“A Prayer” by Claude McKay (poem)

Dougher, Patrick_Higher Power
Patrick Dougher, Higher Power, acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 28 × 22 in.

’Mid the discordant noises of the day I hear thee calling;
I stumble as I fare along Earth’s way; keep me from falling.

Mine eyes are open but they cannot see for gloom of night:
I can no more than lift my heart to thee for inward light.

The wild and fiery passion of my youth consumes my soul;
In agony I turn to thee for truth and self-control.

For Passion and all the pleasures it can give will die the death;
But this of me eternally must live, thy borrowed breath.

’Mid the discordant noises of the day I hear thee calling;
I stumble as I fare along Earth’s way; keep me from falling.

This poem was originally published in Harlem Shadows (Harcourt Brace, 1922) and is in the public domain.

Claude McKay (1889–1948) was a Jamaican American poet and fiction writer who was a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance, his work ranging from celebrations of Jamaican life and culture to protests of racial and economic inequities in the United States. Born in Sunny Ville, Jamaica, to well-to-do farmers of Malagasy (from Madagascar) and Ashanti descent, he was raised in the Baptist faith and with an appreciation for literature, philosophy, science, and theology. He came to the US in 1912 to attend Tuskegee Institute and was shocked by the racism he experienced in his newly adopted country. He moved to New York City in 1914 and became involved in social causes on behalf of Blacks and laborers. From 1923 to 1934 he traveled through Europe and North Africa, eventually returning to Harlem and becoming an American citizen in 1940. He started associating with Catholic social activists and studying Catholic social theory, and in October 1944 he converted to Catholicism. He died of heart failure at age fifty-seven.

Advent, Day 6: That Holy Thing

LOOK: Holy Family at Night (Rembrandt’s workshop)

Rembrandt (workshop)_Holy Family at Night
Workshop of Rembrandt van Rijn, Holy Family at Night, ca. 1642–48. Oil on panel, 66.5 × 78 cm. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

During the Dutch Golden Age, the master artist Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669) ran a flourishing workshop in Amsterdam, overseeing the production of students’ paintings that continued the deep chiaroscuro and distinctive application of paint seen in his own work.

This painting from his workshop shows the Holy Family in a sparsely lit domestic interior at night. The Christ child lies asleep in a wicker cradle at the foot of a half staircase, his grandma Anne likewise nodding off as she rocks him gently with the cradle rope. Relieved by the quiet, Jesus’s mom, Mary, catches up on some reading, and Joseph taps liquid from a barrel on the left under the stairs (he’s very difficult to make out through the shadows).

This lived-in room is full of everyday objects from seventeenth-century Holland. Over the hearth on the left a copper candlestick holder is affixed to the wall. Behind Anne is a map, and beside her a spinning wheel, and a wicker basket hangs from the nail of a curved wooden beam. On the table to the right are a pair of old shoes, a flask attached to a leather belt, and a mortar and pestle, and a Jan Steen jug and other kitchenware are stored in the cupboard above. The shutters are drawn closed over the window. How utterly ordinary!

Although scholarly opinion since 1900 has identified the figures as biblical ones (the title is not the artist’s, as artists did not title their paintings at the time), for much of the painting’s history viewers interpreted it as simply a genre scene—that is, a scene showing regular people going about their daily lives. It lacks the “distinction, nobility, and loftiness” owed to biblical subject matter, it was believed, especially the Holy Family. There are no angels, no haloes. The only hint of sacredness is the pouring of light from a mysterious unknown source.

Rembrandt (workshop)_Holy Family at Night (detail)

But the ordinariness of the scene depicted is precisely what makes it so glorious. Jesus was born into a working-class family. For most of his life he labored as a carpenter, adopting Joseph’s trade. He wasn’t surrounded by lavish things. His upbringing looked much like that of all the other Jewish boys in Nazareth. That he was God incarnate would be revealed in time, to those who had eyes to see. But in the meantime, he cooed and pooed and cried and slept and fed and spit up like any other baby! And his mom was exhausted like any other mom, forced to sneak in some time for herself (including private devotional time, as she’s probably reading her Bible here) wherever she could, between childcare, chores, and other obligations.

That God chose to come to us as an ordinary human being born to an ordinary family (albeit conceived in an extraordinary way!) surprised everyone. The song that follows extends the surprise of the Incarnation into God’s other interventions in our lives, on a more personal scale. Just as he defied expectations in his first coming, so he often continues to surprise us in the ways he comes to us now—that is, not according to our own prescriptions, but down his “own secret stair,” when and where we’re least expecting it.

LISTEN: “That Holy Thing” | Words by George MacDonald, 1877 | Music by Katy Wehr, on In Others’ Words, 2008

They all were looking for a king,
To slay their foes, and lift them high:
Thou cam’st a little baby thing
That made a woman cry.

O Son of Man, to right my lot
Naught but thy presence can avail;
Yet on the road thy wheels are not,
Nor on the sea thy sail.

My how or when thou wilt not heed,
But come down thine own secret stair,
That thou mayst answer all my need,
Yea, every bygone prayer.

This song is a setting of a poem written by George MacDonald (1824–1905) in December 1877 and sent by letter to a handful of friends.* When it was first published in 1893 in the two-volume Poetical Works of George MacDonald, it was with this revised final stanza:

My fancied ways why shouldst thou heed?
Thou com’st down thine own secret stair;
Com’st down to answer all my need,
Yea, every bygone prayer!

The poem appears in the highly influential Oxford Book of English Verse (1900), compiled and edited by Arthur Quiller-Couch, but in its original form.

“That holy thing” is a translation of the Greek word hagios, which appears in Gabriel’s speech to Mary in Luke 1:35: “that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” Educator Missy Andrews unpacks the poem:

In “That Holy Thing,” MacDonald meditates on man’s expectations and God’s will. In the first line of the poem, the poet remembers the first-century Jews who suffered under Roman occupation, waiting for the Messiah who would restore the throne of David to Israel. He acknowledges their plight and their expectation, contrasting it with what they in fact received. The baby Christ represented both a gracious answer to their need, and an immediate disappointment. He satisfied the deepest intentions of their prayer and Yahweh’s ancient prophecies, but frustrated their earthy expectations for geographic kingdoms and vindication. Not only that, but the baby King “made a woman cry.” This references not only the immediate suffering and travail of the Christ Child’s mother, Mary, but ultimately the suffering that would rend her heart when He himself was lifted high upon the cross in answer to their desperate prayer for triumph over their foes.

