“I Am the Man, Thomas” (Artful Devotion)

The Incredulity of Thomas (Avila Cathedral)
The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, 15th century. Tempera on wood. Avila Cathedral Museum, Avila, Spain. Photo: Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP. [view alt photo]

Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

—John 20:24–29

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SONG: “I Am the Man, Thomas” by Ralph Stanley with Larry Sparks, on Stanley Gospel Tradition: Songs About Our Savior (1999) | Performed by The Devil Makes Three, on Redemption & Ruin (2016)

This song, about Jesus’s post-resurrection appearance to the apostle Thomas, is by the pioneering bluegrass artist Ralph Stanley (1927–2016). Hear him sing it with the Clinch Mountain Boys in 2012 at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHQLoGpiY0o.

Bob Dylan has been a major popularizer of the song, having performed it at dozens of concerts. Here’s a performance from November 8, 1999, in Baltimore: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5mTcL63ux4.

And lastly, here’s The Devil Makes Three, a California trio, performing the song right outside Paradiso concert hall in Amsterdam:

The band consists of guitarist/frontman Pete Bernhard, upright bassist Lucia Turino, and guitarist/tenor banjoist Cooper McBean. Here they’re joined by guest fiddler Spencer Swain. Their records and concerts fuse elements of blues, ragtime, country, folk, and rockabilly.

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The story of “doubting Thomas” has always captivated me. Here are a few posts from the blog in which the arts prompt re-engagement with the biblical narrative.

https://artandtheology.org/2018/04/03/by-the-mark-artful-devotion/
https://artandtheology.org/2018/04/06/doubting-thomas-combine-by-robert-rauschenberg/
https://artandtheology.org/2016/04/10/thomas-in-the-dark/


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 of Easter, cycle C, click here.

The Strife Is Over (Artful Devotion)

Resurrection by Otto Dix
Otto Dix (German, 1891–1969), The Resurrection, 1949. Oil on canvas, 213 × 163.5 cm. Kunstmuseum Stuttgart, Germany.

He . . . has risen.

—Luke 24:6a

The Lord is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.
Glad songs of salvation
are in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the Lord does valiantly,
the right hand of the Lord exalts,
the right hand of the Lord does valiantly!”

I shall not die, but I shall live,
and recount the deeds of the Lord.

—Psalm 118:14–17

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SONG: “The Strife Is O’er” | Words: Anonymous Latin poem (first compiled 1695), translated by Francis Potts, 1861 | Music: Vito Aiuto, on Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices by the Welcome Wagon (2012)

 

The strife is o’er, the battle done;
The victory of life is won;
The song of triumph has begun:
Alleluia! Alleluia!

The pow’rs of death have done their worst;
But Christ their legions hath dispersed;
Let shouts of holy joy outburst:
Alleluia! Alleluia!

The three sad days are quickly sped;
He rises glorious from the dead;
All glory to our risen Head:
Alleluia! Alleluia!

He closed the yawning gates of hell;
The bars from heav’n’s high portals fell;
Let songs of praise his triumph tell:
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Lord, by the stripes which wounded thee,
From death’s dread sting your servants free,
That we may live, and sing to thee:
Alleluia! Alleluia!

(I’ve noticed several slight variations in the English lyric translation attributed to Francis Potts. This is the version used by the Welcome Wagon.)


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 Easter Sunday, cycle C, click here.

He Went On Ahead (Artful Devotion)

Jesus Entering Jerusalem by Nathan Simpson
Nathan Simpson, Jesus Entering Jerusalem, 1999. Oil on canvas.

And when he had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem . . .

—Luke 19:28

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SONG: “My Lord” by Hiram Ring, on Home (2013)

 

This Sunday marks the start of Passion Week, with Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, where he is greeted by palm branches and Hosannas. By Thursday, though, these shouts of praise will devolve into “Is it I?,” “I do not know him,” and “Crucify him!”

