Advent roundup: “All Creation Waits,” Rev Simpkins on “the last things,” and more

Before I launch into the Advent content, I want to alert newcomers to, and remind old-timers of, my Thanksgiving Playlist on Spotify (introduced here), which is revised and expanded since last year. You can get an overview at this blog post. From Destiny’s Child to Yo-Yo Ma, Meister Eckhart to Mister Rogers, there’s a little something for everyone, I hope. And exemplifying the global nature of Christianity, there are songs in Hebrew, Luganda, Zulu, Swahili, Yoruba, Spanish, French, Hawaiian, Arabic, Korean, and Tamil.

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ESSAY: “All Creation Waits” by Gayle Boss: In the northern hemisphere, Advent is accompanied by a deepening of the dark and cold. In her bestselling and wholly unique Advent devotional, All Creation Waits, Gayle Boss provides twenty-five reflections that detail how wildlife—turtles, loons, black bears, and so on—adapts to these changing conditions. Animals know that the darkness is a door to a new beginning, and we would do well to embrace this wisdom. In the book, each day’s reading is paired with a woodcut illustration by David G. Klein.

The year of the book’s 2016 release, On Being published the introduction on its blog, where Boss answers, “Why animals for Advent?” and describes some of the inspiration behind and framing of the book. This year Paraclete Press released a hardcover gift edition with a new introduction and afterword.

Woodcut by David G. Klein
Woodcut by David G. Klein, 2016. In All Creation Waits, Gayle Boss tells a story of how one year, a week into Advent, she found a manger in the woods, which local children had filled with hay for the animals, then shelled corn.

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SONG: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”: There are hundreds of arrangements and recordings of this most beloved Advent hymn. Last year I featured two that I particularly like, and I think I’ll start a trend on the blog by doing the same at the beginning of each Advent—sharing two new renditions of the song.

>> Anna Hawkins. Anna Hawkins is a singer-songwriter of Irish heritage living in New Zealand. In her version of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” from her album Divine (2015), she sings the first verse in Hebrew, honoring the lyrics’ rootedness in the Hebrew scriptures. The music video was shot in Israel (cinematography by Michael Hilsden from Aspiring Productions). [HT: Global Christian Worship]

חזור חזור עמנואל
ופדה אסירי ישראל
שבגולה נאנחים
עד כי תבוא בן- האלוהים
,שמחו! שמחו! עמנואל
יבוא לכם בני ישראל

Chazor, chazor Immanu-El
Ufde asirei Israel
Shebagola ne’enachim
Ad ki tavo Ben Elohim
Simchu, Simchu, Immanu-El
Yavo lachem bnei-Israel

[English translation:]
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel

>> CeCe Winans, arr. Alvin Love III. CeCe Winans is a gospel legend. On Something’s Happening! A Christmas Album (2018), she collaborated with her son, Alvin Love III, who wrote the lush orchestral arrangements and produced the record. “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” opens with a celesta, which sounds like a music box or twinkling stars and has long been associated with the supernatural. The accompaniment is played by the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Tim Akers.

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VISUAL MEDITATION: “I Corinthians 7:29-31: God Only Knows” by Lynn Miller: The Rev. Dr. Lynn Miller is an author, ecclesiastical artist, workshop leader, and Presbyterian minister who holds a BFA in graphic design, an MA in art history, an MFA in creative writing, an MDiv, and a DMin. From 2014 to 2021 she ran the blog Art&Faith Matters, curating a diversity of images based on the liturgical calendar. In this post she guides us in looking at the surrealist painting At the Appointed Time by Kay Sage, which features a mysterious, draped figure or object and lines receding toward the horizon. “What do you see in the painting? What do you think about what you see? What do you wonder about this painting?” She posits a number of possible interpretations.

Sage, Kay_At the Appointed Time
Kay Sage (American, 1898–1963), At the Appointed Time, 1942. Oil on canvas, 81.3 × 99.1 cm. Newark Museum of Art, Newark, New Jersey.

