Advent, Day 12: The New Eve

LOOK: Prado Annunciation by Fra Angelico

Fra Angelico_The Annunciation (Prado)
Fra Angelico (Italian, ca. 1395–1455), The Annunciation, ca. 1426. Tempera and gold on wood panel, 162.3 × 191.5 cm. Museo del Prado, Madrid.

The Annunciation was a favorite subject of the Early Renaissance artist Fra Angelico [previously], and he painted it multiple times throughout his career. Once was for an altarpiece for the convent of San Domenico in Fiesole, near Florence, now in the Prado Museum in Madrid.

In this version Mary sits on a draped chair under the portico of a domestic space, reading the scriptures, when suddenly this otherworldly being, dressed in rose and radiating, approaches. It’s the archangel Gabriel. His foot crosses the threshold of paradise into Mary’s space—the divine stepping into the human realm. Will you do it? he asks. Be mother to God?

Mary’s initial fear and perplexity eventually give way to glad acceptance. The artist compresses the episode—the arrival, the ask, the cogitation, the answer—into this singular freeze frame. When Mary says yes to God’s plan to become flesh of her flesh and so work out the salvation of the world, God releases his Spirit, who rides a stream of light from the heavens into her womb. At this miraculous moment, Jesus is conceived.

Gabriel crosses his hands over his chest in humble reverence, a gesture mirrored by Mary. Both are still before the profound mystery of the Incarnation.

Fra Angelico used ultramarine—the finest and most expensive of all pigments, made from lapis lazuli, a semiprecious stone imported to Europe from the Middle East—to paint Mary’s mantle as well as the star-studded ceiling above her. Blue represents heaven, and here Mary is clothed with it and overshadowed by it.

Prado Annunciation (detail)

The male figure in the carved roundel above the central column is, I’d say (based on the unambiguous Montecarlo Altarpiece), the prophet Isaiah, who wrote centuries before the event that “the Lord himself shall give you a sign; behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14).

But Fra Angelico goes even further back than the Old Testament prophets. On the left side of the panel he shows our foreparents, Adam and Eve, being cast out of paradise, having broken God’s trust. They blush in shame—they wince, they cover their face. By including this catalyzing event from salvation history in his painting of the Annunciation, the artist is telling a larger narrative. In particular, he is drawing connections, mainly contrastive, between Adam and Eve and Christ and Mary.

Prado Annunciation (detail)

In his epistles, the apostle Paul talks about Christ as the Second Adam, or the New/Last Adam (Rom. 5:12–21; 1 Cor. 15:22–23, 45), who came to restore what was lost with the first Adam. Whereas Adam disobeyed God and caused sin to enter the world, Christ lived a life of perfect obedience to the Father, thereby redeeming humanity. The early church fathers, starting with Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian in the second century, extended this corollary with another: Mary as the Second Eve. Whereas Eve rejected God’s will, Mary embraced it, and her obedient yes, like Eve’s disobedient no, had repercussions for all of humanity. As the arts lecturer John Skillen puts it, our undoing in the Expulsion is undone by the Annunciation.

We see on the left an angel driving humanity out of Eden, but on the right, another angel welcomes humanity back in. And in a glorious reversal of the order of first creation, where Eve was created from Adam, here the Second Adam is created from the Second Eve, knit together from her DNA.

In the first issue of her Medievalish newsletter from last December, Dr. Grace Hamman discusses Fra Angelico’s Prado Annunciation in terms of chronos (ordinary time measured in seconds and hours) and kairos (moments outside of time). “Fra Angelico recognizes something that is easy to forget: because God is outside of time, not bound by chronology like us creatures, this painting offers a ‘God’s-eye view’ of salvation history,” she writes, portraying a simultaneity of “falls” that the fourteenth-century contemplative writer Julian of Norwich expounded on:

When Adam fell, God’s Son fell; because of the true union which was made in heaven, God’s Son could not be separated from Adam, for by Adam I understand all mankind. Adam fell from life to death, into the valley of this wretched world, and after that into hell. God’s Son fell with Adam, into the valley of the womb of the maiden who was the fairest daughter of Adam, and that was to excuse Adam from blame in heaven and on earth; and powerfully he brought him out of hell. (Revelations of Divine Love, chap. 51)

“There was never a moment,” Hamman continues, “even in the expulsion from Eden, that Emmanuel was not with us, if one is given the eyes of kairos.”

This came a few weeks after we discussed the artwork, along with several others on the Annunciation, on Hamman’s podcast, Old Books with Grace. It’s such a generative painting!

And the Annunciation is only the main panel. Along the predella (base) are depicted the Marriage of the Virgin, the Visitation, the Nativity, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, and the Dormition (the “falling asleep,” or death, of Mary).

LISTEN: “Cum erubuerint infelices” (While Downcast Parents Blushed) by Hildegard of Bingen, ca. 1175 | Performed by La Reverdie on Sponsa Regis: La victoire de la Vierge dans l’œuvre d’Hildegard, 2003

Cum erubuerint infelices
in progenie sua,
procedentes in peregrinatione casus,
tunc tu clamas clara voce,
hoc modo homines elevans
de isto malicioso
casu.
While downcast parents blushed,
ashamed to see their offspring
wand’ring off into the fallen exile’s pilgrimage,
you cried aloud with crystal voice,
to lift up humankind
from that malicious
fall.

Trans. Nathaniel M. Campbell [source]

The Benedictine abbess Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179) was a visionary theologian, poet, composer, singer, artist, gardener, and physician. She wrote on scientific and medical subjects in addition to theology, which she conveyed not only through prose but also through poetry, music, dramas, and illuminations. She was quite the medieval polymath!

I first learned about Hildegard in a Western music history survey course in college, in a unit centered on her Ordo Virtutum (Play of the Virtues). I couldn’t believe I had never heard about this amazing sister in the faith before. In 2012 she was formally canonized by the Roman Catholic Church—a long time coming!—and Pope Benedict XVI even named her a “doctor of the church,” a title given to saints who have made a significant contribution to theology or doctrine.

The corpus of surviving musical compositions by Hildegard is larger than that of any other medieval composer. More than half of these are antiphons, short free verses sung before and after each set of psalms during monastic prayer.

“Cum erubuerint” is one such antiphon. Hildegard would have sung it with her sisters at her monastery on the Rupertsberg and later the abbey at Eibingen as part of the Divine Office.

The song addresses the Virgin Mary, whose yes to Gabriel set into motion the Incarnation and thus humanity’s deliverance from spiritual exile.

