Lectionary Art and Music

For the last three-plus years I’ve been publishing a weekly blog series called Artful Devotion, choosing one of four scripture texts from the Revised Common Lectionary for the coming week and then selecting one visual artwork and one musical work that resonate with that scripture in some way—sometimes directly, sometimes more obliquely. I’m interested in the meaning that can open up in one’s Bible reading when the arts are engaged alongside that discipline.

After having covered all three lectionary cycles and then some, I’ve decided to end the series so that I can direct my energies toward developing other blog content. I still plan to use the lectionary as a guide throughout the year and to continue including “bite-size” posts at regular intervals, but by not committing myself to a formula and a particular text and a weekly deadline, I will have freedom to experiment with other modes of presentation and time to pursue more in-depth lines of research and other curatorial projects.

For a quick reference, I’ve compiled links to all the Artful Devotions below. Or, if you prefer, you can scroll through them from newest to oldest by following this tag: https://artandtheology.org/tag/artful-devotion/. If you want more context for the series, read the introduction.

In this archive you’ll find a mixture of art from different countries and eras: early Christian mosaics, late medieval Italian frescoes, a Chinese scroll painting, a Japanese woodcut, a Dutch still life, a Tongan stone carving, an Indian batik, African American folk art, contemporary Ukrainian icons, an installation in a vacant chapel in London, a hand-embroidered photograph from the Ivory Coast, biblical door carvings from Zimbabwe, a Jewish illuminated manuscript, an eighteenth-century Moravian devotional card, a Victorian “spirit drawing,” a modernist painting from New Zealand, a Quechua illustration of Christ’s Presentation in the Temple, a bronze fountain in Poland, and so much more.

In addition to shape-note hymns, spirituals, Black gospel, jazz, bluegrass, and indie folk from America and choral and classical music from Europe, there are also songs from Polynesia, Argentina, Congo, Israel, Georgia, China, Jamaica, and more. There’s an Armenian funeral tagh, an Indian bhajan, a Hollywood musical number, an English ballad about Mary Magdalene, a reggae setting of Psalm 137, and lots of other treasures!

Thank you for journeying with me through the church calendar here at Art & Theology. If you have found joy and inspiration from the Artful Devotion series, please consider making a small donation toward the further development of this website.

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Year A

First Sunday of Advent: Romans 13:11–12
Second Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 11:1–5, 10
Third Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 35:5–6a, 10
Fourth Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 7:14

Nativity of the Lord: Luke 2:7; Psalm 96:10; John 1:1, 14
First Sunday after Christmas Day: Matthew 2:13–18
Second Sunday after Christmas Day: John 1:3b–4, 9

Epiphany of the Lord: Isaiah 60:1; Psalm 72:10–11; Matthew 2:1–12
Baptism of the Lord: Isaiah 42:1–9; Matthew 3:13–17; Acts 10:37–38, 42–43
Second Sunday after Epiphany: Psalm 40:1–3
Third Sunday after Epiphany: Isaiah 9:1–5; Matthew 4:12–17
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany: 1 Corinthians 1:18–25
Presentation of the Lord (Candlemas): Luke 2:25–32
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany: Matthew 5:14–16
Sixth Sunday after Epiphany: Matthew 5:21–24
Transfiguration Sunday: Matthew 17:1–9

Ash Wednesday: Joel 2:1, 12–13; Psalm 51:8, 17
First Sunday of Lent: Genesis 3:6–7
Second Sunday of Lent: Psalm 121
Third Sunday of Lent: John 4:7–14
Fourth Sunday of Lent: Ephesians 5:14
Annunciation of the Lord: Luke 1:26–38
Fifth Sunday of Lent: John 11:1–45

Palm Sunday: Matthew 21:8–11
Holy Monday: John 12:1–11
Holy Tuesday: John 12:23–36
Holy Wednesday: John 13:18b–19, 21–30
Holy Thursday: John 13:1–17, 31b–35
Good Friday: Isaiah 53:1–12
Holy Saturday: John 19:38–42

Resurrection of the Lord: Matthew 28:1–6; John 20:1–8; Acts 10:39–41
Second Sunday of Easter: Acts 2:22–32
Third Sunday of Easter: 1 Peter 1:18–22
Fourth Sunday of Easter: Psalm 23
Fifth Sunday of Easter: John 14:1–3
Sixth Sunday of Easter: John 14:15–21
Ascension of the Lord: Acts 1:1–9
Seventh Sunday of Easter: Psalm 55:22; 1 Peter 5:7
Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth: Luke 1:39–55

Pentecost: Acts 2:1–21
Trinity Sunday: 2 Corinthians 13:14

Proper 6: Romans 5:5b
Proper 7: Psalm 69:1–3, 13–17
Proper 8: Genesis 22:1–14
Proper 9: Matthew 11:28
Proper 10: Psalm 65:5–13; Romans 8:6
Proper 11: Psalm 86:12–13, 15; Matthew 13:43
Proper 12: Romans 8:31b, 35, 37; Matthew 13:31–32
Proper 13: Genesis 32:22–31; Isaiah 55:1–2
Proper 14: Psalm 85; Matthew 14:29b–33
Proper 15: Psalm 133
Proper 16: Isaiah 51:3; Romans 12:1–2
Proper 17: Exodus 3:1–15; Romans 12:9–18; Romans 12:21
Proper 18: Exodus 12:1–14; Psalm 119:37
Holy Cross: Numbers 21:4–9; John 3:14–15
Proper 19: Exodus 14:19–31 (also)
Proper 20: Psalm 105:4; Jonah 3:10–4:11
Proper 21: Psalm 25:4–5; Ezekiel 18:26–32
Proper 22: Psalm 19:7–10; Philippians 3:13b–14
Proper 23: Psalm 106:4; Isaiah 25:6–9
Proper 24: Exodus 33:18–23; Psalm 96:1
Proper 25: Psalm 90:14; Matthew 22:37–38
Proper 26: Psalm 43:3
All Saints’ Day: Matthew 5:3–11; Revelation 7:9–12
Proper 27: Joshua 24:14–15; Amos 5:21–24
Proper 28: Psalm 90:1–6, 10, 12; 1 Thessalonians 5:2b–10
Reign of Christ: Ephesians 1:17–23

