Advent, Day 2

LOOK: First Day of Creation by Natalya Rusetska

Rusetska, Natalya_First Day of Creation
Natalya Rusetska (Ukrainian, 1984–), First Day of Creation, 2017. Egg tempera on gessoed wood board, 30 × 30 cm.

LISTEN: “Let There Be” by Michael and Lisa Gungor, on Ghosts Upon the Earth (2011)

Darkness hovering
Grasping everything it sees
Void, empty
Absent life and absent dream

Let there be
Let there be
Let there be
Let there be

Angels toil and crack open scrolls of ancient dreams
Countless worlds of his
Brilliant stars and breath and stream

Let there be
Let there be
Let there be
Let there be
Let there be
Let there be
Let there be light

Let there be light
Where there is darkness
Let there be light
Where there is nothing
Let there be light

The opening track on Gungor’s Ghosts Upon the Earth, “Let There Be” narrates God’s creation of the universe. What starts out as ethereal becomes increasingly more solid as the floating notes on piano and guitar coalesce into chords and meld with the cellos. Represented by a small choir, the Triune community voices its fiat: “Let there be . . .” A synthesized xylophone and tremolos from the strings suggest lively activity—“angels toil”—as the cosmos begins to take shape. In the second refrain the voices crescendo to a thunderous climax, a drum beating loud and steady as if laying down a foundation.

While this song is most fundamentally about the Genesis 1 creation story, it can also be read in light of John’s Gospel prologue, where he describes Jesus as light coming into the world, and similarly, Luke’s Annunciation narrative, where “ancient dreams” put down in prophetic scrolls are fulfilled in the conception of Christ in Mary’s womb, initiating a new epoch. 

(Related post: “God breaking in on our world”; video: “Saying Yes: The Annunciation in Contemporary Art”)

The Advent season begins in darkness. Taking stock of this darkness, we ask for God’s light to break in once again—into our hearts and lives, our communities, our world.

In the beginning the Spirit hovered over the void and breathed life into it. Millennia later the Spirit hovered over a virgin’s empty womb and did it again, making the Word flesh. And into our present lack, into our chaos, the Spirit still is coming, re-creating, so that Christ, the light, might be born in us.

Here’s a recent cover of “Let There Be” by IAMSON, which he combines with another Gungor song, “Crags and Clay”:

Roundup: Call for creation care songs; an ode to red hair; and more

SONGWRITING CONTEST: 2021 Creation Care and Climate Justice Songwriting Contest, sponsored by The Porter’s Gate: “We are working on new worship resources celebrating God’s creation and His call to care for the created world. Over the next year we’ll be writing new songs on this subject and recording them. As part of this project, we are looking for submissions from anyone who would like to write a song or has already written a song on this subject. If you are a songwriter or composer, or if you know a songwriter who would be interested, click on this link for all the details of the contest. Songwriters are invited to submit worship songs related to caring for God’s creation, and we are offering a $500 cash prize to the winner. We’ll also record the winning piece.” No entry fee. Deadline August 30, 2021.

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CINEPOEM: “First Grade Activist” – Poem by Nic Sebastian, video by Marie Craven: This 2014 short by Australian filmmaker Marie Craven takes a poem written and read by Nic Sebastian—one of many poems made freely available for “remixing” through the now-defunct Poetry Storehouse—and sets it to moving images and music. About bullying in schools and transforming perceptions, the poem suggests concrete ways to turn a personal attribute that elicits taunts into one that’s praiseworthy, merely by reframing it. It’s an ode to red hair!

Video poetry, sometimes called “cinepoetry,” is a hybrid genre that combines the best of both art forms to make dynamic new works. To explore more, visit Moving Poems, Poetry + Video, filmpoetry.org, and the Film and Video Poetry Society, which is currently accepting submissions for its fourth annual symposium.

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NEW SONGS BY IAMSON:

IAMSON is the alias of Orlando Palmer, a Christian singer-songwriter from Richmond, Virginia. Here are two of his recent songs, each of which he invited a friend to perform.

>> “Peace” by IAMSON, performed by Caleb Carroll:

>> “Always with Me (Song for Anxiety)” by IAMSON, Jessica Fox, Paul Zach, and Kate Bluett; performed by IAMSON and Caiah Jones:

(See the original solo recording by IAMSON here.)

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PODCAST EPISODE: “Worship and the Formative Power of the Arts” with Dr. W. David O. Taylor, Theology in Motion: An excellent conversation with one of my favorite people! Host Steve Zank, director of theology at the Center for Worship Leadership at Christ College, Concordia University Irvine, talks with liturgical theologian, author, and professor David Taylor about his book Glimpses of the New Creation: Worship and the Formative Power of the Arts, about how the arts help shape individuals and communities, particularly in corporate worship contexts.

They discuss the role of metaphor in the Bible, the unique powers of different art forms, and the ways our aesthetic choices open up and close down opportunities for formation in worship.

I so appreciate Taylor’s ecumenicism. He’s an Anglican priest in the United States but does not prescribe any one “right” way of using the arts in worship. In all his examples from across Christian traditions and even historical eras, he’s keen on exploring what motivates aesthetic choices and the benefits and drawbacks of any given choice. For instance, he compares the experiences of worshipping in a Gothic cathedral versus in a living room; neither one is inherently better than the other, but each setting will inevitably form worshippers in distinct ways. He also compares two songs centered on the idea of God as rescuer: the Gettys’ “In Christ Alone” and Hillsong’s “Oceans”; both have a similar aim but take very different approaches to reach it, and that’s OK.

Lots of great content here, folks, and a great intro to the themes in Taylor’s book.

Clay (Artful Devotion)

Photo by Alejandro Maestre Gasteazi
Alejandro Maestre Gasteazi (Spanish, 1979–), Untitled, 2010. Printed ink on cotton paper, 40 × 40 cm. Edition of 20.

Photo by Alejandro Maestre Gasteazi
Alejandro Maestre Gasteazi (Spanish, 1979–), Untitled, 2010. Printed ink on cotton paper, 40 × 40 cm. Edition of 20.

Photo by Alejandro Maestre Gasteazi
Alejandro Maestre Gasteazi (Spanish, 1979–), Untitled, 2010. Printed ink on cotton paper, 40 × 40 cm. Edition of 20.

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”

—Jeremiah 18:1–6

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SONG: “Have Thine Own Way, Lord” | Words by Adelaide A. Pollard, 1906 | Music by George C. Stebbins, 1907 | Performed by Johnny Cash, 1973, and released on Bootleg, Vol. I: Personal File, 2006

Update, July 25, 2021: Orlando Palmer, aka IAMSON, has just posted an Instagram video of himself singing the first verse of “Have Thine Own Way, Lord.” So beautiful:

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It is not you who shapes God, it is God who shapes you.
If then you are the work of God, await the hand of the artist
Who does all things in due season.
Offer God your heart, soft and tractable,
And keep the form in which the artist has fashioned you.
Let your clay be moist,
Lest you grow hard and lose the imprint of God’s fingers.

—Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.39.2

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The three photographs above by Alejandro Maestre Gasteazi are from a cycle of twenty portraits of the artist’s friend Julián Cánovas-Yañez, which show his mud-lathered form gradually taking shape—an effect achieved, in part, in digital postprocessing. Credit goes to Philip Chircop for first pairing these photographs with this quote by the second-century Greek bishop Irenaeus.


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 18, cycle C, click here.