Icons roundup

As a caveat, I am a Protestant, and while I do have a profound respect and appreciation for icons, my theology of images, including my definition of sacred art, is not the same as the Orthodox Church’s—even though elements of it are influenced by the Orthodox position. All the same, I believe it’s important for Christians of all denominations to understand the significance of icons and what differentiates them from noniconic religious images. Those lines are being blurred a bit by the new schools of iconography coming out of western Ukraine and Poland, which honor tradition even as they push it forward into the contemporary era. Here are a few icon-related videos, articles, and weblinks that I’ve gathered over the past several months.

LECTURES:

>> “The Meaning of Icons” by Fr. Maximos Constas, November 13, 2019, Notre Dame Seminary: Father Maximos Constas, professor of patristics and Orthodox spirituality at Hellenic College Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, explains the significance of icons in the Orthodox Church, with special attention to their aesthetic features and theological meaning, which is informed by the church’s Christology and cosmology. He answers such questions as, Why do the figures in icons look bored and unnatural? And, Doesn’t the Second Commandment forbid representations of Christ? He does not address icon veneration or details of the making process.

Constas spends the first fifteen minutes juxtaposing Eastern and Western approaches to religious images, discussing how the Renaissance values of humanism and naturalism came to prevail in the West. The Orthodox, he says, see this as the “secularization” or “carnalization” of sacred art—in its commitment to depicting observable realities, Western art from the Renaissance onward typically lacks overt signs of transcendence.

Constas also discusses the dogmatization of sacred images in the East. Icons are never simply works of art or pedagogical tools, he says. “They were understood to be visual artistic expressions of the church’s theology. And in the same way that church doctrines could not be changed, neither could the image in which the doctrines were embodied.”

Here are some notes I took on the talk, including some transcriptions:

  • An icon can be a panel painting, a fresco, a mosaic, a relief carving, an enameled plaque, a manuscript illumination, etc. “What ultimately defines an icon has nothing to do with artistic medium or style but rather depends on how the image is used and, most importantly, what it is believed to be. And every icon is a means of spiritual encounter and dialogue. It offers us the possibility of such an encounter because it shares in the holiness of the sacred figure whose likeness it bears.”
  • An icon is not a work of art but a work of witness that makes use of art.
  • “Icons are not simply portraits but manifestations of human persons in their new heavenly condition. They are images of the spiritual character of human beings reborn, as it were, in the womb of eternity.”
  • “The icon has the ability to evoke within me the memory of the forgotten depth of my own being. It enables me to see my true face. It orients me toward my destiny in God. And this vision, this remembrance, this knowledge fills me with unspeakable joy and profound consolation.”
  • We not only can but must make images of Christ; “to deny the icon is to deny the reality of the Incarnation.”
  • “All created things are intrinsically good, and all, therefore, have spirit-bearing potentialities. And to this essential goodness and beauty of the material world, the icon bears joyful witness. In the icon, we see matter restored to harmony and so fulfilling its true vocation, which is to reflect and transmit the divine glory. The icon, then, safeguards not only the authenticity of Christ’s physical body, but also the true value of creation in its unfallen state as created by God. Inherent in the very fact of the icon is an optimistic, affirmative vision of the material creation. As spirit-bearing matter, the icon has what we would call eschatological significance—it anticipates the final transfiguration of the cosmos at the last day, when the created world will be delivered from its present bondage to corruption, to quote St. Paul, and will enter into the glorious liberty of the children of God.”
  • Icons as:
    • windows, doors, thresholds into heaven (spiritual places of passage)
    • mirrors, a reflection of their living source
    • tracks or traces
  • 32:40: Portrayal of figures in icons
    • Alteration of the natural symmetries and proportions of the body, including the features of the face (eyes and ears enlarged; nose elongated; mouth small and closed)
    • Full frontality—wholeness, completion, perfection; makes the icon dialogical and relational
    • Serene, controlled facial expression
  • No shadows cast; illumined from within

>> “Rajaton hengellinen kuva: Kärsimyksen ja ylösnousemuksen kuvat” (Boundless Spiritual Image: Images of Suffering and Resurrection) by Ari Luomajoki, March 26, 2021, Kuopio Cathedral, Kuopio, Finland: I don’t speak Finnish, but I share this seventy-minute video for the visuals (and of course for any Finnish speakers!) and to show how contemporary icons are spreading west. In August 2016 under the leadership of Pastor Ari Luomajoki, the Lutheran Monastic Community of Enonkoski in Ihamaniemi, Finland, organized its first international icon workshop (read more here, and follow @LutheranIcon on Facebook), which attracted iconographers from Poland and Ukraine, as well as a few domestic artists. It was reprised in 2017 (I mentioned this second workshop here). Icons that came out of these workshops have been exhibited several times in Finland, and have facilitated relationships that have led to new exhibitions—such as Kärsimyksen ja ylösnousemuksen kuvat (Images of Suffering and Resurrection) at Kuopio Cathedral, which ran March 26–April 11, 2021. Follow the boldface link to see a taping of the opening, which includes opening comments, a tour, and a lecture.  

Movchan, Danylo_Descent from the Cross
Danylo Movchan (Ukrainian, 1979–), Descent from the Cross, 2021. Watercolor on paper, 33 × 38 cm.

Mindewicz, Basia_Entombment of Christ
Basia Mindewicz (Polish, 1978–), Lamentation, 2016. Acrylic on wood, 26 × 20 cm.

In the first sixteen minutes of the video, Pastor Olli Viitaniemi, one of the main organizers of the exhibition (with Pastor Salla Tyrväinen), shows screen captures from the website he built connected to the exhibition, https://sielunkuvat.net/. At around 16:24 he gives a tour of the exhibition around the church sanctuary.

At 32:48 Luomajoki—who is a Lutheran pastor in Kouvola, Finland, and has a master’s degree in art history—starts his half-hour lecture. He introduces Międzynarodowe Warsztaty Ikonopisów w Nowicy (International Iconography Workshop in Nowica) in Poland and Lviv National Academy of Arts and the Iconart gallery in Ukraine, two centers of contemporary Eastern iconography that inspired the icons project at the Enonkoski monastery in Finland. At 47:41 Luomajoki does side-by-side image comparisons to show similarities and differences across time. At 50:41 he discusses the use of images in early Lutheranism. He goes on to show some examples of religious art in Finland in the past century (including a really compelling Crucifixion painting by Helene Schjerfbeck and crucifix by Paavo Halonen!). He closes by spotlighting Hidden Life in Nazareth by Ivanka Demchuk and a Nativity by Arsen Bereza, participants in the workshop.

Luomajoki is a wonderful photographer of art. Follow him on Instagram @ari.luomajoki.

