VIDEO: “Waiting with Christ: An Artful Meditation for Holy Week”: A collaboration between Duke Initiatives in Theology and the Arts in Durham, North Carolina, and City Church in Cleveland, Ohio, this half-hour video from 2021 presents a small collection of scripture readings, poems, visual art, and music for Holy Week, interspersed with reflections by theologian Jeremy Begbie. The artistic selections are a spoken word performance by Paul Turner, Malcolm Guite’s sonnet “Jesus Meets His Mother,” the Adagio movement of Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major, the painting Riven Tree by Bruce Herman, and Bifrost Arts’ “Our Song in the Night,” performed by Salina Turner, Allison Negus, and Joel Negus [previously].
ARTICLE: “6 Musical ‘Passions’ Beyond Bach” by Josh Rodriguez: Composer, professor, and Deus Ex Musica cofounder Josh Rodriguez is an excellent classical music curator and guide. In this article he introduces us to six modern large-scale musical works about Jesus’s final week: The Passion of Yeshua by Richard Danielpour, La Pasión Según San Marcos by Osvaldo Golijov, The Passion of the Christ Symphony by John Debney, Johannes-Passion by Sofia Gubaidulina, Simeron by Ivan Moody, and the St. John Passion by James MacMillan. He interweaves composer biography, musical analysis, and meaning in concise ways, with nods to music history. Stylistic influences for these diverse selections range from Byzantine chant to salsa! Audio/video excerpts are provided, such as the cued-up “¿Por qué?” from Golijov’s Pasión (see below), a movement centering on the woman who anointed Jesus’s feet with perfume (Mark 14:3–9).
PRINT SERIES: The Passion and Its Objects (after Dürer) by Marcus Rees Roberts: “The Passion and Its Objects (after Dürer) is a series of etchings and monotypes by Marcus Rees Roberts. The images derive from fragments from Albrecht Dürer’s series of woodcuts The Small Passion (1511). Images of the Passion – and of the crucifixion in particular – are so embedded in Western consciousness that we forget that it is a depiction of betrayal, prejudice, and torture. In this version of the Passion by Dürer, one of several he made, small, everyday objects lie scattered within the images – a jug, pliers, a hammer, a coil of rope. Even five hundred years later, we recognise these objects as our own; we can identify with them. But in so doing, we enter the depicted space, and we become complicit in the cruelty. This is one reason why Dürer’s Small Passion is both so powerful and so uncomfortable.”
PHOTOGRAPHY SERIES: Passion Play by Deborah Luster: “There are more than 5,300 inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. Nearly 4,000 of them are serving life without parole. In 2012 and 2013 the Angola Prison Drama Club staged a play unlike any other in the prison’s experience. The Life of Jesus Christ featured 70 inmates, men and women acting together for the first time—in costume, with a real camel, performing for the general public. For the untrained actors, this production held special meaning as they saw pieces of their own lives revealed in the characters they played.”
>>“May I Go with You” by January Lim: This Maundy Thursday song was written in 2020 in the voice of Jesus in Gethsemane, speaking to God the Father. In the first stanza, it seems to me that Jesus is asking to be taken up to heaven, like Elijah—just whisked away back to glory, and spared tomorrow’s cruelties and pain. But in the second stanza that same request seems to shift in meaning as Jesus expresses a desire to go with God’s plan and asks for the strength to follow through. The song was released on the EP Gathered Sighs (2021), put out by Evergreen Baptist Church of Los Angeles, where Lim serves as worship arts pastor. [HT: Global Christian Worship]
ONLINE EVENT: “Theodicy of Beauty” by Sarah Clarkson, March 6, 2:30 p.m. ET: “The question of suffering is one of the central, aching questions of faith. Too often, we meet suffering with an argument for God’s goodness, rather than an invitation to find and discover his goodness anew. Join me for an exploration of what it means to encounter and trust the beauty of God in our times of darkness, suffering, and pain. Drawing on my own story of mental illness and depression, I’ll explore what it means to engage with God’s goodness in a radically healing way, one that restores our capacity to imagine, hope, and create. We’ll use literature, art, and poetry to discern the ways that God arrives in our darkness to heal us, and also to restore us as agents of his loveliness in the midst of a broken world.”
