Easter, Day 5

LOOK: Ballet Skirt or Electric Light by Georgia O’Keeffe

O'Keeffe, Georgia_Ballet Skirt or Electric Light
Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887–1986), Ballet Skirt or Electric Light, 1927. Oil on canvas, 36 × 30 in. (91.4 × 76.2 cm). Art Institute of Chicago.

The Art Institute of Chicago, which owns this painting, offers the following description:

In the 1920s Georgia O’Keeffe began creating the paintings of enlarged flowers for which she is most famous, including a series of works devoted to the white rose; this painting is her most abstracted depiction of the subject. O’Keeffe simplified the energy of the blooming rose to its essence, so that it resembles a brilliant light radiating out of flat Cubist planes. She exhibited this painting as White Rose—Abstraction at Alfred Stieglitz’s Intimate Gallery in 1928 and retitled it Ballet Skirt or Electric Light (from the White Rose Motif) when she lent it to the Art Institute of Chicago’s 1943 retrospective of her work.

I was introduced to this painting in Imaging the Word: An Arts and Lectionary Resource, volume 3, where it appears in the Easter section. So credit goes to that book’s editors (Susan A. Blain, et al.) for linking the image with Christ’s resurrection. Now I can’t see it any other way! Bright and explosive, the painting has as its focal point an orb of light near the bottom edge, which could be read as the figure of Christ standing in the open mouth of the tomb.

By the way, all three Imaging the Word volumes, which I chanced upon at Ollie’s Bargain Outlet some years ago, are excellent. Structured around the Revised Common Lectionary, years A through C, the books integrate scripture, visual art, poetry, sheet music, liturgies, fiction excerpts, quotes from Bible commentaries and spiritual nonfiction, and more. They are published by United Church Press.

LISTEN: “Aurora lucis rutilat” (Light’s Glittering Morn Bedecks the Sky) | Words attributed to Ambrose, 4th century; translated into English by John Mason Neale, 1851 | Music by Orlande de Lassus, ca. 1592, published posthumously in 1604 | Performed by the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, dir. Graham Ross, 2015

1. Aurora lucis rutilat, 
caelum laudibus intonat,
mundus exultans iubilat,
gemens infernus ululat,

2. Cum rex ille fortissimus,
mortis confractis viribus,
pede conculcans tartara
solvit catena miseros!

3. Ille, qui clausus lapide
custoditur sub milite,
triumphans pompa nobile
victor surgit de funere.

4. Solutis iam gemitibus
et inferni doloribus,
“Quia surrexit Dominus!”
resplendens clamat angelus.

5. Tristes erant apostoli
de nece sui Domini,
quem poena mortis crudeli
servi damnarant impii.

6. Sermone blando angelus
praedixit mulieribus,
“In Galilaea Dominus
videndus est quantocius”

7. Illae dum pergunt concite
apostolis hoc dicere,
videntes eum vivere
osculant pedes Domini.

8. Quo agnito discipuli
in Galilaeam propere
 pergunt videre faciem
desideratam Domini.

9. Claro paschali gaudio
sol mundo nitet radio,
cum Christum iam apostoli
visu cernunt corporeo.

10. Ostensa sibi vulnera
in Christi carne fulgida,
 resurrexisse Dominum
voce fatentur publica.

11. Rex Christe clementissime,
tu corda nostra posside,
ut tibi laudes debitas
reddamus omni tempore!

12. Deo patri sit gloria
eiusque soli filio
cum spiritu paraclito
et nunc et in perpetuum.
Light’s glitt’ring morn bedecks the sky,
heav’n thunders forth its victor cry,
the glad earth shouts its triumph high,
and groaning hell makes wild reply.

While he, the King of glorious might,
treads down death’s strength in death’s despite,
and trampling hell by victor’s right, 
brings forth his sleeping saints to light.

Fast barred beneath the stone of late 
in watch and ward where soldiers wait,
now shining in triumphant state, 
he rises Victor from death’s gate.

Hell’s pains are loosed and tears are fled;
captivity is captive led;
the angel, crowned with light, hath said, 
“The Lord is risen from the dead.”

The apostles’ hearts were full of pain
for their dear Lord so lately slain:
that Lord his servants’ wicked train 
with bitter scorn had dared arraign.

With gentle voice the angel gave
the women tidings at the grave;
“Forthwith your Master shall ye see:
he goes before to Galilee.”

And while with fear and joy they pressed
to tell these tidings to the rest,
their Lord, their living Lord, they meet,
and see his form, and kiss his feet.

The Eleven, when they hear, with speed
to Galilee forthwith proceed:
that there they may behold once more
the Lord’s dear face, as oft before.

In this our bright and Paschal day,
the sun shines out with purer ray,
when Christ, to earthly sight made plain,
the glad apostles see again.

The wounds, the riven wounds he shows
in that his flesh with light that glows,
in loud accord both far and nigh
the Lord’s arising testify.

O Christ, the King who lov’st to bless,
do thou our hearts and souls possess:
to thee our praise, that we may pay
to whom our laud is due for aye.

Orlande de Lassus’s setting of “Aurora lucis rutilat” is a motet for ten voices. Graham Ross describes the piece in the BBC Music Magazine article “The best choral music for Easter”:

A setting of an anonymous 4th century text – the Hymn for Lauds on Easter Sunday – Lassus’s motet begins by tenderly depicting the dawn of Easter morning, but soon leads to a double-choir celebration of the triumph of the resurrection, full of word-painting, jubilation and a brief triple-time passage proclaiming the joy of Easter day (‘in hoc pascali gaudio’). Written late in Lassus’s life, the work is a unique example in the Franco-Flemish composer’s output of Venetian polychoral technique, with harmonic completeness in each choir.

