Advent, Day 2: Come Light

LOOK: Distant Hope by Bruno Walpoth

Walpoth, Bruno_Distant Hope
Bruno Walpoth (Italian, 1959–), Lontane speranza (Distant Hope), 2015. Nut wood, 80 × 41 × 32 cm.

LISTEN: “Come Light” by Gregory Thompson, on Lamentations by Bifrost Arts (2016)

Kindle the flint, the tinder
Liven the hearth, the stone
Shelter the dying lantern light
Gladden the shadowed home
Into this wilderness of shadows
Come, Light original

Answer our famine yearning
Nourish our blighted fields
Raise all our fallen storehouses
Leaven the bitter yield
Into this emptiness, this hunger
Come, Bread all-bountiful

Out of the blowing starlessness
Over the frozen sea
Into our barren midnight
Up from the fruitless trees
O come

Loosen the cloaks of journeymen
Mend all the broken roads
Wake us from fitful forest sleep
Lighten the lonely load
Into this pilgrimage, this journey
Come, Home perpetual

Dr. Gregory Thompson is a minister, civil rights scholar, author, and producer whose work focuses on race and equity in the United States. He was the senior pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, when the music collectives Bifrost Arts and later the Porter’s Gate were founded by Trinity worship arts director Isaac Wardell, and his leadership was deeply influential in that work. His contributions to those two music projects extend even to the writing or cowriting of some of the songs that made it onto the albums: “The Zacchaeus Song” (Justice Songs), “O Jerusalem” (Lament Songs), and of course “Come Light” (Lamentations). The latter two he sings on the recordings.

“Come Light” is poetry as prayer. Come, Light of Light, into our shadowy wilderness. Come, all-bountiful Bread; feed our hunger. Come lighten our loads and make straight our paths as we journey Home into your very heart. Such beautiful words, full of yearning, enhanced by the plaintive tune that carries them.

“Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me”: Three tunes and multiple stylings

Jesus, Savior, pilot me,
Over life’s tempestuous sea;
Unknown waves before me roll,
Hiding rock and treach’rous shoal;
Chart and compass come from Thee:
Jesus, Savior, pilot me!

As a mother stills her child,
Thou canst hush the ocean wild;
Boist’rous waves obey Thy will
When Thou say’st to them, “Be still!”
Wondrous Sov’reign of the sea,
Jesus, Savior, pilot me!

When at last I near the shore,
And the fearful breakers roar
’Twixt me and the peaceful rest,
Then, while leaning on Thy breast,
May I hear Thee say to me,
“Fear not, I will pilot thee!”

The hymn text “Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me” was written in 1871 by Edward Hopper (1818–1888), pastor of the Church of Sea and Land in New York Harbor. Hopper ministered to sailors coming and going, many of whom became lost at sea; his was thus a transient congregation, and one well acquainted with grief and uncertainty.

This is the only hymn of Hopper’s to have survived. It uses nautical imagery to speak of how Christ guides us through life’s stormy waters, all the way safe to the other shore, heaven. It is a petitionary hymn that beseeches Jesus to be present and active, but it is also a hymn of consolation.

Though it has been published in a number of hymnals, I first encountered “Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me” through the Bifrost Arts retune released on the collective’s first album in 2008. In fact, several artists have composed new melodies for the hymn or revamped it since it was first set to music by John E. Gould a few months after the publication of Hopper’s text, and it continues to live on even in nonmaritime contexts.

I’m really interested in how hymns evolve. How one text can inspire a variety of musical settings and arrangements—and how they move around the globe into different languages and cultural contexts! The original tune of “Jesus, Savior” doesn’t particularly resonate with me, but the creative arrangements of it, and some of the modern retunes, do.  

1. Music by John E. Gould, 1871

I found a straightforward choral rendition of Gould that was performed in 2012 by a choir from Salt Lake University, but it’s very bland.

