Icons roundup

As a caveat, I am a Protestant, and while I do have a profound respect and appreciation for icons, my theology of images, including my definition of sacred art, is not the same as the Orthodox Church’s—even though elements of it are influenced by the Orthodox position. All the same, I believe it’s important for Christians of all denominations to understand the significance of icons and what differentiates them from noniconic religious images. Those lines are being blurred a bit by the new schools of iconography coming out of western Ukraine and Poland, which honor tradition even as they push it forward into the contemporary era. Here are a few icon-related videos, articles, and weblinks that I’ve gathered over the past several months.

LECTURES:

>> “The Meaning of Icons” by Fr. Maximos Constas, November 13, 2019, Notre Dame Seminary: Father Maximos Constas, professor of patristics and Orthodox spirituality at Hellenic College Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, explains the significance of icons in the Orthodox Church, with special attention to their aesthetic features and theological meaning, which is informed by the church’s Christology and cosmology. He answers such questions as, Why do the figures in icons look bored and unnatural? And, Doesn’t the Second Commandment forbid representations of Christ? He does not address icon veneration or details of the making process.

Constas spends the first fifteen minutes juxtaposing Eastern and Western approaches to religious images, discussing how the Renaissance values of humanism and naturalism came to prevail in the West. The Orthodox, he says, see this as the “secularization” or “carnalization” of sacred art—in its commitment to depicting observable realities, Western art from the Renaissance onward typically lacks overt signs of transcendence.

Constas also discusses the dogmatization of sacred images in the East. Icons are never simply works of art or pedagogical tools, he says. “They were understood to be visual artistic expressions of the church’s theology. And in the same way that church doctrines could not be changed, neither could the image in which the doctrines were embodied.”

Here are some notes I took on the talk, including some transcriptions:

  • An icon can be a panel painting, a fresco, a mosaic, a relief carving, an enameled plaque, a manuscript illumination, etc. “What ultimately defines an icon has nothing to do with artistic medium or style but rather depends on how the image is used and, most importantly, what it is believed to be. And every icon is a means of spiritual encounter and dialogue. It offers us the possibility of such an encounter because it shares in the holiness of the sacred figure whose likeness it bears.”
  • An icon is not a work of art but a work of witness that makes use of art.
  • “Icons are not simply portraits but manifestations of human persons in their new heavenly condition. They are images of the spiritual character of human beings reborn, as it were, in the womb of eternity.”
  • “The icon has the ability to evoke within me the memory of the forgotten depth of my own being. It enables me to see my true face. It orients me toward my destiny in God. And this vision, this remembrance, this knowledge fills me with unspeakable joy and profound consolation.”
  • We not only can but must make images of Christ; “to deny the icon is to deny the reality of the Incarnation.”
  • “All created things are intrinsically good, and all, therefore, have spirit-bearing potentialities. And to this essential goodness and beauty of the material world, the icon bears joyful witness. In the icon, we see matter restored to harmony and so fulfilling its true vocation, which is to reflect and transmit the divine glory. The icon, then, safeguards not only the authenticity of Christ’s physical body, but also the true value of creation in its unfallen state as created by God. Inherent in the very fact of the icon is an optimistic, affirmative vision of the material creation. As spirit-bearing matter, the icon has what we would call eschatological significance—it anticipates the final transfiguration of the cosmos at the last day, when the created world will be delivered from its present bondage to corruption, to quote St. Paul, and will enter into the glorious liberty of the children of God.”
  • Icons as:
    • windows, doors, thresholds into heaven (spiritual places of passage)
    • mirrors, a reflection of their living source
    • tracks or traces
  • 32:40: Portrayal of figures in icons
    • Alteration of the natural symmetries and proportions of the body, including the features of the face (eyes and ears enlarged; nose elongated; mouth small and closed)
    • Full frontality—wholeness, completion, perfection; makes the icon dialogical and relational
    • Serene, controlled facial expression
  • No shadows cast; illumined from within

>> “Rajaton hengellinen kuva: Kärsimyksen ja ylösnousemuksen kuvat” (Boundless Spiritual Image: Images of Suffering and Resurrection) by Ari Luomajoki, March 26, 2021, Kuopio Cathedral, Kuopio, Finland: I don’t speak Finnish, but I share this seventy-minute video for the visuals (and of course for any Finnish speakers!) and to show how contemporary icons are spreading west. In August 2016 under the leadership of Pastor Ari Luomajoki, the Lutheran Monastic Community of Enonkoski in Ihamaniemi, Finland, organized its first international icon workshop (read more here, and follow @LutheranIcon on Facebook), which attracted iconographers from Poland and Ukraine, as well as a few domestic artists. It was reprised in 2017 (I mentioned this second workshop here). Icons that came out of these workshops have been exhibited several times in Finland, and have facilitated relationships that have led to new exhibitions—such as Kärsimyksen ja ylösnousemuksen kuvat (Images of Suffering and Resurrection) at Kuopio Cathedral, which ran March 26–April 11, 2021. Follow the boldface link to see a taping of the opening, which includes opening comments, a tour, and a lecture.  

Movchan, Danylo_Descent from the Cross
Danylo Movchan (Ukrainian, 1979–), Descent from the Cross, 2021. Watercolor on paper, 33 × 38 cm.

Mindewicz, Basia_Entombment of Christ
Basia Mindewicz (Polish, 1978–), Lamentation, 2016. Acrylic on wood, 26 × 20 cm.

In the first sixteen minutes of the video, Pastor Olli Viitaniemi, one of the main organizers of the exhibition (with Pastor Salla Tyrväinen), shows screen captures from the website he built connected to the exhibition, https://sielunkuvat.net/. At around 16:24 he gives a tour of the exhibition around the church sanctuary.

At 32:48 Luomajoki—who is a Lutheran pastor in Kouvola, Finland, and has a master’s degree in art history—starts his half-hour lecture. He introduces Międzynarodowe Warsztaty Ikonopisów w Nowicy (International Iconography Workshop in Nowica) in Poland and Lviv National Academy of Arts and the Iconart gallery in Ukraine, two centers of contemporary Eastern iconography that inspired the icons project at the Enonkoski monastery in Finland. At 47:41 Luomajoki does side-by-side image comparisons to show similarities and differences across time. At 50:41 he discusses the use of images in early Lutheranism. He goes on to show some examples of religious art in Finland in the past century (including a really compelling Crucifixion painting by Helene Schjerfbeck and crucifix by Paavo Halonen!). He closes by spotlighting Hidden Life in Nazareth by Ivanka Demchuk and a Nativity by Arsen Bereza, participants in the workshop.

Luomajoki is a wonderful photographer of art. Follow him on Instagram @ari.luomajoki.

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INTERVIEW with contemporary iconographer Khrystyna Kvyk, by Kevin Antlitz: OK, Patheos blog posts are painful to read because of all the obtrusive ads, which is why I rarely link to them. But I’m making an exception for this one, where American Anglican pastor Kevin Antlitz interviews Ukrainian Greek Catholic iconographer Khrystyna Kvyk, who earned a master’s degree in sacral art in 2020. She discusses her process of painting icons, what makes an icon an icon, timelessness and transfiguration, the relationship between tradition and innovation, the idea of divine light as reflected in two of her icons, and more. I really love her work and was delighted to hear some of her own words about it.

Kvyk, Krystyna_I Am the Light of the World
Khrystyna Kvyk (Ukrainian, 1994–), I Am the Light of the World, 2021. Acrylic on gessoed wood, diameter 35 cm.