This Crowdcast talk by Sarah Clarkson is based on her book This Beautiful Truth: How God’s Goodness Breaks into Our Darkness. Registration is $7 and includes a complimentary downloadable copy of “Encountering Beauty,” an arts-based reader’s guide to Clarkson’s book. I have appreciated her From the Vicarage: Books, Beauty, Theology newsletter and her wise, gentle reflections on spirituality, literature, and motherhood on Instagram @sarahwanders, so I’m looking forward to hearing from her on this topic!
LECTURES (available on podcast platforms):
>> “The Loving Look” by Dr. Elissa Yukiko Weichbrodt: In this keynote address for the 2018 Beautiful Orthodoxy conference, art historian Elissa Yukiko Weichbrodt [previously], author of Redeeming Vision: A Christian Guide to Looking at and Learning from Art, discusses how contemporary art—the type of art we typically want to look away from—can drive us to confession, empathy, and love. Sharing her encounters with three contemporary artworks, she talks about art as a place where we can experience sanctification and common grace; how the Incarnation further invested our material world with significance; art as an invitation to embodied knowledge; art as part of how we order and understand our physical world; artworks as mirrors and shapers of culture; and how viewers, not just artists, are called to faithfulness.
She cites Esther Lightcap Meek’s Loving to Know: Covenant Epistemology, in which Meek says that all acts of coming to know are integrative; they become part of us. Knowledge is an act of covenantal care, Meek says. We don’t know in order to love; we love in order to know. Weichbrodt says, “For me, contemporary art—particularly art made by artists grappling with histories and experiences that have remained largely unseen, unknown, and unloved by the dominant culture—has served as a catalyst for faithful knowing.”
>> “The Arts as a Means to Love” by Dr. Mary McCampbell: In this lecture given for English L’Abri, Mary McCampbell [previously], an associate professor of humanities at Lee University, discusses some of the ideas from her book Imagining Our Neighbors as Ourselves: How Art Shapes Empathy. I appreciate how her writing and teaching embraces the arts of film and television alongside literature, such that not only are works like The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor, and Beloved by Toni Morrison explored, but so are, for example, the comedy-drama Lars and the Real Girl and the drama series Better Call Saul. Discrediting the recent odd assertion from a prominent evangelical corner that empathy is a sin, McCampbell affirms that empathy is, on the contrary, an essential Christian virtue, and one that the narrative arts are adept at forming in us, exposing us to people and stories outside our realms of experience and helping us recognize the image of God in unlikely places.
EXHIBITION REVIEW: “Mourning and Perseverance Stitched into South African Tapestries” by Alexandra M. Thomas: Through March 24 at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg, you can see Umaf’evuka, nje ngenyanga, dying and rising, as the moon does, a major retrospective of the work of the Keiskamma Art Project. Founded in 2000, the project archives the collective memory and oral histories of the rural Eastern Cape of South Africa through textile artworks, mainly by Xhosa women. Monumental and small-scale works tell stories of trauma, grief, hope, faith, resilience, and celebration. One of my favorite art research projects has been the one I did on the Isenheim-inspired Keiskamma Altarpiece in 2015, which resulted in the article “Sewing seeds of hope in South Africa”; this altarpiece is one of the many works on display. Let me call out just two others. The photos are from the current exhibition.
Keiskamma Guernica, after Picasso’s famous antiwar painting, laments the limited access to HIV treatment in rural South Africa in the 2000s and the negligence of government hospitals, which resulted in many HIV/AIDS deaths. The piece repurposes the blankets and clothes of the deceased and serves as an expression of outrage as well as a form of commemoration. Creation Altarpiece, modeled loosely after the Ghent Altarpiece, exults in the region’s abundant wildlife and natural resources and in life-giving initiatives like Hamburg’s music education program, its capoeira group (a dance-like martial art), and the memory boxes made by orphaned children to remember their parents. The three top central panels depict a fig tree eating up an old hotel built by colonialists (a real-life scene observed in the nearby village of Bell!), and the bottom three show villagers of all kinds gathering around Christ, represented as a bull (whereas lambs were commonly sacrificed in ancient Israelite religion, traditional Xhosa religion calls for bull sacrifices).
