Roundup: “Incarnation and Imagination” lecture, Planet Drum, and more

PODCAST EPISODE: “Incarnation and Imagination (with Malcolm Guite),” Imagination Redeemed: On March 28, 2015, the Anglican poet-priest Malcolm Guite from Cambridge, England, gave a talk in Colorado Springs for the Anselm Society, an ecumenical Christian organization whose mission is a renaissance of the Christian imagination. They have just released it on their podcast.

Guite discusses how the job of the arts is to link earth and heaven, heaven and earth; where a poem or other work of art stays on only one of those planes, it typically fails. He unpacks Theseus’s monologue from Act 5, scene 1 of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, focusing on these six lines: “The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling, / Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven. / And as imagination bodies forth / The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen / Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing / A local habitation and a name.”

Shakespeare, Guite says, is riffing on the prologue to John’s Gospel.

The Logos . . . is bodied forth perfectly and beautifully in the living, walking poem of Jesus Christ, in whom everything eternal is made particular, and who invites everybody to come towards him . . . because he is a habitation with open doors. So of course in John’s Gospel he says, ‘I am the door’! . . . Open up, walk in! (48:51)

And one more quote from Guite!

The church . . . is founded by one who is himself artistically embodied meaning—meaning made visible, meaning made beautiful, meaning made habitable and hospitable and welcoming in the touch of the body and in the physical event, which is then transfigured, because it is also a meaningful event, because earth and heaven meet. (55:34)

It’s a brilliant and inspiring talk, and it integrates other poetic verse besides Shakespeare’s.

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MUSIC:

>> “More Love, More Power” by Paul Livingstone and Benny Prasad: This sitar-guitar duet is performed by Paul Livingstone (a multi-instrumentalist and composer of “ragajazz chamber music” who was one of the few American disciples of the late Ravi Shankar) and gospel musician Benny Prasad [previously]. The performance took place June 11 at Chai 3:16, a four-hundred-seat café and community space that Prasad founded in Bengaluru to reach out to college students. (Chai is Hebrew for “life,” and “3:16” refers to the famous verse in the Gospel of John about God’s love.) [HT: Global Christian Worship]

>> “King Clave” by Planet Drum: In 1991 Mickey Hart (best known as a drummer of the Grateful Dead) and Zakir Hussain (a classical tabla virtuoso from Mumbai) formed the Grammy-winning global percussion ensemble Planet Drum, bringing together the world’s greatest rhythm masters into a one-of-a-kind improvisational supergroup. Prompted by ongoing international strife, Planet Drum reconvened over the past two years to record their third album, In the Groove, which released August 5. It features six unique compositions led by Hart, Hussain, Sikiru Adepoju of Nigeria, and Giovanni Hidalgo of Puerto Rico.  

The centerpiece of the album is “King Clave” (the clave is a rhythmic pattern), created in partnership with Playing for Change and with funding from the United Nations Population Fund. The four core musicians mentioned above are joined by other percussionists and dancers from around the world. The music video uses the “Alternate Version” of the performance, released separately as a single.

Learn more about the Planet Drum project in this six-minute video:

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STILL LIFE EDITION: “The History of the Peace Symbol” by Michael Wright: Did you know that the peace symbol that spread worldwide during the 1960s was designed by a Christian from the UK? (Christian pacifism was one of the underappreciated drivers of the nuclear disarmament and antiwar movements.) Learn more about the symbol’s history and art historical and nautical influences in the August 15, 2022, edition of Michael Wright’s weekly letter on art and spirit, Still Life. Also included is the poem “Wildpeace” by Yehuda Amichai, and four weblinks of interest, such as an article on how the patristic tradition agrees with cognitive neuroscience, and a video of FKA Twigs performing in a church!

Holtam, Gerald_Peace
Sketch of nuclear disarmament symbol by Gerald Holtom, created for the first Aldermaston March in 1958. © Commonweal Collection, University of Bradford, England.

