As the Deer (Artful Devotion)

Jacobson, Ruth Taylor_The Eternal
Ruth Taylor Jacobson (British, 1941–), The Eternal, 2005. Antique glass, acid-etched and painted, 170 × 80 cm. Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?

. . .

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

—Psalm 42:1–2, 5

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SONG: “Psalm 42” | Music by Mike Cosper and Rebecca Dennison, on These Things I Remember by Sojourn Music (2005) | CCLI #5165227

 

 

For a detailed description of the stained glass panel, click here (under the “More information” tab).


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 7, cycle C, click here.

C’mon! (Artful Devotion)

Resurrection of the Dead (stained glass)
The angel Gabriel awakes the dead on Resurrection Day in this medieval stained glass tondo from the Musée de Cluny in Paris. Photo: Spencer Means.

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

—Hebrews 9:27–28

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SONG: “Get Happy” | Words by Ted Koehler, 1930 | Music by Harold Arlen, 1930 | Performed by the Puppini Sisters, on Hollywood (2011)

See also the Judy Garland version from Summer Stock (1950), below, which the American Film Institute ranked #61 in its survey of top tunes in American cinema.

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“The Day of Judgment” by Henry Vaughan

O day of life, of light, of love!
The only day dealt from above!
A day so fresh, so bright, so brave,
’Twill show us each forgotten grave,
And make the dead, like flowers, arise
Youthful and fair to see new skies.
All other days, compared to thee,
Are but Light’s weak minority;
They are but veils, and cypress drawn
Like clouds, before thy glorious dawn.
O come! arise! shine! do not stay,
Dearly loved day!
The fields are long since white, and I
With earnest groans for freedom cry;
My fellow-creatures too say “Come!”
And stones, though speechless, are not dumb.
When shall we hear that glorious voice
Of life and joys?
That voice, which to each secret bed
Of my Lord’s dead,
Shall bring true day, and make dust see
The way to immortality?
When shall those first white pilgrims rise,
Whose holy, happy histories
—Because they sleep so long—some men
Count but the blots of a vain pen?
Dear Lord! make haste!
Sin every day commits more waste;
And Thy old enemy, which knows
His time is short, more raging grows.
Nor moan I only—though profuse—
Thy creature’s bondage and abuse;
But what is highest sin and shame,
The vile despite done to Thy name;
The forgeries, which impious wit
And power force on Holy Writ,
With all detestable designs,
That may dishonor those pure lines.
O God! though mercy be in Thee
The greatest attribute we see,
And the most needful for our sins,
Yet, when Thy mercy nothing wins
But mere disdain, let not man say
“Thy arm doth sleep,” but write this day
Thy judging one: descend, descend!
Make all things new, and without end!

(Related post: “Get Ready (Artful Devotion)”)


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 27, cycle B, click here.

Christian-themed portraits by Kehinde Wiley

“Painting is about the world we live in. Black people live in the world. My choice is to include them. This is my way of saying yes to us.”—Kehinde Wiley

Last weekend I visited the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, where the exhibition “Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic” is showing through September 5, a fifteen-year survey of Wiley’s art organized by the Brooklyn Museum. An academically trained artist, Wiley paints black and brown bodies in proud poses against ornate decorative backgrounds on monumental canvases, riffing on art-historical masterpieces from the Renaissance and Baroque eras. He “street casts” his models: walks the streets of inner-city neighborhoods, inviting black males, ages eighteen to thirty-five, to sit for portraits. In this collaborative process, the model chooses a reproduction of a painting from a book and reenacts, in his streetwear, the pose of the painting’s figure.

In the exhibition catalog, Connie H. Choi, a research associate at the Brooklyn Museum, writes,

In inserting the urban black male figure into the art-historical canon, the artist brings the canon up to date and at the same time questions its centuries-long exclusion of such figures. His manner of portraying African American men is Wiley’s way of affirming their presence in a society that has long discounted or undervalued them. (24)

Cultural critic Touré describes Wiley’s oeuvre as an “attempt to rehabilitate black images”—in the media (especially before the presidency of Barack Obama), often simplistically skewed toward hip-hop music videos and newsreels of urban gang violence—“by putting them in the context of nobility, of import, of beauty” (52).