Year B

First Sunday of Advent: Psalm 80:1–3
Second Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 40:3–5; Mark 1:1–8
Third Sunday of Advent: Luke 1:39–55 (Visitation)
Fourth Sunday of Advent: Romans 16:25–26

Nativity of the Lord: Luke 2:10–12, 14, 16
First Sunday after Christmas Day: Isaiah 61:10–11
Second Sunday after Christmas Day

Epiphany of the Lord: Isaiah 60:3, 5–6; Ephesians 3:4–5
Second Sunday after Epiphany: 1 Samuel 3:9
Third Sunday after Epiphany: Mark 1:17
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany: Mark 1:23–28
Presentation of the Lord (Candlemas): Luke 2:28–32
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany: Psalm 147:3
Sixth Sunday after Epiphany: 2 Corinthians 4:3–6
Transfiguration Sunday

Ash Wednesday
First Sunday of Lent: Genesis 9:8–17
Second Sunday of Lent: Romans 4:13–25
Third Sunday of Lent: John 2:13–17
Fourth Sunday of Lent: Ephesians 2:1–10
Fifth Sunday of Lent: Psalm 51:1–2, 8

Palm Sunday: John 12:12–15
Good Friday: John 19:18

Resurrection of the Lord: Isaiah 25:7, 9b
Second Sunday of Easter: John 20:27–28
Third Sunday of Easter: Psalm 4:7
Fourth Sunday of Easter: 1 John 3:17–18
Fifth Sunday of Easter: John 15:5–8
Sixth Sunday of Easter: 1 John 5:3–4a
Ascension of the Lord: Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9
Seventh Sunday of Easter: Psalm 1:1–3 (cf. Jeremiah 17:7–8)

Pentecost: Ezekiel 37:14
Trinity Sunday: Romans 8:14–17

Proper 4: Psalm 81:10b
Proper 5: 2 Corinthians 4:16–5:1
Proper 6: 2 Corinthians 5:10
Proper 7: Psalm 107:23–31; Mark 5:35–41
Proper 8: Lamentations 3:22–23
Proper 9: 2 Corinthians 12:7b–10
Proper 10: Ephesians 1:7–8a
Proper 11: Psalm 23:1–3a, 4
Proper 12: Ephesians 3:18–19
Proper 13: Exodus 16:9–10
Proper 14: Psalm 130:5
Proper 15: Proverbs 9:1–6
Proper 16: Ephesians 6:10–17
Proper 17: James 1:21
Proper 18: Mark 7:31–37
Proper 19: Psalm 19:1–6
Proper 20: James 4:7
Proper 21: Psalm 124
Proper 22: Mark 10:13–16
Proper 23: Mark 10:17–22
Proper 24: Psalm 104
Proper 25: Mark 10:46–52 
All Saints’ Day: Wisdom of Solomon 3:2–4
Proper 26: Psalm 119:1
Proper 27: Hebrews 9:27–28
Proper 28: Hebrews 10:19–22
Reign of Christ: Daniel 7:9, 14

Year C

First Sunday of Advent: Luke 21:28
Second Sunday of Advent: Luke 1:68–79
Third Sunday of Advent: Zephaniah 3:14–20 (cf. Zechariah 9:9a)
Fourth Sunday of Advent: Micah 5:2–5

Nativity of the Lord: Isaiah 52:10; Titus 2:11; Luke 2:11
First Sunday after Christmas Day: Colossians 3:12–14
Second Sunday after Christmas Day

Epiphany of the Lord: Matthew 2:1–2, 9–11
Baptism of the Lord: Luke 3:15–17, 21–22
Second Sunday after Epiphany: Isaiah 62:1–5
Third Sunday after Epiphany: Luke 4:16–21
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany: 1 Corinthians 13:1–3
Presentation of the Lord (Candlemas): Luke 2:29–32
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany: Luke 5:1–11
Sixth Sunday after Epiphany: Luke 6:20b–23
Seventh Sunday after Epiphany: Psalm 37:4
Transfiguration Sunday: Luke 9:28–36

Ash Wednesday: Matthew 6:19–21
First Sunday of Lent: Psalm 91:9–10, 13–14
Second Sunday of Lent: Philippians 3:20
Third Sunday of Lent: Psalm 63:1
Fourth Sunday of Lent: Luke 15:11–32
Fifth Sunday of Lent: Psalm 126

Palm Sunday / Holy Week: Luke 19:28

Resurrection of the Lord: Psalm 118:14–17; Luke 24:6a
Second Sunday of Easter: John 20:24–29
Third Sunday of Easter: Revelation 5:11–14
Fourth Sunday of Easter: John 10:28–29
Fifth Sunday of Easter: Psalm 148
Sixth Sunday of Easter: John 14:23–29
Ascension of the Lord: Luke 24:44–53
Seventh Sunday of Easter: Revelation 22:13

Pentecost: Acts 2:3–4
Trinity Sunday: Romans 5:1, 5

Proper 7: Psalm 42:1–2, 5
Proper 8: 2 Kings 2:11–12a
Proper 9: 2 Kings 5:1–14
Proper 10: Psalm 82:1–4, 8
Proper 11: Colossians 1:15–20
Proper 12: Colossians 2:13–14
Proper 13: Psalm 107
Proper 14: Luke 12:32
Proper 15: Hebrews 12:1–2
Proper 16: Isaiah 58:11
Proper 17: Hebrews 13:1
Proper 18: Jeremiah 18:1–6
Proper 19: Luke 15:4–6
Proper 20: Jeremiah 8:18–22
Proper 21: Luke 16:19–31
Proper 22: Psalm 137
Proper 23: Psalm 66:12 (cf. Psalm 31:7–8)
Proper 24: Genesis 32:22–31
Proper 25: Psalm 84:5
All Saints’ Day: Luke 7:20–23
Proper 26: Habakkuk 1:2–4
Proper 27: Psalm 145:3–5
Proper 28: Isaiah 12:1–6
Reign of Christ: Jeremiah 23:5–6

Whole World in His Hands (Artful Devotion)

Christ in Glory (Gospel-book of Bamberg Cathedral)
“Christ in Mandorla with evangelists,” Reichenau, Germany, early 11th century. BSB Clm 4454, fol. 20v, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich.