As are many of Hildegard’s compositions, “Cum erubuerint” is highly melismatic—that is, it features long melodic phrases sung to one syllable. For example, I counted thirteen notes on the first syllable, “Cum”! The highest pitch occurs on clara (“clear”), referring to the definitive quality of Mary’s consent, bright and luminous, to this new thing that God is doing. An agent of God’s grace, Mary speaks a word that cuts through the mists of confusion through which we’ve been wandering, lost, uplifting us from the fall (casu), whose depths are underscored by that word’s being pitched the lowest. In her fiat, Mary is essentially saying, “Let there be light.”

Symphonia armonie celestium revelationum (Symphony of the Harmony of Celestial Revelations) is the title Hildegard gave to her collection of musical compositions, which are preserved in two manuscripts:

  • Dendermonde (D), Belgium, Sint-Pieters-en-Paulusabdij, Cod. 9 (ca. 1175). This one is considered by scholars to be the more authoritative. It was prepared under Hildegard’s supervision as a gift for the monks of Villers and contains fifty-seven songs.
  • Riesenkodex (R), Wiesbaden, Hessische Landesbibliothek, Hs. 2 (ca. 1180–85). This revised and enlarged edition, which includes seventy-five songs, was produced at the Rupertsberg scriptorium not long after Hildegard’s death.

“Cum erubuerint” appears in both.

Cum erubuerint by Hildegard
D 155r
Cum erubuerint (R 467r)
R 467r

Click here for a modern transcription from the International Society of Hildegard von Bingen Studies.

In her critical edition of Hildegard’s Symphonia, Barbara Newman writes,

Hildegard’s creations, compared with a contemporary hymn by Abelard or a sequence by Adam of St. Victor, will sound either primitive or unnervingly avant-garde. In a sense they are both. As a Benedictine, she was acquainted with a large repertoire of chant, but she lacked formal training and made no attempt to imitate the mainstream poetic and musical achievements of her day. Various scholars have hypothesized that she was influenced by German folksong, yet her compositions lack the two essential traits of a popular tune: it must be easy to remember and easy to sing. The difficult music of the Symphonia is sui generis. In [Sr. Maria Immaculata] Ritscher’s words, it is ‘gregorianizing but not Gregorian’ and impossible to classify in terms of any known contemporary movement. (27–28)

And regarding Hildegard’s lyrical texts:

Until the advent of modern vers libre, scholars were reluctant even to dignify Hildegard’s songs with the title of poetry. In style they are much closer to Kunstprosa, a highly wrought figurative language that resembles poetry in its density and musicality, yet with no semblance of meter or regular form. (32–33)

The above performance of “Cum erubuerint” is by La Reverdie, a medieval and Renaissance vocal ensemble that started in 1986 with two pairs of sisters from Italy.

But in addition, here are a few instrumental versions I particularly like:

>> Tina Chancey of the early music ensemble Hesperus plays the melody on kemenche, a bowed instrument from the Black Sea region of Turkey:

>> Riley Lee on shakuhachi (bamboo flute):

>> Noël Akchoté on electric guitar:

The song also appears, under the title “From This Wicked Fall,” on the Billboard-topping Vision: The Music of Hildegard Von Bingen (1994), a classical-electronic crossover album of seventeen of Hildegard’s works arranged by Richard Souther. In Souther’s version, nonlexical vocables (sung by soprano Emily Van Evera and mezzo-soprano Sister Germaine Fritz, OSB) replace the Latin text.

Advent, Day 11: Waiting Bride

LOOK: Dim Gold (Feast of Brides) by Mandy Cano Villalobos

Cano Villalobos, Mandy_Dim Gold (Feast of Brides)
Mandy Cano Villalobos (American, 1979–), Dim Gold (Feast of Brides), 2022. Miscellaneous found objects, dimensions variable. Installation at Bridge Projects, Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Mandy Cano Villalobos is an interdisciplinary artist whose projects span installation, painting, drawing, performance, sculpture, and video. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Drawing on the archetype of the waiting bride, the found-object installation Dim Gold (Feast of Brides) was commissioned by Bridge Projects for Here After, an exhibition exploring humanity’s hope for paradise. The artist writes,

Dim Gold is an allegory of marital covenant, bodily death, and the hope of love’s consummation in afterlife. The throne heap consists of discarded clothing, broken appliances, old lamps, unwanted toys, bruised furniture, fake flowers, stained curtains, human and synthetic hair, scratched glasses, deflated soccer balls, faded photographs, worn shoes, chipped figurines, kitchen utensils, costume jewelry, yellowed wedding decorations, cracked dishes, Christmas ornaments, mildewed books, and bathtub plugs.

From baby bottles and children’s playthings to a cane and a pillbox, the pile contains a life. (In fact, Cano Villalobos said she acquired most of the items from an old woman’s estate sale.) It’s a full life, but one of brokenness and decay. There is no permanence in this world. The otherworld—the new heaven, the new earth (a transfigured thisworld)—is what endures.

Cano Villalobos, Mandy_Dim Gold (detail)
Cano Villalobos, Mandy_Dim Gold (detail)

The Dim Gold construction is throne-like, all its components leaning in toward a central chair topped by seven white, ribbed shafts that fan out and that are suggestive, with the flame-colored flowers at the terminals, of a menorah. Lace, silk, and draped strings of pearls form the throne’s backing. With its dressed but empty seat that calls forth a presence, the piece evokes the hetoimasia (prepared throne of the second coming) of Eastern Orthodox icons.

The scattered, lit bulbs on shadeless lampstands allude to the burning oil lamps in Jesus’s parable of the ten bridesmaids (Matt. 25:1–13), which signify readiness for the Bridegroom’s return.

Cano Villalobos combines earthly and heavenly imagery in Dim Gold, an Advent ensemble that pictures the church-as-bride’s waiting with lights on, amid the ephemera of this life, for her groom to come take her home, where an eternal feast is spread in bright, delicious glory, and the two of them will become one at last.

LISTEN: “When the Bridegroom Comes” | Words by David Omer Bearden, 1973 | Music by Judee Sill, 1973 | Performed by Judee Sill on Heart Food, 1973

See the bride and the Spirit are one.
Then won’t you who are thirsty invite him to come?
With your door open wide,
Won’t you listen in the dark for the midnight cry?
And see, when your light is on, that the Bridegroom comes.

Into cold outer darkness are gone
Guests who would not their own wedding garment put on.
Though the chosen are few,
Won’t you tarry by your lamp till he calls for you?
And pray that your love endure till the Bridegroom comes.

