Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them:
“. . . Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him,
“‘I saw the LORD always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
“Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses . . .”
I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.
Fakaukau (“Thought”) is the title ascribed to this Tongan sculpture in the excellent book Christ for All People: Celebrating a World of Christian Art, published in 2001, which also places it in a private collection. However, photographs of a very similar—if not the same—sculpture by the same artist can be found online under the name Anchor Stone (see photos here and here), and it’s publicly accessible. Its shape is based on the anchor stone through which Tongan fishermen tie the rope of their boats. You can see the hand of God holding the fisher tenderly yet securely as the fisher rests in that grasp.
Anchor Stone is located along the New Plymouth Coastal Walkway, an eight-mile path that forms an expansive sea-edge promenade stretching from Pioneer Park at Port Taranaki all the way to the eastern side of Bell Block Beach in the Taranaki region of North Island, New Zealand. More precisely, the sculpture sits at the eastern end of a bridge that crosses the Huatoki Stream, near the Wind Wand. The walkway features several other sculptures by Filipe Tohi, as well as artworks by other Pacific Islanders.
Filipe Tohi was born in Nuku’alofa, Tonga, in 1959 and moved to Taranaki, New Zealand, in 1979, where he trained as a carver with a Maori cooperative. His early sculptures were mainly in stone and wood, but more recently he has achieved recognition for large contemporary sculptures in aluminum and steel that are inspired by lalava, traditional Tongan coconut sennit lashing (used to build roofs and canoes). Tohi studied and learned this ancient art form during a return visit to his homeland in 1987 and has been responsible for revitalizing and popularizing it. See more of his work at http://www.lalava.net/index.php/ct-menu-item-17#6.
Christianity took root in Tonga in the first half of the nineteenth century when the country’s king, George Tupou I, converted and the people followed suit. It has been Tonga’s main religion ever since.
I first encountered the hymn “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go” a few years ago through a Calvary Collective album—I was extremely moved by Madison Cunningham’s understated arrangement and vocal performance, which captures so well the weary tone of the old text and tune. Cunningham adds a four-line chorus: “You will not let me go, so I will trust in thee. You won’t let go, so I will rest. You won’t let go, so I will trust in thee. O I will rest in thee.” Here is the full original text:
O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
that in thine ocean depths its flow
may richer, fuller be.
O Light that follow’st all my way,
I yield my flick’ring torch to thee;
my heart restores its borrowed ray,
that in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
may brighter, fairer be.
O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
and feel the promise is not vain
that morn shall tearless be.
O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
and from the ground there blossoms red,
life that shall endless be.
Upon hearing this, I immediately set about looking for a piano score—come to find that the hymn is in the hymnal I grew up with! And yet I don’t recall my congregation ever singing it.
In my estimation, “O Love” is one of the most sublime hymns ever written. It taps deeply into that feeling of “I’m tired, burnt out, spent,” meeting us there with gentle hope and joy. The first verse opens with a reminder of the tenacious hold God has on us and with a soul-invitation into the “ocean depths” of God’s being. What a contrast the hymn builds between our weakness and God’s strength. We flicker; God blazes. We bow our heads in exhaustion and lie down to die; God lifts us up and brings us into his full-flowering life. I know some churches have revived “O Love” using new tunes, but those, I feel, don’t hold a candle to Albert Peace’s original. The hymn often crops up in funeral programs and works beautifully in that context, but its relevance is by no means restricted to those at the end of life or those observing a recent passing.
I spent last week in New Mexico with my husband, Eric, and my in-laws, visiting relatives in the south, then driving up north to spend some time in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. It was my first time to the Southwest, to the state where Eric was born; his grandparents came over from Mexico as teenagers and settled in Hobbs, a small oil town, and his mom grew up there, learning English in school. I enjoyed all the tastes: spicy green chiles in or on just about everything (eggs, tacos, burgers, soup, corn, French fries); piñons (pine nuts) galore sprinkled alongside dusty footpaths, ready to crack open and eat; and sopapillas (pillow-shaped fried dough drizzled with honey) after every meal.
On the five-hour upstate drive, the blue sky spread wide open across the desert and clouds hung low, casting shadows that, from the car, looked like bodies of water. The way was flat, flat, flat—until we reached Santa Fe, where mountains rose up and aspens flickered their glorious gold.
In Albuquerque we went to the International Balloon Fiesta, where hundreds of hot-air balloonists come out once a year to fly. Unfortunately, high winds prevented the “mass ascension” from happening the day we were there, but we saw static displays—inflated balloons in all shapes and colors. (My father-in-law was partial to the Darth Vader balloon; I liked the lovebirds.) And I got to visit to the artisan tent, where I bought my first nativity set! It’s seven pieces in clay by New Mexico native Barbara Boyd. I set it up in our living room when I got home, but Eric says I need to put it away until Advent . . .
We spent an afternoon in Old Town Albuquerque, strolling past historic adobe buildings and into galleries, while street musicians—Native American flautists and mariachi bands, mostly—provided a culturally immersive soundtrack. Our first stop happened to be one of my favorites: John Isaac Antiques and Folk Art. Isaac has a beautiful collection of santos (Hispano Catholic religious images)—a whole roomful—both contemporary and from the last few centuries. I was close to buying a Saint Francis bulto by Ben Ortega (Francis was his hallmark) but decided against it, and now I wish I hadn’t. Nonbuyer’s remorse—ugh.
Just before we left Old Town, my mother-in-law suggested one last gallery: Santisima, owned by Johnny Salas. I immediately recognized the work of Albuquerque native Brandon Maldonado, which is heavily influenced by the tradition of Día de los Muertos. I’m really attracted to Day of the Dead imagery, with all its macabre whimsy—the kind that makes most Protestants feel uncomfortable. I think the draw, for me, is that it embraces death instead of shrinking away from it; it says, “Death, we do not fear you.” As Maldonado says, Day of the Dead is not meant to be frightful but rather mocking, in a way:
The masses may prefer to think of the deceased as haloed angels floating on fluffy white clouds, but I like the idea of dancing skeletons in hats!
At Santisima I was introduced to the work of the young santero Vicente Telles, also a native of Albuquerque. I really liked his Adam and Eve and Saint Pelagia retablos but most especially his Crucifixion one, which I ended up buying.
It shows a curtain opening up, and two chandeliers dangling, to present Christ on the cross, given for us. As is traditional in New Mexican art, his shoulders and knees are bloodied; in Telles’s interpretation, the blood marks Christ in patterns, almost like tattoos. The animas solas (lonely souls) in the flames of purgatory is also a common motif in New Mexican art. I do not personally subscribe to the doctrine of purgatory, so I read the souls, rather, as Adam and Eve awaiting redemption. According to church tradition, Golgotha was the site not only of Christ’s execution but also of Adam’s burial, which is why, since the Middle Ages, a skull is often painted at the cross’s base, emphasizing Christ’s role as the Second Adam. Telles shows Eve reaching out to touch this death-symbol, lamenting her and Adam’s primordial rebellion and pleading in faith, with her eyes, for deliverance from its consequences. This is the precursor to the Anastasis (Resurrection) icon of Eastern Orthodoxy, which shows Jesus breaking down the doors of Sheol and pulling Adam and Eve up out of their graves to be with him in heaven. We are dead in our sins until Christ raises us. His spilled blood has “loosed the pains of death” once and for all.
To give the retablo a glistening appearance, Telles applied a micaceous clay slip to the pinewood before applying the paint.