiful crèche (nacimiento) with many figures and animals, creating a whole environment with landscaping in miniature around the Nativity figurines.

His other inspirations for this set include the opera Amahl and the Night Visitors by Gian Carlo Menotti and the medieval stained glass windows in Chartres Cathedral.

Swanson, John August_Advent Triptych
John August Swanson, Advent Triptych, 1985–88 [for sale as poster or card]

John August Swanson (1938–2021) [previously] was born in Los Angeles of a Mexican mother and Swedish father. His father died when he was young, and he was raised in a multigenerational Mexican Catholic home. He studied serigraphy under Corita Kent [previously], and it became his primary medium. A serigraph is a type of print in which each color is individually layered by applying ink through a silkscreen onto paper. Epiphany has forty-eight individual colors.  

LISTEN: “Bright and Glorious” | Original Danish text (“Deilig Er Den Himmel Blaa”) by Nikolai F. S. Grundtvig, 1810 | English translation by Jens Christian Aaberg, 1927; first stanza adapted by the editors of the Lutheran Service Book and Hymnal, 1958 | Music by Seth Thomas Crissman and Greg J. Yoder, 2017 | Performed by the Walking Roots Band on Hark! A Walking Roots Band Christmas, 2017

[Watch the group sing the first stanza.]

Bright and glorious is the sky
Radiant are the heavens high
Where the golden star is shining
All its rays to earth inclining
Leading to the newborn king
Leading to the newborn king

Him they found in Bethlehem
Yet he wore no diadem
They but saw a maiden lowly
With an infant pure and holy
Resting in her loving arms
Resting in her loving arms

Guided by the star, they found
Him whose praise the ages sound
We, too, have a star to guide us
That forever will provide us
With the light to find our Lord
With the light to find our Lord

As a star, God’s holy word
Leads us to our King and Lord
Brightly from its sacred pages
Shall this light throughout the ages
Shine upon our path of life
Shine upon our path of life

The Walking Roots Band (TWRB) is an acoustic folk/bluegrass-ish music group steeped in Anabaptist hymn-singing traditions and based in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Several of its members are the creative forces behind The Soil and The Seed Project, a liturgy and arts initiative launched in 2021.

Here they’ve retuned an Epiphany hymn from Denmark, which compares the star that led the magi to Jesus to the Bible, God’s word, which serves as a guiding light for spiritual seekers, leading us to Christ himself. Its pages offer countless epiphanies—revelations of God’s glory, opportunities for divine encounter. Its wisdom and truth can illuminate our paths if we let it.

Christmas, Day 11: Hodie

LOOK: Virgin and Child from Chora Church

Chora dome
The Virgin and Child surrounded by angels, 14th century, frescoed dome of the parecclesion (side chapel) of the Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora, Istanbul.

Virgin and Child (Chora Church)
Chora dome, detail

LISTEN: “Hodie,” early monastic chant from the Celtic Church in Ireland | Performed by Mary McLaughlin on Sacred Days, Mythic Ways: Ancient Irish Sacred Songs from Mythology to Monasteries (2012)

Refrain:
Hodie Christus natus est
hodie Salvator apparuit:
hodie in terra canunt angeli,
laetantur archangeli:
hodie exsultant justi, dicentes:
Gloria in excelsis Deo. Alleluia!

Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.
Deus dominus, et illuxit nobis. [Refrain]

Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto:
sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper,
et in sæcula sæculorum. Amen. [Refrain]

English translation:

Today Christ is born;
today the Savior has appeared;
today the angels sing,
the archangels rejoice;
today the righteous rejoice, saying:
Glory to God in the highest. Alleluia!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
The Lord is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.
Amen.

The texts that make up this Christmas chant are from the Latin Mass. The verses are the parts known as the Benedictus (Psalm 118[117]:26a, 27a) and the Gloria, which are sung at every Mass, and the refrain is the antiphon to the Magnificat that is sung at Vespers on Christmas Day.

