Lent, Day 30

Elabena ale gbegbe Mawu lo xexeame bena woatso yeto hena Tenuvi bena amesiame si xoa sena la, mele tsotso ge o, ke bon woakpo agbe mavo.

Yohanes 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

—John 3:16 NRSV

LOOK: Untitled (1985) by Keith Haring

Haring, Keith_Untitled
Keith Haring (American, 1958–1990), Untitled, 1985. Acrylic on canvas, 90 × 236 in. (228.6 × 599.4 cm). Private collection. © Keith Haring Foundation

Keith Haring was an American pop artist who died of AIDS at age thirty-one. I featured him on the blog last year, particularly his connection to the Jesus People movement.

LISTEN: “Alegbegbe” (For God So Loved the World) by Ephraim Amu, 1958 | Text: John 3:16 in Ewe | Performed by the Harmonious Chorale Ghana and the Ghana National Symphony Orchestra, 2019

“Alegbegbe Mawu Lɔ̃ Xexeame” (or “Alegbegbe” for short) is a choral setting of the scriptural passage John 3:16 composed by Dr. Ephraim Amu, one of the leading composers of Ghanaian art music. As do many of his works from the 1950s onward, this composition uses a technique called counterpoint—that is, the sounding of independent melodies simultaneously in different vocal lines, which are nevertheless integrated into a single harmonic texture. The words are in the Ewe language (pronounced ā-wā, with long a’s as in way), spoken in the Volta region of Ghana as well as in southwestern Togo and parts of Benin.

I’ve chosen a recent performance that was captured on video, but for an audio-only performance by the West Volta Presbytery Church Choir, conducted by Amu’s daughter, Misonu Amu, click here.

Dr. Paul Neeley of Global Christian Worship writes, “Dr. Ephraim Kɔku Amu (1899–1995) was a Ghanaian composer, musicologist, and teacher. He was a pioneer in contextualizing life and Christian faith in the African context, starting in the 1920s. He was not afraid to rock the boat of cultural and church norms of the time. He composed hundreds of songs, many of them choral songs in the major languages of Ewe and Twi, and some are still popular today.”

I found a multitude of articles about Amu on JSTOR—most of them quite technical—and I hope to explore his corpus more fully in the future.

Lent, Day 29

LOOK: Allegorical Representation of the Crucifixion with Saints Andrew and Paul by Francesco Traini

Traini, Francesco_Crucifixion
Francesco Traini (Italian, active 1321–1363), Allegorical Representation of the Crucifixion with Saints Andrew and Paul, ca. 1350–60. Tempera and gold leaf on panel, 41 1/4 × 16 5/8 in. (104.8 × 42.2 cm). Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Photo: Victoria Emily Jones. [object record]

In this panel painting from late medieval Italy, two of Christ’s apostles—Andrew and Paul—embrace the cross where Christ hangs crucified, his blood running down from his hands and side. The Latin inscriptions unfurl as speech from each. Paul, on the right, says, MICHI AUTEM ABSIT GLORIARI NISI IN CRUCE DOMINI NOSTRI JESU CHRISTU PER QUEM MICHI MUNDUS CRUCIXUS EST ET EGO MUNDO (“But God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” [Gal. 6:14]).

And Andrew exclaims, SALVE CRUS SPETIOSA SUSCIPE DISCIPLULUM EIUS QUI PENEDIT IN TE MAGISTER MEUS CHRISTUS (“Hail lovely cross, receive the disciple of him who hung on you, my master Jesus Christ”). This is one of the antiphons from the Feast of Saint Andrew, spoken by Andrew in response to being presented with the instrument of his martyrdom.

Traini, Francesco_Crucifixion (detail)
Traini, Francesco_Crucifixion (detail2)

Francesco Traini is one of the few artists of the period to use raised gesso (plaster) and gold leaf texts on the surfaces of his paintings. He also often used punches, as here, to create elaborate borders.

I’m really compelled by the portrayal of the cross as a forked tree. (Note the similarity to Friday’s featured painting!) Granted, that artistic choice was probably dictated mainly by the narrow dimensions of the panel.

