Lent, Day 6

LOOK: Breathe by Billie Bond

Bond, Billie_Kintsugi Heads
Billie Bond (British, 1965–), Breathe (diptych), 2018. Black stoneware, resin, gold, 15.8 × 13 × 7.9 in. each. [available for sale]

This pair of ceramic busts by British sculptor Billie Bond is inspired by the Japanese art of kintsugi, or “golden seams,” by which a broken pottery vessel is repaired using gold lacquer. With this technique the cracks are purposefully accentuated rather than hidden, and the mended object is even more beautiful than the original.

Japanese American author, speaker, and artist Makoto Fujimura has spoken extensively about kintsugi as a metaphor for human brokenness and mending in Christ. We come to Christ in fragments; he lovingly puts us back together. The scars remain, but like his, they shine.

For Bond, the kintsugi heads represent human fragility and resilience—particularly healing after grief or psychological trauma, and enlightenment gained through experience. View more of Bond’s kintsugi sculptures here.

Bond, Billie_Smashed ceramic head
Smashed ceramic head by Billie Bond, before being reassembled and repaired with gold

LISTEN: “Come Healing” by Leonard Cohen and Patrick Leonard, 2012 | Performed by Elayna Boynton at Crosswalk Church, Redlands, California, 2012; and on The Farewell (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack), 2019

O gather up the brokenness
And bring it to me now
The fragrance of those promises
You never dared to vow
The splinters that you carry
The cross you left behind
Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind

And let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

Behold the gates of mercy
In arbitrary space
And none of us deserving
The cruelty or the grace
O solitude of longing
Where love has been confined
Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind

O see the darkness yielding
That tore the light apart
Come healing of the reason
Come healing of the heart

O troubledness concealing
An undivided love
The Heart* beneath is teaching
To the broken Heart above
O let the heavens falter
Let the earth proclaim:
Come healing of the Altar
Come healing of the Name

O longing of the branches
To lift the little bud
O longing of the arteries
To purify the blood
And let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

O let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

* The official website of Leonard Cohen, maintained by Sony Music Entertainment, capitalizes “Heart” in this stanza; same with “Altar” and “Name.”

Known as “the poet of brokenness,” Leonard Cohen (1934–2016) is widely considered one of the greatest songwriters of all time. Spiritual yearning characterizes quite a few of his songs, the most famous of which is “Hallelujah.” He was Jewish, with a respect for other spiritual traditions and a fondness for Jesus Christ as a universal figure.

“Come Healing” is from Cohen’s 2012 album Old Ideas. Elayna Boynton, perhaps discovered through this YouTube video from a worship service at her Southern California church, was asked to record the song for the 2019 film The Farewell (an excellent watch!). Cohen’s deep growl of a voice, though it has its admirers, is not attractive to me, so Boynton’s cover really helped me hear the tremendous beauty of this song.

Elliot R. Wolfson describes “Come Healing” as “a poem that is prayer in its purest distillation, a prayer clothed in quintessential nakedness, an anthem that celebrates and laments the wholehearted fragmentariness of the human condition.”

The speaker prays for healing of body and spirit, head and heart. We bring our failures and our lack, our guilt and regrets and all manner of pain to the altar, to the “gates of mercy.” We long to bloom, to be purified. In the mystical unity of love that ties our hearts to God, our hurt hurts him. His heart breaks over seeing us suffer, whether as a result of our own sin (which is what Cohen’s “penitential hymn” seems to focus on) or due to things outside our control.

When we bring our cracked or shattered selves to God, acknowledging our inability to fix the damage, he will restore us to wholeness.

While spiritual salvation is granted instantly (at least in the understanding of my tradition) to the one who turns to God, through Christ, in faith and repentance, what about other types of brokenness that we come to him with? Why won’t he heal us of that chronic physical condition? Or that debilitating mental illness? Or the effects of trauma? Why won’t he heal that broken relationship between us and our parent, despite our efforts at reconciliation?

I don’t have an answer for that—why, though none of us is free of pain and hardship in this life, some suffer much more than others; or why some receive healing and others do not. But eventual wholeness, shalom, is promised to those who are in Christ. In the new heavens and the new earth, salvation will be holistic, infusing spirits as well as bodies, minds, relationships, systems, and the whole created world.

