Roundup: Alternative Advent, Fuller Studio videos, Desmond Tutu and Jeff Chu interviews, Psalm 121 in Arabic

“Lift Up Your Eyes” (Advent 2021): Kezia M’Clelland’s annual “Alternative Advent” video is here—a compilation of news photos from the year, from various photojournalists, matched with promises/declarations from scripture and a song. (I’ve described this project in years past; see here.) Migrant caravans, refugee camps, hospitals overwhelmed with COVID patients, a protest against a military coup, wildfires, volcanic aftermath . . . the global suffering we hear about in headlines and statistics is made personal in these intimate photographs of people who are experiencing it firsthand. M’Clelland bears tender witness to this suffering, but she also takes care to include signs of hope. Alongside images of devastation and misery are images of love, joy, and fortitude. The overall tone is one of somberness but not despair. As I do with each year’s “Alternative Advent,” I spent an afternoon interceding with God for each person in the photos and for others enduring the same harrowing journeys or disasters. I realize how my privilege as a white, middle-class US American insulates me from a lot of these realities, and I know that prayer must be accompanied by action.

Find out more context for the photos and their sources on Instagram @alternative_advent.

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VIDEO ROUNDUP FROM FULLER STUDIO: The Arts for the Life of the Church: In these six, five-minute videos shot by Fuller Studio, artists and creatives (most of them participants in the Brehm Residency) reflect on the diverse ways that the arts enliven, shape, and define their faith, their theology, and their work. Here’s one from the series, in which interdisciplinary artist Dea Jenkins discusses the ways the Spirit’s leading can be intertwined with the process of art-making, and how art has the capacity to be both prophetic and healing.

The other videos feature . . .

  • Young-Ly Hong Chandra on how she sees her creative work participating in God’s work of creation
  • Michelle Lang-Raymond on how theater and the arts can create opportunities for us to safely yet deeply engage with today’s polarizing issues
  • Rachel Morris on how incorporating the arts into worship services and pastoral care can contribute to the church’s healing work in the lives of its members
  • Jin Cho on the holistic, social, and communal dimensions of preaching and the liturgy
  • John Van Deusen on the significance of creating art in community and on the ways we are shaped by inviting both God and others into our creative processes

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ON BEING INTERVIEWS:

>> “Remembering Desmond Tutu”: The South African Anglican bishop, theologian, and human rights activist Desmond Tutu died December 26, 2021, and the On Being podcast re-released this 2010 interview Krista Tippett conducted with him. It’s a great introduction to his story, which includes especially his faith. He discusses the Bible as “dynamite,” our identity as “God-carriers,” the interfaith makeup of the anti-apartheid movement, God’s sense of humor, reconciliation as a process, his experience voting for the first time at age sixty-three (after decades of disenfranchisement), how entrenched racism had become in his own thinking, the beating heart of love at the center of existence, and more. And oh, his laughter is so sweet!

>> “A Life of Holy Curiosity: In Friendship with Rachel Held Evans” with Jeff Chu: Jeff Chu is a journalist, preacher, and co-leader of the Evolving Faith community. When his friend Rachel Held Evans, the famous Christian writer, died unexpectedly in 2019, he took it upon himself to bring to fruition the unfinished book she was working on, Wholehearted Faith (HarperOne, 2021). I enjoyed learning more about Evans through this conversation, and about Chu. They read several excerpts from the book and discuss Chu’s Chinese Baptist upbringing, the recent phenomenon of “religious-but-in-exile,” the enormity of God’s love, the Incarnation, the Psalms, doubt, grief, and the lesson of the compost pile.

(As a side note: I recently came across Evans’s other posthumously published book, for children, titled What Is God Like?, in Target and bought it on a whim. It’s fabulous.)

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SONG: “I Lift My Eyes” by Christopher Tin: A setting of Psalm 121 in Arabic, performed by Abeer Nehme with Christopher Tin and the Angel City Chorale. Nehme is a Lebanese singer and musicologist, one of whose specializations is sacred music from the Syriac Maronite, Syriac Orthodox, and Byzantine traditions. [HT: Joy Clarkson]

“Old and New Year Ditties” by Christina Rossetti

Vogeler, Heinrich_Reverie
Heinrich Vogeler (German, 1872–1942), Reverie, ca. 1900. Oil on canvas.

