Namaste Sate (Artful Devotion)

Puccio, Pietro di_God Holding the Universe
Pietro di Puccio da Orvieto (Italian, active 14th century), “Universe Supported by God with the Signs of the Planets,” 1389–91. Fresco, north gallery, Camposanto Monumentale, Pisa, Italy.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

—Colossians 1:15–20

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SONG: “Namasté Saté” by Aradhna, on Namasté Saté (2011)

Namasté saté sarvalok-ashrayaya
Namasté chité vishwarup-atmakaya
Namo adwait tatwaya muktipradaya
Namo brahmane vyapiné shashwataya

Ultimate Reality, we greet You
In you the whole Universe is held together
Your life fills every nucleus that has ever been created
You dwell in our flesh and bones
Your Great Liberation is to bring us into loving oneness with you,
so full, that we can no longer feel any separation between us
We greet you, O Supreme One, all-pervading, and eternal

Founded in 2000 by Chris Hale and Pete Hicks, Aradhna (Hindi for adoration) is a band that writes and performs Christ-centered bhajans, Indian devotional songs. (Bhajans, says Hale, have been welcomed by Indian Christians for centuries; every Indian hymnal has a section devoted to the genre.) Both men are American but have roots in South Asia—Hicks was born in India, and Hale was raised in Nepal, where his parents served as medical missionaries. He developed fluency in Hindi and Nepali and, while attending boarding school in India, began training in sitar. After graduating from Berklee College of Music in the US, he returned to Lucknow, India, for further training in sitar and voice. He now lives in Toronto’s Little India with his wife, Miranda Stone, with whom he leads a monthly gathering of Christ-followers called Yeshu Satsang Toronto.

Many of the lyrics of Aradhna’s songs are derived from the writings of Yeshu bhaktas, Hindu devotees of Jesus.

To learn more about Hale and his ministry through contextualized music, read this Comment interview or listen to his lecture from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary—both from 2009.

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The Campo Santo, or Camposanto Monumentale (“monumental cemetery”), is an oblong Gothic cloister that, alongside Pisa’s cathedral, baptistry, and leaning tower, forms one of the finest architectural complexes in the world.

Camposanto Monumentale aerial view
Aerial view of the Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles) in Pisa. The Campo Santo is the rectangular edifice with the open courtyard at the bottom.

Camposanto Monumentale interior courtyard

Completed in 1464, it is filled with funerary monuments, many of which reuse ancient Roman sarcophagi, as well as a classical art collection. In addition, its long walls are covered with frescoes painted during the transitional period between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. These were badly damaged during World War II, but some have been restored.

Puccio, Pietro di_God Holding the Universe

The fresco that shows Christ holding the universe, sometimes referred to by the title Theological Cosmography, was painted by a minor artist named Pietro di Puccio. In the second volume of his History of Mediaeval Christianity and Sacred Art in Italy, published in 1872 (well before the Allied bombing), Charles Isidore Hemans writes that the fresco

mystically sets forth the origin of the universe and its dependence upon the Almighty Creator. A colossal figure of Deity, with the aspect proper to the Second Person, supports an immense disk containing numerous concentric circles, with figures, emblems, inscriptions: first in order, the nine Angelic Hierarchies; next, the three Heavens—the first (empyreal) without sign or symbol, the second (crystalline) with the signs of the Zodiac, the third (the firmament) with the starry host; internal to these, a succession of other circles enclosing at the centre a miniature view of the three known continents. At the angles below are the two illustrious Doctors, severally representatives of the theological mind of ages, S. Augustine and S. Thomas Aquinas.

This geocentric model of the universe, with several earthly and (further out) heavenly spheres circling around a motionless earth, was conceived by Ptolemy, who based it on Aristotle. It was the dominant model during the classical, medieval, and Renaissance eras and can be found in the work of other visual artists.

During an extensive restoration process, this and other frescoes were detached from the walls and placed on panels. This led to the discovery of sinopie, or preparatory drawings, underneath, which were also detached and are now kept on display in the Museo delle Sinopie, of special interest to art historians.

Theological Cosmography sinopia
Sinopia (red underdrawing in plaster) of the Theological Cosmography fresco from the Campo Santo, relocated to the Sinopia Museum, also in the cathedral square.