In a series of simple verses, Hiram Ring’s blues-inflected song “My Lord” moves from Jesus’s triumphal entry to his agony in the garden (where he drinks heavily the bitter draft of suffering) to his crucifixion. The final two verses shift then to his resurrection and his exaltation in heaven.

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Agony in the Garden by Nathan Simpson
Nathan Simpson, Agony in the Garden, 1999. Oil on canvas.
Resurrection by Nathan Simpson
Nathan Simpson, Large Resurrection, 1999. Oil on canvas.

I’m compelled by the Gospel narrative paintings of contemporary Australian artist Nathan Simpson. These are a few I saved from his website a while ago before it went under construction. In Simpson’s Agony in the Garden, Christ’s anguish is palpable. The image combines the Gethsemane narrative with all the suffering that lies ahead, culminating in death. A row of olive trees forms the horizontal beam of a cross, while a rooster (alluding to Peter’s betrayal) forms the vertical; Christ’s head, with swollen eyes and gaping mouth (“My God, my God . . .”), is the point of intersection.

Simpson’s Resurrection painting, by contrast, shows a Christ who’s victorious over death, his face serene. The artist plays with the popular “tree of life” motif, fusing Christ’s body into this flowering, bird-filled plant. An arborescent Christ! See how the nail wound in his left foot is also the tree’s hollow.

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In their latest blog post, SALT Project suggests a simple at-home Holy Week ritual for families that I really like: a Tenebrae Wreath (tenebrae means “shadows”).

Imagine . . . a sort of Advent Wreath in reverse: four candles in a circle with a Paschal candle in the middle, extinguished one by one. Sunday night: beginning with only the Paschal candle lit, read Luke’s story of Palm Sunday, and then light all four candles in joy, hope, and thanksgiving. Thursday night: read Luke’s story of the Last Supper, and extinguish one candle; then read Luke’s story of Gethsemane, and extinguish a second. Friday night: read Luke’s story of Peter’s denials and desertion, and extinguish a third candle; then read Luke’s story of Jesus’ suffering, and extinguish the fourth; and then finally, read Luke’s story of Jesus’ death, and extinguish the Paschal candle. Saturday, the wreath remains unlit and bare, perhaps shrouded with cloth. And Sunday morning, the shroud is gone and all candles are lit, with a few more candles added—along with some flowers and Easter sweets! Read Luke’s story of the empty tomb, and sing your favorite Easter hymn (or two).


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 Palm Sunday and the Liturgy of the Passion, cycle C, click here and here.

Sowing Tears, Reaping Joy (Artful Devotion)

Sower with Setting Sun by Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853–1890), Sower with Setting Sun, 1888. Oil on canvas, 162.5 × 204.5 cm. Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, Netherlands.

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us;
we are glad.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like streams in the Negeb!
Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.

—Psalm 126

Psalm 126 is “a community lament that recalls a previous time of God’s mercy on his people and asks for a fresh show of that mercy” (ESV Study Bible). The second stanza anticipates not only a literal food harvest but also a more general flourishing of life in all its aspects, an abundant crop of joy.

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SONG: “Psalm 126” by Isaac Wardell | Performed by Molly Parden, on Bifrost Arts’ He Will Not Cry Out (2013)

 

Isaac Wardell’s musical adaptation of Psalm 126 was regularly programmed into the worship services of my former church, Citylife, usually as a going-out song, and it was always a favorite of mine. If you’d like to sing it at your church, you can license it through CCLI (#7023230).


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 in Lent, cycle C, click here.

Down the Road (Artful Devotion)

Two Sons by James B. Janknegt
James B. Janknegt (American, 1953–), Two Sons, 2002. Oil on canvas, 24 × 84 in.

Once there was this man who had two sons. One day the younger son came to his father and said, “Father, eventually I’m going to inherit my share of your estate. Rather than waiting until you die, I want you to give me my share now.” And so the father liquidated assets and divided them. A few days passed and this younger son gathered all his wealth and set off on a journey to a distant land. Once there he wasted everything he owned on wild living. He was broke, a terrible famine struck that land, and he felt desperately hungry and in need. He got a job with one of the locals, who sent him into the fields to feed the pigs. The young man felt so miserably hungry that he wished he could eat the slop the pigs were eating. Nobody gave him anything.