When the halt and the lame meet the Son,
And he sees for the blind and he speaks for the dumb,
Let their poor hearts’ complaint,
Like the leper turned around who has kissed the saint,
Lift like a trumpet shout, and the Bridegroom come.

See the builders despising the stone,
See the pearl of great price and the dry desert bones.
By the Pharisees cursed,
Be exultant with the rose when the last are first,
And see how his mercy shines as the Bridegroom comes.

Hear the bride and the Spirit say, “Come!”
Then won’t you who are weary invite in the Son?
When your heart’s love is high,
Won’t you hasten to the place where the hour is nigh?
And see that your light is on, for the Bridegroom comes.
See that your light is on, for the Bridegroom comes.

Judee Sill (1944–1979) was an American singer-songwriter whose genre of music Rolling Stone refers to as “mystic Christian folk.” Themes of temptation, rapture, redemption, and the search for higher meaning permeate her work.

Sill survived ongoing physical and verbal abuse in childhood from her mother and stepfather. As a teenager, she committed a series of armed robberies that landed her in reform school, where she learned to play the organ for church and became interested in gospel music. Upon her release, after briefly attending a junior college and working in a piano bar, she got caught up in the California drug culture, developing a crippling heroin addiction and resorting to prostitution and check forgery to fund it.

While she was serving a prison sentence for narcotics and forgery offenses, her only sibling, Dennis, died of an illness, and she was devastated. But this seems to have given her the impetus to pursue a career in songwriting and performing. She gigged in clubs around Los Angeles while living in a Cadillac, and she was eventually signed by the new Asylum Records. Graham Nash (of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) produced her first single, “Jesus Was a Cross Maker.” Her two albums, Judee Sill (1971) and Heart Food (1973), received some acclaim but failed to chart. Discouraged, and suffering back pain from a car accident and later a fall, she returned to hard drugs. She died of a cocaine and codeine overdose at age thirty-five.

Why do I rehearse Sill’s turbulent biography? Because songs don’t come out of a vacuum. The longing in “When the Bridegroom Comes”—those piano chords, that voice—is real. Her thirst, her questing, her waiting and hoping. Though she herself didn’t write the lyrics (David Omer Bearden, her romantic partner at the time, did, though she likely gave input), she sings them with fervency, makes them her prayer.

The song melds together the parable of the ten bridesmaids from Matthew 25 with the bridal theology of Revelation. In one, which has more of an individual focus, we are put in the place of the bride’s attendants and warned to be prepared for the imminent wedding celebration, lest we get locked out in the dark; in the other, Christ’s church as a collective is likened to the bride herself, eagerly anticipating the arrival of her groom and the sweet union that will follow.

The song’s primary referent is Revelation 22:17, from the final chapter of the Bible:

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

In this verse, the voice of the bride (the church) through whom the Spirit speaks calls out, “Come.” Because of the interchange of speakers and subjects in the broader passage, it’s unclear whether the addressee of this imperative is Christ or the masses. The church could be crying out for Jesus’s return, as they do in verse 20, or they could be inviting people far and wide to the gospel feast, bidding them come and eat. I think the latter, which would make it continuous with the third and fourth lines, but it could really go either way. Because as sure as there’s the final coming of Christ to the world, there’s also the coming of the world to Christ. He comes to us, and we come to him.

Sill’s whole song is full of biblical references—Jesus’s healing ministry, Jesus as the rejected cornerstone (Matt. 21:42), Jesus as the pearl of great price (Matt. 13:45–46), the Spirit breathing life into dry bones (Ezek. 37:1–14), Jesus’s upside-down kingdom in which the last are first and the first are last (Matt. 19:30). It celebrates divine mercy and grace and encourages us to respond in the affirmative to Christ’s wedding invitation, and to persevere in love while he tarries.

Roundup: Kenyan Annunciation; Jesus in utero; the politics of the Magnificat; and more

Many Catholics and Orthodox decry that Protestants really only ever talk about Mary during Christmas. While she does get some extra attention here on the blog in December, I also try to talk about her throughout the year, from the feasts of the Annunciation (March 25) and the Visitation (May 31) to her witness during Holy Week and Pentecost and her being such an important figure in Jesus’s life and exemplary for our own. Here’s a new Marian roundup, plus at the bottom a Christmas gift idea involving a product I helped create. 🙂

VISUAL MEDITATIONS:

>> “Wondrous” by Paul Simpson Duke, Seeing the Sacred: In 2019, the Rev. Drs. Paul and Stacey Simpson Duke, co-pastors of First Baptist Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan, ran an Annunciation art series on their blog, meditating on one artwork on the subject per day for twenty-five days. I commend the whole series, but I was particularly compelled by Day 13, which centers on a terracotta sculpture made by the late Kenyan artist Rosemary Namuli Karuga when she was a student at Makerere College Art School in Uganda. Paul Duke considers especially the mixture of sorrow and awe expressed in the figure’s face.

Karuga, Rosemary Namuli_Mary
Rosemary Namuli Karuga (Kenyan, 1928–2021), Mary, ca. 1950. Terracotta. This image is Plate 4 in the book Christian Art in Africa and Asia by Arno Lehmann.

>> “Pregnant with God” by Victoria Emily Jones, ArtWay: For the first Sunday of Advent, I wrote about the painting Blue Madonna by Scottish Catholic artist Michael Felix Gilfedder, which shows the Christ child developing inside Mary’s womb. Pregnancy has always been an image I’ve carried with me during Advent, as it embodies the expectancy characteristic of the season—the growth of new life, a hidden fullness, about to come forth.

Gilfedder, Michael Felix_Blue Madonna
Michael Felix Gilfedder (Scottish, 1948–), Blue Madonna (Mary, Mother of God), 1987. Oil and tempera on wood with gesso relief, 25 1/4 × 13 in. (64 × 33 cm). Private collection, London. [prints for sale]

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PODCAST EPISODES: Both of the following come from For the Life of the World, the podcast of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. Released back-to-back last December.