Puccio’s Theological Cosmography has since been returned to its original location in the north gallery of the Campo Santo—at the end of the left hallway in the panoramic shot below. The neoclassicist architect and painter Leon van Kleunze, on a visit to Italy in the mid-nineteenth century, painted a view of the Campo Santo’s north gallery in all its prewar glory.

Camposanto Monumentale

Camposanto, north gallery
Leo von Klenze (German, 1784–1864), The Camposanto in Pisa, 1858. Oil on canvas, 38 1/10 × 57 4/5 in. (97 × 147 cm). Neue Pinakothek, Munich.

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

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, cycle C, click here.

Rise Up (Artful Devotion)

Worn Out by Iyah Sabbah
Iyad Sabbah (Palestinian, 1973–), Worn Out, 2014. Fiberglass sculptures covered in clay.

God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
“How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” . . .

Arise, O God, judge the earth;
for you shall inherit all the nations!

—Psalm 82:1–4, 8

Verses 2–4 are God speaking to his court, whereas the final verse is the psalmist Asaph speaking to God in prayer. The identity of “the gods” (elohim) in this psalm is much debated among scholars, with some thinking it refers to human rulers and others thinking it an assembly of spiritual beings to whom God delegates authority. Either way, God is upset that these judges have been neglecting justice in failing to uphold the cause of orphans, the elderly, the sick, the poor, and other marginalized groups.

Further reading:

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SONG: “Rise Up” | Words and music by Isaac Wardell, with the verse melody based on a melody by Evan Mazunik | Performed by Lauren Goans, on Lamentations by Bifrost Arts (2016)

For the lonely and forgotten,
for the weary and distressed;
for the refugee and orphan,
and for all who are oppressed;
for the stranger who is pleading
while insulted and despised:
Will You rise? Will You rise?

Rise up! Rise up!
The earth will fear the Lord
when You avenge the poor.
May Your kingdom come . . .
O rise up!

Hear how Rachel, she is weeping.
How she will not be consoled.
And the children in our keeping,
are their bodies bought and sold?
And the watchmen, he is sleeping.
Do You see them with Your eyes?
Will You rise? Will You rise?

Rise up! Rise up!
The earth will fear the Lord
when You avenge the poor.
May Your kingdom come . . .
O rise up!

As Your will is done in heaven,
Let it now be done below.
Let Your daily bread be given,
Let Your kingdom come and grow.
Lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us, we cry.
Will You rise? Will You rise?

Rise up! Rise up!
The earth will fear the Lord
when You avenge the poor
and bare Your holy arm
to keep them safe from harm.
May Your kingdom come . . .
O rise up!

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Several times throughout scripture, God’s people call on him to “Rise up!” (or, as some translations have it, “Arise!”) against oppression, against evildoers. In other words: Move; take action.

Arise, LORD, in your anger;
rise up against the rage of my enemies.
Awake, my God; decree justice. (Ps 7:6)

Rise up, LORD, confront them, bring them down;
with your sword rescue me from the wicked. (Ps 17:13)

Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and oppression?

We are brought down to the dust;
our bodies cling to the ground.
Rise up and help us;
rescue us because of your unfailing love. (Ps 44:23–26)

Do not let the oppressed retreat in disgrace;
may the poor and needy praise your name.
Rise up, O God, and defend your cause . . . (Ps 74:21–22a)

The whole biblical story is about God rising up again and again in defense of the weak. On more than one occasion the prophet Isaiah uses the language of “rise up” to express God’s activism:

The LORD longs to be gracious to you;
therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him! (Isa 30:18)

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Worn Out by Iyad Sabbah

Worn Out by Iyad Sabbah

In October 2014, Palestinian artist Iyad Sabbah installed the seven-piece clay sculpture group Worn Out on the beach of Shuja’iyya, a Gaza neighborhood that was decimated that summer by Israeli military forces. Commemorating the victims of the Gaza war, it depicts a family fleeing the rubble of what used to be home. The figures are all flecked with red pigment, signifying blood, and have an eroded appearance. They stagger on through the detritus left by three days of shelling, in desperate need of deliverance.