               1.
New Year met me somewhat sad:
     Old Year leaves me tired,
Stripped of favourite things I had,
Baulked of much desired:
     Yet farther on my road today
God willing, farther on my way.

New Year coming on apace
     What have you to give me?
Bring you scathe, or bring you grace,
Face me with an honest face;
     You shall not deceive me:
Be it good or ill, be it what you will,
It needs shall help me on my road,
My rugged way to heaven, please God.

               2.
Watch with me, men, women, and children dear,
You whom I love, for whom I hope and fear,
Watch with me this last vigil of the year.
Some hug their business, some their pleasure scheme;
Some seize the vacant hour to sleep or dream;
Heart locked in heart some kneel and watch apart.

Watch with me, blessed spirits, who delight
All thro’ the holy night to walk in white,
Or take your ease after the long-drawn fight.
I know not if they watch with me: I know
They count this eve of resurrection slow,
And cry, “How long?” with urgent utterance strong.

Watch with me, Jesus, in my loneliness:
Tho’ others say me nay, yet say Thou yes;
Tho’ others pass me by, stop Thou to bless.
Yea, Thou dost stop with me this vigil night;
Tonight of pain, tomorrow of delight:
I, Love, am Thine; Thou, Lord my God, art mine.

               3.
Passing away, saith the World, passing away:
Chances, beauty and youth sapped day by day:
Thy life never continueth in one stay.
Is the eye waxen dim, is the dark hair changing to grey
That hath won neither laurel nor bay?
I shall clothe myself in Spring and bud in May:
Thou, root-stricken, shalt not rebuild thy decay
On my bosom for aye.
Then I answered: Yea.

Passing away, saith my Soul, passing away:
With its burden of fear and hope, of labour and play;
Hearken what the past doth witness and say:
Rust in thy gold, a moth is in thine array,
A canker is in thy bud, thy leaf must decay.
At midnight, at cockcrow, at morning, one certain day
Lo the bridegroom shall come and shall not delay:
Watch thou and pray.
Then I answered: Yea.

Passing away, saith my God, passing away:
Winter passeth after the long delay:
New grapes on the vine, new figs on the tender spray,
Turtle calleth turtle in Heaven’s May.
Tho’ I tarry, wait for Me, trust Me, watch and pray.
Arise, come away, night is past and lo it is day,
My love, My sister, My spouse, thou shalt hear Me say.
Then I answered: Yea.

This poem was originally published in Goblin Market and Other Poems (Macmillan, 1862) and appears in The Complete Poems by Christina Rossetti (Penguin, 2001). It is in the public domain.

Advent, Day 27 (Christmas Eve)

LOOK: Queueing for Christmas by Sadao Watanabe

Watanabe, Sadao_Queueing for Christmas
Sadao Watanabe (Japanese, 1913–1996), Queueing for Christmas, ca. 1960. Stencil print, 6 × 16 in. © Tatsuo Watanabe, used with permission.

To view a catalog of works by Sadao Watanabe, one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated Christian artists, visit sadaohanga.info. See also the Image journal article “Profound Faith, Profound Beauty: The Life and Art of Sadao Watanabe” by John A. Kohan.

LISTEN: “The Bells” by Lee Bozeman, on Jubilee (2019)

Ring the bells for Christmas Vigil
Ring the bells and light your candles now
The stars are out

All the angels with covered faces
Let all mortal flesh keep silence now
All devout
Keep silence now
All devout

Ring the bells in every tower
Ring the bells, let every hour tell
All will be well

All the faithful come together
Hear the name they love and know so well
Emmanuel
All is well
Emmanuel

Ring the bells for Christmas Vigil
Ring the bells and light your candles now
The stars are out
Keep silence now
All devout

Lee Bozeman’s Jubilee is a wonderful little acoustic EP with three originals and a traditional. The title track, which Bozeman refers to as “a sorrow,” begins, “The kids won’t be home for Christmas . . .” That’s followed by “The First Artificial Snow of the Year,” an instrumental piano piece with jingle bells. Then “Down in Yon Forest,” a Renaissance-era carol from England that Bozeman sings a cappella. And lastly, “Christmas Vigil,” my favorite of the four—slow and solemn like the others, with understated echo effects, and I don’t know what that sound is he’s producing for the last thirty seconds, but it suggests an arrival.