So for an introduction to the hymn’s original tune, as reproduced in hymnals, I actually recommend this video by Siviwe Mhlomi and friends, who sing the hymn a cappella in four-part harmony in the Bantu language of Xhosa:

The Xhosa title is “Yesu Nkosi Ndiqhube,” and it’s widely popular in South Africa.

Xhosa uses the Roman alphabet, but the letters c, x, and q are pronounced with clicks that linguists call dental, lateral, and alveolar, respectively—so that’s why you hear some clicking speech sounds in the song.

>> Gospel

Mahalia Jackson recorded a slower, gospelized rendition with lush orchestral accompaniment in 1960:

The original tune is more difficult to recognize in the heavily stylized arrangement by the Roberta Martin Singers from 1968, which features Delois Barrett-Campbell on lead—but Gould was still used as the basis:

>> Country/Bluegrass

The hymn has been performed in a bluegrass idiom since at least the fifties. I don’t know who first arranged it in this style, but Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs recorded it with their band the Foggy Mountain Boys in 1951 (see them perform the song at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville in 1961 in the video below). In addition to using bluegrass instrumentation, their arrangement changes the traditional 3/4 meter (with dotted eighth notes) to 4/4 and adds more space between phrases. The Stanley Brothers recording from Hymns of the Cross (1964) follows this arrangement pretty closely—and Ralph Stanley later revisited the song with the Clinch Mountain Boys in 1977.

I first encountered the bluegrass version through the album A Hymn Revival, volume 1 by the sacred music collective The Lower Lights. They perform the song live in the following video, with Sarah Sample and Ryan Tanner on vocals (their singing style is more “indie folk” than bluegrass):

Other artists have sung “Jesus, Savior” with the 4/4 time signature popularized by Flatt & Scruggs, including Rumbi Lee, self-accompanied on ukulele:

(Lee puts out lots of hymn-sing videos on her YouTube channel.)

2. Music by Robbie Seay, 2004

Here’s CCM artist Robbie Seay in 2020 performing his retuned version of the hymn, which churches can license through CCLI:

It does a good job drawing out the emotion of the lyrics, especially the aspect of mournful yearning.

For an album recording, see Aaron Hale’s Lenten Hymns, volume 1 (2011)—or watch Hale lead the song from his living room for a virtual worship service in 2020.

3. Music by Isaac Wardell and Joseph Pensak, 2008

Like I said, although I grew up in church, I never heard of “Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me” until Bifrost Arts released it with a fresh tune in 2008. It was written by the cofounders of the collective, Isaac Wardell (a worship leader who now heads up The Porter’s Gate) and Joseph Pensak (a pastor from Vermont who ran a community art gallery for eight years and whose latest musical album, from 2019, is Hallowell). Laura Gibson is the vocalist on the recording, and Matthew Kay created this charming little stop-motion animation video for it:

Since its premiere, this tune has also been recorded by Pacific Gold (formerly Wayfarer) (2012) and Door of Hope (2012), among others.

Lent, Day 33

But he was wounded for our transgressions,
    crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
    and by his bruises we are healed.

—Isaiah 53:5

LOOK: Cuts by Johannes Phokela

Phokela, Johannes_Cuts
Johannes Phokela (South African, 1966–), Cuts, 1990. Acrylic and string on canvas, 83 1/16 × 83 1/16 in. (211 × 211 cm). Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington, DC.

For this gruesome artwork, Johannes Phokela slashed a canvas in many spots with a razor, then stitched up the gashes with heavy string. He then painted over the gashes from the back with crimson paint until it bled through, forming a deep red along the seams and a flesh-pink further out, evocative of scar tissue. Then, as if to memorialize the wounds, he painted twenty gold frames over them in rows of five across and four down.

Phokela often uses painted frames or grids as a compositional device in his work. “The grid gives another dimension to the work; it is a device to challenge the viewer’s perception of the image and form beneath,” he said in a 2002 interview with Bruce Haines. “It is intended to have an effect like an ornamental frame surrounding a mirror, or a glass pane mounting a picture. . . . You have to regard it as part of the work, just like the traditional frame of a painting. . . . It gives the work a sort of focal point that can stimulate the viewer’s reaction.”

