“Aaron’s Beard” by Eugene H. Peterson

A song of ascents comprising just three verses, Psalm 133 is assigned as this upcoming Sunday’s lectionary reading from the book of Psalms. It contains two colorful similes that liken brotherly unity to (1) oil running down the beard and (2) a heavy dewfall. The first one offers an especially sensuous picture of consecration, of divine blessedness, referencing the anointing ritual for priests practiced in ancient Israel (see Exodus 30:22–33). Attracted to the poetic quality of this image, Eugene H. Peterson wrote his own nine lines around it, imagining God’s blessings, like oil, dissolving the rust that had accumulated over his belief.

Nude Old Man in the Sun by Mariano Fortuny y Marsal
Mariano Fortuny y Marsal (Spanish, 1838–1874), Nude Old Man in the Sun, ca. 1871. Oil on canvas, 76 × 60 cm. Museo del Prado, Madrid.

“Aaron’s Beard” by Eugene H. Peterson

. . . running down the beard,
Upon the beard of Aaron . . .

—Psalm 133:2

Aaronic blessings
Run down my red beard
Refracting sun warmth
In oil ooze
 loosening
Ironic curses
Flecks of stubborn rust
Corrosive unbelief
Cynic stuff.


“Aaron’s Beard” is published in Holy Luck by Eugene H. Peterson (Eerdmans, 2013) and is used here by permission of the publisher. Reproduction of the poem without express permission from Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company is a violation of copyright.

When Brothers Dwell in Unity (Artful Devotion)

All of Mankind by William Walker
North facade of the former Stranger’s Home Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago, with mural by William Walker, 1972, painted over in 2015. Photo: Gabriel X. Michael/Chicago Patterns

Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!

It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!

It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,
life forevermore.

—Psalm 133

All of Mankind by William Walker
William Walker (American, 1927–2011), All of Mankind mural detail, 1972 (now lost). Stranger’s Home Missionary Baptist Church, Chicago. Photo courtesy of the Chicago Public Art Group.
All of Mankind by William Walker
William Walker (American, 1927–2011), All of Mankind mural detail, 1972 (now lost). Stranger’s Home Missionary Baptist Church, Chicago. Photo courtesy of the Chicago Public Art Group.

(For more info on Walker’s mural, see my review of Painting the Gospel. To download the MP3, chords, and/or piano score for James Zeller’s setting of Psalm 133, visit PsalterProject.com. To view the other RCL scripture readings for this upcoming Sunday—Proper 15, cycle A—click here.)

This weekend we witnessed how bad and destructive it is when brothers dwell in disunity. For congregations seeking resources for responding prayerfully to the racist attack carried out in Charlottesville, Virginia, Rich Villodas has written a litany:

Leader: Lord Jesus, your Kingdom is good news for a world caught in racial hostility. We ask that you would give us grace for the deep challenges facing our country.

 

Congregation: O Lord, only you can make all things new.

 

Leader: Lord, we confess our anger, our deep sadness, and our collective sense of weakness to see this world healed through our own strength.

 

Congregation: O Lord, only you can make all things new.

 

Leader: Lord, we honestly confess that our country has a long history of racial oppression, that racism has been a strategy of evil powers and principalities.

 

Congregation: O Lord, only you can make all things new.

 

Leader: Lord, we confess that the gospel is good news for the oppressed and the oppressor. Both are raised up. Both are liberated, but in different ways. The oppressed are raised up from the harsh burden of inferiority. The oppressor from the destructive illusion of superiority.

 

Congregation: O Lord, only you can make all things new.

 

Leader: Lord, we confess that the gospel is your power to form a new people not identified by dominance and superiority, but by unity in the Spirit.

 

Congregation: O Lord, only you can make all things new.

 

Leader: Lord, we ask that you would help us name our part in this country’s story of racial oppression and hostility. Whether we have sinned against others by seeing them as inferior, or whether we have been silent in the face of evil. Forgive us of our sin.

