Calvin Symposium on Worship 2021

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.

Calvin Symposium on Worship 2021

I’ve only just dipped my toes in so far, and have a lot more to explore. A few items I’m looking at are Catherine Gunsalus González, Justo González, and David Rylaarsdam on “Learning about Worship from the Ancient Church”; Katharine Hayhoe on how worship practices can help heal our broken relationship with the more-than-human creation; and Mary Hulst, Glenn Packiam, and Joni Sancken on preaching and singing the resurrection (Jesus’s and our own) with care, including at funerals.

I’m also looking at the symposium’s many offerings on multiculturalism and racial justice, such as “Leadership for a Multicultural Age” with Juana Bordas, “Celebrating Christianity’s Global Identity” with Vince Bantu, “Faithful Anti-Racism and the Christian Life” with Christina Edmondson, “What Is the Color of Compromise?” with Jemar Tisby, racial justice and reconciliation work in Richmond, Virginia (documentary and Q&A), Justo González on how Saint Augustine’s mestizo identity (his mother was African, his father Roman) influenced his life and theology, and minister and youth advocate Khristi Lauren Adams on her new book, Parable of the Brown Girl: The Sacred Lives of Girls of Color.

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)

The Rev. Rob Jones from Ireland preaches on Romans 12 in Worship at Holy Trinity Rathmines Church, Dublin, and Discovery Gospel Choir performs three songs.

  • 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.

Josh Rodriguez [previously] submitted an original cello composition that’s just gorgeous. It’s movement 1 (“Oh Lord, Our Lord”) from his “Meditations on Psalm VIII,” based on a tune by Louis Bourgeois from the Genevan Psalter (1542) and performed here by Robert Nicholson. The boldface link includes a score, a reflection by Rodriguez on how the piece interprets Psalm 8, and liturgical suggestions.

Another standout in the gallery is “Psalm 150” for unaccompanied flute, by Delvyn Case, which “explores the mystical connection between breath, life, music, and praise as described in the psalm.” Wow!

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.

Roundup: Santo Spirito, Joan of Arc, “Halo My Path,” and more

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.

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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.

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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.”)

Santo Spirito
Basilica di Santo Spirito, Florence

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:

Plus these two:

  • 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.

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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.

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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.”

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FILMS

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.