“Christographia 31” by Gene Doty (poem)

Baxter, Cedric_Jesus Striped and Stripped
Cedric Baxter (Australian, 1930–), Jesus Striped and Stripped, 2011. Acrylic, collage, and pen on canvas, 91 × 91 cm. Collection of the Uniting Church in Australia. [learn more]

Christ came juggling from the tomb,
flipping and bouncing death’s stone pages,
tossing those narrow letters high
against the roots of dawn spread in cloud.
This Jesus, clown, came dancing
in the dust of Judea, each slapping step
a new blossom spiked with joy.

Hey! Listen—that chuckle in the dark,
that clean blast of laughter behind—
Christ comes juggling our tombs,
tossing them high and higher yet,
until they hit the sun and break open
and we fall out, dancing and juggling
our griefs like sizzling balls of light.

This poem is from Christographia by Eugene Warren (St. Louis, MO: The Cauldron Press, 1977), a chapbook of thirty-two numbered poems that “attempt to express personal views of, & perspectives on, Christ.” The book’s title comes from a series of sermons by the Puritan poet and preacher Edward Taylor.

Gene Warren Doty (1941–2015) was an American poet in the Anabaptist tradition who taught in the English department of Missouri S&T for forty-two years. Throughout his career he explored a variety of non-Western poetic forms, including haiku, renga, tanka, sijo, and ghazals. He is the author of seven books of poetry: Christographia, Rumors of Light, Geometries of Light, Fishing at Easter, Similitudes, Nose to Nose, and Zero: Thirty Ghazals. Until 1988 his books and poems were signed “Eugene Warren,” Warren being the surname of his adoptive father, George, who raised him; but from 1988 onward he used the surname of his biological father, Floyd Doty.

Roundup: Psalms and the arts, Ukrainian Easter Choir, and more

BLOG POST: “An open letter to pastors (A non-mom speaks about Mother’s Day)” by Amy Young: There’s disagreement among church leaders on whether civic holidays, such as Mother’s Day, should be recognized during a worship service, and if so, how. Having mothers stand (while women who are not mothers in the conventional sense remain seated) can be very othering and bring up feelings of sadness or shame. It’s also a day when people are thinking about their own mothers, which can evoke a complex range of emotions.

Amy Young believes there is a way to honor mothers in church without alienating others, as well as to acknowledge the breadth of experiences associated with mothering. She has drafted a pastoral address that I find so wise and compassionate. Some women are estranged from their children. Some have experienced miscarriage or abortion. Some have had failed adoptions, or failed IVF treatments. Some gave up a child for adoption. Some have been surrogate mothers. Some are foster mothers, or are the primary guardian of a relative’s child. Some are spiritual moms. Some women want to be mothers but have no partner or have had trouble conceiving. Some were abused by their mothers. Some have lost mothers. Some never met their mother. Young puts her arms around all these people who are potentially in the pews on Mother’s Day, making room for the complexity of the day—which does include celebration!

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VIDEO: “United with Beauty: The Psalms, the Arts, and the Human Experience” by Mallory Johnson: Mallory Johnson graduated last weekend with a B.M. in Music and Worship (concentration: voice) from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. (In the fall she will be starting an MDiv program at Beeson Divinity School.) All the seniors in the Samford School of the Arts are required to complete a capstone project tailored to their individual interests and career goals. As Johnson’s interests center on theology, history, and the arts, she created a twenty-minute video rooted in the Psalms that integrates music, poetry, short excerpts of fiction, visual art, and quotes from van Gogh, Tchaikovsky, Goethe, Luther, and others, resulting in a contemplative multimedia experience.

I resonate so much with Johnson’s approach of bringing together works from different artistic disciplines to interpret one another and to invite the viewer into worship. Her curation is stellar! To cite just one example, the contemporary choral work Stars by Ēriks Ešenvalds plays as we see, among other images, an Aboriginal dot painting of the constellations Orion and Canis and a nighttime landscape by realist painter Józef Chełmoński. Another: John Adams’s double piano composition “Hallelujah Junction” is brought into conversation with Psalm 150 and a painting by Jewish artist Richard Bee of David dancing before the ark.

Józef Chełmoński (Polish, 1849–1914), Starry Night, 1888. Oil on canvas, 22 13/16 × 28 3/4 in. (58 × 73 cm). National Museum in Kraków, Poland.

The video opens with the theme of awe and wonder—expanses of sky and sea and field; the beauty and vastness of God mirrored in the natural world—and then moves to lament—of the prospering of the wicked; of exhaustion, anxiety, and other forms of mental or spiritual anguish and their causes; of personal sin—and finally ends with an assurance of grace and with exultation. Johnson shows how the longings of modern people overlap with those of the biblical psalmists. Here’s her description:

In his famous work titled Confessions, St. Augustine writes this: “Yet to praise you, God, is the desire of every human.” Is this true? What does this look like?

During my time at Samford, I have felt my heart and mind overflow with love for the arts. As a Christian, they have played a devotional role in my life. I find such joy in seeing connections between music, art, and literature that may seem unrelated on the surface. I believe that all humans have a longing for the goodness of God and we find “echoes” of Him everywhere, and most beautifully in artistic expression.

I wanted to show others how I understand the world as a Christian artist. This project is a journey through the Psalms, using art to reinforce the idea that the Psalms capture the full universal human experience. Across time and space, we have all felt the same things and we have all had the same deep longing for “something higher.”

I hope you can allow this project to wash over you. Make time to watch it alone or with someone you love, distraction-free. Turn the lights out, light a candle, watch it on a big screen with the volume up loud. Be cozy under a blanket with a cup of coffee, or grab a journal and write down anything that sticks out to you! It is my earnest desire that you will be moved by the artistic expression of humanity, and that you may realize that God has always been the goodness you most deeply desire.

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SONGS:

>> “Broken Healers” by Elise Massa: Singer-songwriter Elise Massa is the assistant director of music and worship arts at Church of the Ascension in Pittsburgh. A meditation on Christ as Wounded Healer, this song from her 2014 album of demos, We Are All Rough Drafts, was inspired by an Eastertide sermon.

