Roundup: Lessons & Carols, new Advent/Christmas albums, Advent Art Salon

N.B.: Upcoming dates:

  • December 4: “For God So Loved the Cosmos: A Service of Lessons and Carols,” Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • December 11: “A Dawning Light” service, Grace Mosaic, Washington, DC
  • December 14: (Virtual) Advent Art Salon, organized by Image journal

More info below!

STORY & SONG SERVICES:

>> “A Dawning Light,” Grace Mosaic, Washington, DC: On December 12 last year, I attended Grace Mosaic’s fourth annual “Dawning Light” service, an evening of Advent and Christmas gospel music and scripture readings. It was wonderful, progressing from darkness to light together, feeling collectively our longing and our joy. The service was organized by the church’s pastor of worship and formation, Joel Littlepage, who’s at the keys. The song list is below. My favorite is probably the “Emmanuel” medley around fifty-two minutes in, or the medley that follows.

  • Processional: “Wait for the Lord” by Jacques Berthier, Taizé Community
  • 9:06: “The Truth Sent from Above,” traditional English carol with music by Joel Littlepage
  • 15:50: “Come, O Redeemer, Come” by Fernando Ortega
  • 19:14: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” arr. Kimberly Williams | Soloist: Kimberly Williams
  • 26:17: “Tenemos Esperanza” by Federico J. Pagura (words) and Homero R. Perera (music), Argentina | Soloist: Melissa Littlepage
  • 35:51: “Lift Up Your Voices” by Nikki Grier, as performed by the Sunday Service Choir
  • 44:10: “O Holy Night” by Adolphe Charles Adam, Placide Cappeau, John S. Dwight, arr. Kimberly Williams | Soloist: Kimberly Williams
  • 52:13: “Emmanuel” by Solly Mahlangu, South Africa, sung in Sotho
  • 55:10: “Emmanuel” by Norman Hutchins | Soloist: Russ Whitfield
  • 59:20: “Christmas Worship Medley” (“Alpha and Omega,” “Be Unto Your Name,” “Magnificent and Holy,” “The Almighty Reigns”), as performed by Israel Houghton, arr. Dan Galbraith
  • 1:15:10: “Jesus Is the Reason” by Kirk Franklin
  • 1:20:19: “Joy to the World” by Isaac Watts (words) and George Frideric Handel (music) (congregational hymn)
  • 1:23:24: Recessional: “Joy to the World” (instrumental)

This year’s “Dawning Light” service will be held December 11 at 5:30 p.m. at Grace Mosaic in Northeast Washington, DC. A catered reception will follow. RSVP here.

>> “For God So Loved the Cosmos: A Service of Lessons and Carols,” December 4, 2022, LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan: This Sunday at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Eastern, the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship is holding a Lessons & Carols service (in-person and livestreamed) celebrating the Bible’s all-creation vision of redemption. The program is posted, and it looks great! If you’re remote, you can tune in on YouTube.

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2021 ADVENT ART SALON: Organized by Image journal, this virtual hour-long salon took place on December 14, 2021. The two highlights for me are Christopher J. Domig’s performance of the Shepherd’s monologue from “The Birth” by Frederick Buechner (12:54–18:33), in Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons, and the Rev. Dr. Lauren Winner’s reflection on Mary’s pregnancy (43:44–49:26), in which she shares, in addition to two images, an unusual Advent practice she follows, recommended to her by a Baptist pastor who is also a doula!

Leininger, Lorie_Infinite Riches in a Little Room
Lorie Dodge Leininger (American, 1926–2016), Infinite Riches in a Little Room, 1968. Woodblock print, 14 × 11 1/2 in.

Image is hosting another virtual Advent Art Salon this year on December 14 at 5 p.m. Eastern (2 p.m. Pacific). It will feature an Advent meditation by Amy Peterson, poetry readings by Karen An-hwei Lee and Jonathan Chan, a performance of Annie Dillard’s “God in the Doorway” by Rachel Ingram, a musical performance by Eric Marshall of Young Oceans (who is on my Advent playlist!), and a reading on feasting by Kendall Vanderslice. View more info here, and register here.

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NEW ADVENT/CHRISTMAS ALBUMS: All three of these are available on Spotify andother streaming services.

>> We Wait: Advent and Christmas, vol. 2 by The Many: An EP of two traditional songs and two originals by The Many, an intentionally diverse collective gathered around their “shared love of music and commitment to honest expressions of faith, peace-making, economic and racial justice, and LGBTQ+ inclusion.” They draw on indie-pop and gospel influences.

>> The Soil and The Seed Project, vol. 5: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany: The Soil and The Seed Project is a liturgical collective based in Harrisonburg, Virginia, writing music and at-home liturgies structured around the church year. They’ve just released their fifth collection, available for free through their website. The music portion includes, among other songs, retunes of a few traditional Advent hymns; the electro-hop “Restore Us,” a lament by Greg Yoder; a setting of the Beatitudes; and a setting of Psalm 96:1–2 in its original Hebrew by the late Rev. Dr. Anil Solanki, a former seminary professor of TSATSP director Seth Crissman’s (Crissman said Professor Solanki would often open his Hebrew exegesis classes by leading students in this song).

>> Christmas Hymns by Paul Zach: Four originals and twelve traditionals from one of my favorite sacred singer-songwriters. Most are for Christmas, but a few are more Advent-y. Taylor Leonhardt, Lauren Plank Goans, Keiko Ying, and Noah Zach provide supporting vocals. [Apple Music]

Advent roundup: “All Creation Waits,” Rev Simpkins on “the last things,” and more

Before I launch into the Advent content, I want to alert newcomers to, and remind old-timers of, my Thanksgiving Playlist on Spotify (introduced here), which is revised and expanded since last year. You can get an overview at this blog post. From Destiny’s Child to Yo-Yo Ma, Meister Eckhart to Mister Rogers, there’s a little something for everyone, I hope. And exemplifying the global nature of Christianity, there are songs in Hebrew, Luganda, Zulu, Swahili, Yoruba, Spanish, French, Hawaiian, Arabic, Korean, and Tamil.