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INTERVIEW with contemporary iconographer Khrystyna Kvyk, by Kevin Antlitz: OK, Patheos blog posts are painful to read because of all the obtrusive ads, which is why I rarely link to them. But I’m making an exception for this one, where American Anglican pastor Kevin Antlitz interviews Ukrainian Greek Catholic iconographer Khrystyna Kvyk, who earned a master’s degree in sacral art in 2020. She discusses her process of painting icons, what makes an icon an icon, timelessness and transfiguration, the relationship between tradition and innovation, the idea of divine light as reflected in two of her icons, and more. I really love her work and was delighted to hear some of her own words about it.

Kvyk, Krystyna_I Am the Light of the World
Khrystyna Kvyk (Ukrainian, 1994–), I Am the Light of the World, 2021. Acrylic on gessoed wood, diameter 35 cm.

Kvyk, Khrystyna_Pentecost
Khrystyna Kvyk (Ukrainian, 1994–), Pentecost, 2021. Acrylic on gessoed wood, 45 × 45 cm.

This is the final installment of a three-part series by Antlitz. Part 1 answers, What Are Icons?, and part 2 is about “Praying Through Icons.”

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NEW CHURCH COMMISSION: Wall paintings at Iglesia de San Nicolás by Ivanka Demchuk and Arsen Bereza: Ukrainian artists Ivanka Demchuk and Arsen Bereza—a married couple!—have completed a monumental painting on the east wall of the Catholic church of Saint Nicholas in Granada. It was deeply influenced by Byzantine iconography, in which they’ve both been trained, but also contains some modern abstract and geometric elements.

The church building is from the sixteenth century and recently underwent extensive renovations, finally reopening to the public in April, which is when Demchuk and Bereza’s mural was unveiled. It portrays the Anastasis, the Eastern Orthodox image of Christ’s resurrection, which shows him breaking down the doors of hell to release its captives. In the video (which is in Ukrainian with Spanish subtitles), Demchuk describes how they painted two mandorlas behind him: the almond-shaped one symbolizing his divine light, and a round one symbolizing the cosmos.

Appearing alongside this focal point is a portrait of the church’s namesake, Saint Nicholas, with eight scenes from his life—including my favorite, where he tosses three bags of gold through the window of an impoverished family’s home. (The legend of Santa Claus—Claus being a shortened form of “Nicholas”—evolved from this story of anonymous gift giving.)

Demchuk, Ivanka_Anastasis (in situ)
Iglesia de San Nicolás, Granada, Spain, 2022, with east end mural by Ivanka Demchuk and Arsen Bereza

Demchuk, Ivanka_Resurrection
Ivanka Demchuk (Ukrainian, 1990–), Resurrection, 2018. Mixed media on wood. Design for the Church of St. Nicholas, Granada, Spain.

Demchuk, Ivanka_St. Nicholas with Scenes from His Life
Ivanka Demchuk (Ukrainian, 1990–), Saint Nicholas with Scenes from His Life, 2018. Mixed media on wood. Design for the Church of St. Nicholas, Granada, Spain.

See more photos of the project on Demchuk’s Facebook page.

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BLOG POST: “The Meaning of Melchizedek in Icons” by David Coomler: Though he’s not religious, David Coomler is an expert on Christian icons and often consults on them. On his blog he unpacks the iconography of standard types but also more unusual ones, like You Are a Priest Forever After the Order of Melchizedek, inspired by Hebrews 7. This rare type is meant to show that Jesus is both the offering and the offerer. The variation pictured below shows, I think, three representations of Christ: as crucified seraph (still quite puzzling to me, but Coomler points out that the Greek of Isaiah 9:6 refers to the Messiah as the “Messenger of Great Counsel”), Holy Wisdom (aka Sophia), and high priest—hence the man in bishops’ garb in the back. Wild!

Icon with Jesus High Priest

Juneteenth roundup: Documentary, playlists, Alvin Ailey’s Revelations

DOCUMENTARY: Juneteenth: Faith and Freedom, dir. Ya’Ke Smith: Released June 7 by Our Daily Bread Ministries, this film follows Where Ya From? podcast host Rasool Berry to Texas to talk with pastors, historians, activists, artists, and elected officials about the spiritual significance of America’s newest federal holiday, and to visit historic sites associated with it. You can watch the full seventy-five-minute film for free on YouTube. Here’s the trailer:

The interviewees, in order of appearance, are:

  • Dr. Michael W. Waters, pastor, Abundant Life African Methodist Episcopal Church
  • Sam Collins, president, Juneteenth Legacy Project
  • Lisa Fields, founder, Jude 3 Project
  • DJ Norman-Fox, historian, author of Juneteenth 101: Popular Myths and Forgotten Facts
  • Lawrence Thomas, Juneteenth organizer
  • Dr. Carey Latimore, history professor, Trinity University
  • Sharon Batiste Gillins, genealogist, Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research
  • Diane Henderson-Moore, member, Reedy Chapel AME
  • Deborah Blacklock-Sloan, historical researcher and genealogist, Rutherford B. H. Yates Museum
  • Jacqueline W. Bostic, chairman, Fourth Ward Redevelopment Authority
  • Jacqueline Bostic-McElroy, assistant district attorney, Fort Bend County
  • Rev. Art McElroy, senior pastor, Antioch Missionary Baptist Church
  • Opal Lee, civil rights activist and “grandmother of Juneteenth”
  • Lecrae, hip-hop artist

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SPOTIFY PLAYLISTS by Lara Downes (with commentary!):

>> Songs for Freedom: A Juneteenth Playlist (2021): Award-winning pianist and NPR radio host Lara Downes curated an excellent Spotify playlist for Juneteenth last year—a mix of jazz, classical, and soul. It is full of wonderful surprises, introducing me to the work of several African American composers, new and old, such as Wynton Marsalis’s The Democracy! Suite for jazz ensemble; a symphony by William Grant Still titled “Song of a New Race”; “Adoration” by Florence Price (originally written for organ but arranged here for violin and piano); “Fanfare on Amazing Grace” by Adolphus Hailstork; and “Startin’ Sumthin’” by Jeff Scott, a French hornist who performs “urban classical chamber music.”

There are also several well-known names—Billie Holiday, Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Stevie Wonder—and more recent popular artists like Jon Batiste and Rhiannon Giddens. Batiste’s arrangement of “What a Wonderful World” is gorgeous, and the music video—wow (see below). It features a group of Black nuns having fun around London—picnicking on a park bench, traversing monkey bars, sharing Jesus with passersby, eating cotton candy, riding bumper cars. It captures the tone of the song perfectly.

From Downes’s list I also really like the blues song “I Knew I Could Fly” by Allison Russell and Leyla McCalla, excerpted in the following featurette. It’s from the album Songs of Our Native Daughters, which sheds light on African American women’s stories of struggle, resistance, and hope.

Be sure to read the NPR article that introduces the playlist. Downes calls out nine of the musical selections with blurbs that provide some background, and throughout there is a smattering of historical photographs of Black flourishing in and around Washington, DC, from 1904 onward, taken by the Black-owned Scurlock Studio.