Kvyk, Khrystyna_Pentecost
Khrystyna Kvyk (Ukrainian, 1994–), Pentecost, 2021. Acrylic on gessoed wood, 45 × 45 cm.

This is the final installment of a three-part series by Antlitz. Part 1 answers, What Are Icons?, and part 2 is about “Praying Through Icons.”

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NEW CHURCH COMMISSION: Wall paintings at Iglesia de San Nicolás by Ivanka Demchuk and Arsen Bereza: Ukrainian artists Ivanka Demchuk and Arsen Bereza—a married couple!—have completed a monumental painting on the east wall of the Catholic church of Saint Nicholas in Granada. It was deeply influenced by Byzantine iconography, in which they’ve both been trained, but also contains some modern abstract and geometric elements.

The church building is from the sixteenth century and recently underwent extensive renovations, finally reopening to the public in April, which is when Demchuk and Bereza’s mural was unveiled. It portrays the Anastasis, the Eastern Orthodox image of Christ’s resurrection, which shows him breaking down the doors of hell to release its captives. In the video (which is in Ukrainian with Spanish subtitles), Demchuk describes how they painted two mandorlas behind him: the almond-shaped one symbolizing his divine light, and a round one symbolizing the cosmos.

Appearing alongside this focal point is a portrait of the church’s namesake, Saint Nicholas, with eight scenes from his life—including my favorite, where he tosses three bags of gold through the window of an impoverished family’s home. (The legend of Santa Claus—Claus being a shortened form of “Nicholas”—evolved from this story of anonymous gift giving.)

Demchuk, Ivanka_Anastasis (in situ)
Iglesia de San Nicolás, Granada, Spain, 2022, with east end mural by Ivanka Demchuk and Arsen Bereza

Demchuk, Ivanka_Resurrection
Ivanka Demchuk (Ukrainian, 1990–), Resurrection, 2018. Mixed media on wood. Design for the Church of St. Nicholas, Granada, Spain.

Demchuk, Ivanka_St. Nicholas with Scenes from His Life
Ivanka Demchuk (Ukrainian, 1990–), Saint Nicholas with Scenes from His Life, 2018. Mixed media on wood. Design for the Church of St. Nicholas, Granada, Spain.

See more photos of the project on Demchuk’s Facebook page.

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BLOG POST: “The Meaning of Melchizedek in Icons” by David Coomler: Though he’s not religious, David Coomler is an expert on Christian icons and often consults on them. On his blog he unpacks the iconography of standard types but also more unusual ones, like You Are a Priest Forever After the Order of Melchizedek, inspired by Hebrews 7. This rare type is meant to show that Jesus is both the offering and the offerer. The variation pictured below shows, I think, three representations of Christ: as crucified seraph (still quite puzzling to me, but Coomler points out that the Greek of Isaiah 9:6 refers to the Messiah as the “Messenger of Great Counsel”), Holy Wisdom (aka Sophia), and high priest—hence the man in bishops’ garb in the back. Wild!

Icon with Jesus High Priest

Roundup: Paula Rego’s Life of the Virgin; corito medleys; more

EXHIBITION: Paula Rego: Secrets of Faith, Victoria Miro Venice, April 23–June 18, 2022: Portuguese-born British artist Paula Rego died last Wednesday, June 8, after a seven-decade career, and in the midst of four solo exhibitions of her work—including this one at Victoria Miro’s gallery in Venice, which explores her small but significant body of religious art. [HT: Jonathan Evens]

In 2002 Jorge Sampaio, then president of Portugal, commissioned Paula Rego to create eight pastel drawings based on episodes from the life of the Virgin Mary, to be installed permanently in the chapel of the presidential palace (Palácio de Belém) in Lisbon. Titled Nossa Senhora (Our Lady), the cycle comprises Annunciation; Nativity; Adoration; Purification at the Temple; Flight into Egypt; Lamentation; Pietà; and Assumption. Rego had such fun with the commission that she produced additional works on the subject, which she decided to keep for herself. It is these, along with her watercolor studies, that are currently on display in Venice. (The original eight pastels are not allowed to leave the chapel for which they were made.)

Rego, Paula_The Flight to Egypt
Paula Rego (Portuguese British, 1935–2022), The Flight to Egypt, 2002. Watercolor and ink on paper, 8 1/4 × 11 3/4 in. (21 × 29 cm).

Rego, Paula_Descent from the Cross
Paula Rego (Portuguese British, 1935–2022), Descent from the Cross, 2002. Pastel on paper mounted on aluminum, 29 1/2 × 28 3/8 in. (75 × 72 cm).

I learned about Rego’s Marian cycle a few years ago and became enthralled by it, though I’ve never seen it in person, and most of these supplemental works are new to me. It’s unique, in part because of Mary’s corporeality. In a 2003 interview with Richard Zimler, Rego said, “If there is anything new about these representations of the Virgin, it is the fact that they were done by a woman, which is very rare. . . . It always used to be men who painted the life of the Virgin, and now it is a woman. It offers a different point of view, because we identify more easily with her.”

While the president praised the cycle and Rego insisted that “these pictures were created with admiration and respect,” an open letter to Sampaio referred to it as an “outrage done to the vast majority of the Portuguese people,” an “outrage against their religious beliefs and an offence to the Virgin Mary.” In brief: “blasphemous and scandalous.” I can see why Rego’s larger oeuvre, with its often menacing and/or transgressive imagery (not least of which is her Abortion Series), would scandalize conservative viewers, but I am a bit confused by the outrage at Nossa Senhora, which to me seems very honoring. The objectors, it sounds like, are those who prefer Mary to be more ethereal and sedate; they don’t want to see her, for example, slouching or wincing or expressing astonishment, or awkwardly struggling to hold the weight of her son’s corpse. There will always be those who resist any kind of updating of religious art. If the scenes are restaged in an unfamiliar way or rendered in an unfamiliar style or introduce a new element or the figures don’t look like how we have always pictured them, then some will oppose them outright—which is a shame, because such art often invites us more deeply into the story, helping us to see it afresh.

Definitely check out the boldface link above to view more pieces from the exhibition, as well as a video that shows Nossa Senhora in situ. For further reading, see “Paula and the Madonna: Who’s That Girl?” by Maria Manuel Lisboa and the transcript from Zimler’s interview with Rego.

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PODCAST EPISODE: “Past Hymns for the Present Moment,” Tokens, May 26, 2022: “Hymns are often sentimentalized in the American church, cast aside as merely retired songs with dated language, bearing no real appeal or relevance. But of course it may be that our old hymnals have some crucial things to say to us in our current cultural moment. This is the challenge I [Lee C. Camp] posed to Odessa Settles, Phil Madeira, and Leslie Jordan: find and perform some old hymns which might be both indicting and encouraging to the modern church, and to the world at large. Beautiful conversation and moving performances, taped at Nashville’s Sound Emporium.”

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POETRY UNBOUND EPISODES:

In each episode of this podcast from On Being Studio, host Pádraig Ó Tuama unpacks a contemporary poem in fifteen minutes. Here are two from season 5 (which just came to an end) that I particularly liked.

>> “Looking for The Gulf Motel” by Richard Blanco: “What happens when we remember?” Ó Tuama asks. “Why do we remember? Is it sweet or sad? Is it both? If you particularly associate warm memories, romantic memories, nostalgic memories with a place, and then that place is changed, does that mean that all those memories are gone?” In this poem from a collection of the same title (which I checked out from my local library at Ó Tuama’s recommendation, and it’s excellent!), Cuban American poet Richard Blanco, at age thirty-eight, reminisces about a family beach vacation from his childhood. Read the poem here.

