Jina la Bwana ni takatifu! (Artful Devotion)

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”

—Luke 1:39–55

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SONG: “Jina la Bwana: An African Magnificat” by Steven C. Warner, 1995 | Performed by the University of Notre Dame Folk Choir, on Prophets of Joy (1996)

The Swahili refrain, “Jina la Bwana ni takatifu,” translates as “The name of the Lord is holy.”

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Windsock Visitation by Mickey McGrath
Mickey McGrath, OSFS (American), Windsock Visitation, 1995. Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis.

Artist’s statement:

This image of the Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth was commissioned for the Monastery of the Visitation in north Minneapolis, a group of monastic sisters very near and dear to my heart. In what has become a well-known neighborhood tradition, the sisters hang a windsock outside their house every other day of the week as a signal to the neighborhood children that they can come in and enjoy after-school activities. They read and paint. They pray and have fun. The sisters celebrate birthdays with the kids and walk through hard times with them as well. The spirit of the first Visitation, where Jesus was so lovingly shared between two kinswomen, is very much alive today and is the inspiration for this painting.

Mary, dressed in gold because she is the woman clothed with the sun, also wears a cape with green stars and blue crosses, which symbolize Bethlehem and Calvary. She is a little fearful of the news she has recently received herself, that she was pregnant with God’s child. But Luke tells us that she put her fears aside to be with her cousin Elizabeth and help her in her own miraculous pregnancy. Elizabeth’s bright and welcoming smile assures Mary, and us, that in God’s plans, everything always works out for the best. The tops of their halos form a heart which meets at the bottom in the wombs of the two women. The fluttering windsock behind them reminds us of the wind of the Holy Spirit, ever fresh, ever new.


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

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for the Third Sunday of Advent, cycle B, click here.

Prepare the Way (Artful Devotion)

Serima Mission Church door (detail)
Teak wood relief door panel carved by Cornelius Manguma, 1958, showing John the Baptist preaching repentance (upper register) and baptizing Christ (lower register). St. Mary’s Church, Serima Mission, Zimbabwe. [full door]

A voice cries:

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

—Isaiah 40:3–5

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
“‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

—Mark 1:1–8

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SONG: “Prepare the Way, O Zion” | Text by Frans Mikael Franzen, 1812; trans. Augustus Nelson, 1958; adapt. Charles P. Price, 1980 | Music: Then Swenska Psalmboken, 1697 | Arranged and performed by Chicago Metro Presbytery Music, on Proclaim the Bridegroom Near, 2011

 

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In A Tourist in Africa (1960), the British writer Evelyn Waugh describes St. Mary’s Church in Serima, Zimbabwe, as the “African Chartres.” Designed by the Swiss Catholic missionary Fr. John Groeber, it was built in 1956–66 and filled with hundreds of carvings, murals, and ecclesiastical artworks by the Shona people. To see more photos of the church and to learn more about it, visit ZimFieldGuide.com or, if you can get your hands on a copy, check out the bilingual (English-German) book Serima: Towards an African Expression of Christian Belief (Gwelo, Rhodesia: Mambo Press, 1974), edited by Albert B. Plangger and Marcel Diethelm.

Another great resource for learning about the Serima Mission, and African Christian art in general, is Christliche Kunst in Afrika by Josef Franz Thiel and Heinz Helf (Berlin: Dietrich Reimer Verlag, 1984), from whence I scanned the above photo. The text is all German, but there are hundreds of magnificent art images from all over the African continent that make this volume one of my favorites from my personal library.


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

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for the Second Sunday of Advent, cycle B, click here.

Come Down, Shine Forth (Artful Devotion)

Sunday will mark the start of Advent and a new liturgical year (cycle B in the Revised Common Lectionary). In this season we dwell on the “three comings” of Christ—into human history, into our hearts, and at the eschaton. We cry out with Asaph the psalmist, “Shine forth!”

Nuit de Noel by Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse (French, 1869–1954), Maquette for Nuit de Noël, 1952. Gouache on paper, cut and pasted, mounted on board, 271.8 × 135.9 cm (107 × 53.5 in.). Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock.
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth.
Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh,
stir up your might,
and come to save us!

Restore us, O God;
let your face shine, that we may be saved!

—Psalm 80:1–3

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SONG: “Holy Love Come Down” by David Isaac Rivers, from Psalms (2016)

 


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

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for the First Sunday of Advent, cycle B, click here.