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ESSAY: “All Creation Waits” by Gayle Boss: In the northern hemisphere, Advent is accompanied by a deepening of the dark and cold. In her bestselling and wholly unique Advent devotional, All Creation Waits, Gayle Boss provides twenty-five reflections that detail how wildlife—turtles, loons, black bears, and so on—adapts to these changing conditions. Animals know that the darkness is a door to a new beginning, and we would do well to embrace this wisdom. In the book, each day’s reading is paired with a woodcut illustration by David G. Klein.

The year of the book’s 2016 release, On Being published the introduction on its blog, where Boss answers, “Why animals for Advent?” and describes some of the inspiration behind and framing of the book. This year Paraclete Press released a hardcover gift edition with a new introduction and afterword.

Woodcut by David G. Klein
Woodcut by David G. Klein, 2016. In All Creation Waits, Gayle Boss tells a story of how one year, a week into Advent, she found a manger in the woods, which local children had filled with hay for the animals, then shelled corn.

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SONG: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”: There are hundreds of arrangements and recordings of this most beloved Advent hymn. Last year I featured two that I particularly like, and I think I’ll start a trend on the blog by doing the same at the beginning of each Advent—sharing two new renditions of the song.

>> Anna Hawkins. Anna Hawkins is a singer-songwriter of Irish heritage living in New Zealand. In her version of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” from her album Divine (2015), she sings the first verse in Hebrew, honoring the lyrics’ rootedness in the Hebrew scriptures. The music video was shot in Israel (cinematography by Michael Hilsden from Aspiring Productions). [HT: Global Christian Worship]

חזור חזור עמנואל
ופדה אסירי ישראל
שבגולה נאנחים
עד כי תבוא בן- האלוהים
,שמחו! שמחו! עמנואל
יבוא לכם בני ישראל

Chazor, chazor Immanu-El
Ufde asirei Israel
Shebagola ne’enachim
Ad ki tavo Ben Elohim
Simchu, Simchu, Immanu-El
Yavo lachem bnei-Israel

[English translation:]
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel

>> CeCe Winans, arr. Alvin Love III. CeCe Winans is a gospel legend. On Something’s Happening! A Christmas Album (2018), she collaborated with her son, Alvin Love III, who wrote the lush orchestral arrangements and produced the record. “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” opens with a celesta, which sounds like a music box or twinkling stars and has long been associated with the supernatural. The accompaniment is played by the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Tim Akers.

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VISUAL MEDITATION: “I Corinthians 7:29-31: God Only Knows” by Lynn Miller: The Rev. Dr. Lynn Miller is an author, ecclesiastical artist, workshop leader, and Presbyterian minister who holds a BFA in graphic design, an MA in art history, an MFA in creative writing, an MDiv, and a DMin. From 2014 to 2021 she ran the blog Art&Faith Matters, curating a diversity of images based on the liturgical calendar. In this post she guides us in looking at the surrealist painting At the Appointed Time by Kay Sage, which features a mysterious, draped figure or object and lines receding toward the horizon. “What do you see in the painting? What do you think about what you see? What do you wonder about this painting?” She posits a number of possible interpretations.

Sage, Kay_At the Appointed Time
Kay Sage (American, 1898–1963), At the Appointed Time, 1942. Oil on canvas, 81.3 × 99.1 cm. Newark Museum of Art, Newark, New Jersey.

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PODCAST SERIES: “Whispered Light: Advent Reflections on Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell” by Matt Simpkins: In this four-episode podcast series from December 2020, the Rev. Matt Simpkins, an Anglican priest and musician from Essex, explores the four themes traditionally contemplated by Christians during Advent—death, judgment, heaven, and hell—through four old American folk songs. He performs the songs, giving their history and using them as a launchpad for spiritual and theological reflection, which also integrates discussion of the Psalms. He addresses misconceptions about these “last things,” tracing the thread of hope and redemption that runs through them all. Just twenty to thirty minutes each, the episodes are available on your favorite podcast app and on YouTube (links below).

Simpkins records music under the name Rev Simpkins & The Phantom Notes. Check him out on Spotify or wherever you listen to music.

Roundup: Virtual artist residency, song for All Saints’ Day, Sliman Mansour, and more

VIRTUAL ARTIST RESIDENCY: 2023 Inbreak Residency: Led by Dea Jenkins, the organization Inbreak, which promotes social healing through the arts, is hosting its third annual (virtual) residency, open to US-based artists of any discipline interested in exploring the intersections of art, faith, and race in the United States. The residency provides a collaborative environment and opportunities for artistic development and creative leadership growth, with group workshops, group feedback sessions, studio visits, and a curriculum featuring a curated selection of viewings, readings, and dialogue prompts. It culminates in a live or virtual exhibition.

Applications are due by November 20, 2022; you are required to submit work samples, an artist statement and/or short bio, and a community-focused project proposal. Four applicants will be selected for the 2023 cohort, which runs from January to May, and each given a $500 stipend.

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SONG: “Lux Aeterna”: “Lux Aeterna” (Eternal Light) is the Communion antiphon for the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass. The traditional Latin text has been set to music by many composers. Recorded at All Hallows’ Gospel Oak in London in May 2021, this performance by the Gesualdo Six is of the setting by Spanish Renaissance composer Cristóbal de Morales. I share it in anticipation of All Saints’ Day on November 1.