YWCA camp for girls
YWCA camp for girls. Highland Beach, Maryland, 1930. This photo is from the Scurlock Studio Collection at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

>> Songs to Believe In: A Juneteenth Playlist (2022): As I was formatting this post I realized that Downes just published a brand-new playlist for Juneteenth 2022. I haven’t had time to listen yet, but it looks awesome. “I offer you a collection of music that insists on the promise of freedom, however long in coming,” she writes. “Music that counters the shrieking dissonance of conflict with the radiant warmth of its harmonies, that offers us comfort in our sorrow and sustenance in our struggle. Songs that ground us with the steadiness of their rhythms and embrace us in the lines of their melodies. Music that brings us hope and faith and even joy, urging us to stand and fight another day, reminding us that what we are celebrating on this holiday is our freedom to believe, even in the hardest of times.”

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YOUTUBE PLAYLIST: Juneteenth Playlist by Victoria Emily Jones. Nineteen songs of freedom and faith—gospel, pop, funk, R&B, and spirituals. I wanted to choose all live performances or music videos so that there’s a visual element to engage.

One of the songs is “Clap Praise” by Diane White-Clayton, performed by Selah Gospel Choir. It’s a setting of Psalm 47, which opens, “Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy!”

Dr. Diane White-Clayton is a composer, conductor, pianist, and lecturer in ethnomusicology specializing in Black sacred music. I love the exuberance and all the body percussion in this widely performed piece of hers. I learned about Selah Gospel Choir through Bridge Projects, an art gallery in Los Angeles where they recently performed. The choir was founded in 2007 “as a space for people who want to sing gospel music birthed by the spirit of the Black church and the ancestry of Black community but are either unable to find it in their home place of worship or do not identify with being in a church at all.”

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DANCE WORK: Revelations, choreographed by Alvin Ailey: This classic thirty-six-minute work choreographed by the pioneering Alvin Ailey premiered in New York in 1960 and since then has been performed continually around the globe. This particular performance at Lincoln Center premiered online on December 6, 2020, as part of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s virtual season during the pandemic. “Using African American spirituals, song-sermons, gospel songs, and holy blues, Revelations fervently explores the places of deepest grief and holiest joy in the soul.” Ailey said it was born of the “blood memories” of his childhood in rural Texas and his affection for the Baptist church that nurtured him.

All the numbers are great, but my favorite is “Wade in the Water” (part of the “Take Me to the Water” sequence that begins at 9:41). Second favorite: “Fix Me” (5:22).

Roundup: Paula Rego’s Life of the Virgin; corito medleys; more

EXHIBITION: Paula Rego: Secrets of Faith, Victoria Miro Venice, April 23–June 18, 2022: Portuguese-born British artist Paula Rego died last Wednesday, June 8, after a seven-decade career, and in the midst of four solo exhibitions of her work—including this one at Victoria Miro’s gallery in Venice, which explores her small but significant body of religious art. [HT: Jonathan Evens]

In 2002 Jorge Sampaio, then president of Portugal, commissioned Paula Rego to create eight pastel drawings based on episodes from the life of the Virgin Mary, to be installed permanently in the chapel of the presidential palace (Palácio de Belém) in Lisbon. Titled Nossa Senhora (Our Lady), the cycle comprises Annunciation; Nativity; Adoration; Purification at the Temple; Flight into Egypt; Lamentation; Pietà; and Assumption. Rego had such fun with the commission that she produced additional works on the subject, which she decided to keep for herself. It is these, along with her watercolor studies, that are currently on display in Venice. (The original eight pastels are not allowed to leave the chapel for which they were made.)

Rego, Paula_The Flight to Egypt
Paula Rego (Portuguese British, 1935–2022), The Flight to Egypt, 2002. Watercolor and ink on paper, 8 1/4 × 11 3/4 in. (21 × 29 cm).

Rego, Paula_Descent from the Cross
Paula Rego (Portuguese British, 1935–2022), Descent from the Cross, 2002. Pastel on paper mounted on aluminum, 29 1/2 × 28 3/8 in. (75 × 72 cm).

I learned about Rego’s Marian cycle a few years ago and became enthralled by it, though I’ve never seen it in person, and most of these supplemental works are new to me. It’s unique, in part because of Mary’s corporeality. In a 2003 interview with Richard Zimler, Rego said, “If there is anything new about these representations of the Virgin, it is the fact that they were done by a woman, which is very rare. . . . It always used to be men who painted the life of the Virgin, and now it is a woman. It offers a different point of view, because we identify more easily with her.”

While the president praised the cycle and Rego insisted that “these pictures were created with admiration and respect,” an open letter to Sampaio referred to it as an “outrage done to the vast majority of the Portuguese people,” an “outrage against their religious beliefs and an offence to the Virgin Mary.” In brief: “blasphemous and scandalous.” I can see why Rego’s larger oeuvre, with its often menacing and/or transgressive imagery (not least of which is her Abortion Series), would scandalize conservative viewers, but I am a bit confused by the outrage at Nossa Senhora, which to me seems very honoring. The objectors, it sounds like, are those who prefer Mary to be more ethereal and sedate; they don’t want to see her, for example, slouching or wincing or expressing astonishment, or awkwardly struggling to hold the weight of her son’s corpse. There will always be those who resist any kind of updating of religious art. If the scenes are restaged in an unfamiliar way or rendered in an unfamiliar style or introduce a new element or the figures don’t look like how we have always pictured them, then some will oppose them outright—which is a shame, because such art often invites us more deeply into the story, helping us to see it afresh.

Definitely check out the boldface link above to view more pieces from the exhibition, as well as a video that shows Nossa Senhora in situ. For further reading, see “Paula and the Madonna: Who’s That Girl?” by Maria Manuel Lisboa and the transcript from Zimler’s interview with Rego.

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PODCAST EPISODE: “Past Hymns for the Present Moment,” Tokens, May 26, 2022: “Hymns are often sentimentalized in the American church, cast aside as merely retired songs with dated language, bearing no real appeal or relevance. But of course it may be that our old hymnals have some crucial things to say to us in our current cultural moment. This is the challenge I [Lee C. Camp] posed to Odessa Settles, Phil Madeira, and Leslie Jordan: find and perform some old hymns which might be both indicting and encouraging to the modern church, and to the world at large. Beautiful conversation and moving performances, taped at Nashville’s Sound Emporium.”

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POETRY UNBOUND EPISODES:

In each episode of this podcast from On Being Studio, host Pádraig Ó Tuama unpacks a contemporary poem in fifteen minutes. Here are two from season 5 (which just came to an end) that I particularly liked.

