Advent, Day 6: That Holy Thing

LOOK: Holy Family at Night (Rembrandt’s workshop)

Rembrandt (workshop)_Holy Family at Night
Workshop of Rembrandt van Rijn, Holy Family at Night, ca. 1642–48. Oil on panel, 66.5 × 78 cm. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

During the Dutch Golden Age, the master artist Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669) ran a flourishing workshop in Amsterdam, overseeing the production of students’ paintings that continued the deep chiaroscuro and distinctive application of paint seen in his own work.

This painting from his workshop shows the Holy Family in a sparsely lit domestic interior at night. The Christ child lies asleep in a wicker cradle at the foot of a half staircase, his grandma Anne likewise nodding off as she rocks him gently with the cradle rope. Relieved by the quiet, Jesus’s mom, Mary, catches up on some reading, and Joseph taps liquid from a barrel on the left under the stairs (he’s very difficult to make out through the shadows).

This lived-in room is full of everyday objects from seventeenth-century Holland. Over the hearth on the left a copper candlestick holder is affixed to the wall. Behind Anne is a map, and beside her a spinning wheel, and a wicker basket hangs from the nail of a curved wooden beam. On the table to the right are a pair of old shoes, a flask attached to a leather belt, and a mortar and pestle, and a Jan Steen jug and other kitchenware are stored in the cupboard above. The shutters are drawn closed over the window. How utterly ordinary!

Although scholarly opinion since 1900 has identified the figures as biblical ones (the title is not the artist’s, as artists did not title their paintings at the time), for much of the painting’s history viewers interpreted it as simply a genre scene—that is, a scene showing regular people going about their daily lives. It lacks the “distinction, nobility, and loftiness” owed to biblical subject matter, it was believed, especially the Holy Family. There are no angels, no haloes. The only hint of sacredness is the pouring of light from a mysterious unknown source.

Rembrandt (workshop)_Holy Family at Night (detail)

But the ordinariness of the scene depicted is precisely what makes it so glorious. Jesus was born into a working-class family. For most of his life he labored as a carpenter, adopting Joseph’s trade. He wasn’t surrounded by lavish things. His upbringing looked much like that of all the other Jewish boys in Nazareth. That he was God incarnate would be revealed in time, to those who had eyes to see. But in the meantime, he cooed and pooed and cried and slept and fed and spit up like any other baby! And his mom was exhausted like any other mom, forced to sneak in some time for herself (including private devotional time, as she’s probably reading her Bible here) wherever she could, between childcare, chores, and other obligations.

That God chose to come to us as an ordinary human being born to an ordinary family (albeit conceived in an extraordinary way!) surprised everyone. The song that follows extends the surprise of the Incarnation into God’s other interventions in our lives, on a more personal scale. Just as he defied expectations in his first coming, so he often continues to surprise us in the ways he comes to us now—that is, not according to our own prescriptions, but down his “own secret stair,” when and where we’re least expecting it.

LISTEN: “That Holy Thing” | Words by George MacDonald, 1877 | Music by Katy Wehr, on In Others’ Words, 2008

They all were looking for a king,
To slay their foes, and lift them high:
Thou cam’st a little baby thing
That made a woman cry.

O Son of Man, to right my lot
Naught but thy presence can avail;
Yet on the road thy wheels are not,
Nor on the sea thy sail.

My how or when thou wilt not heed,
But come down thine own secret stair,
That thou mayst answer all my need,
Yea, every bygone prayer.

This song is a setting of a poem written by George MacDonald (1824–1905) in December 1877 and sent by letter to a handful of friends.* When it was first published in 1893 in the two-volume Poetical Works of George MacDonald, it was with this revised final stanza:

My fancied ways why shouldst thou heed?
Thou com’st down thine own secret stair;
Com’st down to answer all my need,
Yea, every bygone prayer!

The poem appears in the highly influential Oxford Book of English Verse (1900), compiled and edited by Arthur Quiller-Couch, but in its original form.