SONG: “Kyrie” by Ngwa Roland:Ngwa Roland is a composer and the director of De Angelis Capella [previously], a Catholic choir from Yaoundé, Cameroon. Here is his choral setting of the Kyrie eleison (Greek for “Lord, have mercy”), an important Christian prayer used in liturgies around the world.
>> “To One Kneeling Down No Word Came” by Jonathan Chan, Yale Logos:Jonathan Chan is a Singapore-based poet and essayist who graduated with a master’s degree in East Asian Studies from Yale in 2022. In this personal essay he reflects on the poetry of R. S. Thomas, a twentieth-century Anglican priest from Wales, particularly as it relates to the toil of prayer—prayer as a discipline requiring persistence and solitude. Thomas’s poems often express a sense of alienation from God, which is not what we might expect from a pastor, but, as Chan remarks, “God’s absence cultivates a desire for God’s presence.”
>> “Stabat Mater: How a 13th Century Lament Resonates Today” by Josh Rodriguez, Forefront: Back in July 2020, composer Josh Rodriguez [previously here and here] published this article on four modern settings of one of the most celebrated Latin hymns of all time, the twenty-stanza Stabat Mater Dolorosa (lit. “The sorrowful mother was standing”), about Mary mourning the death of her son Jesus. Written in the Middle Ages, it continues to inspire composers today, and it remains “a powerful vehicle for ‘grieving with those who grieve,’” Rodriguez writes. He spotlights the settings by James Macmillan, Julia Perry, Hawar Tawfiq, and Paul Mealor, analyzing some of the musical elements of each and quoting the composers in regards to the piece’s meaning to them.
ART CYCLE: The Hours of Mary Magdalene by Jan L. Richardson: July 22 is the feast day of Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’s closest disciples and the first witness and preacher of the Resurrection. American artist, writer, and minister Jan L. Richardson created a sequence of collages picturing events from her life, drawing on both the biblical narratives and medieval legends. The structure and presentation (decorative borders, Latin script) were inspired by medieval books of hours, used for the praying of the Divine Office. The text below each image reads, Deus, in adiutorium meum intende; Domine, ad adiuvandum me festina (“O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me”), the first verse of Psalm 70, which is prayed at the start of each of the canonical hours.
According to legend, after Jesus’s ascension Mary Magdalene moved to southern France, where she preached the gospel and performed miracles. The last thirty years of her life she lived as a hermit in a cave. Each time she prayed the hours, she was lifted up to heaven by angels, then brought back down at the end of her devotions.
Richardson put together a delightful little video showcasing the art cycle as well as the song “Mary Magdalena” by her late husband, Garrison Doles.
You can purchase these images as digital downloads from Richardson’s website:
>> “Locus iste” by Anton Bruckner, performed by VOCES8: The British vocal ensemble VOCES8 performs Anton Bruckner’s sacred motet “Locus iste” (This Place) at Les Dominicains de Haute-Alsace in Guebwiller, France. Bruckner composed it in 1869 for the dedication of the Votivkapelle (votive chapel) at the New Cathedral in Linz, Austria, where he had been a cathedral organist. The text—a Latin gradual for church dedications and their anniversaries—is informed by Jacob’s saying, after his dream of the ladder uniting heaven and earth, that “surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not” (Gen. 28:16), and by the story of the burning bush where Moses is told to “put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground” (Exod. 3:5).
Locus iste a Deo factus est, inaestimabile sacramentum; irreprehensibilis est.
This place is made by God, a priceless sacrament; it is without reproach.
(Or, alternatively:) This dwelling is God’s handiwork; a mystery beyond all price, that cannot be spoken against.
Tabernacle is a musical triptych shaped by the drama of Psalm 19. While this word, tabernacle, is loaded with religious affection within both Jewish and Christian traditions, some modern readers may not be familiar with its implications. Merriam-Webster offers three related definitions: “a house of worship, a receptacle for the consecrated elements of the Eucharist, or a tent sanctuary used by the Israelites during the Exodus.” By extension, it has come to represent a “dwelling place” or a “temporary shelter.” In short, this is no ordinary space, rather it is a place that is set apart, made holy for a terrifying transformative encounter with the Divine.