So he had this moment of self-reflection: “What am I doing here? Back home, my father’s hired servants have plenty of food. Why am I here starving to death?I’ll get up and return to my father, and I’ll say, ‘Father, I have done wrong—wrong against God and against you.I have forfeited any right to be treated like your son, but I’m wondering if you’d treat me as one of your hired servants?’”So he got up and returned to his father. The father looked off in the distance and saw the young man returning. He felt compassion for his son and ran out to him, enfolded him in an embrace, and kissed him.

The son said, “Father, I have done a terrible wrong in God’s sight and in your sight too. I have forfeited any right to be treated as your son.”

But the father turned to his servants and said, “Quick! Bring the best robe we have and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet.Go get the fattest calf and butcher it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate because my son was dead and is alive again. He was lost and has been found.” So they had this huge party.

Now the man’s older son was still out in the fields working. He came home at the end of the day and heard music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what was going on. The servant said, “Your brother has returned, and your father has butchered the fattest calf to celebrate his safe return.”

The older brother got really angry and refused to come inside, so his father came out and pleaded with him to join the celebration. But he argued back, “Listen, all these years I’ve worked hard for you. I’ve never disobeyed one of your orders. But how many times have you even given me a little goat to roast for a party with my friends? Not once! This is not fair! So this son of yours comes, this wasteful delinquent who has spent your hard-earned wealth on loose women, and what do you do? You butcher the fattest calf from our herd!”

The father replied, “My son, you are always with me, and all I have is yours. Isn’t it right to join in the celebration and be happy? This is your brother we’re talking about. He was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found again!”

—Luke 15:11–32 (The Voice)

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SONG: “Prodigal Son” by Robert Wilkins, on Reverend Robert Wilkins—Memphis Gospel Singer (1964); re-released on Prodigal Son (2014)

Robert Timothy Wilkins (1896–1987) was a gospel blues guitarist and vocalist and a minister of the Church of God in Christ. Part African American, part Cherokee, he was born in Mississippi but spent his entire adult life in Memphis, where he became fairly well known for his music. In 1929 he wrote and recorded the predecessor to “Prodigal Son”: same melody and guitar lines, but with lyrics that bemoan cheating women, and he called it “That’s No Way to Get Along.” After he “got religion” (that is, converted to Christianity) in 1936, he gave up singing secular songs. He’d still play them on his guitar for private audiences—it was only the words he deemed sinful—and he even reworked several by replacing his original lyrics with religious ones, as was the case with “That’s No Way to Get Along,” which he retitled “Prodigal Son” and transformed into a retelling of the biblical parable. [Read the lyrics]

We probably would have never heard these gospel songs from Wilkins’s later years if it weren’t for American folk musicologist Dick Spottswood, who in the 1960s combed the South looking for blues singers whose decades-old 78s he had encountered, seeking to record new performances. Wilkins was in his seventies, but he agreed to perform for a recording (and subsequently, for the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island), insisting that he would do only gospel. The resultant album, released in 1964 by Piedmont Records, was Reverend Robert Wilkins—Memphis Gospel Singer, on which “Prodigal Son” first appears. The song was remastered, restored, and re-released in 2014 on a compilation album of Wilkins material, Prodigal Son, which adds four uncollected gospel songs to the original album’s track list.

Aaron Frazer at Black Grooves writes,

The song [“Prodigal Son”] did not appear in Wilkins’ church services, as it was deemed not exciting enough for his congregants. Instead, the piece was reserved as a late-night solo, played for small audiences in the comfort of his living room. The quiet picking, repetitious bass note run and Wilkins contemplative drawl make for a hypnotic mix and the quickest 10-minute song I’ve ever encountered. The open tuning allows for a richer low end and frees Wilkins’ left hand to speak easily with his slide.