The lyrics translate as follows:

May eternal light shine upon them, Lord,
with your saints forever, for you are good.

Grant them eternal rest, Lord,
and may light perpetual shine upon them,
with your saints forever, for you are good.

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VIDEO: “A priest, a rabbi, a curator and an artist look at The Finding of Moses: This ten-minute film from the National Gallery in London features interviews with the Rev. Ninus Khako, Rabbi Dr. Deborah Kahn-Harris, Foundling Museum Director Caro Howell MBE, and artist Ali Cherri on The Finding of Moses (early 1630s) by Orazio Gentileschi.

The video came out of the Interfaith Sacred Art Forum and the Sacred Art in Collections pre-1900 Network, both launched last year as part of the National Gallery’s Art and Religion research strand. In their inaugural 2021–22 season, the theme was “Crossing Borders,” and they have used two paintings in the museum’s collection as a foundation for wide-ranging events and activities. The theme for 2022–23 is “The Art of Creation,” and the two paintings around which conversations and activities are based are Rachel Ruysch’s Flowers in a Vase (1685) and Claude Monet’s Flood Waters (1896).

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VIDEO: “Introducing Annie Dillard” by Tish Harrison Warren: In this video from the Trinity Forum, Anglican priest and writer Tish Harrison Warren introduces the forum’s fall reading, the Pulitzer Prize–winning classic Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1975) by Annie Dillard. The book comprises Dillard’s evocative reflections on her time spent wandering about and observing the lively woods, creeks, and natural world of Virginia’s Roanoke Valley while she convalesced from illness.

“She [Dillard] has taught me, in the words of Eugene Peterson, to pray with my eyes open,” Warren says. “She has taught me to notice God at work in the world in ways that I wouldn’t.”

I hear Dillard quoted all the time, but I’m embarrassed to say that I have not yet read this quintessential book of hers! Though I do own it. I have now pulled it off the shelf and put it in my “to read imminently” stack. 😊

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VISUAL MEDITATION: “The Taste of Palestine” by Meryl Doney, on the art of Sliman Mansour: Sliman Mansour is a Palestinian Christian artist whose work centers on the Palestinian struggle against the Israeli occupation. This ArtWay article is a great, concise introduction to his work, spotlighting four of his paintings: Picking Olives; The Flight to Egypt; Hagar; and The Holy Family in an Olive Grove.

Mansour, Sliman_Flight to Egypt
Sliman Mansour (Palestinian, 1947–), The Flight to Egypt, 1984. Oil on canvas.

On two related notes:

Roundup: Religion and Contemporary Art

WEBSITE LAUNCH: The Foundation for Spirituality and the Arts: From a September 20 press release: “The Foundation for Spirituality and the Arts is pleased to announce the debut of our new website, fsa.art. Complementing in-person programming in Charleston and New York City, fsa.art functions as FSA’s online curatorial wing. It hosts both commissioned and curated content as well as a selection of features spotlighting significant artists, scholars, exhibitions, and publications from recent decades. We hope this site will be a valuable and inspiring resource that fosters dialogue, community, and innovation in the field of spirituality and the arts.”

FSA is “devoted to nurturing connections between spirituality and contemporary art. . . . By encouraging a mutual flow of creativity and faith from both artists and scholars, we hope to initiate fresh channels of spiritual enrichment from new depths of artistic expression. Nurturing innovative and experimental collaborations between a wide range of communities, we aspire to integrate estranged voices together in a spirit of harmony, openness, and inquisitiveness.”

At the heart of their programming is their annual series of residencies, open to visual artists, performers, composers, choreographers, curators, writers, and theologians. Visit their website to find out more, and follow them on Instagram @foundation.spirituality.arts. Below are four artworks I’ve encountered through their social media postings.

Kristen, Tom_Gemeinsam
Tom Kristen (German, 1968–), Gemeinsam (Together), 2019. Jewish Synagogue and Community Center, Regensburg, Bavaria. Photo: Marcus Eben. Floating above the center’s atrium, this gilded bronze spiral text is taken from Rose Ausländer’s poem “Gemeinsam”: “Vergesst nicht, Freunde, wir reisen gemeinsam. . . . Es ist unsre gemeinsame Welt.” (“Don’t forget, friends: we travel together. . . . It is our common world.”)

Viola, Bill_Catherine's Room (still)
Bill Viola (American, 1951–), Still from Catherine’s Room, 2001. Color video polyptych on five flat panel displays, 18:39 minutes, performer: Weba Garretson. Photo: Kira Perov, courtesy Bill Viola Studio.

Agha, Anila Quayyum_Intersections
Anila Quayyum Agha (Pakistani American, 1965–), Intersections, 2013. Lacquered wood and halogen bulb, 78 × 78 × 78 in. (cast shadows: 43.5 × 43.5 × 16 ft.). Installation view at Rice Gallery, Houston, Texas, 2015.