 

Congregation: O Lord, only you can make all things new.

 

Leader: Lord, we pray for our enemies. For those who have allowed Satanic powers to work through them. Grant them deliverance through your mighty power.

 

Congregation: O Lord, only you can make all things new.

 

Leader: Lord, we ask that you would form us to be us peacemakers. May we be people who speak the truth in love as we work for a reconciled world.

 

Congregation: O Lord, only you can make all things new.

 

Leader: Lord, we commit our lives to you, believing that you are working in the world in spite of destructive powers and principalities. Bring healing to those who are hurt, peace to those who are anxious, and love to those who are fearful. We wait for you, O Lord. Make haste to help us.

 

Congregation: O Lord, only you can make all things new.


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Roundup: Ukrainian sacred art, seven deadly sins, Yoko, Rectify, and more

Whenever I gather with friends, I like to ask them what they’ve been reading, watching, and/or listening to lately (a lot of the media I consume comes from word-of-mouth recommendations), and if they’ve visited any interesting new places. In the spirit of sharing, here are some things on my list this month.

WHERE I’M GOING

“East Meets West: Women Icon Makers of Western Ukraine,” St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church, Chatham, Massachusetts: This week I’m road-tripping up to Cape Cod with my husband and two friends to see an art exhibition organized by John A. Kohan. On display through the end of the month are twenty-three Ukrainian Greek Catholic icons by four female artists from Lviv who are representative of the eastern European sacred art renaissance sparked by the dissolution of the Soviet Union: Ivanka Demchuk, Natalya Rusetska, Ulyana Tomkevych, and Lyuba Yatskiv. This Thursday, August 17, at 4:30 p.m., Kohan will be giving a gallery talk discussing the artists and their context. I’ve been following these women online for the past few years through Iconart and am thrilled to be able to see their work in person. I’m not sure which specific works will be there, but here are examples of two of the artists’ work:

Adam Gives Names to the Animals by Lyuba Yatskiv
Lyuba Yatskiv (Ukrainian, 1977–), Adam Gives Names to the Animals, 2015. Acrylic and gold leaf on gessoed board, 80 × 50 cm.
The Baptism of Christ by Ivanka Demchuk
Ivanka Demchuk (Ukrainian, 1990–), The Baptism of Christ, 2015. Mixed media on board on canvas, 30 × 40 cm.

Two-day arts lecture and performance series, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina: Thanks, Duke Initiatives in Theology and the Arts! Celebrating the opening of a new art exhibition at the Nasher Museum of Art, “The Patience to See: The Sights & Sounds of Carlo Dolci” on Thursday, August 31, will feature talks by Dr. Ben Quash and Dr. Chloe Reddaway, live period music by top-tier orchestral musicians, and the premiere of Blue Madonna, an original composition by Dr. Jeremy Begbie, inspired by a painting after Dolci. The other program events, taking place on Friday, September 1, are “Secretaries of Praise: Poetry, Song, and Theology” and “Home, Away, and Home Again: The Rhythm of the Gospel in Music.” My family lives in the Raleigh-Durham area, so it will be fun to spend time with them while also taking in some world-class art, music, and scholarship!

The Blue Madonna by Carlo Dolci
 Onorio Marinari (Italian, 1627–1715), The Blue Madonna (after Carlo Dolci), 17th century. Oil on canvas. John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida.