Oh come, let us sing to the LORD;
    let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
    let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the LORD is a great God,
    and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
    the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
    and his hands formed the dry land.
Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
    let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
For he is our God,
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    and the sheep of his hand.

—Psalm 95:1–7

This is the Psalm reading for the last Sunday of the liturgical year, Christ the King Sunday. I’ve paired it with an Ottonian miniature from around 1015, which shows Christ, framed by a mandorla (an almond-shaped aureole), standing in a branched tree of life. The gold-leaf outline of this glory cloud encompasses heaven (Caelus, the top figure) and earth (Terra, aka Terrus, at bottom), two realms connected by Christ himself. (Earth is his footstool! That is, part of his throne.) He holds a globe in his right hand and is surrounded by symbols of the four evangelists (the tetramorph)—each supported by a water nymph representing one of the four rivers of paradise—and Sol (sun) and Luna (moon). I love how this image emphasizes the life-giving nature of Christ’s rule, and how it extends over all of creation.

From our limited human perspective, it can be hard to see the divine reality that this artist is pointing to. It sometimes doesn’t feel like Jesus is on the throne, holding together everyone and everything in love. But I look at that little orb, and I think of all the sin and suffering and love and grace and stress and beauty swirling around in that one small part of the cosmos, and I see that it’s rendered in precious gold, and is gripped firmly by the hand of God, who—zoom out—is “a great King above all,” who made the heights and the depths and who gives us his word and indeed his very self, a tree of life for the healing of the nations. As we head into Advent, may we not lose this vision of the Christ who reigns.

More about the art: In the tenth and eleventh centuries, the Benedictine abbey on the island of Reichenau in Lake Constance in southern Germany was the site of one of Europe’s largest and most influential schools of manuscript illumination, known as the Reichenau school. The painting above is from a Gospel-book produced there, commissioned by Holy Roman Emperor Henry II (r. 1002–24) for the cathedral he founded in Bamberg. The book is now housed at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Bavarian State Library) in Munich, along with two other similar illuminated manuscripts from Bamberg Cathedral: the Gospel-book of Otto III (Clm 4453) and the evangeliary of Henry II (Clm 4452). Find out more about this particular manuscript at the World Digital Library. You can also browse the images here by selecting the links in the “Content” sidebar at the left.

For other artworks from Art & Theology that show, in a literal manner, “the whole world in [God’s] hands,” see this medieval Pisan fresco with signs of the zodiac; How God loves his People all over the World by John Muafangejo; Creation of the World by Lyuba Yatskiv; Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci, a common image type; and a Florentine panel painting of God the Father.

Do you know of any good nonliteral images that say to you, “The world is in God’s hands”? That is, a visual artwork that helps you sense God’s sovereignty? I often fall back on traditional visual conceptualizations of theological teachings like this, but I’d like to expand my repertoire!

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SONG: “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” African American spiritual

There are hundreds of professional recordings and live performance videos of this traditional song. It was first published in the paperbound hymnal Spirituals Triumphant, Old and New in 1927 and became an international pop hit in 1957 when it was recorded by thirteen-year-old English singer Laurie London.

First off, I want to feature a fairly recent two-part video compilation released by TrueExclusives. Back in March, as the first wave of the coronavirus hit the US, Tyler Perry posted a video of himself singing one verse of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” to provide a word of assurance in the face of rising death tolls and social isolation. He called on his fellow musicians and other friends to likewise video-record a verse or two, in whatever key or style they wished—just a simple, unpolished phone recording—tagging it #tylerperrychallenge. These were then collected into two videos, a string of contributions from people like Mariah Carey, Usher, Patti Labelle, Jennifer Hudson, Shirley Caesar, LeAnn Rimes, Aubrey Logan, Israel Houghton, and many more. For a list of all the singers with time stamps, see the comment by YouTube user benzmusiczone for the first video and the comment by The Cherie Amour Show for the second.

Some participants sing in other languages—for example, Nicole Bus in Dutch, Jencarlos Canela in Spanish. Others adapt the lyrics to more specifically address the context of our global pandemic. Kelly Rowland, for example, sings, “He’s got the doctors and the nurses in his hands.” Stevie Mackey names specific countries and virus hot spots. And not only does God have the itty bitty babies in his hands, Ptosha Storey reminds us; he also has the elderly. BeBe Winans spans the cosmic to the small in his verse, emphasizing that God’s sovereign care is both expansive and intimate: “He’s got the moon and the stars in his hands / He’s got Pluto and Mars in his hands / And as I’m sitting in this car, I’m in his hands / He’s got the whole world in his hands.”

I love me some harmonies, so I particularly enjoyed hearing sisters Chloe and Halle Bailey (2:32) and The Walls Group (16:54).

What follows are a handful of other renditions I want to highlight.

Jeanne Lee [previously], 1961:

Ruth Brown, 1962 (classic gospel):

A live 2006 performance in Johannesburg—with hand motions!—by the African Children’s Choir:

A lush choral and orchestral arrangement by Mack Wilberg, featuring Alex Boyé [previously] and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, from 2010:

Similarly lush, a duet performed by operatic sopranos Jessye Norman and Kathleen Battle, backed by the Metropolitan Opera Chorus, the New York Philharmonic, and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. The performance was conducted by James Levine at Carnegie Hall in 1990 and is included on the album Spirituals in Concert (1991). The arrangement is by Robert de Cormier:


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 Proper 29 (Reign of Christ), cycle A, click here.