LISTEN: “येशूलाई क्रूसमाथि सब हेर” (Yeshulai Krusmaathi Sab Hera) (Down at the Cross) | Original English words by Elisha A. Hoffman, 1878 | Music by John H. Stockton, 1878 | Performed in Nepali by Psalms Unplugged, 2019 [HT: Global Christian Worship]

१. येशूलाई क्रूसमाथि सब हेर, हाम्रो दुःख उनैले बोकेर, डाक्दैछन् सबलाई प्रेम गरेर, येशूलाई हेर ।

कोः येशूलाई हेर हेर त जिउँनेछौ
येशूलाई क्रूसमाथि सब हेर, येशूलाई हेर ।

२. पापको बोझालाई उतार्नेछन् अमर जीवन पाउने पार्नेछन् मृत्यु नदीदेखि तार्नेछन् येशूलाई हेर ।

३. चिहान देखि प्रभु बौरेछन् बढाऔं सबै जब बेला उनको शक्तिले शोक दूर गर्छन् येशूलाई हेर ।

४. येशू स्वर्गलोकमा बस्दछन् पापीको सब दुःखलाई जान्दछन् साँची नै प्रभुले डाक्दैछन् येशूलाई हेर । [source]

Original English lyrics:

Down at the cross where my Savior died,
Down where for cleansing from sin I cried,
There to my heart was the blood applied;
Glory to his name!

Glory to his name,
Glory to his name;
There to my heart was the blood applied;
Glory to his name!

I am so wondrously saved from sin,
Jesus so sweetly abides within;
There at the cross where he took me in;
Glory to his name!

Oh, precious fountain that saves from sin,
I am so glad I have entered in;
There Jesus saves me and keeps me clean;
Glory to his name!

Come to this fountain so rich and sweet,
Cast thy poor soul at the Savior’s feet;
Plunge in today, and be made complete;
Glory to his name!

Vocals: Jeena Lama
Keys: Sujit Lama
Violin: Prabhat Lamichhane
Bansuri: John Rashin Singh

I love the coming together of all the instruments on the final chorus!

“Christ’s Bloody Sweat” by Robert Southwell

Boeve, Edgar G._Phoenix, Death
Edgar G. Boevé (American, 1929–2019), Phoenix, Death, ca. 1980. Oil and acrylic on tea chest paper. Photo: Victoria Emily Jones, at the Center Art Gallery, Calvin University, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2015.

Fat soil, full spring, sweet olive, grape of bliss,
That yields, that streams, that pours, that doth distill;
Untilled, undrawn, unstamped, untouched of press,
Dear fruit, clear brooks, fair oil, sweet wine at will!
Thus Christ prevents, unforced, in shedding blood,
The whips, the thorns, the nails, the spear, and rood.

He pelican’s, he phoenix’, fate doth prove,
Whom flames consume, whom streams enforce to die:
How burneth blood, how bleedeth burning love?
Can one in flame and stream both bathe and fry?
How could he join a phoenix’ fiery pains,
In fainting pelican’s still bleeding veins?

Elias once, to prove God’s sovereign power,
By prayer procured a fire of wondrous force
That blood and wood and water did devour,
Yea stones and dust beyond all nature’s course:
Such fire is love, that, fed with gory blood,
Doth burn no less than in the driest wood.

O sacred fire! come, show thy force on me,
That sacrifice to Christ I may return:
If withered wood for fuel fittest be,
If stones and dust, if flesh and blood will burn,
I withered am, and stony to all good,
A sack of dust, a mass of flesh and blood.

Note: I modernized the spellings of this poem for readability, but there is a beauty to the early modern English; see the original here.

Robert Southwell (ca. 1561–1595) was an English Catholic priest and poet living during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Educated at Jesuit colleges in France and Italy, he returned to his native England as a missionary in 1586. But he suffered persecution under the country’s Protestant regime, and had to conduct his ministry in concealment. In his early thirties he was caught celebrating the Mass and was subsequently imprisoned, tortured, and hanged for treason. None of his English poems was published in his lifetime, but many of them circulated as manuscripts. He probably wrote this one sometime during his three years in the Tower of London, awaiting execution.