The poet notes that his own travails and petitions, his own desperate need of God’s intervening help, is denied in its immediacy as well. For, although the Son of Man’s own presence alone can help to “right the lot” of the poet, his coming is not visible by road or sea. In this way, MacDonald acknowledges that his own expectations, like those of his spiritual forebears, eclipse his ability to see the Lord’s coming in his own circumstances. He acknowledges the differences between God’s ways and man’s, in faith acknowledging that the Lord answers man in his own ways and times, keeping secret His approach, but stealthily accomplishing man’s every need, answering his every prayer through the mystery of incarnation. This incarnate Child, the Son of Man, replete with humanity and no stranger to suffering, suggests a remedy for all who wait and suffer.

Andrews is a founding director of CenterForLit, whose goal is “to bring readers face to face with the world’s best books so they can know themselves more fully as God’s creatures.” The center has a special emphasis on equipping parents to teach the classics to their kids.

The commentary above is excerpted, with Andrews’s permission, from the first post of twenty-five published in Advent 2015 for the CenterForLit’s “Literary Advent” blog series (which is excellent!). Andrews provides interpretations of poems by John Donne, Madeleine L’Engle, Gerard Manley Hopkins, T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, and more, combining literary analysis and theological reflection. You can enjoy Andrews’s series in print form with the book Wild Bells: A Literary Advent.

Kathryn Wehr, PhD, is a singer-songwriter whose most recent album, which leans folk rock in style, is And All the Marys: Women Encountering Christ in the Gospels (2018).

Besides being a musical artist, Wehr is also a scholar whose interests include theology and the arts, spiritual formation, and church history. Her specialization is the religious drama of Dorothy L. Sayers, and as such, she is the editor of the forthcoming book The Man Born to be King, Wade Annotated Edition (IVP Academic, 2023). In addition, she is the managing editor of Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture at the Center for Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul, Minnesota. 

* Thank you to the Special Collections & University Archives at Taylor University, through whose British Author Collections I discovered this earlier composition date for the poem, as well as an authoritative version of stanza 3 from MacDonald’s own hand. They provided me with a scan of one of MacDonald’s handwritten copies of “That Holy Thing” (Ref. ID 482), which contains the headnote “Written for my friends—Christmas, 1877.”

Advent, Day 4: Maranatha (multilingual)

LOOK: God Heals by Anila Hussain

Hussain, Anila_God Heals
Anila Hussain, God Heals, metallic black and white print on Fujifilm paper with frame, 50 × 50 cm

A finalist for the 2021 Chaiya Art Awards, this black-and-white photograph shows a person at prayer, her hands cupped, anticipating in faith the receipt of what she’s asked for but open to whatever God gives. The woman pictured is photographer Anila Hussain’s eighty-something-year-old mother, who has suffered for years from chronic pain and prays multiple times a day for relief. Hussain is her primary caregiver.

With the woman’s face in the shadows and her rough, overlapping hands illuminated, closely cropped, and in the foreground, God Heals emphasizes a posture of humble and heartfelt entreaty.

LISTEN: “Ven, Señor Jesús, Maranathá” (Come, Lord Jesus, Come, O Lord), performed by Harpa Dei, 2020 [HT: Global Christian Worship]

Born in Germany and raised in Ecuador, siblings Nikolai, Lucía, Marie-Elisée, and Mirjana Gerstner form the sacred vocal quartet Harpa Dei. Here they sing a traditional chant invoking Christ’s return in ten languages, shifting voice parts and harmonies to beautiful effect. The lyrics are in the video and also below.

Māranā thā is Aramaic (the language of Jesus) for “Come, O Lord.” Christians have prayed this prayer since the apostolic era, looking toward the cosmic healing and restoration that Christ’s second coming will usher in.

SPANISH: ¡Ven, Señor Jesús, Maranathá!
ENGLISH: Come, Lord Jesus, Maranatha!
GERMAN: Komm, Herr Jesus, Maranatha!
FRENCH: Viens, Seigneur Jésus, Maranatha!
ITALIAN: Vieni, Signor Gesù, Maranatá!
CHINESE: 来吧,主耶稣 (Lai ba, zhu Ye su, Maranatha!)
HEBREW: !בּוֹא אָדוֹן יֵשׁוּעַ  מרנאתא (Bo Adon Jeshua, Maranatha!)
RUSSIAN: Гряди, Господи (Gryadi Gospodi, Maranatha!)
GREEK: ἔρχου, Κύριε (Erhu Kyrie, Maranatha!)
LATIN: Veni Domine, Maranatha!

Sheet music can be found here.

“Compassionate and Wise” (interfaith song in response to 9/11)

The song “Compassionate and Wise,” which appears on an album of the same name recorded by Father Cyprian Consiglio in 2006, represents a cross-pollination of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity.

An earlier version, simply called “Dedication of Merit,” was first sung at a Buddhist-Christian conference at a Benedictine convent in Indiana the week after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. The Rev. Dr. Heng Sure, an American Chan Buddhist monk, was asked to offer a dedication of merit (similar to what Christians would call an intercessory prayer, though it’s phrased more like a benediction). For this he and a colleague translated a passage from the Mettā Sutta, the Buddha’s discourse on developing and sustaining loving-kindness. Their translation reads:

May every living being,
Our minds as one and radiant with light,
Share the fruits of peace
With hearts of goodness, luminous and bright.

If people hear and see
How hands and hearts can find in giving, unity,
May their minds awake,
To Great Compassion, wisdom, and to joy.

May kindness find reward;
May all who sorrow leave their grief and pain;
May this boundless light
Break the darkness of their endless night.

Because our hearts are one,
This world of pain turns into paradise.
May all become compassionate and wise,
May all become compassionate and wise.

In reciting the dedication, Sure spontaneously matched it with a melody by Canadian singer-songwriter Loreena McKennitt, which she had written in 1994 for the song “Dark Night of the Soul,” a setting of verse by the sixteenth-century Spanish Catholic mystic Saint John of the Cross. Conference attendees, their hearts full of grief over the falling of the Twin Towers, joined in singing, lifting up their collective longing for light to break through the darkness.

A few years later at a different Buddhist-Christian gathering, Sure met Father Cyprian Consiglio, a Camaldolese Benedictine monk, author, and musician from California. He shared the song with him, struck by its similarity to some of the prayers Consiglio had offered that week.

With the blessing of Sure and McKennitt, Consiglio and his regular collaborator John Pennington, a percussionist, recorded a new arrangement of the song in 2006 under the title “Compassionate and Wise.” Here they are performing it with friends on June 28, 2018, at the “Arise, My Love” concert in Santa Cruz to raise money for New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, California, where Consiglio has been the prior since 2013:

(The song starts at 2:43, following Consiglio’s spoken introduction.)

