Sheep May Safely Graze (Artful Devotion)

Landscape, Cornish, N.H. by John White Alexander
John White Alexander (American, 1856–1915), Landscape, Cornish, N.H., ca. 1890. Oil on canvas, 30 3/8 × 45 in. (77.2 × 114.2 cm). Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul . . .

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff,
they comfort me.

—Psalm 23:1–3a, 4

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MUSIC: “Sheep May Safely Graze,” from BWV 208 | Composed by Johann Sebastian Bach (1713) | Performed by London Symphony Orchestra, on Night in Berlin (2001)

The aria “Schafe können sicher weiden” (Sheep May Safely Graze) comprises the ninth movement of Bach’s Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd (The Lively Hunt Is All My Heart’s Desire)—known informally as the Hunting Cantata. Written for the thirty-first birthday of Duke Christian of Saxe-Weissenfels, the cantata was performed as a surprise at a banquet at the ducal hunting lodge, and it’s full of flattery. The text of “Sheep May Safely Graze,” written by Solomon Franck, praises Christian for his wise, protective leadership (in actuality, he was a lousy ruler):

Sheep may safely graze and pasture
In a watchful shepherd’s sight.

Those who rule, with wisdom guiding,
Bring to hearts a peace abiding,
Bless a land with joy made bright.

At 1:31 in the above recording, you can hear potential danger lurking nearby, but the attentive shepherd neutralizes the threat, keeping safe his flock.

Bach originally scored this piece for soprano with two recorders and continuo, but it has since been transcribed for orchestra and countless other combinations of instruments and is most popular without words. I enjoy playing Egon Petri’s transcription for solo piano, performed here by Alessio Bax:

Its pastoral mood, befitting Psalm 23, and its celebration of a good shepherd’s care have led it to be applied to the Good Shepherd and performed in church services. I’ve even come across some piano arrangements that interfuse it with “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us” (for an intermediate arrangement of such by Cindy Berry, see Classical Hymns).

(Related post: “The evolution of ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring'”)


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 Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, cycle B, click here.

No Other Fount (Artful Devotion)

Precious Blood of Christ (retablo)
La Preciosa Sangre de Cristo (The Precious Blood of Christ), Mexico, ca. 1875. Oil on tin, 10 × 7 in.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us . . .

—Ephesians 1:7–8a

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SONG: “Nothing but the Blood of Jesus” by Robert Lowry (1876), with “Power in the Blood” by Lewis E. Jones (1899) | Medley performed by Redeemer Presbyterian Church of Indianapolis, on Good News, Vol. 1 (2007)

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Blood that bled into a cry!
The elements
felt its touch and trembled,
heaven heard their woe.
O life-blood of the maker,
scarlet music, salve our wounds.

—“Antiphon for the Redeemer” by Hildegard of Bingen, translated from the Latin by Barbara Newman


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 Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, cycle B, click here.

Thorn in the Flesh (Artful Devotion)

Transcendence by Brandon Maldonado
Brandon Maldonado (American, 1980–), Transcendence, before 2010. Oil on panel.

. . . a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

—2 Corinthians 12:7b–10

For a collection of commentaries on this scripture passage, visit Textweek.com.

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SONG: “Cold Is the Night” by the Oh Hellos, on The Oh Hellos (2011)

 


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 after Pentecost, cycle B, click here.

New Every Morning (Artful Devotion)

Enclosed Field with Rising Sun by Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853–1890), Enclosed Field with Rising Sun, 1889. Oil on canvas. Private collection.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

—Lamentations 3:22–23

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SONG: “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” | Words by Thomas O. Chisholm, 1923 | Music by William Marion Runyan, 1923 | Arranged and performed by Sam JC Lee on bass, with Gabriela Martina on vocals, 2013


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 B, click here.

Like a Ship upon the Sea (Artful Devotion)

Navecilla by Paulo Medina
Paulo Medina (Mexican, 1964–), Navecilla, 2007. Acrylic on canvas, 100 × 80 cm.

Some went down to the sea in ships,
doing business on the great waters;
they saw the deeds of the Lord,
his wondrous works in the deep.
For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,
which lifted up the waves of the sea.
They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths;
their courage melted away in their evil plight;
they reeled and staggered like drunken men
and were at their wits’ end.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
Then they were glad that the waters were quiet,
and he brought them to their desired haven.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!

