Roundup: Online convos with artists Marc Padeu (from Cameroon) and Emmanuel Garibay (from the Philippines), and more

NEW PLAYLIST: October 2021 (Art & Theology): This month’s playlist includes a benediction from the book of Jude; a percussion-driven setting of Francis of Assisi’s “Canticle of the Sun” by the Camaldolese monk Cyprian Consiglio; an Exodus-inspired song in Yorta Yorta, an indigenous Australian language, from the feature film The Sapphires; “Prodigal Son,” a little-known hymn by John Newton, from The Sacred Harp; a sixties gospel song by Shirley Ann Lee (famously covered by Liz Vice on her debut album); and closing out, in anticipation of All Saints’ Day on November 1, the jazz standard “When the Saints Go Marching In.” To save the playlist to your Spotify account, click the ellipsis and select “Add to Your Library.”

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IN-PERSON LECTURE: “The Works of Art in the Work of the Church” by John Skillen, October 16, 2021, Crownsville, MD: The Eliot Society, an organization I work for, is hosting our first event in over a year and a half! It’s an art talk by Dr. John Skillen [previously], director of the Studio for Art, Faith & History in Orvieto, Italy. It will be at the home of two of our board members, so if you’re in the Washington–Baltimore metropolitan area two weekends from now, consider coming by! The event starts with hors d’oeuvres at 6:30 p.m., and an RSVP is requested.

The Works of Art in the Work of the Church

In recent decades, a growing number of Christians—even those from church traditions formerly suspicious of the arts—are warming up to the idea that artworks can serve in the various practices of the life of faith, and not only in iconographic form as images of Jesus in worship. Scripturally sound and aesthetically sophisticated works of art can guide our prayer, help catechize our children, and shape the environments of our missional work. Many of us will welcome some pointers for putting art back in its place in the settings where we live and work.

To help us imagine possibilities, John Skillen will offer examples from a long period of Christian history when the arts were put to work in the collective life of the church in more places and in more ways than most of us nowadays can imagine. Not only churches but also hospitals, orphanages, the meeting rooms of parachurch organizations, baptisteries and bell towers, dining halls and cloisters in monasteries, town halls and civic fountains and public squares—all were places of serious decoration and design expected to be compatible with Christian faith.

No sphere of religious and civic life was off-limits for imagery able to instruct, to prompt memory, and to inspire emotion and action—the three functions of art most commonly cited during the Middle Ages to defend its value.

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UPCOMING ONLINE CONVERSATIONS:

Padeu, Marc_Le souper a Penja
Marc Padeu (Cameroonian, 1990–), Le souper a Penja, 2019. Acrylic on canvas, 82 7/10 × 106 3/10 in. (210 × 270 cm).

>> “Caravaggio in Cameroon: Marc Padeu and Jennifer Sliwka in Conversation,” October 14, 2021, 11 a.m. EST (4 p.m. BST): I spoke about Padeu’s Le souper a Penja at a recent seminar on “Picturing Jesus,” so I’m looking forward to hearing the artist himself discuss it along with the larger body of work it’s a part of. Hosted by the National Gallery in London.

Artist Marc Padeu lives and works in Cameroon. Intriguingly, his monumental paintings – exploring tender and complex relationships between family, friends, lovers and working communities – often draw on Italian Baroque compositions and especially those of Caravaggio.

Marc Padeu joins Dr Jennifer Sliwka, specialist in Italian Renaissance and Baroque art. Her research explores how 17th-century painters developed innovative approaches to religious painting, imbuing their works with an immediacy, power, and dynamism.

Together, the speakers will take Padeu’s Le Souper a Penja and its relationship to Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus as a jumping-off point for conversation, exploring Padeu’s wider interest and understanding of historical works, his adoption and adaptation of the visual language of the Baroque and how these inform his evocations of contemporary life in Cameroon.

>> “In the Studio with Emmanuel Garibay,” November 11, 2021, 8:30 a.m. EST: The Overseas Ministries Study Center at Princeton Theological Seminary is hosting a conversation with Filipino artist Emmanuel “Manny” Garibay, a social realist painter who served as the 2010–2011 OMSC artist in residence. “It is the richness of the poor that I am drawn to and which I am a part of, that I want to impart,” he says. His paintings often portray Jesus among the marginalized and dispossessed and critique the church’s “compliance with greed, corruption, and social inequality.” Garibay’s children Alee, Nina, and Bam, who are also accomplished artists, will be present for the conversation as well. For more on Garibay, see this Q&A from the OMSC and the Image journal essay “Recognizing the Stranger: The Art of Emmanuel Garibay” by Rod Pattenden.

Garibay, Emmanuel_Kaganapan
Emmanuel Garibay (Filipino, 1962–), Kaganapan, 2006. Oil on canvas, 48 × 48 in. (122 × 122 cm).

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NEW SONGS:

>> “Keep Watch (Noelle’s Lullaby)” by Liturgical Folk, a setting of a Compline prayer from the Book of Common Prayer, on the new family album Matins & Vespers:

>> “Psalm 91” by Poor Bishop Hooper, released as part of the EveryPsalm project, through which the duo offers original weekly Psalm-based songs for free download:

Lent, Day 2

To you, silence is praise, O God . . .

—Psalm 65:1*

LOOK: Valérie Hadida (French, 1965–), Nuage (Cloud), 2013. Hadida is a contemporary figurative sculptor from France who works mainly in bronze and clay. Many of her “petites bonnes femmes” (little women) sculptures are available for sale through websites like Artsper and Artsy. View process photos on the artist’s Facebook page.

Hadida, Valérie_Nuage

LISTEN: “Dumiyah” by Richard Bruxvoort Colligan, on Our Roots Are in You: Short, Quiet Psalms (2013), feat. Trish Bruxvoort Colligan

Dumiyah
Tibi silens laus

English Translation:
Silence
For you, silence is praise

Dumiyyah (alternatively transliterated as dumiyah, dumiyya, or dûmîyâ) is one of several Hebrew words for “silence.” It’s used four times in the Psalms, most famously in Psalm 62:1—“For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation”—but also in Psalm 65:1. In addition to its straightforward sense, the word implies waiting or repose.

(Related post: “The savasana of Lent”)

The song above is a contemplative setting of the opening phrase of Psalm 65 in two languages. It layers the Hebrew dumiyyah with the Latin Vulgate translation of Leka dumiyyah tehillah.

In “Mystery of the Missing Silence,” Christian spirituality writer Carl McColman ponders why so many English translations of Psalm 65:1 eliminate or obscure the word dumiyyah that’s in the original text. The few well-established ones (in Christian circles) that retain it are:

  • The Darby Bible (DBY): “Praise waiteth for thee in silence, O God, in Zion . . .”
  • The New American Standard Bible (NASB): “There will be silence before You, and praise in Zion, O God . . .”
  • The GOD’S WORD Translation (GW): “You are praised with silence in Zion, O God . . .”
  • The English Standard Version (ESV) has “Praise is due you,” but a footnote provides the alternate translation “Praise waits for you in silence.”