WHAT I’M READING

Seven Deadly Sins box set

The Seven Deadly Sins: These seven small books (each about 128 pages) grew out of a 2002–2003 lecture series cosponsored by the New York Public Library and Oxford University Press. Each is authored by a different prominent writer and approaches the assigned sin through the lenses of history, theology, philosophy, psychology, ethics, social criticism, popular culture, art, and/or literature. (Several include a full-color image insert.) My favorite is Gluttony by Francine Prose, in part because it contained the most surprises. Prose points out that one can make the belly a god not only by habitually overeating but by being obsessive about nutrition, calories, body fat, and pants size—being a slave to the scale or to a point system. That’s not to say that dieting and exercise can’t be done without idolatry, but . . . you have to read the book. It diagnoses our culture’s “schizophrenic attitude toward gluttony”—inundate us with snack ads, restaurants, and recipes and encourage us to take pleasure in eating, then tell us we’re eating too much and brand us with a scarlet O for Obese, promising that a gym membership and such-and-such health-food regimen will remove that shame. On both sides of our ambivalence, someone is making money.

I also really enjoyed Greed by Phyllis Tickle (she takes a similar approach as Prose, majoring on Christian theology, literature, and art, and is a brilliant writer) and Pride by Michael Eric Dyson, a sociology professor and ordained Baptist minister who focuses on racial pride (addresses why white pride is a vice but black pride is a virtue) and national pride (addresses the difference between patriotism, a virtue, and nationalism, a vice), describing very chillingly what it’s like to be black in America. Sloth is styled as a parody of the self-help genre and contains crude language, and I wasn’t too keen on it. I also wasn’t drawn in by Anger, which is written from a Buddhist perspective.

Acorn by Yoko Ono

Acorn by Yoko Ono: Before her marriage to John Lennon, Yoko was a major figure in the underground art scene in New York City, and she continues to create today, mainly conceptual and performance art. On a whim, I bought her 2013 book Acorn on sale at the Hirshhorn—a sequel, of sorts, to her more famous Grapefruit—and have been enjoying reading and “performing” the “instructional poems,” or what I would call mindfulness exercises. Promoting better ways of relating to ourselves, each other, and the planet, these exercises are given names like “Sky Piece” and “Sound Piece,” and each is accompanied by an amoeba-like dot drawing that gives readers “further brainwork,” Yoko says. (Click here to view sample page spreads, which include images.) My husband, Eric, thinks all the pieces are woo-woo—and some of them are. But others have deepened my wonder and praise, given my imagination some much-needed exercise, or convicted me of being a poor friend. Here are two:

“Earth Piece V”

Watch the sunset.
Feel the Earth moving.

“Connection Piece V”

How do you connect with people the most?

With the feeling of:
Curiosity
Interest
Forgiveness
Adoration
Competition
Envy
Fear
Control
Detachment
Rejection

Make a list of people around you and see how it comes out.
Ask yourself if you are comfortable with the way you connect.
Don’t simplify the situation by just saying “I love/hate them all.”

WHAT I’M WATCHING

I just finished the first season of Rectify on Netflix, a drama about a man, Daniel Holden, who’s released from prison after spending nineteen years on Georgia’s death row for the rape and murder of his girlfriend. I’m hooked. A lot of it so far is Daniel learning how to use his freedom, especially how to give and receive human touch, and rediscovering the world—the weightlessness of goose down, for example, or the feeling of bare feet on carpet. I first heard about the show from the Televisionaries podcast, where Kutter Callaway, author of Watching TV Religiously: Television and Theology in Dialogue, praised it for, among other things, giving high visibility to a Christian character who’s portrayed in a nuanced and noncondescending manner. We see evangelism, baptisms, people praying together, people owning their faith and struggling through it, asking hard questions. A second recommendation from film critic Nick Olson via Good Letters last month cinched my resolve to jump in. (Note to prospective viewers: The show is rated TV-14 for intense thematic elements, sexuality, and violence.)

WHAT I’M LISTENING TO

I’ve found that any album on the Deeper Well label is fantastic. Lately I’ve been listening to Wounded Healer (2012) by the Followers, who is Josh White, Eric Earley, and friends. The style is a mixture of soul, gospel, and vintage folk rock—what the group calls “neo-gospel.” The track below, “Enfold Me,” features the vocals of Liz Vice.

