Advent, Day 4: Maranatha (multilingual)

LOOK: God Heals by Anila Hussain

Hussain, Anila_God Heals
Anila Hussain, God Heals, metallic black and white print on Fujifilm paper with frame, 50 × 50 cm

A finalist for the 2021 Chaiya Art Awards, this black-and-white photograph shows a person at prayer, her hands cupped, anticipating in faith the receipt of what she’s asked for but open to whatever God gives. The woman pictured is photographer Anila Hussain’s eighty-something-year-old mother, who has suffered for years from chronic pain and prays multiple times a day for relief. Hussain is her primary caregiver.

With the woman’s face in the shadows and her rough, overlapping hands illuminated, closely cropped, and in the foreground, God Heals emphasizes a posture of humble and heartfelt entreaty.

LISTEN: “Ven, Señor Jesús, Maranathá” (Come, Lord Jesus, Come, O Lord), performed by Harpa Dei, 2020 [HT: Global Christian Worship]

Born in Germany and raised in Ecuador, siblings Nikolai, Lucía, Marie-Elisée, and Mirjana Gerstner form the sacred vocal quartet Harpa Dei. Here they sing a traditional chant invoking Christ’s return in ten languages, shifting voice parts and harmonies to beautiful effect. The lyrics are in the video and also below.

Māranā thā is Aramaic (the language of Jesus) for “Come, O Lord.” Christians have prayed this prayer since the apostolic era, looking toward the cosmic healing and restoration that Christ’s second coming will usher in.

SPANISH: ¡Ven, Señor Jesús, Maranathá!
ENGLISH: Come, Lord Jesus, Maranatha!
GERMAN: Komm, Herr Jesus, Maranatha!
FRENCH: Viens, Seigneur Jésus, Maranatha!
ITALIAN: Vieni, Signor Gesù, Maranatá!
CHINESE: 来吧,主耶稣 (Lai ba, zhu Ye su, Maranatha!)
HEBREW: !בּוֹא אָדוֹן יֵשׁוּעַ  מרנאתא (Bo Adon Jeshua, Maranatha!)
RUSSIAN: Гряди, Господи (Gryadi Gospodi, Maranatha!)
GREEK: ἔρχου, Κύριε (Erhu Kyrie, Maranatha!)
LATIN: Veni Domine, Maranatha!

Sheet music can be found here.

Lent, Day 6

LOOK: Breathe by Billie Bond

Bond, Billie_Kintsugi Heads
Billie Bond (British, 1965–), Breathe (diptych), 2018. Black stoneware, resin, gold, 15.8 × 13 × 7.9 in. each. [available for sale]

This pair of ceramic busts by British sculptor Billie Bond is inspired by the Japanese art of kintsugi, or “golden seams,” by which a broken pottery vessel is repaired using gold lacquer. With this technique the cracks are purposefully accentuated rather than hidden, and the mended object is even more beautiful than the original.

Japanese American author, speaker, and artist Makoto Fujimura has spoken extensively about kintsugi as a metaphor for human brokenness and mending in Christ. We come to Christ in fragments; he lovingly puts us back together. The scars remain, but like his, they shine.

For Bond, the kintsugi heads represent human fragility and resilience—particularly healing after grief or psychological trauma, and enlightenment gained through experience. View more of Bond’s kintsugi sculptures here.

Bond, Billie_Smashed ceramic head
Smashed ceramic head by Billie Bond, before being reassembled and repaired with gold

LISTEN: “Come Healing” by Leonard Cohen and Patrick Leonard, 2012 | Performed by Elayna Boynton at Crosswalk Church, Redlands, California, 2012; and on The Farewell (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack), 2019

O gather up the brokenness
And bring it to me now
The fragrance of those promises
You never dared to vow
The splinters that you carry
The cross you left behind
Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind

And let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

Behold the gates of mercy
In arbitrary space
And none of us deserving
The cruelty or the grace
O solitude of longing
Where love has been confined
Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind

O see the darkness yielding
That tore the light apart
Come healing of the reason
Come healing of the heart

O troubledness concealing
An undivided love
The Heart* beneath is teaching
To the broken Heart above
O let the heavens falter
Let the earth proclaim:
Come healing of the Altar
Come healing of the Name

O longing of the branches
To lift the little bud
O longing of the arteries
To purify the blood
And let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

O let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

* The official website of Leonard Cohen, maintained by Sony Music Entertainment, capitalizes “Heart” in this stanza; same with “Altar” and “Name.”