McColman’s word study led him to reach out to Jewish friends with a familiarity of Hebrew, including one in rabbinical school, who pointed him to the Stone Edition Tanach from ArtScroll. First published in 1996, this translation by an international team of Torah scholars renders Psalm 65:1a as “To you, silence is praise, O God in Zion.” (Other modern Jewish translations, like Rabbi A.J. Rosenberg’s, have something similar.) A footnote in the Stone Edition cites commentary from the medieval rabbinic scholar Rashi (1040–1105), who said, “The praises of infinite God can never be exhausted. Silence is his most eloquent praise, since elaboration must leave glaring omissions.”

“Dumiyah” by Richard Bruxvoort Colligan is featured on the Art & Theology Lent Playlist on Spotify.

* Note: In most modern Jewish translations, which tend to count the original headings in the Psalms as verses, this is Psalm 65:2. In the Vulgate and in Eastern Orthodox Bibles, which follow the Septuagint numbering system instead of the Hebrew (Masoretic) one, it is Psalm 64:2. However, for consistency, I refer to it throughout this post as Psalm 65:1, following the numbering in Protestant Bibles.

Calvin Symposium on Worship 2021

The mission of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship is to “promote the scholarly study of the theology, history, and practice of Christian worship and the renewal of worship in worshiping communities across North America and beyond.” Their programming centers on resources, grants, and events—the biggest of which is the annual Calvin Symposium on Worship, held in January at Calvin University. This year this enormous gathering of pastors, worship leaders and planners, artists, musicians, scholars, students, and others has moved online—and it’s all free! Click here to register and to gain access to a bevy of wonderful content.

Online Calvin Symposium on Worship 2021 opened January 6 and is running through January 26, and much of the content will be archived for future on-demand viewing. With more than ninety contributors, it comprises twenty livestreamed worship services from around the world, twenty livestreamed sessions (some interactive), audio and video talks and interviews, panel discussions, chapter downloads, a compilation of Psalms-based music and art, and expert-guided discussion boards on technology for worshipping communities, Christian history, and pastoral and self-care lessons from 2020.

Calvin Symposium on Worship 2021

I’ve only just dipped my toes in so far, and have a lot more to explore. A few items I’m looking at are Catherine Gunsalus González, Justo González, and David Rylaarsdam on “Learning about Worship from the Ancient Church”; Katharine Hayhoe on how worship practices can help heal our broken relationship with the more-than-human creation; and Mary Hulst, Glenn Packiam, and Joni Sancken on preaching and singing the resurrection (Jesus’s and our own) with care, including at funerals.

I’m also looking at the symposium’s many offerings on multiculturalism and racial justice, such as “Leadership for a Multicultural Age” with Juana Bordas, “Celebrating Christianity’s Global Identity” with Vince Bantu, “Faithful Anti-Racism and the Christian Life” with Christina Edmondson, “What Is the Color of Compromise?” with Jemar Tisby, racial justice and reconciliation work in Richmond, Virginia (documentary and Q&A), Justo González on how Saint Augustine’s mestizo identity (his mother was African, his father Roman) influenced his life and theology, and minister and youth advocate Khristi Lauren Adams on her new book, Parable of the Brown Girl: The Sacred Lives of Girls of Color.

I’ve really been enjoying the worship services, which are hosted by churches and institutions not just throughout the US but also in Buenos Aires, Dublin, Beirut, Cairo, Hong Kong, Singapore, and several cities in Brazil.

A bilingual service led by Constanza Bongarrá and Marcelo Villanueva, Worship with Seminario Internacional Teológico Bautista in Buenos Aires [previously] premiered January 11. The six songs, performed by a small group of supertalented musicians, represent different styles/genres originating in or developed in Argentina—tango, cueca, huayno. A full list of participants and music credits is available at the link.

  • 4:56: “Veni, Emanuel” (O Come, O Come, Emmanuel)
  • 8:06: “Hemos venido” (We’ve Come)
  • 17:58: “Este es el día” (This Is the Day)
  • 21:01: “Tenemos esperanza” (We Have Hope) [previously]
  • 26:56: “Vencerá el amor” (Love Shall Overcome)
  • 29:33: “El cielo canta alegría” (Heaven Is Singing for Joy)

The Rev. Rob Jones from Ireland preaches on Romans 12 in Worship at Holy Trinity Rathmines Church, Dublin, and Discovery Gospel Choir performs three songs.

  • 5:32: “O Nzambi” (O Lord) (from the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Kongo)
  • 36:00: “Uthando Luka Baba” (The Love of the Father) (from Zimbabwe/South Africa, in Ndebele/Xhosa)
  • 48:18: “Alleluia” (from Mauritius, in Creole)

What a joy to be introduced to Ireland’s leading multicultural choir! Discovery Gospel Choir was formed in 2004 by the Church of Ireland to reflect the country’s (and the church’s) ethnic and linguistic diversity. Its motto is taken from Romans 12:17b (MSG): “Discover beauty in everyone.” The songs here, and more, can be found on the choir’s 2015 album, Look Up. I especially loved “Uthando Luka Baba” (that solo!).

There’s also a lot of music (and some visual art and dance) in the “Global Psalm Gallery,” made up of submissions from the public.

Josh Rodriguez [previously] submitted an original cello composition that’s just gorgeous. It’s movement 1 (“Oh Lord, Our Lord”) from his “Meditations on Psalm VIII,” based on a tune by Louis Bourgeois from the Genevan Psalter (1542) and performed here by Robert Nicholson. The boldface link includes a score, a reflection by Rodriguez on how the piece interprets Psalm 8, and liturgical suggestions.

Another standout in the gallery is “Psalm 150” for unaccompanied flute, by Delvyn Case, which “explores the mystical connection between breath, life, music, and praise as described in the psalm.” Wow!

Not all the submissions are instrumental art music; there’s also congregational songs, choral pieces, etc.

Again, here’s the sign-up link to the symposium: https://worship.calvin.edu/symposium/. And in addition to this year’s new content, the CICW has an enormous archive of resources from past years that is definitely worth checking out, especially if you are a church leader, of worship or otherwise.

Social critique in two Victorian Nativity paintings

Sometimes we rush to judgment of artworks that at first glance seem dull and conventional. We assume they have nothing to show us. But if we were to look more closely, we might find something unexpected. Even subtly subversive.

Such is the case with The Nativity and its companion piece, The King and the Shepherd, which were commissioned from the Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Coley Burne-Jones in 1887 for the chancel of Saint John’s Church in Torquay, England. Seven by ten feet each, they hung on the north and south walls for just over a hundred years before being sold by the church in 1989 to pay for a new roof. (Copies were hung in their places.) Musical theater composer—and Victorian art collector!—Andrew Lloyd Webber bought them and, in 1997, donated them to the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. That’s where I saw them earlier this year.

