Lent, Day 13

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.”

—Matthew 6:25–33

LOOK: The Kingdom of the Father by Damien Hirst

Hirst, Damien_The Kingdom of the Father
Damien Hirst (British, 1965–), The Kingdom of the Father, 2007. Butterflies and household gloss on three canvas panels, 115 7/8 × 190 in. (294.3 × 482.6 cm). Photo: Randy Boverman.

Hirst, Damien_The Kingdom of the Father (detail)
Detail. Photo: Yvette Wohn.

LISTEN: “Seek Ye First” by Emorja Roberson, on The Evening Musicale (2019), feat. the University of Notre Dame’s Voices of Faith Gospel Choir and friends

Seek ye first the kingdom
And watch God add to your life
Seek ye first the kingdom of God
And his righteousness, it shall be yours

No need to worry ’bout the lack in your life
The God I know, he will supply
Submit your request, make it known
Give it to God, leave it alone
But you must have faith and believe what he said
In his word, trust his word

When you pray, seek his face, trust his word—trust and obey
If it’s in his word, you can count on it, trust his word—trust and obey
When you seek him, believe—trust and obey
Trust him, then seek him, and you’ll find him—trust and obey

Seek ye first the kingdom of God
And his righteousness, it shall be yours

I was searching for a good rendition of “Seek Ye First” by Karen Lafferty, a pioneer of the Jesus Movement of the 1970s—but instead I came across this awesome gospel song inspired by the same scripture passage! It was written by Emorja Roberson—pianist, conductor, workshop coordinator, composer, arranger, and classical and gospel vocalist. He graduated with a master’s of sacred music in vocal performance from the University of Notre Dame in 2017 and is currently a student in the school’s doctor of musical arts in choral conducting program, with a focus on the African American repertoire. He is the director of the Voices of Faith Gospel Choir.

Roberson’s “Seek Ye First” is featured in the online project Songs of Notre Dame: A Lenten Offering 2020. The accompanying meditation reads,

In this season, we pause and examine the things that stand in the way of our relationship with God. Notre Dame’s Voices of Faith Gospel Choir reminds us that we must seek God first – before fame, riches, pleasure, or certainty. In order to anchor our lives in God and to direct our efforts towards the coming of the kingdom, we must trust in God’s providence. What might be taking priority in our lives over our relationship with God? How can we re-center this day, this week, and this Lenten season, by seeking God first?

Christ figure in Justin Dingwall’s Albus series

South African photographer Justin Dingwall (born 1983) seeks to depict beauty in difference. For his Albus series—Latin for “white” or “bright”—he worked with South African models and activists Thando Hopa and Sanele Junior Xaba, who have albinism. Albinism is a hereditary condition that affects melanin production, resulting in little to no pigmentation in the skin, hair, and eyes. It is more prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa than in the rest of the world, and people with the condition often face marginalization, discrimination, and even deadly violence.

In many ways Dingwall’s Albus series, which comprises several dozen photographs, is about metamorphosing perceptions about albinism, subverting the idea that it’s a curse; “by using butterflies my aim was to influence the viewer’s vision to be transformed, allowing them to view albinism in a new light—as something unique and beautiful,” he said. But the theme of transformation, of death and rebirth, as portrayed in some of the photos of Xaba, also connects with the narrative of Jesus’s passion, death, and resurrection, the model’s poses evoking traditional Christian imagery. (Not to mention how some of the photos of Hopa intentionally reference Mother Mary.)

Rhapsody I, II, and III form a passion triptych of sorts, a sequence of three photos that show a male figure, clothed in a loincloth, falling into darkness—and yet, illuminated from above, he looks up toward the light.

Dingwall, Justin_Rhapshody triptych
Justin Dingwall, Rhapsody I, II, III, 2015

I’m reminded of Jesus speaking to his Father in Gethsemane, and at his crucifixion. Of all the art that shows him stumbling on his way to Calvary (“Jesus falls” makes up three of the fourteen stations of the cross). And especially of his slumped body being lowered from the cross. All the supporting characters, however, are absent, intensifying our focus on this lone Christ figure.

Justin Dingwall, Rhapsody I
Justin Dingwall, Rhapsody II
Justin Dingwall, Rhapsody III

Consider some of the compositional similarities between Dingwall’s three Rhapsody photographs and the following explicitly Christological artworks. (To view the full caption, click on the bottom of the image.)

