My Eyes Have Seen (Artful Devotion)

Blanco, Severino_Simeon Blessing the Christ Child
Severino Blanco, Simeon Blessing the Christ Child, 1980s. Image courtesy of Ayopaya Mission.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”

—Luke 2:25–32

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SONG: “You Send Your Servant Forth in Peace” by Steve Thorngate, on After the Longest Night: Songs for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany (2018)

 

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Severino Blanco is a Quechuan Christian artist from Cochabamba, Bolivia. In the early 1980s he was commissioned by Father Manfred Rauh (1932–2011), a Jesuit missionary from Germany who spent most of his priestly life in Bolivia, to create a Life of Christ painting cycle for the interior of the chapel of the Casa del Catequista (CADECA), a training center for catechists. To make the gospel story really come alive for the catechists, who are mostly Quechua and Aymara, Blanco chose to set it in an Andean context, with Jesus as an indigenous South American—fully human, fully immersed in history and culture, fully for them. The images are reproduced, with commentary, in the German-language book Von Befreiung und Erlösung: Bilder in CADECA Cochabamba/Bolivien (Of Liberation and Redemption: Pictures in CADECA Cochabamba, Bolivia). A few can also be viewed online here, here, and here. The chapel was consecrated in 1984 and is still in use.

Though I couldn’t confirm it, I believe Blanco’s Simeon Blessing the Christ Child is located in the CADECA chapel. Joseph, dressed in poncho and chullo (knitted hat with earflaps), carries two little birds to present as an offering for his son’s dedication. Mary, barefoot, is dressed in a red hooded shawl and a long blue skirt—the colors traditionally associated with Mary in the West—and has just laid down what I’m guessing might be an aguayo, the sling she uses to transport Jesus on her back. (Or perhaps it’s Simeon’s hat, which he removed in reverence?) As for Jesus, he is swaddled in colorful, patterned, homespun wool. When Mary passes the babe to Simeon, he is elated to receive into his arms salvation incarnate. He turns his eyes upward to God the Father, whose presence is suggested by a golden sun-face, whose rays shine forth also in the halo of the Son. The designs on these terminals, and around the border of the painting, are deeply influenced by traditional Andean art.

“A light for revelation to the Gentiles,” salvation prepared for “all peoples”—these phrases from the lectionary jingle in my ears as I meditate on Blanco’s painting.

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Here are the Artful Devotions for Candlemas from the previous two church year cycles:


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 feast of the Presentation of the Lord, cycle A, click here.

Nunc dimittis (Artful Devotion)

presentation of christ in the temple
The Presentation of Christ in the Temple, ca. 1650. Tempera on wood. Museum of Russian Icons, Clinton, Massachusetts.

Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.

—Luke 2:29–32

These words were sung two thousand-plus years ago by a Jewish man named Simeon upon seeing and holding the newborn Christ child at his presentation ceremony at the temple in Jerusalem. Known as the “Nunc dimittis” (from the Latin for “Now you dismiss”), the song has been used year-round in Compline, Vespers, and Evensong worship services since the fourth century. Since the seventh century, it has served as the centerpiece of the annual feast day known as Candlemas, celebrated on February 2 in the West and February 15 in the East (the Western and Eastern churches count forward forty days from their celebration of Christmas Day, on December 25 and January 6, respectively).

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SONG: “Nunc dimittis” from All-Night Vigil, Op. 37, by Sergei Rachmaninoff (1915) | Arranged by Bob Chilcott (2016) | Performed by Katie Melua and the Gori Women’s Choir, on In Winter (2016)

Rachmaninoff’s “Nunc dimittis,” the fifth movement of his All-Night Vigil, was one of his favorite compositions of his career, and he requested that it be performed at his funeral. Its melody is based on a Kievan chant from the Russian Orthodox Vespers service but employs a few rhythmic adjustments and, furthermore, is carried forward by a soloist. As Vladimir Morosan notes in his essay “The Sacred Choral Works of Sergei Rachmaninoff,” “The slow rocking motion of the accompanying voices on two-note descending figures, akin to a lullaby, imparts to the piece a static and peaceful quality.”

The performance above is by Katie Melua, a Georgian singer-songwriter from the UK, who in 2016 returned to her native Georgia to record a winter-themed album with one of the country’s all-women singing troupes. The choral arrangements on In Winter, including “Nunc dimittis,” were specially commissioned of Bob Chilcott.

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Icons are central to the devotional lives of Orthodox Christians. Here I’ve included three from the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Massachusetts, which I had the pleasure of visiting about five years ago. Iconographers follow very specific guidelines in their writing of icons, which is why there has been little variation over the centuries. To learn how to read an icon of the Presentation of the Lord, see this “iconreader” blog post.

Presentation of Christ in the Temple
The Presentation of Christ in the Temple, 1600. Tempera on wood. Museum of Russian Icons, Clinton, Massachusetts.
Presentation of Christ in the Temple
The Presentation of Christ in the Temple, 16th century. Tempera on wood, 24 × 16 in. Museum of Russian Icons, Clinton, Massachusetts.

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 feast of the Presentation of the Lord, cycle C, click here.

Now I’ve Seen It All (Artful Devotion)

Simeon in the Temple by Rembrandt
Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669), Simeon in the Temple, 1669. Oil on canvas, 98.5 × 79.5 cm. Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden.

Candlemas, celebrated every year on February 2, commemorates the presentation of Jesus at the temple forty days after his birth, according to Jewish custom (Luke 2:22–40). While there, the Holy Family encountered Simeon, an elderly man, “righteous and devout,” who was “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” Though weak and tired with age, he was told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before laying eyes on the messiah of his people, and he banked on that promise. When the Spirit led him to the temple that day, he beheld the baby Jesus and knew instantly that this was the One he had been waiting for—and not only him, but the whole world. He took the child in his arms and sang this canticle, known in church tradition as the “Nunc dimittis” (“Now you dismiss . . .”):

Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel. (vv. 28–32)

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SONG: “Until My Dying Day Has Come” by Carl-Eric Tangen, from Incarnation Hymns (2008)

 

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Probably Rembrandt’s last painting, Simeon in the Temple was found unfinished on an easel in his studio when he died. It depicts this enlightening moment from Luke 2, in which Simeon recognizes the Christ and exults—quietly, gratefully—in his salvation. The woman in the shadows, thought to be a later addition by another’s hand, is probably the prophetess Anna, though some suppose her to be Mary.


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 feast of the Presentation of the Lord, cycle B, click here.