Burne-Jones, Edward_Nativity
Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones (British, 1833–1898), The Nativity, 1888. Oil on canvas, 81 × 124 1/2 in. (205.7 × 316.2 cm). Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Burne-Jones, Edward_The King and the Shepherd
Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones (British, 1833–1898), The King and the Shepherd, 1888. Oil on canvas, 81 1/4 × 124 1/2 in. (206.4 × 316.2 cm). Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The Nativity shows Mary reclining outdoors on a rustic bed that resembles a bier with her newborn son, Jesus, both wrapped in shroud-like garments. Her partner, Joseph, who has his cloaked back to the viewer, sits on the ground reading a manuscript in Gothic script; the text is indiscernible, but I presume it’s meant to be the scriptures that prophesy the birth of a savior or his sacrificial death. Three angels stand to the side holding symbols of the passion: a crown of thorns, a chalice, and a jar of myrrh, a traditional burial spice. The painting, therefore, links the entrance of Jesus onto the world stage to his ultimate saving act on the cross.

(Related post: “Birth and death in Lavinia Fontana’s Holy Family painting”)

Burne-Jones, Edward_Nativity (pastel)
Pastel sketch for The Nativity by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, 1887. The New Art Gallery Walsall, England.

Burne-Jones, Edward_Nativity (detail, angels)

This foreshadowing approach was not new in Nativity art. But in addition to gesturing toward the redemption from sin that Jesus would bring, the painting also quotes from a community lament psalm in which God’s people cry out for deliverance from those in authority who lie and manipulate. Propter miseriam inopum et gemitum pauperis nunc exsurgam dicit Dominus, the Latin inscription reads, which translates, “Because of the misery of the poor and the groaning of the needy, now will I arise, saith the LORD” (Psalm 12:5a). When God’s people are oppressed, God is aroused to action, and Burne-Jones’s choice of this atypical scripture text for a Nativity painting reminds us of the sociopolitical context of Jesus’s birth, which involved Roman occupation of Israel and a despotic ruler so obsessed with power that he mandated the extermination of Jewish male babies in Bethlehem, thinking he would quash the threat of usurpation. This is the reality into which Jesus was born. And though he didn’t deliver Israel from Rome during his lifetime, he did launch a new “kingdom” and declare a jubilee (Luke 4:16–21).

The biblical inscription speaks not only to Jesus’s day but also to contemporary times, which were marked by high unemployment and great hardship among London’s working class. It’s “a subtle allusion to the social miseries of Victorian Britain,” says Louise Lippincott, curator for the Carnegie at the time of acquisition. She speculates that Burne-Jones intended the painting “as his public statement, albeit a muted one, on 19th-century social horrors. . . . It is quite likely that he was thinking of reports of the bestial living conditions of the London poor that were appearing in the press in the early 1880s.” In 1886, 1887, and 1888, as Burne-Jones was planning and executing the painting, violent strikes and riots were going on in London to protest economic inequality. As people starved, those in power continued to fatten themselves with apparent disregard. The incorporation into this humble scene of a divine vow from the Psalms, where God states his commitment to the poor, expresses hope that God will again arise to deliver from affliction those who trust in him.

The King and the Shepherd extends this critique of the wealth gap by showing the two titular figures—one rich, the other poor—approaching the Christ child as equals. As was and still is common, Burne-Jones combines Matthew’s account of the magi with Luke’s account of the shepherds, showing both as welcome participants in the same event, but uniquely, he chooses only one figure to represent each group. (Traditionally, three magi attend the birth, along with a nonstandard number of shepherds.) An angel leads each traveler by the hand, reminding them to keep their voices low so as not to wake the sleeping infant.

Burne-Jones, Edward_The King and the Shepherd (detail, king)
Burne-Jones, Edward_The King and the Shepherd (detail, shepherd)

“The pairings visually suggest the equality, in the face of divinity, between the wealthy king and the humble peasant,” reads the museum wall text. “In the context of the enormous social inequalities rife in Victorian England, this message smacked of social and political radicalism.” The Latin inscription—Transeamus usque Bethleem et videamus hoc verbum quod factum est quod fecit Dominus [et ostendit nobis]—comes from the New Testament description of the journey of the shepherds. “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem,” they say, “and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us” (Luke 2:15b).

God chose to reveal his Son’s birth not only to bookish scholars or, as tradition has it, royalty, but also to a bunch of blue-collar laborers. The shepherds’ and kings’ mutual presence at Christ’s bedside was only the beginning of the reconciliation across lines of division that Christ came to enact.

For further reflection on the inclusion of rich and poor in the biblical narratives of Jesus’s birth, see “Shepherds vs. Magi: Dynamics of Privilege within the Nativity Story” by Tony Kriz.

All photos, except for the pastel sketch, are by Victoria Emily Jones / ArtandTheology.org.

Whole World in His Hands (Artful Devotion)

Christ in Glory (Gospel-book of Bamberg Cathedral)
“Christ in Mandorla with evangelists,” Reichenau, Germany, early 11th century. BSB Clm 4454, fol. 20v, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich.

Oh come, let us sing to the LORD;
    let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
    let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the LORD is a great God,
    and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
    the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
    and his hands formed the dry land.
Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
    let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
For he is our God,
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    and the sheep of his hand.

—Psalm 95:1–7

This is the Psalm reading for the last Sunday of the liturgical year, Christ the King Sunday. I’ve paired it with an Ottonian miniature from around 1015, which shows Christ, framed by a mandorla (an almond-shaped aureole), standing in a branched tree of life. The gold-leaf outline of this glory cloud encompasses heaven (Caelus, the top figure) and earth (Terra, aka Terrus, at bottom), two realms connected by Christ himself. (Earth is his footstool! That is, part of his throne.) He holds a globe in his right hand and is surrounded by symbols of the four evangelists (the tetramorph)—each supported by a water nymph representing one of the four rivers of paradise—and Sol (sun) and Luna (moon). I love how this image emphasizes the life-giving nature of Christ’s rule, and how it extends over all of creation.

From our limited human perspective, it can be hard to see the divine reality that this artist is pointing to. It sometimes doesn’t feel like Jesus is on the throne, holding together everyone and everything in love. But I look at that little orb, and I think of all the sin and suffering and love and grace and stress and beauty swirling around in that one small part of the cosmos, and I see that it’s rendered in precious gold, and is gripped firmly by the hand of God, who—zoom out—is “a great King above all,” who made the heights and the depths and who gives us his word and indeed his very self, a tree of life for the healing of the nations. As we head into Advent, may we not lose this vision of the Christ who reigns.