I was simultaneously drawn to and repulsed by this painting when I saw it exhibited as part of Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue at the Smithsonian in 2014. It is large—almost seven square feet. From a distance the image looks rather rose-like, a concentric arrangement of short red lines slightly curled like petals. It wasn’t until I got closer that I saw it portrays the vulnerability of human flesh, savagely torn.

When I’m at an art museum I like to look at each artwork before reading its label so that I can register my initial impressions and begin to form an interpretation before I receive the curator’s. (I hope you do the same when you encounter artworks on this website!) When I saw this one, I thought of how Christ was wounded for our transgressions, but those wounds became his glory—and ours. In art history Jesus is sometimes shown with light emanating from the holes in his hands, especially in images where he is exalted in heaven. For me, the gold in Cuts suggests a redemptive framework—like it’s asking us to view the horrors of the cross through the lens of glory. In addition, the gold frames within the picture plane seem to emphasize that these wounds are something worthy of being looked at, even meditated upon, as frames show us what’s important, directing our gaze.

Well, here’s what the label said:

On a trip home to South Africa in 1989, Phokela was distressed to see the state of violence that existed as a result of political rivalry and unrest. Disturbed by the bandaged and scarred faces and bodies of his fellow citizens and by the fact that everyone seemed to accept the situation as normal, the artist created a canvas of cuts overlaid with gold frames to distance himself from the violence.

So, Phokela, a Black South African who was born and raised in Soweto but had been living in London since 1987, painted this as a response to the violence of apartheid in his home country. Whomever wrote this text sees the frames as putting us at further remove from the cuts that are represented, as they form an intervening layer between us and them. A legitimate reading, though I haven’t found any statements from Phokela that express this intent. What I did find from him regarding his use of frames in general, I quoted above.

Having learned the particular context out of which this painting arose, I then considered what Jesus’s crucifixion has to say to human suffering today. What relevance has a Galilean man’s torture and execution two thousand years ago to present-day men and women who are beaten and abused?—in this case, because of their race.

Jesus’s death exposed and put to shame the powers of evil, those which assault God and God’s image-bearers. Surely there was much more going on with his death than just that (whole volumes, whole series of volumes, have been written to articulate a theology of the cross). But bringing to light the crimes of humanity—and at the same time, God’s supreme love—is one aspect. Opening up pathways of transformation, healing, reconciliation, and liberation is another.

LISTEN: “By His Wounds” by Bifrost Arts, feat. DM Stith, on He Will Not Cry Out, 2013 | Words by Isaac Wardell, 2011 | Music by Philip Hayes, 1786

By his wounds, his wounds, will we be healed
And for our transgressions, his passion has made us well
Let us come again and feed on him, our Lord Emmanuel

This melody was originally written in the eighteenth century by English composer, organist, singer, and conductor Philip Hayes (1738–1797), who published it in The Muses’ Delight: Catches, Glees, Canzonets, and Canons as a round setting of Psalm 137:1–2 (“By the waters of Babylon . . .”). The song became widely popular after Don McLean recorded it on his 1971 album American Pie and even more so in 2007, when it was used in a memorable montage in the TV series Mad Men.

Isaac Wardell, cofounder of the Bifrost Arts music collective and now director of The Porter’s Gate, put different words to Hayes’s melody in 2011, retaining the canon form. The first two lines reference the well-known Suffering Servant passage from Isaiah 53, and the last is an invitation to come to the Lord’s table—to take in unto ourselves the body and blood of Christ.

The Kiss of Justice and Peace (Artful Devotion)

La Hyre, Laurent de_The Kiss of Peace and Justice
Laurent de La Hyre (French, 1606–1656), The Kiss of Peace and Justice, 1654. Oil on canvas, 21 5/8 × 30 in. (54.9 × 76.2 cm). Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio, USA.