Christmas Vigil is a common practice across church traditions, though the particulars may vary. Many churches hold their vigil around midnight on December 24, the time when Christmas Eve gives way to Christmas Day, so that the congregation can welcome in the feast of Christ’s birth just as soon as the clock ticks over into the a.m. (We have accounts of Midnight Masses being celebrated on Christmas Eve as early as the fourth century in Jerusalem.)

Other churches hold their Christmas Eve service earlier in the evening. Candlelight and corporate carol singing are usually involved. Churches that have lit an Advent wreath for each of the previous four Sundays will complete the wreath by lighting the Christ candle in the center.

Some Christians worship at home instead on this day with just their own family unit, perhaps with an informal liturgy or with special family traditions.

No matter how you mark the day, I pray that you are filled with excitement for God’s arrival in human flesh—that divine gift of himself—and with the peaceful assurance that, as God promised, all will be well.

This is the final post in the 2021 Advent Series—thank you for journeying with me through the season! Daily posts will continue throughout the twelve days of Christmas to the feast of Epiphany on January 6.

If you appreciated this series and have the means, please consider making a donation to the site to support future projects like this so that I won’t have to put them behind a paywall.

Advent, Day 26

For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

—Matthew 24:27

Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God.

—Revelation 19:11–13

LOOK: Jesus Rides a White Horse by James B. Janknegt

Janknegt, James B._Jesus Rides a White Horse
James B. Janknegt (American, 1953–), Jesus Rides a White Horse, 2012. Oil on canvas, 18 × 36 in.

LISTEN: “Ride On, King Jesus,” African American spiritual | Performed by Olivet Nazarene University Proclamation Gospel Choir, 2018

Because this song was composed and transmitted orally, many lyrical variations exist. The lyrics used in this particular rehearsal performance are as follows:

Ride on, King Jesus!
No man can a-hinder thee
Ride on, King Jesus!
No man can a-hinder thee
No man can a-hinder thee

In that great gettin’-up morning
Fare thee well, fare thee well!
In that great gettin’-up morning
Fare thee well, fare thee well!

Gonna talk about the coming of the Savior
Fare thee well, fare thee well!
Gonna talk about the coming of the Savior
Fare thee well, fare thee well!

Lightning will be flashing
Thunder will be rolling
Trees will be bending
Trees will be bending

No man can a-hinder thee!

Advent, Day 25

You shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land. And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you . . .

—Leviticus 25:9–10

The LORD has proclaimed
    to the end of the earth:
Say to daughter Zion,
    “See, your salvation comes . . .”

—Isaiah 62:11

Immediately after the suffering of those days

the sun will be darkened,
    and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from heaven,
    and the powers of heaven will be shaken.

Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven” with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

—Matthew 24:29–31

“Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.”

—John 4:35

LOOK: Middle Eastern manuscript illumination of a trumpeting angel

Trumpeting angel (Islamic)
Angel from a detached page of the Arabic manuscript Aja’ib al-Makhluqat wa Ghara’ib al-Mawjudat, painted in Syria, Iraq, or Egypt, 1375–1425. Opaque watercolor and gold on paper, 38.9 × 24.6 cm (full sheet). British Museum, London.

Written around 1270, Aja’ib al-Makhluqat wa Ghara’ib al-Mawjudat (The Wonders of Creation and the Oddities of Existence) by the Persian cosmographer Zakriya ibn Muhammad al-Qazwini was one of the best known and most copied texts in the medieval Islamic world. This leaf from a fourteenth-century illuminated version shows an angel blowing a long trumpet that resembles a karnay, an ancient brass instrument still used throughout Central Asia, especially Uzbekistan, to herald celebrations.

The British Museum website identifies the angel in this painting as Gabriel; however, according to the hadith (records of the traditions and sayings of the prophet Muhammad) and the verso of this page, it is the angel Israfil who will blow the horn on the Day of Resurrection. Similar representations can be found here, here, here, and here. I sent a query to the museum asking why they’ve titled the painting “The Angel Gabriel” and whether it might be a mistake, and they told me they are looking into it.

Even though the Bible never specifies Gabriel as the trumpeter of the last days, he has come to be associated with that role in Christian tradition. The Armenian church was the first to assign it to him beginning in the twelfth century, and John Milton did likewise in his seventeenth-century epic, Paradise Lost. Gabriel’s trumpet is also a familiar trope in African American spirituals.