>> “Looking for The Gulf Motel” by Richard Blanco: “What happens when we remember?” Ó Tuama asks. “Why do we remember? Is it sweet or sad? Is it both? If you particularly associate warm memories, romantic memories, nostalgic memories with a place, and then that place is changed, does that mean that all those memories are gone?” In this poem from a collection of the same title (which I checked out from my local library at Ó Tuama’s recommendation, and it’s excellent!), Cuban American poet Richard Blanco, at age thirty-eight, reminisces about a family beach vacation from his childhood. Read the poem here.

If I were writing this poem, it would be called “Looking for The Blockade Runner,” as that’s the name of the Wrightsville Beach hotel in North Carolina that my family and I used to stay at for four days or so each summer. My little brother and I should still be running around on the waterfront lawn as our parents watch us from inside the giant window of the dining room, finishing up their breakfast. My dad should still be riding in a wave on a boogie board, teaching me technique. My mom should still be lounging at the pool in her black one-piece with sunglasses and a Vanity Fair, I feeling so grown up beside her sipping my virgin piña colada. My brother should still be exhilarated by the live hermit crabs at Wings, and I by the dried starfish and sand dollars. We should all still be walking back from the Oceanic, our bellies filled with she-crab soup and hush puppies and catch-of-the-day, down the shore at dusk.

>> “The change room” by Andy Jackson: A poet who’s interested in difference and embodiment, here Andy Jackson, who has severe spinal curvature due to Marfan syndrome, “is looking at the attention that he gets in his body and is refocusing it, extending it wider, looking at the deeper question of, what does it mean for any of us to be in a body, and how do we in bodies relate to others in bodies?” Read the poem here, from the collection Human Looking.

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CORITO VIDEOS: A corito (literally “short song”) is a type of Latino Christian worship song. Coritos have “fairly simple tunes, often with repetitive words, that the people sing by heart,” writes Justo L. González in ¡Alabádle!: Hispanic Christian Worship. “Most of them are anonymous, and pass by word of mouth from one congregation to another. For that reason, the tune or the words of a particular corito may vary significantly from one place to another. They are often sung to the accompaniment of clapping hands, tambourines, and other instruments.” To learn more about this genre, see the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship interview with Rosa Cándida Ramírez and Analisse Reyes and the entry in the Encyclopedia of Christianity in the Global South, vol. 2.

>> Joseph Espinoza sings a corito medley consisting of “Cuando el pueblo del Señor” (When the People of the Lord), “No puede estar triste” (The Heart That Worships Christ Cannot Be Sad), “Ven, ven, Espiritu divino” (Come, Come, Holy Spirit), “Cantaré al Señor por siempre” (I Will Sing to the Lord Forever), and “El Poderoso de Israel” (The Mighty One of Israel). Aaron Barbosa is on keyboard, Fabian Chavez is on percussion, and Yosmel Montejo is on bass.

>> The video below was shared March 25, 2020, in the Multicultural Worship Leaders Network Facebook group that I belong to, and it’s pure joy! The performers string together three coritos: “Le canto aleluya” (I Sing Alleluia), “Hay victoria” (There’s Victory), and “Los que esperan en Jesus” (Those Who Wait in Jesus).

Federico Apecena provides the following translation. (The slashes indicate the number of times that line or passage is sung.)

//The heart that worships Jesus cannot be sad
The heart that worships God cannot be sad//

//That’s why I sing, I sing hallelujah
The heart that worships God cannot be sad//

//There’s victory, there’s victory, there’s victory in the blood of Jesus//
The enemy will not be able to defeat our souls
//Because there is victory, because there is victory, because there is victory in the blood of Jesus//

//That’s why I sing, I sing hallelujah
The heart that worships God cannot be sad//

///Those that wait, that wait in Jesus///
//Like eagles, like eagles, their wings will open//

They will walk and will not get tired, they will run and will not stop
//New life they will have, new life they will have, those that wait, that wait in Jesus//

//That’s why I sing, I sing hallelujah
The heart that worships God cannot be sad//

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

Pentecost roundup

SONGS: The Holy Spirit Prayer is a traditional Catholic prayer that’s sung at Mass on the feast of Pentecost: “Come, Holy Spirit; fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth. O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy his consolations, through Christ our Lord. Amen.” The following two songs are settings of the first part of this prayer.

>> “Kindle in Us Your Love” by Deanna Witkowski: This funky refrain by jazz composer Deanna Witkowski “works well as a gospel acclamation, prayer response, or opening song,” especially for Pentecost. I’m planning to introduce it to my Presbyterian congregation this Sunday. (For church services, Witkowski charges a licensing fee of just $3 per use.) You can purchase the piano score here; it also appears in the Voices Together hymnal. Hear a high school choir perform the piece in the video below, with Witkowski accompanying on keys.

Come, Holy Spirit
Kindle in us the fire of your love
Come, Holy Spirit
Kindle in us your love

>> “Holy Spirit, Come to Us” by Jacques Berthier (Taizé chant): Taizé is an ecumenical Christian monastic community in France comprising more than one hundred Catholic and Protestant brothers from some thirty different countries. They welcome in around a hundred thousand young pilgrims a year, who come for prayer, Bible study, and communal work and worship. The songs of Taizé use simple musical phrases and few words that are repeated. Composed in 1998, “Holy Spirit, Come to Us” is one of 232 songs Jacques Berthier wrote for Taizé. It consists of solo verses sung by a leader over an ostinato refrain sung by the people.

Holy Spirit, come to us
Kindle in us the fire of your love
Holy Spirit, come to us
Holy Spirit, come to us

Jesus said, “It is by your love for one another
That everyone will recognize you as my disciples.”

Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this:
To lay down one’s life for those one loves.”

We know love by this,
That Christ laid down his life for us.

This is love: it is not we who have loved God
But God who loved us.

Taizé songs may be sung in public worship settings free of charge, provided their simplicity is preserved (i.e., no elaborate arrangements are permitted); for other uses, see here.

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DIGITAL DOWNLOAD: Pentecost Party: Word & Wonder is offering a free twelve-page PDF of resources for celebrating Pentecost with children. Besides a list of party ideas, it includes an imaginative retelling of the Pentecost story from the perspective of a child, a prayer guide, prompts for talking about the Holy Spirit, coloring pages, and a pinwheel craft. On their website you will also find other family-friendly resources for the church year. [HT: Global Christian Worship]

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BLOG POST: “Whitsun Week” by Eleanor Parker: “The week following Pentecost is a lost holiday. From the Middle Ages until the early 20th century the period around Whitsun was the principal summer holiday of the year – especially Whit-Monday”—which is June 6 this year. “It was the time for fairs, Morris dancing, games, ale-drinking, school and church processions, weddings, wandering into the countryside, and generally having a good time.” Gooseberries and cheesecakes were broken out for the occasion, and communities engaged in fun activities like cricket, archery, sack races, and donkey derbies.

British medievalist Eleanor Parker compiles several sources that describe the Whitsuntide festivities of medieval western Europe and calls her readers to revive the week’s outdoor merrymaking!