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VIDEO LECTURE: “Symbolism and Sacramentality in Art: Medieval and Postmodern Representations of the Little Garden of Paradise” (Religion and Art Talks) by Tina Beattie: Dr. Tina Beattie is a professor emerita of Catholic Studies at the University of Roehampton whose research is at the intersections of art, gender, and theology. In this talk she explores the sacramental imagination of the medieval world through a Late Gothic painting from the Rhineland known as The Little Garden of Paradise. (You can zoom in in tremendous detail on the Städel Museum’s website.) It shows Mary reading in an enclosed garden in the company of saints, her little boy Jesus playing a psaltery at her feet. “Christ retunes the cosmos,” Beattie says. “The harmonies of creation were disrupted by sin. But all of creation is brought back into harmony through the Incarnation.”

Symbolism and allegory abound in medieval religious paintings, encoding profound meanings that can be discerned if we would but take the time to look and to meditate and to understand the world from which these images arose. “The visual image can say things that the theological text can’t,” Beattie asserts. “It can play with the doctrinal truth in ways that allow other meanings to emerge discreetly.”

Though many interpretations of hortus conclusus imagery focus on Mary’s virginity, and indeed that was a primary aspect motivating the creatives who developed such imagery, Beattie draws out themes of new creation and discusses the garden as the human soul.

The Little Garden of Paradise
The Little Garden of Paradise, Upper Rhine, ca. 1410–20. Mixed media on oak, 26.3 × 33.4 cm. Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

The Little Garden of Paradise (detail, dragon)
A small, slain dragon lies belly-up beside a man in greaves and chain mail, probably Saint George.

The other artworks she glosses are:

The last half hour of the video features audience engagement.

Roundup: Ukrainian Madonnas and songs of peace

UKRAINIAN MADONNAS: Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 and even still continues to aggress, artists have taken up their art to address the war—several drawing on iconography of the Madonna and Child, particularly the Maria lactans (breastfeeding Mary) type. Two Ukrainian artists were inspired by different news photos of young mothers protecting their infants from the shelling in Kyiv in March—one of whom was photographed in a hospital being treated for wounds she sustained from fallen glass while shielding her daughter with her body, and the other hiding from the blasts in a subway station.

Kyivan Madonna
Maryna Solomennykova, Kyivan Madonna, 2022, digital painting [purchase] [see news photo]

Frirean, Anta_Madonna
Anta Frirean, Ukrainian Madonna, 2022 [see news photo]

These images show the vulnerability of Christ, who is with us in our suffering, and indict those who cause such suffering.

In his response to the war in Ukraine, Serbian artist Michael Galovic, who lives in Australia, also uses Christian iconography: the Theotokos Kyriotissa (Mother of God enthroned with Christ); Archangel Michael, the patron saint of Kyiv, fighting a dragon (Rev. 12:7–8) in an ethereal rendering of a scene from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, a fifteenth-century French book of hours; and a hellmouth from the twelfth-century Winchester Psalter. These three medieval images are superimposed on Picasso’s masterwork Guernica, named after the Spanish town bombed by Nazis in 1937 and representative of the horrors of war.

Ukraine Response by Michael Galovic
Michael Galovic (Serbian Australian, 1949–), Ukraine Response, 2022. Egg tempera and gold leaf on linen on board, 170 × 80 cm. Collection of the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture, Canberra, Australia.

Whereas Frirean’s and Solomennykova’s paintings are more intimate, Galovic takes a more cosmic approach, showing wails of lament from abstracted forms intercut with epic battles between good and evil—but at the calm center, Christ is on the throne, holding the scroll of his good word. History is going somewhere. Hate will be damned. Love will triumph.

Thanks to Art/s and Theology Australia for introducing me to the Galovic painting.

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SONGS:

>> “Galoba (The Prayer),” performed by Trio Mandili: A sung performance of a poem written in 1858 by the Georgian poet and statesman Ilia Chavchavadze (1837–1907). An English translation follows.

Our Father, who art in heaven,
With tenderness I stand before thee on my knees.
I ask for neither wealth nor glory;
I won’t debase my holy prayer with such matters.
I desire instead for my soul to be enlightened by heaven,
My heart to be radiant with thy love.
Even if my enemies pierce me in the heart,
I beg thee: “Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do!”
Even if my enemies pierce me in the heart,
I beg thee: “Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do!” [source, adapt.]