More about the art: In the tenth and eleventh centuries, the Benedictine abbey on the island of Reichenau in Lake Constance in southern Germany was the site of one of Europe’s largest and most influential schools of manuscript illumination, known as the Reichenau school. The painting above is from a Gospel-book produced there, commissioned by Holy Roman Emperor Henry II (r. 1002–24) for the cathedral he founded in Bamberg. The book is now housed at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Bavarian State Library) in Munich, along with two other similar illuminated manuscripts from Bamberg Cathedral: the Gospel-book of Otto III (Clm 4453) and the evangeliary of Henry II (Clm 4452). Find out more about this particular manuscript at the World Digital Library. You can also browse the images here by selecting the links in the “Content” sidebar at the left.

For other artworks from Art & Theology that show, in a literal manner, “the whole world in [God’s] hands,” see this medieval Pisan fresco with signs of the zodiac; How God loves his People all over the World by John Muafangejo; Creation of the World by Lyuba Yatskiv; Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci, a common image type; and a Florentine panel painting of God the Father.

Do you know of any good nonliteral images that say to you, “The world is in God’s hands”? That is, a visual artwork that helps you sense God’s sovereignty? I often fall back on traditional visual conceptualizations of theological teachings like this, but I’d like to expand my repertoire!

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SONG: “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” African American spiritual

There are hundreds of professional recordings and live performance videos of this traditional song. It was first published in the paperbound hymnal Spirituals Triumphant, Old and New in 1927 and became an international pop hit in 1957 when it was recorded by thirteen-year-old English singer Laurie London.

First off, I want to feature a fairly recent two-part video compilation released by TrueExclusives. Back in March, as the first wave of the coronavirus hit the US, Tyler Perry posted a video of himself singing one verse of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” to provide a word of assurance in the face of rising death tolls and social isolation. He called on his fellow musicians and other friends to likewise video-record a verse or two, in whatever key or style they wished—just a simple, unpolished phone recording—tagging it #tylerperrychallenge. These were then collected into two videos, a string of contributions from people like Mariah Carey, Usher, Patti Labelle, Jennifer Hudson, Shirley Caesar, LeAnn Rimes, Aubrey Logan, Israel Houghton, and many more. For a list of all the singers with time stamps, see the comment by YouTube user benzmusiczone for the first video and the comment by The Cherie Amour Show for the second.

Some participants sing in other languages—for example, Nicole Bus in Dutch, Jencarlos Canela in Spanish. Others adapt the lyrics to more specifically address the context of our global pandemic. Kelly Rowland, for example, sings, “He’s got the doctors and the nurses in his hands.” Stevie Mackey names specific countries and virus hot spots. And not only does God have the itty bitty babies in his hands, Ptosha Storey reminds us; he also has the elderly. BeBe Winans spans the cosmic to the small in his verse, emphasizing that God’s sovereign care is both expansive and intimate: “He’s got the moon and the stars in his hands / He’s got Pluto and Mars in his hands / And as I’m sitting in this car, I’m in his hands / He’s got the whole world in his hands.”

I love me some harmonies, so I particularly enjoyed hearing sisters Chloe and Halle Bailey (2:32) and The Walls Group (16:54).

What follows are a handful of other renditions I want to highlight.

Jeanne Lee [previously], 1961:

Ruth Brown, 1962 (classic gospel):

A live 2006 performance in Johannesburg—with hand motions!—by the African Children’s Choir:

A lush choral and orchestral arrangement by Mack Wilberg, featuring Alex Boyé [previously] and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, from 2010:

Similarly lush, a duet performed by operatic sopranos Jessye Norman and Kathleen Battle, backed by the Metropolitan Opera Chorus, the New York Philharmonic, and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. The performance was conducted by James Levine at Carnegie Hall in 1990 and is included on the album Spirituals in Concert (1991). The arrangement is by Robert de Cormier:


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 Proper 29 (Reign of Christ), cycle A, click here.

Teach Us to Number Our Days (Artful Devotion)

Jacques de Gheyn II (Netherlandish, 1565–1629), Vanitas Still Life, 1603. Oil on wood, 32 1/2 × 21 1/4 in. (82.6 × 54 cm). Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You return man to dust
and say, “Return, O children of man!”
For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.

You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning:
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.

. . .

The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.

. . .

So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.

—Psalm 90:1–6, 10, 12

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MUSIC: Élégie in E-flat Minor, op. 3, no. 1, by Sergei Rachmaninoff, 1892 | Performed by Sheku Kanneh-Mason, with Isata Kanneh-Mason, 2017

I’ve mentioned these stellar sibling musicians on the blog before, when I shared Sheku’s arrangement of “In the Bleak Midwinter.” In fact, all seven Kanneh-Mason siblings, ranging in age from eleven to twenty-four, are musical—and of an exceptionally high standard! Their debut album as a family, Carnival, dropped November 6; it is a collaboration with Oscar-winning actor Olivia Colman and children’s author Michael Morpurgo.

Sheku Kanneh-Mason released Rachmaninoff’s Élégie, from Morceaux de fantaisie, as a single in 2017. He has two solo records: Elgar (2020) and Inspiration (2018).

Isata Kanneh-Mason has also recorded as a solo artist: see Romance: The Piano Music of Clara Schumann (2019).

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Vanitas (from the Latin vanus, “empty”) is a subgenre of still life painting, especially common in the Low Countries in the seventeenth century, that shows, through symbolism, the brevity of life and the transience of earthly pleasures.

Art historian Ingvar Bergström discusses Vanitas Still Life by Jacques de Gheyn II (Jacob de Gheyn) at length in the 1970 journal article “De Gheyn as a ‘Vanitas’ Painter.” The commentary that follows is derived from that.

In de Gheyn’s painting, a skull sits inside a stone niche on a bed of dry grass, a reminder that “all flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth . . .” (Isaiah 40:6–7; cf. 1 Peter 1:24). Sitting on the left side of the ledge, the tulip and the wild rose with the fallen petal symbolize how man “cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down” (Job 14:2). The smoking urn on the other side references Psalm 102:3: “my days are consumed like smoke.” Between these two are a spill of Spanish coins and a Dutch military medal, and propped up against the ledge on each side is a gold ten-ducat coin showing, on the obverse, Joanna and Charles as sovereigns of Aragon. The message is that beauty, riches, and worldly power and honors all come to an end.

Lest this message somehow be missed, HUMANA VANA (“human vanity”) is carved into the top of the arch. The inscription is flanked by fictive sculptures of Heraclitus and Democritus, the weeping and laughing philosophers of Greek antiquity. Both figures point to a soap bubble (“Man is but a bubble” is a classical aphorism), which, if read in light of the traditional iconography of the two philosophers, doubles as a globe.

de Gheyn II, Jacques_Vanitas Still Life (bubble detail)

The bubble mirrors a number of disparate objects, which are difficult to make out. Bergström identifies a trophy group along the middle axis of the bubble: a crown in the center with various weapons converging upon it. At the top is an upturned moneybag with coins streaming out. Most discernible is the wheel of torture at the bottom right, and above that is a leper’s rattle, which lepers in some areas were required to shake to alert others to their proximity; these are symbols of human frailty. Also reflected “are a caduceus (probably signifying commerce) and a pair of bellows (signifying luxury?). Playing cards, backgammon with dice, and drinking vessels allude to vain pleasures and pastimes. The highlight of the sphere mirrors a burning heart, pierced by an arrow—an image of earthly love, of luxury” (153).

