Lent, Day 40 (In the Grave)

I am counted with them that go down into the pit: I am as a man that hath no strength:

Free among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, whom thou rememberest no more: and they are cut off from thy hand.

Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps.

Thy wrath lieth hard upon me, and thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves. Selah.

Thou hast put away mine acquaintance far from me; thou hast made me an abomination unto them: I am shut up, and I cannot come forth.

. . .

Wilt thou shew wonders to the dead? shall the dead arise and praise thee? Selah.

Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave? or thy faithfulness in destruction?

Shall thy wonders be known in the dark? and thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?

—Psalm 88:4–8, 10–12 (KJV)

LOOK: Playa Studies by Craig Goodworth (HT)

Goodworth, Craig_Playa Studies
Craig Goodworth (American, 1977–), Playa Studies, 2017. Site-specific land-based artwork, Great Basin Desert, Oregon. Photograph by the artist.

Craig Goodworth’s practice encompasses installation, poetry, drawing, research, teaching, and farm labor. He holds master’s degrees in fine art, sustainable communities, and divinity, and his interests include land, place, religion, mysticism, and folk traditions.

During a four-week residency in the Great Basin Desert in Oregon, he made a series of land-based artworks called Playa Studies, which he documented through photographs. (A playa is an area of flat, dried-up land.) The shape of this one evokes a grave.

LISTEN: “Aestimatus sum” (I am counted . . .) by Tomás Luis de Victoria, 1585 | Performed by Ars Nova Copenhagen, dir. Paul Hillier, 2017

Aestimatus sum cum descendentibus in lacum,
factus sum sicut homo sine adjutorio, inter mortuos liber.
    Versus: Posuerunt me in lacu inferiori, in tenebrosis et in umbra mortis.
Factus sum sicut homo sine adjutorio, inter mortuos liber.

English translation:

I am counted with them that go down into the pit:
I am as a man that hath no strength: free among the dead.
    Verse: They have laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps.
I am as a man that hath no strength: free among the dead.

This is the eighth responsory for Holy Saturday. Tomás Luis de Victoria [previously] of Spain, one of the principal composers of the late Renaissance, set it to music in 1585. It’s the penultimate motet (a multivoiced musical composition sung without instrumental accompaniment) in a set of eighteen by Victoria, titled Tenebrae Responsories.

The text is taken from Psalm 87:5–7 of the Latin Vulgate (Psalm 88:4–6 in the King James Version and most modern translations). The most depressing psalm in the Psalter, Psalm 88 ends not on a note of hope but with the lament that “darkness has become my only companion.” (Hello darkness, my old friend.)

While the psalmist spoke in metaphors of death, Jesus went there literally. After suffering much affliction, he descended “into the pit” of the earth—his grave. He knew emotional and spiritual darkness, and now he was surrounded by the physical reality. The Light had gone out. The Word was made silent.

Imagine what Jesus’s followers must have felt the day after the Crucifixion. Grief, devastation, loneliness, bewilderment, hopelessness. They were left bereft of their Lord’s presence.

On Holy Saturday, we sit in the pocket of that grief, that loss.

N. T. Wright says, “We cannot be Easter people if we are not first Good Friday people and then Holy Saturday people. Don’t expect even a still, small voice. Stay still yourself, and let the quietness and darkness of the day be your only companions.”

Advent, Day 9

LOOK: Sun Tunnels by Nancy Holt

Holt, Nancy_Sun Tunnels
Nancy Holt (American, 1938–2014), Sun Tunnels, 1973–76. Concrete, steel, and earth, each cylinder 18 feet long and 9 feet in diameter. Great Basin Desert, Utah. Owned by the Dia Art Foundation. Photo: Will Thompson.

A large-scale outdoor installation in northwestern Utah, Sun Tunnels by land artist Nancy Holt

consists of four large concrete cylinders, arranged on the desert floor in a cruciform pattern that aligns with the sunrise and sunset during the summer and winter solstices. In addition to this perfect solar framing, each of the cylinders is pierced with smaller holes representing the stars of four constellations: Draco, Perseus, Columba, and Capricorn. Holt’s design allows for an ever-changing play of celestial light and shadow upon the resolutely material surfaces of her work. Part timepiece and part compass, Sun Tunnels is also a “camera” of sorts, dependent on natural light, with the concrete tubes acting as viewfinders that frame precise images which, in Holt’s words, “bring the vast space of the desert back to human scale.” [source]

LISTEN: “Light Upon the Mountains” | Words by Henry Burton, 1910 | Music by Jackson T. Maust and Seth Thomas Crissman, 2015 | Performed by The Walking Roots Band on Hark! A Walking Roots Band Christmas, 2017

There’s a light upon the mountains and the day is at the spring,
When our eyes shall see the beauty and the glory of the king:
Weary was our heart with waiting, and the night-watch seemed so long,
But his triumph-day is breaking and we hail it with a song.

In the fading of the starlight we may see the coming morn;
And the lights of all are paling in the splendors of the dawn:
For the eastern skies are glowing as with light of hidden fire,
And the hearts of all are stirring with the throbs of deep desire.

He is breaking down the barriers, he is gathering up the way;
He is calling for his angels to build up the gates of day:
But his angels here are human, not the shining hosts above;
For the drumbeats of his army are the heartbeats of our love.

Hark! we hear a distant music, and it comes with fuller swell;
’Tis the triumph song of Jesus, of our king, Immanuel!
Go ye forth with joy to meet Him! And, my soul, be swift to bring
All thy sweetest and thy dearest for the glory of our king!

Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in thee.

Holt, Nancy_Sun Tunnels
Photo © Lindsay Daniels / Tandem Stills + Motion