The hymn exists in several different English translations and variations and has been set to music by multiple composers or paired with preexisting hymn tunes. For example, I’ve heard it sung to LASST UNS ERFREUEN, a tune from seventeenth-century Germany that today is most associated with the hymn “All Creatures of Our God and King.” In this case, “alleluias” and other short acclamations are added to the verses.

If you want to use this hymn for congregational singing, I would recommend the following version (with LASST UNS ERFREUEN), which I cobbled together from a few different sources (including the Jubilate Hymns version and the Liturgy Fellowship Facebook group) but which draws heavily on Neale’s translation:

Light’s glittering morning fills the sky,
heav’n thunders forth its victor cry:
Christ is risen! Alleluia!
The glad earth shouts its triumph high
and groaning hell makes wild reply.
Christ is risen! O praise him!
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

For Christ the Lord, the mighty King,
despoils death and draws its sting.
Christ is risen! Alleluia!
He tramples down the pow’rs of night,
brings forth his ransomed saints to light.
Christ is risen! O praise him!
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

His rocky tomb the threefold guard
of watch and stone and seal had barred.
Alleluia, alleluia!
But shining now in glorious state,
he rises Victor from death’s gate.
Christ is risen! O praise him!
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Hell’s pains are loosed and tears are fled;
captivity is captive led.
Alleluia, alleluia!
“Weep not!” an angel voice has said.
“The Lord is risen from the dead!”
O praise him, O praise him!
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

All praise be thine, O risen Lord,
from death to endless life restored;
Christ is risen! Alleluia!
To Father, Son, and Spirit be
all pow’r and praise eternally!
Christ is risen! O praise him!
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

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 4

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.

—Isaiah 45:8

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.

—Hosea 6:3

LOOK: Appalachian Rhapsody in Blues: or, He Will Come to Us Like the Spring Rains by Grace Carol Bomer

Bomer, Grace Carol_Appalachian Rhapsody in Blues
Grace Carol Bomer (Canadian American, 1948–), Appalachian Rhapsody in Blues: or, He Will Come to Us Like the Spring Rains, 2015. Oil and wax on panel, 48 × 48 in.

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.

English translation:

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.

A Cloud Took Him (Artful Devotion)

Houghton, Georgiana_The Risen Lord
Georgiana Houghton (British, 1814–1884), The Risen Lord, 1864. Watercolor and gouache on paper laid on board with pen and ink inscription on the reverse. Photo: Jessica Freeman-Attwood/Hyperallergic.

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

—Acts 1:1–9

+++

SONG: “Coelos ascendit hodie” (Ascended today into heaven) | Words: Anonymous, 12th century | Music by Charles Villiers Stanford, ca. 1892 | Performed by the Stanford Chamber Chorale and the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, under the direction of Stephen M. Sano, 2007

Coelos ascendit hodie
Jesus Christus Rex gloriae
Sedet ad Patris dexteram
Gubernat coelum et terram

Jam finem habent omnia
Patris Davidis carmina
Jam Dominus cum Domino
Sedet in Dei solio

In hoc triumpho maximo
Benedicamus Domino
Laudatur Sancta Trinitas
Deo dicamus gratias

English translation:

Jesus Christ, the King of Glory,
has ascended today into the heavens.
He sits at the right hand of the Father
and rules heaven and earth.

Now all the psalms of David,
our father, are fulfilled.
Now the Lord sits with the
Lord on the seat of God.

In this greatest of triumphs
let us bless the Lord.
The Holy Trinity be glorified.
Let us give thanks to God.

Stanford’s “Coelos ascendit hodie,” op. 38, no. 2, is a double-choir motet setting of a medieval Ascension hymn, the second piece in his Three Latin Motets set [previously].

+++

Consisting of “frenetic spirals of color and swirling sinuous lines” (source), The Risen Lord by Georgiana Houghton was produced in Victorian England some eighty years before abstract expressionism came onto the scene. Houghton renounced authorship of her artworks, believing herself to be a medium who channeled saints, archangels, Renaissance painters, and dead relatives to produce what she called “spirit drawings.” She was a Spiritualist, which means she believed in the possibility of contact with a spirit realm and that such communication could bring one closer to God. Ink and watercolors were, for her, a way of unveiling an invisible reality, of conveying God’s “wondrous attributes,” she said.

“On the back of most of her works, Houghton included a handwritten explanation, with illustrated annotations of the abstract forms,” Jessica Freeman-Attwood said. “In The Risen Lord Houghton writes that the lower part corresponds to the virtues and sufferings of Christ’s life on earth, whereas the upper part, dominated by arabesque white threads, represents his ascension into heaven.”

+++

Ascension Day is May 21 this year. For previous years’ devotions for the occasion, see “God Ascended” (featuring a German Renaissance painting and a clever repurposing and retuning of an eighteenth-century verse) and “Carried Up” (featuring a balletic Christ image by the late Javanese artist, dancer, and choreographer Bagong Kussudiardja, and a Romantic piano composition).


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 Ascension of the Lord, cycle A, click here.

If You Love Me (Artful Devotion)

Laurencin, Marie_Girl with a Dove
Marie Laurencin (French, 1885–1956), Girl with a Dove, 1928. Oil on linen, 46.3 × 38.4 cm (18 1/4 × 15 1/8 in.). National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Photo: Victoria Emily Jones.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

—John 14:15–21

+++

SONG: “If Ye Love Me” | Text taken from John 14:15–17, trans. William Tyndale, 1539 | Music by Thomas Tallis, 1565 | Performed by the Cambridge Singers under the direction of John Rutter, on Treasures of English Church Music, 1995


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 Sixth Sunday of Easter, cycle A, click here.