One sonnet vs. shouted prose: Lady Liberty, Emma Lazarus, and Trump

Statue of Liberty

“The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

This poem makes me emotional. Embossed on a bronze plaque inside the Statue of Liberty’s base in New York Harbor, it articulates a beautiful ideal for the US: we are a welcoming refuge for the “wretched refuse” of the world, and therein lies our strength. The first lines of the sonnet contrast Lady Liberty with the Colossus of Rhodes, a 109-foot statue of Helios, the Greek god of the sun. One of the seven ancient wonders of the world, it was erected in 280 BC to celebrate a military victory. True to its purpose, it was given a fearsome, “Behold our power!” sort of stance.

Liberty has an imposing presence as well, but it’s tempered with “mild eyes” and the epithet “Mother of Exiles.” Maternal love is her stance. I care nothing for riches and glory, she tells the other nations. Send me, instead, the weak, the destitute, the hurting. My light is always on, inviting them to enter in and stay.

Lazarus’s poem is thoroughly in line with biblical values—which is no surprise, because she was herself Jewish. Here are just some of the verses in the Hebrew Bible that prescribe care for immigrants and affirm their rights. (The word “immigrant,” ger, is sometimes translated in scripture as “sojourner,” “stranger,” “foreigner,” or “alien.”)

Exodus 23:9: “You must not oppress foreigners. You know what it’s like to be a foreigner, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.”

Leviticus 19:33–34: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”

Deuteronomy 10:17–19: “The LORD your God . . . loves the immigrant, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are immigrants, for you yourselves were immigrants in Egypt.”

Deuteronomy 14:29: “The immigrant . . . within your towns shall come and eat and be filled, that the LORD your God may bless you.”

Deuteronomy 24:17: “You shall not pervert the justice due to the immigrant.”

Deuteronomy 27:19: “Cursed be anyone who withholds the justice due to the immigrant. . . . Then all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’”

Jeremiah 7:6: “Do not oppress the immigrant.”

Jeremiah 22:3: “This is what the LORD says: ‘Do what is just and right. . . . Do no wrong or violence to the immigrant.’”

Ezekiel 22:4, 7: “You have brought your judgment days near and have come to your years of punishment [because] . . . the foreign resident is exploited within you.”

Zechariah 7:10–11: “This is what the LORD Almighty says: Administer true justice, show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the . . . immigrant.”

Malachi 3:15: “‘I will come to you in judgment. I will be quick to testify against those . . . who refuse to help the immigrant and in this way show they do not fear me,’ says the LORD who rules over all.”

The immigrant belongs to the “quartet of the vulnerable”—along with widows, orphans, and the poor—whose cause God takes up over and over again throughout the Bible and commands his people to do likewise. “The mishpat, or justness, of a society, according to the Bible, is evaluated by how it treats these groups,” writes Tim Keller in his book Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just. “Any neglect shown to the needs of the members of this quartet is not called merely a lack of mercy or charity, but a violation of justice, of mishpat. God loves and defends those with the least economic and social power, and so should we. That is what it means to ‘do justice.’”   Continue reading “One sonnet vs. shouted prose: Lady Liberty, Emma Lazarus, and Trump”

A Steady Hand (Artful Devotion)

Peter sinking by Sharon McGinley
Painting by Sharon McGinley

Lectionary reading, Matthew 14:29b–33 (The Voice):

Peter stepped out of the boat onto the water and began walking toward Jesus. But when he remembered how strong the wind was, his courage caught in his throat and he began to sink.

Peter: Master, save me!

Immediately Jesus reached for Peter and caught him.

Jesus: O you of little faith. Why did you doubt and dance back and forth between following Me and heeding fear?

Then Jesus and Peter climbed in the boat together, and the wind became still. And the disciples worshiped Him.

To view all the RCL scripture readings for Proper 14, cycle A, click here.

