Glory to that Voice that became a body,
and to the lofty Word that became flesh.
Ears even heard Him, eyes saw Him,
hands even touched Him, the mouth ate Him.
Limbs and senses gave thanks to
the One Who came and revived all that is corporeal.
Mary bore a mute Babe
though in Him were hidden all our tongues.
Joseph carried Him, yet hidden in Him was
a silent nature older than everything.
The Lofty One became like a little child,
yet hidden in Him was a treasure of Wisdom that suffices for all.
He was lofty but he sucked Mary’s milk,
and from His blessings all creation drinks.
He is the Living Breast of living breath;
by His life the dead were suckled, and they revived.
Without the breath of air no one can live;
without the power of the Son no one can rise.
Upon the living breath of the One Who vivifies all
depend the living beings above and below.
As indeed He sucked Mary’s milk,
He has given suck—life to the universe.
As again He dwelt in His mother’s womb,
in His womb dwells all creation.
Mute He was as a babe, yet He gave
to all creation all His commands.
For without the First-born no one is able
to approach Being, for He alone is capable of it.
Translated from the Syriac by Kathleen E. McVey in Ephrem the Syrian: Hymns (Classics of Western Spirituality) (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1989), 100–101
Avataraṇa (अवतरण), from which we get the word “avatar,” is a Sanskrit word that means stepping down from a higher position. It’s the word used in Hinduism to refer to the incarnation of a deity, to his or her descending to earth. The late Indian Lutheran pastor, artist, and theologian Solomon Raj, from Andhra Pradesh, used the word, with nuance, to refer to the incarnation of Christ.
In this batik—a type of dyed cloth artwork made using a wax-resist method—Raj shows Jesus diving through the ether, surrounded by angels. He hurtles headfirst from heaven to earth to be with humanity. Reproduced in the book Living Flame and Springing Fountain (1993), the image is accompanied by this verse-style reflection by Raj:
When God became man and came to us, the heavens donned a new robe of light. When the son of man came to this earth, the whole creation became renewed. The universe now is redeemed and kept for a glory yet greater than the first because the unknown and the unknowable One became man to live with mankind.
For more on the concept of Jesus as avatar from Christian perspectives, see:
Michael Amaladoss, “Jesus, the Avatar,” in The Asian Jesus (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2006), 105–21
It is time.
My body’s clock gongs
your salvation’s hour.
The water has left the pasture
and flowed toward the river’s mouth.
Follow or you will wither
in the desert that remains.
I will bleed for you
on this your first dark journey,
but in time, when life pushes you
headlong through black canyons,
the wounds will be your own.
May you learn early:
at the end light always shines.
It is here, child.
The time is come.
This poem was originally published in the Winter 1982/83 issue of Today’s Christian Woman and appears in the book Mary’s Journal: A Mother’s Storyby Evelyn Bence (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992). Used by permission of the author.(Thanks to Maureen E. Doallas, curator of the exhibition Mary, Mary, for introducing me to it!)
Evelyn Bence is a writer and an editor living in Arlington, Virginia. She is the author of Room at My Table; Prayers for Girlfriends and Sisters and Me; Spiritual Moments with the Great Hymns; and the award-winning Mary’s Journal, a novel written in the voice of Jesus’s mother. She has served as religion editor at Doubleday, managing editor for Today’s Christian Woman, and senior editor at Prison Fellowship Ministries. Her personal essays, poems, and devotional reflections have appeared in various publications.
CHRISTMAS EVE SERVICE 2021, Good Shepherd New York:Good Shepherd New York is an interdenominational church located in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. When the pandemic hit in 2020, like many churches, they pivoted to online services. This video-only format enabled them to expand their music ministry, soliciting participation from nonlocal musicians, who collaborated virtually with the church’s in-house musicians to release some stellar worship music—beautiful arrangements and performances. While GSNY now meets again in person for worship, they also release separate digital worship services on their YouTube channel to reach a wider community. Last year I tuned in to their Christmas Eve service, which I really enjoyed, particularly the music. “Mary’s Lullaby,” written by associate pastor David Gungor and sung by his wife, Kate, with harmonizing vocals by Liz Vice, is my favorite from the list.