If I were writing this poem, it would be called “Looking for The Blockade Runner,” as that’s the name of the Wrightsville Beach hotel in North Carolina that my family and I used to stay at for four days or so each summer. My little brother and I should still be running around on the waterfront lawn as our parents watch us from inside the giant window of the dining room, finishing up their breakfast. My dad should still be riding in a wave on a boogie board, teaching me technique. My mom should still be lounging at the pool in her black one-piece with sunglasses and a Vanity Fair, I feeling so grown up beside her sipping my virgin piña colada. My brother should still be exhilarated by the live hermit crabs at Wings, and I by the dried starfish and sand dollars. We should all still be walking back from the Oceanic, our bellies filled with she-crab soup and hush puppies and catch-of-the-day, down the shore at dusk.

>> “The change room” by Andy Jackson: A poet who’s interested in difference and embodiment, here Andy Jackson, who has severe spinal curvature due to Marfan syndrome, “is looking at the attention that he gets in his body and is refocusing it, extending it wider, looking at the deeper question of, what does it mean for any of us to be in a body, and how do we in bodies relate to others in bodies?” Read the poem here, from the collection Human Looking.

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CORITO VIDEOS: A corito (literally “short song”) is a type of Latino Christian worship song. Coritos have “fairly simple tunes, often with repetitive words, that the people sing by heart,” writes Justo L. González in ¡Alabádle!: Hispanic Christian Worship. “Most of them are anonymous, and pass by word of mouth from one congregation to another. For that reason, the tune or the words of a particular corito may vary significantly from one place to another. They are often sung to the accompaniment of clapping hands, tambourines, and other instruments.” To learn more about this genre, see the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship interview with Rosa Cándida Ramírez and Analisse Reyes and the entry in the Encyclopedia of Christianity in the Global South, vol. 2.

>> Joseph Espinoza sings a corito medley consisting of “Cuando el pueblo del Señor” (When the People of the Lord), “No puede estar triste” (The Heart That Worships Christ Cannot Be Sad), “Ven, ven, Espiritu divino” (Come, Come, Holy Spirit), “Cantaré al Señor por siempre” (I Will Sing to the Lord Forever), and “El Poderoso de Israel” (The Mighty One of Israel). Aaron Barbosa is on keyboard, Fabian Chavez is on percussion, and Yosmel Montejo is on bass.

>> The video below was shared March 25, 2020, in the Multicultural Worship Leaders Network Facebook group that I belong to, and it’s pure joy! The performers string together three coritos: “Le canto aleluya” (I Sing Alleluia), “Hay victoria” (There’s Victory), and “Los que esperan en Jesus” (Those Who Wait in Jesus).

Federico Apecena provides the following translation. (The slashes indicate the number of times that line or passage is sung.)

//The heart that worships Jesus cannot be sad
The heart that worships God cannot be sad//

//That’s why I sing, I sing hallelujah
The heart that worships God cannot be sad//

//There’s victory, there’s victory, there’s victory in the blood of Jesus//
The enemy will not be able to defeat our souls
//Because there is victory, because there is victory, because there is victory in the blood of Jesus//

//That’s why I sing, I sing hallelujah
The heart that worships God cannot be sad//

///Those that wait, that wait in Jesus///
//Like eagles, like eagles, their wings will open//

They will walk and will not get tired, they will run and will not stop
//New life they will have, new life they will have, those that wait, that wait in Jesus//

//That’s why I sing, I sing hallelujah
The heart that worships God cannot be sad//

Trinity Redemption by James Keay-Bright (painting)

I first encountered the work of Welsh Catholic artist James Keay-Bright last year at the 8th Catholic Arts Biennial at the Verostko Center for the Arts at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where his Trinity Redemption painting was among the juried selections.

Keay-Bright, James_Trinity Redemption
James Keay-Bright (Welsh, 1965–), Trinity Redemption, 2013. Oil on canvas, 40 × 40 in. Private collection, United States. All photos by Victoria Emily Jones, at the 8th Catholic Arts Biennial, Verostko Center for the Arts, Saint Vincent College, Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

It shows God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit standing one behind the other against a black background, facing forward. They are semi-encompassed by a wave of fire that emanates from the foreground figure’s outstretched hand. Vigorous and bright, it swells up and around the trio, its branching tip reaching like arms into the darkness.

The young African man in front represents the Holy Spirit sending forth his presence, Keay-Bright told me. (The illumination of his face is wonderful!) Jesus Christ is shown as a Middle Eastern boy of about eight years old, while God the Father is modeled after an elderly Aboriginal Australian.

Unable to withstand the tidal wave of divine light, evil retreats into the shadows, symbolized by the satanic figure at the left.

Keay-Bright, James_Trinity Redemption (detail, fire)

In the Old Testament, fire often signifies the presence of God, as when Moses encounters God in the burning bush (Exod. 3:2), or as with the pillar of fire that leads the Israelites through the wilderness (Exod. 13:21).

In the New Testament, in Acts 2, the Holy Spirit descends like fire on the people who are gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. This “fire” ignites faith and has a sanctifying effect—purifying us of sin, making us holy.

[Related posts: “Innovative Trinity paintings in the Rothschild Canticles”; “Father, Son, Spirit (Artful Devotion)”]

Last Sunday the church celebrated the Spirit’s historic descent, and this Sunday is marked in liturgical calendars as Trinity Sunday. One of the scripture readings in the Revised Common Lectionary comes from Romans 5: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. . . . And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (vv. 1–2, 5). This passage describes the combined activity of the Triune God in bringing about salvation.

Commenting on his painting, Keay-Bright told me, “It’s about cycles of redemption. We respond to God’s call but then fall away. But we can always come back.” God’s “spirit and grace” are constantly extended to us, he says. The fire of divine love is always going out, sweeping through the world to reclaim and restore.

Keay-Bright is interested in non-Caucasian representations of biblical figures. That desire has sprung in part from his international humanitarian work, in which he has encountered the sacred through people of various races and ethnicities. He has worked with refugees in the Balkans, Uganda, and Algeria—first through an NGO and later through the UN Refugee Agency. This month he is traveling to Rwanda to serve refugees from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

He supplements this vocation with his art making.

Catching fire

As Luke records in Acts 2, ten days after Jesus ascended to heaven, during the feast of Shavuot, the Holy Spirit manifested as “tongues of fire” and descended on Jesus’s apostles, filling them with power before the multitudes that had gathered. Peter preaches this as a fulfillment of the prophet Joel: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams . . .” (Acts 2:17; cf. Joel 2:28).

As geographically and linguistically diverse pilgrims embraced the good news of Christ that day and carried it back to their homes, God’s Spirit spread throughout the ancient Near East and from there to other parts of the world, such that Christianity is the most global and multicultural religion. The fire that fell that one Sunday in Jerusalem has spread exponentially! First it caught the Twelve, and then some three thousand witnesses, and it’s been burning ever since.

Consider this untitled poem by Theodore Roszak*:

Unless the eye catch fire
The God will not be seen
Unless the ear catch fire
The God will not be heard
Unless the tongue catch fire
The God will not be named
Unless the heart catch fire
The God will not be loved
Unless the mind catch fire
The God will not be known

In it the physical senses are ignited, as are the emotions and the intellect. The whole person—body, spirit, and soul—is set on fire. Sounds Pentecostal, no? With echoes of Moses’s meeting God in a burning bush on Mount Horeb (Exod. 2), as revelation is key.

