Girded with Joy (Artful Devotion)

Klee, Paul_Joyful Mountain Landscape
Paul Klee (Swiss, 1879–1940), Heitere Gebirgslandschaft (Joyful Mountain Landscape), 1929. Oil on board, 17 5/16 × 24 13/16 in. (43.9 × 63.1 cm). Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut.

By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness,
O God of our salvation,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas;
the one who by his strength established the mountains,
being girded with might;
who stills the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
the tumult of the peoples,
so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs.
You make the going out of the morning and the evening to shout for joy.

You visit the earth and water it;
you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
you provide their grain,
for so you have prepared it.
You water its furrows abundantly,
settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
and blessing its growth.
You crown the year with your bounty;
your wagon tracks overflow with abundance.
The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
the hills gird themselves with joy,
the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy.

—Psalm 65:5–13

Psalm 65 is a such a magnificent praise song, and I especially love the expression in verse 12: “the hills gird themselves with joy” (ESV). Other translations have “the little hills rejoice on every side” (KJV), “the hillsides blossom with joy” (NLT), and “the hills [are set] to dancing” (MSG). The picture extends into the final verse, where, along with pastures, meadows, and valleys, the mountains “shout and sing” to their Creator. Last year when I saw Paul Klee’s Joyful Mountain Landscape at the Yale University Art Gallery, I instantly thought of this psalm—of how nature sings praises to God simply by being itself.

Human beings are called to join in creation’s joyful song.

[Related post: “Creation’s Praise” (Artful Devotion)]

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SONG: “I Sing the Mighty Power of God” | Words by Isaac Watts, 1715 | Music (tune: ELLACOMBE) from Gesangbuch der Herzogl, Württemberg, 1784

I sing the mighty power of God
that made the mountains rise,
that spread the flowing seas abroad
and built the lofty skies.
I sing the wisdom that ordained
the sun to rule the day;
the moon shines full at his command,
and all the stars obey.

I sing the goodness of the Lord
that filled the earth with food;
he formed the creatures with his word
and then pronounced them good.
Lord, how thy wonders are displayed,
where’er I turn my eye,
if I survey the ground I tread
or gaze upon the sky.

There’s not a plant or flower below
but makes thy glories known,
and clouds arise and tempests blow
by order from thy throne;
while all that borrows life from thee
is ever in thy care,
and everywhere that man can be,
thou, God, art present there.

For a fairly traditional rendition of this classic hymn, here’s a three-part a cappella arrangement performed by the Ball Brothers in 2012:

If you prefer a more modern sound, check out the version by Ben Thomas on the 2015 album Bring Forth. Thomas wrote a new melody for the song and recorded it under the title “I Sing the Goodness” (using the language of verse 2 instead of 1).

The whole Bring Forth album is great, which takes as its basis thirteen hymn lyrics dating from the fourth through twentieth centuries—“all seeking to find the Divine in the everyday elements of our existence,” Thomas says. Thomas adapted and retuned the hymns and released them in three movements that echo the cycle of time: Dawn, Day, and Dusk. To guide you through your listening, there is a meditation and prayer for each movement published on his website.

Other favorites of mine from the album are “Creator God, Creating Still,” “Tell Me the Old, Old Story,” “Lord of All Being,” “Peace, Troubled Soul,” and “Bring Forth.”


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 A, click here.

“Breath” by Yahia Lababidi

Komarechka, Don_Jewels of Summer

Beneath the intricate network of noise
there’s a still more persistent tapestry
woven of whispers, murmurs and chants

It’s the heaving breath of the very earth
carrying along the prayer of all things:
trees, ants, stones, creeks and mountains alike

All giving silent thanks and remembrance
each moment, as a tug on a rosary bead
while we hurry past, heedless of the mysteries

And, yet, every secret wants to be told
every shy creature to approach and trust us
if we patiently listen, with all our senses.

“Breath” by Yahia Lababidi appears in Barely There: Short Poems (Wipf and Stock, 2013) and is used by permission of the publisher. Photograph by Don Komarechka, used with permission.

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Lately I’ve been delving into the writings of the Egyptian American poet, aphorist, and essayist Yahia Lababidi. I love his Barely There collection of poems on such topics as poetry / the poet, spiritual longing, virtue and vice, hope, surrender, the quiet beauty of nature, attention and gratitude, and pain as a gift. It’s such a wise and tender collection. His latest book, released last month, is Revolutions of the Heart: Literary, Cultural, and Spiritual.

Creation’s Praise (Artful Devotion)

Nwachukwu, Tony_Untitled (Praise)
Untitled batik painting by Tony Nwachukwu (Nigerian, 1959–)

Praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD from the heavens;
praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
praise him, all his hosts!

Praise him, sun and moon,
praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens!