Mingwei, Lee_Our Labyrinth
Lee Mingwei (Taiwanese American, 1964–), Our Labyrinth, 2015–present. Photo: Stephanie Berger. In this performance work, single dancers, dressed in floor-length sarongs and wearing ankle bells, take turns sweeping a mound of rice in patterns on the floor in a designated gallery space. This iteration from 2020 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was a collaboration with choreographer Bill T. Jones, and the performer in the photo is I-Ling Liu. [Watch on YouTube]

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LECTURE: “The New Visibility of Religion in Contemporary Art” by Jonathan A. Anderson: Religion is becoming more visible in contemporary art and more discussable, says artist, art critic, and theologian Jonathan Anderson in his September 17 talk sponsored by Bridge Projects in Los Angeles. Danh Vo, Kris Martin, Andrea Büttner, Deana Lawson, Arthur Jafa, Genesis Tramaine, Hossein Valamanesh, Theaster Gates, Zarah Hussain, Francis Alÿs, Louise Bourgeois, Sol LeWitt, Sean Kelly, Gerhard Richter, James Turrell—these are just some of the many contemporary artists who have engaged substantively with religion in their work, either through form or content or through the ways in which they frame the work’s central questions. Curators and art historians are recognizing this more and more, and it’s being reflected in exhibitions and scholarship. Anderson highlights several such instances from the past two decades, celebrating religion’s increased visibility but also pointing out where there’s room for improvement. The talk starts at 6:36:

At 28:58, Anderson outlines four interpretive horizons, or fundamental hermeneutics, within which religion is becoming visible, intelligible, and meaningful in contemporary art: anthropological (31:00), political (37:43), spiritual (42:51), and theological (48:42). He discusses the problems and possibilities of each—ways in which it has been productive or insightful, and ways in which it’s limiting. The fourth horizon, the theological, is the least developed in the art world and the most contested, he says.

He concludes,

A more concentrated and well-developed mode of theological inquiry has much to contribute to the history, theory, and criticism of contemporary art without being reductive, but instead opening much of what’s going on in contemporary art. And so going forward, I do envision a mode of study that keeps all these horizons in view, and a mode of discourse that keeps all these horizons in view, while especially developing the potential for the modes of critical writing capable of addressing theological conceptualities, genealogies, and implications that are in play in so much of the art being made today. And that involves thinking better from both directions, developing concepts and capacities—skills, really—where art criticism might operate with a more agile, historically sensitive understanding of religion and theology (a richer theological intelligence), and theology might operate with a more agile, historically sensitive understanding of art and criticism (a richer art historical intelligence, or visual intelligence).

The last half hour is Q&A. What he says at 1:03:59 is fascinating! If you enjoyed this talk, check out, too, the one he gave ten years ago, “The (In)visibility of Theology in Contemporary Art Criticism,” which I published detailed notes on and which became a chapter in the book Christian Scholarship in the Twenty-First Century: Prospects and Perils, edited by Thomas M. Crisp, Steve L. Porter, and Gregg A. Ten Elshof.

As a side note, Anderson teaches two courses at Duke Divinity School, where he is a postdoctoral associate in the DITA program: “Contemporary Art and Theology” and “Visual Art as Theology.” The latter looks at the history of primarily Christian art as a domain of primary theological reasoning and biblical commentary, done in visual-spatial terms rather than in verbal-written terms. His hope is that divinity students—future biblical scholars, theologians, pastors, etc.—will become more literate in the visual-spatial forms of theology. I mention this because it’s what I’m about too!

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PODCAST EPISODE: “Jacquiline Creswell: Curating in Sacred Spaces,” Exhibiting Faith: Hosted by critic and art historian David Trigg, this is the first episode of a brand-new podcast about the intersection of art and faith, featuring a range of guests for whom those two elements have played a significant role. First up is Jacquiline Creswell, a visual arts adviser and curator who has, since 2009, organized more than forty-five exhibitions in sacred spaces. She has been central to the development of the visual arts programs at Salisbury, Ely, and Chichester Cathedrals. She discusses some of the projects she has worked on and how they’ve been received by the congregation and the wider public, how the setting of an artwork can alter its meaning and the way people engage with it, the logistical challenges of placing art in historic churches, and more.

I was interested to learn that she is from a Jewish background, even though most of her jobs have been with Christian institutions. Check out the eight objectives she lists on her website, which have guided her curatorial work and which I find exciting; the first is “To present artwork which is engaging, that encourages a spiritual response and may at times challenge conventional perceptions.”

Pope, Nicholas_Apostles Speaking in Tongues
Nicholas Pope (British, 1949–), The Apostles Speaking in Tongues Lit By Their Own Lamps, 1996, installed 2014. Thirty-three figures in terracotta, metal, wick, paraffin, and flame. Trinity Chapel, Salisbury Cathedral. Photo: FXP, London.

Haebich, Jayson_Star of Bethlehem
Jayson Haebich (born in Australia, living in Hong Kong and London), Star of Bethlehem, 2016. Interactive laser installation at Salisbury Cathedral, England.

New episodes of Exhibiting Faith are released once a month. The second (and latest) episode is an interview with Dubai-born, Birmingham-based textile artist Farwa Moledina, whose Women of Paradise (2022) scrutinizes the portrayal of Muslim women in the canon of Western art. Moledina also discusses her experience of Ramadan during lockdown and how it resulted in By Your Coming We Are Healed (2020), two sufras (floor mats for communal dining) made up of photographs of plated dishes submitted to her by participants in the virtual iftars she hosted, arranged according to Islamic design principles of symmetry, abstraction, and recurrence.

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SHORT FILM SERIES: At the Threshold: Theology on Film, dir. Sean Dimond: At the Threshold is the latest project from UNTAMED, a documentary film studio in Seattle that “pursue[s] stories of spiritual and narrative depth, with a bias for hope, risk, and redemption.” Filmed in Belgium, Germany, and the UK, it profiles six Christian theologians from Europe, each one humble, open-hearted, and reflective.