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PODCAST SERIES: “Whispered Light: Advent Reflections on Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell” by Matt Simpkins: In this four-episode podcast series from December 2020, the Rev. Matt Simpkins, an Anglican priest and musician from Essex, explores the four themes traditionally contemplated by Christians during Advent—death, judgment, heaven, and hell—through four old American folk songs. He performs the songs, giving their history and using them as a launchpad for spiritual and theological reflection, which also integrates discussion of the Psalms. He addresses misconceptions about these “last things,” tracing the thread of hope and redemption that runs through them all. Just twenty to thirty minutes each, the episodes are available on your favorite podcast app and on YouTube (links below).

Simpkins records music under the name Rev Simpkins & The Phantom Notes. Check him out on Spotify or wherever you listen to music.

Emily Dickinson on heaven

I’ve been working my way through Emily Dickinson’s complete poems and falling in love with her all over again.

Dickinson wrote a lot about death, eternity, immortality, the afterlife. Most people are familiar with “This World is not Conclusion,” “Because I could not stop for Death –,” and “I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –,” to name a few—all mainstays of middle school English curricula in the US. Below I’ve selected three of her lesser-known poems about heaven, which she describes as: Being truly known. Full sight. Day. The quenching of a deep thirst that nothing on earth can satisfy. Permanence.

I’ve reproduced them as they appear in Emily Dickinson’s Poems: As She Preserved Them, edited by Cristanne Miller (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2016). Dickinson did not title her poems, so scholars refer to them by their first line.

Hong, Seonna_World Without End
Seonna Hong (American, 1973–), World Without End, 2015. Acrylic and oil pastel on canvas, 48 × 60 in. (121.9 × 152.4 cm). [artist’s website]

At last – to be identified –
At last – the Lamps upon your side –
The rest of life – to see –

Past Midnight – past the Morning Star –
Past Sunrise – Ah, what leagues there were –
Between Our feet – and Day!

Late 1862 (revised from the 1860 version)

We thirst at first – ’tis Nature’s Act –
And later – when we die –
A little Water supplicate –
Of fingers going by –

It intimates the finer want –
Whose adequate supply
Is that Great Water in the West –
Termed Immortality –

Second half of 1863

It is an honorable Thought
And makes One lift One’s Hat
As One met sudden Gentlefolk
Upon a daily Street

That We’ve immortal Place
Though Pyramids decay
And Kingdoms, like the Orchard
Flit Russetly away

Late 1865

Roundup: Paradise-themed contemporary art, Rogationtide hymn, Gija Ascension painting, and more

EXHIBITION: Here After, Bridge Projects, Los Angeles, May 7–July 30, 2022: This latest offering from the spirituality-forward art gallery Bridge Projects looks amazing! I appreciate their commitment to featuring religiously and ethnically diverse artists, as well as a range of styles and media.

Here After exhibition
Andrea Büttner, Dancing Nuns, 2007; Tuan Andrew Nguyen, video still from The Boat People, 2020; Belu-Simion Fainaru, Monument for Nothingness, 2012–22; Bonita Helmer, The Four Worlds (Tiferet), 2002–5; Afruz Amighi, Guardian, 2021; Mercedes Dorame, Orion’s Belt—Paahe’ Sheshiiyot—a map for moving between worlds, 2018

The group exhibition features thirty-seven artists who explore the idea of paradise—both how it has been pursued on earth across history, and how it is imagined after life. From Pure Land Buddhism’s chant “Namu Amida Butsu” (“I take refuge in Amida Buddha”) to Christianity’s prayer for the Kingdom to be “on earth as it is in heaven,” the concepts of paradise are as diverse as those who hope for it.

In Here After, works like William Kurelek’s Farm Boy’s Dream of Heaven (1963) envision an eschatological beyond in figurative form, while works by Bonita Helmer and Zarah Hussain do so in more abstract terms. Andrea Büttner and Claire Curneen’s works point to a vulnerable, sensual bodiliness, embedded in the surface of the world where all things come to pass. There is a land beyond the river by Gyun Hur and Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s The Boat People make space for remembrance of those who have passed, while Afruz Amighi, Mercedes Dorame, and Charwei Tsai position the viewer between worlds, feet firmly planted on the ground yet gazing at the glory and wonder of the beyond. In his installation Skywall, David Wallace Haskins plunges into the boundless sky and its immaterial light, letting all the expansive beauty grip the viewer. Kate Ingold intones the rhythmic mantras of what the divine is not with minute stitches, employing almost impossible patience to painstakingly outline absence. Kris Martin lodges small contradictions in the mind, which, in time, grow to be distracting puzzles—the candle in a sealed box, whose existence cannot be proven with the senses. And Tatsuo Miyajima uses digital counters to display the uncountable, unending dimension of existence.