The plainchant melody is from early medieval Ireland.

Christmas, Day 10: Great Mystery

LOOK: O Magnum Mysterium by Joel Sheesley

Sheesley, Joel_O Magnum Mysterium
Joel Sheesley (American, 1950–), O Magnum Mysterium (O Great Mystery), 2012. Oil on canvas, 72 × 44 in.

Hear the artist discuss the painting here:

LISTEN: “O Magnum Mysterium” | Words: Traditional | Music by Morten Lauridsen, 1994 | Performed by S:t Jacobs Ungdomskör (Saint Jacob’s Youth Choir), 2015

O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
iacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera
meruerunt portare
Dominum Iesum Christum.
Alleluia!

English translation:

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the newborn Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
the Lord, Jesus Christ.
Alleluia!

This text, a responsorial chant from the Matins of Christmas, has been set by many composers over the centuries, including Palestrina, Poulenc, Victoria, Morales, and La Rocca. Morten Lauridsen’s setting—a motet for a cappella choir—is the most popular.

Note the discordant G# sung by the altos on the first syllable of “Virgo” (3:20 in the video), which alludes to the future suffering of Jesus and, by extension, his mother. This vulnerability, this self-giving, of God that results in death on a cross is a key aspect of the Incarnation.

In the second half of the piece, “the chords, the melody, and the range of voices broaden into an open and exhilarating space,” writes Amy Baik Lee, building up to the climax: “alleluia.” The release of that final word of praise “is sheer joy; it is the sound of creation made well and reveling in its freedom from the fathoms-deep trenches of sin, finally awestruck by the intricacy of its long rescue. . . . It is as a cup of cold water that sparkles with the air of a distant, beloved country.”

Roundup: News photos with Advent promises, “Tent City Nativity,” and more

PHOTO COMPILATION: “Alternative Advent 2022” by Kezia M’Clelland: Kezia M’Clelland [previously] is the children in emergencies specialist and people care director for Viva and a child protection consultant for MERATH, the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development’s community development and relief arm. She is a British citizen, but her work brings her around the world, seeking to safeguard the rights and well-being of children globally.

Every December M’Clelland compiles photos from that year’s news, showing people affected by natural disasters, violence, and injustice, and overlays them with Advent promises. There’s sometimes a disjunction between image and text that’s grievous and challenging, a reminder that our long-looked-for deliverance is not yet fully here, even though we receive foretastes. The twenty-eight photos M’Clelland gathered from 2022 include throngs of people making their way to Aichi cemetery in Saqqez, Iran, to attend a memorial for twenty-two-year-old Mahsa Amini, allegedly beaten to death by the country’s religious morality police for not wearing her hijab properly; a police officer helping a child flee artillery on the outskirts of Kyiv, and a baby being born in a bomb shelter; women carrying pans of granite up the side of a mine in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, for meager wages; a woman comforting a neighbor who lost her home to flooding in Tejerias, Venezuela; children playing in a sandstorm at the Sahlah al-Banat camp for displaced people in the countryside of Raqa in northern Syria; children clearing trash from a river in Tonlé Sap, Cambodia; and more.

Alternative Advent 2022 (Immanuel)
March 9, 2022: An injured pregnant woman is rescued from a maternity hospital in Mariupol, Ukraine, that was bombed by Russian forces. The following week it was reported that she and her child, delivered in an emergency C-section, did not survive. Photo: Evgeniy Maloletka/AP. Scripture: Isaiah 7:14.

Alternative Advent 2022 (Repairer)
January 26, 2022: A young woman looks on from her house destroyed by tropical storm Ana in the village of Kanjedza in Malawi. Photo: Eldson Chagara/Reuters. Scripture: Isaiah 58:12.

