Come, Energy Divine (Artful Devotion)

Descent of the Holy Spirit
Roman Barabakh (Ukrainian, 1990–), Descent of the Holy Spirit, 2017. Cyanotype print, 54 × 42.2 сm. Available for sale via Iconart.

“I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live . . .”—Ezekiel 37:14

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SONG: “Abbeville” (Come, Holy Spirit, Come) | Words by Benjamin Beddome (published posthumously in 1818) | American folk tune from The Sacred Harp, arr. Elisha J. King (1844) | Performed by Marsha Genensky of Anonymous 4, on American Angels: Songs of Hope, Redemption, and Glory (2005)

You can hear this song—and twelve others—on “Anonymous 4: The Sacred Harp,” a Saint Paul Sunday radio broadcast that aired on American Public Media in September 2006. The entire concert-interview is worth a listen, or you can skip to 7:49.

Anonymous 4’s a cappella version of “Abbeville” is my favorite, but another nice version is the Wilder Adkins–Gabrielle Jones duet with acoustic guitar accompaniment.

Come, Holy Spirit, come,
With energy divine,
And on this poor, benighted soul,
With beams of mercy shine.

From the celestial hills,
Light, life, and joy dispense;
And may I daily, hourly feel
Thy quick’ning influence.

Melt, melt this frozen heart;
This stubborn will subdue;
Each evil passion overcome,
And form me all anew.

Mine will the profit be,
But Thine shall be the praise;
And unto Thee will I devote
The remnant of my days.


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 Pentecost Sunday, cycle B, click here.

“Not as a dove…”: Two Pentecost poems by Mark DeBolt

Pentecost by William Congdon
William Congdon (American, 1912–1998), Pentecost 2, ca. 1962. Oil on tile, 4 × 4 cm. The Province of Milan Art Collection.

“Pentecostal Hour” by Mark DeBolt

No zephyr soft
but cyclone strong
bore thoughts aloft
in windy song.

No flicker mild
but flames of red
danced hot and wild
upon each head.

And so fierce was
our thundering word
in languages
of all who heard,

all knew it meant
the Spirit’s power.
This was our Pent-
ecostal hour.

“Pentecost Villanellette” by Mark DeBolt

Not as a dove the Holy Spirit came
to the disciples gathered in a room,
but as a violent wind and tongues of flame.

A cyclone roared the ineffable name
as fire on each blushing brow did bloom.
Not as a dove the Holy Spirit came

to give sight to the blind and heal the lame
and raise the dead and dispel error’s gloom,
but as a violent wind and tongues of flame.

The Breath of God is anything but tame.
Who dally with it dally with their doom.
Not as a dove the Holy Spirit came,
but as a violent wind and tongues of flame.

These poems are published in For the Mystic Harmony: Collected Poems 1997–2011 by Mark DeBolt and are used by permission of the author.

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This Sunday Christians will celebrate Pentecost, the historic giving of the Holy Spirit to all believers in Jesus Christ and thus the birthday of the church.

Before it was the name of a Christian holiday, Pentecost (Heb. Shavuot) was celebrated annually by the Jewish people in honor of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Jews still celebrate it today, fifty days after Passover—hence the name Pentecost (“pente” = five). (Appropriately, Christian Pentecost occurs fifty days after Easter.) Because of the importance of the feast, ancient Jews traveled from all over the known world to their religious capital, Jerusalem, for the occasion, and that’s what we see in Acts 2—a multiregional, multilinguistic gathering.   Continue reading ““Not as a dove…”: Two Pentecost poems by Mark DeBolt”

Pentecost art from Asia

Ten days after Jesus ascended into heaven (and fifty days after his resurrection), his Holy Spirit descended on the apostles, manifesting as “tongues of fire” (Acts 2:3). This miraculous gift enabled the apostles to speak in languages foreign to them but native to the many Jews from abroad who were gathered in Jerusalem for Shavuot (called “Pentecost” by Hellenized Jews), a festival of giving thanks for the harvest and for God’s provision of the Torah. For the first time the gospel of Jesus Christ was proclaimed to a global audience. Three thousand people came to faith that day, and the Christian church was born.