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SONGS:

>> “O Jesus, Crowned with All Renown,” performed by Jon and Amanda McGill: The Monday to Wednesday preceding Ascension Day is known as Rogationtide, a short liturgical period (observed by most Anglicans, Episcopalians, Catholics, and others) in which we pray that God blesses the crops so that they yield a good harvest. It falls on May 23–25 this year. The hymn “O Jesus, Crowned with All Renown” is especially associated with the Rogation Days. It was written in 1860 by Edward White Benson, archbishop of Canterbury, and is typically paired with the tune KINGSFOLD.

O Jesus, crowned with all renown,
Since thou the earth hast trod,
Thou reignest, and by thee come down
Henceforth the gifts of God.
Thine is the health and thine the wealth
That in our halls abound,
And thine the beauty and the joy
With which the years are crowned.

Lord, in their change, let frost and heat
And winds and dews be giv’n;
All fostering power, all influence sweet,
Breathe from the bounteous heav’n.
Attemper fair with gentle air
The sunshine and the rain,
That kindly earth with timely birth
May yield her fruits again.

That we may feed the poor aright,
And gathering round thy throne,
Here, in the holy angels’ sight,
Repay thee of thine own:
That we may praise thee all our days,
And with the Father’s name,
And with the Holy Spirit’s gifts,
The Savior’s love proclaim.

Spiritual director and writer Tamara Hill Murphy explains the meaning of Rogationtide:

“Rogation” is derived from the Latin verb rogare, which means “to ask.” In the liturgies of Rogation Days, we ask the Lord to bless the fields, the crops, and the hands of farmers who produce our food. Worship on Rogation Days teaches us that we depend upon God’s favor over his land. We ask him for goodness over not just an abstract idea of our “land” but the very real earth beneath our feet in our backyards, our neighborhoods, and whatever part of the earth our feet hit the ground. As we’ve become a post-industrial society, the prayers for Rogation Days have expanded to include not only prayers for farmers and fishermen, but also for commerce and industry, and for all of us as stewards of creation.

>> “The Twelve: An Anthem for the Feast of Any Apostle,” words by W. H. Auden and music by William Walton: In 1965 the dean of the choir school at Christ Church, Oxford—Dr. Cuthbert Simpson—approached poet W. H. Auden and composer William Walton to write a choral anthem for use on apostolic feast days. “The Twelve” is the result. In this video filmed at Keble College, Oxford, in July 2021, it is performed by the vocal ensembles VOCES8 and Apollo5 (both directed by Barnaby Smith), with Peter Holder on organ. Learn more about the background and structure of the anthem here.

This performance appears on Renewal?, a concept album released February 25 that combines new works by Paul Smith (cofounder of VOCES8) and Donna McKevitt with works by three influential modern composers: William Walton, John Cage, and William Henry Harris. “Multifaceted texts by Lal Ded, Edmund Spenser, W. H. Auden, Lord Byron, Pablo Neruda, Maya Angelou, and Edna St. Vincent Millay offer space to consider our world, past and present, and meditate on a response to build a better future.”

You can read the full text of “The Twelve” in the YouTube video description. It begins,

Without arms or charm of culture,
Persons of no importance
From an unimportant Province,
They did as the Spirit bid,
Went forth into a joyless world
Of swords and rhetoric
To bring it joy.

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VISUAL MEDITATIONS:

Ascension Day occurs every year on the Thursday that falls forty days after Easter (see Acts 1:1–3). This year it is May 26. Here are two Ascension-themed visual meditations from ArtWay.eu.