Fragments of a prayerful hymn-like melody appear underneath this canopy of sounds. Shifting metric changes, polyrhythms, and percussive primal-sounding harmonies climax in a loud, noisy quote from the 16th-century Genevan Psalter.
More extensive program notes can be found in the YouTube video description.
For a much more extensive treatment of the topic, see Spira’s Foreshadowed: Malevich’s “Black Square” and Its Precursors, published this month. And for a faith-positive (non-nihilistic) reading of Malevich’s Black Square that honors the artist’s own views, see pages 209–25 of Jonathan A. Anderson and William A. Dyrness’s Modern Art and the Life of a Culture, where they discuss the work in relation to the Russian icons tradition and “apophatic or ‘negative’ theology—a mode of theology that meditates on the absolute Fullness and Otherness of God by way of negating the verbal, visual and conceptual forms used to signify (and to ‘grasp’) God” (220).
The mission of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship is to “promote the scholarly study of the theology, history, and practice of Christian worship and the renewal of worship in worshiping communities across North America and beyond.” Their programming centers on resources, grants, and events—the biggest of which is the annual Calvin Symposium on Worship, held in January at Calvin University. This year this enormous gathering of pastors, worship leaders and planners, artists, musicians, scholars, students, and others has moved online—and it’s all free! Click here to register and to gain access to a bevy of wonderful content.
Online Calvin Symposium on Worship 2021 opened January 6 and is running through January 26, and much of the content will be archived for future on-demand viewing. With more than ninety contributors, it comprises twenty livestreamed worship services from around the world, twenty livestreamed sessions (some interactive), audio and video talks and interviews, panel discussions, chapter downloads, a compilation of Psalms-based music and art, and expert-guided discussion boards on technology for worshipping communities, Christian history, and pastoral and self-care lessons from 2020.
I’ve really been enjoying the worship services, which are hosted by churches and institutions not just throughout the US but also in Buenos Aires, Dublin, Beirut, Cairo, Hong Kong, Singapore, and several cities in Brazil.
A bilingual service led by Constanza Bongarrá and Marcelo Villanueva, Worship with Seminario Internacional Teológico Bautista in Buenos Aires[previously] premiered January 11. The six songs, performed by a small group of supertalented musicians, represent different styles/genres originating in or developed in Argentina—tango, cueca, huayno. A full list of participants and music credits is available at the link.
4:56: “Veni, Emanuel” (O Come, O Come, Emmanuel)
8:06: “Hemos venido” (We’ve Come)
17:58: “Este es el día” (This Is the Day)
21:01: “Tenemos esperanza” (We Have Hope) [previously]
26:56: “Vencerá el amor” (Love Shall Overcome)
29:33: “El cielo canta alegría” (Heaven Is Singing for Joy)
5:32: “O Nzambi” (O Lord) (from the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Kongo)
36:00: “Uthando Luka Baba” (The Love of the Father) (from Zimbabwe/South Africa, in Ndebele/Xhosa)
48:18: “Alleluia” (from Mauritius, in Creole)
What a joy to be introduced to Ireland’s leading multicultural choir! Discovery Gospel Choir was formed in 2004 by the Church of Ireland to reflect the country’s (and the church’s) ethnic and linguistic diversity. Its motto is taken from Romans 12:17b (MSG): “Discover beauty in everyone.” The songs here, and more, can be found on the choir’s 2015 album, Look Up. I especially loved “Uthando Luka Baba” (that solo!).
There’s also a lot of music (and some visual art and dance) in the “Global Psalm Gallery,” made up of submissions from the public.
Not all the submissions are instrumental art music; there’s also congregational songs, choral pieces, etc.
Again, here’s the sign-up link to the symposium: https://worship.calvin.edu/symposium/. And in addition to this year’s new content, the CICW has an enormous archive of resources from past years that is definitely worth checking out, especially if you are a church leader, of worship or otherwise.
VIDEO: “Ned Bustard: Making Good”:Cursive Films profiles Ned Bustard [previously], a graphic designer, linocut artist, and founder of Square Halo Books. Asked how he as a Christian defines success in his field, he responds with a quote by his friend Kurt Thompson: “We were made in joy to make things in and for joy.” So instead of asking, “Am I successful?,” we should be asking ourselves, “Am I doing what I was designed to do?,” Bustard says.