Their version has slight lyrical alterations and opens with two Sanskrit chants that Consiglio learned from the monks and nuns at Saccidananda Ashram (nicknamed Shantivanam, “Forest of Peace”), a Camaldolese Benedictine monastery in Tannirpalli, South India. The first chant, which is from the Rig Veda but also appears in the Yajur Veda, is known as the Mahamrityunjaya Mantra (Great Mantra for Conquering Death). The second is a svasti pāṭhaḥ, an invocation for the welfare of all.

The following Sanskrit and its English translation were provided to me by Consiglio:

OM tryambakam yajâmahe
Sugandhim pushtivardhanam
Urvâr ukamiva bandhanât
Mrityor mukshiyam amritat

OM sarvesâm svastir bhavatu
Sarvesâm shantir bhavatu
Sarvesâm pûrnam bhavatu
Sarvesâm mangalam bhavatu
Sarve bhavtu sukhinâh
Sarve shântu nirâmayâh
Sarve bhadrâni pashyantu
Mâ kashchid dukha bhagbhavet
OM shânti shânti shânti

We worship the true God who is the Supreme Being
Who is fragrant and nourishes all beings
May he liberate us from death for the sake of immortality
Like a cucumber is severed from its bondage to the creeper

May all be happy
May all be free from disease
May all realize what is good
May none be in misery
May the nonvirtuous be virtuous
May the virtuous attain tranquility
May the tranquil be freed from the bonds of death
May the freed make others free
Peace, peace, peace

And here is the sung English that follows:

May every living being,
Our minds as one and radiant with light,
Share the fruits of peace,
Our hearts of goodness luminous and bright.

If people hear and see,
Our hands and hearts can find, in giving, unity.
May their minds awake
To Great Compassion, wisdom, and to joy.

May goodness find reward;
May all who sorrow leave their grief and pain;
May this boundless light
Dispel the darkness of their endless night.

Because our hearts are one,
This world of pain turns into paradise.
May all become compassionate and wise,
May all become compassionate and wise.

This song is full of interfaith exchanges. A melody written to set the text of a Carmelite Christian friar was adapted to fit a Buddhist dedication of merit and is introduced by a Benedictine Christian monk with a passage from the Hindu scriptures! For more information on the song’s history, see urbandharma.org.

Explaining the significance of a dedication of merit (and metta practice) to his Christian readers, Consiglio writes on the hermitage blog, “We can dedicate whatever closeness to God we have to the good of someone else.” I myself wouldn’t use the phrase “dedication of merit” or its derivatives to describe what I’m doing when I intercede to God for others, but I see what Consiglio means, and I think it’s this: “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). Through Christ, God hears our prayers, and it is our duty in prayer to think more widely than just our own needs or the needs of those in our immediate circles—though that can be a good starting point. As the apostle Paul says, “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone” (1 Tim. 2:1, emphasis mine).

What if our prayers extended to enfold all living beings? I was always taught to avoid genericisms in prayer, and while there is value in direct naming, there is also a beauty to those kinds of broad prayers often heard on the lips of children—for “the whole world,” for “peace everywhere.”

Perhaps you are uncomfortable by the lack of doctrinal specificity in “Compassionate and Wise,” or by what you might call “syncretism” (the mixing of belief systems). But as Consiglio says, there is nothing in the song that contradicts Christianity. The song arose out of an interreligious context, so it’s meant to invite the participation of people of various faith backgrounds.

“Because our hearts are one” refers to a unity of intention or desire. The singers may not be united in theological particulars, nor even around the deity they’re addressing, but they are one in their wish for universal well-being, for liberation from the bonds of death and a walking together in friendship across boundaries of difference.

Roundup: Frederick Buechner on the arts, contemporary art as spiritual discipline, and more

SPOTIFY PLAYLIST: September 2022 by Victoria Emily Jones: This month’s thirty-song lineup includes a tango, a Pentecostal praise song, a playful setting of the Heidelberg Catechism Q&A number one, an Americana lament for hard times, a Negro spiritual on sax, Christina Rossetti, guitar evangelist Mother McCollum with a unique Jesus metaphor (!), a 9/11-inspired interfaith prayer that I will write about in a separate post, and songs in Turkish (“Kutsal, Kutsal, Kutsal Allah” = Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God) and Sepedi (“Modimo re boka wena” = God, we praise you).

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LECTURE (AUDIO): “God’s Thumbprint” by Frederick Buechner: Ordained minister and Pulitzer Prize– and National Book Award–nominated author Frederick Buechner died August 15 at age ninety-six. He was a wonderful writer (of both fiction and spiritual nonfiction) and preacher, and I hear him quoted all the time. He once summed up the theme of all his work as “Listen to your life.”

In 1992 Buechner spoke for the biennial Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, about how “art and religion are twin expressions of the human spirit.” Discussing poetry, painting, and music, he shows how the arts help us to pay attention. Listen to the talk, “God’s Thumbprint,” on FFW’s Rewrite Radio podcast. It is an expansion of the “Art” entry Buechner wrote in his book Whistling in the Dark: An ABC Theologized (1988); read the full excerpt here.

Rembrandt_Old Woman Praying
Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669), Old Woman Praying, 1629–30. Oil on gilded copper, 15.5 × 12.2 cm. Residenzgalerie Salzburg, Austria. This is one of the many careworn, lived-in elderly faces Rembrandt painted.

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LECTURE (VIDEO): “Difficult Beauty: Contemporary Art as Spiritual Discipline” by James K. A. Smith: In its content selection and development, the arts quarterly Image, says editor in chief James K. A. Smith, resists both nostalgia (old is better) and progressivism (new is better), charting a third way that he calls “archaic avant-garde.” The journal’s focus is on contemporary art, but contemporary art funded by tradition. Most of the writers and artists they feature see the tradition of religious art as a gift and a launchpad.

In this lunchtime Zoom talk from May 19, 2021, Smith considers why contemporary art so often feels alienating. He focuses on painting, giving a brief history of the onset of modernism in that medium, starting with the impact of photography, which pushed painters beyond the representation of objective reality. He shares compelling quotes by art critic Peter Schjeldahl and philosopher John Carvalho, about how we look and when thinking happens. Smith discusses the need for humility—to be comfortable with the not-knowing, to surrender our desire for mastery and control (i.e., demanding that paintings explain themselves).