Here’s the final stanza (the full lyrics are at the Bandcamp link):

Broken healers are we all
In a living world, decayed
With broken speech we stutter, “Glory”
As broken fingers mend what’s frayed
Holy Spirit, come, anoint us
As you anointed Christ the King
Who wore the crown of the oppressed
Who bears the scars of suffering

>> “Agnus Dei” by Michael W. Smith, performed by the Ukrainian Easter Choir: This is one of the few CCM songs I listened to as a young teen (Third Day’s version from a WOW CD!) that I’m still really fond of. In this video that premiered April 17, an eighty-person choir conducted by Sergiy Yakobchuk was assembled from multiple churches in Ukraine to perform for an Easter service in Lviv organized by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Michael W. Smith’s “Agnus Dei” is one of three songs they sang, in both English and Ukrainian. The name of the soloist is not given. Many of the vocalists in the choir have been displaced from their homes by the current war with Russia. One of them says, “With the war, celebrating the Resurrection means for us now life above death, good above evil.”

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PRAYER EXERCISE: “Visio Divina: A 20-Minute Guided Prayer Reflection for the Crisis in Ukraine”: Visio divina, Latin for “divine seeing,” is a spiritual practice of engaging prayerfully with an image, usually an artwork—allowing the visual to invite you into communion with God. On March 17 Vivianne David led a virtual visio divina exercise with Natalya Rusetska’s Crucifixion, hosted by Renovaré. I caught up with the video afterward and found it a very meaningful experience. As the painting is by a Ukrainian artist and represents Christ’s passion, the war in Ukraine is a natural connection point.

I appreciate David’s wise guidance, which includes these reminders:

  • Stay with the image, regardless of whether or not you ​“feel” something happening right away. There is something beautiful about faithfully waiting with that space, having dedicated it to God as a time of prayer.
  • Notice what draws your attention, what invites you into the image—let that become a space for conversation with Christ.
  • Notice what sort of emotions arise as you stay with the image. How does it awaken desire? Let these emotions lead you back to continued dialogue with God.

This kind of quiet, focused looking with an openness to encounter is something I encourage on the blog. Any of David’s three tips above I would also suggest for any art image I post—a corrective to hasty scrolling habits. Stick around for the last four minutes of the video to see dozens and dozens of impressions from participants, which may reveal new aspects of the painting to you.

“Done Is a Battle on the Dragon Black” by William Dunbar

Harrowing of Hell (French)
“The Harrowing of Hell” (HM 1180, fol. 39v), from a Book of Hours made in France, fourth quarter of 15th century. Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

This early sixteenth-century poem by William Dunbar of Scotland—who served as poet in the court of King James IV and was also an ordained Catholic priest—is an imaginative retelling of the extrabiblical episode known as the Harrowing of Hell, wherein Christ descends to the realm of the dead on the eve of his resurrection to free the souls being held captive there by Satan.

The original poem, in Middle Scots, is reproduced below, followed by my translation into modern English, with the assistance of the Dictionary of the Scots Language. I’ve provided hyperlinks to Scots words that don’t have an obvious English correlative. The Latin refrain translates to “The Lord is risen from the grave.”

Done is a battell on the dragon blak,
Our campioun Chryst confountet hes his force;
The yettis of hell ar brokin with a crak,
The signe triumphall rasit is of the croce,
The divillis trymmillis with hiddous voce,
The saulis ar borrowit and to the blis can go,
Chryst with his blud our ransonis dois indoce:
Surrexit dominus de sepulchro.

Dungin is the deidly dragon Lucifer,
The crewall serpent with the mortall stang,
The auld kene tegir with his teith on char
Quhilk in a wait hes lyne for us so lang,
Thinking to grip us in his clowis strang:
The mercifull lord wald nocht that it wer so,
He maid him for to felye of that fang:
Surrexit dominus de sepulchro.

He for our saik that sufferit to be slane
And lyk a lamb in sacrifice wes dicht,
Is lyk a lyone rissin up agane,
And as a gyane raxit him on hicht:
Sprungin is Aurora radius and bricht,
On loft is gone the glorius Appollo,
The blisfull day depairtit fro the nycht:
Surrexit dominus de sepulchro.

The grit victour agane is rissin on hicht 
That for our querrell to the deth wes woundit;
The sone that wox all paill now schynis bricht,
And, dirknes clerit, our fayth is now refoundit:
The knell of mercy fra the hevin is soundit,
The Cristin ar deliverit of thair wo,
The Jowis and thair errour ar confoundit:
Surrexit dominus de sepulchro.

The fo is chasit, the battell is done ceis,
The presone brokin, the jevellouris fleit and flemit,
The weir is gon, confermit is the peis,
The fetteris lowsit and the dungeoun temit,
The ransoun maid, the presoneris redemit,
The feild is win, ourcummin is the fo,
Dispulit of the tresur that he yemit:
Surrexit dominus de sepulchro.

ENGLISH TRANSLATION:

Done is a battle on the dragon black,
Our champion Christ has confounded his force;
The gates of hell are broken with a crack,
The sign triumphal raised (that is, the cross),
The devils tremble with hideous voice,
The souls are redeemed and to the bliss can go,
Christ with his blood our ransom does endorse:
Surrexit dominus de sepulchro.

Beaten is the deadly dragon Lucifer,
The cruel serpent with the mortal sting,
The old sharp tiger with his teeth bared,
Who in wait has lain for us so long,
Thinking to grip us in his claws strong:
The merciful Lord would not that it were so,
He made him for to fail of that prize:
Surrexit dominus de sepulchro.

He who for our sake allowed himself to be slain,
And like a lamb in sacrifice was offered,
Is like a lion risen up again,
And like a giant raised himself on high:
Risen is Aurora radiant and bright,
Aloft is gone the glorious Apollo,
The blissful day departed from the night:
Surrexit dominus de sepulchro.

The great victor again is risen on high
Who on our behalf to the death was wounded;
The son that waxed all pale now shimmers bright,
And, darkness cleared, our faith is now refounded.
The knell of mercy from the heav’n is sounded,
The Christians are delivered from their woe,
The Jews and their error are confounded:
Surrexit dominus de sepulchro.