Known as “the poet of brokenness,” Leonard Cohen (1934–2016) is widely considered one of the greatest songwriters of all time. Spiritual yearning characterizes quite a few of his songs, the most famous of which is “Hallelujah.” He was Jewish, with a respect for other spiritual traditions and a fondness for Jesus Christ as a universal figure.

“Come Healing” is from Cohen’s 2012 album Old Ideas. Elayna Boynton, perhaps discovered through this YouTube video from a worship service at her Southern California church, was asked to record the song for the 2019 film The Farewell (an excellent watch!). Cohen’s deep growl of a voice, though it has its admirers, is not attractive to me, so Boynton’s cover really helped me hear the tremendous beauty of this song.

Elliot R. Wolfson describes “Come Healing” as “a poem that is prayer in its purest distillation, a prayer clothed in quintessential nakedness, an anthem that celebrates and laments the wholehearted fragmentariness of the human condition.”

The speaker prays for healing of body and spirit, head and heart. We bring our failures and our lack, our guilt and regrets and all manner of pain to the altar, to the “gates of mercy.” We long to bloom, to be purified. In the mystical unity of love that ties our hearts to God, our hurt hurts him. His heart breaks over seeing us suffer, whether as a result of our own sin (which is what Cohen’s “penitential hymn” seems to focus on) or due to things outside our control.

When we bring our cracked or shattered selves to God, acknowledging our inability to fix the damage, he will restore us to wholeness.

While spiritual salvation is granted instantly (at least in the understanding of my tradition) to the one who turns to God, through Christ, in faith and repentance, what about other types of brokenness that we come to him with? Why won’t he heal us of that chronic physical condition? Or that debilitating mental illness? Or the effects of trauma? Why won’t he heal that broken relationship between us and our parent, despite our efforts at reconciliation?

I don’t have an answer for that—why, though none of us is free of pain and hardship in this life, some suffer much more than others; or why some receive healing and others do not. But eventual wholeness, shalom, is promised to those who are in Christ. In the new heavens and the new earth, salvation will be holistic, infusing spirits as well as bodies, minds, relationships, systems, and the whole created world.

And sometimes we do receive glimpses of that wholeness here and now! Sometimes the cancer goes away. Sometimes the depression is effectively treated, and fulfillment made possible again. Sometimes the sobriety sticks.

Often God is piecing us back together slowly, such that the progress may be imperceptible until years later, we look back and can see it.

The song suggests that although we don’t always deserve the slings and arrows that come our way, neither do we deserve the lavish graces God bestows. Sometimes we’re so focused on the one that we fail to see the other.

Even though complete wholeness is not possible in this life, God still invites us to reach out to him with the shards of our life, to seek his healing in specific areas—with faith that he can heal whatever it is that’s broken! He will tend to the shards with loving tenderness. And maybe put them back together in a way we didn’t expect.

“Waiting” by Edith Lovejoy Pierce

Spilliaert, Léon_The Bather

Life is a waiting beside the pool of Bethesda,
Where the reeling crowds go by
Under the five porches of sense.
Life is a lying crippled
Beside the pool of deep longing,
Waiting for the water to unfold
Its white petals of healing,
Waiting for Someone to draw near and say: “Arise.”

This poem, inspired by John 5:1–9, appears in Therefore Choose Life by Edith Lovejoy Pierce (Harper and Brothers, 1947).

Image credit: Léon Spilliaert (Belgian, 1881–1946), The Bather, 1910, India ink and pastel on paper, Musée Modern Museum (Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium), Brussels.

Roundup: Pool of Bethesda, Argentine tango hymn, Ernesto Cardenal, beauty and suffering, “Spiritual Cosmonaut” playlist, and “The Two Popes”

VISUAL COMMENTARIES: “The Pool of Bethesda” by Naomi Billingsley: In a recent contribution to the online Visual Commentary on Scripture [previously], Naomi Billingsley has compiled and written about three artworks based on John 5:1–18, a story in which Jesus heals a paralyzed man at a reservoir in Jerusalem. A source of hydration, cleansing, and tranquility, the pool of Bethesda, Billingsley says, is a symbol that transcends individual religious traditions.

Pool of Bethesda

She discusses William Hogarth’s painting of the subject for a hospital, showing sick patients receiving care; a “Dreamtime” drawing from Aboriginal Australian artist Trevor Nickolls’s Bethesda series, created during his recovery from a major car accident; and The Angel of the Waters fountain in Bethesda Terrace in Manhattan’s Central Park, designed by Emma Stebbins in 1842 to celebrate an aqueduct that brought clean water to New York City and improved public health (and which you may recognize as the site where John the Baptist baptizes disciples in the opening sequence of the movie Godspell).