What if the art that first alienates us is the art that might also stretch us? Or what if the literature that’s intimidating might also be the literature that has the possibility to kind of break us open in new ways, open us up to others, and even open us up to God? What if the difficulty of contemporary art is a virtue? And what if experiencing that difficulty is actually what we need? (12:42)

Daniel Domig (Canadian/Austrian, 1983–), Prayer Invites Chaos, 2019. Oil on mixed fibers, 75 × 59 in. [artist’s website]

The last twenty minutes consists of Q&A and addresses icons, art as propaganda, whether and how to engage art that comes out of a place of despair, and more.

I admit that I find much of contemporary art difficult, often unpleasantly so. A few readers have requested that I feature more abstract art, but I struggle to know how to talk about it. But I do want to learn. Image helps me do that.

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ESSAY: “Venice Undone” by Matthew J. Milliner: A core publication of Cardus, Comment magazine is committed to “the difficult work of being faithfully present in culture.” This summer they published an essay by art historian Matthew Milliner reflecting on the Anish Kapoor and Anselm Kiefer exhibitions at the 59th Venice Biennale, one of the art world’s largest and most significant recurring events.

Milliner discusses one of Kapoor’s convex sculptures in Vantablack—a nanotech coating so dark that it absorbs 99.8 percent of visible light—which, in its staging at the Gallerie dell’Accademia, dialogues with three Marian icons and a ceiling painting of God the Father; Sky Mirror in the Accademia courtyard (see also Jonathan A. Anderson’s Instagram post on this piece); Shooting into the Corner; and The Healing of St. Thomas.

Photo by Matthew Milliner
At the 59th Venice Biennale, the Infant Christ from Paolo Veneziano’s Madonna and Child Enthroned (1320s) seems to bless one of Anish Kapoor’s “voids,” a black-painted work that appears flat when viewed head-on but whose convexity becomes apparent when viewed from the side. Photo: Matthew J. Milliner.

In part 2 of the essay, Milliner considers how the Kiefer show at the Doge’s Palace critiques Venice’s history of military conquest, replacing Titian’s The Conquest of Zara (1584) with an image of an empty tomb that evokes Jesus’s conquest over death. Apocalyptic themes have long been noted in Kiefer’s work; Milliner sees in particular traces of St. Paul and an interrogation of historic Venice’s bombastic displays of wealth and splendor, which are not lasting. And of course there’s the Jacob’s ladder motif. For a silent video tour of the exhibition, see here.

Kiefer, Anselm_Venice Biennale 2022
Anselm Kiefer (German, 1945–), These writings, when burned, will finally give some light, site-specific exhibition at the 59th Venice Biennale, 2022. Sala dello Scrutinio, Palazzo Ducale, Venice. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Prompted in part by their use of darkness, Kapoor and Kiefer have been read by some scholars through a lens of despair, but Milliner looks with eyes of hope and sees plenitude and light.

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SONG: “Jordan” by Jana Horn: One of Art & Theology’s subscribers sent this to me, and I’m not sure what to make of it, but I definitely find it intriguing, if a bit unsettling. A song from Jana Horn’s debut solo album, Optimism (2022), which Pitchfork calls “cryptic, bewildering, and daringly simple.” “Jordan” is full of veiled biblical allusions and touches on themes of pilgrimage, belief, destruction, incarnation, and burden bearing. I share it here in the spirit of Jamie Smith’s talk above, about not needing to nail down meaning in an artwork—even though I can’t help but ask, “Just who are the two dialogue partners?!” (God the Son and God the Father?)

Horn is a singer-songwriter from Austin, Texas, and a fiction-writing graduate student at the University of Virginia–Charlottesville.

Roundup: Prayers for a violent world, sad church songs, Climate Vigil Songs, and more

PRAYER COMPILATION: “Prayers for a Violent World” by W. David O. Taylor: “How exactly do we pray in the aftermath of violence? What words should we put on our lips? What can the whole people of God say ‘amen’ to and what might only one of us be able to say amen to in good conscience? These questions are, of course, far from easy to answer, but over the past couple of years I have attempted to give language to such matters and I have included here a number of those prayers, in the hope that they might prove useful, and perhaps comforting, to people who face the terrors and traumas of violent activities on a regular basis.” Included are prayers After a Mass Shooting, Against Bloodthirstiness, For Loving a Hurting Neighbor, For Enemies, For Bitter Lament, For Peace in a Time of War, For Those Who Weary of Doing Justice, and more.

Kubin, Alfred_War
Alfred Kubin (Austrian, 1877–1959), War, 1903

Here’s Taylor’s Prayer of Allegiance to the Prince of Peace:

O Lord, you who deserve all our loyalties, we pledge allegiance this day to the Lamb of God and to the upside-down Kingdom for which he stands, one holy nation under God, the Servant King and the Prince of Peace, with liberty and justice for all without remainder. We pray this in the name of the Holy Trinity. Amen.

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NEW ALBUMS:

>> Sorrow’s Got a Hold on Me by Paul Zach: On May 20, singer-songwriter Paul Zach wrote on his Instagram, “My new album of thirteen sad church songs is out today! Many of these songs were written right after one of my weekly EMDR therapy sessions, as I have been working through the sorrow, trauma, and grief of the past few years. I’m learning to bring all of myself to God in prayer and songwriting, which includes my sorrow and anger. I’ve always heard that God shows up in a unique way in times of grief but that has not been my experience. These songs are an invitation for the ‘man of sorrows’ to join me in my grief.”

Below is a demo of the first verse of my favorite song on the album, “We Bring You All Our Sorrows,” followed by the album link from Spotify. It includes a newly revised version of one of my favorite songs by Zach, “When Your Kingdom Comes” [previously].

Zach often writes collaboratively (including as part of the Porter’s Gate! see below), and the cowriters on some of the songs here are Kate Bluett, Latifah Alattas (Page CXVI), Nick Chambers, Orlando Palmer (IAMSON), Jessica Fox, Alex Johnson, and Philip Zach. There are also a few guest vocalists.

>> Climate Vigil Songs by the Porter’s Gate: The Porter’s Gate is a collective of fifty-plus songwriters, musicians, scholars, pastors, and music industry professionals from a variety of Christian worship traditions and cultural backgrounds, making music for churches. This sixth album of theirs, made in partnership with the #ClimateVigil movement, is themed around environmental justice and creation care. Below are videos for “Brother Son (Giving Glory!)” and “Jubilee.”

Besides “Brother Sun,” my favorite tracks are “Satisfied,” a prayer that we would stop seeking to build our wealth (a motive that drives a lot of environmental injustices) and instead be grateful for God’s provision; “The Kingdom Is Coming,” a marchlike call-and-response song that rallies us to pray, wait, and work for an end to creation’s groaning; and “Water to Wine,” which wonders at the miraculous process of planting and growing grapes for harvest. There’s also “All Creatures Lament,” a minor-key arrangement of “All Creatures of Our God and King” with new lyrics that enjoin the animals to mourn habitat loss, air pollution, and other results of humans’ power abuses and irresponsible stewardship.