28:05: “Mary’s Lullaby” (by The Brilliance), feat. Kate Gungor and Liz Vice
30:03: Sermon by Michael Redzina
44:55: “Silent Night,” feat. Matthew Wright and Liz Vice
48:43: “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” (by John Lennon)
Many of these songs were released last month on the Good Shepherd Collective’s debut Christmas album, Christmas, Vol. 01, available wherever music is sold or streamed.
Good Shepherd New York will be holding an in-person candlelight service at 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve this year in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd at 440 West 21st Street. Musician Charles Jones will be there.
EXHIBITION WALK-THROUGH: Słowo stało się Ciałem (The Word Became Flesh), Warsaw Archdiocese Museum, March 3–31, 2021: Last year a collection of contemporary Ukrainian and Polish icons on the theme of Incarnation was exhibited in Warsaw. In this video, curator Mateusz Sora and Dr. Katarzyna Jakubowska-Krawczyk, head of the Department of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Warsaw, discuss some of the pieces. I don’t speak a lick of Polish, and closed captioning is not available, so I’m not sure what is said—but the camera gives a good visual overview. You can also view a full list of artists and photos of select icons in this Facebook post.
ON A RELATED NOTE: There’s a public exhibition of icons by several of these artists happening in North Carolina at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary–Charlotte through February 17, 2023: East Meets West: Women Icon Makers of Western Ukraine. I attended an earlier iteration of East Meets West in Massachusetts back in 2017 (mentioned here), and it was wonderful. The icons are owned by the American collector and former news correspondent to the USSR John A. Kohan, and he has added more pieces to this area of his collection since I last saw it.
There will be a special event on Wednesday, February 1, from 7 to 9 p.m., featuring a talk about the history of iconography by Professor Douglas Fairbairn and a video introduction by Kohan; RSVP here.
ICON INTERPRETATION: “The ‘All-Seeing Eye of God’ Icon” by David Coomler: Icons expert David Coomler unpacks a preeminent example, and two variants, of this unusual icon type that emerged in Russia at the end of the eighteenth century, influenced by the “Eye of Providence” symbol found, for example, on the Great Seal of the United States. Moving from the center outward, four concentric circles show a young Christ Emmanuel, a sun-face, the Theotokos (Virgin Mary), and the angelic hosts, with Lord Sabaoth (God the Father) at the top and symbols of the Four Evangelists at the corners. Inscriptions include “As the burning coal that appeared to Isaiah, a sun arose from the virgin’s womb, bringing to those who wandered in darkness the light of the knowledge of God” (a variant of the Irmos, Tone 2, from the Easter Octoechos) and “My eyes [shall be] on the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me” (Psalm 101:6).
SONG:“Almajdu Laka” (Glory to You) (cover) by the Sakhnini Brothers: The Sakhnini family has lived in Nazareth—Jesus’s hometown!—for generations and is part of the town’s minority Arab Christian population. Adeeb, Elia, and Yazeed Sakhnini [previously] record traditional and original Arabic worship songs together as the Sakhnini Brothers. This is their latest YouTube release, just in time for Christmas. The song is by the Lebanese composer Ziad Rahbani. Turn on “CC” to view the lyrics in English, and see the full list of performers in the video description.
BLOG SERIES: Twelve Days of Carols by Eleanor Parker: There’s a plethora of medieval English Christmas carols preserved for us in medieval manuscripts, a few of which are still part of the repertoire around the world but most of which have fallen into disuse or that are at least lesser known. Medievalist Eleanor Parker spotlights twelve from the latter category. She ran this series back in 2012–13 with the intention of doing twelve posts, one for each day of Christmas, but she stopped short at seven—so I’ve added links to additional carol-based posts of hers from other years. She provides modern translations of the Middle English and, in some cases, brief commentary.