Alternative Advent 2022 (no lions)
June 7, 2022: A man and child, part of a migrant caravan consisting mostly of Central Americans, are blocked by members of the Mexican National Guard on a Huixtla road in Chiapas state, Mexico. They seek transit visas from the National Migration Institute so that they can continue their thousand-plus-mile journey north to the US. Photo: Marco Ugarte/AP. Scripture: Isaiah 35:9 MSG.

The sequence of images is a visual prayer of lament and intercession. I appreciate how M’Clelland—via the work of photojournalists, and her sensitive curation—raises awareness about these places of suffering, putting faces to the headlines, but also spotlights moments of empowerment and joy amid that suffering. We are encouraged to seek God’s coming into these situations of distress and to see the subtle ways he does come—for example, through the consoling embrace of a friend, the nurturance of an elder sibling, the protective aid of an officer, a jug of clean water, a child’s glee, or acts of protest.  

For photo credits and descriptions, see the Instagram page @alternative_advent. (Start here and scroll left if you’re on your computer, or up if you’re on your phone.) Follow the page to receive new posts in your feed starting next Advent.

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SONGS by Rev Simpkins, an Anglican priest and singer-songwriter from Essex previously featured here:

>> “Hallelu! (Love the Outcast)”: This song was originally released on The Antigen Christmas Album (2014) with the byline “Ordinand Simpkins & Brother De’Ath”; it was reissued in 2016 on Rev Simpkins’s album Love Unknown, “a cornucopia of non-LP tracks, studio experiments, ingenious live re-workings, radio sessions, off-the-wall demos, obscure b-sides, & pissings about.” The music video was recorded on an iPhone 4 in the Edward King Chapel at Ripon College Cuddesdon in Oxford. [Listen on Bandcamp]

>> “Poor Jesus” (Traditional): Here the Rev. Matt Simpkins performs the African American spiritual “Oh, Po’ Little Jesus” with a soft banjo accompaniment. Harmonizing vocals are supplied by his daughter, Martha Simpkins. It’s the opening track of his EP Poor Child for Thee: 4 Songs for Christmastide (all four songs are wonderful!), released December 11, 2020, to support St Leonard’s Church, Lexden, where he serves as priest-in-charge. [Listen on Bandcamp]

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NEW PAINTING: Tent City Nativity by Kelly Latimore: Kelly Latimore is an Episcopalian iconographer from St. Louis, Missouri, who “rewonders” traditional iconography, especially with an eye to social justice. This Christmas he painted an icon called Tent City Nativity, which shows the Christ child being born in a homeless encampment. A streetlight shines directly over the Holy Family’s tent, like the star of Bethlehem, and neighbors bring gifts for warmth and sustenance: coffees, a blanket, a cup of chili. View close-ups on Instagram, and read the artist’s statement on his website. Proceeds from print and digital sales of the icon will support organizations serving the unhoused in St. Louis.

Latimore, Kelly_Tent City Nativity
Kelly Latimore (American, 1986–), Tent City Nativity, 2022. Acrylic, Flashe, and golf leaf on birch board, 27 × 32 in.

[Purchase signed print] [Purchase digital download]

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SONG MEDLEY: YouTube user African Beats spliced together excerpts from three songs performed at a church in Germany at Christmastime by South African singer Siyabonga Cele and an unnamed woman, including “Akekho ofana Nojesu” (There’s No One like Jesus) and “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” I couldn’t find the name of the last song, and attempts to contact the singer for information were unsuccessful, but it’s in Zulu, as is the first one. Lyrics to the first song, sourced from here, are below.

Akekho ofana Nojesu (There’s no one like Jesus)
Akekho ofana naye (There’s no one like him)
Akekho ofana Nojesu (There’s no one like Jesus)
Akekho ofana naye (There’s no one like him)

Siyahamba siyahamba akekho akekho (I have traveled everywhere, no one)
Siyajika siyajika akekho akekho (I have looked everywhere, no one)
Siyafuna siyafuna akekho akekho (I have searched everywhere, no one)
Akekho afana naye (There is no one like him)

Christmas, Day 9: Begotten ere the worlds began

LOOK: The Word Made Flesh by Julius Shumpert

Shumpert, Julius_The Word Made Flesh
Julius Shumpert (American, 1997–), The Word Made Flesh, 2017. Digital artwork.