“That holy thing” is a translation of the Greek word hagios, which appears in Gabriel’s speech to Mary in Luke 1:35: “that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” Educator Missy Andrews unpacks the poem:

In “That Holy Thing,” MacDonald meditates on man’s expectations and God’s will. In the first line of the poem, the poet remembers the first-century Jews who suffered under Roman occupation, waiting for the Messiah who would restore the throne of David to Israel. He acknowledges their plight and their expectation, contrasting it with what they in fact received. The baby Christ represented both a gracious answer to their need, and an immediate disappointment. He satisfied the deepest intentions of their prayer and Yahweh’s ancient prophecies, but frustrated their earthy expectations for geographic kingdoms and vindication. Not only that, but the baby King “made a woman cry.” This references not only the immediate suffering and travail of the Christ Child’s mother, Mary, but ultimately the suffering that would rend her heart when He himself was lifted high upon the cross in answer to their desperate prayer for triumph over their foes.

The poet notes that his own travails and petitions, his own desperate need of God’s intervening help, is denied in its immediacy as well. For, although the Son of Man’s own presence alone can help to “right the lot” of the poet, his coming is not visible by road or sea. In this way, MacDonald acknowledges that his own expectations, like those of his spiritual forebears, eclipse his ability to see the Lord’s coming in his own circumstances. He acknowledges the differences between God’s ways and man’s, in faith acknowledging that the Lord answers man in his own ways and times, keeping secret His approach, but stealthily accomplishing man’s every need, answering his every prayer through the mystery of incarnation. This incarnate Child, the Son of Man, replete with humanity and no stranger to suffering, suggests a remedy for all who wait and suffer.

Andrews is a founding director of CenterForLit, whose goal is “to bring readers face to face with the world’s best books so they can know themselves more fully as God’s creatures.” The center has a special emphasis on equipping parents to teach the classics to their kids.

The commentary above is excerpted, with Andrews’s permission, from the first post of twenty-five published in Advent 2015 for the CenterForLit’s “Literary Advent” blog series (which is excellent!). Andrews provides interpretations of poems by John Donne, Madeleine L’Engle, Gerard Manley Hopkins, T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, and more, combining literary analysis and theological reflection. You can enjoy Andrews’s series in print form with the book Wild Bells: A Literary Advent.

Kathryn Wehr, PhD, is a singer-songwriter whose most recent album, which leans folk rock in style, is And All the Marys: Women Encountering Christ in the Gospels (2018).

Besides being a musical artist, Wehr is also a scholar whose interests include theology and the arts, spiritual formation, and church history. Her specialization is the religious drama of Dorothy L. Sayers, and as such, she is the editor of the forthcoming book The Man Born to be King, Wade Annotated Edition (IVP Academic, 2023). In addition, she is the managing editor of Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture at the Center for Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul, Minnesota. 

* Thank you to the Special Collections & University Archives at Taylor University, through whose British Author Collections I discovered this earlier composition date for the poem, as well as an authoritative version of stanza 3 from MacDonald’s own hand. They provided me with a scan of one of MacDonald’s handwritten copies of “That Holy Thing” (Ref. ID 482), which contains the headnote “Written for my friends—Christmas, 1877.”

Nature as extravagant gift from God

The following four poets/pray-ers express awe and gratitude for God’s bountiful heart as conveyed through nature, a gift given freely to everyone—new every morning. Each attributes to God an exceeding liberality, even prodigality (wastefulness), in such daily bestowals, which, as the Brazilian Catholic archbishop Hélder Pessoa Câmara (1909–1999) suggests below, ought to inform our own giving.

Sluijters, Jan_October Sun, Laren
Jan Sluijters (Dutch, 1881–1957), October Sun, Laren, 1910. Oil on canvas, 48.3 × 52.7 cm. Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, Netherlands. Photo: Victoria Emily Jones.

Untitled poem by Emily Dickinson

As if I asked a common Alms—
And in my wondering hand
A Stranger pressed a Kingdom,
And I, bewildered, stand—
As if I asked the Orient
Had it for me a Morn—
And it should lift its purple Dikes,
And shatter Me with Dawn!