>> “Peace All Over the World” by Robert Bradley: Written and performed by Detroit musician Robert Bradley, this song originally appeared on the film Playing for Change: A Cinematic Discovery of Street Music (2005). To celebrate their twentieth anniversary, Playing for Change [previously] has remastered it and added new footage from Ukraine.

>> “Du som gick före oss” (You Who Went Before Us) | Words by Olov Hartman, 1968 | Music by Sven-Erik Bäck, 1959 | Performed by VOCES8, 2022: The melody uses all twelve semitones of the octave! I’ve provided a literal English translation of the Swedish below with the help of Google Translate; for a looser but more poetic translation by Fred Kaan, from 1976, see here. Note: The video identifies the song parenthetically as Psalm 74, not because it’s a setting of Psalm 74 from the Bible, but because it is no. 74 in Den svenska Psalmboken, the official hymnal of the Church of Sweden.

Du som gick före oss
längst in i ångesten,
hjälp oss att finna dig,
Herre, i mörkret.

Du som bar all vår skuld
in i förlåtelsen,
du är vårt hjärtas fred,
Jesus, för evigt.

Du som med livets bröd
går genom tid och rum,
giv oss för varje dag,
Kristus, det brödet.

Du som går före oss
ut i en trasig värld,
sänd oss med fred och bröd,
Herre, i världen.
You who went before us
in the depths of anxiety,
help us to find you,
Lord, in the dark.

You who bore all our guilt
into forgiveness,
you are the peace of our hearts,
Jesus, forever.

You who are the living bread
offered abundantly through all the earth,
give us each day,
dear Christ, that bread.

You who go before us
out into a broken world,
send us out likewise, Lord, 
with peace and bread. 

Advent, Day 23

LOOK: Illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds, from the book Peace Train

To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Yusuf / Cat Stevens’s song “Peace Train,” this year HarperCollins published a picture book adaptation of the song by Yusuf, with delightful illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds.

Peace Train cover

LISTEN: “Peace Train” by Yusuf / Cat Stevens, on Teaser and the Firecat (1971)

The Spotify link below is to Yusuf’s original studio album recording, but the YouTube video, released this year for World Peace Day on September 21, is a “Song Around the World” version of “Peace Train” produced by Playing for Change [previously]. In addition to Yusuf, the video features thirty-five musicians from twelve countries, including oud player Ghassan Birumi from Palestine; Grammy-winning American artists Keb’ Mo’ and Rhiannon Giddens; Senegalese artist Baaba Maal; the Roots Gospel Voices of Mississippi choir; musicians from the Silkroad Ensemble and the Afro-Brazilian percussive group Olodum; Tushar Lall playing the harmonium in Delhi, India; Joshua Amjad playing the khartal in Karachi, Pakistan; and more.

Now I’ve been happy lately
Thinking about the good things to come
And I believe it could be
Something good has begun

Oh, I’ve been smiling lately
Dreaming about the world as one
And I believe it could be
Someday it’s going to come

’Cause out on the edge of darkness
There rides a Peace Train
Oh, Peace Train take this country
Come take me home again

Now, I’ve been smiling lately
Thinking about the good things to come
And I believe it could be
Something good has begun

Oh, Peace Train sounding louder
Glide on the Peace Train!
Come on the Peace Train

Yes, Peace Train, holy roller
Everyone jump up on the Peace Train!
Come on the Peace Train

Get your bags together
Go bring your good friends too
Because it’s getting nearer
It soon will be with you

Now come and join the living
It’s not so far from you
And it’s getting nearer
Soon it will all be true

Oh, Peace Train sounding louder
Glide on the Peace Train!
Come on the Peace Train

Now, I’ve been crying lately
Thinking about the world as it is
Why must we go on hating?
Why can’t we live in bliss?