>> On the Reidersche Tafel, by Nigel Halliday: This ivory bas-relief, which was probably originally embedded in a book cover, is the earliest known representation of the Ascension. It shows Jesus striding up a mountain, being pulled up into heaven by the hand of God the Father. (Mark and Luke use the passive voice to describe the Ascension: “he was taken up into heaven.”) He is dressed in a toga and holding a scroll. Learn more from Nigel Halliday at the above link, or visit this Instagram post I made two years ago.

Ascension (Reidersche Tafel)
The Women at Christ’s Tomb and the Ascension, Milan or Rome, ca. 400. Ivory plaque, 18.7 × 11.5 cm. Bayerisches Nationalmuseum (Bavarian National Museum), Munich, Germany.

>> On Ngambuny Ascends by Shirley Purdie, by Rod Pattenden: Ngambuny is the Gija name for Jesus. Aboriginal Australian artist Shirley Purdie sets his ascension within the indigenous landscape of the Bungle Bungle Range, using her characteristic style of dotted outlines. “Purdie draws on her cultural tradition to locate the presence of God within the skin of her land,” writes the Rev. Dr. Rod Pattenden. “Her work is literally painted with the earth, as she collects ochres from the land she is responsible for and mixes it with glue to attach to her warm hued canvases.” Pattenden offers a fascinating reading of Purdie’s Ngambuny Ascends, discussing the use of black ocher, God as Creator Spirit alive in the earth, and more.

Purdie, Shirley_Ngambuny Ascends
Shirley Purdie (Gija, 1948–), Ngambuny Ascends, 2013. Natural ocher on canvas, 60 × 80 cm. Private collection. The artist is represented by the Warmun Art Centre in Warmum, WA, Australia.

Advent, Day 26

For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

—Matthew 24:27

Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God.

—Revelation 19:11–13

LOOK: Jesus Rides a White Horse by James B. Janknegt

Janknegt, James B._Jesus Rides a White Horse
James B. Janknegt (American, 1953–), Jesus Rides a White Horse, 2012. Oil on canvas, 18 × 36 in.

LISTEN: “Ride On, King Jesus,” African American spiritual | Performed by Olivet Nazarene University Proclamation Gospel Choir, 2018

Because this song was composed and transmitted orally, many lyrical variations exist. The lyrics used in this particular rehearsal performance are as follows:

Ride on, King Jesus!
No man can a-hinder thee
Ride on, King Jesus!
No man can a-hinder thee
No man can a-hinder thee

In that great gettin’-up morning
Fare thee well, fare thee well!
In that great gettin’-up morning
Fare thee well, fare thee well!

Gonna talk about the coming of the Savior
Fare thee well, fare thee well!
Gonna talk about the coming of the Savior
Fare thee well, fare thee well!

Lightning will be flashing
Thunder will be rolling
Trees will be bending
Trees will be bending

No man can a-hinder thee!

Advent, Day 16

And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”

—Revelation 21:2–5a

LOOK: The New Jerusalem by Sassandra

Sassandra_The New Jerusalem
Jacques Richard Sassandra (French, 1932–), The New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:1–4a), 1970–80. Paper collage with AquaLac, 86 × 110 cm.

Jacques Richard, whose artist name is Sassandra, was born in 1932 to a French missionary family in Sassandra, Ivory Coast, where he spent his youth. Upon returning to France, he studied art, followed by theology, and soon became an art teacher in Paris public schools while also maintaining a studio art practice of drawing, painting, collaging, and woodblock printing.

This image is the last of thirty-four collages in his Apocalypse series, compiled in the beautifully produced book Apocalypse: A travers le dernier livre de la Bible | Bilder zum letzten Buch der Bibel (Pictures from the Last Book of the Bible) (1980), with text from Revelation in French and German. View selections from the book at http://galeriesassandra.fr/Apocalypse/index.html.

It shows the hands of God lovingly lowering the heavenly city to earth—the two realms reunited at last. The cross is at the center, forming the trunk of the tree of life, and the Holy Spirit spreads her wings over all.

[Related post: “Grief and Loss Will Be Undone (Artful Devotion)”]

LISTEN: “New World Coming” by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, 1969 | Performed by Nina Simone on Here Comes the Sun, 1971

There’s a new world comin’
And it’s just around the bend
There’s a new world comin’ (joy, joy, joy . . .)
This one’s comin’ to an end

There’s a new voice callin’
And you can hear it if you try
And it’s growing stronger
With every day that passes by (yeah, yeah, yeah . . .)