Lord, thou hast been favourable unto thy land: thou hast brought back the captivity of Jacob.

Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people, thou hast covered all their sin. Selah.

Thou hast taken away all thy wrath: thou hast turned thyself from the fierceness of thine anger.

Turn us, O God of our salvation, and cause thine anger toward us to cease.

Wilt thou be angry with us for ever? wilt thou draw out thine anger to all generations?

Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee?

Shew us thy mercy, O LORD, and grant us thy salvation.

I will hear what God the LORD will speak: for he will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints: but let them not turn again to folly.

Surely his salvation is nigh them that fear him; that glory may dwell in our land.

Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven.

Yea, the LORD shall give that which is good; and our land shall yield her increase.

Righteousness shall go before him; and shall set us in the way of his steps.

—Psalm 85 KJV

This psalm is a community lament, probably written during the period of Israel’s return from the Babylonian exile—to a ruined city, a fallen temple, and a mourning land. The people seek forgiveness for their covenant unfaithfulness and restoration, appealing to the benevolence God has shown them in the past. The closing section expresses confidence that salvation will come.

Verse 10 personifies four of God’s virtues: mercy (lovingkindness; Heb. hesed, Lat. misericordia), truth (Heb. emeth, Lat. veritas), justice (righteousness; Heb. tsedeq; Lat. iustitia), and peace (Heb. shalom, Lat. pax). Mercy and Truth meet together, and Justice and Peace embrace with a kiss. In medieval Christian writings these virtues came to be allegorized as the “four daughters of God,” a motif developed most famously by Hugh of St. Victor and Bernard of Clairvaux.

Many churches sing Psalm 85 at Advent or Christmastime, the birth of Jesus being a time when God’s salvation came near and “glory . . . dwell[ed] in our land.” All the virtues of God kissed each other in Christ, bringing heaven to earth. Others read the psalm as prophesying Jesus’s atoning death.

I love how Eugene Peterson translates this psalm in The Message, which suggests that these virtues of God are ones that humanity should emulate, and indeed what the gospel calls us to:

Our country is home base for Glory!
Love and Truth meet in the street,
Right Living and Whole Living embrace and kiss!
Truth sprouts green from the ground,
Right Living pours down from the skies!
Oh yes! GOD gives Goodness and Beauty;
our land responds with Bounty and Blessing.
Right Living strides out before him,
and clears a path for his passage. (vv. 9b–13)

Jesus lived rightly and bound up the brokenness he encountered, bringing wholeness. His ministry announced, verbally and in tangible ways, a kingdom to come, and we are to pave the way for that kingdom by embodying its values.

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SONG: “O God, Will You Restore Us” by Isaac Wardell | Performed by Bifrost Arts, feat. Yolonda Coles Jones, on Lamentations, 2016

O God, will you restore us,
And grant us your salvation? (×2)

I will hear what God proclaims.
The Lord our God proclaims peace.
Kindness and truth shall meet,
Justice and peace shall kiss.

O God, will you restore us,
And grant us your salvation?

“Here is the fast that I choose:
To loosen the bonds of the oppressed and break their chains.
Let righteousness and justice go out before you,
Then you will call out and I will hear.”

O God, will you restore us,
And grant us your salvation?

Near indeed is his salvation to those who call on him.
He will incline his ear and hear their prayers.
Truth shall spring out of the earth,
and justice will rain down from heaven.

O God, will you restore us,
And grant us your salvation?

The Lord will guide you on a righteous path,
His vindication will shine down forth as the dawn.
Your people will be called repairers of broken walls,
Making straight the path to proclaim his reign!

O God, will you restore us,
And grant us your salvation?

O God, will you restore us?
Please grant us your salvation.

Isaac Wardell’s “O God, Will You Restore Us” cleverly integrates Psalm 85 with Isaiah 58, which both center on themes of restoration, blessing, and social responsibility, even using similar word pictures. The refrain is based on the plea of Psalm 85:6–7, the heart of the psalm.