>> “Mary Theotokos: Her Bright Sorrow, Her Suffering Faith, and Her Compassion” with Frederica Mathewes-Green: Frederica Mathewes-Green is an American author and speaker, chiefly on topics related to Eastern Orthodox belief and practice. Here she discusses the Orthodox reverence for Mary; the scriptural account of her life; Mary as the mother of us all; the Protevangelium of James, which provides legendary material about Mary’s upbringing and betrothal; the ancient prayer “Sub tuum praesidium” (“Under Your Compassion”) from 250 CE, the earliest known appearance of the title “Theotokos”; and Mary’s role as intercessor. The latter point is something that Protestants like me are wary of—praying through saints who have passed on is not something I practice—but the way Mathewes-Green explains it is, just as we would ask fellow believers on earth to pray for us, why shouldn’t we also ask our friends in heaven to do the same, if we truly believe that they are alive and that we are in communion with them (as we confess in the Apostles’ Creed)?

Besides explicating several Marian doctrines, Mathewes-Green also speaks of Mary as an ordinary human being with an extraordinary call. With tenderness, she considers Mary’s experiences and emotions at different life stages: first as a perplexed young woman who is taken aback by Gabriel’s announcement but ultimately responds with humility and magnanimity, then as a parent who raises a child and later witnesses his violent death.

For more from Mathewes-Green on the topic, see her book Mary as the Early Christians Knew Her: The Mother of Jesus in Three Ancient Texts.

>> “A Womb More Spacious Than Stars: How Mary’s Beauty and Presence Upends the Patriarchy and Stabilizes Christian Spirituality” with Matthew J. Milliner: Matthew Milliner, an art history professor at Wheaton College and the author of Mother of the Lamb: The Story of a Global Icon, is a Protestant who wants to see other Protestants embrace a more robust doctrine of Mary as Theotokos, “Mother of God,” and develop a keener sense of her ecclesial presence. In this hour-long conversation he discusses Mary as person and as symbol; the need for “hermeneutical adventurousness anchored in the revelation of God in Christ”; how icons work, and particularly how Marian icons are spiritually formative; how to read a Nativity icon; the feminist objection to Mary; how Mary upends the ancient pagan goddess culture; and how we all must be Marian if we are to be orthodox Christians.

I’ve previously featured two other talks by Milliner on Mary: “The Art of Advent” and “Blessed Art Thou.”

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VIDEO: “Magnificat” by SALT Project: This short film features a reading of the Magnificat in Spanish, its words fleshed out in contemporary images. For the same video but in English, see here.

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ARTICLE: “The Political Is Personal: Mary as a Parent and Prophet of Righteousness” by Erin Dufault-Hunter, Fuller Magazine: What does the New Testament mean by “righteousness” (dikē)? Is it personal piety, or social justice? This article by Christian ethics professor Erin Dufault-Hunter examines how Mary upholds both connotations of the word. “Perhaps more than anyone else, Mary displays for us how saying yes to the kingdom, and its unlikely king, necessarily involves the personal but also reorients our social and political allegiances,” Dufault-Hunter writes. “Intimacy with God necessarily entails a political orientation, bringing or solidifying a way of seeing power and position.” Debunking the claim that Jesus’s coming was not political, Dufault-Hunter considers Mary’s Magnificat as well as other elements of the Christmas story—like the title “Son of God,” the word “gospel,” and the angels’ potentially treasonous news to the shepherds—showing how the good news of Christ is both personal and political.

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The Daily Prayer Project is running a special Christmas gift offer that, for $50, includes a physical and digital copy of our hot-off-the-press Christmas–Epiphany prayer periodical (covering December 25 through February 21) and two hand-thrown, dishwasher-safe mugs with a raised medallion of our labyrinth-inspired logo and glazes that map onto our morning and evening prayer colors. Packages ship early next week, so get your order in soon! There are also yearly subscription options, individual or communal, on the website.

In addition to working as a copyeditor and proofreader for the DPP, I also curate the art for the Gallery section, which is expanded in this edition to eight pieces—in this case, Nativities from around the world, each accompanied by a short reflection. The cover image is Morning Star by the Japanese Christian artist Hiroshi Tabata (1929–2014).

Advent, Day 10: Oil in My Lamp

LOOK: Oil Lamp by Andrew Wyeth

Wyeth, Andrew_Oil Lamp
Andrew Wyeth (American, 1917–2009), Oil Lamp, 1945. Tempera on hardboard panel, 34 × 42 in. (86.4 × 106.6 cm). Collection of Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth. Photo courtesy of the Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, Maine.

Andrew Wyeth’s realist paintings center narratives of rural life in Pennsylvania, where he lived for most of each year, and Maine, where he and his wife spent their summers. This one shows his friend Alvaro Olson sitting in a room of his (Alvaro’s) eighteenth-century farmhouse in Cushing, Maine. Weary and worn, he stares off to the side, his face cast in the dim glow of an oil lamp. Alvaro tended to the family farm and took care of his increasingly debilitated sister, Christina, who is the subject of Wyeth’s most famous painting, Christina’s World.

Wyeth is one of my favorite artists, and I’ve featured his work a few times on the blog: here, here, and here.

LISTEN: “Oil in My Lamp,” traditional gospel song | Arranged by Gene Parsons and Clarence White and performed by the Byrds on Ballad of Easy Rider (1969)

Give me oil in my lamp
Keep me burning, burning, burning
Give me oil in my lamp, I pray
Give me oil in my lamp
Keep me burning, burning, burning
Keep me burning till the break of day

Sing, oh sinner!* sing, oh sinner!
Sing, oh sinner, to the King!
Sing, oh sinner! sing, oh sinner!
Sing, oh sinner, to the King!

* The traditional lyrics of the chorus are “Sing hosanna.”

This gospel song is inspired by Jesus’s parable from Matthew 25:1–13, in which ten bridesmaids are waiting for the bridegroom to come to them so that the wedding-night procession can start. Having not prepared an adequate supply of oil, five of the women foolishly allow their lamps to burn out, while the other five, ready with oil refills, keep theirs lit. The parable is a warning to be prepared for the Bridegroom’s return, always kindling our faith and shining forth our good works. The song is thus a plea that God would help us persevere.

I was first introduced to “Oil in My Lamp” through the country-rock arrangement by the Byrds’ guitarist Clarence White and drummer Gene Parsons, who recorded it with their bandmates in 1969. (This version was covered nicely by Neal Casal in 1999, using more minimal instrumentation and a slower tempo for more contemplative vibes.)

The song’s origins are elusive, with most sources simply using the attribution “Traditional.” Fascinated as I am by sacred song histories, I got a bit carried away trying to track down more information. So feel free to stop reading here—or follow to the end if you want to trace the song’s evolution and follow links to different creative interpretations!

The earliest appearance of the lyrics, at least one version of them, that I could find is in the short story “Safe in the Arms of Jesus” by Arthur Huff Fauset, an African American writer, published in Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life 7, no. 4 (April 1929), p. 126. At an Easter night service, the Reverend De Witt Coleman steps up to his Baptist pulpit and addresses the small male chorus seated at his side.