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ARGENTINE TANGO HYMN: “Tenemos Esperanza” (We Have Hope): This hymn text was written in 1979 by Federico Pagura (1923–2016), a Methodist bishop and human rights champion from Argentina, and set to tango music by Homero Perera (1939–2019) of Uruguay. Argentinian pastor Federico “Fede” Apecena, who lives in Georgia in the US, recently introduced the song to his friend Josh Davis, who heads the multicultural worship ministry Proskuneo, and the two banged out this awesome video performance. “The song is a record of all that Jesus came to do and to be,” Apecena explains at the end of the video. [HT: Global Christian Worship]

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OBITUARY: Ernesto Cardenal (1925–2020), poet and priest who mixed religion and politics in his commitment to social justice in Nicaragua, dies at 95: A Catholic priest, poet, and political revolutionary from Nicaragua, Ernesto Cardenal was a controversial figure. He supported the Sandinista insurrection against the dictatorial Somoza regime in the seventies and, when the Sandinista government (which claimed to integrate Marxist and Christian ideals) came to power, served as its minister of culture from 1979 to 1987. He viewed this post as an extension of his priestly office and, refusing to quit it at Pope John Paul II’s behest, was forthwith suspended from the priesthood in 1984. (Pope Francis absolved him of canonical censure in February 2019, permitting him to administer the sacraments once again.)

Cardenal’s most enduring achievement was his 1966 founding of a religious community among the peasant farmers and fishermen of the Solentiname archipelago in Lake Nicaragua. He saw to the construction of a small wooden church, where he led collaborative Masses: instead of giving a homily on the week’s assigned Gospel reading, he opened up dialogues about it with his parishioners, relishing their insights. Transcripts of these conversations were published in four volumes as El Evangelio en Solentiname (The Gospel in Solentiname) between 1975 and 1977, with English translations appearing in 1976–82—a classic work of liberation theology.

Besides cultivating the islanders’ interest in the Bible, Cardenal also took notice of their creative talents. He brought in artists to lead workshops, which led to the development of a primitivist art school that achieved international recognition for its paintings, many of them depicting Jesus’s birth, ministry, and passion taking place in Solentiname, in and around the familiar thatched-roof buildings, blue waters, and lush vegetation. In 1984 Orbis Books editors Philip and Sally Scharper combined several such images with a heavily abridged version of The Gospel in Solentiname and published it as The Gospel in Art by the Peasants of Solentiname, a slim, full-color hardcover that I highly recommend.

Guevara, Gloria_Visitation
Gloria Guevara (Nicaraguan), The Visitation, 1981 [source: The Gospel in Art by the Peasants of Solentiname]
“It was the Gospel which radicalized us politically,” Cardenal said. “The peasants began to understand the core of the Gospel message: the announcement of the kingdom of God, that is, the establishment on this earth of a just society, without exploiters or exploited.” Afraid of the dangerous ideas taking root in Solentiname, Somoza’s National Guard razed the settlement to the ground in 1977, and Cardenal was forced to flee to Costa Rica. He gave his blessing to his community’s decision to join the Sandinistas, the people’s army, to attempt an overthrow of Somoza, a victory they achieved in 1979. The surviving peasants returned to Solentiname to rebuild, and their practice of art and faith continues to thrive to the present day.

Cardenal is also known as a poet. I’ve read only one volume of his poetry, in English translation: Apocalypse: And Other Poems (New Directions, 1977). I didn’t connect well with a lot of it, but it does have a few gems, like “Prayer for Marilyn Monroe,” “The Cosmos Is His Sanctuary (Psalm 150),” and “Behind the Monastery,” reprinted here in full:

Behind the monastery, down the road,
there is a cemetery of worn-out things
where lie smashed china, rusty metal,
cracked pipes and twisted bits of wire,
empty cigarette packs, sawdust,
corrugated iron, old plastic, tires beyond repair:
all waiting for the Resurrection, like ourselves.

(translated from the Spanish by Robert Pring-Mill)

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LECTURE: “On Beauty” by Natalie Carnes: “Beauty has been leveraged in ways that wound us, with legacies of misogyny, class hatred, and racial injustice,” says Dr. Natalie Carnes, associate professor of theology at Baylor University. “And yet I want to suggest that beauty tends those same wounds, and can be found in those same wounds, for beauty is a name for God.”

In this half-hour talk given November 1, 2017, at Dallas Theological Seminary as part of school’s Arts Week, Carnes examines the paradox, expressed in the church’s art and theology across history, that God is both beautiful and not beautiful. In his suffering, Carnes says—his entering the ravaged and scarred places of our humanity—God does not renounce his beauty but reveals it.