Israfil is not mentioned in the Bible. However, because whole hosts of angels exist and so few are named in scripture, all three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) have naturally taken to supplying some names of their own.

The unknown artist of this image has creatively imagined an angel’s wing that tapers off into what looks like an animal head!

I chose the image for its ability to evoke Christ’s return—which, FYI, Muslims are also waiting for.

LISTEN: “Days of Elijah” by Robin Mark, 1996 | Arranged by Keith Lancaster and performed by the Acappella Company on Glorious God: A Cappella Worship, 2007

These are the days of Elijah
Declaring the Word of the Lord
And these are the days of your servant Moses
Righteousness being restored
And though these are days of great trials
Of famine and darkness and sword
Still we are the voice in the desert crying
Prepare ye the way of the Lord

Behold he comes
Riding on the clouds
Shining like the sun
At the trumpet call
So lift your voice
It’s the year of Jubilee
And out of Zion’s hill
Salvation comes

And these are the days of Ezekiel
The dry bones becoming as flesh
And these are the days of your servant David
Rebuilding a temple of praise
And these are the days of the harvest
The fields are as white in the world
And we are the laborers in your vineyard
Declaring the Word of the Lord

Behold he comes
Riding on the clouds
Shining like the sun
At the trumpet call
So lift your voice
It’s the year of Jubilee
And out of Zion’s hill
Salvation comes

There’s no god like Jehovah
There’s no god like Jehovah
There’s no god like Jehovah
There’s no god like Jehovah

In the fifth century BCE God told Israel through his prophet Malachi, “See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me. . . . Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes” (Mal. 3:1a; 4:5; cf. Isa. 40:3).

Four hundred years later came John the Baptist, whom Jesus referred to as Elijah (Matt. 11:14)—preparing the way, preaching the Word.

Northern Irish singer-songwriter Robin Mark invokes Elijah and, implicitly, his new-covenant counterpart, John, in the first stanza of “Days of Elijah,” comparing the ministries of these two prophets to that of the church. Just as John the Baptist prepared the way for the Messiah’s first coming, we are to prepare the way for his second.

The refrain pictures that second coming as a jubilee celebration—as freedom, rest, wholeness, the world set right—announced by a trumpet blast.

We are in the last days, the time between Christ’s two advents. And though we await the fullness of redemption, we do not do so passively. Filled with Christ’s Spirit, we labor as agents of justice and resurrection and praise, as the song suggests.

Above I featured a fairly standard (and skillful!) version of “Days of Elijah” that could be sung by your average church congregation. But here’s one to really knock your socks off: an arrangement by the South African gospel group Joyous Celebration, which they performed live in Johannesburg last month:

Advent, Day 24

LOOK: Night Travelers by Delita Martin

Martin, Delita_Night Travelers
Delita Martin (American, 1972–), Night Travelers, 2016. Gelatin printing, conté, collage, fabric, hand-stitching, and decorative paper, 72 × 149 in.

I saw an exhibition last year of Delita Martin’s work at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC, and I was so taken by it. Though this piece wasn’t included, I was able to get a good sense of Martin’s unique technical approach, which combines printmaking, drawing, painting, and hand-stitching. The strength of African American women is a key theme in Martin’s work, as are African tradition, community, memory, and the spirit world.

LISTEN: “For the Long Night” by Dan + Claudia Zanes, on Let Love Be Your Guide (2021)

Sister, here’s a song for the long night
Sister, here’s a song for the longest night
Sister, here’s a song for the long night
And I’ll sing with you till the morning comes

Brother, here’s a prayer for the long night
Brother, here’s a prayer for the longest night
Brother, here’s a prayer for the long night
And I’ll pray with you till the morning comes

Mama, here’s a dream for the long night
Mama, here’s a dream for the longest night
Mama, here’s a dream for the long night
And I’ll dream with you till the morning comes

Father, what’s your wish for the long night?
Father, what’s your wish for the longest night?
Father, what’s your wish for the long night?
And I’ll wish for you till the morning comes

Neighbor, here’s a hand in the long night
Neighbor, here’s a hand in the longest night
Neighbor, here’s a hand in the long night
And I’ll build with you till the morning comes

And I’ll build with you (We will sing)
Till the morning comes (We will pray)
And I’ll build with you (We will dream)
Till the morning comes

Dan + Claudia Zanes [previously] wrote this song last year during the early waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, premiering it as part of their Social Isolation Song Series on YouTube the week of George Floyd’s murder. It is included on the duo’s debut album in a version that features a kora solo by Amadou Kouyate.