Teach Us to Number Our Days (Artful Devotion)

Jacques de Gheyn II (Netherlandish, 1565–1629), Vanitas Still Life, 1603. Oil on wood, 32 1/2 × 21 1/4 in. (82.6 × 54 cm). Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You return man to dust
and say, “Return, O children of man!”
For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.

You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning:
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.

. . .

The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.

. . .

So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.

—Psalm 90:1–6, 10, 12

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MUSIC: Élégie in E-flat Minor, op. 3, no. 1, by Sergei Rachmaninoff, 1892 | Performed by Sheku Kanneh-Mason, with Isata Kanneh-Mason, 2017

I’ve mentioned these stellar sibling musicians on the blog before, when I shared Sheku’s arrangement of “In the Bleak Midwinter.” In fact, all seven Kanneh-Mason siblings, ranging in age from eleven to twenty-four, are musical—and of an exceptionally high standard! Their debut album as a family, Carnival, dropped November 6; it is a collaboration with Oscar-winning actor Olivia Colman and children’s author Michael Morpurgo.

Sheku Kanneh-Mason released Rachmaninoff’s Élégie, from Morceaux de fantaisie, as a single in 2017. He has two solo records: Elgar (2020) and Inspiration (2018).

Isata Kanneh-Mason has also recorded as a solo artist: see Romance: The Piano Music of Clara Schumann (2019).

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Vanitas (from the Latin vanus, “empty”) is a subgenre of still life painting, especially common in the Low Countries in the seventeenth century, that shows, through symbolism, the brevity of life and the transience of earthly pleasures.

Art historian Ingvar Bergström discusses Vanitas Still Life by Jacques de Gheyn II (Jacob de Gheyn) at length in the 1970 journal article “De Gheyn as a ‘Vanitas’ Painter.” The commentary that follows is derived from that.

In de Gheyn’s painting, a skull sits inside a stone niche on a bed of dry grass, a reminder that “all flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth . . .” (Isaiah 40:6–7; cf. 1 Peter 1:24). Sitting on the left side of the ledge, the tulip and the wild rose with the fallen petal symbolize how man “cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down” (Job 14:2). The smoking urn on the other side references Psalm 102:3: “my days are consumed like smoke.” Between these two are a spill of Spanish coins and a Dutch military medal, and propped up against the ledge on each side is a gold ten-ducat coin showing, on the obverse, Joanna and Charles as sovereigns of Aragon. The message is that beauty, riches, and worldly power and honors all come to an end.

Lest this message somehow be missed, HUMANA VANA (“human vanity”) is carved into the top of the arch. The inscription is flanked by fictive sculptures of Heraclitus and Democritus, the weeping and laughing philosophers of Greek antiquity. Both figures point to a soap bubble (“Man is but a bubble” is a classical aphorism), which, if read in light of the traditional iconography of the two philosophers, doubles as a globe.

de Gheyn II, Jacques_Vanitas Still Life (bubble detail)

The bubble mirrors a number of disparate objects, which are difficult to make out. Bergström identifies a trophy group along the middle axis of the bubble: a crown in the center with various weapons converging upon it. At the top is an upturned moneybag with coins streaming out. Most discernible is the wheel of torture at the bottom right, and above that is a leper’s rattle, which lepers in some areas were required to shake to alert others to their proximity; these are symbols of human frailty. Also reflected “are a caduceus (probably signifying commerce) and a pair of bellows (signifying luxury?). Playing cards, backgammon with dice, and drinking vessels allude to vain pleasures and pastimes. The highlight of the sphere mirrors a burning heart, pierced by an arrow—an image of earthly love, of luxury” (153).

Though the painting doesn’t explicitly reference our lectionary reading from Psalm 90, it does complement the psalmist’s reflection on how short and precarious life is—it’s like a wilting flower, a burning candle, a fragile bubble. Here today, gone tomorrow. Which is why it’s so important to live wisely while we still can.

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To access another Artful Devotion for AProp28, on 1 Thessalonians 5:1–11, click here.


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 Proper 28, cycle A, click here.

Choose (Artful Devotion)

Jackson, Cindy_(Not Quite) Salvation
Cindy Jackson (American, 1960–2017), (Not Quite) Salvation, 2014. Mixed media installation.

“Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

—Joshua 24:14–15

In this excerpt from Sunday’s lectionary, Joshua, Moses’s successor, admonishes the people of Israel to serve the one true God, Yahweh, but if they don’t, to choose between their ancestral gods from Mesopotamia or the gods worshipped by the peoples of Canaan, whose land they have taken over. Joshua unequivocally states his own allegiance to Yahweh, who had proven himself faithful to his promises.

Joshua’s imperative may seem irrelevant to life today, but it could actually be extrapolated to apply even to those who are not theistic, because all humans are worshipping beings. Those who don’t worship a god or gods, as the word is conventionally conceived, are giving their ultimate love and devotion to someone or something else, be it power, money, popularity or fame, intellect, a career, a political party, a social cause, a sports team, television, social media following, physical attractiveness or fitness, a romantic partner, a child, or what have you. The American writer David Foster Wallace, who was not a Christian (that I’m aware of) but who had a spiritual sensibility, spoke incisively about this in his “This Is Water” commencement speech, delivered at Kenyon College on May 21, 2005. He said,

In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship—be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles—is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things—if they are where you tap real meaning in life—then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. . . . Worship power—you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart—you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.

Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default-settings. They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing. And the world will not discourage you from operating on your default-settings, because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation.

In his book Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters, Tim Keller says that idols (false gods) are usually good things that we turn into ultimate things: “anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give, . . . anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living” (xvii–xviii). He identifies some idols that Christians may be unlikely to consider as such, including doctrinal accuracy, ministry success, and moral rectitude.

Who or what do you live for? Where do you place your primary identity? How do you define your worth?

“Choose this day whom you will serve.”