And sometimes we do receive glimpses of that wholeness here and now! Sometimes the cancer goes away. Sometimes the depression is effectively treated, and fulfillment made possible again. Sometimes the sobriety sticks.

Often God is piecing us back together slowly, such that the progress may be imperceptible until years later, we look back and can see it.

The song suggests that although we don’t always deserve the slings and arrows that come our way, neither do we deserve the lavish graces God bestows. Sometimes we’re so focused on the one that we fail to see the other.

Even though complete wholeness is not possible in this life, God still invites us to reach out to him with the shards of our life, to seek his healing in specific areas—with faith that he can heal whatever it is that’s broken! He will tend to the shards with loving tenderness. And maybe put them back together in a way we didn’t expect.

Roundup: Facing up to our faults, “How Prayer Works,” and more

Sundays are not counted toward the forty days of Lent (as they are feast days, not fast days), so I’m taking a break from my usual Lenten format today and for the next four Sundays to offer some supplemental content, such as a roundup of video, article, podcast, and event links, or a poem. Tomorrow I’ll resume with “Day 5” of the music-art pairings.

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DANCE VIDEO: “Lord, Forgive Me,” choreographed by Keone Madrid: A short dance number to a penitential song by hip-hop/R&B artist Mali Music, choreographed by Keone Madrid. The dancers embody stumbling, floundering, aching, weakness, shame, and pleading, as well as openness, humility, surrender, and peace—various postures/feelings associated with the act of confession. Starting at 42 seconds in, a succession of individuals stand or kneel in relative stillness at the right side of the frame, as if receiving the forgiveness they seek, while their dancing form is visible in the mirror.  

Keone, the man in the maroon shirt in the opening shot of the video, is one-half of the choreo, dancing, and directing duo Keone and Mari [previously], whose other recent work includes choreographing the adorable (!) 2021 Disney animated short Us Again (see trailer). Storytelling is at the root of their work, with themes including marriage, family, faith, and struggle.

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NEW SONG: “No More Hiding” by Ben Thomas: For the past few years singer-songwriter and spiritual teacher Ben Thomas has been writing what he calls “Mantrasongs,” songs “infused with intention” that are meant to get stuck in our head and connect us more fully to ourselves, others, and the Divine. Inspired by Fr. Richard Rohr’s book Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, this January Thomas started releasing a series of Mantrasongs on YouTube based on the Twelve Steps of Recovery, a tool developed in 1938 for Alcoholics Anonymous. “The 12 Steps of Recovery aren’t just for those addicted to substances,” Thomas writes. “They’re for all of us learning how to create lives of health and wholeness, free of the addictive patterns of thinking, seeing, and being that keep us living at a fraction of our capacity.”

“No More Hiding” is the fifth song in Thomas’s Twelve Steps series. It corresponds to step 5 of the twelve-step program: “Admit to God, to yourself, and to another human being the exact nature of your wrongs.” Christians would call this process “confessing our sins.” It can be a scary thing to do. It requires tremendous vulnerability and honesty. But oh, what freedom comes from confession! He sings here with Jenny Miller. The preceding songs in the series are:

  1. “A New Level of Let Go” (Admit that you are powerless over your addiction—that your life has become unmanageable.)
  2. “Make Me Whole Again” (Believe that a Power greater than yourself can restore you to sanity.)
  3. “To Know What Is” (Make a decision to turn your will and your life over to the care of God.)
  4. “Freedom in the Light” (Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself.)

Look out for a new Mantrasong each week. You can receive free song downloads from Ben Thomas by becoming a Patreon supporter.

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VIRTUAL EVENT: “Writing on Music, Meaning, and the Ineffable,” March 24, 2022, 6 p.m. ET: It’s been said that writing about music (or visual art, for that matter) is as pointless and impossible as dancing about architecture. Music and art need only be experienced; studied analysis or explanation lessens their impact and is reductive. While I can see the reasoning behind this assertion, and I often debate whether to comment on specific pieces that I post here versus let the art do its work without my intervention, I do (obviously!) feel that there is value in writing about the arts, and music writer Joel Heng Hartse does too. In this virtual launch event for his new book Dancing about Architecture Is a Reasonable Thing to Do, Hartse will be joined in conversation with poet Mischa Willett and musician John Van Deusen about art, faith, and criticism. Organized by Image journal.