Every Right to Receive My Praise (Artful Devotion)

Christus Rex by Peter Eugene Ball
Peter Eugene Ball (British, 1943–), Christus Rex, 1999. Wood sculpture covered in copper and embellished with silver and gold leaf. Ely Cathedral, Cambridgeshire, England.

The final Sunday in the 2016–17 lectionary year, November 26 is designated in the Western church as the feast of Christ the King, known formally as the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. One of the scripture readings for the conclusion of cycle A is as follows:

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

—Ephesians 1:17–23

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SONG: “Every Right” | Words and music by Josh Davis, Dawn Anthony, and Billy Anthony | Performed by Josh, Dawn, and others from Proskuneo Ministries, on With One Heart (2009)

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If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all people, purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to his dominion; if this power embraces all people, it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone. He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls, or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as instruments of justice unto God.

Encyclical of Pope Pius XI on the Feast of Christ the King (1925)


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

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Proper 29, cycle A, click here.

Awake and Sober (Artful Devotion)

Nepsis by John R. P. Russell
John R. P. Russell (American, 1980–), Nepsis, 2006. Acrylic on wooden door, 80 × 24 in.

The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night.

But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.

—1 Thessalonians 5:2b–10

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MUSIC: “Riding Light” | Composed and performed by Joshua Roman

The cello composition “Riding Light” was commissioned in 2013 by Grace Cathedral in San Francisco to complement an installation by artist-in-residence Anne Patterson. This video captures a performance from May 2017, filmed in the Crypt chapel beneath the Church of the Intercession in Manhattan. The venue is home to the “Crypt Sessions” concert series organized by Unison Media, a company that seeks new ways to present and promote classical music.

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John R. P. Russell, a Byzantine Catholic priest and artist, on his painting Nepsis:

Nepsis means “watchfulness” and it is a spiritually aware state of being ever vigilant against temptation and attacks of the enemy. It is both a means to the end of theosis and a trait of those who have become one with God. This posture of the figure in this painting is taken from paintings of monks in the church of St. Mercurius in Old Cairo, Egypt. I think of the halo, which has obliterated even the face of the figure, as representing the divinity with which the person is united and the lower part of the figure’s body as representing the passions against which the person is struggling.


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your e-mail 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.

Let Justice Roll Down (Artful Devotion)

Misty Kirifuri Waterfall at Kurokami Mountain by Katsushika Hokusai
Katsushika Hokusai (Japanese, 1760–1849), Misty Kirifuri Waterfall at Kurokami Mountain, ca. 1833. Woodblock print on dyed paper, 37.6 × 27 cm. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.

God condemns the two-facedness of his people, who offer praise to him in song and sacrifice but fail to uphold his laws of social justice:

I hate, I despise your feasts,
 and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
 I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
 I will not look upon them.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
 to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
But let justice roll down like waters,
 and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

—Amos 5:21–24

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SONG: “Instead of a Show” by Jon Foreman, from Summer (2008)

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I have not said to my people: “Get rid of your discontent.” Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist.

But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . .”

So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime—the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

—Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail


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

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

Send Out Your Light (Artful Devotion)

Lighthouse in Westkapelle by Piet Mondrian
Piet Mondrian (Dutch, 1872–1944), Lighthouse in Westkapelle [in Orange], 1909. Oil on canvas, 39 × 29 cm. Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Milan.

O send out your light and your truth;
let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy hill
and to your dwelling.

—Psalm 43:3

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SONG: “Let Your Light Shine on Me” | Traditional, performed by Blind Willie Johnson, 1929

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About the painting: Before he became a world-famous pioneer of geometric abstraction, Piet Mondrian (1872–1944) spent his early artistic career painting pastoral images of his native Netherlands in an impressionist style—churches, windmills, fields, rivers, sand dunes, and lighthouses. He made several paintings, using different color palettes, of the “tall lighthouse” of Westkapelle, which stands at the entrance to the village. The structure is actually a fifteenth-century Gothic church tower that was converted into a lighthouse in 1818 after the church burned down. It is still active, serving along with the “short lighthouse” to lead vessels coming in from the northern part of the North Sea. The loose pointillist technique Mondrian uses here enables him to fuse the lighthouse with the surrounding sky, producing a sense of vibration and ethereality.

