Siyahamba (Artful Devotion)

Zionists by Charles B. S. Nkosi
Charles B. S. Nkosi (South African, 1949–), Zionists, 1979. Watercolor on paper. Source: Christliche Kunst in Afrika, p. 260.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God . . .

—Ephesians 6:10–17

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SONG: “Siyahamba” (We Are Marching) | South African folk song | Arrangement by Walt Whitman performed by the Soul Children of Chicago, July 21, 2008, as the finale of “Hope in Action,” a celebration of Nelson Mandela’s ninetieth birthday | For a congregational hymn arrangement, see African American Heritage Hymnal #164

This exultant hymn, which likely originated during South Africa’s apartheid era, consists of permutations of the Zulu phrase Siyahamb’ ekukhanyen’ kwen khos’ (“We are marching in the light of God”), with subsequent verses substituting alternate verbs like “dancing,” “singing,” and “praying.” In 2008 Walt Whitman arranged the song for Soul Children of Chicago, a choir he formed as a means of “encouraging our youth and providing hope and inspiration in a world filled with challenges and despair.” His version is a lot of fun, albeit busier than others, with a more densely textured, orchestral sound. For a more straightforward rendition with clear vocals and simple percussion, check out the University of Notre Dame Folk Choir’s Crossroads of Praise album from 1999.

To learn more about “Siyahamba,” see “History of Hymns: ‘Siyahamba’” by C. Michael Hawn.


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Proper 16, cycle B, click here.

Catching the sun with Frans Claerhout

Boy and Cart by Frans Claerhout
Frans Claerhout (Belgian/South African, 1919–2006), Boy and Cart. Oil on canvas laid down on board, 37 × 45 cm.

Father Frans Claerhout (1919–2006) was a Belgian Catholic missionary to South Africa as well as a self-taught artist whose painting sales helped support the church’s work in and around the impoverished towns of Bloemfontein and Thaba ‘Nchu. For him, painting was an extension of his mission, for through it, he said, he sought to communicate joy and beauty. He often depicted the everyday scenes he observed around him—farmers harvesting grain, women carrying water or flowers, children playing, donkeys, chickens, sweethearts. Sometimes he transformed such scenes into biblical ones, such as the Annunciation, the Flight to Egypt, Peter’s denial, or the Good Shepherd.

Claerhout understood himself as having a dual vocation. In a 1999 interview with Esté de Klerk, he said, “I am a priest, but I am also an artist, and I have always combined the two. I am one and the same, Father Claerhout—priest and painter. Not two sides of a piece of bread but the whole piece.” In other words, he saw the two as perfectly integrated. He couldn’t turn over his priestly duties for part of the day to focus on his art, nor vice versa, because they were one and the same. In both roles, he administered the gospel.

With the money Claerhout made from his paintings, he funded the building of twenty churches and several houses for families in addition to the purchase of eight vehicles for the transport of schoolchildren, the sick, and the elderly. He liked to think of himself as “a breadwinner for the church.”

One recurrent motif in Claerhout’s work is what he called the “sun catcher” (sonnevanger): a person cradling the sun in his or her arms or toting it by hand or by cart. “Catching the sun” is a phrase that Claerhout used often in his teaching and poetry in reference to possessing joy—warmth, light—in Christ. It engages a theological wordplay that’s been in use since the earliest developments of the English language: sun/Son. Christ is both.

Sun Catcher by Frans Claerhout
Frans Claerhout (Belgian/South African, 1919–2006), The Sun Catcher. Bronze sculpture.
Sun Catcher by Frans Claerhout
Frans Claerhout (Belgian/South African, 1919–2006), The Sun Catcher.
Woman with Sun by Frans Claerhout
Frans Claerhout (Belgian/South African, 1919–2006), Woman with Sun. Mixed media on paper, 60 × 42 cm.

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