Roundup: Jewish prayer song, stolen paintings, graphic novels by John Lewis, and new VCS videos

SONG: “Ahavat Olam”: Back in April the Platt Brothers—Jonah, Henry, and Ben—posted a home-recorded video of themselves singing this traditional Jewish prayer arranged by Gabriel Mann and Piper Rutman. (I know actor-singer Ben Platt from The Politician, which is probably how the video came to be recommended to me by YouTube!)

It stoked a lot of public enthusiasm, so on September 21 they released a studio recording, available for streaming and download from all major music platforms.

A translation of the Hebrew is as follows:

With an eternal love have You loved your people Israel, by teaching us the Torah and its commandments, laws, and precepts. Therefore, Adonai our God, we shall meditate on Your laws when we lie down and when we rise up, and we shall rejoice in the words of Your Torah and Your commandments forever. For they are our life and the length of our days, and we shall reflect upon them day and night.

O may You never remove Your love from us. Blessed are You, Adonai, Who loves your people Israel. [source]

+++

PIANO CONCERTO: Tomás de Merlo by Xavier Beteta: In February 2014 six religious paintings by the early eighteenth-century Guatemalan painter Tomás de Merlo were stolen from a church in Antigua. Although the thieves have been caught, the paintings have disappeared into the black market and have likely been smuggled out of the country. Wanting to preserve the essence of the paintings in music, Guatemalan composer Xavier Beteta wrote a piano concerto whose three movements, titled after the stolen paintings, are “La Oración en el Huerto” (The Prayer in the Garden), “La Piedad” (The Pietà), and “El Rey de Burlas” (The Mocking of Christ). Beteta said he may eventually compose three additional movements, one for each of the other three lost paintings.

Tomás de Merlo (Guatemalan, 1694–1739), El Rey de Burlas (aka La Coronación de Espinas), 1737

Last year the Camellia Symphony Orchestra in Sacramento, California, premiered the concerto. Listen to excerpts, interspersed with interview clips of the composer by Josh Rodriguez, in the video below—which is itself excerpted from the Deus Ex Musica podcast episode “How Stolen Sacred Paintings Inspired a New Piano Concerto.”

See photos of the other paintings at https://www.soy502.com/articulo/capturan-dos-robo-valiosas-obras-iglesia-calvario.

+++

DOCUMENTARY: The Painter and the Thief (2020), dir. Benjamin Ree: A story of crime and trauma, love and redemption, this documentary follows Oslo-based Czech artist Barbora Kysilkova as she confronts one of the men, Karl-Bertil Nordland, who stole two of her most prized paintings. A mutual friendship develops, and it’s so beautiful to watch.

What I love about the film is how it captures the rehabilitation of both subjects—in a way that honors the complexity, the nonlinearity of that process—and the role art can play in healing. “Barbar” forgives “the Bertilizer” and helps him on his road to sobriety, and he helps her access deep parts of herself and come to grips with the history of abuse she’s suffered. They become, in a sense, each other’s muses. His stunned, tearful reaction when he sees the first portrait she paints of him melted me—someone sees him for the first time.

With documentaries I always wonder who’s the person making it and why. I had cynically assumed the project was instigated by the artist to try to vitalize her career, but no, the filmmaker, who has had an ongoing interest in art theft, contacted Kysilkova after reading about the gallery break-in in the news. As is true with most documentarians, he had no idea when he started filming that the story would evolve the way it did and shift genres, and even become feature-length. Streaming on Hulu.

+++

INTERVIEW: In 2016 Adelle M. Banks of the Religion News Service interviewed Rep. John Lewis about the National Book Award–winning graphic novel trilogy March, the role of music and religious faith in the civil rights movement, protest (and getting into “good trouble”) as a form of Christian ministry, the urgent need for the church to be a headlight and not a taillight, and more.

+++

VCS VIDEO EXHIBITION SERIES: The Visual Commentary on Scripture [previously] is an online, open-access resource for those looking to explore the biblical text through art. For every passage of scripture, an art historian, artist, theologian, media theorist, or other is solicited to select and comment on three art images that illuminate the text in some way. The site’s typical format is written commentaries, but by way of experimentation, the VCS has just released video commentaries instead for four new texts. Ben Quash comments on the story of Lot’s Wife through the lens of an early English stained glass panel, a Flemish Renaissance landscape, and a stunning photograph taken after the Allied bombing of Dresden. For Belshazzar’s Feast from the book of Daniel, Michelle Fletcher is guided by paintings from the Dutch Golden Age and the English Romantic periods, which she juxtaposes with a contemporary room installation. But here I’ll highlight the videos for two New Testament passages.

The Burial of Christ, with commentary by Italian Renaissance art expert Jennifer Sliwka [previously], covers Andrea Mantegna’s innovatively foreshortened Christ on a marble slab; an altarpiece painting by Michelangelo, in which Christ’s dead body is held up for display, evoking the presentation of the eucharistic host; and a contemporary Pietà, of sorts, by Swiss artist Urs Fischer, which involves a skeleton and a fountain.