Wilkins recorded “Prodigal Son” in 1964, but it wasn’t until 1968, when the Rolling Stones covered it on Beggars Banquet, that it gained a wide audience. They condensed the ten-minute song to just under three minutes, and I think they do quite a fine job with it. Royalties generated by sales of Beggars Banquet created a solid supplemental income for Wilkins until his death in 1987.

The Rolling Stones are heavily influenced by blues music (their name comes from a Muddy Waters song) and have done much to keep it alive and expand its popularity. Keith Richards says, “If you don’t know the blues . . . there’s no point in picking up the guitar and playing rock and roll or any other form of popular music.”

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The parable of the prodigal son—or, perhaps more accurately, the parable of the two sons—is a familiar one, and artist James B. Janknegt (previously) interprets it visually for the present day, localizing it to his native Texas.

After insulting his father and taking his money, the younger son flies off to pursue fleeting pleasures—strip clubs and all that. But those pleasures don’t satisfy. He ends up working at McDonald’s and, having squandered his wealth, is reduced to eating his meals from a dumpster. He feels cheap, trashy, and spiritually dry, as indicated by the cactus in the adjacent panel.

Janknegt, James B._Two Sons-001

Hungry for more, he decides to return home, so he hops on a bus, and when the bus can take him no farther, he hitchhikes, catching one, two, three rides, then walks the rest of the way until his shoes wear out. Finally he reaches the front-yard footpath of his father’s house, the dry ground he treads giving way to green grass that becomes increasingly lush the nearer he gets. Anticipating his return, the father comes running out to welcome him home with full forgiveness.

Janknegt, James B._Two Sons-002

But his big brother isn’t nearly as happy at this turn of events. Quite the contrary, he’s confused, upset: Why would Dad not punish little brother for his flagrant disrespect and waywardness? Why is he being thrown a party? In a fit of anger, he breaks the neck of his guitar across his thigh. Instead of joining the musical celebration, he stews in his own bitterness. His heart is as dead as the cattle skull at his feet.

Janknegt, James B._Two Sons-003

Still, the father looks on him lovingly, just as he does his other son, waiting patiently for him to experience a similar metanoia—a turning toward the light, a coming to the party.

Two Sons is one of forty of James B. Janknegt’s modernized parable paintings that appear in the book Lenten Meditations, which you can purchase from Jim’s website.


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 in Lent, cycle C, click here.

Thirst (Artful Devotion)

Thirst by Stephen Watson
Stephen Watson (American), Thirst, 2013. Shorter University Arnold Art Gallery, Rome, Georgia.

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

—Psalm 63:1

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SONG: “Tzama Lecha Nafshi” (My Soul Thirsts for You) by Sasha Fishman | Performed by Shai Sol, 2016

Shai Sol is a singer-songwriter from Tel Aviv, Israel, and a Jewish follower of Yeshua (Jesus). Follow her on Facebook, Bandcamp, and/or YouTube.

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Artist Stephen Watson (previously) describes his 2013 installation Thirst: “These 2,500+ empty cups are arranged in the shape of a river. Unfilled, they create a dry river bed. In their multitude, they depict the severity of the thirst of an unquenched soul.”


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 in Lent, cycle C, click here.

Wayfaring Stranger (Artful Devotion)

Painting by Andrew Gadd
Painting by Andrew Gadd (British, 1968–)

Our citizenship is in heaven . . .

—Philippians 3:20

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SONG: “Wayfaring Stranger” | 19th-century American folk song | Performed by Rhiannon Giddens (banjo, vocals) and Phil Cunningham (accordion) for BBC Northern Ireland, 2016

This “world of woe” is not our home; we’re just temporary residents. St. Paul reminds us that we are citizens of a new world, and while this statement needs a lot of fleshing out (hence the development of systematic “kingdom theologies”), the well-known American folk lament “Wayfaring Stranger” emphasizes simply, soul-baringly, the longing aspect of it, that anticipation of returning to the “bright land” or our (re)birth, “no more to roam.”