“Boys,” he screamed, “I want you to sing for me. Sing as you never sang before . . . that song of yours called, ‘Has My Gas Bill Been Paid,’ or something like that!”

The vast congregation roared with laughter at this facetious petition of their leader.

A group of five men arose and began to croon softly. The audience became suddenly still. The tenor gave the note, then the bass and other members of the chorus took up the tone. They launched into song:

Give me oil in my lamp,
Give me oil in my lamp,
Give me oil in my lamp, I pray;
Keep me singing in the camp,
Keep me singing in the camp,
Until the break of day.

When my cup runneth over,
When my cup runneth over,
When my cup runneth over with joy;
I find it easy to pray,
And to sing every day,
When my cup runneth over with joy.

Give me oil in my lamp,
Give me oil in my lamp,
Give me oil in my lamp, I pray;
Keep me singing in the camp,
Keep me singing in the camp,
Until the break of day.

Besides being an active figure in the Harlem Renaissance, Fauset was an anthropologist and a folklorist who conducted fieldwork among Black communities in the Deep South, the British West Indies, and Nova Scotia. He may have collected this song from any of the many people he interviewed, or churches he visited, in those places. My guess is that it originated in the United States as a camp meeting song in the early twentieth century, hence the line “Keep me singing in the camp” (though this lyric could have been a later adaptation to fit that context). “Camp meeting” is the name given to the outdoor evangelical religious services that spread across the American frontier in the early nineteenth century.

“The camp meeting tradition fostered a tradition of music and hymn singing with strong oral, improvisatory, and spontaneous elements,” reads a Wikipedia article. “Both tunes and words were created, changed, and adapted in true folk music fashion.” 

In the 1950s, “Oil in My Lamp” (alternatively titled “Give Me Oil in My Lamp” or “Sing Hosanna”) spread throughout the country through traveling song leaders, songbook publishers, and other networks. Boundless Praise, published in Lawrenceville, Tennessee, in 1944, is the earliest songbook appearance I can find (attribution: “Author unknown”), and the earliest recording I found is from The Four Girls gospel quartet, who sang it as part of a medley for an Easter 1954 broadcast (“Give me oil in my lamp / Keep me shining in the camp / Until the judgment day”).

Singspiration published the song text in 1951, citing A. Sevison as the author (probably because he added the verse “Make me a fisher of men, keep me seeking . . .” and possibly also the “Sing hosanna” refrain), and in 1963 they published an arrangement by “the Csehys” (Wilmos and Gladys Csehy?) and Norman Johnson.

After that, the song appeared in Girl Scouts / Girl Guides songbooks and, later, on major children’s music albums, like Wee Sing Bible Songs (1986), Bible Songs by Cedarmont Kids (1997), and Bob and Larry’s Sunday Morning Songs (2002) from the VeggieTales Sing-Alongs series. The children’s versions often include additional verses, such as “Give me joy in my heart, keep me singing . . . ,” “Give me peace in my heart, keep me resting . . . ,” “Give me love in my heart, keep me serving . . . ,” and so on.

One interesting thing I found is how popular—and widely recorded—the song was in Jamaica, starting in the sixties.

In 1964, five years before the Byrds release, Jamaican ska singer Eric “Monty” Morris recorded it with Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, and it was a huge hit. Other Jamaican artists, including Jackie Edwards (1964) and Desmond Dekker and The Specials (1993), followed, and the song appears on several reggae gospel compilations.

Jamaican singer-songwriter and percussionist Dick “Syncona” Smith, who became a linchpin of the Toronto music scene after migrating there in the 1960s, released a notable variation in 1974 that opens with this new verse:

When the burden of life makes me weary
And I feel that I can’t carry on
When my time’s running out and my nights get lonely
Lord, I need someone to hear my song

The extensive popularity of “Oil in My Lamp” among Caribbean artists makes me wonder if perhaps the song actually originated on Caribbean soil and was brought to the US by migrants.

If you have any additional information about the song’s history, or know of any recordings prior to 1954, please do share!

Advent, Day 9: La Luz

LOOK: Magna #1 by Luciano Cian

Cian, Luciano_Magna 1
Luciano Cian (Brazilian, 1973–), Magna #1, 2021. Giclée print on Hahnemühle Photo Rag 308 gsm, 110 × 90 cm. Edition of 20.

LISTEN: “La Luz” by Brother Isaiah, on Shade (2020)

You are the light of the world, yeah, yeah
You are the light of the world, yeah, yeah
You are the light, Lord, yes, you are the light

Well come alight, come fire, come and burn in me
Come alight, come fire, come and burn in me
Come alight, come fire, come and burn in me
Come and burn in me, yeah

Well I was sitting in the darkness
Waiting for the daybreak
Sweet dawn from on high
Come and break upon me, I pray
’Cause dawn seem so far away
’Cause dawn seem so far away
But he said, “Hope and watch and wait
Watch and pray
You know me coming, Sonny
You know me don’t delay
They call me New Sunshine
They call me New Daybreak
They call me Sweet Dayspring
’Cause with my help my kingdom bring

“So wait child”—and so I wait
I heard him say, “Pray child”—and so I prayed
I pray, “Light from light, come and drown on me now”
Me say, “Light from light, come and shine on me now”
Light from light, come and shine on me now
Me say, “Life from light from light”

You are the light of the world, yeah, yeah
You are the light of the world, yeah, yeah
You are the light, Lord, yeah, yeah, you are the light

Well come alight, come fire, come and burn in me
Come alight, come fire, come and burn in me
Come alight, come fire, come and burn in me
Come and burn in me, yeah

Well in the middle of the night
Beneath the starlight
I was sitting in the dark when I heard a cry
Singing, “Glory, glory, glory!”
There was angels singing, “Glory, glory, glory!”

Then in the quiet of my heart
There came a little light shining
Daystar rising, breaking through my night
And then a light from on high
Broke upon me inside
Like a fire burning bright
Put the darkness to flight

With all that glory, glory, glory
There was angels singing, “Glory, glory, glory!”
There was angels singing, “Glory, glory, glory!”
And all of heaven ringing, “Glory, glory, glory!”
And then my soul was singing, “Glory, glory, glory!”
There was singing, there were: “Glory, glory, glory!”