The foe is chased, the battle is done,
The prison broken, the jailers fled and banished,
The war is gone, confirmèd is the peace,
The fetters loosed and the dungeon emptied,
The ransom made, the prisoners redeemed,
The field is won, overcome is the foe,
Despoiled of the treasure that he held:
Surrexit dominus de sepulchro.

“Done Is a Battle” consists of five stanzas with a rhyme scheme of ABABBCBC, DEDEECEC, and so on. (I wasn’t able to perfectly preserve this scheme in the translation.)

As was common in medieval European literature on the Resurrection, the poem portrays Christ as a heroic warrior who storms the gates of hell, freeing the souls imprisoned there by the Enemy—described here variously as a dragon, a serpent, and a tiger, who guards his stolen possession with ferocity. Carrying a cross as his battle standard and covered with his own blood, Jesus goes down into the beast’s lair to reclaim what is rightfully his.

The opening line is considered one of the finest of any poem: “Done is a battle on the dragon black.” Part of its power comes from the use of a literary device known as anastrophe—the inversion of the usual order of words in a sentence (usually subject-verb or adjective-noun). Dunbar uses it twice: “Done is the battle” instead of “The battle is done,” emphasizing finality rather than the conflict itself, and “dragon black” instead of “black dragon,” which gives more prominence to the creature than its color. “The battle is done on the black dragon” just doesn’t have the same ring. Anastrophe is used all throughout the poem (e.g., “sign triumphal,” “claws strong,” “confirmed is the peace”).

Cosmic and dramatic, the poem highlights the Christus Victor aspect of the atonement—that is, how Christ’s death and resurrection were a triumph over the powers of evil. Integrated into this model is the idea of ransom, redemption, emancipation.

While the Harrowing of Hell refers specifically to the salvation of those saints who died before Christ and were awaiting redemption in Sheol (aka Limbo, or Hades), it is representative of the act that Christ performs for all those who are in him—releasing us from Satan’s hold, bringing us out of the grave, letting us share eternally in the fruits of his victory in heaven. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the central icon of Easter is just such a scene: the risen Christ standing atop the broken-down doors of hell, pulling Adam and Eve and the other Old Testament faithful up from its pit. It’s called the Anastasis, Greek for “resurrection.”

Jesus conquered death by going through it. Stanza 3 describes the glory with which he rose from such a state. He died a sacrificial lamb, meek and lowly, but rose up like a lion—vigorous, strong. From the darkness of night, he rose like day—like Aurora, goddess of the dawn, or Apollo, god of the sun.

(Related post: “Crucifixion, Harrowing, and Transfiguration”)

In the fourth stanza Dunbar uses a play on words that was particularly beloved in Middle English and Scots religious lyrics (and which still works in modern English): sun/Son. The sun/Son went dark at the Crucifixion (Luke 23:45) but reemerged brighter than ever on Easter morning, the dawn of a new day. Mercy sounds like bells from on high, and the world enters its liberation.

I don’t want to ignore the problematic nature of the penultimate line of this stanza: “The Jews and their error are confounded.” Their error was failing to see who Christ truly was and, because of that, calling for his execution. Attributing Jesus’s death to, broad brush, “the Jews” led to centuries of anti-Semitic persecution and violence in Europe. While the religious establishment of Jesus’s day certainly did play a driving role in his death, it’s important to remember that the Roman authorities were also key players; it was a collusion between synagogue and state. Both perceived Jesus as a threat, for different reasons. (And of course there’s a sense in which we all bear culpability, regardless of religious affiliation or time period, because it was for humanity’s sin that Christ went to the cross.) But casting blame is fruitless. Jesus died willingly. When I read old texts that charge all Jews across time and place with the crime of deicide, I can’t help but protest that it was also “the Jews” who stood by Jesus in the end—his mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea (members of the Sanhedrin!), John the Evangelist, and others—and who were among his closest followers. Not to mention that most of those whom Jesus “harrowed” from hell were Jewish! Across generations they trusted the promise given to them.

I alert you to this line so that if you use the poem in a worship context, you might consider a revision there (or at least a clarification), as the shorthand can cause confusion and breed prejudice. Though it doesn’t exactly honor Dunbar’s intent, I might suggest the following: “The people are delivered from their woe, / Resisters all most truly are confounded.”

Despite the undesirable generalization in line 31, I still believe “Done Is a Battle” is a poem worthy of our attention and engagement. It’s an exciting and culturally contextualized celebration of Christ the Dragon-Slayer, who “descended into hell,” as the Apostles’ Creed puts it, to save his people.  

Try reading the Scots aloud! That way you can get a better sense of the musicality. I was surprised by how much of the language I was able to comprehend. Curious of its history, I discovered that most people claim, controversially, that Scots is not actually a separate language, but rather a dialect of English.

For further reading, see The Harrowing of Hell in Medieval England by Karl Tamburr (Boydell and Brewer, 2007).

Roundup: “Jesus Is Alive” (Japanese version), art competition, and more

SONGS:

>> “Jesus Is Alive” by Ron Kenoly, performed in Japanese by Ruah Worship: Ruah Worship is a vocal ensemble made up of four siblings from Japan: (from left to right in video) Joshua Mine, Julia Mine, Erika Grace Izawa (née Mine), and Marian Mine. Here they sing an a cappella arrangement of a Ron Kenoly song, translated into Japanese by Hiromi Yamamoto and Kazuo Sano. Click on the “CC” (closed captioning) button for English subtitles. [HT: Global Christian Worship]

Their harmonies are wonderful! And they have lots of great videos on their YouTube channel, a mix of original songs and songs translated from other languages or written in Japanese. For another Easter-themed song they’ve recorded, see “Because He Lives.”

>> “I Went to the Garden” by Sam Hargreaves: Written in a bluegrass style from Mary Magdalene’s perspective, this song was released this year as part of the Resurrection People resource from the UK organization Engage Worship, where you can find downloadable videos (songs, webinars), sheet music, and church service outlines that include prayers, all-age ideas, readings, poems, sermon outlines, responses, and more. Sam Hargreaves is on lead vocals and acoustic guitar, Timo Scharnowski is on backing vocals and percussion, and David Hyde is on banjo and slide guitar.