Poem by Arthur Hugh Clough (1819–1861):

It fortifies my soul to know
That, though I perish, Truth is so:
That, howsoe’er I stray and range,
Whate’er I do, Thou dost not change.
I steadier step when I recall
That, if I slip, Thou dost not fall.

“Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand,” text by Jennie Wilson (1857–1913) and music by Franklin Lycurgus Eiland (1860–1909), performed by Angela Primm:


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ESSAY: “Where Sorrow and Pain Are No More” by Margaret Adams Parker

Last summer when participating in a two-week Calvin College seminar, I was providentially assigned to room with Margaret (Peggy) Adams Parker, a sculptor and printmaker who lives, as it so happens, just an hour south of me! Peggy’s enthusiasm—for God, for life, for art—is infectious. She possesses such deep joy, and yet she feels so deeply the hurts of the world. She is attentive, as all good artists must be. “I feel called as an artist to bear witness to the world I see around me and also to the ways I understand that world,” Peggy wrote in an ArtWay feature. “This yields not only images of beauty and tenderness, but also images of suffering and terror.” She regards her art as a means of prayer.

The recipient of numerous church and seminary commissions, Peggy majors on religious and social justice themes. Her sculpture Mary as Prophet won a 2016 honor award from the Interfaith Forum on Religion, Art, and Architecture. In addition to maintaining a studio practice and doing shows, Peggy serves as an adjunct instructor at Virginia Theological Seminary, teaching such courses as “Encountering Scripture through the Visual Arts” and “The Artist as Theologian.” She also writes for various publications, including ARTS: The Arts in Religious and Theological Studies and the Anglican Theological Review, and collaborated on the book project Who Are You, My Daughter? Reading Ruth through Image and Text. She is currently working on a Saint Andrew sculpture group. To learn more about Peggy and view more of her work, visit her website, www.margaretadamsparker.com.

By way of further introduction, here is an essay Peggy wrote ten years ago for the book Heaven, ed. Roger Ferlo (New York: Seabury Books, 2007), pp. 158–66. It is reproduced by kind permission of the publisher.

“Where Sorrow and Pain Are No More”

by Margaret Adams Parker

To be honest, I’ve never thought much about heaven, at least in any systematic fashion. I was interested enough to pick up, at some point, The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis’s allegory of heaven and hell. And I’ve been known to joke about my expectations that heaven had better have a comprehensively stocked art studio, as well as a fabulous bookstore.

But in looking back though many years of making art and also teaching about art at a Christian seminary, I’ve unearthed a great deal about heaven, although not in the expected places. I haven’t glimpsed heaven among the many imagined depictions, ranging from medieval woodcuts to the visual speculations of twentieth-century outsider artists. I’m simply not drawn to “visionary” images. These are not the kinds of images I make. Instead, my image of heaven is distinctly negative (theologians would call it apophatic). I have no vision of what heaven is like. But I have seen, and I have also made, pictures of what heaven is not.

I am a concrete thinker, and so my art is earthbound, far from visionary. I’ve always understood the incarnational nature of Christianity as a charge to take seriously life in this world. What’s more, my two great artistic mentors—Rembrandt and Käthe Kollwitz—were rarely given to visions. Rather, their work was grounded in the physical, spiritual, and social realities of life. Such symbols as they used (most notably Kollwitz’s use of the skeleton to represent death) served to underscore their understanding of human existence as it is. They recorded moments as small as a child learning to walk and as momentous as war or revolution. Even when picturing the incarnation, that most heavenly of earthly events, both artists showed the miracle taking place in a tangible human setting.