This digital artwork by Julius Shumpert shows a silhouette of Christ Pantocrator that’s filled in with stars and planets, emphasizing his eternal preexistence. This is the cosmic Christ. With his left hand he holds a Gospel-book, and with his right he gestures blessing. His halo bears the roman letters A and O for “Alpha” and “Omega” (Rev. 1:8; 21:6; 22:13), as well as the Greek letter X, chi, which is the first letter in ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ (Christos) and thus ancient shorthand for Jesus the Messiah.

Shumpert writes,

This icon means a lot to me. During Christmas 2016, I dove into the true meaning of Christmas. Past all of the traditional “baby Jesus” storytelling to the bare symbolism of what happened. God, who created everything, and is bigger than infinity, the expanding universe, and all that there is to be, saw us struggling along and squeezed down into the form of precious ordinary baby just to be with us. . . . This icon presents who Jesus is: simply the Word made flesh.

Follow the artist on Instagram @saintjuliusart.

LISTEN: “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” | Original Latin words by Aurelius C. Prudentius, late 4th century; trans. John M. Neale, 1851, and Henry W. Baker, 1861 | Plainchant melody, 13th century | Arranged and performed by Sam P. Bush and Kathryn Caine on A Very Love and Mercy Christmas by Christ Episcopal Church, Charlottesville, Virginia, 2014

I’ve provided the full nine stanzas from the 1861 English version of the hymn by Henry Baker. Christ Episcopal Church sings his stanzas 1, 2, 5, and 9 (in boldface)—wise to omit 7 and 8, as these translations are icky (Roby Furley Davis’s are better), but I quite like the others!

Of the Father’s love begotten
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega;
He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see
Evermore and evermore!

O that birth forever blessèd,
When the Virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
Bore the Savior of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed his sacred face,
Evermore and evermore!

At His word the worlds were framèd;
He commanded; it was done:
Heav’n and earth and depths of ocean
In their threefold order one;
All that grows beneath the shining
Of the moon and burning sun,
Evermore and evermore!

He is found in human fashion,
Death and sorrow here to know,
That the race of Adam’s children,
Doomed by law to endless woe,
May not henceforth die and perish
In the dreadful gulf below,
Evermore and evermore!

O ye heights of heaven, adore Him,
Angel hosts, His praises sing,
Pow’rs, dominions, bow before Him,
And extol our God and King;
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Ev’ry voice in concert ring
Evermore and evermore!

This is He whom seers in old time
Chanted of with one accord;
Whom the voices of the prophets
Promised in their faithful word;
Now He shines, the long expected,
Let creation praise its Lord,
Evermore and evermore!

Righteous Judge of souls departed,
Righteous King of them that live,
On the Father’s throne exalted
None in might with Thee may strive,
Who at last in vengeance coming
Sinners from Thy face shalt drive,
Evermore and evermore!

Thee let old men, Thee let young men,
Thee let boys in chorus sing;
Matrons, virgins, little maidens,
With glad voices answering:
Let their guileless songs re-echo,
And the heart its music bring,
Evermore and evermore!

Christ, to Thee with God the Father
And, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving
And unwearied praises be:
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory
Evermore and evermore!

“Of the Father’s Love Begotten” (Lat. Corde natus ex parentis) is one of the oldest Christmas hymns, and it has gone through many translations, additions, revisions, fusions, arrangements, and abridgements to reach the form that’s in our hymnals today.