There’s a brand-new mornin’
Rising clear and sweet and free
There’s a new day dawning
That belongs to you and me

Yes, a new world’s comin’
You know the one I’m talking about
The one we’ve had visions of
And it’s comin’ in peace, comin’ in joy
Comin’ in peace, comin’ in joy
Come in peace, come in joy
Comin’ in love

And I saw another sign in heaven
Great and marvelous
Seven angels having the seven last plagues
For in them is filled up the wrath of God
And I saw, as it were, a sea of glass mingled with fire
And them that had gotten the victory over the beast
And over his image
And over his mark
And over the number of his name
Stand on the sea of glass
Having the harps of God all around them

There’s a new world comin’
And it’s just around the bend
There’s a new world comin’
This one’s comin’ to an end

There’s a new voice callin’
And you could hear it if you would just give it a try
And it’s growing stronger
With every day that passes by

And there’s a brand-new mornin’
Rising clear and sweet and free
There’s a new day dawning
That belongs to you and me

Yes, a new world’s comin’
The one we’ve had visions of

Comin’ in peace, yeah
Comin’ in joy, yeah
Comin’ in peace now, yeah
Comin’ in love now, yeah
Comin’ in peace now, yeah
Comin’ in joy now, yeah
Comin’ in peace now, yeah
Comin’ in love, yeah
Comin’ in peace . . .
Comin’ in joy . . .
Comin’ in love (joy)

This song, as you may have noticed, includes a recitation of Revelation 15:1–2:

Then I saw another portent in heaven, great and amazing: seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is ended.

And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. (NRSV)

After a cosmic battle between good and evil, peace, love, and joy come to roost.

Album recommendation: Mercy by Natalie Bergman

Much has been written about Natalie Bergman’s debut solo album, Mercy, which she self-produced and released May 7 through Third Man Records. Described as “a psychedelic spin on vintage gospel-soul” (Brooklyn Vegan), it comprises twelve original songs that combine praises and intercessions to God with expressions of grief over the recent, sudden death of her dad in a car accident. It’s excellent, and I wish I had time to write about it in more depth. Instead, let me just share four of the music videos Bergman created to coincide with the album, and commend to you the interviews she did with Aquarium Drunkard and Hero magazine, both in which she discusses her Christian faith, her visual and musical influences, and the impetus behind the album.

Natalie Bergman, Mercy

Chicago-bred and Los Angeles–based, Bergman formed a band with her brother Elliot after high school, the psych-pop duo Wild Belle; they eventually signed to Columbia Records, and have toured internationally.

In October 2019, when Wild Belle was getting ready to go onstage at Radio City Music Hall, the siblings learned that their father and stepmother had been killed by a drunk driver. To process her grief, Bergman retreated to the Benedictine Monastery of Christ in the Desert in New Mexico’s Chama Valley in February 2020, where she spent time in silence and going to chapel, where the resident monks prayed the Divine Office seven times a day, starting at 4 a.m. The seeds for the album were planted there, as she talked to God and listened.

As evidenced by comments on social media, some people are incredulous that a singer of this status and level of artistry would choose to sing about Jesus in a nonironic way, from a place of genuine faith. Could contemporary Christian music really be this beautiful? Could a sung spirituality that straightforwardly proclaims things like “Jesus is our friend” and “Oh, I need you, Lord” really have a broad appeal, one that extends beyond churchgoers, as Bergman’s music does?

Unwilling to take her new music at face value, some have even suggested that Bergman’s videos are making fun of Christianity, or that she’s using the name “Jesus” as some kind of metaphor. Bunk!

In addition to referring to Mercy as a gospel album, Bergman speaks openly, in secular media, about her love of “traditional praise music” and her desire to share “the good news” and her “testimony”—of hope in the midst of sorrow, of the companionship of Christ, of a Love that calls us home.