A song of consolation, “For the Long Night” is especially fitting for December 21, the shortest day (longest night) of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Sometimes it feels like we’re traveling through a night with no end, with no dawn on the horizon—but realizing that there are others in our boat, making the journey with us, is a tremendous encouragement. Together we must continue to sing, pray, dream, and build “till the morning comes.”

This year for the first time I learned about the Christian tradition of Blue Christmas / Longest Night services. Typically held on the winter solstice (either December 21 or 22), these services hold space for grief, whether over relationship loss or fracture, the death of a loved one, physical or mental health struggles, racialized hate and violence, financial hardship, loneliness, disappointment, or anything else. They also gesture toward hope and healing.

The Rev. Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia has provided a Blue Christmas service outline at The Pastor’s Workshop website, and Marcie Alvis-Walker of @blackcoffeewithwhitefriends has put together A Christmas Liturgy for Those Who Are Mourning.

Advent, Day 23

LOOK: Illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds, from the book Peace Train

To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Yusuf / Cat Stevens’s song “Peace Train,” this year HarperCollins published a picture book adaptation of the song by Yusuf, with delightful illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds.

Peace Train cover

LISTEN: “Peace Train” by Yusuf / Cat Stevens, on Teaser and the Firecat (1971)

The Spotify link below is to Yusuf’s original studio album recording, but the YouTube video, released this year for World Peace Day on September 21, is a “Song Around the World” version of “Peace Train” produced by Playing for Change [previously]. In addition to Yusuf, the video features thirty-five musicians from twelve countries, including oud player Ghassan Birumi from Palestine; Grammy-winning American artists Keb’ Mo’ and Rhiannon Giddens; Senegalese artist Baaba Maal; the Roots Gospel Voices of Mississippi choir; musicians from the Silkroad Ensemble and the Afro-Brazilian percussive group Olodum; Tushar Lall playing the harmonium in Delhi, India; Joshua Amjad playing the khartal in Karachi, Pakistan; and more.

Now I’ve been happy lately
Thinking about the good things to come
And I believe it could be
Something good has begun

Oh, I’ve been smiling lately
Dreaming about the world as one
And I believe it could be
Someday it’s going to come

’Cause out on the edge of darkness
There rides a Peace Train
Oh, Peace Train take this country
Come take me home again

Now, I’ve been smiling lately
Thinking about the good things to come
And I believe it could be
Something good has begun

Oh, Peace Train sounding louder
Glide on the Peace Train!
Come on the Peace Train

Yes, Peace Train, holy roller
Everyone jump up on the Peace Train!
Come on the Peace Train

Get your bags together
Go bring your good friends too
Because it’s getting nearer
It soon will be with you

Now come and join the living
It’s not so far from you
And it’s getting nearer
Soon it will all be true

Oh, Peace Train sounding louder
Glide on the Peace Train!
Come on the Peace Train

Now, I’ve been crying lately
Thinking about the world as it is
Why must we go on hating?
Why can’t we live in bliss?

’Cause out on the edge of darkness
There rides a Peace Train
Oh, Peace Train, take this country
Come take me home again

Oh, Peace Train sounding louder
Glide on the Peace Train!
Come on the Peace Train

Yes, Peace Train, holy roller
Everyone jump up on the Peace Train
Come on, come on, come on
Yes, come on, Peace Train
Yes, it’s the Peace Train

Come on now, Peace Train
Oh, Peace Train

Cat Stevens converted to Islam in 1977 and adopted the name Yusuf Islam the following year. For the next two decades he gave up his singing-songwriting, regarding it then as incompatible with his new faith. But after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he agreed to sing “Peace Train” at a benefit concert in New York City. At the encouragement of his Muslim community, he slowly returned to his music career. His latest album is Tea for the Tillerman 2, released in 2020.