“Christ’s Bloody Sweat” opens with a reflection on Christ’s agony in the garden of Gethsemane the night before the Crucifixion, when “in his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground” (Luke 22:44). This bloody sweat may be a figure of speech Luke uses to convey the intensity of the moment, or it may be an actual condition called hematidrosis, in which capillary blood vessels that feed the sweat glands rupture, causing them to exude blood—something that can occur in rare cases when a person is under extreme physical or emotional stress.

In the first stanza of the poem, “Southwell introduces various fluids that represent the creative effusions of Christ’s love, with an extravagant reiteration of images that emphasises the extravagance of that love,” writes the Rev. Patrick Comerford in his commentary on the poem.

Fat soil, full spring, sweet olive, grape of bliss,
That yields, that streams, that pours, that doth distill;
Untilled, undrawn, unstamped, untouched of press,
Dear fruit, clear brooks, fair oil, sweet wine at will!
Thus Christ prevents, unforced, in shedding blood,
The whips, the thorns, the nails, the spear, and rood.

Southwell describes Christ as rich, fertile soil that yields sweet fruit; a spring of living water; an olive from which consecrated oil is distilled (for the anointing of the newly baptized and newly ordained); and a grape that yields fine wine. It may help you to read each phrase vertically down the first four lines: “Fat soil that yields, untilled, dear fruit”; “full spring that streams, undrawn, clear brooks”; “sweet olive that pours, unstamped, fair oil”; “grape of bliss that doth distill, untouched of press, sweet wine at will!”

“Prevent” in this context means to go before. In other words, even before Jesus is captured by the Roman soldiers, tortured, and led to Calvary to be crucified, he sheds his blood in Gethsemane. Without any physical forces acting upon him. “Rood” is an archaic word for the cross.

Stanza 2 references two birds of lore that were popular symbols of Christ: the pelican and the phoenix.

He pelican’s, he phoenix’, fate doth prove,
Whom flames consume, whom streams enforce to die:
How burneth blood, how bleedeth burning love?
Can one in flame and stream both bathe and fry?
How could he join a phoenix’ fiery pains,
In fainting pelican’s still bleeding veins?

The pelican was said (by Epiphanius, Augustine, and other church fathers) to revive or feed her young with her own blood; she would peck at her breast until she died so that her little ones might have life. The phoenix is a fantastical bird from classical mythology that burns itself to ashes on a funeral pyre ignited by the sun but then rises up out of those ashes, renewed.

Southwell ponders how Christ can be both pelican and phoenix. Did he bleed to death (losing streams of blood), or did he die by burning? The image in line 10 is quite gruesome: Christ simultaneously is “bathe[d]” in blood and fries in flames. The fire is, of course, metaphoric. But it becomes here, along with the blood, an emblem of divine love. A love that bleeds and burns, and that is all-consuming.

The fire and blood imagery continues in stanza 3, where Southwell refers to the famous contest on Mount Carmel between Elijah (a prophet of Yahweh) and the prophets of Baal (see 1 Kings 18).

Elias once, to prove God’s sovereign power,
By prayer procured a fire of wondrous force
That blood and wood and water did devour,
Yea stones and dust beyond all nature’s course:
Such fire is love, that, fed with gory blood,
Doth burn no less than in the driest wood.

To prove the supremacy of the God of Israel over Baal, Elijah issues a challenge. He and Baal’s prophets would each prepare a bull for sacrifice and lay it on a stone altar but light no fire. They would then pray each to their own god and see which god answers by sending fire from heaven to consume their sacrifice. The prophets of Baal accept the challenge, but no fire comes to light their altar, despite their most fervent entreaties. Elijah, to increase the stakes, even soaks his bull and the wood it lies on in water, three times over—and still fire comes from above, devouring, as Southwell writes, “blood and wood and water . . . [and] stones and dust beyond all nature’s course.”