You are the light of the world, yeah, yeah
Yes, you are the light of the world, yeah, yeah
Yes, you are the light, Lord, yeah, you are the light, yeah

Come alight, come fire, come and burn in me
Come alight, come fire, come and burn in me
Come alight, come fire, come and burn in me
Come and burn in me, yeah

Come alight, come fire, come and burn in me
Come alight, come fire, come and burn in me
Come alight, come fire, come and burn in me
Come and burn in me, yeah

’Cause you’re the light of the world, yeah, yeah
Yes, you’re the light of the world, yeah, yeah
You’re the light, Lord, yes, you are the light
Yes, you are the light of the world, yeah, yeah
You are the light of the world, yeah, yeah

Yes, you are the light, Lord, yes, you are the light
Yes, you are the light, Lord, yes, you are the light

Fr. Isaiah Marie Hofmann, CFR, is a newly ordained priest with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, an institute founded in the South Bronx in 1987 by eight Capuchin friars desiring to work more definitively for personal and communal reform within the Catholic Church. Their mission is twofold: service to the materially poor, and evangelization. Father Isaiah joined this community as a lay brother in 2008, after graduating from Boston College, where he played lacrosse.

During his time as a friar, he has released four albums under the name Brother Isaiah: Shade (2020), Shade, Season 2 (2020), Poco a Poco (2018), and Broomstick (2016). “Music is where I wrestle with God—and where I find God,” he says.

Advent, Day 8: Prepare Ye the Way

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.’”

—Matthew 3:1–3

LOOK: Painted staircases by Xomatok

Xomatok stairway
Painted staircase by Xomatok (b. 1985), Lima, Peru, 2021. All photos by Jeremy Flores.

Xomatok stairway
Xomatok stairway

From Colossal:

Artist Xomatok translates the vibrant, geometric motifs of handwoven Andean blankets, or llicllas, into large-scale works that mark the pathways through the hilly Alisos de Amauta neighborhood in Lima, Peru. Painted during the course of two months as part of the Municipality of Lima’s Pinta Lima Bicentenario, the 13 interventions were a collaborative undertaking by the artist and local residents, who transformed the public staircases that wind through the district into multi-level canvases. The resulting patterns are kaleidoscopic and highlight a spectrum of bright colors and symmetries often associated with the traditional textiles.

View more photos.

LISTEN: “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” by Stephen Schwartz, from the musical Godspell (1971)

The following video clip is the opening sequence of the 1973 film adaptation of the stage musical Godspell, which stars David Haskell as John the Baptist:

So. much. joy!

The ram’s horn issues its call. Ballet dancer, student, struggling actress, waitress, cab driver, businessman, businesswoman, parking attendant—they all leave their jobs, casting off their workplace trappings to accept John’s invitation to new and abundant life. They meet him at The Angel of the Waters, a sculpted fountain in New York City’s Central Park. They throw themselves into the fountain like children, receiving their baptism, their initiation into the upside-down kingdom of God.

But John notices Jesus standing at a distance, stripped down and ready for his own baptism. John’s lighthearted visage turns heavy for a moment in recognition that Jesus’s baptism is into suffering and death.

I wrote about Godspell two years ago when I featured one of its songs, “Turn Back, O Man,” to go along with a lectionary reading from Ezekiel. The musical is wacky, with the ragtag disciples forming a comic troupe to act out Jesus’s parables and teachings from the Gospel of Matthew. Some Christians find it all too silly and irreverent. Others, like me, see it as capturing an important element of the Good News, which is joy. This is what Godspell’s creator, John-Michael Tebelak, wanted to get across.

Perhaps the festive tone of the opening number seems disjunctive with what we know of John from the Gospels—a desert ascetic who preached about vipers and axes and fire and winnowing forks, warning his hearers of the wrath to come. Point taken.

However, while his message is a sobering one, repentance need not be a dour affair. We must take honest stock of our sins, yes, laying them out in confession before God, but scripture assures us many times over of God’s pardon, and that’s something to rejoice in! There is a joy to repentance and to following the way of Christ. Turning off the death-road, onto the road of life. As we unload the burdens that have accrued on our backs, we are freed to walk upright once again.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” John cries out on the riverbank.

I’d encourage you to read that not as a threat but as an invitation. The kingdom of heaven is marked by grace and possibility. It’s a pearl, it’s a seed, it’s a feast. When we embrace the gospel, our cities become a playground where we enact the values of Christ, childlike as they be, preparing the world to receive her coming King.

Advent, Day 7: Lift Up Your Heads

LOOK: Ps:24//7 by Marco Cazzulini

Cazzulini, Marco_Choral Cathedral
Marco Cazzulini (British, 1962–), Ps:24//7 (working title: Choral Cathedral), 2017. Digital artwork, 40 × 40 cm.

Based on a text that’s traditionally read during Advent and on Palm Sunday, this digital artwork by Marco Cazzulini is part of a larger series on the Psalms, which he has compiled in a limited-edition book. Cazzulini writes,

‘Lift up your heads, O you gates; and be lifted up, you age-abiding doors, that the King of glory may come in’ (AMPC). The language of the Psalms is deeply rooted in time and place, experience and tradition. It is likely to be so here. Nevertheless, these words are not hidebound to their history. This verse gives wings to the imagination and can be transposed onto other things.

This triumphal and celebratory cry ‘Lift up your heads, O you gates’ seems to herald the entry of Christ into the vaunted place of His dominion. That which is closed, opens, and that which is worn, patinated by age, is commanded to lift up its head and acknowledge the arrival of the King of Glory. He who stands, and waits, at the doors of our own closed hearts, worn out by bad experience, shut through unbelief, locked by fear, ruined by sin, is the same King of Glory. He comes, knocks, but never forces entry, and on His ‘coming in’ we are lifted up by His own virtuous majesty. His entry transforms and illumines. Jesus comes in divine eminence and meek humanity. He wears His crown with humility and His presence welcomed is like opening a door to a fresh scented breeze.

Great lofty cathedral interiors soaring into the void inform this artwork. Caught in the half light, their ceilings dissolve into a penumbral space as if no roof or limit existed. Their naves running into infinity, their transepts stretching into the unknown.

Bearing equal creative weight is the image of a path running through a grove of tall trees with light filtering through the canopy, camouflaging shapes and creating deep shadows. 

Follow the artist on Instagram @marcocazzuliniart.

For more on Psalm 24 as a whole, used in ancient times as an entrance liturgy for processions into the Jerusalem temple, see this commentary by Old Testament scholar Rolf Jacobson. “The poem,” Jacobson writes, “describes the contrasting natures of the God who enters into human space and those humans who are able to meet the advent of this God. Psalm 24 is about the advent of human beings into the presence of God, and the mutual advent of the King of glory into the presence of ‘those who seek the face of God.’”