Consider some of these two artists’ characteristic images. Rembrandt’s drawings testify powerfully to his all-encompassing interest in the life around him. He depicted everyone he saw—beggars and merchants, rabbis and serving girls—with the same probing yet sympathetic scrutiny. His drawings of his wife Saskia constitute a particularly poignant record: we watch as she endures four pregnancies, suffers the deaths of three infants, and finally dies at thirty, a short nine years after their betrothal. We glimpse her first in a silverpoint drawing (1633), made the week of their engagement. In this love poem in line, Rembrandt shows us a winsome young woman, resting her cheek lightly against her hand, dangling in her other hand one of the flowers that also adorn her straw hat. In a pen and ink drawing made four years later (1637), Saskia lies in bed, supporting her head heavily on her hand, staring out with a weary and resigned expression. And in the image that Rembrandt sketched on a tiny etching plate the year Saskia died (1642), she has become an old woman, worn, gaunt, and desperately ill.

Portrait of Saskia as a Bride
Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669), Portrait of Saskia as a Bride, 1633. Silverpoint on parchment, 18.5 × 10.7 cm (7 3/10 × 4 1/5 in.). Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin. Inscription (trans.): “This was portrayed after my wife when she was 21 years old, the third day after we were married. June 8, 1633.”
Saskia in Bed
Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669), Saskia in Bed, ca. 1637. Pen and brown ink, 8.4 × 10.4 cm (8 3/10 × 10 1/10). British Museum, London.
Sick Woman with a Large White Headdress by Rembrandt
Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669), Sick Woman with a Large White Headdress (Saskia), ca. 1642. Etching with touches of drypoint, 6 × 5.1 cm (2 3/8 × 2 in.).

Käthe Kollwitz’s imagery is more politically engaged. The daughter of a trained lawyer who chose to work as a builder rather than practice within the Prussian legal system, she spent her life depicting the plight of the poor and protesting the ravages of war. In her first great print series, A Weavers’ Rebellion (1897–98), she chronicled the causes, progression, and bloody aftermath of the 1844 revolt of Silesian home weavers against their employers. The series begins with Poverty (1894), where a family of weavers gathers around the deathbed of an infant, and concludes with The End (1897), where the bodies of slain revolutionaries are being laid out on the floor of a weaver’s cabin. In both of these dimly lit interiors, the looms and other apparatus of the weavers’ trade stand as ominous reminders of the weavers’ plight.   Continue reading “ESSAY: “Where Sorrow and Pain Are No More” by Margaret Adams Parker”

Eat What Is Good (Artful Devotion)

Wine and Bread by Alexander Antonyuk
Alexander Antonyuk (Ukrainian, 1971–), Wine and Bread, 2015. Oil on canvas.

Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.

—Isaiah 55:1–2

To view all the RCL scripture readings for Proper 13, cycle A, click here.

 


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A Little Mustard Seed in Me (Artful Devotion)

Mustard Seed by Imre Szakacs
Imre Szakács (Hungarian, 1948–), Mustard Seed, 2009. Mixed media on canvas, 150 × 130 cm. Private collection, Budapest. Click on the image for commentary.

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

 —Matthew 13:31–32

To view all the RCL scripture readings for Proper 12, cycle A, click here.


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Roundup: Contemporary santos; singing grace with knives; Auden interprets Bruegel; “The Old Churchyard”; pyrotechnic ladder

“The Cosmopolitan and the Campesino: The Sacred Art of Luis Tapia” by Dana Gioia: I first learned about the pioneering Chicano artist Luis Tapia from the book Crafting Devotions: Tradition in Contemporary New Mexico Santos. His work was memorable, so when I saw it on the cover of the latest Dappled Things issue, I was eager to read inside. Dana Gioia’s essay introduces us to work that is “both strikingly original and deeply respectful of its origins” in the Hispano religious folk art tradition established in New Mexico in the seventeenth century. Pushing the art of polychrome wood sculpture to new levels of craftsmanship and social and political commentary, Tapia “has enlarged his tradition to make it capacious enough to contain his imagination and the complexities of contemporary Latino experience.”