Note that #11 contains an Old English word that Tolkien adopted in his Lord of the Rings!
This painting in the style of Bosch shows Mary and Joseph adoring their newborn son, Jesus, who’s naked and bedded down in straw. A small angelic ensemble stands at the head of the manger with lute, harp, and songbook, softly serenading the family, while a shepherd sneaks a peek from behind a green curtain. It is as if we, the viewer, are standing opposite the shepherd on the other side of the manger, also looking down at the Christ child. Are we similarly rapt with wonder?
I love how the ox and the ass meet our gaze, acknowledge our presence!
I’m not sure of the significance of Joseph’s hand-in-jacket gesture (its association with stateliness wasn’t established until some two centuries later, from what I can tell), but it’s likely supposed to connote reverence or humility, as do Mary’s prayerful hands.
In the left background, two men warm their hands and feet outside by a fire, while at the right, an angel appears to another shepherd on a hillside, announcing the Messiah’s birth.
The lyrics of this song are loosely based on Ephrem the Syrian’s Nativity Hymn #2 from the fourth century. (All nineteen Nativity hymns by this early Christian poet-theologian are a treasure!)
Blessed is he Both hidden and seen Blessed is he Who left the height of majesty
You magnify all, come magnify me That I may tell about The glory of your birth Proclaim your grace to all the earth Holy One, Jesus, come!
Blessed is he Who gave us all Blessed is he Who gave us all that he has gained
O Father of all, your glorious day You gave not seraphim Nor sent the cherubim You gave your only Son instead Holy One, Jesus, come!
All glory to thee, entirely Glory to thee, from every tongue, entirely Your birth is enough For all of us
Great one became a child Pure one became defiled O Living One, laid in the tomb In you we are renewed Your washing washed us through Let us obtain life by your death Holy One, Jesus, come!
The Incarnation, the enfleshment of God in the person of Jesus, encompasses the God-man’s birth and death, as does this song. Salvation was wrought not through Jesus’s birth alone, or life alone, or death alone, or resurrection alone, but through all of it together.
At first I got tripped up on the line “Pure one became defiled,” because Jesus did not become defiled in the sense of succumbing to sin or moral corruption. However, in his ministry, he did touch lepers, bleeding women, and corpses, which, according to the Jewish purity laws at the time, would have made him ritually unclean. Looking back on these healings and raisings, Christians would say that rather than these people’s uncleanness transferring to him, his cleanness transferred to them. But the public perception was that he was defiling himself.
And then, of course, there’s 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake God made the one who knew no sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” And Galatians 3:13: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’” What it means that Jesus “became sin” or “became a curse” has been the subject of much theological discussion! But suffice it to say that Jesus’s death on the cross involved not only physical debasement but also his bearing, in a metaphysical sense, the full weight of humanity’s transgressions.
Andy Bast is a singer-songwriter from Holland, Michigan. He is a musician and writer for the Christian collective Bellwether Arts and a regular contributor to Cardiphonia projects.
Sister Irene Zimmerman, OSF, is a Franciscan nun living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Born in 1932 into a large Catholic family on a farm near Westphalia, Iowa, she knew from an early age that she wanted to enter the religious life. She joined the School Sisters of St. Francis in 1954 and spent her career in various ministry roles, including high school English and French teacher, secretary, house mother in a German boarding school for girls, and music minister, along the way developing a keen interest in writing poetry. Now in her retirement, she continues to write and to sing in church choirs. She has published five original poetry collections.