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SONG: “Gotta Serve Somebody” by Bob Dylan, on Slow Train Coming (1979)

“Gotta Serve Somebody” is the first song Bob Dylan released after his conversion to Christianity in the late seventies. (It came out as a single before appearing on Slow Train Coming.) In it he lists various occupational titles—rock musician, businessman, doctor, athlete, ambassador, police officer, homebuilder, politician, barber, preacher, etc.—and other roles, saying that all, rich and poor, are “gonna have to serve somebody, yes / You’re gonna have to serve somebody / Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord / But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” As in Sunday’s lectionary passage from Joshua, and as in David Foster Wallace’s famous speech, Dylan suggests that the choice to not worship God is in itself a choice to worship something/someone else in God’s place. Some atheists are at least honest enough to recognize that they worship themselves—like John Lennon, who wrote “Serve Yourself” as a riposte to Dylan.

Dylan won a Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Male for “Gotta Serve Somebody.” The song has been covered by many artists, including Mavis Staples, Etta James, Judy Collins, and Willie Nelson.

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The gallery installation pictured above is by the late Cindy Jackson. It’s discussed extensively, along with her other art, in the article “Cindy Jackson’s Bevy of Boisterous Bodies” by Gordon Fuglie, published in issue 92 of Image journal. And Eric Minh Swenson has made a short film where he interviews the artist in her studio as she works on these pieces:

In (Not Quite) Salvation, six twice-life-size urethane sculptures of nude men, cast from the same mold but painted differently, form a sort of tunnel over a red carpet that leads to a “chapel.” Their supersize arms are extended outward in a state of—rapture? torment? dead stupor? The installation “explores the various ways redemption and meaning are sought in society,” says Jackson. “What we worship indicates how we hope to be saved from our suffering. What we yearn for are the symbols of our perceived exoneration.”

The first two in line, arranged opposite each other, are Beer Man, his body overlaid with Budweiser branding, and Tattoo Man, whose inked skin, an amalgamation of various signs and slogans, is a “critique of a lazy American pop pluralism run amok,” as Fuglie says. The next duo is Super Man, in all his muscly righteousness, and Sex Man, lusty and sporting a condom. The final pair is, on the left, Dogma Man, who is inscribed with words from various sacred texts, poems, and song lyrics—a “smorgasbord of pop spirituality.” And on the right, Money Man, who is papered over with (photocopies of) dollar bills.

“They have betrayed their true spiritual identity and are damaged souls,” Fuglie writes. “Jackson affirms this by inscribing a hopeful poetic aphorism, [attributed to] the Sufi mystic Rumi, on the invisible interior surfaces of each hollow figure: ‘The wound is the place where the light enters you.’ These words imply that spiritual grounding is attainable only when the sufferer acknowledges the injuries inflicted by his false persona and begins to nurture his inner life, the locus of genuine illumination.” Only when their veneer cracks is the light/Light able to get in.

In the room at the end of the installation is one more sculpture pair, titled Always Wanting/Never Enough: a man and a woman covered in Gucci and Louis Vuitton logos and wrestling each other on an altar-like pedestal, signifying consumerism.

Jackson, Cindy_Always Wanting, Never Enough
Cindy Jackson (American, 1960–2017), Always Wanting/Never Enough, 2014. Acrylic on polyurethane.

Jackson, Cindy_Falling Jesus Swag Lamp
Cindy Jackson (American, 1960–2017), Falling Jesus Swag Lamp, 2014. Polyurethane, tulle fabric, and LED lights.

Hanging above them—the interpretive key, at least in my reading—is a Christ figure deposed from the cross, whose wounds glow with LED lights. In a clever visual riff on the Rumi quote, “the light of divine sacrifice and surrender exits him,” through his stigmata, “shining on the desperately entangled couple,” offering redemption, Fuglie writes.

Jesus, the light of the world, seeks to penetrate our false selves, our false loves, and make us more ourselves, revealing to us our true identity as children of the living God. This God is far greater and more ultimately satisfying than sex, money, chemical substances, designer brands, and any other god we might worship. And I daresay that’s precisely because he’s not a megaman but rather is vulnerable—a wounded healer.

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Another lectionary reading for Sunday is the wonderfully evocative Amos 5: “Let justice roll down like waters . . .” I feature this passage in a previous Artful Devotion and in a post on my old blog, where I discuss a batik by Solomon Raj that draws on that prophetic image.


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To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Proper 27, cycle A, click here.

The Beatitudes (Artful Devotion)

Finished Haywood Street Fresco
Christopher Holt (American, 1977–), Haywood Street Beatitudes, 2018–19. Fresco, 9 1/2 × 27 ft. Haywood Street Congregation, Asheville, North Carolina. Photo: John Warner.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

—Matthew 5:3–11

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SONG: “Beatitudes” by Bernice Johnson Reagon | Performed by Sweet Honey in the Rock, live at Carnegie Hall, November 7, 1987

Bernice Johnson Reagon (born October 4, 1942) is a song leader, composer, scholar, and social activist who in the early 1960s was a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s Freedom Singers in the Albany Movement in Georgia. In 1973 she founded the all-black female a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock, based in Washington, DC. Reagon, along with other members of the SNCC Freedom Singers, realized the power of collective singing to unify the disparate groups who began to work together in the 1964 Freedom Summer protests in the South. ‘After a song,’ Reagon recalled, ‘the differences between us were not so great. Somehow, making a song required an expression of that which was common to us all. . . . This music was like an instrument, like holding a tool in your hand.’” [source]

Reagon was the creator and host of the Peabody Award–winning NPR series Wade in the Water: African American Sacred Music Traditions, which originally aired in 1994 in twenty-six parts. (All the episodes are freely accessible online!) Under Reagon’s guidance, the production team traveled all over the country to record baptismal and congregational services, concerts, and interviews with a range of performers, composers, and community members. A four-CD set was released as a companion to the series.