ESSAY: “I’d Like to Learn to Love It Anyway” by Helena Sorensen: In this personal essay from the Rabbit Room, Sorensen reflects on the world’s brokenness and beauty, a world where there is grief and disappointment and uncertainty and scarring but also love and springtime and strength and song. She opens by recounting her eleven-year-old son’s very visceral feeling of pain in reaction to the death of a baby bird, and his exasperated “What’s the point of it all?” She then introduces a song that crystallizes her son’s struggle—“Letter to the Editor” by J Lind—while sharing her own struggles, since adolescence, to accept her body. There’s no theodicy here, no theological explanations for suffering; just an aspiration to live with openness and gratitude and perspective, and to take the bad along with the good, the cost of being human.
NEW POEM: “Santo Spirito” by Jacqueline Osherow: (Read the poem before reading my commentary; I don’t want the latter to influence your first impressions!) Osherow is Jewish and also a lover of Renaissance art, having previously lived in Florence for a year and a half. And she has been enamored of birds since childhood. These influences coincide in her long free-verse poem “Santo Spirito” (Italian for “Holy Spirit”), subtitled “Autobiography with Doves.” Here she traces the presence, and sometimes absence, of the dove as symbol of the Holy Spirit in Italian master paintings of the Annunciation and the Baptism of Christ. Osherow said she does not read the New Testament but experiences Christian narrative and theology through art, which has “been working / on me all along, its proselytizing / deftly subliminal // like the edgy / come-ons urban / legend claims / were strategically / concealed in / advertisements.” (Still, she says, “I remain a Jew, . . . no matter / what I look at, what / I see.”)
The poem is a reflection on divine revelation and hiddenness, precision and mystery, the visible and invisible. Where and how does God’s spirit reside? What is holy, or can we say only when we encounter it? The poem hinges on the fifteenth-century Florentine church the poem takes its title from. Santo Spirito has a strikingly plain façade, a “supple blankness / wide-open, burning, / immaculate, . . . infinite,” like an unrolled scroll without writing. After a catalog of religious art that pictures and describes, Osherow pauses in front of this emptiness that is likewise inviting. Yes to artists’ visions, she says, to doves and other literalisms, to the transcription and translation of God’s word, to apologetic discourse and theologizing, to bumbling our way toward truth—but yes also to the way of unknowing.
My junior year of college I, too, lived in Florence—just a few minutes’ walk from Santo Spirito, in fact—so this poem is full of memories for me, and I love Osherow’s candid reflections on specific artworks in the city:
The Baptism of Christ by Piero della Francesca, made for the Priory of San Giovanni Battista at Sansepolcro in Tuscany, now in the National Gallery, London
The Annunciation panel of an altarpiece Piero della Francesca made for the Franciscan convent of Sant’Antonio da Padova in Perugia, now in the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria
Jacqueline Osherow read her poem recently for an Image-sponsored Zoom event followed by a Q&A (video link available on poem page). There were supposed to be photo slides of the paintings keyed to relevant stanzas, but the display doesn’t correct until 8:03.
NEW SONG: “Halo My Path” by Josh Rodriguez: The words to this “quarantine chorale” are excerpted and adapted from a Puritan prayer titled “Voyage,” from the compilation The Valley of Vision. Composer Josh Rodriguez said he wrote the song “as I watched the bravery of medical professionals, the difficult decisions that government leaders faced, the disproportionate suffering of the poor, the unrest in my own heart. . . . I hope this prayer will challenge us to fight against the selfishness that resides in our hearts, to persevere in the long road to recovery, to appreciate once again that simple privilege of life together.” I’m grateful to Rodriguez for throwing this beautiful phrase into high relief: “Halo my path,” an address to God. Make bright my way, sanctify it, illuminate it with gentleness and love so that my every step is into the light of these virtues, not into the darkness of causticity and hate. The song is an aspiration to bless, to sow gladness rather than grief.
Halo my path with gentleness and love,
smooth every temper;
let me not forget how easy it is to occasion grief;
may I strive to bind up every wound,
and pour oil on all troubled waters.