The art world is more accustomed to disruption and transgression than to transformative renewal. (What is more normative in art nowadays than transgression?) It is easier to renounce or mock the past than to master and reshape it to new ends. Assimilating the past, however, allows new work to carry powerful formal and cultural resonance, such as Tapia’s adaptations of New Mexican Catholic folk subjects and symbolism into new secular and social contexts. Tapia does not approach the past with the distanced irony and intellectual condescension of artists such as John Currin or Jeff Koons. Tapia remains invested in the forms, themes, and techniques of the New Mexican Latino Catholic tradition.

(Related post: “Religious art highlights from New Mexico”)

Pieta by Luis Tapia
Luis Tapia (American, 1950–), Pietà, 1999. Carved and painted wood, 20¼ × 14½ × 9½ in. Collection of John Robertshaw. Photo: Dan Morse, courtesy The Owings Gallery, Santa Fe.

Renaissance-era cutlery engraved with musical notations: The Victoria and Albert Museum in London has in its collection a rare “notation knife” from sixteenth-century Italy, whose blade contains on each side a line of music expressing gratitude for a meal. The inscription on one side reads, “The blessing of the table. May the three-in-one bless that which we are about to eat,” while the other reads, “The saying of grace. We give thanks to you God for your generosity.” The knife, which contains only a tenor voice part, belongs to a set. Art historian Flora Dennis, whose background is in musicology, tracked down the other three in the set and, with the help of the Royal College of Music, transcribed the voice parts into modern notation, then had the benediction and grace from the knives sung and recorded (listen below). Click on the link to hear curator Kirstin Kennedy discuss the knife’s possible uses, to view footage from the recording session, and to listen to two alternate recordings.

Notation Knife
Left and right views of an etched, engraved, and gilded steel knife with ivory, brass, and silver handle, by an unknown maker, Italy, 1500–50. Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

Benediction, Version 1

Grace, Version 1

“‘About Suffering They Were Never Wrong’” by Kevin Antlitz: This essay about human indifference to others’ suffering centers on W. H. Auden’s poem “Musée des Beaux Arts,” which is itself a response to two paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder: The Census at Bethlehem and The Fall of Icarus. Insights from Mark Twain, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Elie Wiesel, Nuremberg prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz, novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and St. Theophan the Recluse add to the commentary, which is personalized by the author’s reflections on his visit to Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem. The indictment is sobering: we are all of us guilty of evil—the enabler just as much as the perpetrator.

The Census at Bethlehem by Pieter Bruegel
Nobody notices the need of the pregnant couple—the Holy Family—making their way into town. Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Dutch, 1525/30–1569), The Census at Bethlehem, 1566. Oil on panel, 116 × 164.5 cm (46 × 64.8 in.). Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels.
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus by Pieter Bruegel
The plowman, shepherd, and angler continue with their work, indifferent to the upside-down, flailing legs in the sea beside them, and “the expensive delicate ship” at the crash site “had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.” 1560s copy of Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Dutch, 1525/30–1569), Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, ca. 1558. Oil on canvas, 73.5 × 112 cm (28.9 × 44.1 in.). Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels.

Offa Rex records spiritual folk standard “The Old Churchyard”: Olivia Chaney has teamed up with the Decemberists under the name Offa Rex to record an album that pays homage to British folk music. Released this month, The Queen of Hearts features a beautiful rendition of “The Old Churchyard,” a song about the pain of death and the hope of resurrection. It invites you, first, to come pay respect to loved ones who have passed out of this world over the years, then entreats you not to feel sorrow for them, “for sweet is their sleep, though cold and hard their pillows may be.” The song acknowledges that words are insufficient to comfort those left behind but nonetheless offers the reassurance of peace and rest for the deceased, and a glorious rising on the last day. (Thanks to Paul Neeley for this find!)

Come, come with me out to the old churchyard,
I so well know those paths ’neath the soft green sward.
Friends slumber in there that we want to regard;
We will trace out their names in the old churchyard.