Though the painting doesn’t explicitly reference our lectionary reading from Psalm 90, it does complement the psalmist’s reflection on how short and precarious life is—it’s like a wilting flower, a burning candle, a fragile bubble. Here today, gone tomorrow. Which is why it’s so important to live wisely while we still can.

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To access another Artful Devotion for AProp28, on 1 Thessalonians 5:1–11, click here.


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 Proper 28, cycle A, click here.

Roundup: Art and the Psalms, “We Americans,” the Walking Roots Band, and more

“Psalms in Dialogue: Psalms 22, 23, and 24,” presented by Duke University Chapel: This multidisciplinary video presentation brings together dancers, musicians, a theologian, a painter, and (other) members of the Duke community to draw out the meaning of, or respond to, these three sequential psalms through art, prayer, and conversation. The livestreamed event aired October 17 and will be available for viewing for a limited time. Several of the segments, which I’ve time-stamped below, are intercut with photos from the streets in 2020 (showing the impact of the pandemic and racial unrest), of artist Makoto Fujimura in his studio and of his three finished paintings, and of Ekklesia Contemporary Ballet dancers in training. I wish more university chapels and well-resourced churches would offer experiences like this! Thank you to my friend Peggy for telling me about it. Read more about Duke Chapel’s multiyear Psalms project here.

1:51: “How do we name the impossible mystery?,” a theological reflection by Morley Van Yperen

6:02: Organ: “Jésus accepte la souffrance,” from La Nativité du Seigneur [previously] by Olivier Messiaen, performed by Christopher Jacobson

10:58: Psalm 22 by Makoto Fujimura, 2020, oyster shell on Belgium canvas, 48 × 48 in.

11:09: Reading of Psalm 22:1–22 by Luke A. Powery, with balletic responses by Paiter van Yperen, Elijah Ryan, Heather Bachman, and Sasha Biagiarelli

15:40: Lament, ballet solo danced by Paiter van Yperen (music by Max Richter, choreo by Elisa Schroth)

18:10: Psalm 22:22–32 chant by Zebulon Highben

21:09: Conversation on the Psalms with Makoto Fujimura and Ellen F. Davis, moderated by Amanda Millay Hughes

29:32: Organ: “Christus, der uns selig macht,” BWV 620, by Johann Sebastian Bach, performed by Christopher Jacobson

32:00: Prayer by Nathan Liang

34:11: Recitation of Psalm 23 by Julia Hendrickson

35:22: 6IX, a tap dance by Andrew Nemr

37:10: “The 23rd Psalm,” text adaptation and music by Bobby McFerrin, performed by the Duke Chapel Staff Singers (*this was my favorite!)

40:42: Prayer by Jonathan Avendano

42:39: “The Lord Is My Shepherd,” music by Howard Goodall, performed by the Royal School of Church Music in America Choristers

46:13: Psalm 24 remix produced by Andrew Nemr

48:21: Prayer by Jordyn Blake

49:45: Recitation of Psalm 24 by Julia Hendrickson

51:32: Conversation continued

1:11:49: “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” African American spiritual arranged by Mark A. Miller, performed by the Duke Chapel Choir

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POEMS: This week’s edition of ImageUpdate includes two poems that I really appreciated. The first, which was new to me, is “America” by Claude McKay, a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance. Originally published in The Liberator in 1921, it expresses the pain of living in a country where you’re hated for your race and yet remains optimistic, beginning, “Although she feeds me bread of bitterness, / And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth, / Stealing my breath of life, I will confess / I love this cultured hell . . .” The second poem is “Making Peace” by Denise Levertov, one of the best-known Christian poets of the twentieth century. “The poets must give us / imagination of peace, to oust the intense, familiar / imagination of disaster,” she writes. Poets can help us feel our way toward shalom—give us a vision of its permeating the world that inspires us to live out its rhythms, its metaphors, its structure, its grammar, our lives like poems.

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MUSIC VIDEO: “We Americans” by the Avett Brothers: I’m so moved by this song from the Avett Brothers’ 2019 album Closer Than Together—its grappling with the historical legacy of the US, its greatness and its guilt, with a mixture of heartache, empathy, and hope. It’s one of the healthiest expressions of patriotism I’ve ever come across in a song. We need to see America as the complex entity that she is, which means in part not ignoring her flaws but with love exposing them so that they can be remediated and we can move forward together more faithful to her celebrated ideals. “We Americans” is both confession and supplication, an “I’m sorry, God” and “God, help us to do better.” The final chorus:

I am a son of God and man
And I may never understand
The good and evil
But I dearly love this land
Because of and in spite of We the People
We are more than the sum of our parts
All these broken bones and broken hearts
God, will you keep us wherever we go?
Can you forgive us for where we’ve been?
We Americans

I was reminded of this song in the September 17 episode of the RTN Theology podcast, “You Shall Know the Truth and the Truth Shall Unsettle You.” Chris Breslin interviews Mark Charles, a Native American activist, public speaker, Christian leader, and independent candidate in this year’s US presidential election. He is the coauthor, with Soong-Chan Rah, of Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery. Charles enters at 12:40 with a discussion of the lack of common memory.

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SONGS:

“Whatever Comes Next” by Drew Miller: This song came out of “Hutchmoot: Homebound,” a virtual arts gathering organized by the Rabbit Room that took place earlier this month. In writing the song, Drew Miller [previously] was inspired in part by Shigé Clark’s new poem “Grateful” (see her perform the poem here).