—Psalm 107:23–31, describing one of four groups of exiled Judahites whom God rescued in their distress

On that day, when evening had come, [Jesus] said to [his disciples], “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

—Mark 5:35–41

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SONG: “Stand by Me” | Words and music by Charles A. Tindley, 1905 | Performed by Seth Avett, 2013 | United Methodist Hymnal #512

Read the history of this hymn by “one of the founding fathers of African American gospel music” at Discipleship Ministries, and listen to unique renditions by Sister Rosetta Tharpe and the Staples Singers.

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Paulo Medina’s painting Navecilla (Ship) was inspired by a letter St. Thérèse of Lisieux wrote to her older sister, Céline, on July 23, 1893, which references the narrative from next week’s Gospel lectionary reading and says in part,

Be assured, dear Céline, that even though your dinghy is far asea, it is perhaps already very close to your harbor. The wind of suffering that is propelling it is a wind of love, and that wind is faster than lightning. [translated by Victoria Hebert and Denis Sabourin]

Read the full letter, in an alternate translation from the French by John Clarke, at the Archives du Carmel de Lisieux.


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 B, click here.

Get Ready (Artful Devotion)

Last Judgment (Florentine mosaic)
Detail of the Last Judgment, 1240–1300. Mosaic dome, Baptistery of Saint John (San Giovanni), Florence, Italy. Photo: Johann H. Addicks.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

—2 Corinthians 5:10

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SONG: “Judgment” by Rev. Sister Mary Nelson (1927) | Adapted and performed by Benjamin Blower and the Army of the Broken Hearted, on Kingdom vs. Empire (2013)

 

Listen to the original.

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POEMS: “The Last Judgment” by Raymond Oliver is darkly humorous and a true account of how some medieval artists stuck it to the man. For a more reverent reflection on the topic, read “Judgment Day” by R. S. Thomas, in which a perpetrator of injustice against the sick and the poor on earth stands before God’s heavenly throne, contrite; the speaker could well be Dives from the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus—or, to name a more recent literary example, Scrooge from A Christmas Carol. She could also be you or me, if we heed not the many commands of scripture to love and support the needy.


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 B, click here.

Look to the Unseen (Artful Devotion)

Embroidered photograph by Aline Brant
Photo and embroidery by Brazilian artist Aline Brant, 2017.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

—2 Corinthians 4:16–5:1

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SONG: “The Sweet Forever” (When They Ring Those Golden Bells) | Words and music by Daniel (“Dion”) de Marbelle (1887) | Arranged and performed by the Sensational Nightingales, on It’s Gonna Rain Again (1972, re-released 1998)

There’s a land beyond the river
That we call the sweet forever,
And we only reach that shore by faith’s decree;
One by one we’ll gain the portal,
There to dwell with the immortal,
When they ring those golden bells for you and me.

I wonder, can you hear those bells a-ringing?
I wonder, can you hear those angels singing?
Talkin’ ’bout glory, glory, hallelujah, Jubilee!
In that far-off sweet forever,
Just beyond that shining river,
When they ring those golden bells for you and me.

We shall know no sin or sorrow
In that haven of tomorrow,
When our barque shall sail beyond the silver sea;
We shall only know the blessing
Of our Father’s sweet caressing,
When they ring those golden bells for you and me.

When our days shall know their number,
When in death we sweetly slumber,
When the Savior commands the spirit to be free,
Nevermore with anguish laden,
We shall reach that lovely Eden,
When they ring those golden bells for you and me.


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 B, click here.

Open Your Mouth (Artful Devotion)

Manna from Heaven (13th c)
Manna from heaven: illumination from the Maciejowski Bible, Paris, 1240s. Morgan Library MS M.638, fol. 9v (detail).

Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.”—Psalm 81:10b

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SONG: “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” (Bread of Heaven) | Words by William Williams (1745), translated from the Welsh by Peter Williams (1771) | Music by John Hughes (1905; tune: Cwm Rhondda) | Performed by Kelly Joe Phelps, on Brother Sinner and the Whale (2012)

I love Phelps’s gentle, guitar-picked rendition of this classic hymn. For a live recording from March 10, 2012, click here. See also performance snippets interspersed with interview footage here.