The Wikipedia entry for the song contains a select list of diverse covers, classical music adaptations, and appearances on television and film. Other versions I like are by the Crofts family (previously), Sister Sinjin, and Brent Timothy Miller.


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 in Lent, cycle C, click here.

Stomp (Artful Devotion)

Treading the Basilisk by Brian Kershisnik
Brian Kershisnik (American, 1962–), Treading the Basilisk, 2003. Oil on panel, 85 × 32 in.

Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—
the Most High, who is my refuge—
no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
no plague come near your tent.

. . .

You will tread on the lion and the adder;
the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.

“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name . . .”

—Psalm 91:9–10, 13–14

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SONG: “Anyataka” (Victory), a Congolese folk song | Performed by New City Fellowship, July 21, 2013

This video is from a Sunday worship service at New City Fellowship (previously here and here), a multicultural church in St. Louis, Missouri. The church contains a fair number of immigrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo, including on its leadership team, which has led it to partner with churches in the DRC, a relationship of mutual encouragement. “Anyataka” was introduced to the congregation by Athoms Mbuma, a visiting pastor and musician from Kinshasa and a member of the popular Congolese worship band Le Groupe Adorons L’Éternel (GAEL).

Anyati Satana lelo! (“We stomp on Satan!”), sing the worshippers, miming the action with gusto. “Victory! We have victory in Jesus.” And the refrain: “Yahweh, you reign.”

Click here for a leadsheet, as well as music for trumpet, alto sax, flute, and trombone.

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Many Christians read Psalm 91 as a messianic psalm, prophesying Christ’s victory over Satan. (Visual theologians included: check out the fascinating super aspidem motif, aka “Christ treading on the beasts.”) But it can also be applied more broadly, as the psalmist no doubt intended, to the people of God.

An adder, or viper, is a venomous snake; the word is sometimes alternately translated as “asp,” “cobra,” or even “basilisk,” a mythical reptile. According to the ESV Study Bible commentary, “The lion and the adder are probably images for people bent on harming the faithful (cf. Ps. 58:3–6; Deut. 32:33), or perhaps the demonic agents that inspire the harm.” I’m reminded of Luke 10:19 (cf. 9:1), where Jesus delegates his power over demons to his disciples: “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.”

The Christian’s power over evil is rooted in the very power of Christ, who by his death and resurrection has vanquished the Enemy. Now we, too, can put evil under our feet.

Both works of art in this post—the painting by Kershisnik and the Congolese worship song—are inspired by Psalm 91 (the song a little less directly), but they approach it with different tones. The song is very exultant, heightened by a demonstrative performance in which the singers enact the victory of which they sing. By contrast, the figure in the painting is very matter-of-fact about her crushing of the snake; by the power of the word (signified doubly by the book in one hand and the sword in the other), she quietly and assuredly renders it powerless. She appears completely undisturbed by the incident; it barely registers!

Both responses to the text are, I think, appropriate. Christ’s victory, which he grants to us, ought to elicit our loud and happy praise, befitting the context of a worship gathering. But what Kershisnik gives us in this private devotional painting is a calm assurance that in our day-to-day, when the Enemy rears its head, we need not fear one bit; we can carry on unfazed because the battle has already been won—we merely need to claim the victory.


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 First Sunday in Lent, cycle C, click here.

Treasure (Artful Devotion)

Crates by Pinturicchio
Crates of Thebes dumps out his wealth into the sea in this detail of the “Mount of Wisdom” marble mosaic inlay and graffito, designed by Pinturicchio in 1505, from the floor of Siena Cathedral in Italy.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

—Matthew 6:19–21

Eugene Peterson paraphrases Matthew 6:21 as “The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.”

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SONG: “House of Gold” by Hank Williams, 1948 | Performed by the Secret Sisters, 2010

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In her poem “Storage,” Mary Oliver describes the total emptying of a storage unit she rented for years:

I felt like the little donkey when
his burden is finally lifted. Things!
Burn them, burn them! Make a beautiful
fire! More room in your heart for love,
for the trees! For the birds who own
nothing—the reason they can fly.