Written in 1858; source: The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, ed. Thomas H. Johnson (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1955)

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Untitled poem by George MacDonald

Gloriously wasteful, O my Lord, art thou!
Sunset faints after sunset into the night,
Splendorously dying from thy window-sill—
For ever. Sad our poverty doth bow
Before the riches of thy making might:
Sweep from thy space thy systems at thy will—
In thee the sun sets every sunset still.

Source: A Book of Strife in the Form of the Diary of an Old Soul (self-pub., 1880)

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“The Excesses of God” by Robinson Jeffers

Is it not by his high superfluousness we know
Our God? For to equal a need
Is natural, animal, mineral: but to fling
Rainbows over the rain
And beauty above the moon, and secret rainbows
On the domes of deep sea-shells,
And make the necessary embrace of breeding
Beautiful also as fire,
Not even the weeds to multiply without blossom
Nor the birds without music:
There is the great humaneness at the heart of things,
The extravagant kindness, the fountain
Humanity can understand, and would flow likewise
If power and desire were perch-mates.

Source: Be Angry at the Sun and Other Poems (New York: Random House, 1941)

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Untitled prayer by Hélder Pessoa Câmara, OFS

Lord,
isn’t your creation wasteful?
Fruits never equal
the seedlings’ abundance.
Springs scatter water.
The sun gives out
enormous light.
May your bounty teach me
greatness of heart.
May your magnificence
stop me being mean.
Seeing you a prodigal
and open-handed giver,
let me give unstintingly
like a king’s child,
like God’s own. 

Source: The Hodder Book of Christian Prayers, compiled by Tony Castle (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1986)

Roundup: Visio divina with He Qi, MacDonald book club, and more

VISIO DIVINA SERIES: “During Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, C4SO [Diocese of Churches for the Sake of Others] celebrates artist He Qi, who reinterprets sacred art within an ancient Chinese art idiom. His work is a blend of Chinese folk art and traditional painting technique with the iconography of the Western Middle Ages and Modern Art. On each Sunday during May, we have licensed one of He’s paintings to illuminate one of the lectionary readings. We will provide prompts for you to do Visio Divina, or ‘sacred seeing,’ an ancient form of Christian prayer in which we allow our hearts and imaginations to enter into a sacred image to see what God might have to show us.” [HT: Global Christian Worship]

He Qi, "Calling the Disciples"
He Qi (Chinese, 1950–), Calling the Disciples, 1999. Oil on canvas.

May 2: “Jesus Calls His Disciples”: https://c4so.org/visio-divina-jesus-calls-his-disciples/
May 9: “Mary and Martha”: https://c4so.org/visio-divina-perfect-love/
May 16: “Look Toward Heaven”: https://c4so.org/visio-divina-after-the-ascension/
May 23: “Pentecost”: https://c4so.org/visio-divina-pentecost/
May 30: “Abraham and the Angels” (Trinity Sunday): https://c4so.org/visio-divina-trinity-sunday/

For this past Lent the C4SO brought us the Stations of the Cross by Laura James, a self-taught painter of Antiguan heritage, combined with a liturgy by their scholar in residence, the Rev. Dr. W. David O. Taylor. I appreciate their recognition of the value of visual art to the individual and corporate lives of their people.

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NEW DPP EDITION: Pentecost 2021: Pentecost is May 23, kicking off a new season of the church year—which means a new periodical from The Daily Prayer Project is hot off the presses! This is one of the publications I work for. “We celebrate and join in prayer with a vastly diverse church in this edition of the DPP. The Indian artist Jyoti Sahi’s dynamic painting Receive the Holy Spirit adorns the cover and leads us to a powerful remembrance of and meditation on that great outpouring of Pentecost. The church of the Caribbean gifts us with their song of Pentecost: ‘Fire, fire, fire! Fire fall on me!’ The Christian Council of Nigeria leads us in prayer and asks God to ‘grant us a vision of our land that is as beautiful as it could be . . . [and the] grace to put this vision into practice.’ The Korean songwriter Geon-yong Lee offers up a lament for the fractures of the church and invites us to truly long and work for unity: ‘Come, hope of unity; make us one body. Come, O Lord Jesus; reconcile all nations.’ . . .”

