All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.
—Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love (late 14th century)
LOOK: River in Winter by Kamisaka Sekka
LOOK: Canyon by Augustus Vincent Tack
The text of this song is taken from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, compiled and edited by Arthur Bennett (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1975) from various seventeenth- through nineteenth-century sources. (Learn more about this wonderful little prayerbook here.) The opening prayer—the only one written by the editor and therefore the only modern one—is titled “The Valley of Vision,” and it appears in the book as follows:
Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly, Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision, where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights; hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory. Let me learn by paradox that the way down is the way up, that to be low is to be high, that the broken heart is the healed heart, that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit, that the repenting soul is the victorious soul, that to have nothing is to possess all, that to bear the cross is to wear the crown, that to give is to receive, that the valley is the place of vision. Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells, and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine; Let me find thy light in my darkness, thy life in my death, thy joy in my sorrow, thy grace in my sin, thy riches in my poverty, thy glory in my valley.
The title of this prayer and its musical setting comes from the heading that is Isaiah 22:1: “The burden of the valley of vision.” The valley here refers to Jerusalem, a city located in the middle of a range of low mountains (it’s surrounded by seven peaks higher than itself) and a seat of divine revelation—where prophetic visions were given, and where God manifested himself in the temple. And in the context of the chapter, “burden” means a mournful oracle, as Isaiah warns of Jerusalem’s destruction.
Bennett extracts the phrase “valley of vision” from the Isaiah context, using it as a metaphor for the low, dark places where we can see God most clearly. “The way down is the way up,” he writes—one of the several paradoxes of the Christian faith. In God’s kingdom the lowly are uplifted; to admit defeat is to win the victory; and to die is to live.
Author Edna Hong refers to Lent as a “downward ascent” in which we go down into the depths of ourselves, acknowledging our fragility and examining and confessing our sins, in order that we might rise anew with Christ, with a refreshed understanding and experience of his love, power, and grace. May you find that refreshment this Lenten season. May your vision of God and self come into clearer, more glorious focus.
Shower, O heavens, from above,
and let the skies rain down righteousness;
let the earth open, that salvation may spring up,
and let it cause righteousness to sprout up also;
I the LORD have created it.
Let us know, let us press on to know the LORD;
his appearing is as sure as the dawn;
he will come to us like the showers,
like the spring rains that water the earth.
LOOK: Appalachian Rhapsody in Blues: or, He Will Come to Us Like the Spring Rains by Grace Carol Bomer
LISTEN: “Rorate caeli” by William Byrd, 1605 | Performed by The Gesualdo Six, directed by Owain Park, 2020
Rorate caeli desuper, et nubes pluant justum: aperiatur terra, et germinet salvatorem.
Benedixisti, Domine, terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob.
Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.
Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open and bring forth a Savior.
Lord, thou hast blessed thy land: thou hast turned away the captivity of Jacob.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
The text of “Rorate caeli” (Let the heavens) is taken from the Vulgate translation of Isaiah 45:8. It “is frequently sung to plainsong at Mass and in the Divine Office during Advent, where it gives expression to the longings of Patriarchs and Prophets, and symbolically of the Church, for the coming of the Messiah. Throughout Advent it occurs daily as the versicle and response after the hymn at Vespers” [source].
William Byrd’s five-voice motet adds an additional verse from Psalm 85:1 (84:1–2 in the Vulgate), followed by the Gloria Patri.
This video performance is part of the Gesualdo Six’s 2020 Advent Sessions YouTube series.
strand of pearls,
lay yourself down
on a country pond
one at a time
. . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
dangle your golden earrings
never grow old
teach me to roam.
This poem is published in A Wild Turn (Finishing Line Press, 2008), http://donelledreese.com/.
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.
He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.
Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is thy keeper: the LORD is thy shade upon thy right hand.
The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.
The LORD shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.
The LORD shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.
SONG: “Traveler’s Psalm” by Donald Boyd | Arranged and performed by Andy Zipf, on Traveler’s Psalms and Carols (2009)
I will lift my eyes unto the hills
Whence cometh my help
My help cometh from the Lord
Who made heaven and earth
He will not allow my foot to stumble
For he’s always on my side
And he’ll guide me through all of the days of my life
Now and forevermore
Andy Zipf received this original song from his maternal grandfather, Donald Boyd (1919–1998), who, in addition to writing hymns, was the choir director of a church in Roland, Iowa, for fifty-one years. He had bought Zipf his first guitar and always encouraged him to sing. As a tribute to Grandpa Boyd and his formative impact, Zipf has made the song available for free download at Bandcamp.