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The Haywood Street Beatitudes fresco was completed last year in the sanctuary of Haywood Street Congregation in Asheville, part of whose mission is “breaking down barriers that divide the ‘haves’ from the ‘have-nots’ and reminding each person of their worth, their goodness.” The principal artist is Christopher Holt, and he worked with a team of four others. To learn more about the fresco, visit the interactive website https://visit.haywoodstreetfresco.org/, which includes many photos and sketches that document the making process in detail, information about the people pictured and an interpretive guide, and comments from participants in the project. All the quotes and photos in this section I’ve sourced from there.

The Rev. Brian Combs, who is shown emerging from behind the stone wall on the right, founded Haywood Street Congregation in 2009 to be a place of welcome for those struggling with addiction and/or homelessness. “The most painful part of holding a cardboard sign at the intersection,” he says, “is not the humiliating public declaration of helplessness or having trash thrown at you, or watching the automatic doors lock down. By far, from what I’ve heard after a decade of listening, is the refusal of so many drivers, idling just feet away at the red light, to even make eye contact.”

Commissioning this fresco—a permanent medium in which paint joins with plaster, making the image inseparable from the church architecture—is one way in which Haywood Street is “affirming sacred worth, restoring human dignity, and sabotaging the shame of poverty.” Fresco painting reached its zenith in the Italian Renaissance, but “too often . . . religious art . . . was made over in the image of those in power who were paying for it. God was rendered European and male. Jesus was more prince than peasant. Salvation meant being upper class.” The Haywood Street Beatitudes contains a more racially and socioeconomically diverse set of individuals that is reflective of the makeup of the community. Its message is that “God continues to show up in everyday life among the unhoused and the housed, the poor and poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, and the hungry.” 

The skyline, with its Appalachian Mountain vista, offers an idealized portrait of Asheville. Some historical buildings are visible in the background, such as the racially segregated Stephens-Lee High School (on the top of the hill), which opened in 1923 and became a center for culture and arts and a source of pride for the Black community; it closed in 1965 as part of the county school board’s integration plan, and in 1975 most of it was bulldozed.

Haywood Street is most known for its Downtown Welcome Table ministry: family-style meals are served—with cloth napkins and on china plates!—on Wednesdays and Sundays in the church’s dining room, where people from all backgrounds are encouraged to come and eat together and enjoy fellowship. (Due to COVID-19 restrictions, meals are currently served to-go.) “We are a ministry that acknowledges each of us has gifts and each of us has needs. While some come with hunger from the body, others come with a hunger in their souls.” The website goes on to explain that visitors can “expect roles to be reversed. If you are coming to give, you might be asked to receive, to simply sit and have lunch. . . . If you are coming to receive, you might be called upon to serve.”

Haywood Street fresco
Haywood Street fresco (detail)

“Table is the defining metaphor at Haywood Street,” signifying relationship and togetherness. In the fresco, community members prepare the table and hold it up, led by Miss Mary (center); “keep the house open and be generous with your life,” she says. Holding her hand is Dave, a US Air Force veteran who grew up in Alabama in a culture where he was told never to touch a Black person. At Haywood he has overcome the prejudice he was formerly steeped in.

Other pictured individuals include Edward, the church organist; Robert, a gardener who arranges flowers for the altar and dining room tables each week; Soleil, a little girl who loves coming to Haywood Street for the desserts and who is whispering into Robert’s ear; Wayne (bottom right), who initially came to Haywood Street through its Respite ministry, which provides a safe place for homeless adults to rest, recover, and be cared for following a hospital discharge; and so on.

Haywood Street fresco (detail)

All are underneath the blessing hands of God and the rainbow of God’s promise.

Flanking the scene are two sentinel figures, each holding a light so that those in the darkness can find their way. The one on the left is modeled after Charles, a community member who died of cancer in May 2019, a few months before the fresco was completed. He was foundational to the church, as he lived on the streets and vouched for Haywood Street to all his friends when it was just getting started. His dog, Emma, sits in front of him, next to an open pouch of his woodworking tools. The other light-bearer, on the right, is Jeanette, a single mom who “came for lunch” one day between job interviews “and found love.” She is a care minister at Haywood Street and is on the board of directors. The two hold the Communion elements: Charles, a wine flask, and Jeanette, a sheaf of wheat.

Shout-out to Alexandra Davison, director of Culture Care RDU and a docent at the North Carolina Museum of Art, whose blog post “Lent, COVID-19 & the Beatitudes on Haywood Street” introduced me to this fresco.

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I’ve addressed the Beatitudes in previous Artful Devotions, which feature

For more Beatitudes-related art, see the Visual Commentary on Scripture exhibition “Blessed,” curated by Rebekah Eklund, a professor of New Testament, theology, and ethics at Loyola University Maryland. I appreciate how she addresses descriptive versus prescriptive interpretations of the Beatitudes. She examines (1) an illumination from a French medieval moral treatise that shows seven women in a “virtue garden,” each representing a different beatitude; (2) an Ethiopian-inspired canvas painting by contemporary American artist Laura James, which places the Beatitudes in the context of chattel slavery; and (3) the central panel of the Ghent Altarpiece [previously], where seven groups of saints gather round a bleeding Lamb.

Blessed (VCS exhibition)

“All three artworks place a Christ-figure in the centre: the tallest tree in the middle of the garden tended by prayer, an African Jesus with open arms delivering the Sermon on the Mount, or the slaughtered Lamb standing triumphantly on the altar of his sacrifice and surrounded by angels. This centrality suggests Christ’s role not only as the speaker of the Beatitudes but also as their embodiment and fulfilment.”


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Loved (Artful Devotion)

Bonnard, Pierre_The Open Window
Pierre Bonnard (French, 1867–1947), The Open Window, 1921. Oil on canvas, 46 1/2 × 37 3/4 in. (118.1 × 95.9 cm). Phillips Collection, Washington, DC. Photo: Victoria Emily Jones.

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

—Psalm 90:14

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SONG: “Oh to Be Loved” by Thad Cockrell, on To Be Loved (2009)


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To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Proper 25, cycle A, click here.