The Spirit is still at work in the dissemination of the good news today, breathing life into cultures all over the world and thereby building up an incredibly diverse body of Christ.

The arts are one expression of this diversity.

In the introduction to his groundbreaking book Each with His Own Brush: Contemporary Christian Art in Asia and Africa (New York: Friendship Press, 1938), Daniel Johnson Fleming writes,

As at Pentecost, Parthians, Medes and Elamites heard the message, “every man in his own tongue wherein he was born,” so we see Chinese and Japanese and Indians expressing Christianity’s universal language, each with his own brush. For when the spirit of God descends upon any people, new forms of beauty appear, new artistic gifts are revealed, adding another testimony to the universality of the Christian faith.

Since the publication of this book almost seventy years ago, Christianity has grown exponentially in Asia, as have indigenous artistic expressions of the faith. In 1975 Japanese theologian and arts advocate Masao Takenaka published the heavily illustrated book Christian Art in Asia, highlighting the robust variety being produced on the continent. Three years later the Asian Christian Art Association was founded to encourage the exchange of ideas between Asian artists and theologians. Their magazine, Image (not to be confused with the Seattle-based quarterly), has showcased local talents even further. Dozens more books have been published in English on individual Asian artists, countries, and the Asian Christian art movement in general. For the latter, see the beautifully designed The Christian Story: Five Asian Artists Today, plus The Bible Through Asian Eyes.

Below is a sampling of Asian art on the theme of Pentecost. Some works were made using traditional art forms or techniques—Chinese papercutting, Japanese flower arranging (ikebana) or stencil printing (kappazuri), Indian cloth dyeing (batik)—while other artists have chosen to work in oils and acrylics, collage, or glass. Some depict native people and settings—for example, Thai dancers wrapped in sabai, or a group sitting under a thatched roof in Indonesia—while others prefer ethnic and geographic ambiguity. There’s no single style that epitomizes the art of any country.

Pentecost by Sadao Watanabe
Sadao Watanabe (Japanese, 1913–1996), Pentecost, 1975. Hand-colored kappazuri-dyed stencil print on washi paper, 25.5 × 22.75 in. Source: Printing the Word: The Art of Watanabe Sadao (Philadelphia: American Bible Society, 2003)
Pentecost by Sadao Watanabe
Sadao Watanabe (Japanese, 1913–1996), Pentecost, 1965. Hand-colored kappazuri-dyed stencil print on washi paper.
The Coming of the Holy Spirit by Soichi Watanabe
Soichi Watanabe (Japanese, 1949–), The Coming of the Holy Spirit, 1996. Oil on canvas, 18 × 13.25 in.
Pentecost by Tadao Tanaka
Tadao Tanaka (Japanese, 1903–1995), Pentecost, 1963. Oil on canvas. Source: Christian Art in Asia by Masao Takenaka (Tokyo: Kyo Bun Kwan, 1975)
Pentecost by Gako Ota
Gako Ota (Japanese, ?–1972), Pentecost. Belvedere, pampas grass, paper bush, lilies, and rib of fan. Source: Consider the Flowers: Meditations in Ikebana, ed. Masao Takenaka (Tokyo: Kyo Bun Kwan, 1990)
Pentecost by Keiko Miura
Keiko Miura (Japanese, 1935–), Pentecost, 2004. Stained glass window, All Pilgrims Christian Church, Seattle, Washington, USA.
Holy Spirit Coming by He Qi
He Qi (Chinese, 1950–), Holy Spirit Coming, 1998. Oil on canvas.