Its source is a thirty-eight-stanza Latin poem by Prudentius titled “Hymnus Omnis Horae” (Hymn for All Hours), published around 405 CE in his Liber Cathemerinon (Book of Daily Hymns) but written earlier. The poem traces Christ’s ministry from birth to death to resurrection and ascension, with a heavy focus on his miracles. It’s a remarkable poem, and worthy of study, especially as an example of early Christian theology. You can read the original Latin, presented beside a fine English translation by Roby Furley Davis from 1905, here.

Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (ca. 348–ca. 413) was a Roman Christian poet born in what is today northern Spain. After spending decades in law and government, he retired from public life to dedicate himself fully to God’s service, mainly through writing. He was the most significant hymn-writer of the early church.

Prudentius continued to be highly read throughout the Middle Ages, and “Hymnus Omnis Horae” circulated throughout Europe in multiple manuscripts. An eleventh-century manuscript added the refrain “saeculorum saeculi” (evermore and evermore) and a doxology, the Trinitarian final stanza.

The abbreviated form of the hymn (“Corde natus ex parentis,” etc.) entered English hymnody through the six-stanza translation by John Mason Neale, first published in the 1851 edition of Hymnal Noted; Neale renders the first line “Of the Father sole begotten.” Music editor Thomas Helmore presented Neale’s text with the thirteenth-century plainchant melody DIVINUM MYSTERIUM, which he sourced from the 1582 Finnish songbook Piae Cantiones. The pairing has since proven inseparable. Here’s Helmore’s arrangement from the 1852 edition of Hymnal Noted:

An extensive revision of Neale’s translation by Henry W. Baker, which includes three additional, newly translated stanzas, was published in the best-selling Hymns Ancient and Modern in 1861 under the title “Of the Father’s Love Begotten.” This is the version reproduced above, and that has had the most staying power.

The hymn is a praise-filled meditation on how Christ, the second person of the Godhead, who is before all things, entered human time in the person of Jesus. It’s a fairly difficult hymn to sing congregationally—the meter is a bear—but here’s a modern arrangement that I think works well: https://gracemusic.us/sheet_music/of-the-fathers-love-begotten/.

For more about the history, content, meter, transmission, and significance of “Hymnus Omnis Horae,” see the scholarly article by Chris Fenner from the Hymnology Archive: https://www.hymnologyarchive.com/hymnus-omnis-horae.

Christmas, Day 8: All the Way

LOOK: Avatharana by Solomon Raj

Raj, Solomon_Avatharana
Solomon Raj (Indian, 1921–2019), Avatharana (Incarnation), late 1980s, batik. Source: Living Flame and Springing Fountain (Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1993).

Avataraṇa (अवतरण), from which we get the word “avatar,” is a Sanskrit word that means stepping down from a higher position. It’s the word used in Hinduism to refer to the incarnation of a deity, to his or her descending to earth. The late Indian Lutheran pastor, artist, and theologian Solomon Raj, from Andhra Pradesh, used the word, with nuance, to refer to the incarnation of Christ.

In this batik—a type of dyed cloth artwork made using a wax-resist method—Raj shows Jesus diving through the ether, surrounded by angels. He hurtles headfirst from heaven to earth to be with humanity. Reproduced in the book Living Flame and Springing Fountain (1993), the image is accompanied by this verse-style reflection by Raj:

When God became man and came to us,
the heavens donned a new robe of light.
When the son of man came to this earth,
the whole creation became renewed.
The universe now is redeemed and kept
for a glory yet greater than the first
because the unknown and the unknowable One
became man to live with mankind.

For more on the concept of Jesus as avatar from Christian perspectives, see:

LISTEN: “All the Way from Heaven Down” by Thomas Whitfield | Performed by the Thomas Whitfield Company, on The Annual Christmas Services (1988)

All the way from heaven down
Just to save me
All the way from heaven down
Just to love me

Christmas, Day 7: All Glory Be to Christ

LOOK: The Burning Bush by Sassandra

Sassandra_The Burning Bush
Jacques Richard Sassandra (French, 1932–), Le buisson ardent (The Burning Bush), late 1980s. Oil on canvas, 110 × 272 cm. Collection of the artist.