Opening with that plea, Wardell’s first verse then moves into Psalm 85:8, 10: God proclaims shalom. Verse two articulates what that looks like: the bonds of wickedness loosed, the oppressed set free. This verse is derived from God’s words in Isaiah 58:6, 8–9, in which he expresses the work he wants his people do be about—namely, justice. Only when his people practice true piety—emancipating captives, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless—will he answer their prayers.

The third verse is drawn from Psalm 85:9, 11, an image of abundance and refreshment. And finally, verse four sandwiches Isaiah 58:8, 12 between Psalm 85:13, which itself has resonance with Isaiah 40:3 (“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God”).

Unmetered and in a minor key, the song has the feel of a Gregorian chant.

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“The Allegory of Justice and Peace,” or “Justice and Peace Kissing,” was a popular subject in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the art of the Italian and Flemish Baroque and the French Neoclassical, including works by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Corrado Giaquinto, Pompeo Batoni, Artemesia Gentileschi, Theodoor van Thulden, Maerten de Vos, Jacob de Backer—and the artist featured above, Laurent de La Hyre. Although the image comes from the Hebrew Bible, where it is rooted in God’s dealings with his people, artists often used it for secular purposes, to express political peace. Some such paintings were gifted to rulers as a form of flattery.

The iconography that developed draws on classical symbolism and mythology, with both virtues being personified as women. Justice’s attributes include a crown, a sword, scales, and a fasces; Peace’s, an olive branch, an inverted torch (which burns weapons and armor), ears of wheat and/or a cornucopia (because peace leads to plenty), and a caduceus (one myth suggests that Mercury saw two serpents entwined in mortal combat and separated them with his wand, bringing about peace between them).

The Hebrew word for “kiss” in Psalm 85 refers seldom to an erotic kiss, says Sigrid Eder, but rather to a form of greeting or goodbye exchanged by near relatives or to the final phase of a peacemaking ritual. In medieval Europe, where the visual motif of Justice and Peace Kissing was first introduced, kissing was even more widespread than in the ancient Jewish world; it was common for people of equal rank, both male and female, to exchange lip-to-lip kisses. (See a compilation of medieval “kiss paintings,” showing a variety of contexts, here.) But the Baroque taste for undraped figures means that quite a few artistic renditions of Justice and Peace can be read as sexualized, as when one of the women has a bared breast, for example.

In Laurent de La Hyre’s The Kiss of Peace and Justice, the action is set within a larger landscape. An olive-wreathed Peace embraces a blue-beribboned Justice beside a fountain inscribed with Iusticia et Pax // osculatae sunt, from the Latin Vulgate. The women are surrounded by ruins—upturned roadstones, crumbled walls and detached columns, a cracked garden urn. But this is an image of hope. A lion-faced spigot emits fresh, flowing water, which sheep flock to for refreshment, and trees part to reveal a vista. After the upheaval, healing and repair are underway. Justice and Peace have harmonized.

The Cleveland Museum of Art, which owns the painting, notes that its date coincides with the end of the Fronde, a period of civil war in France during which the parlement (law courts) and the nobility sought—unsuccessfully—to limit the power of the monarchy. So it’s likely the painting is an allusion to the climate of general reconciliation between parties.


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 14, cycle A, click here.

Given (Artful Devotion)

Bailey, Greg_The Sacrifice of Isaac
Greg Bailey (Jamaican, 1986–), The Sacrifice of Isaac, 2017. Oil on canvas, 90 × 57 in.

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.