Another song from the Resurrection People pack—one that made me laugh!—is “Peter’s Slowcoach Blues.”

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ART COMMENTARY: The Sherborne Missal: On this episode of the BBC Radio 4 program Moving Pictures, host Cathy Fitzgerald talks with art historians Alixe Bovey, Kathleen Doyle, Eleanor Jackson, and Paul Binski and scribe and illuminator Patricia Lovett about a page from the medieval illuminated Sherborne Missal that introduces the Mass for Easter Sunday. Made for the Benedictine abbey of St. Mary’s in Sherborne, Dorset, around 1400, this Christian service book amazingly survived the pillaging of the English Reformation intact.

Sherborne Missal (Easter Mass)
Illuminated folio introducing the Mass for Easter Sunday, from the Sherborne Missal, Dorset, England, ca. 1399–1407. British Library, London, Add Ms 74236, page 216. Click on image to zoom in.

At the top is the historiated initial “R” for Ressurexit, with Christ emerging from his tomb. An elaborate border around the page contains scenes from the Old Testament, portraits of prophets, a bestiary-inspired scene, angels, birds, plants, fantastical knights, and two wodewoses (wild men) engaging in a bizarre confrontation. Such imagination! Learn why a daddy lion breathing on his cubs signified resurrection to the medieval mind, and in what sense Samson and Jonah are “types” of Christ.

“The thing to grasp about medieval art,” Binski says, “is that they don’t have the same categories and boundaries that we do. We have quite defined boundaries around what’s comic and what’s tragic, and what’s serious and what’s lightweight. In the Middle Ages, serious things and playful things accompanied one another; they were all part of the same thing.”

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CALL FOR ENTRIES: Chaiya Art Awards 2022/23: Submissions are now open—UK residents only—for this biannual competition on spiritually inflected visual art, this time on the theme of “Awe and Wonder.” In addition to the usual exhibition space for the longlisted finalists at London’s gallery@oxo, Chaiya has secured a second venue, the Bargehouse, which will allow for larger-scale artworks and installations. The top prize is ₤10,000. Deadline: August 31, 2022.

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CIVA TRAVELING EXHIBITION: Heads, Faces, and Spiritual Encounter: Drawn from the collection of Edward and Diane Knippers and available for rental, this exhibition comprises forty-some artworks that all focus on the human face. There are works by modern heavyweights like Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Georges Rouault, and Eric Gill, along with a few seventeenth-century portraits, African masks, and works by contemporary artists of faith. I saw the exhibition in Austin, Texas, in November and was really moved. Click on the link to browse the art and to inquire about rental.

Heads, Faces, and Spiritual Encounter

Easter, Day 8

I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

—Ephesians 3:16–19

For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light—for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness . . .

“Sleeper, awake!
    Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

—Ephesians 5:8–11a, 14b

LOOK: Resurrection by Lu Lan

Lu Lan_Resurrection
Lu Lan (Chinese, 1972–), Resurrection, 1996. Tempera on cardboard, 50 × 50 cm.

LISTEN: “Easter Light” | Words by Angier Brock and music by Cecilia McDowall, 2016 | Performed by the Oxford Choir, on Oxford Choral Highlights 2017

In Easter light, the risen Christ is moving among us.
     How brightly the meadowlark sings its song of the season.
          Alleluia.
     How gently the Easter light lifts the face of the lily.
         Christ is risen.
With illumed heart and radiant faces,
     we too sing in that light.
          Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia. Alleluia.

Let Christ be rising now in our lives and in our prayers,
     as we open our hands to both friend and stranger.
Let Christ be rising now in our words and in our work
     as we strive to repair the earth
     and free all its creatures from danger.

Risen Christ of limitless love,
     Risen Christ of compassion and peace,
          Risen Christ of gracious surprising—
You move among us in Easter light.
Be now in us, rising.

I so love Angier Brock’s collaborations with Cecilia McDowall. I featured another of their choral anthems, “Advent Moon,” two Advents ago.

“Easter Light” is quieter and more reflective than most other Easter anthems. It muses on how, as the natural world awakens to the fullness of spring, our hearts are beckoned to come awake also. Christ rose from his grave in first-century Palestine and he rises in his followers, moving us to love, compassion, peace, generosity, and works of repair and liberation. This anthem is a blessing and a prayer—that we would be reanimated, reastonished, by the “risen Christ of gracious surprising”; that we would be Easter people, people of life and light, practicing resurrection.

The text above is as Brock wrote it. She gave McDowall the leeway to rearrange the order of lines, to repeat and layer words, and so on. Brock told me how pleased she is by how McDowall set the alleluias. “I think of them as ‘falling alleluias’ or ‘waterfalls of alleluias,’” she said.

In addition to being a sacred lyricist, Brock is also a poet. I asked her if she approaches differently the task of writing a poem that she knows will be set to music for church contexts versus writing a poem that does not have that objective. Here’s what she said:

For me, the biggest difference between writing a hymn or anthem text, as opposed to a freestanding poem, is that with the hymn or anthem, I know I will quite literally be putting words into other peoples’ mouths. And not just any words—words about faith, about the Holy, the Divine. Theology figures in—not my personal or private theology, but something larger. That adds a layer of—I’m not sure what the word is. Complexity? Responsibility? Gravitas? Something like one of those things, or some combination thereof.

The above recording is of a performance by the collegiate Oxford Choir, but for examples of church choirs singing “Easter Light” for Easter Day worship services, see the following timestamped video links:

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This concludes my *daily* posts in this format—but there are still another forty-two days of Easter, and I hope you’re continuing to celebrate! I’ll still be sharing content throughout the remainder of the season, just at a lesser frequency. In the meantime, I hope you’re enjoying the Art & Theology Eastertide Playlist, which includes today’s featured song.