Hidden in the Cleft (Artful Devotion)

Living in the side-hole
Moravian devotional image by Marianne von Watteville, 18th century. Embroidery and watercolor on cardstock, 11 × 16 cm. Unity Archives, Herrnhut, Germany.

Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” And [the LORD] said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” And the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

—Exodus 33:18–23 (emphasis added)

Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock.

—Numbers 20:10–11

Our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.

—1 Corinthians 10:1b–4

O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the crannies of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.

—Song of Solomon 2:14

But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.

—John 19:34

Exodus 33:12–23 is assigned in Sunday’s lectionary; the other Bible passages I’ve added because I want to show how an intertextual reading yielded our song of the week.

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HYMN: “I Thirst, Thou Wounded Lamb of God” (Ach! mein verwundter Fürste!) | Words by Nikolaus von Zinzendorf, Anna Nitschmann, and Johann Nitschmann, 1735; English translation by John Wesley, 1740 | Music by Bethany Brooks, 1997 | Performed by Bethany Brooks on the Cardiphonia compilation album Songs for the Lord’s Supper, 2011 (also on Quarry Street Hymnal, vol. 1, 2012)

I thirst, thou wounded Lamb of God,
to wash me in thy cleansing blood,
to dwell within thy wounds; then pain is
sweet, and life or death is gain.

Take my poor heart and let it be
forever closed to all but thee!
Seal thou my breast and let me wear
that pledge of love forever there.

How blest are they who still abide
close sheltered in thy bleeding side,
who life and strength from thence derive,
and by thee move, and in thee live.

What are our works but sin and death
’til thou thy quick’ning Spirit breathe?
Thou giv’st the power thy grace to move;
O wondrous grace! O boundless love!

Hence our hearts melt, our eyes o’erflow,
our words are lost; nor will we know,
nor will we think of ought beside
my Lord, my Love, is crucified.

Nikolaus von Zinzendorf, one of the authors of this German hymn, was the leader, patron, and protector of the Moravian Church from 1727 to 1760 and its major theologian and liturgist. Anna Nitschmann was chief eldress in the church since age fourteen, serving as spiritual mentor to female congregants, and a missionary for a time to the Native Americans of Pennsylvania and New York; she married Zinzendorf in 1757, but both of them died within a couple of years. Johann Nitschmann was Anna’s brother.

John Wesley, who translated “I Thirst” into English just a few years after it was written, was well acquainted with the Moravians. His journal, covering the years 1736–38, is full of comments and observations about them, starting with a transatlantic sea voyage he was on, during which a storm arose, and everyone panicked, except the Moravians, who sang hymns of praise and prayed with great calm. When he returned to London he attended a Moravian meeting in Aldersgate Street, where he experienced an evangelical conversion. After that he joined the Moravian society in Fetter Lane and in August 1738 traveled to the denomination’s headquarters in Herrnhut, Germany, to study. He corresponded with Zinzendorf, and the two met face to face on more than one occasion. In late 1779 he broke with the Moravians and soon after founded Methodism, greatly influenced by Moravian pietism.

Eighteenth-century Moravians were fascinated with Jesus’s wounds, especially his “little side hole” (where a Roman soldier pierced him on the cross to confirm he was dead), which they described as “warm,” “hot,” “beautiful,” “sweet,” and “today still open.” They wrote hymns about the side wound and created side-wound art—indeed, centered much of their devotional practice on it. As one hymn goes, “Dearest Side-hole! I do covet thy warm Blood above all Things. O thou art the most beloved of all other Wound-hole-Springs. Side-hole’s Blood, bedew me! Cover and go thro’ me! Take thy Course thro’ all my Veins, Heart and Reins, so that nought unbath’d remains.” “I Thirst” is comparatively mild (though granted, I couldn’t find the German original).

Historically, much Christian hymnody and art have fixated on the blood and woundedness of Jesus, but Zinzendorf and his followers took it to another level. To them such graphic imagery was not morbid but comforting and affective. Even I, who have a low tolerance for blood and gore, find myself strangely compelled by this devotional language and visuality of the womblike side wound.

“I Thirst, Thou Wounded Lamb of God” is one of many Moravian hymns that picture Jesus’s side wound as a shelter, a place of refuge where the blessed enter into and reside. “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me,” written some forty years later by the Anglican cleric Augustus Toplady, is a more widely sung hymn that employs similar imagery—so, too, the less explicit and far less poetic “He Hideth My Soul” by Fanny Crosby.

Moses’s being hidden away in the cleft of a rock so that he can glimpse a glimmer of God’s glory is partly in view, in an implied way, in “I Thirst.” The Song of Songs also refers to “the cleft of a rock”—to a dove, a beloved, nesting there; a lot of Christian commentators read the rock as Christ and the dove as his church, sheltered in his torn flesh (his body was cleft by the spear). Added to the hermeneutical mix is the Numbers passage of water from the rock: during Israel’s desert wanderings, Moses strikes a rock and water streams forth to quench the people’s thirst. (Like Jesus, the rock was beaten, giving issue to a river of life.)

All these biblical stories and images come together to create a constellation of meaning.

(Related post: “Our Sweet, Travailing Mother Christ,” on a Bible moralisée illumination of the birth of Ecclesia)

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Living in the side-hole

The mixed-media needlework reproduced here, from the Unitätsarchiv in Herrnhut, is by an eighteenth-century Swiss German woman named Marianne von Watteville. In embroidery and watercolor, she shows a rocky hillock topped with grass and flowers, into which a little cave is carved, which is Christ’s side wound. She kneels inside the wound in prayer and is showered by the blood of Christ. The inscription on the lip of the wound reads, “O, I rejoice, I rejoice so much that I have found the sea from the wound, where I am a blessed little sinner. I have everything.”

For further reading:


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Remember Me (Artful Devotion)

Picasso, Pablo_The Old Guitarist
Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973), The Old Guitarist, 1904. Oil on panel, 48 3/8 × 32 1/2 in. (122.9 × 82.6 cm). Art Institute of Chicago.