Michelle Fletcher, a feminist scholar and specialist on the book of Revelation, comments on the controversial apocalyptic figure known as The Whore of Babylon, which she discusses as a symbol of a city, as a satirization of the goddess Roma, and as bequeathing a legacy of vilification of prostitutes. Fletcher selected a didactic painting by street evangelist Robert Roberg, an ancient Roman coin, and William Hogarth’s A Harlot’s Progress.

No Hard Feelings (Artful Devotion)

Reconciliation between knights
Detail from a 14th-century Sienese panel painting, showing two enemies being reconciled by an archangel, embracing each other after having cast aside their weapons. Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.”

—Matthew 5:21–24

+++

SONG: “No Hard Feelings” by the Avett Brothers, on True Sadness (2016)

I could listen to Seth Avett [previously] sing all day—and sometimes I do. (Lately I’ve been gorging on his cover of the Tom Waits song “Fish and Bird”!) His light, plaintive, silvery voice moves my soul in a way that producer Rick Rubin embodies in the 2018 HBO documentary May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers, as in the clip below. (He’s the long-bearded guy swaying around with his eyes closed.) “No Hard Feelings” is the crux of the film, and it made me cry when I first watched it. It’s an aspiration to live without bitterness, without malice, without enemies—an aspiration arrived at by contemplating one’s eventual death.

When my body won’t hold me anymore
And it finally lets me free
Will I be ready?
When my feet won’t walk another mile
And my lips give their last kiss goodbye
Will my hands be steady?

When I lay down my fears
My hopes and my doubts
The rings on my fingers
And the keys to my house
With no hard feelings

When the sun hangs low in the west
And the light in my chest
Won’t be kept held at bay any longer
When the jealousy fades away
And it’s ash and dust for cash and lust
And it’s just hallelujah
And love in thoughts and love in the words
Love in the songs they sing in the church
And no hard feelings

Lord knows they haven’t done
Much good for anyone
Kept me afraid and cold
With so much to have and hold

When my body won’t hold me anymore
And it finally lets me free
Where will I go?
Will the trade winds take me south
Through Georgia grain or tropical rain
Or snow from the heavens?

Will I join with the ocean blue
Or run into the Savior true
And shake hands laughing
And walk through the night
Straight to the light
Holding the love I’ve known in my life
And no hard feelings

Lord knows they haven’t done
Much good for anyone
Kept me afraid and cold
With so much to have and hold

Under the curving sky
I’m finally learning why
It matters for me and you
To say it and mean it too
For life and its loveliness
And all of its ugliness
Good as it’s been to me
I have no enemies
I have no enemies
I have no enemies
I have no enemies

[Related post: “The Way of Love (Artful Devotion)”]

Directed by Judd Apatow and Michael Bonfiglio and filmed over the course of two years, May It Last charts the rise of the North Carolina folk rock band the Avett Brothers (Scott Avett [previously], Seth Avett, Bob Crawford, Joe Kwon) and follows them in the present during the creation of their multi-Grammy-nominated album True Sadness. The nucleus of the film is the brotherhood of Scott and Seth—their growing up in the South, their creative collaborations, and their constant love, respect, and support for one another. Marriage, divorce, parenthood, and illness are also highlighted, as these inform the songs on True Sadness, of which Seth says, “There are moments of undeniable celebration and camaraderie, others of quiet and lonely exhalation.” (This could really describe the Avett Brothers’ whole catalog.)

The documentary is wonderful; you should see it. It’s streaming for free on HBO or can be rented from YouTube, Amazon Prime, or Vudu.

+++

SALT Project paraphrases and expands on Jesus’s words from Sunday’s lectionary:

When God gave us this commandment, do you think the idea was that we would form a community in which we constantly antagonize each other, hate each other, abuse each other, wound each other—and then, at the last moment, refrain from murdering each other? Of course not. The spirit of “You shall not murder” is that your bearing toward your neighbors—both in your actions and in your dispositions, your hand and your heart—should never be enmity. Think of it this way: when you’re angry at your brother or sister, when you lash out with hateful words, isn’t that, too, in its own way a kind of violence, a lesser form of “murder”? Isn’t that, too, in its own way a violation of the commandment, an act of ruin against the healthy community the commandment is meant to help you create?


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 Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, cycle A, click here.

The Way of Love (Artful Devotion)

Absolution by Andrey Yanev
Andrey Yanev (Bulgarian, 1965–), Absolution, n.d. Oil on canvas, 130 × 100 cm (51.2 × 39.4 in.).

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

—Colossians 3:12–14

+++

MUSIC: “The Way of Love” by Béla Fleck | Performed by Béla Fleck, V. M. Bhatt, and Jie-Bing Chen, on Tabula Rasā (2011)

Tabula Rasā is a Grammy-nominated collaborative album by three virtuoso instrumentalists: American banjoist Béla Fleck, mohan veena (Indian slide guitar) player Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, and erhu (two-string Chinese fiddle) player Jie-Bing Chen.


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 First Sunday after Christmas Day, cycle C, click here.