To learn more about the album, listen to this great interview with Porter’s Gate cofounder and producer Isaac Wardell; it’s from the RESOUNDworship Songwriting Podcast, hosted by Joel Payne. Wardell discusses the vision for Climate Vigil Songs, and especially the difficulty, with thematic albums, of avoiding the pitfalls of being too heavy-handed with the messaging on the one hand, and on the other, being so vague that people don’t see the connection. There’s also a need for tonal balance, and for songs that fill different functions.

We wanted to write for this album at least three different kinds of songs. One kind is essentially songs of lament—songs lamenting the state of creation because of human sin and the brokenness of the world. Secondly, we wanted to write hopeful, you might even call them eschatological, songs—songs that are joyful, that are about this is the world that God has made, this is God’s creative work, this is how God calls us into his creative work. . . . And lastly, we wanted to write mobilization songs—songs that have some kind of an ethical component of calling people to action in some way. . . . We want to make sure the record is not too much of a downer, like all lament songs; we want to make sure that it’s not too much of a happy-clappy “Isn’t creation beautiful!”; and we also don’t want to let it just delve into being a 100 percent political action record. . . . We want to balance those things.

Wardell also talks about the group’s collaborative songwriting approach (including all the theological and editorial work that’s put in), Te Fiti’s stolen (and later, restored) heart in Disney’s Moana, personified nature in the Psalms, creation as an experiencer of the fall and redemption, the role of provocation in church, and biblical imagery he wishes they could have included on the album but had to leave out for length.

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POEM + CHORAL SETTING: “when god decided to invent” by E. E. Cummings: “Here’s a brief powerhouse of a poem from E. E. Cummings, two stanzas that draw a sharp distinction between God’s inventive, joyful creativity on the one hand, and our too-frequent turn toward violence on the other. As the mass shootings in Buffalo, Uvalde, and elsewhere continue to reverberate, Cummings’ poem helps us feel and think about what’s at stake – and what the way forward looks like.”

SALT Project reproduces the poem, provides brief commentary, and links to a musical setting by Joshua Shank—a composition for SATB, soprano saxophone, and finger cymbals that premiered in 2005. Shank says the arc of his piece is creation-destruction-recreation. “This final chord is the creator taking control of the creation again.”

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RADIO EPISODE: “Belief in Poetry: John Donne”: John Donne (1572–1631) is one of my favorite poets, and looking back on the blog, I can’t believe I’ve not yet featured any of his poems! (I’ll have to rectify that . . .) In this BBC Radio 4 segment from March 13, poet and theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama considers Donne’s complex faith life through his poetry. He speaks with Julie Sanders, professor of English literature and drama at Newcastle University; Mark Oakley, writer and dean of St. John’s College, Cambridge; and Michael Symmons Roberts, poet and professor of poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University. Sir Simon Russell Beale reads the four featured Donne poems: “Death, be not proud” and “Batter my heart, three-person’d God” from his Holy Sonnets series, “Hymn to God, My God, in My Sickness,” and “A Hymn to God the Father.”

Here are two of the quotes that stood out to me:

  • “It’s easy to think of John Donne’s life falling neatly into two parts: the worldly man, and the spiritual seeker; the lover of women, and the lover of God; Catholic, then Protestant; before Anne, and after Anne; love poet, and religious poet. But life is rarely that clear. And rather, it’s the tension between these dynamics of him that gives birth to so much of his work.”—Pádraig Ó Tuama
  • “There’s an assumption that a poet working in this territory is sure of their ground and knows what they’re writing about. I don’t think that’s ever true, because why would you write the poems, if that were true? You’d just bathe in your certainty! The whole act of sitting down to write a poem is not to dress up something you already know in a way that makes it an enticing package for other people to be convinced by—and if you attempted that, it’s going to fall like the deadest thing on the page. Making a poem is an exploratory process. You don’t know where it’s going to end when you start it.”—Michael Symmons Roberts

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.”

“Wait and See (Simeon and Anna)” by Richard Bauckham

Sam Nhlengethwa (South African, 1955–), Train Station Waiting Room II, 2014. Photolithograph and Chine collé, 43 × 53 cm. Edition of 10. Collection of the Southern African Foundation For Contemporary Art (SAFFCA). © the artist and Goodman Gallery.

In the drab waiting-room
the failed travellers, resigned, sleep
on the hard benches, inured
to postponement and foul coffee.
Hope has given up on them.

There are also the impatient,
pacing platforms, and the driven,
purple with frustration, abusing
their mobiles, for the hardest part
of waiting is the not doing.

Truly to wait is pure dependence.
But waiting too long the heart
grows sclerotic. Will it still
be fit to leap when the time comes?
Prayer is waiting with desire.

Two aged lives incarnate
century on century
of waiting for God, their waiting-room
his temple, waiting on his presence,
marking time by practicing

the cycle of the sacrifices,
ferial and festival,
circling onward, spiralling
towards a centre out ahead,
seasons of revolving hope.

Holding out for God who cannot
be given up for dead, holding
him to his promises – not now,
not just yet, but soon, surely,
eyes will see what hearts await.

Richard Bauckham, FRSE, FBA, is a renowned English biblical scholar and theologian, whose many published works include The Theology of the Book of Revelation (1993) and Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (2006). He’s also a hobbyist poet! I’ve published this poem with his permission. It’s inspired by Luke 2:22–38, which describes two elderly Jews, “righteous and devout,” who had been “waiting for the consolation of Israel,” the Messiah, for many years and finally encountered him at the temple one day in the infant Jesus of Nazareth. This “Presentation at the Temple,” as the episode is called, is commemorated yearly by Christians on February 2, Candlemas.

Bauckham’s definition of prayer—“waiting with desire”—is the most succinct, and probably the best, I’ve ever heard. His poem enjoins us to assume the same “waiting with desire” posture as Simeon and Anna as we look fervently toward the Christ’s second coming, when God will dwell with humanity face to face once again, this time everlastingly.

(Update, December 2022: This poem now appears in Bauckham’s first volume of poetry, Tumbling into Light, published by Canterbury Press.)

Roundup: Acoustic ecology, trees in religion, the Pharaoh Sisters, and more

Below you will find a mix of annotated links to songs, interviews, articles, and art showings of interest: “The Sound of Silence” on classical guitar; an acoustic ecologist whose job is to record nature’s music; giving up books for Lent; two interfaith art exhibitions (Faces of Prayer in Vienna and To Bough and To Bend in Los Angeles); and two new folk music albums (Old Wow by Sam Lee and Civil Dawn by the Pharaoh Sisters).