  • “I have my own poems that I want to sing about God and about my father . . . my own Psalms.” [source]
  • “I’m a Christian fighting the good fight, and I want that to be the message. I want the message to be love and the goodness of the creator and why we were created.” [source]
  • “I think that God has given me this platform to praise his name in a loving way. I would love this music to work through people and become a sort of healing agent for others.” [source]
  • “I need my art and I need my faith. . . . Faith has become my greatest consolation, and it’s really allowed me to see the light. I think that the relationship between music and faith go hand in hand—one needs the other.” [source]

Because Mercy completely defies the expectations set by the contemporary Christian music industry, on the one hand, and alternative music on the other, it has confounded some listeners. Music podcaster John J. Thompson—rightfully, I think—sees the album as in line with the countercultural Christian music (sometimes referred to as “Jesus Music”) of the 1970s, an association Bergman embraces.

(Related post: “Of pain and praise: Cherry Blossoms by Andy Squyres”)

I see Mercy as a gorgeous (and groovy!) example of moving through grief with hope, clinging unabashedly to God’s promises and inviting others to do the same. Whereas doubt and cynicism seem to be the order of the day in US culture, Bergman demonstrates a trust in the Divine that is childlike but not childish, simple but not simplistic. She confronts the pain of loss while also consenting to the uplift that God brings. She sings praises in the valley, plays in puddles.

Not only do I love Bergman’s sound; I dig her style too! You’ll see what I mean in the music videos below.

Purchase Mercy on Bandcamp, or wherever else you get your music.

“Talk to the Lord”

This is my favorite song on the album, and the video is so enchanting! Bergman designed and made by hand her wardrobe as well as the set pieces. The blocks were inspired partly by Sister Corita Kent, a sixties pop artist and nun, and the banners were prompted by Bergman’s memory of the liturgical banners her mother made for their church growing up.

Bergman also made the kite in the video, which she yokes to her back—a reference, I’m assuming, to Matthew 11:28–30, where Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

In other video segments Bergman dances in the grass wearing a black leotard and a black cardboard cutout around her face with white stripes projecting outward like flower petals or rays of light. This recalls lines from the song: “He who makes the flowers face the sun / And all the creatures sing / He can make the heavens rain . . .” Her mourning is turned to dancing as she lets in the Light.

You can also watch Bergman perform “Talk to the Lord” with the Chicago Children’s Choir as part of GRAMMY.com’s Positive Vibes Only video series. What joy!

“Shine Your Light on Me”

This music video was filmed in 4:3 on television cameras from the 1960s, with an aesthetic inspired by a 1967 performance by Diana Ross and the Supremes. Bergman performs in a beehive hairdo and a vintage mirror dress that reflects the light (“light is the inherent message behind this music,” she says), on a set designed by Hanrui Wang.

The song includes contributions from Elsa Harris and the Larry Landfair Singers, whom Bergman previously sang with at her father’s funeral.

I Will Praise You”

This one has a reggae rhythm.

Home at Last”

“Home at Last” was filmed in and around the historic Lincoln Avenue Methodist Church in the Montecito Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, a Carpenter Gothic and Queen Anne–style building from the turn of the century that is now part of the Heritage Square Museum. Footage of the band inside the sanctuary is intercut with shots of them relaxing in a green space, eating fruit and enjoying one another’s company—a vision of paradise. They’re all dressed in white, per Revelation 7.

“The Waterfall” by Henry Vaughan

Senju, Hiroshi_Waterfall
Hiroshi Senju (Japanese, 1958–), Waterfall, 2016. Acrylic and fluorescent pigments on Japanese mulberry paper, 51 × 64 in. Photo courtesy of Sundaram Tagore Gallery.

With what deep murmurs through time’s silent stealth
Doth thy transparent, cool, and wat’ry wealth
                  Here flowing fall,
                  And chide, and call,
As if his liquid, loose retinue stayed
Ling’ring, and were of this steep place afraid,
                  The common pass
                  Where, clear as glass,
                  All must descend
                  Not to an end,
But quick’ned by this deep and rocky grave,
Rise to a longer course more bright and brave.

      Dear stream! dear bank! where often I
      Have sat, and pleased my pensive eye;
      Why, since each drop of thy quick store
      Runs thither, whence it flowed before,
      Should poor souls fear a shade or night,
      Who came, sure, from a sea of light?
      Or, since those drops are all sent back
      So sure to Thee, that none doth lack,
      Why should frail flesh doubt any more
      That what God takes He’ll not restore?