’Cause out on the edge of darkness
There rides a Peace Train
Oh, Peace Train, take this country
Come take me home again

Oh, Peace Train sounding louder
Glide on the Peace Train!
Come on the Peace Train

Yes, Peace Train, holy roller
Everyone jump up on the Peace Train
Come on, come on, come on
Yes, come on, Peace Train
Yes, it’s the Peace Train

Come on now, Peace Train
Oh, Peace Train

Cat Stevens converted to Islam in 1977 and adopted the name Yusuf Islam the following year. For the next two decades he gave up his singing-songwriting, regarding it then as incompatible with his new faith. But after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he agreed to sing “Peace Train” at a benefit concert in New York City. At the encouragement of his Muslim community, he slowly returned to his music career. His latest album is Tea for the Tillerman 2, released in 2020.

Inclusive of all faiths, “Peace Train” invites people to join in committing to the way of peace, and to ride that commitment all the way “home.” Or, to put it another way, to let Peace transport you. In the introduction to Peace Train the book, Yusuf writes,

Each of us has the power to imagine and to dream. We all have our own picture of what a place called “heaven” would look like, and the ONE thing—for sure—we’d all expect to find there is PEACE. That’s what my song is based on: a train gliding to a world we all would like to share.

In Christianity, especially in the spirituals tradition, salvation is often pictured as a train that carries its passengers to their heavenly destination. “Peace Train” uses the same imagery, acknowledging that peace is already on the move (the Spirit is active, as Christians might say); we need only to get onboard. The song captures a sense of excited journeying toward. The train has arrived, and it’s taking us somewhere new.

Watch Yusuf “read” (sing!) the book, flipping page by page, in this Storytime Read Aloud video from HarperKids:

Also check out Yusuf’s Peace Train initiative, launched in 2020 to deliver relief, medical aid, and education globally.

Roundup: Jazz hymns; stained glass symposium; diversifying medieval studies; Josefina de Vasconcellos; Playing for Change

NEW ALBUM: Makes the Heart to Sing: Jazz Hymns: Last month award-winning composer Deanna Witkowski released an album of fourteen new jazz hymn arrangements for instrumental trio (piano, bass, drums). Injecting an element of surprise—such as changed harmonies and/or rhythms—into the church’s well-worn repertoire of hymn tunes helps people reengage with them in a fresh way, she says. It defamiliarizes. In addition to making the CD available for purchase, Witkowski is offering fully notated sheet music for piano, with the hope that church music directors will consider planning a jazz service for their congregation. (All arrangements are fit for congregational singing.) Hear more about the motivation behind the album, plus track samples, in the video below.

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SYMPOSIUM: “In Glass Thy Story,” September 8–9, Robinson College, Cambridge, UK: This weekend Art and Christianity Enquiry (ACE) is holding a two-day symposium that will cover over seventy years of innovation and iconography in the glass art of European churches and cathedrals. The event will seek to draw out the challenges, possibilities, and purpose of stained glass—that is, what it means theologically, and how it relates to the liturgy. Speakers include Martin Crampin, Frances Spalding, Jasmine Allen, Caroline Swash, Jonathan Koestlé-Cate, Deborah Lewer, and Fanny Drugeon. Click here for the schedule and here to register (it costs £120, with discounted options).

Light of the World by John Piper
John Piper (British, 1903–1992), Light of the World, 1980. Stained glass. Robinson College Chapel, University of Cambridge.

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EXHIBITION-IN-PROGRESS: “Dialogue: Exposing the Rhetoric of Exclusion through Medieval Manuscripts”: Getty Museum curators are soliciting advance feedback for a January 2018 exhibition that will address the persistence of prejudice as seen through lingering stereotypes from the Middle Ages. (Input on wording and on points of view to consider, for example, is welcome and is already flowing in through comment threads.) As a museum, the Getty acknowledges and takes seriously its role as a repository of history and memory, knowing full well that its manuscripts collection, which consists primarily of medieval luxury art objects from western Europe, is full of caricature and erasure of “out groups,” such as Jews and Muslims, the poor, those perceived as sexual or gender deviants, and non-Europeans. This presents challenges when trying to connect with a multicultural and increasingly international audience. Click here to read a working description of the exhibition and, if desired, provide critique.