Suggestive of burial, Embrace by Dingwall shows a man wrapped, cocoon-like, in white linen, lying against a black ground. His face, again, catches the light, and he appears to be at peace. He is resting in this silent, in-between time that precedes the emergence of new life.

Justin Dingwall, Embrace
Justin Dingwall, Embrace, 2015

More explicitly inspired by Christian visual traditions is Dingwall’s Liberty triptych, which shows our Christ figure risen from death, glowing, and covered in butterflies, symbol of resurrection.

Justin Dingwall, Liberty (triptych)
Justin Dingwall, Liberty I, II, III, 2015

In Liberty II, the man extends his arms at a roughly forty-five-degree angle from his trunk, palms upward, in a beatific gesture. His eyes are closed as he bathes in light. Christ is often shown in this pose in art of the resurrection, emerging triumphant from his tomb and proudly revealing his transfigured wounds. Dingwall’s image, though, is quieter, more interior.

Justin Dingwall, Liberty II

Liberty I is reminiscent of Jesus inviting Thomas to see and touch his wounds, and especially of Bramantino’s The Risen Christ (see tiled gallery below). People have long marveled at the incredible luminosity of Christ in the latter painting—how the light seems to come from within (the setting is nighttime, as the moon in the background indicates).

Justin Dingwall, Liberty I

So in many ways these photographs by Dingwall are continuous with Christian art history, but they are also open enough to be read in a multitude of other ways or applied to different contexts. Though the nature of Jesus’s resurrection and what it accomplished are, Christians believe, unique in history, stories of death and rebirth are universal, traversing all cultures and religious traditions.

View additional photos from the Albus series at https://www.justindingwall.com/albus.

Roundup: The art of celebration, cross-cultural exchanges in illuminated manuscripts, the history of color, and insect-wing blooms

The Art of Celebration (album): Rend Collective is a folksy worship band from the small coastal town of Bangor in Northern Ireland that is internationally known for its high-spirited, experimental songs of joy. The Art of Celebration is their fourth of five albums, the story of which is told in the video below. “This record is an attempt to reflect something of the irrepressible laughter in the heart of God,” says bandleader Gareth Gilkeson. “It’s a call to the cynical to once again choose celebration over condemnation and a reminder to the broken that ‘the joy of the Lord is our strength.’” You can preview songs from the album here and purchase it here, or catch the band on tour (they’re currently in the US). I’ve embedded one of my favorite songs from the album below: “My Lighthouse.”


“Traversing the Globe through Illuminated Manuscripts” (exhibition): Through June 26, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles is running an exhibition of illuminated manuscripts and painted book arts from the ninth through seventeenth centuries. From the website: “These highly prized objects allow us to glimpse, admire, and study a world gone by, as well as its peoples, different belief systems, and an interconnected global history of human thought and ideas about art.” Check out the Q&A with curator Bryan Keene—so fascinating. Also click the link above to find out about related events. Next up is a lecture on April 19 titled “A Medieval Picture Book and Its Judeo-Persian Lives: The Shah Abbas Bible in 17th-Century Safavid Iran.”

Virgin and Child (Ethiopian)
The Virgin and Child with the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, from a Gospel book, ca. 1480-1520, Gunda Gunde Monastery, Ethiopia. J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

Northumberland Bestiary
Pen-and-ink wash-tinted drawing of a dragon riding an elephant, England, ca. 1250–1260. Northumberland Bestiary (Ms. 100), fol. 54, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.


The Brilliant History of Color in Art (book): Victoria Finlay’s latest book from Getty Publications, full of fun facts about the origins and science of color. The trailer below tells how Prussian blue, Indian yellow, lead white, and Tyrian purple came to be. Lapham’s Quarterly has a nifty infographic on the same topic.


Mimesis (photomontage series): From 2012 to 2014 Paris-based artist Seb Janiak executed a series of twenty-two photographs that show insect wings pieced together in flower-like forms. Janiak says he believes that a spiritual reality undergirds the physical. “Using art to reveal what is behind the veil of matter is fascinating and full of discoveries,” he writes. See more Mimesis photos at the link above.

Mimesis by Seb Janiak
Seb Janiak (French, 1966–), Mimesis—Lacus Luxuriae, 2013. Chromogenic print, 180 × 180 cm.