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POETRY UNBOUND PODCAST EPISODES:

Poet and theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama hosts these wonderful fifteen-minute immersive readings of contemporary poems selected from diverse sources. Here are two from last season that I particularly appreciated.

>> “How Prayer Works” by Kaveh Akbar: Kaveh Akbar is an Iranian American Muslim poet and scholar. In this narrative prose poem of his, two brothers, seven years apart, turn to face east in their small shared room when their prayer is interrupted by a surprising noise, setting off an eruption of laughter. “This poem holds the idea of prayer, which can often be an abstract one, with the physical sensation of what’s right in front of you, what’s happening, who’s right in front of you, how are you being with each other, what’s going on, how can you be drawn towards each other—and that that itself is the answer to prayer.”

>> “The Only Cab Service of Farmington, Maine” by Aria Abner: “This is a poem, really, that’s an exploration of place and all of the emotion and pain and beauty that can be gathered into memory of place,” Ó Tuama says. “A poem about conversation and about how you reach the edge of conversation.” Poet Aria Abner was born in Germany to Afghan parents but has lived in the United States since age eighteen. She writes about being picked up in a cab by a man who served in Afghanistan in the US Marines, and how he tries to connect with her through that geographic commonality but to little avail. “She is feeling estranged by the ways foreigners are speaking about a place that she’s from but hasn’t been able to grow up in.”

Lent Playlist

Wednesday, February 17, is the start of Lent, a forty-day season of penitence and renewal. It’s not so much about making resolutions as it is about drawing near to God and encountering his grace afresh—at the foot of the cross.

That closeness entails confronting, confessing, and repenting of sin—sins of commission and omission. (The Book of Common Prayer reminds us that we sin “by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.”) It’s an uncomfortable process, but one that grows us, makes us healthy. It makes our relationships and communities healthier too. Jesus’s grace is not just warm fuzzies in the hearts of private individuals but, rather, works itself out in the world.

As a companion for the Lenten journey, I’ve curated a Spotify playlist of songs for the season, a mix of prayers and praises to the Triune God whose strength avails to meet us in our weakness and our need. Some are invitational, others are penitential, and others are celebratory. Along with images of dust, blood, wilderness, and death, there are themes of victory and rising, healing and wholeness, rivers that cleanse, rivers that quench thirst, agricultural metaphors of planting and growth, calls to lay down one’s burden and to rest in the Savior’s love. There are songs of pursuing and of being pursued (us calling out to God, God calling out to us), for as we deepen our desire for God, we come to realize how deep God’s desire is for us.

The playlist opens with “That We Might See” by Indianapolis folk duo Sister Sinjin, a setting (with slight modifications) of this Christina Rossetti poem:

Lord, purge our eyes to see
Within the seed a tree,
Within the glowing egg a bird,
Within the shroud a butterfly:

Till taught by such, we see
Beyond all creatures Thee;
And hearken for Thy tender word,
And hear it, “Fear not: it is I.”

I chose this as the introductory song because, first, it expresses how out of “death” or dormancy can come great life and beauty—as with the buried seed that, once germinated, brings forth lushness. This is one of the prime metaphors of Lent, and this song is a supplication that we would have eyes to see it and, what’s more, participate in it (see Rom. 6). Second, I like how it reminds us of the tenderness and approachability of Jesus. Some people enter Lent with a sense of dread, fearing that their sins are too great, or that they will never measure up to some set standard of piety. But Jesus tells us not to be afraid. His love and mercy know no bounds. He wants to set us free from our illusions of self-sufficiency and for us to rely on his Spirit to work good things in and through us.

Let me share just a handful of other song highlights.