As I view photos of this installation set amid the ravages of war, by a man who is himself from Gaza, I feel helpless to redress the wrongs suffered. And so I lean on this ancient prayer of beseeching, echoed so beautifully in the above song by Isaac Wardell: Rise up, God. Do not turn away from our misery. In your love, rescue us. For those displaced by war, forced to become strangers in a strange land: rise up. For those who have lost loved ones, homes, limbs, livelihoods to violence: rise up. Put a stop to the unjust whose policies and actions deal in death rather than life.


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

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, cycle C, click here.

Wade Right In (Artful Devotion)

Naaman
Plaque from an altar retable showing the cleansing of Naaman, made in the Meuse Valley, ca. 1150–60. Gilt bronze and champlevé enamel, 10 × 10 cm. British Museum, London.

Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” So Naaman went in and told his lord, “Thus and so spoke the girl from the land of Israel.” And the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.”

So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” And when the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.”

But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house. And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

—2 Kings 5:1–14

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SONG: “The River of Jordan” by Hazel Houser, ca. 1959 | Performed by the Louvin Brothers, on Satan Is Real (1959)

First recorded by the Louvin Brothers in 1959, “The River of Jordan” is now a country gospel standard that has been covered countless times, especially at bluegrass festivals. Just a note: the song’s second verse mistakenly identifies Namaan as a king (he was the commander of the king’s army, in fact), and Ira Louvin seems to mispronounce Elisha as Eliza—an error that I hear repeated in a lot of other recordings (either that, or Elijah).

Anyway, there are a few good covers of this song online that feature strong female vocals, like this one by The Tuttles with AJ Lee, from 2014:

And I love Colby Crehan’s voice, from the now dissolved Bluegrass Gospel Project:

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The inscriptions on the medieval plaque above are as follows:

FAMULI = servants
CURATIO NAMAN = The Curing of Namaan
IORDANEM = Jordan


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

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, cycle C, click here.

God, Swing Down Low (Artful Devotion)

Johnson, William H._Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
William H. Johnson (American, 1901–1970), Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, ca. 1944. Oil on paperboard, 28 5/8 × 26 1/2 in. (72.6 × 67.2 cm). Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC.

And as [Elijah and Elisha] still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more.

—2 Kings 2:11–12a

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SONGS: “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” attributed to Wallace Willis, ca. 1840; “Swing Down, Chariot,” author unknown, 19th century

Most Negro spirituals are of unknown authorship, but one of the best loved, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” was, according to several accounts, written by Wallace Willis, the black slave of a Choctaw Indian who had been forced out west into what is now Oklahoma. Uncle Wallace, as he was known, was hired out part-time by his master to Spencer Academy, a Choctaw boys’ school, and this is one of the songs he sang to entertain the students. It became popular among them, and during the Fisk Jubilee Singers’ inaugural tour in 1871, the academy’s superintendent, Alexander Reid, shared the song with the all-black group. They had never heard of it but added it to their repertoire, performing it on concert stages throughout the US, along with other slave songs. It was one of twelve songs that their successor, the Fisk University Jubilee Quartet, chose to record for the first time in 1909, further cementing its longevity.

In 2002 the Library of Congress added this historic recording to the United States National Recording Registry, to be preserved for future generations. The accompanying essay by Toni P. Anderson recounts, in addition to Uncle Wallace’s story, an alternate origin account that says “Swing Low” was the creation of Sarah Hannah Sheppard, a southern slave who had set out to drown herself and her daughter in the Cumberland River, until an elderly slave woman intervened, urging her to instead “let de chariot of de Lord swing low”—rescue would come, she prophesied. And for Sarah and her little Ella, it soon did.

In one sense, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” is a plea for death: come and carry me over, God. “Home” is heaven, the promised land, just “over Jordan,” and the chariot refers to the divine vehicle that swept down to take Elijah there. In another sense, “home” could signify an earthly place outside the bounds of slavery, a place of relative safety and liberation and reunion with family—such as the North, just over the Ohio River. A clandestine “chariot” was in operation during the antebellum period, run by Harriet Tubman and a network of others (a “band of angels”), who transported slaves up to freedom, and this is the chariot to which the unnamed prophet of Sarah Hannah Sheppard’s story refers.