Slowly read each of the five couplets, one at a time, considering how God makes himself known through that faculty. Ponder what it means for the eye to “catch fire,” the ear to catch fire, and so on. What does that image evoke?

Sahi, Jyoti_Holding the Flame of Fire
Jyoti Sahi (Indian, 1944–), Holding the Flame of Fire, 2005. Oil on canvas, 36 × 36 in. Painted as a design for a stained glass window for the entrance of Paripurnata Halfway Home in Kolkata, India.

Fire shows up a lot in the work of Indian Christian artist Jyoti Sahi, as in his painting Holding the Flame of Fire, which shows a pair of hands cradling a flame that fans out in bright oranges and yellows, forming a mandala (Sanskrit “circle”). Perhaps you see licking tongues, or dove’s wings, or I AM calling out from a blazing shrub.

This painting was inspired by aarti, a ritual expression of love and gratitude to a deity that originated and is widely practiced in Hinduism but that has been adapted by some Christians in South India. (Sahi demonstrated it to me in a Christian chapel in Bengaluru when I visited him a few years ago.) A lit oil or ghee lamp is placed on a tray, Sahi explains, “where different offerings are arranged representing the senses, such as flowers related to sight, incense sticks in relation to smell, water and fruit in a bowl in relation to taste, and earth and ash in relation to touch.” The priest or householder waves the tray in a clockwise motion, then brings it around from person to person, each of whom cups the flame with their hands and then touches their forehead, seeking divine blessing. Aarti is often accompanied by singing and can be performed at home or in public places of worship.

(Related post: https://artandtheology.org/2020/11/30/advent-day-2-fire/)

How awesome is it that the Spirit of God, the living flame, moves among us—even abides within us! The Spirit stirs, illuminates, regenerates, sanctifies, guides, comforts, intercedes, and empowers. What a gift.

* Note on authorship: This poem appears in Where the Wasteland Ends: Politics and Transcendence in Postindustrial Society by Theodore Roszak (Doubleday, 1972) as the epigraph to chapter 9, “Mind on Fire: Notes on Three Old Poets.” While Roszak provides attributions for all the other epigraphs in the book, he does not for this one, leading me to believe that the verse either originated with him or is from an unknown source. It is often misattributed to William Blake—probably because Roszak’s chapter focuses on Blake, in addition to Wordsworth and Goethe—but I confirmed with multiple Blake scholars that these lines are not Blake’s. P. K. Page wrote a short story in 1979 titled “Unless the Eye Catch Fire,” citing Roszak as the title’s source.

Roundup: Spirituality of food docuseries; a psalm and a jazz band walk into a bar; and more

DOCUMENTARY SERIES: Taste and See, dir. Andrew Brumme:Taste and See is a documentary series exploring the spirituality of food with farmers, chefs, bakers, and winemakers engaging with food as a profound gift from God. Their stories serve as a meditation on the beauty, mystery, and wonder to be found in every meal shared at the table.” The Rabbit Room, who is partnering with them for a virtual cinema event (see below), says, “If, in some blessed alternate universe, Robert Farrar Capon had decided to make a documentary with Terrence Malick, guided by the foundational wisdom of Wendell Berry, then they would have made something like the pilot of Taste and See.”

Some of the people you see in the series trailer are Shamu Sadeh, cofounder of Adamah Farm and Fellowship in Connecticut, which integrates organic farming, Jewish learning, sustainable living, and contemplative spiritual practice (Adamah is the focus of the pilot film); The Soul of Wine: Savoring the Goodness of God author Gisela Kreglinger, who grew up on a winery that has been in her family for generations and who leads wine pilgrimages in Burgundy and Franconia (“a spiritual, cultural, and sensory exploration of wine”); Norman Wirzba, a professor at Duke who teaches and publishes at the intersections of theology, philosophy, ecology, and agrarian and environmental studies (see, e.g., his Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating); Kendall Vanderslice, a North Carolina baker, author, and founder of Edible Theology, which offers “curriculum, community, and communications that connect the Communion table to the kitchen table”; and Joel Salatin, who raises livestock on his Polyface Farm in Swoope, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley.

You can buy tickets to a virtual screening of the hour-long pilot, which is happening twice daily from June 3 to June 19 and includes exclusive access to a panel discussion with singer-songwriter Andrew Peterson, theologian Norman Wirzba, and director Andrew Brumme. Revenue from ticket sales will fund the production of future films, some of which are already in the works. “The funding raised will determine how far we can go and which stories we can pursue,” Brumme tells me. “We’re hopeful the virtual event will bring together enough of a supportive base of people who want to see this series made.” There’s also an option on the website to donate.

To hear more from the director, especially about the inspiration behind the series, check out the interview Drew Miller conducted with him.

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DISCUSSION PANEL: “Art Between the Sacred and the Secular,” June 6, 2022, Akademie der Künste, Berlin: Moderated by the Rev. Professor Ben Quash, this free public event (reserve tickets here) puts in conversation artist Alicja Kwade; Dr. María López-Fanjul y Díez del Corral, senior curator of the Bode Museum and the Gemäldegalerie; and Dr. Neil MacGregor, former director of the British Museum and the National Gallery, London. The questions they’ll address (see below) sound really intriguing!

Kwade, Alicja_Causal Emergence
Alicja Kwade (Polish, 1979–), Causal Emergence (December 2020), 2019. Watch hands on cardboard, framed, 175 × 175 cm.

“The abiding power of Christian motifs, ideas and styles in a host of modern and contemporary works that superficially look un- or anti-Christian indicates that visual art and Christian tradition have not become complete strangers. This invites analysis and understanding.

“How have Christian artworks and artistic traditions found new articulations, caused new departures, or provoked new subversions in the last 100 to 150 years? What forms of engagement between theology and modern and contemporary art do such developments in the relationship between art and Christianity invite and reward?

“How do viewers (Christian and non-Christian) interact with historical Christian art today, and how do modern sensibilities affect our viewing of earlier Christian artworks and artistic traditions?

“Is contemporary art an alternative to religion or can it sometimes be an ally? How do contemporary art and religion each respond to human experiences of the absurd or the tragic? What do contemporary art and the spaces in which we encounter it, tell us about the histories of both Western Christianity and Western secularisation?”

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FUNDRAISER: New Ordinary Time Album: The indie folk trio Ordinary Time is one of my favorite musical groups—I heard them in concert at a church here in Baltimore a few years ago!—so I’m really excited to see that they’re working on their sixth full-length album, their first since 2016. It will be produced by the esteemed Isaac Wardell, founder of Bifrost Arts and the Porter’s Gate. Per usual, it will comprise a mix of original and classic sacred songs, including the new “I Will Trust,” demoed in the second video below. Help fund their production costs through this Indiegogo campaign, which ends June 15. A donation of just $25 will get you an early download of the album.

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SONG: “Oh Give Thanks (Psalm 107)” by Wendell Kimbrough: Wendell Kimbrough is among today’s foremost singer-songwriters engaging with the Psalms. His adaptation of Psalm 107 [previously] is one of his most popular songs, ever since the original studio recording released in 2016. Now he’s recorded a live version with a New Orleans jazz band! It is available on most streaming and purchase platforms.