May the world be happier because I live.
Halo my path.
NEW ALBUM: Peace to All Who Enter Here by Josh Garrels: A mix of calming hymns and worship songs, including two previously unreleased originals: “Fear Thou Not” and “Creation Song.” I’ve long had a strong emotional connection to the opening song, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” so I was hooked from the beginning!
“in the month of march the world entered a time of quarantine,” Josh’s wife Michelle writes on the album’s Bandcamp page. “our life of work- and school-from-home continued basically as usual. but beyond the boundaries of our yard, the world was rapidly shifting. instinctively for us, it was a time to pray & praise. when we enter into praise in times of uncertainty, we feel God’s goodness, the everything in His hands. His peace is a real, sustaining thing. josh began these days by firelight in the garage, mornings of prayer while winter melted away into hopeful spring. in the afternoons he’d turn on the recording gear & sing out praises. You’ll hear the click of the wood stove, the chirping of birds, our five children playing in the front yard. there was a spontaneity to this recording, & the result is sweet. . . . we hope you encounter the peace of Christ as you enter here, finding hope & faith restored in these turbulent times.”
May 30 is the feast day of Joan of Arc, a French peasant girl who, during the Hundred Years’ War, claimed to have received visions from God instructing her to fight against English domination. She participated in military campaigns with the French army but was eventually captured and, after a trial financed by the English crown, burned at the stake. She was later sainted.
Joan of Arc has been the subject of many films. Here are two I’ve seen, both of which abandon glamorous military heroics to focus instead on some of the less flashy parts of her life, with Jeannette being set during her preadolescence, and The Passion during her trial.
Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc (2017): A thrash metal period musical is certainly a unique approach to take for Joan’s story, and this movie is . . . eccentric. It shows Joan, played by nonprofessional actors at ages eight and thirteen, as a shepherd girl in rural France, deeply pained by the English oppression of her people. “Our Father who art in heaven, your name is so far from being hallowed, and your reign from coming,” she laments. Pious beyond her years, she struggles to discern God’s will, and once she does, to follow it. She’s helped along by visions of the nun Madame Gervaise—whom writer-director Bruno Dumont splits into two singing, dancing figures played by twins—and others.
While this could just be an art-house filmmaker trying to push the envelope, I feel that the ridiculousness serves a function: we furrow our brows and roll our eyes and wonder if it’s for real, much like those contemporaries of Joan’s who, to put it mildly, had trouble getting on board with her odd story.
The dialogue is adapted from Charles Péguy’s 1910 mystery play The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc.
The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928): Starring Renée Falconetti in a legendary performance, this silent film classic paints Joan as a Christ figure who’s mocked and martyred for her refusal to betray God’s will. There are allusions throughout to Christ’s passion: shadows form a cross on the wall; Joan weaves a crown of straw; there’s a bloodletting scene; et cetera. Expressionistic lighting and painfully intimate close-ups immerse viewers in Joan’s subjective experience. (As a sidebar, I must note that Falconetti was thirty-five when she played the role, whereas Joan was only nineteen; I think because Falconetti’s portrayal is so iconic, people often forget how young Joan was.)
Director Carl Theodor Dreyer was very concerned with documentary authenticity, so he enlisted the leading expert on Joan of Arc, Pierre Champion, as a historical adviser on the film. The script is based heavily on transcripts of Joan’s trial and execution, which are held at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. The French ecclesiastical court, allied with the English, press Joan on the authenticity of her visions, her certainty of salvation, her support of Charles VII, her wearing of men’s clothing; she continues to insist that she is fulfilling the mission God called her to. Though the historical Joan was subjected to twenty-two interrogation sessions spread out over a few months, by necessity the movie telescopes them into a brief timespan.
Many composers have written scores for the film. The Criterion release gives three options: Richard Einhorn’s Voices of Light oratorio, which takes a traditional, maximalist approach; a score by Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory and Portishead’s Adrian Utley, utilizing electric guitars, voices, synthesizers, brass, harp, and percussion; and a minimalist piano score by Mie Yanashita. However, purists say the film should be watched in silence, as Dreyer preferred.