1.“Remembering that it happened once”by Wendell Berry: For the last forty-plus years, Kentucky farmer Wendell Berry has been writing what he calls “Sabbath poems,” which emerge from his spiritual practice of walking outdoors on Sundays without any to-do’s. “I go free from the tasks and intentions of my workdays,” he says, “and so my mind becomes hospitable to unintended thoughts: to what I am very willing to call inspiration.” This Sabbath poem from 1986 explores how the sacred permeates the mundane and how Christ is, in a sense, always being born. For an SATB choral setting by Doug Brandt, see here.
2.“BC:AD” by U. A. Fanthorpe: Ursula Askham Fanthorpe (1929–2009), CBE, FRSL, was an English poet who is well loved by both critics and the general public. She was also a practicing Quaker. Each year she wrote a new Christmas poem to send to friends, of which “BC:AD” is the best known. It considers Jesus’s birth as the pivotal point in history, dividing time into epochs, into “before” and “after.” At this nativity, kairos invaded chronos—and we’re still singing about it millennia later.
3.“Making the House Ready for the Lord”by Mary Oliver: For many of us who succumb to cultural pressures, December is a time of rushing around, making sure the house is decorated like a magazine, the Christmas cards sent out, the cookies baked to perfection, the gifts individually selected and bought and wrapped. But in all this flurry of activity, are we missing “the better part” (Luke 10:42)? The speaker of this poem, Martha-like, is busy making preparations for Jesus, who’s coming to visit, but as she’s cleaning, outdoor critters keep popping in. At first she bemoans their presence—they’re not on the guest list!—but eventually she comes to accept, even welcome, them, surrendering her fussy desire for orderliness to a charitable embrace of whatever is. And on another level, this poem is about how all of creation longs for Christ (Rom. 8:19–22); the animals, too, want to see him, want to join the party.
5.“Second Advent”by Anya Krugovoy Silver: Memorializing a friend (Ishiuan Hargrove) who died of metastatic brain tumors, “Second Advent” unsettlingly combines stark hospital-room and anatomical language with language that is soft, gentle, lyrical. Recounting one of Ishiuan’s several neurosurgeries, the poet remarks how her head was nimbed by surgical lights and then swaddled in gauze. The title refers to Ishiuan’s waking up on the second Sunday of Advent, but also to the hope of Christ’s second coming, when pain, disease, and sorrow will be done away with. Anya Silver was herself a cancer patient, an experience she wrote much about in her four volumes of poetry, before dying of breast cancer in 2018.
6.“The Nativity”by Henry Vaughan: “Peace!” rang the angels’ song the night of Christ’s birth—and yet what irony, that he who came to bring peace was himself no beneficiary of it in this life, being born among animals in a borrowed stable, then made a refugee, then later disbelieved, betrayed, mocked, tortured, and crucified. The darkness that bred such unwelcome of the Son of God still persists—violence, ignorance. Referencing the Genesis 1 creation narrative as well as the journey of the magi, the poem ends with an invocation for God’s light to manifest once again, leading us to Christ.
Source: Thalia Redivina: The Pass-Times and Diversions of a Countrey-Muse (London: Robert Pawlet, 1678). Public Domain.
7. [little tree] by E. E. Cummings: One of E. E. Cummings’s earliest published poems (it came out in the January 1920 issue of The Dial), “little tree” was intended to appear as one of five “chansons innocentes” in Cummings’s first book of verse, Tulips and Chimneys, but his editor, Thomas Seltzer, cut it (along with sixty-five others!). In it a young child consoles a recently felled evergreen tree—enlisted for the holiday festivities—with promises of glory and love. Though it runs the danger of being read as twee, Cummings remained fond of the poem and even had it printed and sent it as his family Christmas card in 1960, two years before he died.
8. “Messiah (Christmas Portions)”by Mark Doty: The speaker of this poem is unexpectedly transported by a local community choir performance of Handel’s Messiah. He marvels at how these ordinary, flawed neighbors of his can produce such beauty with their collective voices. The last line is probably a reference to the accompagnato and air sung by the bass toward the end of the oratorio, taken from 1 Corinthians 15:51–54—about how we will all be changed in a moment at the last trump, and the corruptible will put on incorruption.