(Updates, 10/3/17, etc.: “More Details on Exhibition-in-Progress” (Getty blog); archived exhibition page, Outcasts: Prejudice and Persecution in the Medieval World; three specially commissioned essays on race, anti-semitism, and gender identity in the Middle Ages, available for free download)

Jewish caricature (12th c)
Anti-semitic representation from the Stammheim Missal, made in Germany, 1170s. Ms. 64 (97.MG.21), fol. 86 (details), J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

On a similar note, this Pacific Standard article appeared in my Twitter feed yesterday: “What to do when Nazis are obsessed with your field: How medieval historians can counter white supremacy.” History professor David M. Perry writes,

White supremacists explicitly celebrate Europe in the Middle Ages because they imagine that it was a pure, white, Christian place organized wholesomely around military resistance to outside, non-white, non-Christian forces. Marchers in Charlottesville held symbols of the medieval Holy Roman Empire and of the Knights Templar. . . . Someone sprayed “saracen go home” and “deus vult”—a Latin phrase meaning “God wills it” and associated with the history of the Crusades—on a Scottish mosque. . . .

Thankfully there have been robust efforts among medievalists as of late to show how the Middle Ages was actually a religiously, culturally, and ethnically diverse era (which our focus on western European Christian culture has partially disguised) and to learn from fields like critical race theory and ethnic studies how to better understand the ideologies and distributions of power that define the modern world.

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ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Josefina de Vasconcellos: One of the bloggers I follow is Jonathan Evens, an Anglican priest and art critic who serves as secretary to commission4mission, an organization that encourages the commissioning and placing of contemporary art in churches as a means of fundraising for charities. He frequently undertakes “church art pilgrimages” throughout the UK, researching, photographing, and writing about his discoveries. His recent visit to Kendal Parish Church and Cartmel Priory has yielded a lovely piece on the twentieth-century British sculptor Josefina de Vasconcellos. Featured artworks include the Madonna and Child in a refugee camp, St. Michael the Archangel battling his way through the jaws of a dragon, a martyrs’ memorial, and a compositionally unique Rest on the Flight to Egypt. Click here to view additional photos and information about the artist.

The Family of Man by Josefina de Vasconcellos
Josefina de Vasconcellos (British, 1904–2005), The Family of Man. Fiberglass. South Aisle, Kendal Parish Church, Cumbria, England. Photo: Jonathan Evens

St. Michael the Archangel by Josefina de Vasconcellos
Josefina de Vasconcellos (British, 1904–2005), Saint Michael the Archangel. Cartmel Priory, Cumbria, England. Photo: Jonathan Evens

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PLAYING FOR CHANGE DAY (September 23, 2017): “One World, One Voice”: The mission of the Playing for Change Foundation (PFCF) is to create positive change through music education. To that end the organization develops, funds, and supports music schools and programs that are operated by their local communities and then works to connect those communities around the world. Every week 1200-plus young people in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ghana, Mali, Nepal, Rwanda, South Africa, Thailand, Morocco, and Argentina attend free PFCF classes in dance, instruments, music theory, languages, and cultural heritage. PFCF’s community development and empowerment efforts also contribute to meeting essential needs like food, clean water, medicine, and more.

To raise funds to further its peace-building mission, PFCF has set an annual global day of music for September 23. Last year Playing for Change Day resulted in over two hundred events in forty-eight countries on six continents, and consequently more instruments and resources for all the schools. To host an event, attend an event, or donate to the cause, click here.

From 2004 to 2008 a small Playing for Change film crew traveled the world’s highways and byways, recording hundreds of musicians from dozens of countries independently playing a set list of songs; the performances, each with its own distinctive style and texture, were then intercut to create e pluribus unum (out of the many, one; or, unity in diversity)—one seamless video performance, an across-the-globe collaboration. All the videos are up on YouTube, but they’re so much fun to watch, I bought all three DVDs, Songs Around the World 1–3. My favorite track is probably “Down by the Riverside,” a celebration of heavenly harmony featuring Grandpa Elliott, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the Congolese Choir of Grace, and over a dozen other musicians. Indigenous instruments include the bombo (large bass drum) from Portugal, the pandeiro (hand drum) from Brazil, the tambura kontra (long-necked lute) and begesh (double bass) from Serbia, and the washboard and cigar box banjo from the United States.

Visit http://playingforchange.com to peruse more videos, music, merchandise, and tour information.