      O useful element and clear!
      My sacred wash and cleanser here;
      My first consigner unto those
      Fountains of life, where the Lamb goes!
      What sublime truths and wholesome themes
      Lodge in thy mystical, deep streams!
      Such as dull man can never find
      Unless that Spirit lead his mind,
      Which first upon thy face did move,
      And hatched all with his quick’ning love.
      As this loud brook’s incessant fall
      In streaming rings restagnates all,
      Which reach by course the bank, and then
      Are no more seen: just so pass men.
      O my invisible estate,
      My glorious liberty, still late!
      Thou art the channel my soul seeks,
      Not this with cataracts and creeks.

 

In “The Waterfall” by Henry Vaughan (1621–1695), a stream’s sudden surge and plummet over a precipice followed by a calm, continued flow is a picture of the soul’s passage into eternity—the continuation of life after death.

The speaker addresses the stream and its retinue of waters, who “murmur” and “chide”—that is, make incessant noise (in the word’s archaic sense). The waters move with increasing momentum toward the brink and hesitate just before but then take the plunge. Briefly brought under, in their “deep and rocky grave” they are “quickened,” made alive once more, as they rise back up to the surface and course smoothly onward, no longer in a state of agitation. After a momentary crash, serenity.

Vaughan represents this action visually with an alternation of groups of long lines and short lines, which give the impression of water tumbling over ledges of rock. The lines then steady out into a uniform column, signifying the water’s becoming sedate.

“Why,” the speaker wonders, “since each drop of thy quick store / Runs thither, whence it flowed before, / Should poor souls fear a shade or night, / Who came, sure, from a sea of light?” Death is benevolent, merely a drop-off along the route and then reconstitution to the whole. Just as the stream that has fallen returns to the vast ocean from whence (via the cycle of evaporation, condensation, precipitation) it came, so, too, does the soul return to God, its origin.

In the final stanza the speaker muses on water as sacrament—baptism, he says, is our “first consigner unto those / Fountains of life, where the Lamb goes” (see Rev. 7:17; cf. Isa. 49:10). In other words, our baptism gives us over to God, to the New Eden. If baptism is our first consigner, then death is our final consigner, bringing us at last to the One to whom we belong.

The profound mystical truth hidden in something as natural as a waterfall is discerned only by those whom the Spirit reveals it to—that same Spirit who hovered over the waters at Creation (Gen. 1:2) “[a]nd hatched all with his quick’ning love.”

I write this in memory of my husband Eric’s grandfather, who died Sunday. I’m consoled by the image of him as a water droplet whose plunge does not mean a cessation of being but rather a flowing into God, into “glorious liberty.” When water plunges down, it sends ripples toward the bank, Vaughan writes, but then settles into stillness and is imperceptibly carried away to a destination out of view. So Grandpa Jones is now on “a longer course more bright and brave,” flowing toward “a sea of light.”

My Father’s House (Artful Devotion)

Siegl, Helen_Rejoice and Be Glad
Helen Siegl (Austrian, 1924–2009), Rejoice & Be Glad, 1974. Color woodcut, 30 × 30 cm. Edition of 50. Sacred Art Pilgrim Collection.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

—John 14:1–3

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SONG: “Come and Go with Me to My Father’s House” | Traditional African American | Performed under the musical direction of Dr. Markanthony Henry (on piano), with soloist Caterina Finocchi, at Iglesia Presbiteriana San Andrés (Saint Andrew’s Presbyterian Church) in Buenos Aires, Argentina, October 28, 2012

[Related posts: “‘As the bridegroom rejoices over his bride . . .’ (Artful Devotion)”; “Let Jesus Lead You (Artful Devotion)”]

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Art collector John A. Kohan has a wonderful biographical write-up about Helen Siegl on his website, Sacred Art Pilgrim—not to mention a select compilation of her art.