The music video was shot in February at a bar in Daphne, Alabama, with some eighty of Kimbrough’s friends and supporters, and it premiered May 13. It was his way of saying farewell to his Church of the Apostles community in Fairhope, Alabama, where he served as worship leader and artist-in-residence for eight years. He left this spring to take a new job as uptown artist-in-residence at Church of the Incarnation in Dallas.

“From the time I wrote ‘Oh Give Thanks,’ I always pictured it as a bar tune, specifically set in New Orleans,” Kimbrough says. “The image Psalm 107 conjures for me is a group of friends sitting together swapping stories of God’s deliverance and raising their glasses to celebrate his goodness.” He has noted that some people are uneasy about singing the line “We cried like drunken sailors” in church, but he points out that it’s there in the Old Testament psalm! (Recounting how God rescued a group of men from a storm at sea, the psalmist says that as the waves rose, “they reeled and staggered like drunkards / and were at their wits’ end. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, / and he brought them out from their distress,” vv. 27–28).

To learn how to play the song on guitar, see Kimbrough’s video tutorial. You may also want to check out the songs of thanksgiving I compiled on Spotify.

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CHURCH ARCHITECTURE: Santa Maria Goretti Church, Mormanno, Italy: In 2013 architect Mario Cucinella won a competition held by Italy’s assembly of Catholic bishops to create the new parish church of Santa Maria Goretti in the hilltop town of Mormanno in Calabria. Because a third of the funds had to be raised locally, the project wasn’t completed until last year. Cucinella says that gave him time to win over its most important constituency: the elderly women who go to Mass every day, and who at first “were suspicious of its modernism.” [HT: My Modern Met]

Cucinella designed an elegantly minimalist concrete building with sinuous surfaces that form the shape of a four-leaf clover, a reinterpretation, Cucinella says, of the shape of Baroque churches. The enclosure has only a few openings. “On its north side, two walls part to create an entrance—while also contributing edges to a cross cut into the curves and lit by LEDs at night. On its south side, a small window is positioned to focus afternoon sunlight on a crucifix on July 6,” Maria Goretti’s birthday.

Santa Maria Goretti Church
Santa Maria Goretti Church, Mormanno, Italy, designed by Mario Cucinella Architects, completed 2021. Photo: Duccio Malagamba.

Photo: Duccio Malagamba

Maraniello, Giuseppe_Baptismal font
Baptismal font by Giuseppe Maraniello. Photo: Duccio Malagamba.

Inside, the walls are hand-finished in plaster mixed with hemp fibers and lime, which give them a mottled, earth-toned look. The most dominant feature of the interior is the twelve-foot-deep scrim that falls from the ceiling in swirls, filtering in sunlight. Artist Giuseppe Maraniello (b. 1945) was commissioned to create the lectern, tabernacle, baptismal font, and figure of the Virgin Mary, while the simple steel and wood seating is by Mario Cucinella Design. Click on any of the three photos above to view more.

The church’s namesake, one of the youngest saints to be canonized, was stabbed to death in 1902 at age eleven while resisting a rape. She is the patron saint of purity, young women, and victims of sexual assault.

Roundup: Paradise-themed contemporary art, Rogationtide hymn, Gija Ascension painting, and more

EXHIBITION: Here After, Bridge Projects, Los Angeles, May 7–July 30, 2022: This latest offering from the spirituality-forward art gallery Bridge Projects looks amazing! I appreciate their commitment to featuring religiously and ethnically diverse artists, as well as a range of styles and media.

Here After exhibition
Andrea Büttner, Dancing Nuns, 2007; Tuan Andrew Nguyen, video still from The Boat People, 2020; Belu-Simion Fainaru, Monument for Nothingness, 2012–22; Bonita Helmer, The Four Worlds (Tiferet), 2002–5; Afruz Amighi, Guardian, 2021; Mercedes Dorame, Orion’s Belt—Paahe’ Sheshiiyot—a map for moving between worlds, 2018

The group exhibition features thirty-seven artists who explore the idea of paradise—both how it has been pursued on earth across history, and how it is imagined after life. From Pure Land Buddhism’s chant “Namu Amida Butsu” (“I take refuge in Amida Buddha”) to Christianity’s prayer for the Kingdom to be “on earth as it is in heaven,” the concepts of paradise are as diverse as those who hope for it.

In Here After, works like William Kurelek’s Farm Boy’s Dream of Heaven (1963) envision an eschatological beyond in figurative form, while works by Bonita Helmer and Zarah Hussain do so in more abstract terms. Andrea Büttner and Claire Curneen’s works point to a vulnerable, sensual bodiliness, embedded in the surface of the world where all things come to pass. There is a land beyond the river by Gyun Hur and Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s The Boat People make space for remembrance of those who have passed, while Afruz Amighi, Mercedes Dorame, and Charwei Tsai position the viewer between worlds, feet firmly planted on the ground yet gazing at the glory and wonder of the beyond. In his installation Skywall, David Wallace Haskins plunges into the boundless sky and its immaterial light, letting all the expansive beauty grip the viewer. Kate Ingold intones the rhythmic mantras of what the divine is not with minute stitches, employing almost impossible patience to painstakingly outline absence. Kris Martin lodges small contradictions in the mind, which, in time, grow to be distracting puzzles—the candle in a sealed box, whose existence cannot be proven with the senses. And Tatsuo Miyajima uses digital counters to display the uncountable, unending dimension of existence.

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SONGS:

>> “O Jesus, Crowned with All Renown,” performed by Jon and Amanda McGill: The Monday to Wednesday preceding Ascension Day is known as Rogationtide, a short liturgical period (observed by most Anglicans, Episcopalians, Catholics, and others) in which we pray that God blesses the crops so that they yield a good harvest. It falls on May 23–25 this year. The hymn “O Jesus, Crowned with All Renown” is especially associated with the Rogation Days. It was written in 1860 by Edward White Benson, archbishop of Canterbury, and is typically paired with the tune KINGSFOLD.

O Jesus, crowned with all renown,
Since thou the earth hast trod,
Thou reignest, and by thee come down
Henceforth the gifts of God.
Thine is the health and thine the wealth
That in our halls abound,
And thine the beauty and the joy
With which the years are crowned.

Lord, in their change, let frost and heat
And winds and dews be giv’n;
All fostering power, all influence sweet,
Breathe from the bounteous heav’n.
Attemper fair with gentle air
The sunshine and the rain,
That kindly earth with timely birth
May yield her fruits again.

That we may feed the poor aright,
And gathering round thy throne,
Here, in the holy angels’ sight,
Repay thee of thine own:
That we may praise thee all our days,
And with the Father’s name,
And with the Holy Spirit’s gifts,
The Savior’s love proclaim.

Spiritual director and writer Tamara Hill Murphy explains the meaning of Rogationtide:

“Rogation” is derived from the Latin verb rogare, which means “to ask.” In the liturgies of Rogation Days, we ask the Lord to bless the fields, the crops, and the hands of farmers who produce our food. Worship on Rogation Days teaches us that we depend upon God’s favor over his land. We ask him for goodness over not just an abstract idea of our “land” but the very real earth beneath our feet in our backyards, our neighborhoods, and whatever part of the earth our feet hit the ground. As we’ve become a post-industrial society, the prayers for Rogation Days have expanded to include not only prayers for farmers and fishermen, but also for commerce and industry, and for all of us as stewards of creation.