The song is often performed slowly, solemnly, as a weary surrender to death—as in this bluesy version by contemporary gospel singer Robert Robinson:

But it can also be inflected differently—with joyful anticipation and celebration. Such is the musical interpretation of The Lower Lights:

“In biblical tradition,” writes Old Testament scholar Iain W. Provan,

both chariotry and fire have strong associations with God’s self-disclosure. Both images come together in the most common natural form of divine appearing (“theophany”) in the OT: the thunderstorm—the storm cloud representing the divine chariot or throne (Ezek. 1; Hab. 3:8) and the fiery lightning bolts representing the divine weapons (Ps. 18:14; Hab. 3:11). [ESV Study Bible, p. 648]

Tim Mackie of The Bible Project calls the eccentric theophanic vehicle of Ezekiel 1 the “God mobile.” It’s God’s glory on the move. And it was probably what (or at least similar to what) Elisha witnessed when his predecessor, Elijah, was whisked away into the heavens. It may also be what the prophet Habakkuk had in mind when he wrote about God’s “chariot of salvation” that flashes forth lightning (Hab. 3:8, 11).

“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” is sometimes sung in medley with “Swing Down, Chariot” (variant title: “Swing Down, Sweet Chariot”), a fast-paced spiritual popularized by the Golden Gate Quartet in the 1940s. See, for example, this clip from the 2003 movie The Fighting Temptations, featuring Beyoncé:

This clip from Elvis’s movie The Trouble with Girls (1969) is also a lot of fun:

“Swing Down, Chariot” references Ezekiel’s vision of the God mobile, humorously nicknaming the prophet Zeke. It has him chancing upon an angel repairing a chariot wheel in the middle of a field. Having never seen such a vehicle, he approaches it, runs his hand over the exterior. The angel offers him a ride, which he gladly accepts. It’s a bumpy one, but Zeke doesn’t mind; “he just wanted to lay down his heavy load.”

Listening to these two spirituals side by side can help us make connections between Bible passages, as we see God’s fiery chariot present not only at Elijah’s ascension but also at Ezekiel’s call to the office of prophet. When mapped onto the context of enslavement, the chariot’s meaning is made real and intensified, a symbol of hope, release, freedom, of God’s wild and transporting glory.

As previously mentioned, the Negro spirituals were multivalent. To some, the chariot was this-worldly, effecting a passage to the northern states where slaveholders held reduced power. To others, to beckon the chariot meant to beckon death, to initiate a departure to the otherworld. The chariot songs held both meanings to their early singers, marking the tension between the slave’s will to live, to survive trauma, and his or her desire to be with God in the flesh, the ultimate freedom.

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William H. Johnson (1901–1970) is one of my favorite artists—I wrote about him in stations 3 and 13 of the Stations of the Cross audio tour at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and in my review of Beholding Christ and Christianity in African American Art.

In his painting Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, a two-wheeled horse-drawn car sweeps in from the upper left, fiery orange and red and filled with stars. Eleven angels in brightly colored dresses and anklet socks hover above, one of them waving hello to the aged man on the opposite side of the river, who runs to catch his ride. His arms are stretched out wide, ready to embrace his new home.

This is probably the best artistic representation of death in the Christian tradition that I know of. It’s glorious and sweet and evocative. The old man’s body is just on the verge of release from its pains, and I feel it. His heaviness is already giving way to lightness, to nimbleness. I feel the joy that awaits him across the river, which the yellow flowers seem to anticipate (they vibrate!), and I sense the community of friends that the thin, magenta-winged beings will be escorting him to. God’s presence, the sun’s orb, glows intensely, the same deep orange as the chariot’s exterior. That’s the glory into which the man is heading.

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There are so many wonderful renditions of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” What’s your favorite?


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

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for the Third Sunday after Pentecost, cycle C, click here.

As the Deer (Artful Devotion)

Jacobson, Ruth Taylor_The Eternal
Ruth Taylor Jacobson (British, 1941–), The Eternal, 2005. Antique glass, acid-etched and painted, 170 × 80 cm. Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?

. . .