The dusky, reverberant landscape painting Tomorrow will be the same but not as this is by Colin McCahon [previously] shows a sun setting behind a range of dark New Zealand hills, with a gray body suggesting water in the midground. Art critic Justin Paton surmises that the mysterious form in the upper left corner (which he jokingly calls “the windshield wiper of God”) is the tail of a cross, because McCahon did a whole series of drawings of flying crosses within landscapes.
“I think it’s a kind of resurrection painting,” Paton said in an RNZ Saturday Morning interview last November. “It’s talking about the way in which an immense spiritual event could shake your world, but then you go to bed and you wake up the next day. It is still the same world, but how has it altered?” Paton continues, “He [McCahon] deals in visions, he deals in miracles, he deals in cataclysmic and elating spiritual events, but it’s always earthed in the everyday—in a world we recognize, a world we can smell . . .” The medium in Tomorrow is commercial flooring paint mixed with sand.
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 the Second Sunday of Lent, cycle A, click here.
It’s all a farce,—these tales they tell
About the breezes sighing,
And moans astir o’er field and dell,
Because the year is dying.
Such principles are most absurd,—
I care not who first taught ’em;
There’s nothing known to beast or bird
To make a solemn autumn.
In solemn times, when grief holds sway
With countenance distressing,
You’ll note the more of black and gray
Will then be used in dressing.
Now purple tints are all around;
The sky is blue and mellow;
And e’en the grasses turn the ground
From modest green to yellow.
The seed burrs all with laughter crack
On featherweed and jimson;
And leaves that should be dressed in black
Are all decked out in crimson.
A butterfly goes winging by;
A singing bird comes after;
And Nature, all from earth to sky,
Is bubbling o’er with laughter.
The ripples wimple on the rills,
Like sparkling little lasses;
The sunlight runs along the hills,
And laughs among the grasses.
The earth is just so full of fun
It really can’t contain it;
And streams of mirth so freely run
The heavens seem to rain it.
Don’t talk to me of solemn days
In autumn’s time of splendor,
Because the sun shows fewer rays,
And these grow slant and slender.
Why, it’s the climax of the year,—
The highest time of living!—
Till naturally its bursting cheer
Just melts into thanksgiving.
“Merry Autumn” by Paul Laurence Dunbar originally appeared in Oak and Ivy (Press of United Brethren Publishing House, 1893) and is now in the public domain.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul . . .
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff,
they comfort me.
—Psalm 23:1–3a, 4
The aria “Schafe können sicher weiden” (Sheep May Safely Graze) comprises the ninth movement of Bach’s Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd (The Lively Hunt Is All My Heart’s Desire)—known informally as the Hunting Cantata. Written for the thirty-first birthday of Duke Christian of Saxe-Weissenfels, the cantata was performed as a surprise at a banquet at the ducal hunting lodge, and it’s full of flattery. The text of “Sheep May Safely Graze,” written by Solomon Franck, praises Christian for his wise, protective leadership (in actuality, he was a lousy ruler):
Sheep may safely graze and pasture
In a watchful shepherd’s sight.
Those who rule, with wisdom guiding,
Bring to hearts a peace abiding,
Bless a land with joy made bright.
At 1:31 in the above recording, you can hear potential danger lurking nearby, but the attentive shepherd neutralizes the threat, keeping safe his flock.
Bach originally scored this piece for soprano with two recorders and continuo, but it has since been transcribed for orchestra and countless other combinations of instruments and is most popular without words. I enjoy playing Egon Petri’s transcription for solo piano, performed here by Alessio Bax:
Its pastoral mood, befitting Psalm 23, and its celebration of a good shepherd’s care have led it to be applied to the Good Shepherd and performed in church services. I’ve even come across some piano arrangements that interfuse it with “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us” (for an intermediate arrangement of such by Cindy Berry, see Classical Hymns).
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 11, cycle B, click here.
ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY: “Art and theology” books published in 2017: I had fun compiling this book list for ArtWay, which spans the disciplines of art history, theological aesthetics, visual theology, philosophy, museum studies, liturgical studies, and Christian ministry. Let me know if I’m missing any titles. (For books published on art and theology between 2014 and 2016, click here.)
