Advent roundup: “All Creation Waits,” Rev Simpkins on “the last things,” and more

Before I launch into the Advent content, I want to alert newcomers to, and remind old-timers of, my Thanksgiving Playlist on Spotify (introduced here), which is revised and expanded since last year. You can get an overview at this blog post. From Destiny’s Child to Yo-Yo Ma, Meister Eckhart to Mister Rogers, there’s a little something for everyone, I hope. And exemplifying the global nature of Christianity, there are songs in Hebrew, Luganda, Zulu, Swahili, Yoruba, Spanish, French, Hawaiian, Arabic, Korean, and Tamil.

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ESSAY: “All Creation Waits” by Gayle Boss: In the northern hemisphere, Advent is accompanied by a deepening of the dark and cold. In her bestselling and wholly unique Advent devotional, All Creation Waits, Gayle Boss provides twenty-five reflections that detail how wildlife—turtles, loons, black bears, and so on—adapts to these changing conditions. Animals know that the darkness is a door to a new beginning, and we would do well to embrace this wisdom. In the book, each day’s reading is paired with a woodcut illustration by David G. Klein.

The year of the book’s 2016 release, On Being published the introduction on its blog, where Boss answers, “Why animals for Advent?” and describes some of the inspiration behind and framing of the book. This year Paraclete Press released a hardcover gift edition with a new introduction and afterword.

Woodcut by David G. Klein
Woodcut by David G. Klein, 2016. In All Creation Waits, Gayle Boss tells a story of how one year, a week into Advent, she found a manger in the woods, which local children had filled with hay for the animals, then shelled corn.

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SONG: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”: There are hundreds of arrangements and recordings of this most beloved Advent hymn. Last year I featured two that I particularly like, and I think I’ll start a trend on the blog by doing the same at the beginning of each Advent—sharing two new renditions of the song.

>> Anna Hawkins. Anna Hawkins is a singer-songwriter of Irish heritage living in New Zealand. In her version of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” from her album Divine (2015), she sings the first verse in Hebrew, honoring the lyrics’ rootedness in the Hebrew scriptures. The music video was shot in Israel (cinematography by Michael Hilsden from Aspiring Productions). [HT: Global Christian Worship]

חזור חזור עמנואל
ופדה אסירי ישראל
שבגולה נאנחים
עד כי תבוא בן- האלוהים
,שמחו! שמחו! עמנואל
יבוא לכם בני ישראל

Chazor, chazor Immanu-El
Ufde asirei Israel
Shebagola ne’enachim
Ad ki tavo Ben Elohim
Simchu, Simchu, Immanu-El
Yavo lachem bnei-Israel

[English translation:]
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel

>> CeCe Winans, arr. Alvin Love III. CeCe Winans is a gospel legend. On Something’s Happening! A Christmas Album (2018), she collaborated with her son, Alvin Love III, who wrote the lush orchestral arrangements and produced the record. “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” opens with a celesta, which sounds like a music box or twinkling stars and has long been associated with the supernatural. The accompaniment is played by the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Tim Akers.

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VISUAL MEDITATION: “I Corinthians 7:29-31: God Only Knows” by Lynn Miller: The Rev. Dr. Lynn Miller is an author, ecclesiastical artist, workshop leader, and Presbyterian minister who holds a BFA in graphic design, an MA in art history, an MFA in creative writing, an MDiv, and a DMin. From 2014 to 2021 she ran the blog Art&Faith Matters, curating a diversity of images based on the liturgical calendar. In this post she guides us in looking at the surrealist painting At the Appointed Time by Kay Sage, which features a mysterious, draped figure or object and lines receding toward the horizon. “What do you see in the painting? What do you think about what you see? What do you wonder about this painting?” She posits a number of possible interpretations.

Sage, Kay_At the Appointed Time
Kay Sage (American, 1898–1963), At the Appointed Time, 1942. Oil on canvas, 81.3 × 99.1 cm. Newark Museum of Art, Newark, New Jersey.

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PODCAST SERIES: “Whispered Light: Advent Reflections on Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell” by Matt Simpkins: In this four-episode podcast series from December 2020, the Rev. Matt Simpkins, an Anglican priest and musician from Essex, explores the four themes traditionally contemplated by Christians during Advent—death, judgment, heaven, and hell—through four old American folk songs. He performs the songs, giving their history and using them as a launchpad for spiritual and theological reflection, which also integrates discussion of the Psalms. He addresses misconceptions about these “last things,” tracing the thread of hope and redemption that runs through them all. Just twenty to thirty minutes each, the episodes are available on your favorite podcast app and on YouTube (links below).

Simpkins records music under the name Rev Simpkins & The Phantom Notes. Check him out on Spotify or wherever you listen to music.

Lent, Day 3

LOOK: C. F. John (Indian, 1960–), Gathering Fragments 1, 2009. Mixed media on banana fiber sheets on canvas, 12 × 12 in.

John, C.F._Gathering Fragments 1

C. F. John is an internationally exhibited, award-winning artist and social activist based in Bangalore, India. I learned about him from my friend Jyoti Sahi [previously], whose art ashram John lived at from 1984 to 1986. He works in oils, mixed media, and installation and has even designed a few architectural spaces. Spirituality and ecology are important in his practice.

The featured artwork here is from John’s Gathering Fragments series. To me it’s evocative of an emptying of self and the desire to be filled with God—a characteristic Lenten posture. The woman in the collage holds out her bowl with a readiness to receive.

To explore more of C. F. John’s art, visit https://cfjohn.com/.

LISTEN: Chorus from “Fill My Cup, Lord” by Richard Blanchard, 1959 | Performed by CeCe Winans, on Alabaster Box, 1999

Fill my cup, Lord;
I lift it up, Lord;
Come and quench this thirsting of my soul.
Bread of Heaven, feed me till I want no more.
Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole.

Richard Blanchard (1925–2004) was an American Methodist minister and gospel songwriter. This most famous song of his was inspired by the story of the marginalized Samaritan woman whom Jesus engaged in conversation as the two of them were gathering water at a public well (John 4:1–45). Seeing that the woman was not only physically thirsty but also had a deep spiritual thirst, Jesus offered her “living water.” “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life,” he said. To which she replied, “Sir, give me this water!”

Though Blanchard’s song has three verses that make this connection explicit, gospel recording artists sometimes isolate the chorus and sing it as a standalone piece, as it’s such a powerful, concentrated expression of Godward yearning.

[Related posts: “Open Your Mouth (Artful Devotion)”; “Jesus Gave Me Water (Artful Devotion)”]

“Bread of Heaven” is a Christological title derived from John 6, a dialogue between Jesus and the crowds the day after he miraculously multiplied five loaves and two fishes a thousandfold.

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.  For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

—John 6:25–40 (emphasis mine)

Some modern hearers get confused by the request “Feed me till I want no more,” wondering at what point we would ever be so full of God that we wouldn’t want to be fed any more of him. But the word “want” is being used in the archaic sense of “lack”—the same way it’s used in Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” (And in “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah,” which contains the same exact line.) So it’s asking of God, “Feed me till I lack nothing.”

I love CeCe Winans’s rendition best, posted above. But if you want to watch a performance, here’s Tasha Cobbs Leonard singing live at Passion City Church in Atlanta:

And here’s a recording of the full song released just last month by the Living Stones Quartet from India. I’m not opposed to the verses, but they are a little hokey. Regardless, they bring back warm memories for me of singing this in church as a child. I’ve always been moved by the chorus.

“Fill My Cup, Lord,” as performed by CeCe Winans, is featured on the Art & Theology Lent Playlist on Spotify.