God’s love is like that fire, Southwell says. The implication, I think, is that on the cross, the love of the Son (who gives himself as a sacrifice) and the love of the Father (who accepts the sacrifice) meet. (I know there are varying interpretations of the nature of the atonement and the role of the Father in the Crucifixion, but I’m simply trying to interpret Southwell here.)

In the poem’s final stanza, Southwell considers how he ought to respond to divine love as expressed in Christ’s passion.

O sacred fire! come, show thy force on me,
That sacrifice to Christ I may return:
If withered wood for fuel fittest be,
If stones and dust, if flesh and blood will burn,
I withered am, and stony to all good,
A sack of dust, a mass of flesh and blood.

He calls on God to accept, in return, his sacrifice—of praise and thanksgiving and obedience (Heb. 13:15–16; Ps. 50:23) and of his very self (Rom. 12:1–2). He probably had his martyrdom in mind. He acknowledges that he is but a withered, soggy, stony-hearted “sack of dust” but prays that God would make him fit to receive and broadcast the fire of love from on high.

Lent, Day 28

For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
    and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
    and the thirsty ground springs of water . . .

—Isaiah 35:6b–7a

I will open rivers on the bare heights,
    and fountains in the midst of the valleys;
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
    and the dry land springs of water.

—Isaiah 41:18

I am about to do a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.

—Isaiah 43:19 (from tomorrow’s Old Testament lection)

LOOK: Paper River Flow in the Desert by Young-Ly Hong Chandra

Hong Chandra, Young-Ly_Paper River Flow in the Desert
Young-Ly Hong Chandra (Korean, 1970–), Paper River Flow in the Desert, Joshua Tree National Park, Southern California, 2021. Traditional Korean mulberry paper with acrylic, watercolor, ink, and gel.

Born and raised in Seoul and currently living in Pasadena, Young-Ly Hong Chandra is an artist who works primarily with paper, fabric, and found objects and in a range of sizes, from small collages to large-scale installations. From October 2020 to June 2021 she was an artist in residence at the Brehm Center at Fuller Theological Seminary, and she is now a facilitator in the program. She is also an artist in residence with Inbreak.co.

One of the main materials Hong Chandra uses is hanji, traditional handmade paper from Korea made from the inner bark of the paper mulberry tree. She cuts the paper and paints it on both sides with acrylic, watercolor, and ink, then she applies a thin coat of transparent gel to make it more durable and waterproof. “Paper stained glass” is what she calls these creations.

For her Paper River Flow series, she attaches together numerous pieces of this paper stained glass to form long blue rolls that can be rolled up or folded and packed in a bag so that when she travels nationally or internationally, or when she moves about her home city, she can carry them with her and create installations as the mood strikes her. “I am a small river bearer,” she says, “who’s conveying the big vision of the river flow to give life to many and will reflect the glory of God clear as crystal.”

The photos in this post are from Joshua Tree National Park. View more at https://younglyhongchandra.com/home/paper-river.

Last year Fuller Studio created a six-minute film about Hong Chandra and her art, including her Paper River Flow series:

The river is a symbol of healing and renewal, she says. In our dryness, in our barrenness, God springs up, offering life and nourishment. The image of the river is used many times in the prophetic book of Isaiah—I’ve cited just a few examples above—and also appears in the final book of the New Testament, where it flows down from the throne of God, watering the new creation (Rev. 22:1–2). Hong Chandra says,

The image of river for me is from Revelation 22 . . . the river flowing in the holy city, reflecting the glory of the Lamb of God sitting on the throne. And what I’m doing is still far from reflecting that glory. But I want this piece to be an invitation to others to come and taste the living water that was given so freely.