If you would like to leave me a “tip” for the Lent-Easter posts or playlists, you can do so through PayPal. I appreciate your support, which gives me the freedom to step away from paid freelancing projects to devote time here, and to keep all the blog content free and available to everyone instead of moving to a Patreon model. If you don’t have a PayPal account but still wish to contribute to my work (as some of you have indicated to me), you could buy me a book from my Amazon wish list. Books feed my research and shape my spiritual development and can impact what I cover on the blog. Please note that wish list items do not equal endorsements.

I wish you all a very happy Eastertide! Thanks for journeying with me through Lent and Bright Week.

Easter, Day 7

LOOK: Freedom by Zenos Frudakis

Frudakis, Zenos_Freedom
Zenos Frudakis (American, 1951–), Freedom, 2001. Bronze, 8 × 20 ft. 16th and Vine Streets, Philadelphia.

LISTEN: “We Will Rise Again” by Ben Keyes, on Were You There? Are You Here? (2007)

Hallelujah, we will rise again
Angels rolled the stone away
The Lord has raised his Son
Victory is won
He’s gonna call us from the grave

I want to walk in your kingdom
(Give me back my feet!)
I want to walk in your kingdom
(Roll that stone away from me!)
I want to clap my hands in glory
(Give me back my hands!)
I want to clap my hands in glory
(Roll that stone away from me!)

Refrain

I want to walk in your kingdom
(Give me back my feet!)
I want to walk in your kingdom
(Roll that stone away from me!)
I want to stomp my feet in glory
(Give me back my feet!)
I want to stomp my feet in glory
(Roll that stone away from me!)

Refrain

I want to sing in your kingdom
(Give me back my throat!)
I want to sing in your kingdom
(Roll that stone away from me!)
I want to shout in glory
(Give me back my throat!)
I want to shout out in glory
(Roll that stone away from me!)

Refrain ×2

This gospel song by Ben Keyes is sung from the perspective of the faithful departed—those siblings in Christ who have passed on but who are awaiting their own bodily resurrection on the last day. Although in this world our bodies decay and we return to dust, one day we will be reconstituted and raised, and we will join with saints from all over the globe in praise of Christ our Savior in the new heavens and the new earth. In Keyes’s song, the deceased anticipate that joyful reuniting of body and soul, and the eternal ingathering of the universal church. They appeal to God to give them back their vocal cords so that they can sing and shout; their feet, so they can move about and dance; their hands, so they can clap and serve.

Ben Keyes is the codirector, with his wife Nickaela Fiore-Keyes, of the Southborough L’Abri branch in Massachusetts. Founded by Edith and Francis Schaeffer, L’Abri (French for “shelter”) is an international network of communities that integrate study and discussion about God and life with practical community work. These “shelters” house both short-term guests and long-term residents. They are not a retreat, a commune, or a seminary, but they incorporate elements of all three.

Keyes grew up at the Southborough L’Abri and from an early age has loved to play music. When he was in high school his family joined an African American church and he became involved in the music ministry, learning how to play gospel piano and bass guitar. He went on to study ethnomusicology at Brown University, exploring the beauties of old-time music, bluegrass, blues, gospel, and traditional Irish music.

From 2005 to 2007 Keyes studied theology and the arts at Regent College in Vancouver, where he earned a master’s degree. He directed a large gospel choir as part of his final thesis project—which you can get a taste of from his excellent album Were You There? Are You Here?, whose finale is “We Will Rise Again.” All the songs are by Keyes, and the choir is made up of grad students from Regent and the University of British Columbia.

At Regent Keyes met Peter La Grand and Jill McFadden, fellow classmates, and the three of them formed Ordinary Time, a folk acoustic trio rooted in the Christian tradition. They sing both original songs and arrangements of old hymns and have five full-length albums to date—with another coming out in 2023! Here they are singing Keyes’s “We Will Rise Again” from their remote locations (Southborough, Vancouver, Baltimore) in 2020, using the Acapella app:  

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On a related note: In 2019 I wrote a set of commentaries on the general resurrection for the Visual Commentary on Scripture, using an ancient sarcophagus, a medieval manuscript illumination, and a modern painting to dialogue with 1 Corinthians 15:35–58. I shared some of the shortlisted images here.

Easter, Day 6

LOOK: Empty Tomb (detail) by Claire Curneen

Curneen, Claire_Empty Tomb (detail)
Claire Curneen (Irish, 1968–), Empty Tomb (detail), 2018. Porcelain, h. 31 inches.

I encountered this striking image on the cover of Image no. 97 (Summer 2018). I’ve not been able to find a photograph of the full piece, but Curneen created a variation on it last year.

In the article “Beauty in Brokenness: The Sculpture of Claire Curneen,” Richard Davey writes that in Curneen’s body of work,

indications of internal states of transformation or transfiguration are not confined to gold. . . . Recently Curneen has begun to use a deep blue to create a similar effect. Like ultramarine, which was reserved for only the most significant parts of medieval paintings, this blue glaze is used only sparingly, painted onto faces, hands, and other areas where it will have the maximum impact. The effect is dramatic, with faces dissolving into an incorporeal void. For unlike gold, which reflects light, this deep blue holds light, absorbing our gaze into its pellucid depths. Curneen exploited this difference in one of her most recent works, Empty Tomb (2018), where blue and gold ooze from a series of gaping wounds, like the unmingled blood and water that flowed from the side of the dead Christ. With the tip of one finger, this elegiac figure gently points out one of these openings, echoing Saint Thomas, who needed to touch Jesus’s wounded side before he could believe. This gesture is the only moment of animation in a work that is otherwise still, but it is not the focus. That is to be found in the wounds themselves, which stand out starkly against the limpid porcelain. These are the empty tomb of the title, apertures exuding blue and gold, dark and light. They draw us in so that we find our attention focused entirely on these small rings. For a moment, as we teeter on this visual precipice, with solidity melting around us and the figure dissolving into the background, time stands still.