9. “What the Body Knows” by Jean Janzen: The anonymous scribes and illuminators of the Book of Kells spent countless hours copying and beautifying God’s word amid Viking raids. In this ekphrastic poem, Jean Janzen reflects on the Gospel-book’s five whimsically painted folios of Luke’s genealogy of Christ, commenting on the continual inbreaking of God into our world and the “wild safety” of God’s love.
10.“Confession”by Leila Chatti: The Tunisian American poet Leila Chatti was raised by a Muslim father and a Roman Catholic mother, and both religious traditions have shaped her faith and her writing. Islam and Christianity hold many sacred figures in common, including Mary (Maryam), whose conception and delivery of Jesus (Isa) are narrated in the Quran 19:16–34. Chatti confesses to being more compelled by the Islamic characterization of Mary as grunting and sweating in the pangs of labor (in contrast to Catholic teaching, which says her birthing experience was effortless, her contractions painless, though the Bible itself doesn’t specify). Chatti finds comfort in picturing Mary not as someone exempt from the effects of the fall and set apart on a pedestal of supreme virtue, but as one who suffered the same physical and emotional toll as other childbearing women—and who probably did have the occasional selfish thought, which, in moments of intensity and vulnerability, she deigned to vocalize!
11. “Two Carols”by Evelyn Underhill: An English Anglo-Catholic writer and mystic, Evelyn Underhill meditates in this double poem on how Christ set foot on the long, hard road we travel to be a balm for our wounds and those of the earth. The epigraph to part 1 is from the Latin Vulgate of Song of Solomon 2:12: “The flowers appear on the earth.” What follows are several Catholic titles for Mary: rose without thorn, queen, generatrix. The epigraph to part 2 is a quotation of Romans 8:22: “The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.” The refrain, Dominus tecum!, translates to “The Lord is with you!,” words spoken by the angel Gabriel to Mary and, by virtue of the Incarnation, to all humanity. The other Latin phrases translate to “He who is in the heavens,” “A King is born,” and “Let the kingdom come!” Adveniat regnum!
Source: Immanence: A Book of Verses (London: J. M. Dent, 1912). Public Domain.
12. “The Christmas Babe”by Fr. John Banister Tabb: Written by a Catholic priest from Virginia, this simple quatrain marvels at the paradox of God’s simultaneous largeness and smallness.
Source: Poems (London: John Lane, 1894). Public Domain.
13.“Snowflakes” by Jennifer Grotz: When the world is viewed through a sacramental lens, we recognize God in commonplace wonders like falling snow, and such things can be a sort of wordless prayer that we offer back to God through our enjoyment of them.
14. [The Savior must have been a docile Gentleman]by Emily Dickinson: In these two compact stanzas, Dickinson reflects on how kind Jesus was (an understatement!) to have made the far journey to Bethlehem, “a rugged billion Miles” from heaven, especially in the cold month of December, all “for little Fellowmen.” She refers to him as “docile”—obedient, submissive—harking to Philippians 2, to his bowing to the eternal will of the Father, submitting to human limitations, suffering, and death for the life of the world.
15.[Wilt thou love God, as he thee? Then digest](Holy Sonnet No. 15) by John Donne: A self-address to the soul, this poem by the English poet-priest John Donne, first published in 1633, two years after this death, celebrates the Triune God’s salvific workings: we’re adopted by the Father, redeemed by the Son, indwelt and regenerated by the Spirit. The closing couplet, referencing the imago Dei, packs a wallop: “’Twas much, that man was made like God before, / But, that God should be made like man, much more.”
Source: Poems (London: M.F. [Miles Fletcher], 1633). Public Domain.