About the singer: Blind Willie Johnson (1897–1945) was a gospel blues singer, slide guitarist, and evangelist from Texas about whom little is known. Besides the one-time payments he received from Columbia for his studio recordings of 1927–30, most of his income was earned by performing and preaching on the streets; appreciative passersby would drop coins into the tin cup tied to his Stella. Johnson is known for his unique style of singing: in a gravelly “false bass,” or growl, which he drops into in verse 2 of “Let Your Light Shine on Me.” His is the earliest known recording of this traditional gospel song.


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

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Proper 26, cycle A, click here.

Around the Throne (Artful Devotion)

Predella of the San Domenico Altarpiece (Fiesole)
Predella of the San Domenico Altarpiece at Fiesole, ca. 1424, probably by Fra Angelico (Italian, ca. 1395–1455). Tempera and gold leaf on panels, 32 × 244 cm. National Gallery, London.

This week the Revised Common Lectionary assigns an additional set of readings, on top of Sunday’s, for the special celebration of All Saints’ Day (Hallowmas) on November 1. Among them is John’s vision of a multitude of angels and faithful departed surrounding the enthroned Christ in heaven, sounding forth his praise.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

—Revelation 7:9–12

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O quam gloriosum est regnum (“O how glorious is the kingdom”) — A cappella motet for four voices composed by Tomás Luis de Victoria, 1572 | Performed by the University of Utah Chamber Choir

O quam gloriosum est regnum
in quo cum Christo gaudent omnes sancti!
Amicti stolis albis,
sequuntur Agnum quocumque ierit.

O how glorious is the kingdom
in which all the saints rejoice with Christ!
Clad in robes of white,
they follow the Lamb wherever he goes.

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Explore the individual panels from Fra Angelico’s “court of heaven” predella in greater detail on the National Gallery of London’s website, and rejoice this All Saints’ Day in the Christian witness of those who have gone before us!

The Virgin Mary with the Apostles and Other Saints
Probably Fra Angelico (Italian, ca. 1395–1455), The Virgin Mary with the Apostles and Other Saints, ca. 1424. Tempera and gold leaf on panel, 32 × 64 cm. From the San Domenico Altarpiece predella, National Gallery, London.
Christ Glorified in the Court of Heaven
Probably Fra Angelico (Italian, ca. 1395–1455), Christ Glorified in the Court of Heaven, ca. 1424. Tempera and gold leaf on panel, 31.7 × 73 cm. From the San Domenico Altarpiece predella, National Gallery, London.
Saints and Martyrs (Fra Angelico)
Probably Fra Angelico (Italian, ca. 1395–1455), The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs, ca. 1424. Tempera and gold leaf on panel, 31.9 × 63.5 cm. From the San Domenico Altarpiece predella, National Gallery, London.

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

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for All Saints’ Day, cycle A, click here.

More Love (Artful Devotion)

Mary Magdalene at Foot of Cross
Right: Mary Magdalen at the Foot of the Cross, Netherlands, ca. 1420–30. Alabaster, 8 7/16 × 3 11/16 × 4 1/16 in. (21.5 × 9.3 × 10.3 cm). Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Photo: Victoria Emily Jones. This fragment served as the base of a now-lost crucifix.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment.” (Matthew 22:37–38)

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SONG: “More Love to Thee” — Text by Elizabeth Prentiss, 1869 | Music by William H. Doane, 1868 | Arranged and performed by One Eighty (Amy J. Kim, Joon Park)

(Listen in Korean.)

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“O Lord, from now on let me love You as intensely as I have loved sin.”

—John Chrysostom

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“To Thee alone my spirit cries;
In Thee my whole ambition lies,
And still Thy Wealth is far above
The poverty of my small love.”

—Dhul-Nun al-Misri, 9th-century Egyptian Sufi mystic (trans. A. J. Arberry)


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

To view all the RCL scripture readings for Proper 25, cycle A, click here.

Sing! (Artful Devotion)

Brown, Larry Poncho_Every Round Goes Higher
Larry Poncho Brown (American, 1962–), Every Round Goes Higher, 2009. Acrylic on canvas. Commissioned by the Douglass Memorial Community Church Inspirational Choir, Baltimore, Maryland.

Oh sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth!

—Psalm 96:1


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

To view all the RCL scripture readings for Proper 24, cycle A, click here.