A devout Catholic all her life, Siegl was born in Vienna and was a teenager at the time of the Anschluss (the annexation of Austria to Nazi Germany). After the traumatic years of World War II and during the Soviet occupation of her home country, she emigrated to Canada in 1952. She got married and settled in Philadelphia, where her husband served as conservator of paintings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She raised eight children with him while also working as a printmaker—mostly woodcuts and linocuts. Her style blends elements of folk art and German expressionism, and her themes were often biblical.


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 Fifth Sunday of Easter, cycle A, click here.

Cloud of Witnesses (Artful Devotion)

Menabuoi, Giusto de'_Paradise
Giusto de’ Menabuoi (Italian, ca. 1320–1391), Paradise, ca. 1378. Dome fresco, Padua Baptistery, Italy.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

—Hebrews 12:1–2

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SONG: “A Cloud of Witnesses Around Us (A Thousand Alleluias)” | Words by Brian Wren, 1996 | Music by Gary Rand, 2015 | Performed by Gary Rand, Cindy Stacey, and Dorian Gehring

A cloud of witnesses around us,
a thousand echoes from the past,
proclaim the One who freed and found us,
and leads us on, from first to last.
For such a gift, let all uplift
a thousand alleluias.

A carnival of faiths and cultures
parading through our settled praise,
with jangled rhythms, songs and dances,
expresses Love’s expansive ways.
Christ is our song. To God belong
a thousand alleluias.

A crowd, that clamors pain and anger,
prevents us from nostalgic pride;
the cries of poverty and hunger
recall us to our Savior’s side.
There we entrust, to God most just,
a thousand alleluias.

A throng of future shapes and shadows,
a world that may, or may not be,
names us the servants and the stewards
of all the Spirit longs to see.
In awe we bend, and onward send
a thousand alleluias.

A rainbow-host of milling children,
God’s varied image, from all lands,
awakes again our founding vision,
that onward, urgently expands.
Give all, give more. Let love outpour
a thousand alleluias.

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Padua Cathedral and Baptistery
Padua Cathedral (left) and Baptistery (right). Photo: Peter Owen.

Padua Baptistery
Padua Baptistery, interior panorama. Photo: Nikola Sarnavka.

In de’ Menabuoi’s stunning fresco, we glimpse a rendering of the glory of Christ’s church. We see a myriad of saints surrounding Jesus in a circle, which itself, suggests fullness and unending eternity. This grand scene was painted on the ceiling of a baptistery, a chapel set aside for the purpose of uniting new believers to the Lord and His church. So when the newly illumined ones came up out of the waters of baptism, they would see a representation of what and who they were just joined to: Jesus Christ as the Lord of Hosts, arrayed in the midst of His mother and the various ranks of saints, an image of God’s kingdom.

Fr. Ignatius Valentine

The image of Christ in the center of the cupola is of the type known as Christ Pantocrator, meaning “Christ Almighty” or “Ruler of All.” The book he holds open reads, EGO SUM Α ω (“I am Alpha and Omega”).

Giusto de' Menabuoi_Christ Pantocrator
Photo: Peter Owen

To view more frescoes from the Padua Baptistery, visit https://www.wga.hu/html_m/g/giusto/padua/index.html.


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 15, cycle C, click here.

Wayfaring Stranger (Artful Devotion)

Painting by Andrew Gadd
Painting by Andrew Gadd (British, 1968–)

Our citizenship is in heaven . . .

—Philippians 3:20

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SONG: “Wayfaring Stranger” | 19th-century American folk song | Performed by Rhiannon Giddens (banjo, vocals) and Phil Cunningham (accordion) for BBC Northern Ireland, 2016

This “world of woe” is not our home; we’re just temporary residents. St. Paul reminds us that we are citizens of a new world, and while this statement needs a lot of fleshing out (hence the development of systematic “kingdom theologies”), the well-known American folk lament “Wayfaring Stranger” emphasizes simply, soul-baringly, the longing aspect of it, that anticipation of returning to the “bright land” of our (re)birth, “no more to roam.”

The Wikipedia entry for the song contains a select list of diverse covers, classical music adaptations, and appearances on television and film. Other versions I like are by the Crofts family (previously), Sister Sinjin, and Brent Timothy Miller.


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 Second Sunday in Lent, cycle C, click here.