Last year when I was corresponding with the artist Sassandra about the New Jerusalem collage from his Apocalypse series, he sent me some photos of this painted triptych on the same subject. It’s called The Burning Bush. When open, it’s about nine feet across, and it shows Christ as the Good Shepherd standing in the river of life, which waters the roots of the tree of life, whose leafy branches extend all around. This is a depiction of the new heaven and new earth described in the book of Revelation, with angels posted at its twelve gates. (See Advent, Day 15.)

The image references other biblical passages as well. The lion and the lamb lying down together in peace—the lion having given up its carnivorous diet to eat straw instead of fellow creatures—is an allusion to the messianic kingdom prophesied in Isaiah 11. And the French inscription on the arch above Jesus and the bottom gatepost is the text of John 10:9: Je suis la porte. Si quelqu’un entre par moi il sera sauvé. (“I am the gate. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved.”) Jesus is the doorway through which we enter this glorious future.

Sassandra_The Burning Bush
Sassandra, Le buisson ardent (central panel)

It’s worth quoting the John passage in full, which rings loudly with the theme of sacrifice:

So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own, and my own know me, just as the Father knows me, and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

Two of the seven I AM statements that Jesus speaks in the Gospel of John are present here: “I AM the gate of the sheepfold,” “I AM the good shepherd.” The others are “I AM the bread of life,” “I AM the light of the world,” “I AM the resurrection and the life,” “I AM the way, the truth, and the life,” and “I AM the true vine.” Biblical scholars say that with these statements, Jesus was ascribing to himself the divine, if somewhat cryptic name that God disclosed to Moses in Exodus 3:14–15: I AM THAT I AM.

Sassandra_The Burning Bush (closed)
Sassandra, Le buisson ardent (closed)

Sassandra makes that connection in this triptych. When the wings are closed, the outer scene shows Moses before the burning bush, his shoes reverently removed, his arms raised in worship before the fiery Voice that calls him. Inscribed along the sides of these two exterior panels is Saint, saint, saint est le seigneur de l’univers! Toute la terre est pleine de sa gloire! (“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of the universe! All the earth is full of his glory!”) (Isa. 6:3).

The artwork thus links Yahweh’s revelation to Moses as the great I AM with Christ’s apocalyptic appearing at the end of time. The wispy leaves on the tree of life on the interior panels appear as little flames, and Christ stands among them, the full revelation of God, who beckons us.

“Adonai” is one of the seven traditional O Antiphons, titles for Christ taken from the Old Testament and turned into short Advent refrains. It’s a Hebrew word that translates to “my Lord,” and it was used by the ancient Israelites to refer to God, as they regarded the divine name, I AM, as too sacred to be uttered. The “O Adonai” antiphon of Christian tradition recognizes that the God who spoke to Moses in the burning bush is the same God who speaks through Christ, and it entreats God to come deliver us from bondage, as he did the Israelites from Egypt:

O Adonai and ruler of the house of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the burning bush and gave him the Law on Sinai:
come with an outstretched arm and redeem us.

Sassandra’s Burning Bush shows that deliverance—a landscape of liberation, where Christ, having given himself, holds us at rest in his arms and we are refreshed unceasingly by living water, and all creation sings God’s glory.

LISTEN: “All Glory Be to Christ” | Words by Dustin Kensrue, 2012 | Scottish folk melody, probably 17th century | Arranged and performed by The Petersens on Christmas with the Petersens, 2020

Should nothing of our efforts stand
No legacy survive
Unless the Lord does raise the house
In vain its builders strive [Ps. 127:1]
To you who boast tomorrow’s gain
Tell me, what is your life?
A mist that vanishes at dawn [James 4:13–14]
All glory be to Christ!

Refrain:
All glory be to Christ our king!
All glory be to Christ!
His rule and reign we’ll ever sing,
All glory be to Christ!