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MUSIC VIDEO: “The Sound of Silence” (arr. Lawson, Trueman): Classical guitarist Miloš Karadaglić collaborated with members of the string orchestra 12 Ensemble on this instrumental rendition of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence.” [HT: Philip Chircop]

This is the title track of Karadaglić’s fifth album, Sound of Silence, released last fall. To watch him perform the piece in London’s Air Studios, as filmed by Classic FM in October for Live Music Month 2019, click here.

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PODCAST EPISODE: “Silence and the Presence of Everything,” On Being interview with Gordon Hempton: “Acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton collects sounds from around the world. He’s recorded inside Sitka spruce logs in the Pacific Northwest, thunder in the Kalahari Desert, and dawn breaking across six continents. An attentive listener, he says silence is an endangered species on the verge of extinction. He defines real quiet as presence—not an absence of sound but an absence of noise.”

Such a unique vocation—listening to places, preserving natural soundscapes. “I hear music coming from the land,” Hempton says. “Some of the most sublime symphonies have been hidden away in something as simple as a driftwood log.” Among his other favorite “musics” are “grass wind” (“the tone, the pitch, of the wind is a function of the length of . . . the blade of grass”) and sounds from “the most musical beach in the world,” Rialto Beach.

Earth is a solar-powered jukebox. . . . We can go to the equator, listen to the Amazon, where we have maximum sunlight, maximum solar energy. The solar panels, the leaves, are harvesting that and cycling it into the bioacoustic system. And, to my ears, that’s a little too intense. That’s a little bit too much action.

Then we can jump up into Central America, and we can still feel and hear the intense solar energy, but it’s beginning to wane.

And we notice a really big difference when we start getting into the temperate latitudes, of which I particularly enjoy recording in because it’s not just about the sound, but it’s about something that I call the “poetics” of space. . . .

“Silence is really wonderful, isn’t it?” he beams. “Even when we just let it exist, it feeds our soul.”

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ESSAY: Last year Leah Slawson gave up books for Lent. When I first read that headline, I balked. Books are so life-giving to me! But as I read on, I came to understand Slawson’s reasoning (with which I can identify), and, while I’m not fasting from reading, I admire her choice. “I put a high value on reading, but I am keenly aware that I can use it as an escape from thinking my own thoughts or from noticing my feelings. . . . Reading, for me, is a distraction from the hard work of writing, and since it is so worthy of an activity, I feel justified and redeemed. I even read and study as a way to fool myself into thinking I am practicing faith; when really, I am just reading about someone else’s spiritual practice.” [HT: Rachel A. Dawson]

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EXHIBITIONS:

>> Faces in Prayer: Photography by Katharina Heigl, Weltmuseum Wien, Vienna, December 5, 2019–March 24, 2020: A series of thirty-one intimate black-and-white photographs showing people of different faiths in prayer. To capture these shots, photographer Katharina Heigl visited churches, temples, mosques, synagogues, and other places of worship in Austria and Israel, but, important to the display, there are no labels to tell you who is praying to which god(s). That’s because Heigl wishes to emphasize the universality of the human impulse to communicate with the Divine. There are signs, however, that reproduce quotes from anonymous sources, printed in German, English, Hebrew, and Arabic, such as “Prayer is like an oasis of calm inside me. Like a tree giving me shade.” [HT: ArtWay]

Faces in Prayer
Exhibition view of “Faces in Prayer: Photography by Katharina Heigl” (2019–20) at the Weltmuseum Wien, Vienna

Heigl, Katharina_Faces in Prayer
Photograph by Katharina Heigl, from the “Faces in Prayer” series

>> To Bough and To Bend, Bridge Projects, Los Angeles, March 11–April 25, 2020: Officially launched last October, Bridge Projects is an LA exhibition space with public programs connecting art history, spirituality, living religious traditions, and contemporary art practices. Their second exhibition, To Bough and To Bend, opens Wednesday, with thirty-two participating artists.

“The Tree of Life is found in both the beginning of the Jewish Tanakh and in the last book of the Christian Scriptures. The Bodhi Tree is said to be the site of Siddhārtha Gautama’s awakening as the Buddha. Ancient Chinook prayers address God as the ‘Maker of Trees.’ As the novelist Richard Powers said, trees are rightly called ‘architecture of imagination.’ Their shade and branches have been sites of contemplation, suffering, and imagining our renewal.

“Today, trees still speak: blunt stumps communicate deforestation and charred limbs speak of Los Angeles fires started by our own hands—or our negligence. New discoveries of communicating root systems speak to a tangled web of connections just below the surface of the visible world, just as LA’s iconic—and imported—palms evoke a colonial past. In To Bough and To Bend, artists explore these ecological issues and look to both religious and contemporary art practices that help us listen to these old friends, so that we might relearn to ‘walk slowly and bow often’ and find our way back into the living world we share.”

Shochat, Tal_Lessons in Time 3
Tal Shochat (Israeli, 1974–), Lessons in Time 3 (Yellow Apple Tree), 2016. C-prints, mounted and framed, 39 1/4 × 44 in. each. Photo courtesy of the artist and Meislin Projects.

The opening celebration on March 14 will consist of a communal poetry reading followed by a Tu B’Shevat (New Year of the Trees) ritual presentation by community organizer Michal David. Other events are: “Called to Shine: Trees in Myth, Symbol, and Art”; a live interview with artist Lucas Reiner on his Trees as Stations of the Cross project; a talk on indigenous trees of Southern California, given by a member of the Tongva tribe; a discussion of art’s role in nature preservation; a lecture by Dr. Kimberly Ball on Yggdrasil, the tree of life in Norse mythology; “Paradise and Agony in the Garden: Sacred Trees in Italian Renaissance Art”; Dr. Duncan Ryūken Williams on the intersections of Buddhism and ecology; a bonsai demonstration; and a poetry reading and song performance by Iranian-born writer Sholeh Wolpé.

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NEW ALBUMS: Both these were released in January.

>> Old Wow by Sam Lee: An avid collector and reinterpreter of traditional songs, Britfolk artist Sam Lee is acclaimed for “breaking the boundaries between folk and contemporary music and the assumed place and way folksong is heard . . . not only inviting in a new listenership but also interrogating what the messages in these old songs hold for us today.” He studied under the Scottish storyteller and ballad singer Stanley Robertson (1940–2009) and, in addition to singing, plays the Jew’s harp and the Indian shruti box. Other instruments in his unique fusion include the klezmeresque cello, tabla, Japanese koto, ukulele, violins, and percussion.