Mourn not for them, their trials are o’er,
And why weep for those who will weep no more?
For sweet is their sleep, though cold and hard
Their pillows may be in the old churchyard.

I know that it’s vain when our friends depart
To breathe kind words to a broken heart;
And I know that the joy of life is marred
When we follow lost friends to the old churchyard.

But were I at rest ’neath yonder tree,
Oh, why would you weep, my friends, for me?
I’m so weary, so wayworn, why would you retard
The peace I seek in the old churchyard?

Why weep for me, for I’m anxious to go
To that haven of rest where no tears ever flow;
And I fear not to enter that dark lonely tomb
Where our saviour has lain and conquered the gloom.

I rest in the hope that one bright day
Sunshine will burst to these prisons of clay,
And old Gabriel’s trumpet and voice of the Lord
Will wake up the dead in the old churchyard.

Sky Ladder documentary (2016): This Netflix original directed by Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland) profiles the world-renowned contemporary artist Cai Guo-Qiang (pronounced Tsai gwo chi-ONG), who is best known for reinventing the possibilities of the firework, opening its purpose up beyond mere entertainment. Through interviews with the artist and his family, friends, and critics, the film tracks Cai’s rise from childhood in Mao’s China to global fame, addressing the cultural influences on his work, his desire to effect social change, and his struggles to maintain integrity and artistic freedom (his acceptance to design the fireworks display for the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics was controversial).

The documentary shares its title with Cai’s decades-long obsession and most ambitious work to date: a pyrotechnic ladder that rises up over a quarter mile into the sky, as successive explosions etch each new rung and rail segment into place. “I want to connect the earth to the universe,” Cai said. It was fascinating to be let in on his process for this, his working through all the technical details and other hurdles. Three previous attempts to realize Sky Ladder were canceled—in 1994, due to bad weather; in 2001, due to the 9/11 attacks; and in 2012, due to a revoked permit. It wasn’t until 2015 that the project finally succeeded, in a small Chinese fishing village before an audience of a few hundred. It lasted approximately two and a half minutes. Cai’s Sky Ladder reminds me of “Jacob’s ladder” from Genesis 28:10–19, burning bright, connecting two worlds.

Sky Ladder by Cai Guo-Qiang
Sky Ladder rising. Photo: Lin Yi & Wen-You Cai, courtesy Cai Studio.
Sky Ladder by Cai Guo-Qiang
Cai Guo-Qiang (Chinese, 1957–), Sky Ladder. Realized at Huiyu Island Harbour, Quanzhou, Fujian, June 15, 2015, at 4:49 a.m., approximately 2 minutes and 30 seconds. Photo: Lin Yi & Wen-You Cai, courtesy Cai Studio.

Shine Like a Star (Artful Devotion)

Saints by Olya Kravchenko
Icon by Olya Kravchenko (Ukrainian, 1985–)

“And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”
—Daniel 12:3

“On that day the Lord their God will save them,
as the flock of his people;
for like the jewels of a crown
they shall shine on his land.”
—Zechariah 9:16

“Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
—Matthew 13:43

Matthew 13:43 belongs to the Gospel lection for July 23, 2017 (Proper 11, cycle A). To read the passage in full, along with the week’s three other RCL scripture passages, click here.

“Shine Like a Star in the Morning” is an American folk song adapted by Elizabeth Mitchell from a string trio arrangement by Ruth Crawford Seeger. It appears on the 2013 Smithsonian Folkways album The Sounding Joy. Though passed off as a Christmas song, it seems to me especially fitting for All Saints’ Day (November 1), as it draws on those biblical passages that equate righteousness with resplendence.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, in his poem “The Starlight Night,” makes the same connection:

Look at the stars! look, look up at the skies!
O look at all the fire-folk sitting in the air!
The bright boroughs, the circle-citadels there!
Down in the dim woods the diamond delves! the elves’-eyes!
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . Christ and his mother and all his hallows.

 


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your e-mail or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.