When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”

—Genesis 22:1–14

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SONG: “He Is Given” by Isaac Wardell, 2010 | Sung by DM Stith and Chelsey Scott on He Will Not Cry Out: Anthology of Hymns and Spiritual Songs, vol. 2 by Bifrost Arts, 2013

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Sunday’s lectionary reading from Genesis is a difficult one—about Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son Isaac. Christians have traditionally understood it as a prefiguration of the sacrifice of Jesus, the beloved and faithful Son who, like Isaac, carried the wood for his own sacrifice to the top of a mountain and laid down on it to die. He is also the lamb who takes our place, saving us from the flames of death.

Jamaican artist Greg Bailey casts two young black men as Abraham and Isaac. Isaac lies down on a floral-printed sheet, his open palms facing upward in surrender, as Abraham, whose face is hidden from our view, raises his machete. Scattered around them are Polaroids that allude to other elements of the story: the “angel of the Lord” who stops the killing, the ram that’s sacrificed instead, and, anticipating the New Testament fulfillment, crosses. Two of the Polaroids are of Baroque paintings of the sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio and Titian.

This painting was exhibited at St. Stephen Walbrook in London in July 2017 as part of the Jamaican Spiritual exhibition.


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 8, cycle A, click here.

Rise Up (Artful Devotion)

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

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

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

—Psalm 82:1–4, 8

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

Further reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Worn Out by Iyad Sabbah

Worn Out by Iyad Sabbah

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

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


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

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Proper 10, cycle C, click here.

Sowing Tears, Reaping Joy (Artful Devotion)

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

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

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

—Psalm 126

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

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

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


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

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

Not Overcome (Artful Devotion)

And the Darkness Has Not Overcome Us by Shin Maeng
Shin Maeng (@shinhappens), And the Darkness Has Not Overcome Us, 2017. Acrylic. Watch Shin’s story here.

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

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SONG: “We Are Not Overcome” by Isaac Wardell and Robert Heiskell of Bifrost Arts, on He Will Not Cry Out (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 Proper 17, cycle A, click here.

Roundup: Free Bifrost Arts songs, civil religion hymn revised, Bono and Eugene Peterson talk Psalms, Crystal Cathedral transformation, mercy-themed movies

Entire Bifrost Arts catalog available for free download: For a limited time, the Christian music collective Bifrost Arts is offering all forty-eight of their songs for free download from NoiseTrade. Donations are welcome—100 percent of them will go to the Salt and Light Artist fund, which funds residencies for Christian artists in Arab countries, providing a platform for interaction with the local arts community.

Alternative song lyrics for “America, the Beautiful”: In 1993 Sister Miriam Therese Winter adapted the lyrics to “America, the Beautiful” to make the song more appropriate for a Christian worship service (i.e., less nationalistic). Her adaptation is #594 in the United Church of Christ’s New Century Hymnal.

Interview with Bono and Eugene Peterson on the Psalms: This short film, released in April, documents the friendship between Bono (of the band U2) and Eugene Peterson (author of contemporary-language Bible translation The Message) revolving around their common interest in the Psalms. Inspired by their conversation, interviewer David Taylor compiled a list of resources for exploring the Psalms.

Transforming a Protestant worship space into a Catholic one: The largest glass building in the world, the Crystal Cathedral in Orange County, California, has been undergoing renovations since having been sold in 2013 by the Reformed Church in America to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange. “Our charge is to convert an open, all-glass Evangelical church into a great Catholic cathedral to serve its centuries-old sacraments and ritual processions, and to reinforce the centrality of the Eucharist,” write architects Scott Johnson and Frank Clementi. This article published in Faith and Form describes some of the symbolic, aesthetic, environmental, and technical challenges of this project and includes renderings of the new space, which is scheduled to reopen next year.

Crystal Cathedral renovations

Top 25 films on mercy: I’ve been enjoying these top 25 film lists put together by the Arts & Faith online community—especially how they reach beyond the obvious choices, dipping into the silent era as well as non-American cinema. Here’s their latest, a list of films that “show us visions of a world so often lacking in mercy, as well as worlds in which one merciful act alters the landscape of human experience forever.” Click here to view their other lists: road films, horror films, divine comedies, films on marriage, and films on memory.