Below are two music videos from his latest album, Old Wow. The first is “Lay This Body Down,” a song about death; in the choreographed video, Lee is tugged and caressed by a gaggle of deceased souls, who at the end enfold him in the ground. “The Moon Shines Bright,” on the other hand, which features Elizabeth Fraser, is about life: its call (fitting for Lent) is to “Rise, arise, wake thee, arise / Life, she is calling thee / For it might be the mothering of your sweet soul / If you open your eyes and see.” I’ve heard many different iterations of this song, which usually appears on Advent/Christmas albums with verses about the Nativity, Crucifixion, etc., but this adaptation was gifted to Lee by an elderly Gypsy woman named Freda Black and is absent of overt Christological references.

Another highlight: “Soul Cake,” a song I know from Peter, Paul, and Mary’s 1963 “A’ Soalin’.” It refers to a medieval Hallowmas tradition.

>> Civil Dawn by the Pharaoh Sisters: The Pharaoh Sisters is a folk outfit from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, whose debut album has arrived! Influenced by the mountain, old-time, and gospel traditions, the band consists of Austin Pfeiffer on acoustic guitar and lead vocals, Jared Meyer on acoustic guitar and backing vocals, Kevin Beck on lap steel guitar, and John Daniel Ray on upright bass. “Their music blends the cowboy sensibilities of Western-native frontman and lyricist Austin Pfeiffer with the Appalachian traditions of dark imagery and poignant guitars from their current home in the foothills of the Blue Ridge.”

The biblical narrative is deeply embedded in the album, with many sideways references to specific scriptures. Topography is used symbolically throughout—fissures, canyons, mountains—and helps establish the central metaphor of Jesus as a pioneer, opening up a new frontier for us, leading us through the wilderness into the land of promise.

The album’s title, Civil Dawn, is a scientific term referring to when the center of the sun is 6 degrees below the horizon in the morning—in other words, the moment before the sun rises. The first song, which muses on the paradoxical character of Jesus, ends with a yearning for “Healing wings / Righteous sun,” a subtle nod to Malachi 4:2. That leads into “Awake, my soul, to the sun,” a prayer that we would incline ourselves toward the Light that’s already shining. As the journey continues, there’s darkness, dryness, a feeling of lostness and thirst. But we are not abandoned by our co-traveler, who is our light, our rest and refreshment, our way-maker. The last song, “Homecoming,” celebrates the “pioneer man with sun-scorched hands” who “guides on a trail he’s blazed”—an evocative image, which makes me think of Christ’s glorious wounds (in many traditional religious paintings, the nail prints emit light), but also, in light of the whole record, Isaiah 58:11: “The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”

Book Review: A Lent Sourcebook

Published in 1990 by Liturgy Training Publications, A Lent Sourcebook: The Forty Days is an anthology of hymns, poems, prayers, homilies, and reflections gathered from ancient and modern sources on a variety of Lenten themes, interspersed with scripture passages. The thousand-plus entries were compiled and edited by J. Robert Baker, Evelyn Kaehler, and Peter Mazar, with additional compilation help from James P. Barron, OP; Thomas Cademartrie; Elizabeth Hoffman; Gabe Huck; Mary McGann, RSCJ; G. Michael Thompson; and Elizabeth-Anne Vanek. The introduction is by Peter Mazar.

A Lent Sourcebook

I really love the scope of the selections, which come from church fathers, mystics, novelists, poets, songwriters, activists, theologians, saints and martyrs, the Roman Missal and the Byzantine Rite. There’s Graham Greene, Flannery O’Connor, Elie Wiesel, John Donne, Gerard Manley Hopkins, E. E. Cummings, T. S. Eliot, Rainer Maria Rilke, Ambrose, Bonaventure, Dante, Negro spirituals and Shaker hymns and medieval carols, Jewish and Celtic blessings, Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Dag Hammarskjöld, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Sayers, Simone Weil, C. S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Daniel Berrigan, Oscar Romero, Desmond Tutu, Robert Farrar Capon, Walter Brueggemann, and many more.

These are some of the better-known names, but there are also names and texts that were new to me, some coming from obscure, out-of-print books or journal articles, and some of the selections that originated in Greek or Polish being translated afresh for this volume. There are a few African and Latin American voices represented, but most voices come from the West—a limitation that is understandable. Several compilation-style Lent devotionals I’ve used in the past feature only British and American writers, and this goes far beyond that, I’m glad to say. Just be aware that because A Lent Sourcebook is now three decades old, it doesn’t include any of the significant Christian voices that have emerged in more recent years.

Also be aware that this book was published by a Catholic institution, and the make-up of the compilation team was (from what I can tell) entirely Catholic, so that theology and tradition is heavily reflected. As a Protestant, that was not a barrier at all to me enjoying the book. There were a few selections that I take issue with on theological or practical grounds—but I never expect to agree with or to gravitate toward everything I read in an anthology! I appreciated learning more about the Catholic liturgies that surround Lent and some of the sources that inform or respond to them, as well as historical practices that developed in different locales. Eastern Orthodox liturgies are also featured, as are Protestant writings (including, in abundance, hymns!). There were several pleasant surprises for me.

I’ve read a handful of volumes from LTP’s Sourcebook series (which includes other liturgical seasons as well as topics like Baptism, Eucharist, Marriage, and so on), and they’re all great.

Because of the way I’m constituted, I tend to get more out of devotionals that integrate the arts rather than those that start off with a scripture passage followed by a lengthy prose reflection ending with a moral lesson or present-day application. I do appreciate discursive prose very much, but I like how this anthology also incorporates poetry, song, and fiction to stoke the imagination and showcase the beauty and multifacetedness of the gospel. Repentance, renewal, feasting and fasting, temptation, purity, divine love and mercy, prayer, silence, and eternity are among the themes addressed, and the biblical texts span from the Genesis narratives to the Pauline epistles.

A Lent Sourcebook is available in two different formats: a single, 462-page, perfect-bound volume (ISBN 9780929650364), which appears to be the only option available on the publisher’s website, or two spiral-bound volumes (9780929650203, 9780929650357), which is what came to me through my local library’s interlibrary loan system. The entries are organized by week (Week of Ash Wednesday, First Week of Lent, . . . Sixth Week of Lent), and those “chapters” are broken down further by day (First Sunday of Lent, etc.), extending from Carnival to Holy Thursday. Basic attributions are given in the margins of each page, with fuller citations available in the back of the book. Also, each page spread contains a simple square (woodcut? linocut?) illustration, printed in magenta, by Suzanne M. Novak.