The two other featured artworks in this edition, which will be added to our online gallery May 23, are an abstract ink drawing by Takahiko Hayashi, evocative of the Spirit’s vitality, and a piece by Yuanming Cao that celebrates the steadfastness of the church in China using as its medium the everyday devotional materials of rural Christians in the Suzhou region.

[electronic (PDF) copy] [physical copy]

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VIDEO: “What happens to humans when we can’t touch?”: “Touch is how we first communicate as babies. And it’s fundamental to human wellbeing. So what happens when we can’t touch?” This recent BBC Radio 4 video by Daniel Nils Roberts discusses the importance of touch to human development, connection, and health. Roberts talks to scientists—and a cuddle therapist!—about why touch makes us feel good, and the skyrocketing of “touch hunger” since the onset of COVID-19. While I have been deprived of physical contact with friends for the past year and I sorely miss it (I hadn’t realized how much hugs, shoulder pats, etc., mean to me), I live with my husband and have been able to receive touch from him; I can’t imagine what it would be like for those who have been completely without touch during this time of restrictiveness. [HT: Joy Clarkson]

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NEW BOOK: Enjoying the Bible: Literary Approaches to Loving the Scriptures by Matthew Mullins: Released in January by Baker Academic. “Many Christians view the Bible as an instruction manual. While the Bible does provide instruction, it can also captivate, comfort, delight, shock, and inspire. In short, it elicits emotion—just like poetry. By learning to read and love poetry, says literature professor Matthew Mullins, readers can increase their understanding of the biblical text and learn to love God’s Word more.”

I found out about this book through the interview by Jessica Hooten Wilson in the current issue of Christianity Today, “Reading God’s Word like a Poem, Not an Instruction Manual” [HT: ImageUpdate]. In the interview Mullins says he hopes the book reaches those Christians who tend to privilege information and instruction in their scripture reading above enjoyment—people who go to the Bible only for facts about God or practical guidance, not an encounter. Mullins shows how the Bible wants to shape not only our intellectual understanding but also our desires and emotions, and that many scripture passages are not reducible to a simple message or takeaway. Those who read and enjoy poetry inherently grasp this about the Bible. Here’s a short lecture Mullins gave on the topic in 2018, “You Can’t Understand the Bible If You Don’t Love Poetry”:

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ONLINE POETRY RETREAT: Send My Roots Rain, Saturday May 15, 10 a.m.–3 p.m. UK time: Brought to you by the Church Times and Sarum College, this event will feature readings and/or presentations by Pádraig Ó Tuama, Malcolm Guite, Helen Wilcox, Mark Oakley, and others. The cost is £15 (about USD$20). [HT: Arts and the Sacred at King’s (ASK) weekly e-bulletin; email Chloë Reddaway to subscribe]

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SUMMER READING GROUP: Phantastes by George MacDonald, led by Kirstin Jeffery Johnson: The Rabbit Room is sponsoring an online book club this summer centered on Phantastes by George MacDonald, a fantasy novel whose young hero Anodos wakes up in Fairy Land one day and is forced to reassess his assumptions about himself and others. Fantasy is not a genre I naturally gravitate to, but I keep hearing about this novel from different sources—how perplexing yet alluring it is—so I’m going to give it a try! I’m especially thrilled that the discussions will be led by MacDonald scholar Kirstin Jeffrey Johnson. Oh, and fun fact: this is the book that C. S. Lewis said most shaped his vocational attitude and philosophy of life.

“The ‘live’ version of this book group, including the online forum, opens May 25 [with chapters 1–4] and will include Zoom chats every Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m. CST for five weeks. However, you are welcome to join at any time, even after the live chats have ended. The discussions will be archived, and the forum will be open indefinitely for new registrants to continue reading and discussing the book.” You can purchase a copy of the book through the Rabbit Room Store, or there’s this annotated edition I bought, edited by John Pennington and Roderick McGillis. (It has a beautiful cover, but the annotations seem geared more toward middle-grade readers.)