“Simple Gifts” is a one-verse Shaker hymn from 1848, performed here by the amazing female trio Mountain Man (Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, Amelia Randall Meath, and Molly Erin Sarle). The Shakers, a Christian sect, were known for their use of dance during worship, and “bowing,” “bending,” and “turning” are dance instructions as much as they are instructions for life. Simplicity is another hallmark of the Shakers, a virtue and a discipline that Lent summons us to.

Another Lenten virtue is silence. In 2018 Paul Zach released the EP God Is the Friend of Silence, whose title track is inspired by a Mother Teresa quote: “We need to find God, and God cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence.”

There are many originals from the past decade on the playlist, but there are also a lot of classic hymns: “Amazing Grace” (to the tune of “House of the Rising Sun”), “Softly and Tenderly” (intriguingly reharmonized by the Wilderness of Manitoba), “I Am Thine, O Lord,” “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” “I Need Thee Every Hour,” “Grace That Is Greater,” “Nothing but the Blood,” “Near the Cross,” “Just as I Am,” “Jesus Paid It All,” “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” “Where He Leads Me.” And a beautiful adaptation of “I Surrender All” by Chanda Rule, who revised the first verse to this:

O Beloved, I surrender
All my heart I freely give
Ever open, ever trusting
Breathing with my Source, I live

Also included are several settings of the ancient liturgical prayer Kyrie (“Lord, have mercy”)—by Hildegard of Bingen, Josquin des Prez, Isaac Wardell, and the monks of Keur Moussa Abbey in Senegal (sung in Wolof). Plus the fourteenth-century prayer known as the Anima Christi, with music composed by jazz master Mary Lou Williams using a 6/8 rhythm pattern and a bass clarinet.

Soul of Christ, be my sanctification
Body of Christ, be my salvation
Blood of Christ, fill my veins
Water of Christ’s side, wash out my stains

Passion of Christ, my comfort be
O good Jesus, listen to me
Lord, have mercy on me

. . .

The entire Lent album by Liturgical Folk is inspired by specific Lenten readings from the Book of Common Prayer. My favorite song is “Willing Minds,” based loosely on the collect (succinct prayer) for the Fifth Sunday in Lent:

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The melismatic phrases (in which one syllable is stretched out across multiple successive notes) underscore the flightiness of the human will, our inconstancy, our lack of rootedness.

“Create in Me” by Terry Talbot, covered by The Acappella Company in the video below, is a prayer that’s pieced together from various verses of scripture, starting with Psalm 51:10:

Other favorites, which I’ve featured on the blog before, are Leon Bridges’s “River” [previously] and “Hallelujah” by MaMuse [previously]. “I’m gonna let myself be lifted,” the latter asserts.

As much as Lent is about dying to sin, it’s also about rising with Christ, so resurrection is present throughout—in biblical narrative songs about Jonah, Lazarus, Jairus’s daughter, and Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones, for example (foretastes of Easter), but also in songs of personal testimony and aspiration. The theme is especially punctuated in the final few selections. “Where All New Life Begins” by John Lucas seeks to define faith, landing on “Faith is laying your body down / And believing new life will come up from the ground.” Carrie Newcomer’s “Lean in Toward the Light” opens with a similar image of buried seeds, which stretch out underneath the cold winter earth as they prepare to sprout (that is, resurrect), their growth enabled by the light; “keep practicing resurrection!” exclaims the second stanza.

The last two songs are centered on Romans 8. “The Spirit of Life” by Psallos is a contemporary setting of verses 1–17 and part of a larger project. For the final, “sending forth” song I’ve chosen “Conquerors” by Hiram Ring, which is quieter, less anthemic, than the previous one, but its chorus rings of Romans 8:37 and makes for a powerful closing:

We are more than conquerors
Heading out into this world
Freed from chains and strengthened now
’Cause his love is all around

Lent playlist cover (Van Gogh)

This is just a sampling of the 150 songs on Art & Theology’s Lent playlist, which I will probably build on indefinitely. Later in the season I plan to publish a different list specifically for Holy Week.

To add the playlist to your account, open the link, then click on the More (…) icon and select “Save to Library.”

Playlist cover art: Vincent van Gogh, Rain (detail), Saint-Rémy, 1889, Philadelphia Museum of Art

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