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One Friday back in March, when we thought quarantine would last about six weeks tops, Kelsey and I raised our Old Fashioneds up for our weekly Pizza Night toast, each of us wearing that 😬 sort of face reserved for when we have no idea what’s about to happen (we’ve been making that face a lot this year).⁣ ⁣ And then, as our glasses clinked, she said, “To whatever comes next.”⁣ ⁣ This is my post-Hutchmoot (and as 2020 would have it, pre-election) song. And as such, it steals shamelessly from—well, really, from all over the place, but mostly from Shigé Clark’s staggering poem “Grateful:” “Father, the world is on fire.”⁣ ⁣ Go read that poem. And then, if you have any emotional capacity left, come back and listen to this song.⁣ ⁣ Lyrics:⁣ ⁣ Father, your world’s on fire and⁣ Every day I wake up tired and⁣ Afraid of what’s required of me⁣ ⁣ But your daughter filled my cup, said⁣ “Look at me and listen up,” said⁣ “A toast to all we’ve yet to see”⁣ ⁣ 𝘛𝘰 𝘸𝘩𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘳 𝘤𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘴 𝘯𝘦𝘹𝘵⁣ 𝘞𝘩𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘳 𝘤𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘴 𝘯𝘦𝘹𝘵⁣ 𝘓𝘦𝘵’𝘴 𝘳𝘢𝘪𝘴𝘦 𝘢𝘯𝘰𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳 𝘨𝘭𝘢𝘴𝘴⁣ 𝘛𝘰 𝘸𝘩𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘳 𝘤𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘴 𝘯𝘦𝘹𝘵⁣ ⁣ So this world’s the one I inherit⁣ It takes the best of me just to bear it⁣ While the rest of me wants to tear it down⁣ ⁣ I’ve got no choice in the matter⁣ But to let illusions shatter⁣ And scatter like seeds on the ground⁣ ⁣ 𝘍𝘰𝘳 𝘸𝘩𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘳 𝘤𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘴 𝘯𝘦𝘹𝘵⁣ 𝘞𝘩𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘳 𝘤𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘴 𝘯𝘦𝘹𝘵⁣ 𝘓𝘦𝘵’𝘴 𝘳𝘢𝘪𝘴𝘦 𝘢𝘯𝘰𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳 𝘨𝘭𝘢𝘴𝘴⁣ 𝘛𝘰 𝘸𝘩𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘳 𝘤𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘴 𝘯𝘦𝘹𝘵⁣ ⁣ 𝘈𝘯𝘥 𝘐 𝘸𝘰𝘯’𝘵 𝘳𝘦𝘨𝘳𝘦𝘵⁣ 𝘞𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘐 𝘤𝘢𝘯𝘯𝘰𝘵 𝘬𝘯𝘰𝘸 𝘺𝘦𝘵⁣ 𝘐’𝘮 𝘨𝘰𝘯𝘯𝘢 𝘴𝘵𝘪𝘤𝘬 𝘢𝘳𝘰𝘶𝘯𝘥⁣ 𝘍𝘰𝘳 𝘸𝘩𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘳 𝘤𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘴 𝘯𝘦𝘹𝘵⁣ ⁣ Father, your world’s on fire⁣ And look at how it shines⁣ Father, your world’s on fire⁣ ⁣ I have often wondered⁣ A sister grieves for her brother⁣ She can’t conceive of another ending⁣ ⁣ For all that hope she carried⁣ Only to see it buried⁣ Then, through her tears, she hears⁣ “Mary”⁣ ⁣ So what comes next?

A post shared by Drew Miller (@drewmillersongs) on

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“Bring Your Peace” by the Walking Roots Band: This song was written this year by Seth Thomas Crissman and Greg J. Yoder of the Walking Roots Band as part of a collection of fifteen songs for Shine, a children’s Sunday school curriculum published by MennoMedia and Brethren Press. It appears on Everybody Sing: Worship Songs for Children, released in June as a double album with Everybody Sing: Songs for the Seasons (which comprises ten original songs by The Many). The song asks God to bring his peace into our fears and into the storms we face, and to make us instruments of that peace to others.

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“Rest Assured,” sung by the Walking Roots Band: TWRB learned this song from a bandmate’s parent (original authorship unknown) and recorded it a cappella in their separate locations at the start of quarantine in March. The chorus goes,

Rest assured, He’s not forgotten
Rest assured, He’ll take care of you
Look at the times He’s been there before
He’ll be there again, rest assured

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“Let Justice Roll Like a River,” sung by Eric Lige: Bobby Gilles and Rebecca Elliott of Sojourn Music wrote this song in 2017, inspired by Amos 5. In this lyric video from July 5, it’s performed by Eric Lige and Paul Lee of Ethnos Community Church. The singing starts at 1:33. [HT: Global Christian Worship]

Roundup: Jesus as Dancer, The Daily Prayer Project, ethnoarts in Indonesia, and more

BLOG POST: “Jesus as Dancer: Jyoti Sahi’s ‘Lord of Creation’” by Victoria Emily Jones: I wrote a guest post for the Sojourn Arts blog about a gouache I own by Indian artist Jyoti Sahi, which shows Jesus leading the dance of new creation. On one side he pounds a drum, and on the other he emerges from a lotus. The painting brings together Jyoti’s interests in Christian and Hindu theologies and folk symbolism.

Sahi, Jyoti_Lord of Creation
Jyoti Sahi (Indian, 1944–), Lord of Creation, 1982. Gouache on paper, 14 3/4 × 20 in. Collection of Victoria Emily Jones.

Sojourn Arts is a ministry of Sojourn Church Midtown in Louisville, Kentucky, that seeks to support artists and build up the church through the arts. They have organized and/or hosted numerous exhibitions over the years and have commissioned temporary installations for their sanctuary, as well as coordinated community art projects. Visit www.sojourn-arts.com.

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THE DAILY PRAYER PROJECT: This fall I joined the team at the Daily Prayer Project as curator of visual art. The Daily Prayer Project is a periodical that covers every season of the Christian year with robust, rooted, and cross-cultural liturgies for use in congregations, households, workplaces, small groups, or other gatherings. Released in seven editions per year, it features daily morning and evening prayer guides for the week, which include Psalm, Old Testament, and New Testament readings; short prayers sourced from around the globe and from different eras; specific prayer prompts; and songs (including lead sheets). In addition to the cover image, there is a mini-gallery of two art images inside, reproduced in full color, to serve as visual prompts for further contemplation and prayer. There is also a section called “The Practices,” with two page-long seasonal reflections by staff members or guest contributors.

The Advent 2020 issue of the DPP, covering November 29 through December 24, was released last week. It features prayers by African American civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer, the tenth-century English saint Ethelwold, and others; a Hebrew folk song, a Taizé chant, and an Argentine hymn by Federico J. Pagura; a striking cover image by Hilary Siber, which shows heaven coming down to earth; Charles White’s Prophet I, which resonates with passages from Isaiah; and an apocalyptic paper collage by Nicora Gangi.

The periodical is available as a physical booklet or as a PDF download. Visit the website for more information. If you are an artist and are interested in having your work considered for publication in a future prayerbook, email team@dailyprayerproject.com.

DPP Advent 2020 interior

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VIDEO: “Local Riches: Ethnoarts and Sumba”: A workshop for churches on the island of Sumba in Indonesia, led by Yayasan Suluh Insan Lestari in July 2019, reinforced that God is best honored, and the global body of Christ built up, when people worship God using their unique cultural and linguistic gifts, bringing their whole, authentic selves before him in praise. [HT: Global Christian Worship]

For centuries many Christian missionaries to other countries brought with them Western hymns and images, presenting them as definitive—as forms that alone are good and pleasing to God. (For example, a woman in the video mentions how she had previously thought that worship songs had to be based on Western scales and performed using certain instruments to be acceptable.) But in the last fifty or so years especially, at least from what I’ve noticed, many missionaries have recognized the falsity of this line of thinking and seek to undo negative conditioning by promoting the use of indigenous artistic expressions (sometimes called “ethnoarts”) in Christian worship, be it dance, drama, music, storytelling, carving, or what have you. I found it interesting that the interviewees seem to suggest that now it’s the forces of modernism that most threaten the survival of traditional cultures, whereas it used to be that the church was largely blamed (missionaries did undeniably play a large part, banning this and that, though in every era there were exceptions to the rule). Now the church is at the forefront of trying to preserve not only traditional languages but also traditional art forms.