Hughes, Arthur_Phantastes illustration
Illustration by Arthur Hughes, from chapter 23 of the third edition of Phantastes by George MacDonald, published by Arthur C. Fifield in 1905

As a bonus, listen to “Giving as the Angels Give,” a two-part session from Hutchmoot 2019 that explores “some of the ways in which, as an author, teacher, and community-builder, MacDonald intentionally manifested hospitality.” Part 1 is a personal on-ramp to the topic by Jennifer Trafton (“I can’t think of any other writer who makes me feel the intimacy of God’s welcome more than MacDonald does,” she says), and part 2, which focuses more on MacDonald’s biography, is by Kirstin Jeffrey Johnson.


Note to reader: “HT” stands for “hat tip”; it’s an acknowledgment of where or from whom I first found mention of the content I link to—that is, if I did not discover it directly from the source itself. I include these tags, along with strategic hyperlinks on the names of people and institutions, because, other than simply being courteous, I want to aid you in building your own “Christianity and the arts” network. One of the primary questions I get from people is “Who should I follow?” or “Where did you find about . . . ?” Soon I will compile a list, on its own tab, of like-minded content curators/providers that inspire me, but regular readers of the blog will, I’m sure, have already picked up on who a lot of those are. And I’m learning of new ones all the time!

Roundup: Raban Maur, comic books, and more

SEMINAR: “The Language of Grace? The Action of God’s Love in Poetry and Art”: On February 6 at 6 p.m., as part of the Catholicism and the Arts York initiative, St. Wilfrid’s Church in Duncombe Place, York, will be hosting back-to-back talks: “Grace and the Poetics of David Jones” by Dr. Elizabeth Powell and “Full of Grace? The Desire of Art for God” by Katherine Hinzman.

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ALBUM FUNDRAISER: Love Secrets by John Mark Pantana: I really enjoyed Pantana’s 2017 debut album, Mighty Grace, so I jumped at the opportunity to support his next project on Indiegogo: Love Secrets. His voice is so soothing! So are his original lyrics, all about God’s love and grace. Visit him at https://www.johnmarkpantana.com/, and listen to one of the songs from his upcoming album, “Abba,” below. Fundraising campaign ends February 9.

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EXHIBITIONS

I love the curatorial approach of these two current exhibitions, which bring art from the Middle Ages or Renaissance into conversation with contemporary art. Rather than doing this to prove a disjunction sparked by modernity, the curators stress continuity between the artists of yesterday and today.

“Make It New: Conversations with Medieval Art,” Bibliothèque nationale de France (National Library of France), Paris, November 5, 2018–February 10, 2019: Curated by Dutch artist Jan Dibbets, “Make It New” explores the relationship between works of contemporary art and the medieval art of Raban Maur (Hrabanus Maurus), a ninth-century monk from Fulda, Germany, and a major figure of the Carolingian renaissance. The centerpiece of the exhibition is Raban Maur’s De laudibus sanctae crucis (In Praise of the Holy Cross), a Latin manuscript comprising twenty-eight highly sophisticated poems whose letters are arranged in simple grids over colorful, geometric cross patterns. At the BnF, these compositions are placed in dialogue with thirty-plus works by some of today’s minimalist, conceptual, and land artists, including Sol LeWitt, Carl Andre, François Morellet, Niele Toroni, and Franz E. Walther, stressing similarities in form, color, proportion, and perspective. [press release (English)] [compilation of Maur images]

The original figure poem cycle was produced around 810 at the scriptorium in Fulda, and Raban Maur had a hand in making at least five other copies during his lifetime (of which France’s National Library owns two: Lat. 2423 and Lat. 2422); seventy-four additional copies from the Middle Ages are extant. The Burgerbibliothek Bern in Switzerland has digitized its early eleventh-century copy (Cod. 9), and it’s really fascinating! Full-resolution downloads are enabled. According to the Benedictine abbot Odilo of Cluny, “no work more precious to see, more pleasing to read, sweeter to remember, or more laborious to write can or could ever be found.” I don’t know Latin, but visually, I can really appreciate these fine pages. I was hoping to find more information about the work but could really only find a single French lecture given back in 2007 by Denis Hüe, a professor of medieval and Renaissance language and literature at the Université Rennes 2 Haute-Bretagne.