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

—Psalm 42:1–2, 5

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SONG: “Psalm 42” | Music by Mike Cosper and Rebecca Dennison, on These Things I Remember by Sojourn Music (2005) | CCLI #5165227

 

 

For a detailed description of the stained glass panel, click here (under the “More information” tab).


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

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for the Second Sunday after Pentecost, cycle C, click here.

Exalted Trinity (Artful Devotion)

Trinity (Getty MS)
Miniature from a 15th-century French manuscript (Ms. Ludwig XI 10, fol. 2, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles).

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, . . . and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

—Romans 5:1, 5

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SONG: “Doxology” | Text: From Canticle 12, “A Song of Creation,” in the Book of Common Prayer | Music by Uptown Worship Band, performed on Songs from Earth, Our Island Home (2014)

Let us glorify the Lord: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit;
praise him and highly exalt him forever.
In the firmament of his power, glorify the Lord;
praise him and highly exalt him forever.

Uptown Worship Band leads contemporary worship at Church of the Incarnation in Dallas, Texas.

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All efforts to visualize the Trinity are obviously deficient. The doctrine resists figuration. (How do you convey three distinct divine persons who share one essence?) But that hasn’t stopped artists from trying. Over the centuries, several different types evolved to represent the Three-in-One. The example above, from a late medieval French translation of Augustine’s City of God, shows the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit enthroned in heaven—the Father as an old man holding a globe, at his right hand the Son still bearing the wounds of his passion, and the Holy Spirit hovering between them in the form of a dove. The two male figures share a royal robe and jointly hold open a book, their word of truth.

The first person of the Trinity is not a human, nor even male, but in Scripture God reveals himself as father and as Ancient of Days, so anthropomorphic depictions developed, though they have always been controversial. These are meant not to be taken literally but, rather, to tell us a little something about God: that he relates to us like a father relates to his children . . . and that he’s ancient! Authority and personhood are more easily shown through figuration, and our anonymous artist here (through the single robe and single seat) conveys the idea that Father, Son, and Spirit are enthroned together as one, together vested with divinity. This is only one aspect of the rich doctrine that is the Trinity.


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

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Trinity Sunday, cycle C, click here.

Like a Wildfire (Artful Devotion)

Pentecost by Solomon Raj
P. Solomon Raj (Indian, 1921–), Pentecost, 1980s. Batik.

. . . Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them. . . .

—Acts 2:3–4, The Message

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MUSIC: “The Elements: Fire” by Hiromi Uehara and Edmar Castaneda, on Live in Montreal (2017)

“Fire” is a collaborative composition and performance by Japanese jazz pianist Hiromi and Colombian jazz harpist Edmar Castaneda. Their virtuosity is amazing! And they have such a fun synergy on stage together.

“I was born to play the harp,” says Castaneda. “It is a gift from God, and like every gift from God, it has a purpose. The purpose of my music is to worship Him and bring his presence and unconditional love to people.”

Thanks to Global Christian Worship for introducing me to these music artists and to this piece in particular.

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Dr. P. Solomon Raj is a Lutheran theologian and visual artist from Andhra Pradesh, India. He works mainly in batik (a wax-resist method of dyeing cloth) and woodcut. He is ninety-eight years old.

View additional Pentecost artworks from Asia, by Raj and others, at https://artandtheology.org/2016/05/15/pentecost-art-from-asia/.

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O God, may the fire of the Holy Spirit burn up the dross in our hearts, warm them with love, and set them on fire with zeal for your service. Amen.

—Ancient Collect (source: The Hodder Book of Christian Prayers)


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

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Pentecost, cycle C, click here.

Alpha and Omega (Artful Devotion)

Christ in Glory by Ivanka Demchuk
Ivanka Demchuk (Ukrainian, 1990–), Christ in Glory, 2015. Mixed media on wood, 15 3/4 × 11 1/2 in. Collection of John A. Kohan. Photo: Victoria Emily Jones.

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.

—Revelation 22:13

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SONG: “Alpha and Omega” by Erasmus Mutanbira, 2005 | Performed by Spirit & Truth, 2012

(Note: An earlier version of this post misattributed the song to Israel Houghton. Houghton popularized the song on his Alive in South Africa album, but the words and music are by Erasmus Mutanbira from Zimbabwe.)