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SHORT FILM: Stickmatch: Created in 2020 by London-born animator William Crook, this twenty-second stop-motion animation uses autumn leaves to simulate flames. [HT: Colossal]

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Here’s a new Spotify playlist I made for the month of June.

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Previous posts on the blog that are related, either directly or indirectly, to Pentecost include:

Roundup: Spirituality of food docuseries; a psalm and a jazz band walk into a bar; and more

DOCUMENTARY SERIES: Taste and See, dir. Andrew Brumme:Taste and See is a documentary series exploring the spirituality of food with farmers, chefs, bakers, and winemakers engaging with food as a profound gift from God. Their stories serve as a meditation on the beauty, mystery, and wonder to be found in every meal shared at the table.” The Rabbit Room, who is partnering with them for a virtual cinema event (see below), says, “If, in some blessed alternate universe, Robert Farrar Capon had decided to make a documentary with Terrence Malick, guided by the foundational wisdom of Wendell Berry, then they would have made something like the pilot of Taste and See.”

Some of the people you see in the series trailer are Shamu Sadeh, cofounder of Adamah Farm and Fellowship in Connecticut, which integrates organic farming, Jewish learning, sustainable living, and contemplative spiritual practice (Adamah is the focus of the pilot film); The Soul of Wine: Savoring the Goodness of God author Gisela Kreglinger, who grew up on a winery that has been in her family for generations and who leads wine pilgrimages in Burgundy and Franconia (“a spiritual, cultural, and sensory exploration of wine”); Norman Wirzba, a professor at Duke who teaches and publishes at the intersections of theology, philosophy, ecology, and agrarian and environmental studies (see, e.g., his Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating); Kendall Vanderslice, a North Carolina baker, author, and founder of Edible Theology, which offers “curriculum, community, and communications that connect the Communion table to the kitchen table”; and Joel Salatin, who raises livestock on his Polyface Farm in Swoope, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley.

You can buy tickets to a virtual screening of the hour-long pilot, which is happening twice daily from June 3 to June 19 and includes exclusive access to a panel discussion with singer-songwriter Andrew Peterson, theologian Norman Wirzba, and director Andrew Brumme. Revenue from ticket sales will fund the production of future films, some of which are already in the works. “The funding raised will determine how far we can go and which stories we can pursue,” Brumme tells me. “We’re hopeful the virtual event will bring together enough of a supportive base of people who want to see this series made.” There’s also an option on the website to donate.

To hear more from the director, especially about the inspiration behind the series, check out the interview Drew Miller conducted with him.

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DISCUSSION PANEL: “Art Between the Sacred and the Secular,” June 6, 2022, Akademie der Künste, Berlin: Moderated by the Rev. Professor Ben Quash, this free public event (reserve tickets here) puts in conversation artist Alicja Kwade; Dr. María López-Fanjul y Díez del Corral, senior curator of the Bode Museum and the Gemäldegalerie; and Dr. Neil MacGregor, former director of the British Museum and the National Gallery, London. The questions they’ll address (see below) sound really intriguing!

Kwade, Alicja_Causal Emergence
Alicja Kwade (Polish, 1979–), Causal Emergence (December 2020), 2019. Watch hands on cardboard, framed, 175 × 175 cm.

“The abiding power of Christian motifs, ideas and styles in a host of modern and contemporary works that superficially look un- or anti-Christian indicates that visual art and Christian tradition have not become complete strangers. This invites analysis and understanding.

“How have Christian artworks and artistic traditions found new articulations, caused new departures, or provoked new subversions in the last 100 to 150 years? What forms of engagement between theology and modern and contemporary art do such developments in the relationship between art and Christianity invite and reward?

“How do viewers (Christian and non-Christian) interact with historical Christian art today, and how do modern sensibilities affect our viewing of earlier Christian artworks and artistic traditions?

“Is contemporary art an alternative to religion or can it sometimes be an ally? How do contemporary art and religion each respond to human experiences of the absurd or the tragic? What do contemporary art and the spaces in which we encounter it, tell us about the histories of both Western Christianity and Western secularisation?”

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FUNDRAISER: New Ordinary Time Album: The indie folk trio Ordinary Time is one of my favorite musical groups—I heard them in concert at a church here in Baltimore a few years ago!—so I’m really excited to see that they’re working on their sixth full-length album, their first since 2016. It will be produced by the esteemed Isaac Wardell, founder of Bifrost Arts and the Porter’s Gate. Per usual, it will comprise a mix of original and classic sacred songs, including the new “I Will Trust,” demoed in the second video below. Help fund their production costs through this Indiegogo campaign, which ends June 15. A donation of just $25 will get you an early download of the album.

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SONG: “Oh Give Thanks (Psalm 107)” by Wendell Kimbrough: Wendell Kimbrough is among today’s foremost singer-songwriters engaging with the Psalms. His adaptation of Psalm 107 [previously] is one of his most popular songs, ever since the original studio recording released in 2016. Now he’s recorded a live version with a New Orleans jazz band! It is available on most streaming and purchase platforms.

The music video was shot in February at a bar in Daphne, Alabama, with some eighty of Kimbrough’s friends and supporters, and it premiered May 13. It was his way of saying farewell to his Church of the Apostles community in Fairhope, Alabama, where he served as worship leader and artist-in-residence for eight years. He left this spring to take a new job as uptown artist-in-residence at Church of the Incarnation in Dallas.

“From the time I wrote ‘Oh Give Thanks,’ I always pictured it as a bar tune, specifically set in New Orleans,” Kimbrough says. “The image Psalm 107 conjures for me is a group of friends sitting together swapping stories of God’s deliverance and raising their glasses to celebrate his goodness.” He has noted that some people are uneasy about singing the line “We cried like drunken sailors” in church, but he points out that it’s there in the Old Testament psalm! (Recounting how God rescued a group of men from a storm at sea, the psalmist says that as the waves rose, “they reeled and staggered like drunkards / and were at their wits’ end. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, / and he brought them out from their distress,” vv. 27–28).

To learn how to play the song on guitar, see Kimbrough’s video tutorial. You may also want to check out the songs of thanksgiving I compiled on Spotify.

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CHURCH ARCHITECTURE: Santa Maria Goretti Church, Mormanno, Italy: In 2013 architect Mario Cucinella won a competition held by Italy’s assembly of Catholic bishops to create the new parish church of Santa Maria Goretti in the hilltop town of Mormanno in Calabria. Because a third of the funds had to be raised locally, the project wasn’t completed until last year. Cucinella says that gave him time to win over its most important constituency: the elderly women who go to Mass every day, and who at first “were suspicious of its modernism.” [HT: My Modern Met]

Cucinella designed an elegantly minimalist concrete building with sinuous surfaces that form the shape of a four-leaf clover, a reinterpretation, Cucinella says, of the shape of Baroque churches. The enclosure has only a few openings. “On its north side, two walls part to create an entrance—while also contributing edges to a cross cut into the curves and lit by LEDs at night. On its south side, a small window is positioned to focus afternoon sunlight on a crucifix on July 6,” Maria Goretti’s birthday.