“Everything we have was created by God, and we need to return to it with gratefulness because this is how God made us!” says Rev. Herlina of the Christian Church of Sumba. “With whatever we already have, we can be a blessing to our people.”

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NEW ART SERIES: “Organic, Sunrise Gradients Mask Front Pages of the New York Times by Artist Sho Shibuya”: Since the lockdown started in March, Brooklyn-based artist and graphic designer Sho Shibuya has been painting color gradients in acrylic over the front pages of the New York Times, inspired by each morning’s sunrise. He calls the series “Sunrises from a Small Window.” I love how he’s able to express gratitude for a beautiful new day and to access calm amid dire news cycles. Shibuya is still reading those headlines and articles; he’s just putting them in a larger perspective. (As for myself, call me escapist, but I’ve found that actually blocking out the news—turning down the noise—for certain periods can be a helpful spiritual practice.)

Sho Shibuya, Sunrises from a Small Window, June 22–28, 2020. Acrylic on newsprint.

“I started . . . contrasting the anxiety of the news with the serenity of the sky, creating a record of my new normal,” Shibuya says. “Their front page has always been a time capsule of a day in history, so it made sense to use history as the canvas because the paintings are meant to capture a moment in time. . . . The spirit of the project is that maybe, even after the pandemic subsides, people can continue some of the generosity and peace we discovered in ourselves and that the sky reminds us of every day with a sunrise through a small window. If one thing the news has made clear, we need generosity and peace for all people now more than ever.”

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TWO FILMS: “Death on Netflix: I’m Thinking of Ending Things and Dick Johnson Is Dead by Mitch Wiley: I really liked both these cinematic reflections on mortality, but they’re completely different, as this short Gospel Coalition article bears out. Dick Johnson Is Dead is the more “Christian” of the two because of its hopeful perspective—the human subject of the film is a Seventh-Day Adventist, so death for him is not a final end. After her father was diagnosed with dementia, filmmaker Kirsten Johnson asked her dad if he’d be interested in a collaborative film project where, to help them both face the inevitable, she would stage his death in inventive and comical ways. Relishing the opportunity to spend more time with his busy daughter, he enthusiastically agreed.

The documentary shows them preparing and carrying out these stunts but also interacting in other contexts—birthday parties, trick-or-treating, looking through old photo albums, cleaning out Dick’s office, Dick’s being asked to give up driving, and so on. It made me laugh and cry—films that can do both tend to rate highly on my favorites list. There’s so much love and warmth and heartache and whimsy in it as father and daughter confront death together, talking very openly about it, which I found, strange as it may seem, refreshing. Oh, and the heaven sequences just may be the best I’ve ever seen.

For a more cynical take on death, here’s the trailer to I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman isn’t for everyone, but I’m still thinking about this movie after watching it a month ago, which means it made an impression!):

Seeing and Believing, a Christ and Pop Culture podcast, covered Ending Things and Dick Johnson in episodes 264 and 266, respectively, as have most other film podcasts and reviewers, with Dick Johnson being uniformly lauded as one of the best movies of the year.

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SONG: “Hodu” (Give Thanks), performed by the Platt Brothers: The Platt Brothers [previously] singing scripture to me? Yes, please. The text of this song is Psalm 118:1–4, and the music is by Debbie Friedman (1951–2011), a Jewish singer-songwriter whose songs are used widely in Reform and Conservative Jewish liturgies in North America. Friedman’s “Hodu” was originally released on her 1981 album And the Youth Shall See Visions. (Find sheet music here.)

In this video from earlier this month, Henry, Jonah, and Ben Platt sing “Hodu” to a guitar accompaniment by Al Seller.

Hodu l’Adonai kitov
Ki l’olam chasdo, ki l’oam chasdo
Yomar na, yomar na, Yisraeil
Ki l’olam chasdo, ki l’olam chasdo
Yomru na, yomru na veit Aharon
Ki l’olam chasdo, ki l’olam chasdo

Let all who revere G-d’s name now say
Ki l’olam chasdo
Give thanks to the Lord for G-d is good
Ki l’olam chasdo

The first time the Platt Brothers performed in public as a trio was this April, when they appeared in a virtual Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration at the request of the Jewish Federations of North America, singing “Ahavat Olam.” Ben and Jonah are musical theater performers: Ben originated the title role in Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen and won a Tony for it, and Jonah is best known for playing Fiyero in Wicked on Broadway from 2015 to 2016. Henry is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, where’s he’s a member of the a cappella group Counterparts.

Remember Me (Artful Devotion)

Picasso, Pablo_The Old Guitarist
Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973), The Old Guitarist, 1904. Oil on panel, 48 3/8 × 32 1/2 in. (122.9 × 82.6 cm). Art Institute of Chicago.

Remember me, O LORD, with the favour that thou bearest unto thy people: O visit me with thy salvation.

—Psalm 106:4 (KJV)

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SONG: “Sing Your Song Over Me / Do Lord, Remember” by Tim Coons, on Potomac (2012)

In his Potomac album, Tim Coons combines American folk songs—mostly African American spirituals, blues, and gospel—with originals in the same track. Track 4 is based on “Do Lord,” Roud 11971. I actually learned this spiritual not in church but in Girl Scouts! Notable recordings include those by Mississippi John Hurt [previously] and Johnny Cash.

More recently Tim has been working on collaborations with his wife Betony, a visual artist, under the name Giants and Pilgrims [previously].

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The Art Institute of Chicago, which owns Picasso’s The Old Guitarist, writes,

Pablo Picasso made The Old Guitarist while working in Barcelona. In the paintings of his Blue Period (1901–04), the artist restricted himself to a cold, monochromatic blue palette, flattened forms, and emotional, psychological themes of human misery and alienation related to the work of such artists as Edvard Munch and Paul Gauguin. The elongated, angular figure of the blind musician also relates to Picasso’s interest in Spanish art and, in particular, the great 16th-century artist El Greco. The image reflects the twenty-two-year-old Picasso’s personal struggle and sympathy for the plight of the downtrodden; he knew what it was like to be poor, having been nearly penniless during all of 1902.


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 Proper 23, cycle A, click here.

The Kiss of Justice and Peace (Artful Devotion)

La Hyre, Laurent de_The Kiss of Peace and Justice
Laurent de La Hyre (French, 1606–1656), The Kiss of Peace and Justice, 1654. Oil on canvas, 21 5/8 × 30 in. (54.9 × 76.2 cm). Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio, USA.

Lord, thou hast been favourable unto thy land: thou hast brought back the captivity of Jacob.

Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people, thou hast covered all their sin. Selah.

Thou hast taken away all thy wrath: thou hast turned thyself from the fierceness of thine anger.