>> “The Twelve: An Anthem for the Feast of Any Apostle,” words by W. H. Auden and music by William Walton: In 1965 the dean of the choir school at Christ Church, Oxford—Dr. Cuthbert Simpson—approached poet W. H. Auden and composer William Walton to write a choral anthem for use on apostolic feast days. “The Twelve” is the result. In this video filmed at Keble College, Oxford, in July 2021, it is performed by the vocal ensembles VOCES8 and Apollo5 (both directed by Barnaby Smith), with Peter Holder on organ. Learn more about the background and structure of the anthem here.

This performance appears on Renewal?, a concept album released February 25 that combines new works by Paul Smith (cofounder of VOCES8) and Donna McKevitt with works by three influential modern composers: William Walton, John Cage, and William Henry Harris. “Multifaceted texts by Lal Ded, Edmund Spenser, W. H. Auden, Lord Byron, Pablo Neruda, Maya Angelou, and Edna St. Vincent Millay offer space to consider our world, past and present, and meditate on a response to build a better future.”

You can read the full text of “The Twelve” in the YouTube video description. It begins,

Without arms or charm of culture,
Persons of no importance
From an unimportant Province,
They did as the Spirit bid,
Went forth into a joyless world
Of swords and rhetoric
To bring it joy.

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VISUAL MEDITATIONS:

Ascension Day occurs every year on the Thursday that falls forty days after Easter (see Acts 1:1–3). This year it is May 26. Here are two Ascension-themed visual meditations from ArtWay.eu.

>> On the Reidersche Tafel, by Nigel Halliday: This ivory bas-relief, which was probably originally embedded in a book cover, is the earliest known representation of the Ascension. It shows Jesus striding up a mountain, being pulled up into heaven by the hand of God the Father. (Mark and Luke use the passive voice to describe the Ascension: “he was taken up into heaven.”) He is dressed in a toga and holding a scroll. Learn more from Nigel Halliday at the above link, or visit this Instagram post I made two years ago.

Ascension (Reidersche Tafel)
The Women at Christ’s Tomb and the Ascension, Milan or Rome, ca. 400. Ivory plaque, 18.7 × 11.5 cm. Bayerisches Nationalmuseum (Bavarian National Museum), Munich, Germany.

>> On Ngambuny Ascends by Shirley Purdie, by Rod Pattenden: Ngambuny is the Gija name for Jesus. Aboriginal Australian artist Shirley Purdie sets his ascension within the indigenous landscape of the Bungle Bungle Range, using her characteristic style of dotted outlines. “Purdie draws on her cultural tradition to locate the presence of God within the skin of her land,” writes the Rev. Dr. Rod Pattenden. “Her work is literally painted with the earth, as she collects ochres from the land she is responsible for and mixes it with glue to attach to her warm hued canvases.” Pattenden offers a fascinating reading of Purdie’s Ngambuny Ascends, discussing the use of black ocher, God as Creator Spirit alive in the earth, and more.

Purdie, Shirley_Ngambuny Ascends
Shirley Purdie (Gija, 1948–), Ngambuny Ascends, 2013. Natural ocher on canvas, 60 × 80 cm. Private collection. The artist is represented by the Warmun Art Centre in Warmum, WA, Australia.

Roundup: Guite-Bell live event, Sister Corita Kent, and more

FREE LIVE EVENT: “Faith and the Imagination: Poetry, Song, and Inspiration with Steve Bell and Malcolm Guite,” June 4–7, 2022, Greater Seattle area: Join hundreds of Seattle artists and ministry leaders for four days of poetry, vocal performances, and conversation about the gift of the human imagination for the flourishing of our world, hosted by Cambridge’s distinguished poet Malcolm Guite and award-winning Canadian musician Steve Bell.

Sessions are free and open to the public and will not be livestreamed (and the conversations require advance registration):

  • June 4, 7–9pm: Live Concert (Seattle, WA)
  • June 5, 9:45–11am: Worship Service (Normandy Park, WA)
  • June 5, 7–9:30pm: A Conversation on: Faith and the Arts (Seattle, WA)
  • June 6, 6:30–8:30pm: A Conversation on: Faith and Technology (Bellevue, WA)
  • June 7, 7–9pm: A Conversation on: Faith and Work (Seattle, WA)

Guite and Bell have been collaborating for years. Below are two snippets of them performing together. In the first video Guite comedically performs (to rhythmic accompaniment!) a villanelle he wrote in response to something a woman who worked at the venue of one of his poetry talks exasperatedly said to him when his hurried photocopying caused a paper jam. The second video showcases a sonnet by Guite on the baptism of Christ, from his collection Sounding the Seasons: Seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year, and the song that Bell adapted it into, released on Keening for the Dawn.

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ESSAY: “The Listening Heart: Corita Kent’s Reforming Vision” by Michael Wright: Corita Kent (1918–1986) [previously] was an American pop artist who was also, for over three decades, a nun. Michael Wright writes about how “she became interested not just in depicting scenes from the Bible but answering this: what might happen if a Christian imagination engaged the world around us through the arts? That art might look less like an illustration from a children’s Bible and more like exploring seeing the stuff of life—even a bread bag—as dialogue partners with mysteries of faith.” wonderbread is one of four works he discusses—“a playful meditation on sacred time, wonder, and communion.”

Kent, Corita_wonderbread
Corita Kent (American, 1918–1986), wonderbread, 1962. Serigraph, 25 1/2 × 30 1/2 in.

While I do think even Kent’s biblical artworks push the genre of religious art forward, I appreciate how Wright challenges Christians to give a chance to her works that are less straightforwardly religious, as these are often the most imaginative and profound. And they, too, are “deeply Christian work.” Let’s not think so narrowly about what “Christian art” must look like!

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LIVING PRAYER PERIODICAL: Pentecost 2022: One of the organizations I work for is the Daily Prayer Project [previously], which publishes seven ecumenical Christian prayer periodicals a year, structured around the liturgical calendar. I do the curation for the Gallery section, which comprises three art images with written reflections, and the editing. Our latest edition covers June 5 (the feast of Pentecost) through August 6, and it includes prayers from India, Japan, Korea, Algeria, Italy, the Choctow Nation, and more. I’m excited to feature on the cover Corita Kent’s word picture: gift of tongues! As many of her screenprints do, it integrates image and text—in this case Acts 2:1–2a, which sprawls out through the sky and onto a billowing banner, like a sail, over a crowd of people aflame with the fire of the newly descended Spirit of God.

Pentecost LPP 2022

On the website there are options for one-time purchase or group subscription, and for digital only or print and digital.

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PRAYER: “The Lord’s Prayer, Extended Dance Mix” by Nadia Bolz-Weber: In March, actor Jennifer Garner asked Lutheran pastor and author Nadia Bolz-Weber if she could offer a prayer and a benediction on her InstaLive. Bolz-Weber vamped on the traditional words of the Lord’s Prayer, the text of which you can read at the boldface link.

I haven’t always agreed with Bolz-Weber, but this prayer is beautiful. One of the things I appreciate about her spiritual teaching is her avoidance of clichés. She gives fresh language to the experiences of faith and life in general and to theology, which often reawakens me to the beauty of God and of Christ’s gospel. Describing why she regularly turns to prayer, she says in the Instagram video:

When I don’t have enough—like if I don’t have enough patience, if I don’t have enough compassion for myself or other people, when I don’t have enough resources—prayer is this way in which I can remind myself that there is enough. That I have a connection to my own divine source. I have a connection to God. And in the heart of God there’s enough forgiveness when I don’t have enough. In the heart of God there’s enough compassion when I don’t have enough. And so for me, it’s about reminding myself of that connection.