Kings, nobles, and wealthy merchants are among the subjects depicted in Wiley’s source material. But biblical and extrabiblical saints, and Christ himself, are also present. For centuries religious imagery had a commanding presence in churches, palaces, homes, and government buildings, exercising sway over the imagination and steering popular devotion. By translating European devotional paintings—fashioned in the image of the white ruling class—into a contemporary idiom that places black bodies up front and center, Wiley rectifies the lack of representation of racial minorities in and as the body of Christ.

His Down series, which seeks to capture the majesty and severity of fallen warriors and entombed saints, features three paintings of the dead Christ. Hans Holbein’s life-size predella panel on the subject was the starting point; showing Jesus’s putrefying corpse, it is regarded as one of the all-time most grotesque paintings of Jesus. In The Idiot, Dostoyevsky’s Prince Mishkin says that viewed in isolation from the Resurrection, the painting has the power to make one lose one’s Christian faith.

Dead Christ by Kehinde Wiley

In Wiley’s reconceptualization, Jesus’s body is fit, his skin radiant. Gone are the blue face, puncture wounds, and emaciation of the prototype. Art critics have recognized in this and many more of Wiley’s paintings a homoeroticism, reading them in light of Wiley’s sexuality. That’s their prerogative, but in the direct gaze and parted lips of Wiley’s dead Christ I hear not “Come hither” but “Look, white America, at what you have done, at what you are doing.”

The Down series predates the Black Lives Matter movement but speaks powerfully into that context. It challenges the public—especially the white public—to see the rampant shooting deaths of unarmed black men by police and to name it what it is: an injustice, a tragedy.

Veiled Christ by Kehinde Wiley

Lamentation (Kehinde Wiley)-01

For all their visual engagement with and meditation on the Passion, Christians at large have proven deficient in their willingness to mourn the suffering and death of black brothers and sisters. Maybe, just maybe, gazing on a dead black Christ could produce more empathy in us when we see news photos of black people whose lives have been taken from them. Maybe these paintings can lead us into lament. In Wiley’s Lamentation, for example, we’re invited to poke our heads into the void left by the excision of Mary and John and to wail and moan. (For more on racial tensions in America from a Christian perspective, I commend to you the lecture “The Heart Cry of #BlackLivesMatter” by Jemar Tisby, cofounder of the Reformed African American Network.)

In these three paintings Wiley continues the legacy of those Harlem Renaissance artists—poets, illustrators, musicians—who linked the nation’s destruction of black bodies through lynching to the Crucifixion of Christ.   Continue reading “Christian-themed portraits by Kehinde Wiley”

John Berger on how to see

John Berger—essayist, novelist, poet, screenwriter, art critic—loves to help people see what is around them, teach them how to look at the world. His life’s work is dedicated to this endeavor.

One of his most celebrated achievements is the BAFTA Award–winning Ways of Seeing, a four-episode television program written and presented by Berger and originally airing in 1972 on the BBC. “A British arts broadcasting landmark” and “a key moment in the democratisation of art education,” The Guardian calls it. The script was adapted the same year into a book, a collaboration among Berger, Mike Dibb (BBC producer/director), Richard Hollis (graphic designer), Chris Fox (consultant), and Sven Blomberg (artist). It’s still in print!

Berger’s super-conversational style and his bucking against tradition no doubt contribute to his appeal. In the first episode, he establishes his aim: to get people to cut the mumbo-jumbo that always rises up around art and instead approach art directly, much like children.