16. “The Little Towns of Bethlehem”by John Terpstra: All over Canada, Christ is being reborn this Christmas, in the sense that the Story has taken root, is retold, and continues to have impact. The speaker imagines the Christ child “wrapped in cast-off flannel” in a boxcar stopped on the tracks in Esther, Alberta, or feeding at his mother’s breast in a broken-down car on the shoulder of a road in Englehart, Ontario—actual sights that one might encounter today. Localizing the Story can help us to see it afresh, and to see the sacred humanity of families experiencing homelessness or other hardships.
17. “Song of the Shepherds” by Richard Bauckham: Richard Bauckham, FRSE, FBA, is best known as a biblical scholar—he’s one of today’s tops, in fact—but he also writes poetry! (I featured one of his poems last year.) In this poem, the shepherds on Bethlehem’s hillsides recall an ancient tale about the stars singing at the creation of the universe, which they thought merely a poetic embellishment, until they experienced something of the like for themselves: “a song of solar glory” eclipsing the lesser lights and exorcising the dark, creating the world anew. Unforgettable.
18. “Those Magi”by Kathleen O’Toole: What exactly were the magi seeking? What compelled them to leave their treasure behind in that cattle shed? Whence their strength to defy Herod? Besides musing on these questions, the poem also contains a passing metaphor that I found striking and new: cow breath as incense.
19. “Carol of the Brown King”by Langston Hughes: Tradition names one of the wise men who visited the Christ child “Balthazar” and says he’s from Africa. Langston Hughes, a preeminent poet of the Harlem Renaissance, exults that there was “one dark like me—part of His Nativity.” This poem is included in Hughes’s musical play Black Nativity and is one of six Nativity poems by Hughes that make up a children’s book illustrated by Ashley Bryan.
20. “Mosaic of the Nativity: Serbia, Winter, 1993”by Jane Kenyon: I couldn’t find the particular church mosaic program that Kenyon is writing about, but here’s my interpretation. Set inside a Serbian Orthodox church during the Bosnian War, this poem imagines a mosaic of Christ Pantocrator hovering in the dome, lamenting the violence that goes on beneath. Under the gaze of the I AM is another mosaic, portraying Jesus’s birth, but also, in a way, Mary’s, as she herself is being reborn in Christ, her mind increasingly shaped in accordance to his. Nativity icons often show Mary framed by a red blanket that she’s reclining on at the mouth of a cave, which Kenyon reads as embryonic.
21. “Breath” by Luci Shaw: This poem reflects on the contraction of the infinite God who breathed the universe into existence into a finite human being needing oxygen, who, as is foreshadowed at his birth, will finally ex-pire (“breathe out” his last) on a cross before entering his “next dark cave,” a prelude to resurrection.
22.“Mary’s Vision”from medieval Ireland: Mary foresees the future suffering of her infant son and dialogues with him about it in this poem translated from Middle Irish by Eleanor Hull (the same woman who, through her translation and versification, gave us the hymn “Be Thou My Vision”!).
Source: The Poem-Book of the Gael (London: Chatto & Windus, 1912). Public Domain.
23.“Joseph at the Nativity”by Tania Runyan: Staring at the “shriveled pod” that Mary just birthed, Joseph grapples with his complicated feelings—doubt, embarrassment, jealousy, helplessness, confusion, pride—and with figuring out what role he should play in the life of this child going forward.
24.“Waiting in Line After Christmas”by Sharron Singleton: (Scroll down to fourth poem) Rather than exchanges of refunded money for unwanted items, Singleton ponders what a mutually life-giving exchange of intangibles might look like.
25. “Burning the Old Year”by Naomi Shihab Nye: Through the act of forgetting, we must destroy the worthless trivialities of the year, and we must let that which is solid, that which matters—the “stones”—be revealed and remain.
Guite discusses how the job of the arts is to link earth and heaven, heaven and earth; where a poem or other work of art stays on only one of those planes, it typically fails. He unpacks Theseus’s monologue from Act 5, scene 1 of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, focusing on these six lines: “The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling, / Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven. / And as imagination bodies forth / The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen / Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing / A local habitation and a name.”