His will be done, his kingdom come
On earth as is above
Who is himself our daily bread [Matt. 6:10–11]
Praise him, the Lord of love
Let living water satisfy
The thirsty without price [Isa. 55:1; John 4:10; 7:37; Rev. 21:6]
We’ll take a cup of kindness yet
All glory be to Christ! [Refrain]

When on the day the great I Am [Exod. 3:14]
The faithful and the true [Rev. 19:11]
The Lamb who was for sinners slain [Rev. 5:6]
Is making all things new [Rev. 21:5]
Behold our God shall live with us
And be our steadfast light [Rev. 22:5]
And we shall e’er his people be
All glory be to Christ! [Refrain]

This traditional folk melody from Scotland is one of the most recognizable in the world. It is most associated with Robert Burns’s Scots poem “Auld Lang Syne,” a staple of New Year’s Eve parties. As the old year passes, it’s common to pause and consider what passes away with it and what will last, and to cast a renewed vision for the new year.

In December 2011 the American singer-songwriter Dustin Kensrue [previously] was inspired to write new lyrics for the tune AULD LANG SYNE. “The idea is that—especially at the beginning of the new year—we would dedicate all our efforts to bringing glory to Jesus Christ,” he said, “to acknowledge that anything else would be of no value, and to celebrate our redemption in him.” Kensrue’s lyrics are full of biblical allusions, whose chapter-verse references I’ve cited in brackets above.

Kings Kaleidoscope recorded “All Glory Be to Christ,” sung by Chad Gardner, on their Christmas EP Joy Has Dawned (2012). The music video was filmed on a carousel at a fair, a metaphor for the passage of time. The years go round and round as our world revolves around the sun. When the ride stops, will we have ridden wisely and well?

Rather than feature the original recording, I’ve chosen to feature a more recent version by The Petersens, a family bluegrass band from Branson, Missouri, because I absolutely love how they have reharmonized it, including starting it in a minor key. Ellen Petersen Haygood sings lead, and harmonizing vocals are supplied by her siblings Matt Petersen and Katie Petersen and her mom, Karen Petersen.

A Dietrich Bonhoeffer Hymn for New Year’s

The German theologian and Nazi resister Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote the poem “Von guten Mächten” (By Gracious Powers), his last theological work, in December 1944 while he was imprisoned in a basement cell at the Reich Security Main Office on Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse in Berlin. He sent it in a letter to his fiancée, Maria von Wedemeyer, with the note “als ein Weihnachtsgruß für Dich und die Eltern und Geschwister” (“as a Christmas greeting for you and the parents and siblings”). Two months later, the building was destroyed by an air raid, and Bonhoeffer was moved to Büchenwald and from there to other places. He was executed April 9, 1945, at Flossenbürg concentration camp, just two weeks before it was liberated by the Allies.

Bonhoeffer poem
Letter from Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Maria von Wedemeyer, December 19, 1944. Collection of Houghton Library, Harvard University, MS Ger 161 (43).

The poem was published posthumously in The Cost of Discipleship under the title “New Year 1945.”

Von guten Mächten treu und still umgeben,
behütet und getröstet wunderbar,
so will ich diese Tage mit euch leben
und mit euch gehen in ein neues Jahr.

Noch will das alte unsre Herzen quälen,
noch drückt uns böser Tage schwere Last.
Ach Herr, gib unsern aufgeschreckten Seelen
das Heil, für das du uns geschaffen hast.

Und reichst du uns den schweren Kelch, den bittern
des Leids, gefüllt bis an den höchsten Rand,
so nehmen wir ihn dankbar ohne Zittern
aus deiner guten und geliebten Hand.

Doch willst du uns noch einmal Freude schenken
an dieser Welt und ihrer Sonne Glanz,
dann wolln wir des Vergangenen gedenken,
und dann gehört dir unser Leben ganz.