  1. “The Open Narrative of Love” with Lieven Boeve, Leuven, Belgium: Boeve reflects on how God interrupts people’s self-enclosed stories. Christianity, he says, is itself an open narrative, not a closed one, and it leads us not away from the world but right into it. One of the filming locations in this short is a rural landscape in Borgloon where Pieterjan Gijs and Arnout van Vaerenbergh built Reading between the Lines, an open-air chapel created to imagine a church inseparable from the world around it.
  2. “The Greater Part” with David Brown, St Andrews, Scotland: Brown talks about prayer, the Bible as part of a living tradition, the church’s call to be creatively other, and the only time he ever saw his father cry. He also cites some of the poets, novelists, and composers/singer-songwriters he admires.
  3. “The Radiance” with Perry Schmidt-Leukel, Muenster, Germany: “The fractcal structure of religious diversity” is of deep interest to Schmidt-Leukel, a Christian who draws insights from Buddhism and who was criticized by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger for doing so.
  4. “Danseuse” with Ann Loades, Durham, England: A feminist theologian, Loades is one of only two people ever to be awarded a CBE for services to theology. The Christian tradition is responsible for the devaluation of women, she says, but that tradition also contains resources for its own transformation. She also discusses dance as prefiguring the resurrection body.
  5. “To Imagine That” with Garrick Allen, Glasgow, Scotland: Allen sees the book of Revelation as being about how to live in a system that is unjust. “This is John’s response to an oppressive system, and it gives us space to rethink what a just system would look like in our world—to begin to imagine that.”
  6. “Begin with the End” with Judith Wolfe, St Andrews, Scotland: “We have to take seriously the claim that we do not yet live in the world as it will be, and as we will be, and that we have to live towards an eschaton, a presence of God in the world, which is not only not yet apparent, but is not even comprehensible to us. So how do we live authentically in this life?”

From the studio: “Theology offers a home for the vast and the intimate. No question is foreclosed. Visually immersive, poetic, and global in scale, these narrative and theological short films invite viewers into a conversation about life and its limits which is as vibrant as it is challenging. This series isn’t about promoting theological ideas we necessarily agree with, but rather we are exploring the connections between vulnerable life, big questions, and the diversity of theological work being done today. It’s not that we are on the threshold of discovering God, but that perhaps God is already on the threshold of our lives, knocking to enter through our wounds, deepest desires, and questions.”

Music Roundup

SPOTIFY PLAYLIST: October 2022 by Victoria Emily Jones: This month’s thirty-track assortment includes the jaunty “Now I’m on My Way” by Howard Smith and Frederick D. Fuller, performed by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir under the direction of Carol Cymbala, and the recently released “Good Tree” by the Hillbilly Thomists, a bluegrass band of Dominican friars.

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GOSPEL PERFORMANCE: “I’ve Got the Joy / It Is Summertime in My Heart / Give Me Oil in My Lamp” and “Do Lord” by The Four Girls: Did you know that Hollywood Golden Age actress Jane Russell was part of a traveling gospel music quartet, The Four Girls? In 1954, a year after starring with Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, she sang this medley on an Easter Sunday broadcast alongside fellow group members Connie Haines, Beryl Davis, and Rhonda Fleming (replacing Della Russell), who were Baptist, Episcopalian, and Mormon, respectively. Quite the interdenominational group! All four were active in the Hollywood Christian Group, founded in 1947 by Henrietta Mears.

That choreo, haha! And boy are they aggressive in their evangelism/catechesis of that little girl in the last number!

The Four Girls grew out of an impromptu performance at a fundraising event for St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Los Angeles in fall 1953. A representative of Coral Records was in the audience, and he signed the women immediately. Their recording of the spiritual “Do Lord” sold over 2 million copies.

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I get a kick out of Jack Black’s hammy character performances, especially the ones that involve singing. In each of the last two movies I saw him in, he plays a strangely likeable Christian criminal based on a real-life person.

In the dark comedy Bernie (2011) by Richard Linklater, Black plays Bernie Tiede, a small-town Texas mortician who befriends a wealthy widow but, when the emotional toll of her possessiveness and persistent nagging becomes too much, ends up killing her. The opening credit sequence (which comes after a scene of Bernie teaching a class, with great tenderness, on how to prepare a deceased body for viewing) shows him driving in his Lincoln Town Car, jamming to the Florida Boys’ “Love Lifted Me” on the radio. Millennium Entertainment has released a singalong version on YouTube, featuring a take from the movie with added lyrics and a bouncing Jack Black head!

Six years after this Golden Globe–nominated performance, Black starred in The Polka King (2017) as Polish American polka legend Jan Lewan, who was imprisoned in 2004 for running a Ponzi scheme. Although he’s a con artist, the movie portrays him as sympathetic—bright-eyed, kind, gentle—and devoutly Catholic. (Yes, he really did meet the pope!) The end credits feature Black as Lewan singing “Thank You So Much, Jesus,” written by Stephen Kaminski, Maya Forbes, and Wallace Wolodarsky for the movie. The repeated “dziekuje” is Polish for “thank you.” Enjoy the accent.

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SONG: “Morning Star Rise” by Josh White: Josh White is a singer-songwriter, the founding pastor of Door of Hope church in Portland, Oregon, and cofounder, with Evan Way, of Deeper Well Records. In the early 2010s he formed the neo-gospel collective The Followers, and encouraged one of his parishioners, Liz Vice, to get involved as a vocalist. She is featured on Deeper Well’s first record, Wounded Healer (2012), including on the song “Morning Star Rise”—performed live in 2012 in the video below, with White on lead. (Vice is on the left; Holly Ann is on the right.)

White recognized Vice’s musical talent and wrote a batch of songs for her to record on her own, which became her debut solo album, There’s a Light (2015)—an immense hit. Yay for pastors who notice and nurture the gifts of their people!  