Shakespeare, Guite says, is riffing on the prologue to John’s Gospel.
The Logos . . . is bodied forth perfectly and beautifully in the living, walking poem of Jesus Christ, in whom everything eternal is made particular, and who invites everybody to come towards him . . . because he is a habitation with open doors. So of course in John’s Gospel he says, ‘I am the door’! . . . Open up, walk in! (48:51)
And one more quote from Guite!
The church . . . is founded by one who is himself artistically embodied meaning—meaning made visible, meaning made beautiful, meaning made habitable and hospitable and welcoming in the touch of the body and in the physical event, which is then transfigured, because it is also a meaningful event, because earth and heaven meet. (55:34)
It’s a brilliant and inspiring talk, and it integrates other poetic verse besides Shakespeare’s.
>> “King Clave” by Planet Drum: In 1991 Mickey Hart (best known as a drummer of the Grateful Dead) and Zakir Hussain (a classical tabla virtuoso from Mumbai) formed the Grammy-winning global percussion ensemble Planet Drum, bringing together the world’s greatest rhythm masters into a one-of-a-kind improvisational supergroup. Prompted by ongoing international strife, Planet Drum reconvened over the past two years to record their third album, In the Groove, which released August 5. It features six unique compositions led by Hart, Hussain, Sikiru Adepoju of Nigeria, and Giovanni Hidalgo of Puerto Rico.
The centerpiece of the album is “King Clave” (the clave is a rhythmic pattern), created in partnership with Playing for Change and with funding from the United Nations Population Fund. The four core musicians mentioned above are joined by other percussionists and dancers from around the world. The music video uses the “Alternate Version” of the performance, released separately as a single.
Learn more about the Planet Drum project in this six-minute video:
STILL LIFE EDITION: “The History of the Peace Symbol” by Michael Wright: Did you know that the peace symbol that spread worldwide during the 1960s was designed by a Christian from the UK? (Christian pacifism was one of the underappreciated drivers of the nuclear disarmament and antiwar movements.) Learn more about the symbol’s history and art historical and nautical influences in the August 15, 2022, edition of Michael Wright’s weekly letter on art and spirit, Still Life. Also included is the poem “Wildpeace” by Yehuda Amichai, and four weblinks of interest, such as an article on how the patristic tradition agrees with cognitive neuroscience, and a video of FKA Twigs performing in a church!
Symbolism and allegory abound in medieval religious paintings, encoding profound meanings that can be discerned if we would but take the time to look and to meditate and to understand the world from which these images arose. “The visual image can say things that the theological text can’t,” Beattie asserts. “It can play with the doctrinal truth in ways that allow other meanings to emerge discreetly.”
Though many interpretations of hortus conclusus imagery focus on Mary’s virginity, and indeed that was a primary aspect motivating the creatives who developed such imagery, Beattie draws out themes of new creation and discusses the garden as the human soul.
The other artworks she glosses are:
Resurrection XI by Edward Armitage Robinson (1963)
Today’s roundup brings together a theologian (Anderson Jeremiah), an art historian (Elissa Yukiko Weichbrodt), and a musician (Eric Lige and friends) who I think complement one another really well!
Eric Lige [previously] is “a music-maker who promotes Jesus, Justice, Faith, and Community.” He is the worship director at Ethnos Community Church in San Diego and the co-executive producer of The Ethnos Project, which creates a platform for new and emerging global voices in musical worship to be heard worldwide. Especially since COVID hit in 2019, he has been assembling multinational teams of musicians to produce YouTube videos, many of which are livestreamed as part of Ethnos worship services. Here are three examples (view more on Lige’s YouTube channel):
>> “Ξεδιψασμένος (No Longer Thirsty)” by Kostas Nikolaou: A contemporary Christian worship song in Greek, about how Christ, the living water, quenches our thirst for love and purpose. The lead vocalist is Nefeli Papanagi—and wow, do I love her voice!