Laß warm und hell die Kerzen heute flammen,
die du in unsre Dunkelheit gebracht,
führ, wenn es sein kann, wieder uns zusammen.
Wir wissen es, dein Licht scheint in der Nacht.

Wenn sich die Stille nun tief um uns breitet,
so laß uns hören jenen vollen Klang
der Welt, die unsichtbar sich um uns weitet,
all deiner Kinder hohen Lobgesang.

Von guten Mächten wunderbar geborgen
erwarten wir getrost, was kommen mag.
Gott ist bei uns am Abend und am Morgen
und ganz gewiß an jedem neuen Tag.
With every power for good to stay and guide me,
comforted and inspired beyond all fear,
I’ll live these days with you in thought beside me,
and pass, with you, into the coming year.

The old year still torments our hearts, unhastening:
the long days of our sorrow still endure.
Father, grant to the soul thou hast been chastening
that thou hast promised—the healing and the cure.

Should it be ours to drain the cup of grieving
even to the dregs of pain, at thy command,
we will not falter, thankfully receiving
all that is given by thy loving hand.

But, should it be thy will once more to release us
to life’s enjoyment and its good sunshine,
that we’ve learned from sorrow shall increase us
and all our life be dedicate as thine.

Today, let candles shed their radiant greeting:
lo, on our darkness are they not thy light,
leading us haply to our longed-for meeting?
Thou canst illumine e’en our darkest night.

When now the silence deepens for our harkening,
grant we may hear thy children’s voices raise
from all the unseen world around us darkening,
their universal paean, in thy praise.

While all the powers of Good aid and attend us,
boldly we’ll face the future, be it what may.
At even, and at morn, God will befriend us,
and oh, most surely each new year’s day!

Trans. Geoffrey Winthrop Young

“In this hymn,” writes Joshua Miller for 1517, “Bonhoeffer leaves us a theological legacy that takes seriously the sorrows of life and the reign of death in a world still under the power of sin and the devil. But it’s a hymn that also confesses hope in a God who holds all things in his hands and demonstrates faithfulness to his promise to work all things together for his children’s ultimate good.”

The text has been set to music more than seventy times and appears in a number of hymnals. It is commonly sung by German congregations around New Year’s.

In 2020, the seventy-fifth anniversary of Bonhoeffer’s death, Berlin-based musical artist Sarah Kaiser released the song as a single, using the 1977 melody by Siegfried Fietz. COVID disrupted her plans to shoot a music video with her whole band, so she pivoted, singing a stripped-down, a cappella version with a minimal crew at the Kunstanstalt in Berlin-Köpenick, a former prison. (Bonhoeffer was not kept here, but the space is evocative of the other Berlin prison, no longer extant, where he was.) Filmed by Lukas Augustin, the video is hauntingly beautiful, with Kaiser’s bare vocals echoing through the dark, dank cell, testifying to God’s goodness amid the bleakest of circumstances.

Turn on the closed captioning (CC) on the YouTube video player for English subtitles.

Also, here’s a metrical translation by Fred Pratt Green (©1974 Hope Publishing Company) of five of Bonhoeffer’s original seven stanzas, which appears in several English-language hymnals:

By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered,
and confidently waiting, come what may,
we know that God is with us night and morning,
and never fails to greet us each new day.

Yet is this heart by its old foe tormented,
still evil days bring burdens hard to bear;
oh, give our frightened souls the sure salvation
for which, O Lord, you taught us to prepare.

And when this cup you give is filled to brimming
with bitter suffering, hard to understand,
we take it thankfully and without trembling,
out of so good and so beloved a hand.

Yet when again in this same world you give us
the joy we had, the brightness of your sun,
we shall remember all the days we lived through,
and our whole life shall then be yours alone.

By gracious powers so faithfully protected,
so quietly, so wonderfully near,
I’ll live each day in hope, with you beside me,
and go with you through every coming year.

Thank you to Dr. Paul Neeley at the Global Christian Worship blog for introducing me to this hymn and this moving performance.