Roundup: Upcoming Texas events (music of the Psalms, art seeking understanding) and more

UPCOMING EVENTS:

>> “The Music of the Psalms in Church History” by W. David O. Taylor, Christ Church, Austin, Texas, October 1, 2022: “For two thousand years, Christians have found the Psalter to be an invaluable resource for worship and prayer. And, like the original psalmists, Christians have felt compelled and inspired to set the text of the psalms to music, of all sorts: from a cappella to choral, from folk to rock, from reggae to gospel, and more. In collaboration with local musicians, David Taylor, Associate Professor of Theology and Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary and author of Open and Unafraid: The Psalms as a Guide to Life, will explore how Christians in different periods of church history have sung the psalms within corporate worship,” spanning the apostolic, medieval, Renaissance, Reformation, modern, and contemporary eras.

Psalms (David Taylor)
Left: Icon of the Holy Prophet-King David. Right: Celtic Cross with Bible Page, encaustic by Phaedra Jean Taylor.

A choir will perform several chants (Hebrew, Byzantine, Gregorian) and a motet, and then attendees will be led in a handful of Psalm-based songs, from a hymn of German origin to an African American spiritual to CCM classics. Along the way Taylor will provide historical context and trace a narrative.

Sponsored by the Brehm Center at Fuller Theological Seminary, the event is free, but registration is required and filling up; reserve your spot here. It will be recorded and eventually posted on the Fuller Studio YouTube channel (whether there will be a livestream is still TBD).

>> Baylor Symposium on Faith and Culture: Art Seeking Understanding, Baylor University, Waco, Texas, October 26–28, 2022: Every fall the Institute for Faith and Learning at Baylor University organizes a symposium around a given topic, and this year’s topic is the arts. Registration is still open! The standard cost is $250, or $125 for students. “The notion of art seeking understanding (ars quaerens intellectum) invites association with the notion of faith seeking understanding (fides quaerens intellectum). Just as faith is a gift of grace that grows toward deeper knowledge, so it seems that art is a gift whose practice leads to a deeper order of understanding. This seems true not only for the person who experiences art, but also the artist—whether musician, painter, sculptor, or poet. The 2022 Baylor Symposium on Faith and Culture invites contributions from across the disciplines (including scholars, artists, and other practitioners) as we explore together how art seeks understanding and thus contributes to human flourishing.”

Their line-up of presenters includes several from within Baylor’s own distinguished ranks, such as composer and liturgist Carlos Colón, theologian Natalie Carnes, art historian Heidi J. Hornik, and literature scholar David Lyle Jeffrey, in addition to famous outside guests like theologian-pianist Jeremy Begbie, contemporary nihonga painter Makoto Fujimura, and Early Christian art historian Robin M. Jensen. See a full list by clicking on the boldface link above.

Books
Just a fraction of the books authored by the eminent speakers at the upcoming Baylor symposium

The website does not provide a list of presentation titles, but among the topic suggestions on its call for proposals page are how art contributes to moral and spiritual perception, sensitivity, and/or character formation; the power of imagination; the relation of poetic art to the communication of moral truth; art therapy in pastoral counseling; how musical settings of biblical texts add value to those texts; and how to reconcile the making of religious art with the commandment in Exodus 20:4.

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SONG: “The Lord Is My Light” by Lillian Bouknight | Performed by the Notre Dame Folk Choir, dir. Emorja Roberson: “Very little is known about Lillian Bouknight (d. 1990), except that she was an African American from North Carolina, and a soloist and composer in the Pentecostal Holiness movement in the Aliquippam, PA, Community, also serving as a prayer warrior and on the Mother’s Board.” This setting of Psalm 63 that she composed appears in the African American Heritage Hymnal #160.

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VIDEO: “Theology through the Arts” by Jeremy Begbie: A pioneer of the field of theology and the arts, UK-born and US-based scholar Jeremy Begbie is the headliner for the Baylor symposium mentioned above. I met him briefly at a Duke conference a few years ago, and he’s such a delightful person, not to mention a phenomenal teacher who often dispenses wisdom from a piano bench. If you’re not familiar with his work, this fourteen-minute video is a great introduction to it. He’s all about demonstrating how instrumental music (his specialization is Western classical) can help unlock the truths of the Christian gospel. Here he talks about the given, the improvised, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

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BLOG: Pray with Jill Geoffrion: The Rev. Dr. Jill Kimberly Hartwell Geoffrion is a spiritual director, pilgrim guide, workshop leader, and retreat facilitator who spends at least three months a year at Chartres Cathedral in France, known for its architecture, sculpture, prayer labyrinth, and the world’s most extensive collection of twelfth- and thirteenth-century stained glass. An ordained American Baptist minister with an MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary and a PhD in women’s studies and Christian spiritualities, she is the author of Visions of Mary: Art, Devotion, and Beauty at Chartres Cathedral (2017) (beautifully produced, from Paraclete Press), Pondering the Labyrinth: Questions to Pray on the Path (2003), and more. Contact her if you are interested in a spiritually based visit to Chartres or in having her present to a group.

Geoffrion is also a professional photographer, and she shares many of her beautiful art photographs from Chartres on her blog, providing specific prompts for prayer and meditation based on the images. For example, in a post on the stained glass panel of Saint Martin bringing a man back to life, she writes, “Think of what is dead and needs resurrection in you, in those you love, in those who live within twenty-five miles of you, and in whatever country you call home. Then, take a very deep exhale and plead with God, ‘Bring resurrection!’” Or, reflecting on the sixteenth-century Nativity sculpture group attributed to Jehan Soulas, she invites us to “imitate one or more of the sets of eyes in the image . . . as you pray, ‘May I see with Your eyes, God. Teach me to see anew.’”

Saint Martin bringing a man back to life (with two onlookers), 1217–20, stained glass window panel in the south ambulatory at Chartres Cathedral, France. Photo: Jill Geoffrion.

Soulas, Jehan_Nativity
Jehan Soulas, Nativity, 1529, from the choir screen in Chartres Cathedral, France. Photo: Jill Geoffrion.