Inclusive of all faiths, “Peace Train” invites people to join in committing to the way of peace, and to ride that commitment all the way “home.” Or, to put it another way, to let Peace transport you. In the introduction to Peace Train the book, Yusuf writes,

Each of us has the power to imagine and to dream. We all have our own picture of what a place called “heaven” would look like, and the ONE thing—for sure—we’d all expect to find there is PEACE. That’s what my song is based on: a train gliding to a world we all would like to share.

In Christianity, especially in the spirituals tradition, salvation is often pictured as a train that carries its passengers to their heavenly destination. “Peace Train” uses the same imagery, acknowledging that peace is already on the move (the Spirit is active, as Christians might say); we need only to get onboard. The song captures a sense of excited journeying toward. The train has arrived, and it’s taking us somewhere new.

Watch Yusuf “read” (sing!) the book, flipping page by page, in this Barnes & Noble Storytime Read Aloud session:

Also check out Yusuf’s Peace Train initiative, launched in 2020 to deliver relief, medical aid, and education globally.

Advent, Day 22

He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.

—Isaiah 40:11 (KJV) (cf. Micah 5:2–5a, today’s lectionary reading)

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

—Matthew 11:28–30 (KJV)

LOOK: Good Shepherd mosaic, Ravenna

Good Shepherd (Ravenna)
Christ the Good Shepherd, 5th century. Mosaic from the tomb of Galla Placidia, Ravenna, Italy. Photo: Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP.

[Related post: “Love, My Shepherd” (Artful Devotion)]

LISTEN: “He Shall Feed His Flock” | Text: Isaiah 40:11; Matthew 11:28–30 (KJV) | Music by Georg Frederic Handel, 1742 | Arranged and sung by Tara Ward on Adventus by Church of the Beloved, 2010

He shall feed his flock
Like a shepherd
And he shall gather
The lambs with his arm
With his arm

He shall feed his flock
Like a shepherd
And he shall gather
The lambs with his arm
With his arm

And carry them in his bosom
And gently lead those
That are with young
And gently lead those
And gently lead those
That are with young

Come unto him
All ye that labor
Come unto him
Ye that are heavy laden
And he will give you rest

Come unto him
All ye that labor
Come unto him
Ye that are heavy laden
And he will give you rest

Take his yoke upon you
And learn of him
For he is meek
And lowly of heart
And ye shall find rest
And ye shall find rest
Unto your souls

Take his yoke upon you
And learn of him
For he is meek
And lowly of heart
And ye shall find rest
And ye shall find rest
Unto your souls

Born out of a group of friends’ reading of Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen, the Church of the Beloved in Edmonds, Washington, was active from 2006 to 2019. It had a vibrant music ministry, led by Tara Ward, that put out four albums, including Adventus. One of the tracks on Adventus is Ward’s slow, ambient, synth-driven arrangement of “He Shall Feed His Flock,” an air from Handel’s Messiah. Charles Jennens, the librettist (lyricist) of the oratorio, combined passages from Isaiah and Matthew to evoke a sense of the deep soul-rest and care that Christ proffers. Church of the Beloved’s rendition so beautifully captures the weariness we often feel, whether we’re on a spiritual path or not, and is a gentle reminder that Christ is always calling us back into his bosom.

“At Christmas” by Frank O’Malley

Ernst, Max_Thirty-Three Little Girls Set Out for the White Butterfly Hunt
Max Ernst (German French, 1891–1976), Thirty-Three Little Girls Set Out for the White Butterfly Hunt, 1958. Oil on canvas, 137 × 107 cm. Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid. Photo: Victoria Emily Jones.

Let the Christbrand burst!
Let the Christbrand blazon!
Dartle whitely under the hearth-fire,
Unwind the wind, turn the thunderer,
And never, never thinning,
Forfend fear.
Flare up smartly, fix, flex, bless, inspire,
Instar the time, sear the sorcerer,
And never, never sparing,
Save all year.
Let the Christbrand burst!
Let the Christbrand blazon!

This poem appears in Scholastic 115, no. 10 (March 1, 1974), a publication of the University of Notre Dame. It is also kept in the Francis J. O’Malley Papers in the university’s archives (see CFOM 7/26), though they do not own the copyright and do not know who does. I post it under Fair Use.