Santa Maria Goretti Church
Santa Maria Goretti Church, Mormanno, Italy, designed by Mario Cucinella Architects, completed 2021. Photo: Duccio Malagamba.

Photo: Duccio Malagamba

Maraniello, Giuseppe_Baptismal font
Baptismal font by Giuseppe Maraniello. Photo: Duccio Malagamba.

Inside, the walls are hand-finished in plaster mixed with hemp fibers and lime, which give them a mottled, earth-toned look. The most dominant feature of the interior is the twelve-foot-deep scrim that falls from the ceiling in swirls, filtering in sunlight. Artist Giuseppe Maraniello (b. 1945) was commissioned to create the lectern, tabernacle, baptismal font, and figure of the Virgin Mary, while the simple steel and wood seating is by Mario Cucinella Design. Click on any of the three photos above to view more.

The church’s namesake, one of the youngest saints to be canonized, was stabbed to death in 1902 at age eleven while resisting a rape. She is the patron saint of purity, young women, and victims of sexual assault.

Roundup: Guite-Bell live event, Sister Corita Kent, and more

FREE LIVE EVENT: “Faith and the Imagination: Poetry, Song, and Inspiration with Steve Bell and Malcolm Guite,” June 4–7, 2022, Greater Seattle area: Join hundreds of Seattle artists and ministry leaders for four days of poetry, vocal performances, and conversation about the gift of the human imagination for the flourishing of our world, hosted by Cambridge’s distinguished poet Malcolm Guite and award-winning Canadian musician Steve Bell.

Sessions are free and open to the public and will not be livestreamed (and the conversations require advance registration):

  • June 4, 7–9pm: Live Concert (Seattle, WA)
  • June 5, 9:45–11am: Worship Service (Normandy Park, WA)
  • June 5, 7–9:30pm: A Conversation on: Faith and the Arts (Seattle, WA)
  • June 6, 6:30–8:30pm: A Conversation on: Faith and Technology (Bellevue, WA)
  • June 7, 7–9pm: A Conversation on: Faith and Work (Seattle, WA)

Guite and Bell have been collaborating for years. Below are two snippets of them performing together. In the first video Guite comedically performs (to rhythmic accompaniment!) a villanelle he wrote in response to something a woman who worked at the venue of one of his poetry talks exasperatedly said to him when his hurried photocopying caused a paper jam. The second video showcases a sonnet by Guite on the baptism of Christ, from his collection Sounding the Seasons: Seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year, and the song that Bell adapted it into, released on Keening for the Dawn.

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ESSAY: “The Listening Heart: Corita Kent’s Reforming Vision” by Michael Wright: Corita Kent (1918–1986) [previously] was an American pop artist who was also, for over three decades, a nun. Michael Wright writes about how “she became interested not just in depicting scenes from the Bible but answering this: what might happen if a Christian imagination engaged the world around us through the arts? That art might look less like an illustration from a children’s Bible and more like exploring seeing the stuff of life—even a bread bag—as dialogue partners with mysteries of faith.” wonderbread is one of four works he discusses—“a playful meditation on sacred time, wonder, and communion.”

Kent, Corita_wonderbread
Corita Kent (American, 1918–1986), wonderbread, 1962. Serigraph, 25 1/2 × 30 1/2 in.

While I do think even Kent’s biblical artworks push the genre of religious art forward, I appreciate how Wright challenges Christians to give a chance to her works that are less straightforwardly religious, as these are often the most imaginative and profound. And they, too, are “deeply Christian work.” Let’s not think so narrowly about what “Christian art” must look like!

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LIVING PRAYER PERIODICAL: Pentecost 2022: One of the organizations I work for is the Daily Prayer Project [previously], which publishes seven ecumenical Christian prayer periodicals a year, structured around the liturgical calendar. I do the curation for the Gallery section, which comprises three art images with written reflections, and the editing. Our latest edition covers June 5 (the feast of Pentecost) through August 6, and it includes prayers from India, Japan, Korea, Algeria, Italy, the Choctow Nation, and more. I’m excited to feature on the cover Corita Kent’s word picture: gift of tongues! As many of her screenprints do, it integrates image and text—in this case Acts 2:1–2a, which sprawls out through the sky and onto a billowing banner, like a sail, over a crowd of people aflame with the fire of the newly descended Spirit of God.

Pentecost LPP 2022

On the website there are options for one-time purchase or group subscription, and for digital only or print and digital.

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PRAYER: “The Lord’s Prayer, Extended Dance Mix” by Nadia Bolz-Weber: In March, actor Jennifer Garner asked Lutheran pastor and author Nadia Bolz-Weber if she could offer a prayer and a benediction on her InstaLive. Bolz-Weber vamped on the traditional words of the Lord’s Prayer, the text of which you can read at the boldface link.

I haven’t always agreed with Bolz-Weber, but this prayer is beautiful. One of the things I appreciate about her spiritual teaching is her avoidance of clichés. She gives fresh language to the experiences of faith and life in general and to theology, which often reawakens me to the beauty of God and of Christ’s gospel. Describing why she regularly turns to prayer, she says in the Instagram video:

When I don’t have enough—like if I don’t have enough patience, if I don’t have enough compassion for myself or other people, when I don’t have enough resources—prayer is this way in which I can remind myself that there is enough. That I have a connection to my own divine source. I have a connection to God. And in the heart of God there’s enough forgiveness when I don’t have enough. In the heart of God there’s enough compassion when I don’t have enough. And so for me, it’s about reminding myself of that connection.

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SONG: “Dry Bones” by Gregory Porter: From Gregory Porter’s 2021 album Still Rising, this song was inspired by Ezekiel 37. The official music video features dancing skeletons in yellow cowboy boots(!), animated by L’Incroyable Studio. The song’s bridge quotes the African American spiritual “Dem Bones.”

The first verse goes,

I won’t die, won’t bury, won’t sink
’Cause love is the spirit I drink
I’ll be free in the morning light
’Cause your touch is the medicine of life
There’s a dance to this beat, let’s shake
Every move—feel my body awake
There’s a sound—you and me are one
And your hope is the rhythm I drum

Roundup: Psalms and the arts, Ukrainian Easter Choir, and more

BLOG POST: “An open letter to pastors (A non-mom speaks about Mother’s Day)” by Amy Young: There’s disagreement among church leaders on whether Hallmark holidays, such as Mother’s Day, should be recognized during a worship service, and if so, how. Having mothers stand (while women who are not mothers in the conventional sense remain seated) can be very othering and bring up feelings of sadness or shame. It’s also a day when people are thinking about their own mothers, which can evoke a complex range of emotions.