Think of this world as a temple or your heart as a temple—that dark doorway of Cazzulini’s image the entrance—and meditate on Christ’s coming into it. Do you need to fling open the gates to let him in?

LISTEN: “Lift Up Your Heads” (original title: “Machet die Tore Weit”) | Text: Psalm 24:7–9 | Music by Andreas Hammerschmidt, 17th century, arr. Robert Field | Performed by Oasis Chorale, dir. Wendell Nisly, on Favorites, 2017

Lift up your heads, ye gates!
O eternal doors,
Lift up high!
And the king of great glory shall come in.
Who is this king of great glory?
He is the Lord, strong and mighty in battle.
Sing Hosanna in the highest!

The German Baroque composer Andreas Hammerschmidt (1612–1675) served as organist and choir director at the Protestant Johanniskirche (Church of St. John) in Zittau from 1639 until his death. He wrote the Advent motet “Machet die Tore Weit” for his community there, setting Martin Luther’s German translation of Psalm 24:7–9. Oasis Chorale sings the piece in English. To hear the original German, click here.

Advent, Day 6: That Holy Thing

LOOK: Holy Family at Night (Rembrandt’s workshop)

Rembrandt (workshop)_Holy Family at Night
Workshop of Rembrandt van Rijn, Holy Family at Night, ca. 1642–48. Oil on panel, 66.5 × 78 cm. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

During the Dutch Golden Age, the master artist Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669) ran a flourishing workshop in Amsterdam, overseeing the production of students’ paintings that continued the deep chiaroscuro and distinctive application of paint seen in his own work.

This painting from his workshop shows the Holy Family in a sparsely lit domestic interior at night. The Christ child lies asleep in a wicker cradle at the foot of a half staircase, his grandma Anne likewise nodding off as she rocks him gently with the cradle rope. Relieved by the quiet, Jesus’s mom, Mary, catches up on some reading, and Joseph taps liquid from a barrel on the left under the stairs (he’s very difficult to make out through the shadows).

This lived-in room is full of everyday objects from seventeenth-century Holland. Over the hearth on the left a copper candlestick holder is affixed to the wall. Behind Anne is a map, and beside her a spinning wheel, and a wicker basket hangs from the nail of a curved wooden beam. On the table to the right are a pair of old shoes, a flask attached to a leather belt, and a mortar and pestle, and a Jan Steen jug and other kitchenware are stored in the cupboard above. The shutters are drawn closed over the window. How utterly ordinary!

Although scholarly opinion since 1900 has identified the figures as biblical ones (the title is not the artist’s, as artists did not title their paintings at the time), for much of the painting’s history viewers interpreted it as simply a genre scene—that is, a scene showing regular people going about their daily lives. It lacks the “distinction, nobility, and loftiness” owed to biblical subject matter, it was believed, especially the Holy Family. There are no angels, no haloes. The only hint of sacredness is the pouring of light from a mysterious unknown source.

Rembrandt (workshop)_Holy Family at Night (detail)

But the ordinariness of the scene depicted is precisely what makes it so glorious. Jesus was born into a working-class family. For most of his life he labored as a carpenter, adopting Joseph’s trade. He wasn’t surrounded by lavish things. His upbringing looked much like that of all the other Jewish boys in Nazareth. That he was God incarnate would be revealed in time, to those who had eyes to see. But in the meantime, he cooed and pooed and cried and slept and fed and spit up like any other baby! And his mom was exhausted like any other mom, forced to sneak in some time for herself (including private devotional time, as she’s probably reading her Bible here) wherever she could, between childcare, chores, and other obligations.

That God chose to come to us as an ordinary human being born to an ordinary family (albeit conceived in an extraordinary way!) surprised everyone. The song that follows extends the surprise of the Incarnation into God’s other interventions in our lives, on a more personal scale. Just as he defied expectations in his first coming, so he often continues to surprise us in the ways he comes to us now—that is, not according to our own prescriptions, but down his “own secret stair,” when and where we’re least expecting it.

LISTEN: “That Holy Thing” | Words by George MacDonald, 1877 | Music by Katy Wehr, on In Others’ Words, 2008

They all were looking for a king,
To slay their foes, and lift them high:
Thou cam’st a little baby thing
That made a woman cry.

O Son of Man, to right my lot
Naught but thy presence can avail;
Yet on the road thy wheels are not,
Nor on the sea thy sail.

My how or when thou wilt not heed,
But come down thine own secret stair,
That thou mayst answer all my need,
Yea, every bygone prayer.

This song is a setting of a poem written by George MacDonald (1824–1905) in December 1877 and sent by letter to a handful of friends.* When it was first published in 1893 in the two-volume Poetical Works of George MacDonald, it was with this revised final stanza:

My fancied ways why shouldst thou heed?
Thou com’st down thine own secret stair;
Com’st down to answer all my need,
Yea, every bygone prayer!

The poem appears in the highly influential Oxford Book of English Verse (1900), compiled and edited by Arthur Quiller-Couch, but in its original form.

“That holy thing” is a translation of the Greek word hagios, which appears in Gabriel’s speech to Mary in Luke 1:35: “that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” Educator Missy Andrews unpacks the poem:

In “That Holy Thing,” MacDonald meditates on man’s expectations and God’s will. In the first line of the poem, the poet remembers the first-century Jews who suffered under Roman occupation, waiting for the Messiah who would restore the throne of David to Israel. He acknowledges their plight and their expectation, contrasting it with what they in fact received. The baby Christ represented both a gracious answer to their need, and an immediate disappointment. He satisfied the deepest intentions of their prayer and Yahweh’s ancient prophecies, but frustrated their earthy expectations for geographic kingdoms and vindication. Not only that, but the baby King “made a woman cry.” This references not only the immediate suffering and travail of the Christ Child’s mother, Mary, but ultimately the suffering that would rend her heart when He himself was lifted high upon the cross in answer to their desperate prayer for triumph over their foes.

The poet notes that his own travails and petitions, his own desperate need of God’s intervening help, is denied in its immediacy as well. For, although the Son of Man’s own presence alone can help to “right the lot” of the poet, his coming is not visible by road or sea. In this way, MacDonald acknowledges that his own expectations, like those of his spiritual forebears, eclipse his ability to see the Lord’s coming in his own circumstances. He acknowledges the differences between God’s ways and man’s, in faith acknowledging that the Lord answers man in his own ways and times, keeping secret His approach, but stealthily accomplishing man’s every need, answering his every prayer through the mystery of incarnation. This incarnate Child, the Son of Man, replete with humanity and no stranger to suffering, suggests a remedy for all who wait and suffer.