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SONG: “Dry Bones” by Gregory Porter: From Gregory Porter’s 2021 album Still Rising, this song was inspired by Ezekiel 37. The official music video features dancing skeletons in yellow cowboy boots(!), animated by L’Incroyable Studio. The song’s bridge quotes the African American spiritual “Dem Bones.”

The first verse goes,

I won’t die, won’t bury, won’t sink
’Cause love is the spirit I drink
I’ll be free in the morning light
’Cause your touch is the medicine of life
There’s a dance to this beat, let’s shake
Every move—feel my body awake
There’s a sound—you and me are one
And your hope is the rhythm I drum

Roundup: Psalms and the arts, Ukrainian Easter Choir, and more

BLOG POST: “An open letter to pastors (A non-mom speaks about Mother’s Day)” by Amy Young: There’s disagreement among church leaders on whether Hallmark holidays, such as Mother’s Day, should be recognized during a worship service, and if so, how. Having mothers stand (while women who are not mothers in the conventional sense remain seated) can be very othering and bring up feelings of sadness or shame. It’s also a day when people are thinking about their own mothers, which can evoke a complex range of emotions.

Amy Young believes there is a way to honor mothers in church without alienating others, as well as to acknowledge the breadth of experiences associated with mothering. She has drafted a pastoral address that I find so wise and compassionate. Some women are estranged from their children. Some have experienced miscarriage or abortion. Some have had failed adoptions, or failed IVF treatments. Some gave up a child for adoption. Some have been surrogate mothers. Some are foster mothers, or are the primary guardian of a relative’s child. Some are spiritual moms. Some women want to be mothers but have no partner or have had trouble conceiving. Some were abused by their mothers. Some have lost mothers. Some never met their mother. Young puts her arms around all these people who are potentially in the pews on Mother’s Day, making room for the complexity of the day—which does include celebration!

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VIDEO: “United with Beauty: The Psalms, the Arts, and the Human Experience” by Mallory Johnson: Mallory Johnson graduated last weekend with a bachelor’s in music and worship (concentration: voice) from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. (In the fall she will be starting an MDiv program at Beeson Divinity School.) All the seniors in the Samford School of the Arts are required to complete a capstone project tailored to their individual interests and career goals. As Johnson’s interests center on theology, history, and the arts, she created a twenty-minute video rooted in the Psalms that integrates music, poetry, short excerpts of fiction, visual art, and quotes from van Gogh, Tchaikovsky, Goethe, Luther, and others, resulting in a contemplative multimedia experience.

I resonate so much with Johnson’s approach of bringing together works from different artistic disciplines to interpret one another and to invite the viewer into worship. Her curation is stellar! To cite just one example, the contemporary choral work Stars by Ēriks Ešenvalds plays as we see, among other images, an Aboriginal dot painting of the constellations Orion and Canis and a nighttime landscape by realist painter Józef Chełmoński. Another: John Adams’s double piano composition “Hallelujah Junction” is brought into conversation with Psalm 150 and a painting by Jewish artist Richard Bee of David dancing before the ark.

Józef Chełmoński (Polish, 1849–1914), Starry Night, 1888. Oil on canvas, 22 13/16 × 28 3/4 in. (58 × 73 cm). National Museum in Kraków, Poland.

The video opens with the theme of awe and wonder—expanses of sky and sea and field; the beauty and vastness of God mirrored in the natural world—and then moves to lament—of the prospering of the wicked; of exhaustion, anxiety, and other forms of mental or spiritual anguish and their causes; of personal sin—and finally ends with an assurance of grace and with exultation. Johnson shows how the longings of modern people overlap with those of the biblical psalmists. Here’s her description:

In his famous work titled Confessions, St. Augustine writes this: “Yet to praise you, God, is the desire of every human.” Is this true? What does this look like?

During my time at Samford, I have felt my heart and mind overflow with love for the arts. As a Christian, they have played a devotional role in my life. I find such joy in seeing connections between music, art, and literature that may seem unrelated on the surface. I believe that all humans have a longing for the goodness of God and we find “echoes” of Him everywhere, and most beautifully in artistic expression.

I wanted to show others how I understand the world as a Christian artist. This project is a journey through the Psalms, using art to reinforce the idea that the Psalms capture the full universal human experience. Across time and space, we have all felt the same things and we have all had the same deep longing for “something higher.”

I hope you can allow this project to wash over you. Make time to watch it alone or with someone you love, distraction-free. Turn the lights out, light a candle, watch it on a big screen with the volume up loud. Be cozy under a blanket with a cup of coffee, or grab a journal and write down anything that sticks out to you! It is my earnest desire that you will be moved by the artistic expression of humanity, and that you may realize that God has always been the goodness you most deeply desire.

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SONGS:

>> “Broken Healers” by Elise Massa: Singer-songwriter Elise Massa is the assistant director of music and worship arts at Church of the Ascension in Pittsburgh. A meditation on Christ as Wounded Healer, this song from her 2014 album of demos, We Are All Rough Drafts, was inspired by an Eastertide sermon.

Here’s the final stanza (the full lyrics are at the Bandcamp link):

Broken healers are we all
In a living world, decayed
With broken speech we stutter, “Glory”
As broken fingers mend what’s frayed
Holy Spirit, come, anoint us
As you anointed Christ the King
Who wore the crown of the oppressed
Who bears the scars of suffering

>> “Agnus Dei” by Michael W. Smith, performed by the Ukrainian Easter Choir: This is one of the few CCM songs I listened to as a young teen (Third Day’s version from a WOW CD!) that I’m still really fond of. In this video that premiered April 17, an eighty-person choir conducted by Sergiy Yakobchuk was assembled from multiple churches in Ukraine to perform for an Easter service in Lviv organized by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Michael W. Smith’s “Agnus Dei” is one of three songs they sang, in both English and Ukrainian. The name of the soloist is not given. Many of the vocalists in the choir have been displaced from their homes by the current war with Russia. One of them says, “With the war, celebrating the Resurrection means for us now life above death, good above evil.”

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PRAYER EXERCISE: “Visio Divina: A 20-Minute Guided Prayer Reflection for the Crisis in Ukraine”: Visio divina, Latin for “divine seeing,” is a spiritual practice of engaging prayerfully with an image, usually an artwork—allowing the visual to invite you into communion with God. On March 17 Vivianne David led a virtual visio divina exercise with Natalya Rusetska’s Crucifixion, hosted by Renovaré. I caught up with the video afterward and found it a very meaningful experience. As the painting is by a Ukrainian artist and represents Christ’s passion, the war in Ukraine is a natural connection point.

I appreciate David’s wise guidance, which includes these reminders:

  • Stay with the image, regardless of whether or not you ​“feel” something happening right away. There is something beautiful about faithfully waiting with that space, having dedicated it to God as a time of prayer.
  • Notice what draws your attention, what invites you into the image—let that become a space for conversation with Christ.
  • Notice what sort of emotions arise as you stay with the image. How does it awaken desire? Let these emotions lead you back to continued dialogue with God.

This kind of quiet, focused looking with an openness to encounter is something I encourage on the blog. Any of David’s three tips above I would also suggest for any art image I post—a corrective to hasty scrolling habits. Stick around for the last four minutes of the video to see dozens and dozens of impressions from participants, which may reveal new aspects of the painting to you.