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

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, cycle C, click here.

God Ascended (Artful Devotion)

Kulmbach, Hans von_Ascension of Christ
Hans Süss von Kulmbach (German, ca. 1480–1522), The Ascension of Christ, 1513. Oil on fir wood, 24 1/4 × 15 in. (61.5 × 38.1 cm). Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.

—Luke 24:44–53

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SONG: “God Ascended” | Words by Joseph Hart, 1759, add. Bruce Benedict and Sarah Majorins | Music by Sarah Majorins, 2012 | Performed on Ascension Songs, a Cardiphonia compilation album

 

In this short SATB choral work, Sarah Majorins extracts the final verse from Joseph Hart’s “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy,” setting it to a new tune. On the one hand, Christ’s ascension is something to celebrate, tied up, as it is, in his exaltation at the right hand of God on high, where he intercedes for us; Luke even tells us that the disciples ultimately responded “with great joy.” But on the other hand, there must have been a solemnity to the occasion, as the disciples were saying goodbye to the physical presence of their friend and teacher. (We know from John’s Gospel that Mary Magdalene, for example, had to resist her desire to not part with Jesus.)

Majorins bends the tune of this song toward the latter mood and, with Bruce Benedict, has added a second verse that expresses a feeling of longing for and complete reliance on Christ’s return. Its refrain is the cry of the church that’s voiced in the penultimate verse of the Bible: “Come, Lord Jesus!” (or, in Aramaic, Maranatha!). Download the full piano score, courtesy of Liturgy Letter and by permission of the artist.

Lo! th’incarnate God, ascended,
Pleads the merit of his blood;
Venture on him, venture wholly,
Let no other trust intrude:
None but Jesus,
None but Jesus,
None but Jesus
Can do helpless sinners good.

Lo! th’incarnate God, ascended,
Enters now the heav’nly realms,
Angels singing alleluia
As they receive their Lord and King.
Maranatha,
Maranatha,
Maranatha,
Maranatha, we on earth still sing:
Come, O come, Lord Jesus, come.

See last year’s Artful Devotion for Ascension Day at https://artandtheology.org/2018/05/08/carried-up-artful-devotion/.


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

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Ascension Day, cycle C, click here.

“I Leave You My Peace” (Artful Devotion)

Osborne, Mary Ann_Paths of Peace
Sister Mary Ann Osborne, SSND, Paths of Peace, 2005. Linden wood, glass, brass wire, gold leaf, and paint, 36 × 27 × 1 in.

Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.

“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe.”

—John 14:23–29

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SONG: “I Leave You My Peace” | Music by Maxime Kovalevsky, French Orthodox Church, Paris, 1940s–50s | Arranged by Josef Gulka, Holy Cross Orthodox Church, Medford, NJ | Performed by the St. Symeon Orthodox Church Choir, Birmingham, AL, on Fire and Light (2010)

You can download free sheet music for this song from the Liturgical Music PDF Library of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.

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The mixed-media artwork above is by Sister Mary Ann Osborne, a Minnesota nun in the order of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. The Good Shepherd figure references a Christian fresco from the third-century catacomb of St. Callixtus in Rome, where the shepherd carries a sheep over his shoulders, securing it with one hand while carrying a milk pail in the other; it’s an image of care and protection derived from scripture. Sister Mary Ann has added two open-palmed hands rising up behind, or perhaps emerging from, the shepherd, a posture of prayer (orans) but also of benediction (see, e.g., Lev. 9:22; Luke 24:50).

Christ is pronouncing a blessing—it could be the words of peace and promise from his farewell discourse, excerpted in Sunday’s lectionary reading. We, his people, receive it. He has forged “paths of peace” for us to follow, as Sister Mary Ann’s work suggests, with road markings at the bottom left inviting us to set off where Christ has trod. And he goes with us in the Spirit.

He has called the world to a new order, signified by the shofar at the right, which announces Jubilee. As one of seven, the trump also carries connotations of the day of the Lord.

See more of Sister Mary Ann’s wood carvings at http://sistermaryannosborne.com/.


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

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, cycle C, click here.