Lent, which begins Wednesday, is a season for throwing out that which has been weighing us down—whether that be physical possessions, or things of the heart (such as unhealthy attitudes, habits, or dependencies; in a word, sins). It’s a spring cleaning of sorts, where we clear out those accumulations that have subtly edged out God. “Make a beautiful fire!” Oliver exclaims. A bonfire of vanities. Once you relinquish your burdens to the fire, you will be light as a bird, and free to fly.

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Giorgio Vasari described the floor of Siena Cathedral as “the most beautiful . . . , largest and most magnificent . . . ever made.” Read an excellent, beautifully photographed introduction to this allegorical masterwork, unique in terms of its technique and message, at https://operaduomo.siena.it/en/sites/floor/.

Siena Cathedral
View down the nave of Siena Cathedral

Is it a contradiction for the church to have poured much of its wealth into the making of this magnificent floor whose imagery, in part, categorizes earthly wealth as a potential pitfall on the path to Wisdom? No, I don’t think so. Its beauty glorifies Christ, proclaiming him the ultimate Treasure. This is not wealth hoarded away for personal security but wealth poured out before God, for the soul-nourishment of others. The spending of large sums of money on art when poverty persists is and will always remain a tricky conundrum (not least during Lent, when an ethic of simplicity and almsgiving are emphasized), but artist Makoto Fujimura navigates it quite well in his 1996 essay “The Extravagance of God.”


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 Ash Wednesday, cycle C, click here.

Radiant (Artful Devotion)

Transfiguration by Ventzislav Piriankov
This Transfiguration painting is by Ventzislav Piriankov, a Bulgarian artist born in 1971 and living in Poland.

Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said.

As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.

And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.

—Luke 9:28–36

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MUSIC: “Radiant,” third movement of the Concerto for Violoncello and Strings by Dobrinka Tabakova, 2008 | Performed by cellist Kristina Blaumane, violinist Maxim Rysanov, and the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, on Dobrinka Tabakova: String Paths (2013)

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SALT Project (previously) is a production company that puts out a weekly e-newsletter filled with good, true, and beautiful things—one of which is commentary on the coming week’s lectionary readings. Here’s an excerpt from their commentary on Luke 9:28–43:

In the verses preceding this passage, Jesus has just articulated what is arguably his most disturbing, difficult teaching of all: that he must suffer, die, and rise again – and that anyone who wishes to follow him must “deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). The Transfiguration’s light, then, acts as a kind of reassurance for Peter, John, and James (and for the rest of us!). It’s as if Luke is saying: We’re now making the turn toward Golgotha, and that means descending into the valley of the shadow of death. But fear not! Keep this astonishing, mysterious mountaintop story in mind as we go. Carry it like a torch, for it can help show the way – not least because it gives us a glimpse of where all this is headed . . .

They work their way through the passage in bulleted format, discussing the significance of “eight days after” and the word departure, its harking back to Moses’s radiance at Sinai and forward to Jesus’s resurrection, Peter’s response to the event, and more. Then they bring it home:

Epiphany concludes today: Jesus has “shown forth” to be a healer and a liberator; a teacher and a shining prophet. Peter has just called him “the Messiah” (Luke 9:20). But most fundamentally and decisively, he is God’s chosen, God’s beloved child. His path of love will lead down into the valley, through the dry cinders of Ash Wednesday and the tears of the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrow. But this week, from here on the mountaintop, we can survey the 40 days ahead, take a deep breath – and remember that the journey through ashes and sorrow is never for its own sake. It’s for the sake of what comes next. In a word, it’s for the sake of transfiguration: a radiant new life and a dazzling new world.

To subscribe to SALT’s newsletter, click here, scroll to the bottom, and enter your email address.


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 Transfiguration Sunday, cycle C, click here.