A Lent Sourcebook sample spread

A Lent Sourcebook sample spread

Below is a sampling of passages I encountered here for the first time.

PURCHASE A LENT SOURCEBOOK:

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An effigy of the Carnival is, in a great many places, “condemned to death” and executed (the method of execution varies—sometimes it is burnt, sometimes drowned, sometimes beheaded). The “putting to death of Carnival” is often accompanied by general tussles; nuts are thrown at the grotesque creature itself, or everyone pelts everyone else with flowers or vegetables. In other places (around Tübingen, for instance) the figure of the Carnival is condemned, decapitated and buried in a coffin in the cemetery after a mock ceremony. This is called “Carnival’s funeral.”

The other episode which is of the same sort is the driving out or killing of “Death” in various forms. The most widespread custom in Europe is this: Children make a guy from straw and branches and carry it out of the village saying: “We are carrying Death to the water,” or something of the sort; they then throw it into a lake or well, or else burn it. In Austria, all the audience fight round Death’s funeral pyre to get hold of a bit of the effigy. There we see the fertilizing power of Death—a power attaching to all the symbols of vegetation, and to the ashes of the wood burnt during all the various festivals of the regeneration of nature and the beginning of the New Year. As soon as Death has been driven out or killed, Spring is brought in.

—Mircea Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religion (1963)

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Christianity is not reconciliation with death. It is the revelation of death, and it reveals death because it is the revelation of Life. Christ is this Life. And only if Christ is Life is death what Christianity proclaims it to be, namely the enemy to be destroyed and not a “mystery” to be explained. Religion and secularism, by explaining death, give it a “status,” a rationale, make it “normal.” Only Christianity proclaims it to be abnormal and, therefore, truly horrible.

—Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World (1973)

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I was entrusted with a sinless and living land,
but I sowed the ground with sin
and reaped with a sickle the ears of laziness;
in thick sheaves I garnered my actions,
but winnowed them not on the threshing-floor of repentance.
I beg of you, my God, the eternal farmer,
with the wind of your loving-kindness
winnow the chaff of my works,
and grant to my soul the harvest of forgiveness;
shut me in your heavenly storehouse, and save me!

—Byzantine Vespers, from The Lenten Triodion, translated by G. Michael Thompson

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Alas, dear Christ, the snake is here again.
Alas, it is here: terror has seized me, and fear.
Alas that I ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge.
Alas that its envy led me to envy too.
I did not become like God; I was cast out of paradise.
Temper, sword, awhile, the heat of your flames
and let me go again about the garden,
entering with Christ, a thief from another tree.

—Gregory of Nazianzus, from Poemata Dogmatica (382 AD), translated from the Latin by Walter Mitchell and published in Early Christian Prayers, ed. Adalbert Hammon, OFM (1961)

(In this prayer the speaker likens himself to the thief who was executed on a “tree” beside Jesus on Calvary. I am “a thief from another tree,” Gregory confesses, having given in to temptation and stolen the fruit that was not mine. He apostrophizes the cherubim’s flaming sword that bars entry to Eden, begging it to cool down so that he might, by the merits of Christ, pass [back] into paradise, as did that penitent thief on Good Friday.)

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Even after several years with the reformed liturgy, it still comes as something of a shock to hear Lent described in the first Lenten preface as “this joyful season.” For those of us conditioned to imagine Lent as a grim, unpleasant time, the temptation will be either to shrug it off as poetic license or to associate it with a mother’s attempt to persuade a child to take its medicine.

But there is always C. S. Lewis. In his account of his youth and his journey of faith, Surprised by Joy (1955), Lewis gives us an inveigling definition of joy as “an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any satisfaction.” Here, perhaps, is something we can latch onto as we confront the notion of Lent as a “joyful season.”

Lent, in this perspective, is a time for eschewing pleasure in order to be surprised by joy, that unsatisfied desire more desirable than any satisfaction. Conversely, it is a time for recognizing the habit we have of seeking satisfactions that dull the deepest longing of the heart; the habit of having to have and not wanting to want. “The very notion of joy,” writes C. S. Lewis, “makes nonsense of our common distinction between having and wanting. There to have is to want and to want is to have.” Lent would then be a time for discovering what it is we really want, the heart’s desire, the restlessness which for Augustine is a symptom of our being made for something we can never possess. Paradoxically, knowing that longing brings joy.

—Mark Searle, “The Spirit of Lent,” in Assembly 8, no. 3 (1981), published by the University of Notre Dame Press

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Each day may I remember the sources of the mercies thou hast bestowed on me gently and generously;
Each day may I be fuller in love to thyself.

Each thing I have received, from thee it came,
Each thing for which I hope, from thy love it will come,
Each thing I enjoy, it is of thy bounty,
Each thing I ask comes of thy disposing.

Holy God, loving Father, of the word everlasting,
Grant me to have of thee this living prayer:
Lighten my understanding, kindle my will, begin my doing,
Incite my love, strengthen my weakness, enfold my desire.

[. . .]

And grant thou to me, Father beloved,
From whom each thing that is freely flows,
That no tie over-strict, no tie over-dear
May be between myself and this world below.

—Celtic prayer compiled in the Carmina Gadelica, vol. 3, pp. 59–61, translated from the Gaelic by James Carmichael Watson (1940)

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“O Healing River” | Words by Fran Minkoff and music by Fred Hellerman, 1964

O healing river, send down your waters,
Send down your waters upon this land.
O healing river, send down your waters,
And wash the blood from off the sand.

This land is parching; this land is burning;
No seed is growing in the barren ground.
O healing river, send down your waters;
O healing river, send your waters down.

Let the seed of freedom awake and flourish;
Let the deep roots nourish; let the tall stalks rise.
O healing river, send down your waters,
O healing river, from out of the skies.

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“The Cast” by Sharon Olds (1985)

When the doctor cut off my son’s cast the
high scream of the saw filled the room
and the boy’s lap was covered with fluff like the
chaff of a new thing emerging, the
down in the hen-yard. . . . [Read the rest at poetryfoundation.org]

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Enter into the mystery of silence.

Your goal in life is not to hold your tongue but to love, to know yourself and to receive your God. You need to learn how to listen, how to retreat into the depths, how to rise above yourself.

Silence leads you to all this, so seek it lovingly and vigilantly. But beware of false silence: Yours should be neither taciturnity nor glumness, nor should it be systematic or inflexible, or torpid. Authentic silence is the gateway to peace, adoration and love.

Live your silence, don’t merely endure it.

—Pierre-Marie Delfieux, from the preface to A City Not Forsaken: Jerusalem Community Rule of Life (1985)