LISTEN: “Empty” by The Sowing Season, on The Fox & the Sparrow (2017)

Oh Mary, why have you come?
Come drop your oils and run
You’ll find no one
Find no one

Oh Thomas, can’t you see?
Where bone and sinew meet
You’ll find a hole
Find a whole

Oh Saul, look down at your hands
All red and dripping in the sand
It’s the wrong blood
The wrong blood

Come find the blood of the Son

Jesus meets people where they’re at: Mary Magdalene in her grief (John 20:11–18), Thomas in his doubt (John 20:24–29), Saul in his murderous zealotry (Acts 9:1–19). And he transforms them. After their encounters with the risen Christ, Mary’s tears give way to joy; Thomas’s doubt transposes into belief; and Saul goes from persecutor of Christians to key apostle, with a ministry of preaching the gospel, planting churches, and writing letters of teaching and encouragement that have become sacred scripture.

The song “Empty” by The Sowing Season reflects Christ’s gentle invitation to behold his transfigured wounds and to move, with him, from death into life.

This song is on the Art & Theology Eastertide Playlist.

Easter, Day 5

LOOK: Ballet Skirt or Electric Light by Georgia O’Keeffe

O'Keeffe, Georgia_Ballet Skirt or Electric Light
Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887–1986), Ballet Skirt or Electric Light, 1927. Oil on canvas, 36 × 30 in. (91.4 × 76.2 cm). Art Institute of Chicago.

The Art Institute of Chicago, which owns this painting, offers the following description:

In the 1920s Georgia O’Keeffe began creating the paintings of enlarged flowers for which she is most famous, including a series of works devoted to the white rose; this painting is her most abstracted depiction of the subject. O’Keeffe simplified the energy of the blooming rose to its essence, so that it resembles a brilliant light radiating out of flat Cubist planes. She exhibited this painting as White Rose—Abstraction at Alfred Stieglitz’s Intimate Gallery in 1928 and retitled it Ballet Skirt or Electric Light (from the White Rose Motif) when she lent it to the Art Institute of Chicago’s 1943 retrospective of her work.

I was introduced to this painting in Imaging the Word: An Arts and Lectionary Resource, volume 3, where it appears in the Easter section. So credit goes to that book’s editors (Susan A. Blain, et al.) for linking the image with Christ’s resurrection. Now I can’t see it any other way! Bright and explosive, the painting has as its focal point an orb of light near the bottom edge, which could be read as the figure of Christ standing in the open mouth of the tomb.

By the way, all three Imaging the Word volumes, which I chanced upon at Ollie’s Bargain Outlet some years ago, are excellent. Structured around the Revised Common Lectionary, years A through C, the books integrate scripture, visual art, poetry, sheet music, liturgies, fiction excerpts, quotes from Bible commentaries and spiritual nonfiction, and more. They are published by United Church Press.

LISTEN: “Aurora lucis rutilat” (Light’s Glittering Morn Bedecks the Sky) | Words attributed to Ambrose, 4th century; translated into English by John Mason Neale, 1851 | Music by Orlande de Lassus, ca. 1592, published posthumously in 1604 | Performed by the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, dir. Graham Ross, 2015

1. Aurora lucis rutilat, 
caelum laudibus intonat,
mundus exultans iubilat,
gemens infernus ululat,

2. Cum rex ille fortissimus,
mortis confractis viribus,
pede conculcans tartara
solvit catena miseros!

3. Ille, qui clausus lapide
custoditur sub milite,
triumphans pompa nobile
victor surgit de funere.

4. Solutis iam gemitibus
et inferni doloribus,
“Quia surrexit Dominus!”
resplendens clamat angelus.

5. Tristes erant apostoli
de nece sui Domini,
quem poena mortis crudeli
servi damnarant impii.

6. Sermone blando angelus
praedixit mulieribus,
“In Galilaea Dominus
videndus est quantocius”

7. Illae dum pergunt concite
apostolis hoc dicere,
videntes eum vivere
osculant pedes Domini.

8. Quo agnito discipuli
in Galilaeam propere
 pergunt videre faciem
desideratam Domini.

9. Claro paschali gaudio
sol mundo nitet radio,
cum Christum iam apostoli
visu cernunt corporeo.

10. Ostensa sibi vulnera
in Christi carne fulgida,
 resurrexisse Dominum
voce fatentur publica.

11. Rex Christe clementissime,
tu corda nostra posside,
ut tibi laudes debitas
reddamus omni tempore!

12. Deo patri sit gloria
eiusque soli filio
cum spiritu paraclito
et nunc et in perpetuum.
Light’s glitt’ring morn bedecks the sky,
heav’n thunders forth its victor cry,
the glad earth shouts its triumph high,
and groaning hell makes wild reply.

While he, the King of glorious might,
treads down death’s strength in death’s despite,
and trampling hell by victor’s right, 
brings forth his sleeping saints to light.

Fast barred beneath the stone of late 
in watch and ward where soldiers wait,
now shining in triumphant state, 
he rises Victor from death’s gate.

Hell’s pains are loosed and tears are fled;
captivity is captive led;
the angel, crowned with light, hath said, 
“The Lord is risen from the dead.”

The apostles’ hearts were full of pain
for their dear Lord so lately slain:
that Lord his servants’ wicked train 
with bitter scorn had dared arraign.

With gentle voice the angel gave
the women tidings at the grave;
“Forthwith your Master shall ye see:
he goes before to Galilee.”

And while with fear and joy they pressed
to tell these tidings to the rest,
their Lord, their living Lord, they meet,
and see his form, and kiss his feet.

The Eleven, when they hear, with speed
to Galilee forthwith proceed:
that there they may behold once more
the Lord’s dear face, as oft before.

In this our bright and Paschal day,
the sun shines out with purer ray,
when Christ, to earthly sight made plain,
the glad apostles see again.

The wounds, the riven wounds he shows
in that his flesh with light that glows,
in loud accord both far and nigh
the Lord’s arising testify.

O Christ, the King who lov’st to bless,
do thou our hearts and souls possess:
to thee our praise, that we may pay
to whom our laud is due for aye.