Let them praise the name of the LORD!
For he commanded and they were created.
And he established them forever and ever;
he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away.

Praise the LORD from the earth,
you great sea creatures and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and mist,
stormy wind fulfilling his word!

Mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars!
Beasts and all livestock,
creeping things and flying birds!

Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and maidens together,
old men and children!

Let them praise the name of the LORD,
for his name alone is exalted;
his majesty is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people,
praise for all his saints,
for the people of Israel who are near to him.
Praise the LORD!

—Psalm 148

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SONG: “All Creatures of Our God and King” | Words by William Draper, early 20th century, based on “Canticle of the Sun” by Francis of Assisi, 1225 | Music by Friedrich Spee, 1623 (Tune: Lasst uns erfreuen) | Performed by All Sons & Daughters, 2016

The above performance, by folk duo All Sons & Daughters (Leslie Jordan and David Leonard), was filmed in the small town of Assisi, Italy, where St. Francis penned his beautiful canticle of all creation, addressing the elements of nature as siblings—Sister Sun, Brother Moon, and so on. Almost seven hundred years later, British pastor William H. Draper paraphrased the poem (which was originally written in the Umbrian dialect) to create “All Creatures of Our God and King,” now a classic of Christian hymnody.

The constant noise in the background is, I believe, cicadas.

To hear a traditional performance with full orchestra and choir, click here; for a recent choral arrangement by John Stoddart, see this performance by the Oakwood University Aeolians. The hymn has also been adapted into various other styles, such as bluegrass and jazz.

All creatures of our God and King,
lift up your voice and with us sing
alleluia, alleluia!
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
thou silver moon with softer gleam,
O praise him, O praise him,
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Thou rushing wind that art so strong,
ye clouds that sail in heav’n along,
O praise him, alleluia!
Thou rising morn, in praise rejoice,
ye lights of evening, find a voice,
O praise him, O praise him,
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Thou flowing water, pure and clear,
make music for thy Lord to hear,
alleluia, alleluia!
Thou fire so masterful and bright,
that givest man both warmth and light,
O praise him, O praise him,
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

And all ye men of tender heart,
forgiving others, take your part,
O sing ye, alleluia!
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
praise God and on him cast your care,
O praise him, O praise him,
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Let all things their Creator bless,
and worship him in humbleness,
O praise him, alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
and praise the Spirit, three in one.
O praise him, O praise him,
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!


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 of Easter, cycle C, click here.

Preaching Skies (Artful Devotion)

Untitled (No. 29) by Fumihiro Kato
Fumihiro Kato (Japanese, 1958–), Untitled (No. 29). Oil on canvas, 91 × 116.7 cm.

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.

In them he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

—Psalm 19:1–6 (ESV)

God’s glory is on tour in the skies,
God-craft on exhibit across the horizon.
Madame Day holds classes every morning,
Professor Night lectures each evening.

Their words aren’t heard,
their voices aren’t recorded,
But their silence fills the earth:
unspoken truth is everywhere.

God makes a huge dome
for the sun—a superdome!
The morning sun’s a new husband
leaping from his honeymoon bed,
The daybreaking sun an athlete
racing to the tape.

That’s how God’s Word vaults across the skies
from sunrise to sunset,
Melting ice, scorching deserts,
warming hearts to faith.

—Psalm 19:1–6 (The Message)

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SONG: “The Spacious Firmament” | Words by Joseph Addison, 18th century | Music by Herbert Sumsion, 20th century | Performed by the Ecclesium Choir, 2005

The spacious firmament on high,
With all the blue ethereal sky,
And spangled heavens, a shining frame,
Their great Original proclaim.

The unwearied sun from day to day
Does his Creator’s power display,
And publishes to every land
The work of an almighty hand.

Soon as the evening shades prevail,
The moon takes up the wondrous tale,
And nightly to the listening earth
Repeats the story of her birth:

Whilst all the stars that round her burn,
And all the planets in their turn,
Confirm the tidings, as they roll,
And spread the truth from pole to pole.

What though in solemn silence all
Move round the dark terrestrial ball?
What though no real voice nor sound
Amid their radiant orbs be found?

In reason’s ear they shall rejoice,
And utter forth a glorious voice,
Forever singing as they shine,
“The hand that made us is divine.”

Sumsion’s setting of Addison’s hymn text for SATB and organ is beautiful, but it’s too complex for congregational singing. For those of you who want to introduce this hymn to your church with a more singable melody, there are two precedents: you could use either LONDON by John Sheeles, composed around 1720 (listen here), or CREATION, taken from the chorus “The Heavens Are Telling” in Haydn’s 1798 oratorio The Creation (adapted, e.g., in The Hymnal 1982 #409).


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 19, cycle B, click here.