Amy Young believes there is a way to honor mothers in church without alienating others, as well as to acknowledge the breadth of experiences associated with mothering. She has drafted a pastoral address that I find so wise and compassionate. Some women are estranged from their children. Some have experienced miscarriage or abortion. Some have had failed adoptions, or failed IVF treatments. Some gave up a child for adoption. Some have been surrogate mothers. Some are foster mothers, or are the primary guardian of a relative’s child. Some are spiritual moms. Some women want to be mothers but have no partner or have had trouble conceiving. Some were abused by their mothers. Some have lost mothers. Some never met their mother. Young puts her arms around all these people who are potentially in the pews on Mother’s Day, making room for the complexity of the day—which does include celebration!

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VIDEO: “United with Beauty: The Psalms, the Arts, and the Human Experience” by Mallory Johnson: Mallory Johnson graduated last weekend with a bachelor’s in music and worship (concentration: voice) from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. (In the fall she will be starting an MDiv program at Beeson Divinity School.) All the seniors in the Samford School of the Arts are required to complete a capstone project tailored to their individual interests and career goals. As Johnson’s interests center on theology, history, and the arts, she created a twenty-minute video rooted in the Psalms that integrates music, poetry, short excerpts of fiction, visual art, and quotes from van Gogh, Tchaikovsky, Goethe, Luther, and others, resulting in a contemplative multimedia experience.

I resonate so much with Johnson’s approach of bringing together works from different artistic disciplines to interpret one another and to invite the viewer into worship. Her curation is stellar! To cite just one example, the contemporary choral work Stars by Ēriks Ešenvalds plays as we see, among other images, an Aboriginal dot painting of the constellations Orion and Canis and a nighttime landscape by realist painter Józef Chełmoński. Another: John Adams’s double piano composition “Hallelujah Junction” is brought into conversation with Psalm 150 and a painting by Jewish artist Richard Bee of David dancing before the ark.

Józef Chełmoński (Polish, 1849–1914), Starry Night, 1888. Oil on canvas, 22 13/16 × 28 3/4 in. (58 × 73 cm). National Museum in Kraków, Poland.

The video opens with the theme of awe and wonder—expanses of sky and sea and field; the beauty and vastness of God mirrored in the natural world—and then moves to lament—of the prospering of the wicked; of exhaustion, anxiety, and other forms of mental or spiritual anguish and their causes; of personal sin—and finally ends with an assurance of grace and with exultation. Johnson shows how the longings of modern people overlap with those of the biblical psalmists. Here’s her description:

In his famous work titled Confessions, St. Augustine writes this: “Yet to praise you, God, is the desire of every human.” Is this true? What does this look like?

During my time at Samford, I have felt my heart and mind overflow with love for the arts. As a Christian, they have played a devotional role in my life. I find such joy in seeing connections between music, art, and literature that may seem unrelated on the surface. I believe that all humans have a longing for the goodness of God and we find “echoes” of Him everywhere, and most beautifully in artistic expression.

I wanted to show others how I understand the world as a Christian artist. This project is a journey through the Psalms, using art to reinforce the idea that the Psalms capture the full universal human experience. Across time and space, we have all felt the same things and we have all had the same deep longing for “something higher.”

I hope you can allow this project to wash over you. Make time to watch it alone or with someone you love, distraction-free. Turn the lights out, light a candle, watch it on a big screen with the volume up loud. Be cozy under a blanket with a cup of coffee, or grab a journal and write down anything that sticks out to you! It is my earnest desire that you will be moved by the artistic expression of humanity, and that you may realize that God has always been the goodness you most deeply desire.

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SONGS:

>> “Broken Healers” by Elise Massa: Singer-songwriter Elise Massa is the assistant director of music and worship arts at Church of the Ascension in Pittsburgh. A meditation on Christ as Wounded Healer, this song from her 2014 album of demos, We Are All Rough Drafts, was inspired by an Eastertide sermon.

Here’s the final stanza (the full lyrics are at the Bandcamp link):

Broken healers are we all
In a living world, decayed
With broken speech we stutter, “Glory”
As broken fingers mend what’s frayed
Holy Spirit, come, anoint us
As you anointed Christ the King
Who wore the crown of the oppressed
Who bears the scars of suffering

>> “Agnus Dei” by Michael W. Smith, performed by the Ukrainian Easter Choir: This is one of the few CCM songs I listened to as a young teen (Third Day’s version from a WOW CD!) that I’m still really fond of. In this video that premiered April 17, an eighty-person choir conducted by Sergiy Yakobchuk was assembled from multiple churches in Ukraine to perform for an Easter service in Lviv organized by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Michael W. Smith’s “Agnus Dei” is one of three songs they sang, in both English and Ukrainian. The name of the soloist is not given. Many of the vocalists in the choir have been displaced from their homes by the current war with Russia. One of them says, “With the war, celebrating the Resurrection means for us now life above death, good above evil.”

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PRAYER EXERCISE: “Visio Divina: A 20-Minute Guided Prayer Reflection for the Crisis in Ukraine”: Visio divina, Latin for “divine seeing,” is a spiritual practice of engaging prayerfully with an image, usually an artwork—allowing the visual to invite you into communion with God. On March 17 Vivianne David led a virtual visio divina exercise with Natalya Rusetska’s Crucifixion, hosted by Renovaré. I caught up with the video afterward and found it a very meaningful experience. As the painting is by a Ukrainian artist and represents Christ’s passion, the war in Ukraine is a natural connection point.

I appreciate David’s wise guidance, which includes these reminders:

  • Stay with the image, regardless of whether or not you ​“feel” something happening right away. There is something beautiful about faithfully waiting with that space, having dedicated it to God as a time of prayer.
  • Notice what draws your attention, what invites you into the image—let that become a space for conversation with Christ.
  • Notice what sort of emotions arise as you stay with the image. How does it awaken desire? Let these emotions lead you back to continued dialogue with God.

This kind of quiet, focused looking with an openness to encounter is something I encourage on the blog. Any of David’s three tips above I would also suggest for any art image I post—a corrective to hasty scrolling habits. Stick around for the last four minutes of the video to see dozens and dozens of impressions from participants, which may reveal new aspects of the painting to you.

Roundup: “Jesus Is Alive” (Japanese version), art competition, and more

SONGS:

>> “Jesus Is Alive” by Ron Kenoly, performed in Japanese by Ruah Worship: Ruah Worship is a vocal ensemble made up of four siblings from Japan: (from left to right in video) Joshua Mine, Julia Mine, Erika Grace Izawa (née Mine), and Marian Mine. Here they sing an a cappella arrangement of a Ron Kenoly song, translated into Japanese by Hiromi Yamamoto and Kazuo Sano. Click on the “CC” (closed captioning) button for English subtitles. [HT: Global Christian Worship]

Their harmonies are wonderful! And they have lots of great videos on their YouTube channel, a mix of original songs and songs translated from other languages or written in Japanese. For another Easter-themed song they’ve recorded, see “Because He Lives.”