LISTEN: “하나님께서 | Agua viva fluye del Señor | May the Love of God” by ​Young Beom Kim, 2002 (CCLI #6461951); Spanish translation by ​Josh Davis and Juan Alberto Camacho; English translation by​ ​Greg Scheer (CCLI #7035272) | Performed by Jaewoo Kim, Josh Davis, and Grace Funderburgh of Proskuneo Ministries, 2020

KOREAN
하나님께서
당신을 통해
메마른 땅에
샘물나게 하시기를
가난한 영혼
목마른 영혼
당신을통해
주 사랑 알기 원하네

[Phonetic]
Ha na neem geh suh
Dang shin eul tong heh
Meh malun ttang eh
Sehm mul nag geh ha shi gee lul
Ga nan han young hone
Mohk mal luhn young hone
Dang shin eul tong heh
Joo sarang ahl gee wun ha neh

SPANISH
Agua viva
Fluye del Señor
A través de ti
A esta tierra seca
Al que tiene sed
Dale de beber
Que el amor de Dios
​Sea mostrado en ti siempre

ENGLISH
May the love of God
Spring up in your soul
Like a healing stream
In the wilderness flowing
And may the love of God
Quench the thirsty soul
Feed the hungry heart
May the love of God flow through you

Lent, Day 27

LOOK: It Is Finished by Anthony Falbo

Falbo, Anthony_It Is Finished
Anthony Falbo (American, 1953–), It Is Finished, 2004. Oil and charcoal on paper, 24 × 18 in.

Exaggerated proportions and a sense of humor and play are characteristic of Anthony Falbo’s paintings, including the ones on religious subjects. In It Is Finished, the title is a pun that refers to one of the seven last words of Christ while also affirming that yes, despite half of the paper being unpainted, this artwork is complete as is.

The contrast of minimalist charcoal sketch marks with richly hued oil paints is the painting’s most striking feature. The boxed outline around the Crucifixion and the concentration of color there create the impression of a picture within a picture. But the scene cannot be contained; it spills out, the cross-tree taking root outside the frame, the blood pooling there too. Here is where the mourners—traditionally John and the three Marys—stand, one of them reaching up into the picture. Angels fly about in the margins; one gestures toward the dying Christ as if to tell the viewer, “This is for you.”

The color helps center our attention on Christ’s face and punctuates other details—namely, the three nails, and the blood at the base of the tree. Christ’s figure is painted in some places but line-drawn in others, evoking a sense of fading—but fading out, or in? That is, are we witnessing life giving way to death, or death giving way to life? Is the picture losing color or gaining it? Surely both.

Two rich color fields meet in the background: purple and blue. In addition to royalty, purple is traditionally associated with penitence and mourning and is the liturgical color for Lent. Blue represents heaven and/or truth.

Falbo cleverly uses trompe l’oeil effects to allude to other elements of the Crucifixion narrative. The peeling back of a paint layer references the tearing of the temple veil, a symbolic grant of access for all people to God through the eternal mediating priesthood of Christ. Across from that, an apparent puncture in the picture references the piercing of Christ’s side by a Roman soldier to confirm his death, which unleashed a discharge of water and blood—the symbolic birthing fluids of the church.

Falbo also draws on the traditional tree of life motif, which pictures the cross as a still-living tree, that of Genesis 3:22 and Revelation 22:2. There is art historical precedent for the fusing of Christ’s body to the wood, seen here especially in the hands, suggesting that he himself is life. Uniquely, though, Falbo’s rendition shows hands dangling from the branches, grasping apples, harking back to the Genesis narrative of Adam and Eve’s disobedience in Eden and thereby reminding us of the sin from which Christ’s death redeems us.

LISTEN: “’Tis finished! The Messiah dies” | Words by Charles Wesley, 1751 and 1788, with additions by Austin Pfeiffer, 2016 | Music by Austin Pfeiffer, 2016 | Performed by Salem Presbyterian Church musicians at the PCA General Assembly in Greensboro, North Carolina, June 15, 2017 | CCLI #7192481 [Chord chart]

’Tis finished! The Messiah dies,
cut off for sins, but not his own.
Accomplished is the sacrifice,
the great redeeming work is done.
Done, done, done!

The veil is rent; in Christ alone
the living way to heav’n is seen;
the middle wall is broken down,
and all the world may enter in.
Enter in!