Orlande de Lassus’s setting of “Aurora lucis rutilat” is a motet for ten voices. Graham Ross describes the piece in the BBC Music Magazine article “The best choral music for Easter”:

A setting of an anonymous 4th century text – the Hymn for Lauds on Easter Sunday – Lassus’s motet begins by tenderly depicting the dawn of Easter morning, but soon leads to a double-choir celebration of the triumph of the resurrection, full of word-painting, jubilation and a brief triple-time passage proclaiming the joy of Easter day (‘in hoc pascali gaudio’). Written late in Lassus’s life, the work is a unique example in the Franco-Flemish composer’s output of Venetian polychoral technique, with harmonic completeness in each choir.

The hymn exists in several different English translations and variations and has been set to music by multiple composers or paired with preexisting hymn tunes. For example, I’ve heard it sung to LASST UNS ERFREUEN, a tune from seventeenth-century Germany that today is most associated with the hymn “All Creatures of Our God and King.” In this case, “alleluias” and other short acclamations are added to the verses.

If you want to use this hymn for congregational singing, I would recommend the following version (with LASST UNS ERFREUEN), which I cobbled together from a few different sources (including the Jubilate Hymns version and the Liturgy Fellowship Facebook group) but which draws heavily on Neale’s translation:

Light’s glittering morning fills the sky,
heav’n thunders forth its victor cry:
Christ is risen! Alleluia!
The glad earth shouts its triumph high
and groaning hell makes wild reply.
Christ is risen! O praise him!
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

For Christ the Lord, the mighty King,
despoils death and draws its sting.
Christ is risen! Alleluia!
He tramples down the pow’rs of night,
brings forth his ransomed saints to light.
Christ is risen! O praise him!
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

His rocky tomb the threefold guard
of watch and stone and seal had barred.
Alleluia, alleluia!
But shining now in glorious state,
he rises Victor from death’s gate.
Christ is risen! O praise him!
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Hell’s pains are loosed and tears are fled;
captivity is captive led.
Alleluia, alleluia!
“Weep not!” an angel voice has said.
“The Lord is risen from the dead!”
O praise him, O praise him!
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

All praise be thine, O risen Lord,
from death to endless life restored;
Christ is risen! Alleluia!
To Father, Son, and Spirit be
all pow’r and praise eternally!
Christ is risen! O praise him!
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Easter, Day 4

How did Jesus’s mother, Mary, come to find out that he had risen from the dead? Was she there when it happened, keeping vigil? Was she among the holy women at the tomb to whom the angel made the announcement, or did these women go to Mary to relay the news to her? Maybe an angel came to tell her personally? Or perhaps Jesus himself appeared to her, to tell and show, at the home where she was staying.

The Bible is silent as to Mary’s whereabouts between the time of Entombment and the events of Easter morning. Historically, there have been proponents of each of the above suppositions. But the one that has taken the strongest hold is the last one—that Jesus made direct personal contact with his mom after his resurrection, before appearing to anyone else. He wasn’t at the tomb when Mary Magdalene got there (unless, perhaps, he was lingering somewhere in the shadows). Where did he go in the early morning? Some scholars say he must have gone to console his mother.

The claim that Jesus appeared first to Mother Mary can be found as far back as Ambrose (340–397), who wrote in his De virginitate, “Therefore Mary saw the resurrection of the Lord: she saw it first and believed.”

Around 1300 the anonymous writer known as Pseudo-Bonaventure elaborated on this tradition in his highly influential Meditationes Vitae Christi (Meditations on the Life of Christ), providing a vivid and affecting narrative in which Mary, when the women depart for the tomb on Sunday morning, stays behind and prays for God to restore her son to her alive.  

And with that, she so praying, sweet tears shedding, lo suddenly our Lord Jesus came and appeared to her, and in all white clothes, with a glad and lovely cheer, greeting her in these words: “Hail, holy mother.” And anon she turning said: “Art thou Jesus, my blessed son?” And therewith she kneeling down honored him; and he also kneeling beside her said: “My dear mother, I am. I have risen, and lo, I am with you.” And then both rising up kissed the other; and she with unspeakable joy clasped him, sadly, resting all upon him, and he gladly bare her up and sustained her. [as translated into Middle English by Nicholas Love in The Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ, ca. 1400, with modernized spellings]

Pseudo-Bonaventure imagines a private, emotional reunion in a domestic interior. This episode was picked up by Ludolph of Saxony in his Vita Christi and by other writers, and it circulated throughout Europe. It made its way into the visual arts starting in the first half of the fourteenth century. The two most famous examples are the right wing of Rogier van der Weyden’s Miraflores Triptych and a woodcut from Albrecht Dürer’s Small Passion series.

But I want to take a look at this Italian Baroque bas-relief by the minor artist Giovanni Pietro Lasagna.

LOOK: Christ Appearing to His Mother by Giovanni Pietro Lasagna

Lasagna, Giovanni Pietro_Christ Appearing to His Mother
Giovanni Pietro Lasagna (Italian, d. 1658), Christ Appearing to His Mother, first quarter of 17th century. Terracotta.

I found this artwork in the blog article “Iconography of the Resurrection – Christ Appears to His Mother” by Margaret Duffy, which provides a fascinating compilation of images. Duffy cites its location as unknown, and I’ve not been able to find reference to it anywhere else. It was probably made in Milan, where the artist was active. An email inquiry I sent last month to the city’s Museo del Duomo, which has similar terracottas from the same period in its collection, has garnered no reply. It’s possible the work was made as a design for a marble sculpture.

Carved in low relief in the background, an angel sits on the edge of an empty sarcophagus and tells the three women with their ointment jars that Jesus is not here but is risen. Three untenanted crosses are visible in the distance on Mount Calvary, a shadow of Friday’s events.

In the foreground, sculpted in high relief, we see Mary at her prayer desk. She is interrupted by the triumphant entry of her risen son, attended by angels. Their arms reach out to embrace each other as her grief turns to joy.

To reinforce the news of resurrection, an angel who stands behind Mary peeks out from behind a curtained doorway and points to the concurrent scene that’s unfolding in the garden of Jesus’s burial.

I’m not certain of the identity of the figures behind Jesus. But in looking into it, I did find that there’s a legend, likely originating in fourteenth- or fifteenth-century Spain, that when Jesus appeared to his mother after the resurrection, he presented to her the redeemed of the Old Testament, whom he had just freed from Hades.* So it’s possible that the beardless young man at the upper left with his arms crossed over his chest is Adam, and that the figure at the right with one breast bared is Eve. And I think the man at the top right corner who’s touching them both is an angel.