>> “I Went to the Garden” by Sam Hargreaves: Written in a bluegrass style from Mary Magdalene’s perspective, this song was released this year as part of the Resurrection People resource from the UK organization Engage Worship, where you can find downloadable videos (songs, webinars), sheet music, and church service outlines that include prayers, all-age ideas, readings, poems, sermon outlines, responses, and more. Sam Hargreaves is on lead vocals and acoustic guitar, Timo Scharnowski is on backing vocals and percussion, and David Hyde is on banjo and slide guitar.

Another song from the Resurrection People pack—one that made me laugh!—is “Peter’s Slowcoach Blues.”

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ART COMMENTARY: The Sherborne Missal: On this episode of the BBC Radio 4 program Moving Pictures, host Cathy Fitzgerald talks with art historians Alixe Bovey, Kathleen Doyle, Eleanor Jackson, and Paul Binski and scribe and illuminator Patricia Lovett about a page from the medieval illuminated Sherborne Missal that introduces the Mass for Easter Sunday. Made for the Benedictine abbey of St. Mary’s in Sherborne, Dorset, around 1400, this Christian service book amazingly survived the pillaging of the English Reformation intact.

Sherborne Missal (Easter Mass)
Illuminated folio introducing the Mass for Easter Sunday, from the Sherborne Missal, Dorset, England, ca. 1399–1407. British Library, London, Add Ms 74236, page 216. Click on image to zoom in.

At the top is the historiated initial “R” for Ressurexit, with Christ emerging from his tomb. An elaborate border around the page contains scenes from the Old Testament, portraits of prophets, a bestiary-inspired scene, angels, birds, plants, fantastical knights, and two wodewoses (wild men) engaging in a bizarre confrontation. Such imagination! Learn why a daddy lion breathing on his cubs signified resurrection to the medieval mind, and in what sense Samson and Jonah are “types” of Christ.

“The thing to grasp about medieval art,” Binski says, “is that they don’t have the same categories and boundaries that we do. We have quite defined boundaries around what’s comic and what’s tragic, and what’s serious and what’s lightweight. In the Middle Ages, serious things and playful things accompanied one another; they were all part of the same thing.”

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CALL FOR ENTRIES: Chaiya Art Awards 2022/23: Submissions are now open—UK residents only—for this biannual competition on spiritually inflected visual art, this time on the theme of “Awe and Wonder.” In addition to the usual exhibition space for the longlisted finalists at London’s gallery@oxo, Chaiya has secured a second venue, the Bargehouse, which will allow for larger-scale artworks and installations. The top prize is ₤10,000. Deadline: August 31, 2022.

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CIVA TRAVELING EXHIBITION: Heads, Faces, and Spiritual Encounter: Drawn from the collection of Edward and Diane Knippers and available for rental, this exhibition comprises forty-some artworks that all focus on the human face. There are works by modern heavyweights like Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Georges Rouault, and Eric Gill, along with a few seventeenth-century portraits, African masks, and works by contemporary artists of faith. I saw the exhibition in Austin, Texas, in November and was really moved. Click on the link to browse the art and to inquire about rental.

Heads, Faces, and Spiritual Encounter

Roundup: Crucifixion and Holocaust, Indonesian Christian art, and more

VISUAL MEDITATION: “Golgotha, Auschwitz, and the Problem of Evil” by Victoria Emily Jones: Last month for ArtWay I was asked to write about Emma Elliott’s Reconciliation, a sculpted marble arm that bears both a nail wound of Christ from his crucifixion and the number tattoo of Holocaust survivor Eliezer Goldwyn (1922–2017).

Elliott, Emma_Reconciliation
Emma Elliott (British, 1983–), Reconciliation, 2016. Carrara marble, 20 × 110 × 25 cm.

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ESSAY: “The church’s reception of Jewish crucifixion imagery after the Holocaust” by Andrew Williams, AGON 48 (Winter 2015): Can Jews create Christian art? “I seek to revisit this question by examining the ways in which Jewish artists have made reference to the central symbol of the Christian faith, the crucifixion, and consider the ethical and theological horizons they open up for the church. . . . Given its place as a symbol of oppression within Judaism, and in particular its integration with the swastika during the years of Nazi power, its widespread adoption within a Jewish artistic vocabulary is remarkable.” Williams discusses “how the resulting christological imagery has been freighted with meaning connected with collective suffering, personal grief and divine abandonment.”

Levy, Emmanuel_Crucifixion
Emmanuel Levy (British, 1900–1986), Crucifixion, 1942. Oil on canvas, 102 × 78 cm. Ben Uri Gallery, London.

Jacob Epstein, Marc Chagall, Emmanuel Levy, RB Kitaj, Mauricio Lassansky, Abraham Rattner, Samuel Bak, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Adi Nes, and Seymour Lipton are among the artists engaged in this illustrated essay. The author provides an extensive bibliography if you’d like to learn more. I also want to remind you of the excellent exhibition catalog essay “Behold the Man: Jesus in Israeli Art” that I shared back in 2017.

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UPCOMING VIRTUAL EVENT: Studio Talk with Indonesian Artist Wisnu Sasongko, April 28, 2022, 8:30 a.m. ET: Organized by the Overseas Ministries Study Center at Princeton Theological Seminary, where Sasongko [previously] served as artist in residence in 2004–5. Cost: $15. Read the artist’s bio and see a sampling of his work at https://omsc.ptsem.edu/artist-sasongko/. There’s also a catalog of his paintings you can buy.

Sasongko, Wisnu_Gethsemane
Wisnu Sasongko (Indonesian, 1975–), Last Night in Gethsemane, 2005. Acrylic on canvas, 48 × 34 in.

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ESSAY: “The Christian Art Scene in Yogyakarta” by Volker Küster: Published June 27, 2012, by Protestantse Theologische Universiteit (Protestant Theological University) in Kampen, Netherlands, this essay spotlights five Indonesian artists whose work culturally contextualizes the Christian story: Bagong Kussudiardja [previously], Hendarto, Hari Santosa, Dopo Yeihan, and Wisnu Sasongko. Küster provides biographical information on the artists, including their religious backgrounds (most are converts from Islam), and discusses three paintings by each, all of which are reproduced in full color.

Want to read more by Volker Küster? His chapter on “Visual Arts in World Christianity” in The Wiley Blackwell Companion to World Christianity is excellent, and some of it is available in the Google Books preview. See also his book The Many Faces of Jesus Christ: Intercultural Christology (Orbis, 2001).

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ART VIDEO: “Caravaggio’s Taking of Christ (Great Art Explained): In 2020 art writer and gallerist James Payne launched the YouTube video series Great Art Explained, consisting of fifteen-minute videos that each explore a single historically significant artwork. Here’s one he did on an extraordinary painting of Caravaggio’s from the collection of the National Gallery of Ireland, which shows Judas’s betrayal of Christ in Gethsemane.