[Refrain] When the Messiah took on flesh
and he gave up throne and home to be with us,
the vict’ry we could never grasp
was captured when they cut and cast
his broken body on the altar of the Lord.

’Tis finished!—all my guilt and pain;
I want no sacrifice beside.
For me, for me the Lamb is slain;
’tis finished! I am justified.
Justified!

Refrain

The reign of sin and death is o’er,
and all may live from sin set free.
Satan hath lost his mortal power;
’tis swallowed up in victory.
Victory!

Refrain

The Rev. Austin Pfeiffer (ThM, Duke Divinity School) is an associate pastor at Salem Presbyterian Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, one of whose roles is to oversee music and liturgy. In summer 2017 he led a worship session at the annual business meeting of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) that included a retuned version he wrote, with new refrain, of Charles Wesley’s “’Tis finished! The Messiah dies.” The music really draws out the celebratory aspect of the lyrics and the sense of finality and accomplishment, especially with the accented repetition of each stanza’s end word or two. And the refrain expounds on Wesley’s imagery of sacrifice, in addition to connecting the Crucifixion and the Incarnation.

I’ve embedded a video of the performance above, extracted from the General Assembly livestream footage, with Pfeiffer’s permission. He is joined onstage by fellow musicians from Salem Pres: Hannah Proulx and Elizabeth Ottenjohn on vocals, Jared Meyer on vocals and guitar, Margaret Raney on fiddle, and John Daniel Ray on upright bass.

Pfeiffer, Meyer, and Ray make up the modern folk band The Pharaoh Sisters, whose debut album, Civil Dawn, is excellent. (I mentioned it here.)

I’ve featured Charles Wesley many times on the blog, as he’s perhaps my favorite hymn-writer. This hymn text of his exists in several iterations, as he returned to it with a revisionary touch throughout his life. The earliest version, consisting of two eight-line stanzas, appears in a manuscript he completed in 1751 and was first published in 1762 in volume 2 of his Short Hymns on Select Passages of the Holy Scriptures:

’Tis finished! The Messias dies,
Cut off for sins, but not his own!
Accomplished is the sacrifice,
The great redeeming work is done;
Finished the first transgression is,
And purged the guilt of actual sin,
And everlasting righteousness
Is now to all the world brought in.

’Tis finished, all my guilt and pain,
I want no sacrifice beside,
For me, for me, the Lamb is slain,
And I am more than justified;
Sin, death, and hell are now subdued,
All grace is now to sinners giv’n,
And lo, I plead th’ atoning blood,
For pardon, holiness, and heaven.

But the most commonly reproduced version in hymnals today uses lines 1–4 and 9–12 (slightly altered) of the original, plus two of the four additional stanzas Wesley wrote on his deathbed in 1788, which weren’t published until 1830. (See the final eight-stanza version by Wesley.)

The hymn is often paired with William Bradbury’s tune OLIVE BROW, from 1853. It’s an alright tune, but I much prefer Pfeiffer’s.

Lent, Day 26

The next day [John] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

—John 1:29

Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.

—1 Corinthians 5:7

You were ransomed . . . with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

—1 Peter 1:18–19

LOOK: Agnus Dei by Francisco de Zurbarán

Zurbaran, Francisco de_Agnus Dei
Francisco de Zurbarán (Spanish, 1598–1664), Agnus Dei, 1635–40. Oil on canvas, 37.3 × 62 cm. Museo del Prado, Madrid.

LISTEN: “Agnus Dei” by Samuel Barber, 1967 | Performed by Vlaams Radiokoor (Flemish Radio Choir), dir. Marcus Creed, 2015

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.

English translation:

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) is a choral composition in one movement by Samuel Barber, his own arrangement of his Adagio for Strings (1936). In 1967, he set the Latin words of the liturgical Agnus Dei, a part of the Mass, for mixed chorus with optional organ or piano accompaniment. The music, in B-flat minor, has a duration of about eight minutes” [source]. It’s slow and expressive and sublime—one of my top ten favorite pieces of classical music.