Note the iconographic similarity to scenes of the Annunciation—Gabriel’s announcement to the young Mary that she had been chosen by God to bear his Son. This “emphasizes the parallelism between the heralding of the Incarnation by the Archangel, and Christ’s own announcement, to his mother, of the fulfillment of that Incarnation, that is, the Resurrection.”**

* James D. Breckenridge, “‘Et Prima Vidit’: The Iconography of the Appearance of Christ to His Mother,” Art Bulletin 39, no. 1 (March 1957): 28. This excellent illustrated article traces the literary and visual history of the resurrected Christ appearing to his mother, in its several variations.

** Ibid., 26–27.

LISTEN: “Be Joyful, Mary” (Regina caeli, jubila) | Words: Latin, 17th century, based on the 12th-century “Regina caeli”; anonymous English translation from Psallite, 1901 | Music by Nicholas Andrew Barber, 2020

Be joyful, Mary, heav’nly queen
Gaude, Maria!
Your son who died was living seen
Alleluia!

Laetare, O Maria
O Maria

The son you bore by heaven’s grace
Gaude, Maria!
Did all our guilt and sin efface
Alleluia!

Laetare, O Maria
O Maria

The Lord has risen from the dead
Gaude, Maria!
He rose with might as he had said
Alleluia!

Laetare, O Maria
O Maria

This song has its roots in a medieval liturgical text that is still used as an antiphon (short hymn) in the Roman Catholic Church throughout the Easter season. Gaude means “rejoice”; laetare, “be glad.”

The lyrics could be in the voice of the women who went early to the tomb and are returning with the great news, or it could be that we the faithful are imaginatively addressing Mary across time, inserting ourselves into that story of the first Easter morning.

Easter, Day 3

But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

—Romans 6:8–10

LOOK: Egg mosaics by Oksana Mas

Mas, Oksana_Post-vs-Proto-Renaissance
Oksana Mas (Ukrainian, 1969–), Post-vs-Proto-Renaissance, 2011. Hand-painted wooden eggs, installed in the Chiesa di San Fantin, Ukrainian Pavilion, 54th Venice Biennale, 2011.

Mas, Oksana_Post-vs-Proto-Renaissance
Mas, Oksana_Post-vs-Proto-Renaissance (detail)

Hand-painted wooden eggs are the primary material used by Ukrainian artist Oksana Mas in the past decade. She arranges them into colorful spheres or hemispheres or into monumental images, as she did for her Post-vs-Proto-Renaissance installation at the 54th Venice Biennale. This piece portrays segments of the van Eyck brothers’ Ghent Altarpiece [previously], whose two central scenes are (1) Christ (or God the Father, as some art historians argue) enthroned, and (2) the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, based on John’s vision in the book of Revelation.

The Biennale installation—inside the church of San Fantin—was only a portion of the full piece, which is a massive 92 by 134 meters in total, comprising 3,640,000 eggs. It featured panels of the enthroned deity, the slain but risen Lamb, and details of Adam and Eve.

Mas is inspired by the Ukrainian folk custom of Easter egg decoration called pysanky. Traditionally, pysansky are raw eggs that are dyed using a wax-resist method, the designs inscribed in beeswax. But for her art, Mas starts with wooden eggs, and color is applied with a paintbrush. For Post-vs-Proto-Renaissance, she distributed plain wooden eggs to people from all walks of life and across forty-two countries, asking them to paint them and return them to her. Having received hundreds of thousands of painted egg contributions, she assembled them like tesserae, affixing them to boards that are then placed into an architectural framework so that, when viewed from a distance, they form recognizable figures from the Ghent Altarpiece. When you get up close, you can see the diverse patterns and other designs painted onto the individual eggs.

View more photos at My Modern Met.

In May 2012, a different iteration of this piece was installed in Sofiyivska Square in Kyiv, which Mas called the Altarpiece of Nations.

Mas, Oksana_Altarpiece of Nations (Kyiv)
Oksana Mas, Altarpiece of Nations, Kyiv, 2012. Crowned in a papal tiara, Christ is flanked by his mother Mary and John the Baptist, a traditional composition known as the Deesis.

As a traditional symbol of new life or resurrection, eggs are often associated with Easter, and one could easily read Mas’s Ghent-inspired egg mosaics through that lens. In Venice, for example, you have Jesus in emblematic form as the sacrificial lamb, pouring out his blood at the altar, and then you have him exalted in majesty in his divine-human form, which together reference the death and resurrection narrative of the Gospels. Through that death and resurrection, we have been redeemed from the fall that’s alluded to in the wings—redeemed from sin and death, into life everlasting. It’s a very triumphal image, Mas’s. As is the liturgical artwork it’s based on, which shows all the redeemed in the new heavens and the new earth, gathered round “the Lamb at the center of the throne . . . [who] guide[s] them to springs of the water of life” (Rev. 7:17).

(Related post: “Egg Sketches by Autumn Brown”)

LISTEN: “Christus Resurgens,” Ireland, 12th century | Arr. Michael McGlynn, 2000 | Performed by Anúna on Cynara, 2000; compiled on The Best of Anúna, 2010

Christus resurgens ex mortuis, jam non moritur
Mors illi ultra non dominabitur
Quod enim vivit, vivit Deo

Alleluia (×4)

English translation:

Christ has arisen from the dead, and dies no more
Death will no longer have dominion over him
In that he lives, he lives unto God

Alleluia (×4)

“Christus resurgens” is an Easter chant in Latin that originated in medieval Ireland, its text taken from Romans 6:9–10. It is arranged here by Michael McGlynn and performed by the Irish vocal ensemble Anúna, which he founded in 1987. Much of Anúna’s repertoire comes from McGlynn’s arrangements, resettings, and reconstructions of early and medieval Irish music, as well as his original compositions.

This song is on the Art & Theology Eastertide Playlist.

Mas, Oksana_Post-vs-Proto-Renaissance
Photo: Steven Varni