Remember me, O LORD, with the favour that thou bearest unto thy people: O visit me with thy salvation.

—Psalm 106:4 (KJV)

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SONG: “Sing Your Song Over Me / Do Lord, Remember” by Tim Coons, on Potomac (2012)

In his Potomac album, Tim Coons combines American folk songs—mostly African American spirituals, blues, and gospel—with originals in the same track. Track 4 is based on “Do Lord,” Roud 11971. I actually learned this spiritual not in church but in Girl Scouts! Notable recordings include those by Mississippi John Hurt [previously] and Johnny Cash.

More recently Tim has been working on collaborations with his wife Betony, a visual artist, under the name Giants and Pilgrims [previously].

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The Art Institute of Chicago, which owns Picasso’s The Old Guitarist, writes,

Pablo Picasso made The Old Guitarist while working in Barcelona. In the paintings of his Blue Period (1901–04), the artist restricted himself to a cold, monochromatic blue palette, flattened forms, and emotional, psychological themes of human misery and alienation related to the work of such artists as Edvard Munch and Paul Gauguin. The elongated, angular figure of the blind musician also relates to Picasso’s interest in Spanish art and, in particular, the great 16th-century artist El Greco. The image reflects the twenty-two-year-old Picasso’s personal struggle and sympathy for the plight of the downtrodden; he knew what it was like to be poor, having been nearly penniless during all of 1902.


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Determined (Artful Devotion)

Anderson, Akili Ron_Space Face
Space Face by Akili Ron Anderson (American, 1946–)

Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

—Philippians 3:13b–14

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SONG: “I’m Determined to Run This Race” by Rev. James Cleveland, 1953 | Performed by the Meditation Singers, 1962


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Turn and Live (Artful Devotion)

Warhol, Andy_Repent and Sin No More
Andy Warhol (American, 1928–1987), Repent and Sin No More!, 1985–86. Synthetic polymer and silkscreen ink on canvas, 20 × 16 in. (50.8 × 40.6 cm).

“When a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it; for the injustice that he has done he shall die. Again, when a wicked person turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he shall save his life. Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions that he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, are my ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just?

“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the LORD GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the LORD GOD; so turn, and live.”

—Ezekiel 18:26–32

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HYMN: “Sinners, Turn, Why Will You Die?” by Charles Wesley, 1742

Sinners, turn: why will you die?
God, your Maker, asks you why.
God, who did your being give,
made you himself, that you might live;
he the fatal cause demands,
asks the work of his own hands.
Why, you thankless creatures, why
will you cross his love, and die?

Sinners, turn: why will you die?
God, your Savior, asks you why.
God, who did your souls retrieve,
died himself, that you might live.
Will you let him die in vain?
Crucify your Lord again?
Why, you ransomed sinners, why
will you slight his grace and die?

Sinners, turn: why will you die?
God, the Spirit, asks you why;
he, who all your lives hath strove,
wooed you to embrace his love.
Will you not his grace receive?
Will you still refuse to live?
Why, you long-sought sinners, why
will you grieve your God, and die?

You, on whom he favors showers,
you, possessed of nobler powers,
you, of reason’s powers possessed,
you, with will and memory blest,
you, with finer sense endued,
creatures capable of God;
noblest of his creatures, why,
why will you forever die?

You, whom he ordained to be
transcripts of the Trinity,
you, whom he in life doth hold,
you for whom himself was sold,
you, on whom he still doth wait,
whom he would again create;
made by him, and purchased, why,
why will you forever die?

You, who own his record true,
you, his chosen people, you,
you, who call the Savior Lord,
you, who read his written word,
you, who see the gospel light,
claim a crown in Jesu’s right;
why will you, ye Christians, why,
will the house of Israel die?

Turn, he cries, ye sinners, turn;
by his life your God hath sworn;
he would have you turn and live,
he would all the world receive;
he hath brought to all the race
full salvation by his grace;
he hath not one soul passed by;
why will you resolve to die?

Can ye doubt, if God is love,
if to all his mercies move?
Will ye not his word receive?
Will ye not his oath believe?
See, the suffering God appears!
Jesus weeps! Believe his tears!
Mingled with his blood they cry,
why will you resolve to die?

This Wesleyan hymn of invitation has historically been paired with a number of different tunes. I quite like it with the Welsh ABERYSTWYTH by Joseph Parry, composed in 1879, but I can’t find any such recordings. Here’s the sheet music.

Sinners, Turn, Why Will You Die (hymn sheet)

I did find a solo performance by Alan Lett, from his 2006 album Heart, Soul, and Hymns, that employs a very lovely and effective tune in the minor mode. I’m not sure whether the tune is traditional or contemporary, perhaps one he wrote himself, and I can’t find any contact info for him online, as it appears that he is no longer active as a music artist. Do you recognize the music? I do know that Lett is not only singing on the track but is also at the keys, and that the vocal and piano arrangements are his own—both are impressive. He cuts the length of Wesley’s text considerably, though, singing only verse 2.

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“Over the course of a prominent and prolific career,” writes the Andy Warhol Museum, “Andy Warhol both pictured religious subjects and practiced his religious faith. Yet in twentieth-century histories of modern American art, religion is largely excluded. Warhol was perhaps doubly excluded, as a gay man, and a believing Christian, whose identity in the art world and in American society was made complicated by those identities.”

Warhol’s Repent and Sin No More! silkscreen prints are part of a series executed toward the end of his life, with source material pulled from religious ads and pamphlets.

In January I took a weekend trip to Pittsburgh to see the exhibition Andy Warhol: Revelation [previously], which examined the pop artist’s Byzantine Catholic faith in relation to his artistic output. It actually exceeded my expectations! While there, I attended a museum lecture by Jonathan A. Anderson, coauthor of Modern Art and the Life of a Culture: The Religious Impulses of Modernism [previously], that contextualized and commented on the exhibition. You can watch it in full in the video below.


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To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Proper 21, cycle A, click here.