In Praise of the Holy Cross by Raban Maur
Figure poem by Raban Maur, Fulda, Germany, ca. 822–847. BnF Lat. 2422, fol. 10v.

In Praise of the Holy Cross by Raban Maur
Figure poem by Raban Maur, Fulda, Germany.

Untitled by Sol LeWitt
Sol LeWitt (American, 1928–2007), Untitled, 1970. Ink on paper. © Adagp, Paris.

Work Drawing by Franz Erhard Walther
Franz Erhard Walther (German, 1939–), Werkzeichnungen (Work Drawing), 1967. Watercolor, ink, and pencil on paper. © Adagp, Paris.

“Bill Viola / Michelangelo: Life, Death, Rebirth,” Royal Academy of Arts, London, January 26–March 31, 2019: When pioneering video artist Bill Viola saw a collection of Michelangelo’s exquisite drawings at Windsor Castle in 2006, he was astonished by the Renaissance master’s expressive use of the body to convey emotional and spiritual states. Here the two artists are exhibited side by side, showing their common grappling with life’s fundamental questions, albeit in vastly different mediums. “Both artists harness the symbolic power of sacred art, and both show us physical extremes and moments of transcendence.” Among the twelve major installations from Viola, spanning his career, is Tristan’s Ascension (The Sound of a Mountain Under a Waterfall), a sixteen-foot-high projection depicting the ascent of the soul after death.

For February 16, the Royal Academy has organized a full day of events keyed to the exhibition, including poetry readings, a documentary screening, and a panel discussion with cultural historian Marina Warner, theologian Ben Quash, and artist Mariko Mori, titled “Art as fulfilment: the use of religion and spirituality in contemporary art.” Questions for the day include: Does art connect us? Can art be transformative or transcendental? Can art influence society—that is, change opinions or human behavior? Other offerings in addition to this program are a curator’s introduction on February 1, a short course on figure drawing, and a talk on the limitations and opportunities of digital art. Plus, the London Art Salon is hosting a talk on the exhibition by art historian Marie-Anne Mancio.

Tristan's Ascension by Bill Viola
Bill Viola (American, 1951–), Tristan’s Ascension (The Sound of a Mountain Under a Waterfall), 2005. Video/sound installation. Performer: John Hay. Photo: Kira Perov. Courtesy Bill Viola Studio.

The Risen Christ by Michelangelo
Michelangelo Buonarroti (Italian, 1475–1564), The Risen Christ,” ca. 1532–33. Black chalk on paper, 37.2 × 22.1 cm. Royal Collection Trust, UK.

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NEW COMIC BOOK PUBLISHER: Cave Pictures Publishing, founded in fall 2018 by Mark Rodgers, is committed to the telling of “modern myths” that “speak to the soul” through comic books in the genres of action-adventure, sci-fi, historical fiction, and fantasy. Pitched for the spiritually inclined, the stories they publish “seek to make sense of our world . . . draw us toward the source of goodness . . . uncover what we worship.” Says Rodgers in a Hollywood Reporter interview: “Just as cave paintings were humanity’s initial attempt to process through the tough ultimate questions of human existence, we look at our stories as ‘sherpas of the soul,’ to contribute to the individual and collective human journey towards meaning and a greater reality,” the One True Myth. Read more about the company’s influences and aspirations in this Convivium essay. See also the interview in Sojourners.