Born in Massachusetts in 1909, Francis (Frank) J. O’Malley studied at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana as an undergraduate from 1928 to 1932 and earned his master’s in history there the following year. He wanted to pursue further studies in literature, but there were no UND doctoral programs in that field at the time. Even without a PhD, he was hired by Notre Dame to teach in the English department, which he did for forty-one years, until his death in 1974. For the entire duration of his career, he lived on campus in Lyons Hall, and he is buried in the university’s Holy Cross Community Cemetery.

O’Malley had a huge influence on students—not just literary but also moral and religious. His “Modern Catholic Writers” and “Philosophy of English Literature” courses are legendary, and he served as a mentor to hundreds. He also dabbled in writing poetry, his style influenced by Gerard Manley Hopkins, and he maintained correspondence with writers like Willa Cather and Jacques Maritain.

I don’t know what year O’Malley wrote his Hopkins-esque poem “At Christmas,” but it was sometime before 1966. Using the metaphor of a firebrand, it anticipates the kindling and flaring up of Christ’s kingdom in the world. I read it as an Advent prayer. I love not only its central image of the Incarnation as an ongoing blaze, but also its clever play with language and its rhythmic quality, formed in part by consonance (the repetition of consonant sounds).

To dartle means to shoot forth repeatedly, so the image in that line is of a crackling hearth fire, something homey and welcoming. The image then shifts to a piece of burning wood held aloft for light and protection—casting out shadows, thwarting attackers. (To forfend is to ward off something evil.)

An “instar” is a stage in the life of an insect between two successive molts. O’Malley uses the word as a verb, suggesting that Christ’s birth means the old is gone and the new is come. It’s a turning point in world history.

The sorcerer in line 8 likely refers to Satan, a reference reinforced by the alliteration of the letter s, which hisses like a serpent.

“Sparing” can have multiple meanings, but I think of Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all . . .” The speaker asks God to not withhold himself, to come again for his people, bringing redemption.

The word “firebrand” is commonly used to describe a person who is divisive, someone who creates trouble, who instigates. Jesus definitely fits that description! He rattled the powers and authorities of his day and initiated a new covenant through his blood, through the scandal of the cross. His coming lit a fire that has never thinned or tapered off but, on the contrary, gained intensity as it spread from Judea and Samaria into the uttermost parts of the earth. And that fire continues to burn brightly in communities from east to west, north to south, where the gospel is lived out and proclaimed.

Advent, Day 21

LOOK: gloria by Corita Kent

Kent, Corita_gloria
Corita Kent (American, 1918–1986), gloria, 1960. Serigraph.

From the Corita Art Center:

Corita Kent (1918–1986) was an artist, educator, and advocate for social justice. At age 18 she entered the religious order Immaculate Heart of Mary, eventually teaching in and then heading up the art department at Immaculate Heart College. Her work evolved from figurative and religious to incorporating advertising images and slogans, popular song lyrics, biblical verses, and literature. Throughout the ’60s, her work became increasingly political, urging viewers to consider poverty, racism, and injustice. In 1968 she left the order and moved to Boston. After 1970, her work evolved into a sparser, introspective style, influenced by living in a new environment, a secular life, and her battles with cancer. She remained active in social causes until her death in 1986. At the time of her death, she had created almost 800 serigraph editions, thousands of watercolors, and innumerable public and private commissions.

LISTEN: “God in Flesh, Our Hope Divine” by The Brilliance (David Gungor and John Arndt), on Advent, vol. 2 (2012; reissued 2021)

God of heaven, Lord of earth
We beseech thee
Born of Mary, virgin birth
Lord, we greet thee
God in flesh, our hope divine
Alleluia
Babe of heaven, God’s own son
Alleluia

Star of David, Son of Man
God be with us
Suff’ring servant, wounded lamb
Bring peace to us
Broken flesh, our hope divine
Alleluia
Lifted up for all mankind
Alleluia

Gloria, gloria, gloria in excelsis Deo! (×2)

Root of Jesse which shall stand
Lord, we need thee
Banner o’er the nations
We receive thee
Glorious resting place for all
Alleluia
Jew and Gentile, welcome home
Alleluia

Gloria, gloria, gloria in excelsis Deo! (×2)

“Come, Lord Jesus,” people sing
We are yearning
Give us back the garden
We are longing
On that day we’ll see thy face
Alleluia
This whole realm in your embrace
Alleluia

Gloria, gloria, gloria in excelsis Deo! (×6)