The divine presence in grotesque suffering is not a departure from the divine life but characteristic of it. And that movement into the grotesque is not antagonistic to beauty but the revelation of it. God’s faithfulness goes by way of intimacy with not-God, and beauty by way of the grotesque. The beauty that rejects suffering is false, and the one who follows the call of beauty faithfully will find herself in the scarred places of the world. Beauty, after all, is a name for God, and God does not abandon divinity in identifying with the suffering and afflicted but expresses through such identification the very marker of divine life.

This is not to say that suffering, affliction, or poverty is beautiful. Beauty is distinct from the mode of its arriving. Poverty and suffering can be important sites of beauty, even as they are not themselves beautiful, because they mediate the beauty of the God who is charity. . . .

Beauty and Suffering
Left: Michelangelo, Last Judgment (detail), 1536–41 | Right: Matthais Grünewald, Isenheim Altarpiece (detail), 1515

Natalie Carnes is the author of Beauty: A Theological Engagement with Gregory of Nyssa, Image and Presence: A Christological Reflection on Iconoclasm and Iconophilia, and (forthcoming) Motherhood: A Confession.

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PLAYLIST: “Spiritual Cosmonaut,” compiled by Latifah Alattas: Last month singer-songwriter and music producer Latifah Alattas [previously] curated a short Spotify playlist of “Spiritual songs that stir my soul. Melodies that tap into mystery. Sounds that open me up to the wonder and peace of God.” It’s great!

Alattas is the frontwoman of the band Page CXVI [previously], which has just returned from a six-year hiatus. I’m so moved by their recently released rendition of “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” with piano, synthesizer, and pedal steel guitar. Alattas has made the song more communal, subbing out all first-person singular pronouns for first-person plural, even rewording whole lines, like the last two of the chorus, which become “Amidst the pain of this world you grieve with us—unfailing faithfulness, dwelling so near.” Or the final line of the final verse, which she changed from “Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!” to “Blessings for all, Christ within us resides.”

People who are attached to singing the song a certain way might object to such lyrical revisions, but I see them, along with the creative musical liberties she takes, as helping to bring out the themes that are already there. Alattas helped me to hear this classic hymn with new ears.

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FILM: The Two Popes (2019), dir. Fernando Meirelles: I recently watched this Oscar-nominated biographical drama and enjoyed it more than I thought I would! I wasn’t expecting the respect it gives to its subjects and to Christianity. Its title refers to the fact that, for the first time in six hundred years, the Roman Catholic Church has one reigning pope and one retired pope, the “pope emeritus.” (When Benedict announced his resignation in 2013, it shocked the world, as it’s expected that, if chosen, you serve in that role until death.)

The movie is primarily about the relationship between the traditionalist Pope Benedict XVI (born Joseph Ratzinger) and the progressive Pope Francis (born Jorge Bergoglio), which starts out antagonistically but buds into a friendship of sorts. It’s dialogue-heavy (it was adapted from a stage play), but in the most interesting way, as the two engage in “a series of philosophical and dogmatic discussions and disagreements about the nature of faith and forgiveness, and the direction of a church struggling to maintain relevance in the modern world” [source].

But it’s not just about the church’s struggle or the burdens of high office; it’s also about personal faith as a struggle—how to discern one’s calling in life, how to hear God’s voice and deal with his silence, and how to forgive oneself for one’s own tragic silences (in Benedict’s case, regarding the sex abuse perpetrated by clergy; in Francis’s, regarding the Dirty War in his home country of Argentina in the late seventies and early eighties, while he was serving as priest).

Francis’s backstory, of which I knew nothing beforehand, is told in flashbacks. (The fiancée is fictional, though the real Francis has admitted to having romantic crushes as a teenager and even as a seminarian.) The portrayal of both men, by Anthony Hopkins as Benedict and Jonathan Pryce as Francis, is very humanizing (not initially for Benedict, but his character gets there)—and not just because of the glimpse it provides into Francis’s life prior to the cloth, but also, in part, because of little nods it gives to their interests beyond the church, like Francis’s love of soccer and tango dancing, and Benedict’s piano playing and Fanta drinking. And because it shows their personal fallibility, their regret over past misdeeds.

It should be noted that the meeting of the two men at the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo prior to Benedict’s resignation is invented, as are many of their lengthy dialogues, which are nonetheless inspired by speeches, letters, and other writings of theirs, brought into conversation with one another by playwright and screenwriter Anthony McCarten.