>> “Ua Mau (Hosanna)” by Moses W. Kaaneikawahaale Keale (aka Keale Ta Kaula): Reyn and Joy Nishii perform this nineteenth-century Hawaiian hymn by Keale “the Prophet,” who converted to Christianity after calling on God during a hunting accident and finding rescue. The first verse translates to “Perpetual is the righteousness / That comes from the Father above / Let us gather together / In his goodness and grace.”
>> “Love’s in Need of Love Today” by Stevie Wonder: Edward Chen and friends—from Canada, the United States, Armenia, Venezuela, and Mexico—perform the opening track from Stevie Wonder’s Grammy-winning album Songs in the Key of Life. “God gave me this gift, and this particular song was a message I was supposed to deliver,” Wonder has said. “The concept I had in mind was that for love to be effective, it has to be fed.” See the full list of credits in the description on the video page. Eric Lige is the one in the maroon shirt.
>> “Many Faces of Jesus: Christologies from the Margins” by the Revd. Canon Dr. Anderson H. M. Jeremiah, October 12, 2021: Anderson Jeremiah is a senior lecturer in the politics, philosophy, and religion department at Lancaster University in the UK, whose areas of expertise include Christian theology in Asia, postcolonial approaches to theology, Dalit studies, liberation theology, modern missionary movements, and inculturation and faith. Ordained in the Church of South India (part of the Anglican Communion), he was installed as Canon Theologian of Blackburn Cathedral in September 2021, making him the first Dalit to be appointed to that role in any English cathedral.
In this half-hour online talk given last fall for the Diocese of Manchester, Jeremiah discusses the Incarnation as a continuous event—Christ being born into human cultures—as expressed through a selection of visual artworks from Ghana, Bolivia, China, Japan, and India. These images subvert the predominant Western image of Christ and sometimes provide critique. New to me was the black marble crucifix from the Anglican chapel inside Cape Coast Castle, a former trading post (now a museum) where enslaved Africans were held before being loaded onto ships and sold in the Americas. I’m not sure who commissioned the sculpture or when it was placed at this site, but it definitely looks modern.
The Q&A that followed on the original Zoom event is not included in the video, but here’s one of Jeremiah’s comments from it that I transcribed: “Jesus is not foreign to my own experience; this Jesus is part and parcel of my own existential reality. It [the image] enables people who are seeking peace and emancipation; [they are] emboldened in that process of seeing themselves reflected in the image of Jesus. The normative image the church has been holding on to has not created that space.” When one attendee asked if images of white Jesus are always “wrong” or to be discouraged, Jeremiah replied that there’s nothing wrong with such an image in itself, but the problem is when it is imposed on the entire world as the only way of looking at Jesus. “When we hold up one image as normative, we lose the diverse ways God intends to manifest himself in diverse contexts,” he said. (I couldn’t agree more!)
In this undergraduate lecture (starts at 4:06), Weichbrodt discusses how photography has been used to shape racial bias and even construct race, as well as gender, focusing on a famous 1957 photograph of school desegregation in Little Rock, Arkansas. She shows how this single photo is part of a larger web of meaning that contemporary news photos also play into. We’re always interpreting and categorizing images in relationship to things we’ve already seen, Weichbrodt says, creating a mental archive—for example, a file for “blackness,” a file for “womanhood.” And “as Christians called to recognize the dignity of God’s image in all people, we have to do actual work to acknowledge how our own archives may have hampered or distorted our love for our neighbors.” To look more faithfully, we need to look more; we need to build a broader archive.
For another devotion featuring a song from this album, see “Now I’ve Seen It All,” centered on Simeon’s encounter with the Christ child. And for one featuring a different painting by Piriankov, see “Radiant.”