Continue reading “Pentecost art from Asia”

“Dry Bones” by Rebekah Osborn

Valley of Dried Bones by Abraham Rattner
Abraham Rattner (American, 1895–1978), Valley of Dried Bones. Lithograph, 23.5 × 35.2 in.

The macabre vision that God gives Ezekiel in 37:1–14 is to me one of the most compelling in all of scripture. In it God brings Ezekiel to a valley filled with dried-up human bones (the aftermath of a battle) and commands him to prophesy life to the bones. As he does, they start to reassemble into human shapes, then they grow tissue, then flesh. But they have no breath. So Ezekiel invokes the Spirit of God to come fill the corpses, and when the Spirit does, the corpses transform into live beings.

The dry bones in the vision represent the hopelessness of divided, dispersed Israel. She was “dead” as a nation, deprived of her land, her king, and her temple. But God promises to restore Israel physically and spiritually. The reanimation of the dry bones is a sign of that promise.

Christian theologians interpret this vision as being fulfilled by the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in Acts 2, to permanently indwell believers and so give them new life. Jesus Christ came as both king and temple for Israel, and founder of the New Jerusalem, and when he ascended to heaven he left his Spirit (pneuma, breath) on earth to continue his resurrection work.

Rebekah Osborn, singer, songwriter, and worship assistant at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, wrote a song in 2012 inspired by Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones. I’ve embedded it here with her permission. (For more information see https://rebekahkayosborn.wordpress.com/2012/07/13/dry-bones/; access the chords here.)

I am standing in a valley filled with dead, dry bones
I don’t know if they could ever live again
He says, “I am calling you from your grave.
You will know I am Lord when I bring you from the dead.”

Rise up, dry bones
Breathe the air, live again
Rise up, dry bones
Death shall be master over you no more

I am standing in the valley when the Lord God says,
“Prophesy, son of man, over the dead,
For their bones dried up, and their hope is lost,
But they will know I am God when I bring them from their graves.”

(Chorus)

Oh Breath, breathe on these slain
That they may live
Oh Breath, breathe on these slain
That they may live

(Chorus)

All God’s people have their own personal resurrection narratives, and Osborn’s “Dry Bones” speaks to those. Before Christ, we were dead in sin, unwhole. But Christ breathed life into us, just like God did at Creation (Genesis 2:7), bringing us up out of the valley of death. In this mighty act of re-creation, Christ’s power is made known.

Still, even after receiving the gift of Christ’s Spirit, we sometimes experience periods of deadness. Things happen that obscure for us the reality of love and life that is at the center of the universe. This song can be used to sing through those valleys. We can ask God to bring us back to life, to revive us just as he did all those skeleton heaps before Ezekiel’s wonder-filled eyes.

Christ ascending into Ezekiel’s vision

The sixth-century illuminated Syriac manuscript known as the Rabbula Gospels (after the signed name of its scribe) contains one of the earliest depictions of Christ’s ascension into heaven. A full-page miniature, it illustrates the narrative from Acts 1:6–11—but not strictly.

Ascension (Rabbula Gospels)
Ascension, fol. 13v from the Rabbula Gospels (cod. Plut. I, 56), Syria, 586. Tempera on parchment, 33 × 25 cm. Biblioteca Mediceo Laurenziana, Florence.

One embellishment to the story is the centralized presence of Mary on the bottom level. She is not mentioned in the biblical account of the event, but her attendance was likely. Here she stands in a frontal, orant pose and, unlike the other disciples, is nimbed. Whereas those around her are wracked with confusion, she understands the deep mysteries of her son’s birth, death, resurrection, and ascension, and she stands ready for his return.

Among the crowd is the apostle Paul—an anachronistic insertion, as his conversion occurred after the Ascension. The book he holds, signifying his contributions to the New Testament, is one of his identifying attributes.

The “two men . . . in white robes” mentioned in Acts 1:10 are interpreted as angels.

All these elements became standard in medieval iconography of the Ascension.   Continue reading “Christ ascending into Ezekiel’s vision”