Lent, Day 25

LOOK: Crucifix No. 9 by William Congdon

Congdon, William_Crucifix No. 9
William Congdon (American, 1912–1998), Crocefisso No. 9 (Crucifix No. 9), 1961. Oil on Masonite, 19 11/16 × 23 5/8 in. (50 × 60 cm). Private collection, Milan. Photo © The William G. Congdon Foundation.

William Grosvenor Congdon (1912–1998) was a modern American artist, often classified as an abstract expressionist, who spent much of his life in Italy after World War II. He converted to Catholicism in 1959 and for the next two decades painted dozens of Crucifixions, which became more and more abstract as he went on. The one above is one of his earliest, and the subject is still easily recognizable.

Christopher Reardon explains how Congdon achieved the thick surface textures of his paintings:

Typically Congdon applied paint with a palette knife, then incised the encrustations of oil with a jackknife or awl. The technique suited him to the end. “With a brush, it’s a kiss,” he said after painting one of his final landscapes last winter [1997]. “You have to fight with a knife.”

This technique contributes to the agitated feel of many of his Crucifixion paintings.

LISTEN: String Quartet No. 1 “Calvary” by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, 1956 | Performed by the Catalyst Quartet, 2021

Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson (1932–2004) was a prodigious American composer whose work spans many genres, including classical, jazz, pop, film, television, and dance. After receiving his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Manhattan School of Music, he cofounded the Symphony of the New World in New York in 1965 and later became its music director. He was also music director of Jerome Robbins’s American Theater Lab and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

Perkinson composed his first string quartet when he was twenty-three, basing it on the melody of the African American spiritual “Calvary.” It’s in three movements, which together capture the light and shade of the Crucifixion event:

I. Allegro
II. Quarter note = 54 (video time stamp: 5:40)
III. Rondo: Allegro vivace (video time stamp: 10:36)

The performance above is by the Grammy-winning Catalyst Quartet. It was part of the “Uncovered” series they played last year at The Greene Space at WNYC & WQXR, comprising three free concerts of work by five historically important Black composers: Florence B. Price, Jessie Montgomery, Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, George Walker, and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (Perkinson’s namesake!). View the full concert series here.

I wanted to show a performance caught on video so that you can better see how the instruments interact with one another, but for an album recording, see Perkinson: A Celebration (2000), where the piece is performed by the New Black Music Repertory Ensemble Quartet. I include two of the movements, in addition to the Calvary Ostinato from Perkinson’s Black Folk Song Suite, on my Holy Week Playlist.

Lent, Day 24

LOOK: Sheep in the Moonlight by Craigie Aitchison

Aitchison, Craigie_Sheep in the Moonlight
Craigie Aitchison (Scottish, 1926–2009), Sheep in the Moonlight, 1999. Screenprint in colors, edition of 75 in white ink, on black wove paper, 17 7/8 × 15 in. (45.5 × 38 cm) (full sheet, framed).

LISTEN: “There Is a Green Hill Far Away” | Words by Cecil Frances Alexander, 1848

There is a green hill far away,
Without a city wall,
Where the dear Lord was crucified,
Who died to save us all.

We may not know, we cannot tell,
What pains he had to bear,
But we believe it was for us
He hung and suffered there.

There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin.
He only could unlock the gate
Of heav’n and let us in.

Oh, dearly, dearly has he loved!
And we must love him too,
And trust in his redeeming blood,
And try his works to do.

>> Version 1: Music by William Horsley, 1844 | Performed by The Gesualdo Six, dir. Owain Park, 2021:

>> Version 2: Music by John H. Gower, 1890 | Performed by The Lower Lights on A Hymn Revival, 2010:

Lent, Day 23

LOOK: Mola from the San Blas Islands

Christ on the Cross (mola)
Christ Nailed to the Cross, mola (reverse appliqué panel) from the San Blas Islands, late 20th century. Bowden Collections.

The Kuna (also spelled Guna or Cuna) Indians live on the San Blas archipelago off the east coast of Panama, a cluster of some 378 islands in the Caribbean Sea. They are politically autonomous, and much of their traditional culture is intact.