Scenes from Exodus
Bitter water made sweet; manna from heaven; water from the rock at Horeb; Joshua fights the Amalekites. Morgan Library MS M.638 (Maciejowski Bible), fol. 9v, Paris, 1240s.

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 B, click here.

Into Your Family (Artful Devotion)

How God loves his people by John Muafangejo
John Muafangejo (Namibian, ca. 1943–1987), How God loves his People all over the World, 1974. Etching. © John Muafangejo Foundation. Source: The African Dream: Visions of Love and Sorrow—The Art of John Muafangejo, p. 64

All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

—Romans 8:14–17

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SONG: “You Are the Lover of Our Souls” by Mike Crawford and His Secret Siblings, on Bright Hopes! (2017) (written 2012)

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Artist John Ndevasia Muafangejo was born around 1943 in southern Angola, a member of the Kwanyama tribe of the Owambo people. He moved to Namibia as a teenager and was educated at an Anglican mission school, then spent 1967–69 in training at the Evangelical Lutheran Church Art and Craft Centre in Rorke’s Drift, South Africa, an art school that scholars credit as integral to the development of modern African printmaking. Muafangejo is one of the most famous alumni of the school, gaining international recognition for his linocuts, which have been exhibited throughout Europe and America. But his career was cut short in 1987 when he died suddenly of a heart attack, just three years before Namibia gained its independence.

The artwork pictured above is somewhat uncharacteristic of Muafangejo, being an etching (he was much more prolific with and is better known for his linocuts) and excluding the political and autobiographical content that mark much of his other work. Church life and biblical narratives, however, did regularly find expression in his prints. He thought highly of the church, whose local leaders fought against apartheid, supported his art, and (through Father C. S. Mallory) cared for him during bouts of mental illness.

How God loves his People all over the World shows God the Father embracing all his children, who tenderly place their hands over their hearts. A family portrait! What Muafangejo visualizes in anthropomorphic terms, Mike Crawford, in his music video for “You Are the Lover of Our Souls,” suggests through images of sun, sea, sky, and breeze, which feel like a hug from on high. “God, you are so good / You are beautiful / So mysterious / How you’re calling us into your family / You’ve invited us into your family / We’re your sons and daughters now. / . . . / Yes, you have adopted me.”

For more information on John Muafangejo, see The African Dream: Visions of Love and Sorrow—The Art of John Muafangejo by Orde Levinson (Thames & Hudson, 1992).


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 B, click here.

Come, Energy Divine (Artful Devotion)

Descent of the Holy Spirit
Roman Barabakh (Ukrainian, 1990–), Descent of the Holy Spirit, 2017. Cyanotype print, 54 × 42.2 сm. Available for sale via Iconart.

“I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live . . .”—Ezekiel 37:14

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SONG: “Abbeville” (Come, Holy Spirit, Come) | Words by Benjamin Beddome (published posthumously in 1818) | American folk tune from The Sacred Harp, arr. Elisha J. King (1844) | Performed by Marsha Genensky of Anonymous 4, on American Angels: Songs of Hope, Redemption, and Glory (2005)

You can hear this song—and twelve others—on “Anonymous 4: The Sacred Harp,” a Saint Paul Sunday radio broadcast that aired on American Public Media in September 2006. The entire concert-interview is worth a listen, or you can skip to 7:49.

Anonymous 4’s a cappella version of “Abbeville” is my favorite, but another nice version is the Wilder Adkins–Gabrielle Jones duet with acoustic guitar accompaniment.

Come, Holy Spirit, come,
With energy divine,
And on this poor, benighted soul,
With beams of mercy shine.

From the celestial hills,
Light, life, and joy dispense;
And may I daily, hourly feel
Thy quick’ning influence.

Melt, melt this frozen heart;
This stubborn will subdue;
Each evil passion overcome,
And form me all anew.

Mine will the profit be,
But Thine shall be the praise;
And unto Thee will I devote
The remnant of my days.


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 Sunday, cycle B, click here.