The Light Princess (Cave Pictures Publishing)

One of their five inaugural series is The Light Princess, an adaptation of one of George MacDonald’s best-loved fairy tales, about a princess who is cursed with weightlessness and is only brought down to earth by a true, sacrificial love. MacDonald was a Scottish author, poet (e.g., here, here, and here), and Christian minister who deeply influenced C. S. Lewis and J R. R. Tolkien. Speaking of Tolkien, I’m really digging this quote of his on Cave Pictures’ website, which affirms the value of story: “Legends and myths are largely made of ‘truth,’ and indeed present aspects of it that can only be received in this mode. . . . Long ago certain truths and modes of this kind were discovered and must always reappear.”

An On-Time God (Artful Devotion)

Waiting by Susanne Mitchell
Susanne Mitchell (American, 1973–), Waiting (from the series Silence of the Ordinary), 2015. Oil and mixed media on canvas, 162.6 × 149.9 cm (64 × 59 in.).

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope.

—Psalm 130:5

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SONG: “Wait on the Lord” by Ben Keyes, on Were You There? Are You Here? (2007)

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O Master, my desires to work, to know,
To be aware that I do live and grow—
All restless wish for anything not thee
I yield, and on thy altar offer me.
Let me no more from out thy presence go,
But keep me waiting watchful for thy will—
Even while I do it, waiting watchful still.

—George MacDonald, from A Book of Strife in the Form of the Diary of an Old Soul (1880)


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 14, cycle B, click here.

How Gentle (Artful Devotion)

Airborne by Andrew Wyeth
Andrew Wyeth (American, 1917–2009), Airborne, 1996. Tempera on hardboard panel. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas.

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.

—1 John 5:3–4a

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SONG: “How Gentle God’s Commands” | Words by Philip Doddridge (1702–1751) | Music by Hans Georg Nägeli (1773–1836) | Performed by Ordinary Time, on At the Table (2009)

 

How gentle God’s commands!
How kind his precepts are!
Come, cast your burdens on the Lord
And trust his constant care.

Beneath his watchful eye,
His saints securely dwell;
That hand which bears all nature up
Shall guard his children well.

Why should this anxious load
Press down your weary mind?
Haste to your heav’nly Father’s throne
And sweet refreshment find.

His goodness stands approved,
Unchanged from day to day;
I’ll drop my burden at his feet
And bear a song away.

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I cannot see, my God, a reason why
From morn to night I go not gladsome, free;
For, if thou art what my soul thinketh thee,
There is no burden but should lightly lie,
No duty but a joy at heart must be:
Love’s perfect will can be nor sore nor small,
For God is light—in him no darkness is at all.

—George MacDonald, from A Book of Strife in the Form of the Diary of an Old Soul (1880)


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 of Easter, cycle B, click here.

Torn-Down Kingdom (Artful Devotion)

Christ Exorcising the Evil Spirit by James Ensor
James Ensor (Belgian, 1860–1949), Christ Exorcising the Evil Spirit, 1921. Color lithograph from the portfolio Scènes de la vie du Christ (Scenes from the Life of Christ).

And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.

—Mark 1:23–28

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SONG: “Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down” | Traditional, performed by Willie Nelson on Country Music (2010)

This spiritual was first recorded and released by Blind Joe Taggart in 1931. An alternative version, “Satan, We’re Gonna Tear Your Kingdom Down,” is #485 in the African American Heritage Hymnal.

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Haste to me, Lord, when this fool-heart of mine
Begins to gnaw itself with selfish craving;
Or, like a foul thing scarcely worth the saving,
Swoln up with wrath, desireth vengeance fine.
Haste, Lord, to help, when reason favours wrong;
Haste when thy soul, the high-born thing divine,
Is torn by passion’s raving, maniac throng.

Fair freshness of the God-breathed spirit air,
Pass through my soul, and make it strong to love;
Wither with gracious cold what demons dare
Shoot from my hell into my world above;
Let them drop down, like leaves the sun doth sear,
And flutter far into the inane and bare,
Leaving my middle-earth calm, wise, and clear.

—George MacDonald, from A Book of Strife in the Form of the Diary of an Old Soul (1880)


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 Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, cycle B, click here.