Since the late nineteenth century, Kuna women have been making what are called molas, reverse appliqué panels made in pairs for the front and back of women’s blouses. As mola collector Jane Gruver describes, “several layers of cloth are stacked together and the design is made by cutting through the different layers of fabric to expose the desired color. Once the specific shape is achieved, the area is stitched around. Sometimes embroidery and applique are also used to add detail.” This colorful, wearable textile art is an integral part of Kuna culture.

The earliest molas featured geometric designs, which the Kunas translated from their customary body painting designs, but now a vast variety of representational subjects are common, including animals, plants, domestic scenes, political satire, dragons, mermaids, superheroes, spacecraft—and biblical stories!

The first Christian missionary to the San Blas Islands was Annie Coope, a single woman from the United States who arrived in the first decade of the 1900s and established a school on the island of Nirgana in 1913. A significant number of the Kuna embraced Christianity, such that there are now churches on thirty of the islands, as well as eighteen Kuna churches in and around Panama City, according to Wycliffe. A Kuna translation of the New Testament was published in 1995, at the behest of Kuna pastor Lino Smith Arango, and a Kuna Old Testament was completed in 2014.

The mola above shows two men hammering nails into Christ’s palms as two mourning figures—presumably John and Mary—stand behind. This piece is from the collection of Sandra and Bob Bowden in Chatham, Massachusetts, who are among today’s major collectors of modern biblical art. It is one of forty molas in the traveling exhibition Eden to Eternity: Molas from the San Blas Islands, available for rental for a nominal fee.

LISTEN: “Nailed” by Nicholas Andrew Barber, on Stations (2020)

They nailed you to your cross
Yes, they nailed you to your cross
Like you said they would
Like you said they would

And they drove those nails through your hands
And they drove those nails through your feet
Like a criminal
Like a criminal

O the pain you must have felt
O the pain you must have felt
O the agony
O the agony

Behold the precious Lamb of God
Behold the precious Lamb of God
Nailed to the cross
Nailed to the cross

Lent, Day 22

LOOK: The Prodigal Son by Samuel Songo

Songo, Samuel_Prodigal Son
Samuel Songo (Rhodesian, 1929–ca. 1977), The Prodigal Son, 1954. Soapstone, h. 26 cm. Source: Christliche Kunst in Afrika, p. 254.

Samuel Songo was a Shona artist who lived and work in what is today Zimbabwe. He used a wheelchair and had only partial use of his right hand, so he worked mainly with his left, executing stone carvings, wood reliefs, and paintings on both religious and secular subjects. He was associated with the Cyrene Mission School, where he began as a student and then became an instructor. He played a significant role in advancing modern art in Zimbabwe.

To learn more about the context out of which Songo came to prominence, see “Missionaries’ Impact on the Formation of Modern Art in Zimbabwe: A Case Study of Cyrene and Serima Art Workshops” by Grace Zhou and “Ned Paterson and the Cyrene Mission Tradition” by Elizabeth Morton.

[Related post: “Down the Road” (Artful Devotion)]

LISTEN: “When I Was Distant” by Matt Moore and Matte Cassidy of City Church Music, 2018 | Performed by Salina Turner, Allison Negus, and Joel Negus, 2020

When I was distant from my Lord
Opposing his plans and ignoring his word
My stubborn desire left me at war
When I was distant from my Lord

When I was reckless on my own
Avoiding the ruin my choices had sown
A prodigal lost and far from home
When I was reckless on my own

There in the shadow of my sin
Unable to dwell with my Maker again
Ashamed and afraid and wearing thin
There in the shadow of my sin

Then came my loving Savior’s plea:
“Lay down your burdens; find rest in me;
All faint and all weary, come and see.”
Then came my loving Savior’s plea

When I was distant, God came near
Enduring the evil, the torment and fear
That beauty and wonder could appear
When I was distant, God came near

This song was part of the Digital Vespers service for Good Friday 2020 at City Church in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. To view the full service, click here.