Geoffrion’s blog is a wonderful free resource for those looking to engage prayerfully with the art treasures of Chartres Cathedral. New content is typically posted in batches a few times a year, and the archive goes back to 2015. Sometimes Geoffrion digitally isolates certain details of the stained glass to aid in a more concentrated focus.

As I said when I featured the Tree of Jesse window several years ago, Chartres is high on my list of places to visit, for aesthetic, historical, and spiritual reasons. I hope to make it there sometime in the next five years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And one more quote from Guite!

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

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

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MUSIC:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The other artworks she glosses are:

The last half hour of the video features audience engagement.

Roundup: West African praise medley, reading poetry and fiction, and more

SPOTIFY PLAYLIST: August 2022 by Victoria Emily Jones: Most months I compile thirty songs and other musical selections into a nonthematic playlist as a way to share good music, mostly from the Christian tradition but otherwise Christian-adjacent. This month’s list includes a traditional Black gospel song performed by Chris Rodrigues and professional spoon player Abby Roach (featured here); a Zulu song from South Africa about holding on to Jesus (bambelela = “hold on”); a song in the voice of Christ Our Mother by Irish singer-songwriter Sinéad O’Connor, from her album Gospel Oak; a portion of Barbados-born Judy Bailey’s Caribbean-style setting of the Anglican liturgy; a brass arrangement of a Golden Gate Quartet classic; Palestrina’s beautiful multivoiced setting of a Latin hymn by Bernard of Clairvaux; a future-looking song of celebration by country artist Naomi Judd, who passed away in April; a condensation of “In Christ Alone” by Texas soul artist Micah Edwards; and more.

The two videos below are from the list: a medley of the Twi praise chorus “Ayeyi Wura” (King of Our Praise) from Ghana and “Most High God” from Nigeria, led by Eric Lige at the 2018 Urbana missions conference, and a new arrangement by Marcus & Marketo of “I’ve Got a River of Life,” a song that I have fond memories of singing in children’s church as a kid (with hand motions!) (you can hear a more standard rendition here). The first line is derived from Jesus’s saying in John 7:38 (“Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water”), and the refrain “Spring up, O well!” comes from Numbers 21:17, where the Israelites praise God for providing them water in the desert.

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Reading books is a key way that I grow intellectually and spiritually, and books are often where I find content to highlight on the blog, be it poems, visual art, people, or ideas. Because I’m not affiliated with an academic institution, I don’t have easy access to a lot of the books I need for my research, and I rely heavily on my personal library (as well as the Marina interlibrary loan system). If you’d like to support the work of Art & Theology, buying me a book from my wish list is a great way to do that! I’ll consider it a birthday gift, as my birthday is Saturday. 😊

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ESSAYS:

>> “Poetry’s Mad Instead” by Abram Van Engen, Reformed Journal: “I believe that poetry has a particular place in the church. I think it responds directly to the call and the invitation of God to ‘sing a new song,’” says Abram Van Engen, chair and professor of English at Washington University in St. Louis and cohost of the podcast Poetry for All. “And in the singing of poetry, the faithful can begin to understand and experience and engage God’s world afresh.” He adds, “Poets often invite us to practice thinking and noticing at a different pace. It is only at a slower speed of processing that we can begin to observe what we have too often missed or ignored.”

In this essay, Van Engen walks readers through the sonnet “Praise in Summer” by Richard Wilbur, which is what he begins with whenever he teaches poetry at church. He teaches you some of the poet’s tools so that you can feel more confident in approaching poems on your own.

>> “In Defense of Fiction: Christian Love for Great Literature” by Leland Ryken: An excellent article, by a professor emeritus of English at Wheaton College and author of The Christian Imagination: The Practice of Faith in Literature and Writing, A Complete Handbook of Literary Forms in the Bible, and more. “With so many valuable nonfiction books available to Christians, many wonder if reading fiction is worth the time. Others view fiction as a form of escapism, a flight from reality and the world of responsibility. But rightly understood, reading fiction clarifies rather than obscures reality. The subject of literature is life, and the best writers offer a portrait of human experience that awakens us to the real world. Fiction tells the truth in ways nonfiction never could, even as it delights our aesthetic sensibilities in the process. Reading fiction may be a form of recreation, but it is the kind that expands the soul and prepares us to reenter reality.”

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VISUAL MEDITATION: On Christ and the Samaritan Woman by Jacek Malczewski, by William Collen: William Collen introduced me to this unusual painting on the subject of Christ’s meeting with the woman at the well from John 4—a subject the artist painted several times (e.g., here, here, and here). Whereas Christ is traditionally shown pontificating to the woman with an air of formality, here there is an appealing casualness to their interaction, and the woman dominates the composition.

Malczewski, Jacek_Christ and the Samaritan Woman
Jacek Malczewski (Polish, 1854–1929), Christ and the Samaritan Woman, 1912. Oil on plywood, 92 × 72.5 cm. Borys Voznytskyi Lviv National Art Gallery, Ukraine.

Collen is an art writer and researcher from Omaha, Nebraska, who is a Christian and who blogs at Ruins. I’ve enjoyed following his posts, which include “The proper response to an art of sorrow”; “Dikla Laor’s photographs of the women of the Bible”; how household chores are approached differently by Koons, Picasso, Degas, and Vermeer; “Good art / bad art / non-art”; and “Artists and agency: assumptions and limits.” He writes in a conversational manner that’s really refreshing.