Andrews is a founding director of CenterForLit, whose goal is “to bring readers face to face with the world’s best books so they can know themselves more fully as God’s creatures.” The center has a special emphasis on equipping parents to teach the classics to their kids.

The commentary above is excerpted, with Andrews’s permission, from the first post of twenty-five published in Advent 2015 for the CenterForLit’s “Literary Advent” blog series (which is excellent!). Andrews provides interpretations of poems by John Donne, Madeleine L’Engle, Gerard Manley Hopkins, T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, and more, combining literary analysis and theological reflection. You can enjoy Andrews’s series in print form with the book Wild Bells: A Literary Advent.

Kathryn Wehr, PhD, is a singer-songwriter whose most recent album, which leans folk rock in style, is And All the Marys: Women Encountering Christ in the Gospels (2018).

Besides being a musical artist, Wehr is also a scholar whose interests include theology and the arts, spiritual formation, and church history. Her specialization is the religious drama of Dorothy L. Sayers, and as such, she is the editor of the forthcoming book The Man Born to be King, Wade Annotated Edition (IVP Academic, 2023). In addition, she is the managing editor of Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture at the Center for Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul, Minnesota. 

* Thank you to the Special Collections & University Archives at Taylor University, through whose British Author Collections I discovered this earlier composition date for the poem, as well as an authoritative version of stanza 3 from MacDonald’s own hand. They provided me with a scan of one of MacDonald’s handwritten copies of “That Holy Thing” (Ref. ID 482), which contains the headnote “Written for my friends—Christmas, 1877.”

Advent, Day 5: In a Fog

LOOK: Blind Light by Antony Gormley

Gormley, Antony_Blind Light
Antony Gormley (British, 1950–), Blind Light, 2007. Fluorescent light, water, ultrasonic humidifiers, toughened low-iron glass, aluminum, 320 × 978.5 × 856.5 cm. Temporary installation at the Hayward Gallery, London. Photo: Stephen White.

Sir Antony Gormley OBE RA is a leading contemporary sculptor and installation artist whose work focuses on the human figure. His Blind Light installation from 2007 consists of a large semitransparent glass chamber lit by fluorescent light and filled with a dense cloud of mist. “Upon entering the room-within-a-room, the visitor is disoriented by the visceral experience of the fully saturated air, in which visibility is limited to less than two feet.”

One visitor took a two-minute video of the experience:

Gormley says,

Architecture is supposed to be the location of security and certainty about where you are. It is supposed to protect you from the weather, from darkness, from uncertainty. Blind Light undermines all of that. You enter this interior space that is the equivalent of being on top of a mountain or at the bottom of the sea. It is very important for me that inside it you find the outside.

Sometimes the human experience feels like a groping through fog. It’s hard to see the bigger picture. The not-seeing can be frustrating. There is a doorway leading out into the clear, into full vision—but our passage through isn’t granted us until the general resurrection. Meanwhile, “we walk by faith” (2 Cor. 5:7), stumbling alongside one another through mists of unknowing, but with God’s word and Spirit as guides, giving us glimpses of clarity and confidence to step forward. “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face,” the apostle Paul writes in anticipation of the day of the Lord. “Now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Cor. 13:12).

LISTEN: “Clouds of Waiting, Clouds of Returning” by Jacob Goins and Hannah Wyatt, on in the twilighting (2020)

I’m quiet in cloudy waiting
Assured of little but weaknesses
Of faith and seeing
And I’m wanting only to be filled
In this day

And I know you’re coming soon
But would you show me where you are right now
In cloudy waiting

I’m craving the clouds of your returning
Assured of little but a strength
Beyond faith and seeing
But I’m wanting only to be filled
I’m wanting only to be stilled
In this day

I know you’re coming soon
But would you show me where you are right now
In cloudy waiting

I’m hopeful for the fruits of faithfulness
But they are slow in their growing
And I’m quick to accuse
When heavy silence comes

Advent, Day 4: Maranatha (multilingual)

LOOK: God Heals by Anila Hussain

Hussain, Anila_God Heals
Anila Hussain, God Heals, metallic black and white print on Fujifilm paper with frame, 50 × 50 cm

A finalist for the 2021 Chaiya Art Awards, this black-and-white photograph shows a person at prayer, her hands cupped, anticipating in faith the receipt of what she’s asked for but open to whatever God gives. The woman pictured is photographer Anila Hussain’s eighty-something-year-old mother, who has suffered for years from chronic pain and prays multiple times a day for relief. Hussain is her primary caregiver.

With the woman’s face in the shadows and her rough, overlapping hands illuminated, closely cropped, and in the foreground, God Heals emphasizes a posture of humble and heartfelt entreaty.

LISTEN: “Ven, Señor Jesús, Maranathá” (Come, Lord Jesus, Come, O Lord), performed by Harpa Dei, 2020 [HT: Global Christian Worship]

Born in Germany and raised in Ecuador, siblings Nikolai, Lucía, Marie-Elisée, and Mirjana Gerstner form the sacred vocal quartet Harpa Dei. Here they sing a traditional chant invoking Christ’s return in ten languages, shifting voice parts and harmonies to beautiful effect. The lyrics are in the video and also below.

Māranā thā is Aramaic (the language of Jesus) for “Come, O Lord.” Christians have prayed this prayer since the apostolic era, looking toward the cosmic healing and restoration that Christ’s second coming will usher in.

SPANISH: ¡Ven, Señor Jesús, Maranathá!
ENGLISH: Come, Lord Jesus, Maranatha!
GERMAN: Komm, Herr Jesus, Maranatha!
FRENCH: Viens, Seigneur Jésus, Maranatha!
ITALIAN: Vieni, Signor Gesù, Maranatá!
CHINESE: 来吧,主耶稣 (Lai ba, zhu Ye su, Maranatha!)
HEBREW: !בּוֹא אָדוֹן יֵשׁוּעַ  מרנאתא (Bo Adon Jeshua, Maranatha!)
RUSSIAN: Гряди, Господи (Gryadi Gospodi, Maranatha!)
GREEK: ἔρχου, Κύριε (Erhu Kyrie, Maranatha!)
LATIN: Veni Domine, Maranatha!

Sheet music can be found here.