Roundup: “Jesus Is Alive” (Japanese version), art competition, and more

SONGS:

>> “Jesus Is Alive” by Ron Kenoly, performed in Japanese by Ruah Worship: Ruah Worship is a vocal ensemble made up of four siblings from Japan: (from left to right in video) Joshua Mine, Julia Mine, Erika Grace Izawa (née Mine), and Marian Mine. Here they sing an a cappella arrangement of a Ron Kenoly song, translated into Japanese by Hiromi Yamamoto and Kazuo Sano. Click on the “CC” (closed captioning) button for English subtitles. [HT: Global Christian Worship]

Their harmonies are wonderful! And they have lots of great videos on their YouTube channel, a mix of original songs and songs translated from other languages or written in Japanese. For another Easter-themed song they’ve recorded, see “Because He Lives.”

>> “I Went to the Garden” by Sam Hargreaves: Written in a bluegrass style from Mary Magdalene’s perspective, this song was released this year as part of the Resurrection People resource from the UK organization Engage Worship, where you can find downloadable videos (songs, webinars), sheet music, and church service outlines that include prayers, all-age ideas, readings, poems, sermon outlines, responses, and more. Sam Hargreaves is on lead vocals and acoustic guitar, Timo Scharnowski is on backing vocals and percussion, and David Hyde is on banjo and slide guitar.

Another song from the Resurrection People pack—one that made me laugh!—is “Peter’s Slowcoach Blues.”

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ART COMMENTARY: The Sherborne Missal: On this episode of the BBC Radio 4 program Moving Pictures, host Cathy Fitzgerald talks with art historians Alixe Bovey, Kathleen Doyle, Eleanor Jackson, and Paul Binski and scribe and illuminator Patricia Lovett about a page from the medieval illuminated Sherborne Missal that introduces the Mass for Easter Sunday. Made for the Benedictine abbey of St. Mary’s in Sherborne, Dorset, around 1400, this Christian service book amazingly survived the pillaging of the English Reformation intact.

Sherborne Missal (Easter Mass)
Illuminated folio introducing the Mass for Easter Sunday, from the Sherborne Missal, Dorset, England, ca. 1399–1407. British Library, London, Add Ms 74236, page 216. Click on image to zoom in.

At the top is the historiated initial “R” for Ressurexit, with Christ emerging from his tomb. An elaborate border around the page contains scenes from the Old Testament, portraits of prophets, a bestiary-inspired scene, angels, birds, plants, fantastical knights, and two wodewoses (wild men) engaging in a bizarre confrontation. Such imagination! Learn why a daddy lion breathing on his cubs signified resurrection to the medieval mind, and in what sense Samson and Jonah are “types” of Christ.

“The thing to grasp about medieval art,” Binski says, “is that they don’t have the same categories and boundaries that we do. We have quite defined boundaries around what’s comic and what’s tragic, and what’s serious and what’s lightweight. In the Middle Ages, serious things and playful things accompanied one another; they were all part of the same thing.”

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CALL FOR ENTRIES: Chaiya Art Awards 2022/23: Submissions are now open—UK residents only—for this biannual competition on spiritually inflected visual art, this time on the theme of “Awe and Wonder.” In addition to the usual exhibition space for the longlisted finalists at London’s gallery@oxo, Chaiya has secured a second venue, the Bargehouse, which will allow for larger-scale artworks and installations. The top prize is ₤10,000. Deadline: August 31, 2022.

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CIVA TRAVELING EXHIBITION: Heads, Faces, and Spiritual Encounter: Drawn from the collection of Edward and Diane Knippers and available for rental, this exhibition comprises forty-some artworks that all focus on the human face. There are works by modern heavyweights like Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Georges Rouault, and Eric Gill, along with a few seventeenth-century portraits, African masks, and works by contemporary artists of faith. I saw the exhibition in Austin, Texas, in November and was really moved. Click on the link to browse the art and to inquire about rental.

Heads, Faces, and Spiritual Encounter

Easter, Day 8

I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

—Ephesians 3:16–19

For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light—for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness . . .

“Sleeper, awake!
    Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

—Ephesians 5:8–11a, 14b

LOOK: Resurrection by Lu Lan

Lu Lan_Resurrection
Lu Lan (Chinese, 1972–), Resurrection, 1996. Tempera on cardboard, 50 × 50 cm.

LISTEN: “Easter Light” | Words by Angier Brock and music by Cecilia McDowall, 2016 | Performed by the Oxford Choir, on Oxford Choral Highlights 2017

In Easter light, the risen Christ is moving among us.
     How brightly the meadowlark sings its song of the season.
          Alleluia.
     How gently the Easter light lifts the face of the lily.
         Christ is risen.
With illumed heart and radiant faces,
     we too sing in that light.
          Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia. Alleluia.

Let Christ be rising now in our lives and in our prayers,
     as we open our hands to both friend and stranger.
Let Christ be rising now in our words and in our work
     as we strive to repair the earth
     and free all its creatures from danger.

Risen Christ of limitless love,
     Risen Christ of compassion and peace,
          Risen Christ of gracious surprising—
You move among us in Easter light.
Be now in us, rising.

I so love Angier Brock’s collaborations with Cecilia McDowall. I featured another of their choral anthems, “Advent Moon,” two Advents ago.

“Easter Light” is quieter and more reflective than most other Easter anthems. It muses on how, as the natural world awakens to the fullness of spring, our hearts are beckoned to come awake also. Christ rose from his grave in first-century Palestine and he rises in his followers, moving us to love, compassion, peace, generosity, and works of repair and liberation. This anthem is a blessing and a prayer—that we would be reanimated, reastonished, by the “risen Christ of gracious surprising”; that we would be Easter people, people of life and light, practicing resurrection.

The text above is as Brock wrote it. She gave McDowall the leeway to rearrange the order of lines, to repeat and layer words, and so on. Brock told me how pleased she is by how McDowall set the alleluias. “I think of them as ‘falling alleluias’ or ‘waterfalls of alleluias,’” she said.

In addition to being a sacred lyricist, Brock is also a poet. I asked her if she approaches differently the task of writing a poem that she knows will be set to music for church contexts versus writing a poem that does not have that objective. Here’s what she said:

For me, the biggest difference between writing a hymn or anthem text, as opposed to a freestanding poem, is that with the hymn or anthem, I know I will quite literally be putting words into other peoples’ mouths. And not just any words—words about faith, about the Holy, the Divine. Theology figures in—not my personal or private theology, but something larger. That adds a layer of—I’m not sure what the word is. Complexity? Responsibility? Gravitas? Something like one of those things, or some combination thereof.

The above recording is of a performance by the collegiate Oxford Choir, but for examples of church choirs singing “Easter Light” for Easter Day worship services, see the following timestamped video links:

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This concludes my *daily* posts in this format—but there are still another forty-two days of Easter, and I hope you’re continuing to celebrate! I’ll still be sharing content throughout the remainder of the season, just at a lesser frequency. In the meantime, I hope you’re enjoying the Art & Theology Eastertide Playlist, which includes today’s featured song.

If you would like to leave me a “tip” for the Lent-Easter posts or playlists, you can do so through PayPal. I appreciate your support, which gives me the freedom to step away from paid freelancing projects to devote time here, and to keep all the blog content free and available to everyone instead of moving to a Patreon model. If you don’t have a PayPal account but still wish to contribute to my work (as some of you have indicated to me), you could buy me a book from my Amazon wish list. Books feed my research and shape my spiritual development and can impact what I cover on the blog. Please note that wish list items do not equal endorsements.

I wish you all a very happy Eastertide! Thanks for journeying with me through Lent and Bright Week.