Roundup: Feast of Mary Magdalene; holiness of people and place; black squares

Richardson, Jan_The Hours of Mary Magdalene
The Hours of Mary Magdalene by Jan L. Richardson

ART CYCLE: The Hours of Mary Magdalene by Jan L. Richardson: July 22 is the feast day of Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’s closest disciples and the first witness and preacher of the Resurrection. American artist, writer, and minister Jan L. Richardson created a sequence of collages picturing events from her life, drawing on both the biblical narratives and medieval legends. The structure and presentation (decorative borders, Latin script) were inspired by medieval books of hours, used for the praying of the Divine Office. The text below each image reads, Deus, in adiutorium meum intende; Domine, ad adiuvandum me festina (“O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me”), the first verse of Psalm 70, which is prayed at the start of each of the canonical hours.

According to legend, after Jesus’s ascension Mary Magdalene moved to southern France, where she preached the gospel and performed miracles. The last thirty years of her life she lived as a hermit in a cave. Each time she prayed the hours, she was lifted up to heaven by angels, then brought back down at the end of her devotions.

Richardson put together a delightful little video showcasing the art cycle as well as the song “Mary Magdalena” by her late husband, Garrison Doles.

You can purchase these images as digital downloads from Richardson’s website:

  1. Matins: The Blessing Cups: Mary Magdalene and Jesus at Tea
  2. Lauds: After the Cross: The Magdalene’s Farewell
  3. Prime: Shopping for Spices: The Three Marys on Holy Saturday
  4. Terce: Touch Me Not: Resurrection Morning
  5. Sext: Release: Mary Magdalene Freeing Prisoners
  6. None: L’Evangeliste: Mary Magdalene Preaching in France
  7. Vespers: At Her Prayers: Mary Magdalene with a Book of Hours
  8. Compline: Magdalene Ascending: The Divine Hours

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DANCE: “Holy, Holy, Holy”: Choreographed by Betsey Beckman to a song by Karen Drucker, this dance number affirms the sacredness of every human being. It was filmed inside St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco, a church that “invites people to see God’s image in all humankind, to sing and dance to Jesus’ lead, and to become God’s friends.” Beckman dances with Dawon Davis and Corey Action throughout the worship space, which comprises a rectangular room where the Liturgy of the Word is celebrated and an octagonal rotunda for the Liturgy of the Table. The Dancing Saints icon that covers the walls is by Mark Doox. [HT: Global Christian Worship]

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MUSIC:

>> “Locus iste” by Anton Bruckner, performed by VOCES8: The British vocal ensemble VOCES8 performs Anton Bruckner’s sacred motet “Locus iste” (This Place) at Les Dominicains de Haute-Alsace in Guebwiller, France. Bruckner composed it in 1869 for the dedication of the Votivkapelle (votive chapel) at the New Cathedral in Linz, Austria, where he had been a cathedral organist. The text—a Latin gradual for church dedications and their anniversaries—is informed by Jacob’s saying, after his dream of the ladder uniting heaven and earth, that “surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not” (Gen. 28:16), and by the story of the burning bush where Moses is told to “put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground” (Exod. 3:5).

Locus iste a Deo factus est,
inaestimabile sacramentum;
irreprehensibilis est.

This place is made by God,
a priceless sacrament;
it is without reproach.

(Or, alternatively:)
This dwelling is God’s handiwork;
a mystery beyond all price,
that cannot be spoken against.

>> “Tabernacle” by Josh Rodriguez, performed by Mary Vanhoozer: A modernist piano composition inspired by Psalm 19, dedicated to the composer’s father-in-law, the theologian Kevin Vanhoozer.

Tabernacle is a musical triptych shaped by the drama of Psalm 19. While this word, tabernacle, is loaded with religious affection within both Jewish and Christian traditions, some modern readers may not be familiar with its implications. Merriam-Webster offers three related definitions: “a house of worship, a receptacle for the consecrated elements of the Eucharist, or a tent sanctuary used by the Israelites during the Exodus.” By extension, it has come to represent a “dwelling place” or a “temporary shelter.” In short, this is no ordinary space, rather it is a place that is set apart, made holy for a terrifying transformative encounter with the Divine.

Fragments of a prayerful hymn-like melody appear underneath this canopy of sounds. Shifting metric changes, polyrhythms, and percussive primal-sounding harmonies climax in a loud, noisy quote from the 16th-century Genevan Psalter.

More extensive program notes can be found in the YouTube video description.

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ESSAY: “Precedents of the Unprecedented: Black Squares Before Malevich” by Andrew Spira, Public Domain Review: Considered one of the seminal works of modern art, Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square (1915) has been cast as a total break from all that came before it. Yet searching across more than five hundred years of images related to cosmology, religious devotion, mourning, humor, politics, and philosophy, art historian Andrew Spira uncovers a slew of unlikely foreshadows to Malevich’s radical abstraction.

Et sic in infinitum
Robert Fludd’s black square representing the nothingness that was prior to the universe, from his Utriusque Cosmi (1617). On each side of the square is written “Et sic in infinitum…” (“And so on to infinity…”).

Blood of Christ
Black pages with red drops of blood, signifying the wounds of Christ, from a psalter and rosary of the Virgin, ca. 1500. The recto is worn from devotional engagement, damaged through kissing and rubbing, perhaps.

For a much more extensive treatment of the topic, see Spira’s Foreshadowed: Malevich’s “Black Square” and Its Precursors, published this month. And for a faith-positive (non-nihilistic) reading of Malevich’s Black Square that honors the artist’s own views, see pages 209–25 of Jonathan A. Anderson and William A. Dyrness’s Modern Art and the Life of a Culture, where they discuss the work in relation to the Russian icons tradition and “apophatic or ‘negative’ theology—a mode of theology that meditates on the absolute Fullness and Otherness of God by way of negating the verbal, visual and conceptual forms used to signify (and to ‘grasp’) God” (220).