Turn us, O God of our salvation, and cause thine anger toward us to cease.

Wilt thou be angry with us for ever? wilt thou draw out thine anger to all generations?

Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee?

Shew us thy mercy, O LORD, and grant us thy salvation.

I will hear what God the LORD will speak: for he will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints: but let them not turn again to folly.

Surely his salvation is nigh them that fear him; that glory may dwell in our land.

Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven.

Yea, the LORD shall give that which is good; and our land shall yield her increase.

Righteousness shall go before him; and shall set us in the way of his steps.

—Psalm 85 KJV

This psalm is a community lament, probably written during the period of Israel’s return from the Babylonian exile—to a ruined city, a fallen temple, and a mourning land. The people seek forgiveness for their covenant unfaithfulness and restoration, appealing to the benevolence God has shown them in the past. The closing section expresses confidence that salvation will come.

Verse 10 personifies four of God’s virtues: mercy (lovingkindness; Heb. hesed, Lat. misericordia), truth (Heb. emeth, Lat. veritas), justice (righteousness; Heb. tsedeq; Lat. iustitia), and peace (Heb. shalom, Lat. pax). Mercy and Truth meet together, and Justice and Peace embrace with a kiss. In medieval Christian writings these virtues came to be allegorized as the “four daughters of God,” a motif developed most famously by Hugh of St. Victor and Bernard of Clairvaux.

Many churches sing Psalm 85 at Advent or Christmastime, the birth of Jesus being a time when God’s salvation came near and “glory . . . dwell[ed] in our land.” All the virtues of God kissed each other in Christ, bringing heaven to earth. Others read the psalm as prophesying Jesus’s atoning death.

I love how Eugene Peterson translates this psalm in The Message, which suggests that these virtues of God are ones that humanity should emulate, and indeed what the gospel calls us to:

Our country is home base for Glory!
Love and Truth meet in the street,
Right Living and Whole Living embrace and kiss!
Truth sprouts green from the ground,
Right Living pours down from the skies!
Oh yes! GOD gives Goodness and Beauty;
our land responds with Bounty and Blessing.
Right Living strides out before him,
and clears a path for his passage. (vv. 9b–13)

Jesus lived rightly and bound up the brokenness he encountered, bringing wholeness. His ministry announced, verbally and in tangible ways, a kingdom to come, and we are to pave the way for that kingdom by embodying its values.

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SONG: “O God, Will You Restore Us” by Isaac Wardell | Performed by Bifrost Arts, feat. Yolonda Coles Jones, on Lamentations, 2016

O God, will you restore us,
And grant us your salvation? (×2)

I will hear what God proclaims.
The Lord our God proclaims peace.
Kindness and truth shall meet,
Justice and peace shall kiss.

O God, will you restore us,
And grant us your salvation?

“Here is the fast that I choose:
To loosen the bonds of the oppressed and break their chains.
Let righteousness and justice go out before you,
Then you will call out and I will hear.”

O God, will you restore us,
And grant us your salvation?

Near indeed is his salvation to those who call on him.
He will incline his ear and hear their prayers.
Truth shall spring out of the earth,
and justice will rain down from heaven.

O God, will you restore us,
And grant us your salvation?

The Lord will guide you on a righteous path,
His vindication will shine down forth as the dawn.
Your people will be called repairers of broken walls,
Making straight the path to proclaim his reign!

O God, will you restore us,
And grant us your salvation?

O God, will you restore us?
Please grant us your salvation.

Isaac Wardell’s “O God, Will You Restore Us” cleverly integrates Psalm 85 with Isaiah 58, which both center on themes of restoration, blessing, and social responsibility, even using similar word pictures. The refrain is based on the plea of Psalm 85:6–7, the heart of the psalm.

Opening with that plea, Wardell’s first verse then moves into Psalm 85:8, 10: God proclaims shalom. Verse two articulates what that looks like: the bonds of wickedness loosed, the oppressed set free. This verse is derived from God’s words in Isaiah 58:6, 8–9, in which he expresses the work he wants his people do be about—namely, justice. Only when his people practice true piety—emancipating captives, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless—will he answer their prayers.

The third verse is drawn from Psalm 85:9, 11, an image of abundance and refreshment. And finally, verse four sandwiches Isaiah 58:8, 12 between Psalm 85:13, which itself has resonance with Isaiah 40:3 (“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God”).

Unmetered and in a minor key, the song has the feel of a Gregorian chant.

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“The Allegory of Justice and Peace,” or “Justice and Peace Kissing,” was a popular subject in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the art of the Italian and Flemish Baroque and the French Neoclassical, including works by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Corrado Giaquinto, Pompeo Batoni, Artemesia Gentileschi, Theodoor van Thulden, Maerten de Vos, Jacob de Backer—and the artist featured above, Laurent de La Hyre. Although the image comes from the Hebrew Bible, where it is rooted in God’s dealings with his people, artists often used it for secular purposes, to express political peace. Some such paintings were gifted to rulers as a form of flattery.

The iconography that developed draws on classical symbolism and mythology, with both virtues being personified as women. Justice’s attributes include a crown, a sword, scales, and a fasces; Peace’s, an olive branch, an inverted torch (which burns weapons and armor), ears of wheat and/or a cornucopia (because peace leads to plenty), and a caduceus (one myth suggests that Mercury saw two serpents entwined in mortal combat and separated them with his wand, bringing about peace between them).

The Hebrew word for “kiss” in Psalm 85 refers seldom to an erotic kiss, says Sigrid Eder, but rather to a form of greeting or goodbye exchanged by near relatives or to the final phase of a peacemaking ritual. In medieval Europe, where the visual motif of Justice and Peace Kissing was first introduced, kissing was even more widespread than in ancient Judaism; it was common for people of equal rank, both male and female, to exchange lip-to-lip kisses. (See a compilation of medieval “kiss paintings,” showing a variety of contexts, here.) But the Baroque taste for undraped figures means that quite a few artistic renditions of Justice and Peace can be read as sexualized, as when one of the women has a bared breast, for example.

In Laurent de La Hyre’s The Kiss of Peace and Justice, the action is set within a larger landscape. An olive-wreathed Peace embraces a blue-beribboned Justice beside a fountain inscribed with Iusticia et Pax // osculatae sunt, from the Latin Vulgate. The women are surrounded by ruins—upturned roadstones, crumbled walls and detached columns, a cracked garden urn. But this an image of hope. A lion-faced spigot emits fresh, flowing water, which sheep flock to for refreshment, and trees part to reveal a vista. After the upheaval, healing and repair are underway. Justice and Peace have harmonized.

The Cleveland Museum of Art, which owns the painting, notes that its date coincides with the end of the Fronde, a period of civil war in France during which the parlement (law courts) and the nobility sought—unsuccessfully—to limit the power of the monarchy. So it’s likely the painting is an allusion to the climate of general reconciliation between parties.


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To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Proper 14, cycle A, click here.