Among those geared toward popular audiences are In the Beauty of Holiness, a lavishly illustrated hardcover survey of eighteen hundred years of Christian fine art; Imaging the Story, structured as a small-group study with a “make” component; and a how-to manual for church leaders written by the director of Sojourn Arts, a flourishing church ministry in Louisville, Kentucky. There are books centered on biblical art from non-Western countries, like New Zealand, Tonga, and Australia, and on art by racial minorities, as in Beholding Christ and Christianity in African American Art, as well as books that focus on a single biblical symbol (e.g., the cross) or group of narratives (such as those unique to John’s Gospel).
But there are also books that focus on the contemporary art world, encouraging Christians to engage works beyond just those with explicitly Christian content or just those made by Christians.
Several books published this year engage with the ideas of leading early Protestant theologians, like Luther, Calvin, and (later) Kuyper, as they relate to visual art, and one even examines Reformational influences on Michelangelo’s late work. A smorgasbord indeed!
Today is the seventh day of Christmas—the celebration continues! Here are two fun songs for your listening pleasure.
^^ “Angels We Have Heard on High,” arranged and performed by the Piano Guys: In this unique piano arrangement for eight hands, Jon Schmidt, Al van der Beek, Steven Sharp Nelson, and Paul Anderson strike, pluck, bow, and percuss the instrument, creating a more complex texture than you would expect. All the sounds you hear (except for the voices) are produced by the piano.
^^ “Mongolian Jingle Bells” by Altai Kai: This video shows a Mongolian musical ensemble performing their own rendition of “Jingle Bells” using local instruments—including a yatga (plucked zither), shanz (plucked lute), and morin khuur (bowed horsehead fiddle)—and overtone singing. [HT: Global Christian Worship]
CALL FOR PAPERS: “Art as a Voice for the Church,” Princeton Theological Review: I regret not finding out about this opportunity earlier, as the due date is just a week away, but I’m posting it so that you can be sure to look out for this art and theology–themed issue in the spring!
Graduate students and early-career scholars are invited to submit papers to the spring 2018 edition of the Princeton Theological Review. We welcome papers from various disciplinary perspectives (theology, philosophy, church history, biblical studies, social sciences, etc.) as they relate to the theme of art and the church. How does theology manifest in all different forms of art (painting, poetry, photography, sculpture, music, theater, film, literature, dance, or any other creative endeavors)? How does artistic expression give voice to piety, critique, worship, or spiritual struggle? How has art influenced and been influenced by biblical interpretations, theological movements, historical context, or cultural conditions? Why is art such a powerful medium for Christian expression? All submissions are due January 8, 2018.
The current issue of PTR, released this fall, is on the same topic and is available for free download. Subtitled “A Festschrift for Gordon Graham,” it includes reflections by three leading thinkers on Professor Graham’s latest book, Philosophy, Art, and Religion: Understanding Faith and Creativity, as well as three essays: “Visual Images and Reformed Anxieties: Some Scottish Reflections” by David Ferguson; “The Scandal of the Evangelical Eye” by Matthew J. Milliner; and “God, One and Three—Artistic Struggles with the Trinity” by Gesa E. Thiessen. [HT: millinerd.com]
October 10, 2017–January 14, 2018
J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
“Sacred Landscapes: Nature in Renaissance Manuscripts”: “In Renaissance Europe, many people looked to nature for spiritual inspiration and to guide their contemplation of the divine. In manuscripts created for personal or communal devotion, elements of nature—such as rocks, trees, flowers, waterways, mountains, and even the atmosphere—add layers of meaning to the illuminations, which were painted with careful observation of every minute detail. These landscapes remind readers to appreciate, and respect, the wonder of creation.” Read more at The Iris, the blog maintained by Getty curators, educators, conservators, and other staff.
“Giovanni Bellini: Landscapes of Faith in Renaissance Venice”: “Giovanni Bellini’s evocative landscapes are as much the protagonists of his paintings as are the religious subjects that dominated 15th-century Italian art. One of the most influential painters of the Renaissance, he worked in and around Venice, and while his landscapes are highly metaphorical, they also accurately reflect the region’s topography and natural light. Created for sophisticated patrons, Bellini’s works present characters and symbols from familiar sacred stories, set in a dimension of reality and lived experience to a degree unprecedented in the history of Italian painting.”
TEMPORARY INSTALLATION: Yesterday was the last day to see “Nativity Scenes of the World” by Ejti Štih, an installation of thirty culturally diverse, life-size cut-out figures inside the concert hall of Slovenia’s famous Postojna Cave. What a location! Click here for a quick video tour of all the figures.
I’m excited to dig into the new books I got for Christmas! Thanks, family—you’re the best. (And no, Mom, the book-length bibliography of ekphrastic poetry was not a mistake on my wishlist. Yes, really.)