Here it is:

The episode points out the ways in which photographic technology has changed the way we look at art—it has made it more accessible, but it can also manipulate. When a painting is reproduced in a textbook, for example, details may be cut out to force your focus somewhere, or arranged to form a narrative, or compared with other works, and words surround the painting that will influence your reading of it. If presented on film, camera movement and music also play a part. Berger gives examples using, among others, Pieter Bruegel’s The Procession to Calvary [14:03]; Vincent Van Gogh’s Wheatfield with Crows [16:12]; and Francisco Goya’s The Third of May 1808 [18:28].

He says,

The camera, by making the work of art transmittable, has multiplied its possible meanings and destroyed its unique original meaning. Have works of art gained anything by this? They have lost and gained.

Paintings (especially sacred ones) used to be an integral part of the buildings for which they were designed, says Berger, but now they are often experienced outside that context, rendering their meanings ambiguous. Of paintings in churches, he says, “Everything around the image is part of its meaning. Its uniqueness is part of the uniqueness of the single place where it is. Everything around it confirms and consolidates its meaning” [05:20]. He briefly addresses icons, which I know some Orthodox believers are averse to having displayed in museums, where they cannot even be touched and thus lose part of the function for which they were created.   Continue reading “John Berger on how to see”

Bomb-shattered glass transformed into Resurrection Window

From 1968 to 1998 Northern Ireland was embroiled in a period of conflict known as the Troubles, during which violence in the streets was commonplace. On one side of the conflict was the unionist, loyalist, and overwhelmingly Protestant majority, who wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom. On the other side was the nationalist, republican, almost exclusively Catholic minority, who wanted Northern Ireland to become part of the Republic of Ireland. A nationalist Catholic protest against institutionalized discrimination on October 5, 1968, that was countered with violence is what sparked the thirty-year guerrilla war, resulting in the deaths of over 3,500 people, mostly civilians. Killings were perpetrated on both sides, each of which had its own paramilitary organizations launching armed campaigns.

First Lisburn Presbyterian Church in County Antrim is one of many churches that suffered damage during the conflict when on August 5, 1981, a car bomb planted by the Irish Republican Army exploded in Market Street. The explosion left the church’s roof, plasterwork, balcony, organ, and windows in need of serious repair. (Thankfully, though, there were no fatalities.)

Church member Norah Boyle describes the congregation’s reaction:

Arriving on the scene early, as I thought, I had already been preceded by a small army of workers from the congregation who, without prior organising, had heard of the damage and raced to the church, many complete with buckets, brooms, mops and other cleaning materials. Some just stood in a state of shocked disbelief at the sight before them; some wept; others reacted to the shock in a burst of physical activity, first to clear the rubble away and search for any stained glass pieces, yes, even those pieces embedded in the pews and other woodwork. Totally impervious to the danger of further falling plaster, woodwork or masonry they worked on, clearing, cleaning, dusting, polishing. . . .

I could not possibly have witnessed the scenes that I did and the reaction to them by the congregation without having my faith in God and my love for First Lisburn deepened.

As a witness to its hope for peace in Northern Ireland, First Lisburn decided to remain in its location and rebuild. One of the major questions it faced in this process was what to do with the seventeen windows that had been blasted—whether to restore their former pictorial designs or to create new ones. The property committee decided to honor the church’s heritage by having artists recreate the previous designs, except for one of the clear-glass windows on the balcony, which they commissioned the famous studio James Watson & Son to reinvent in stained glass on the theme of resurrection.

Resurrection Window by James Watson
Resurrection Window, 1987, designed and executed by James Watson. First Lisburn Presbyterian Church, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.
Resurrection window2-002
Detail. Photo courtesy of Rev. John Brackenridge, First Lisburn Presbyterian Church.

Called the Resurrection Window, it’s made almost entirely of shards that were blown out of the original windows. The plaque at its base reads,

This window is a memorial of the bomb-blast of 5th August 1981 and the subsequent restoration of our church and halls. It is a tribute to our neighbours in shops and offices and their will to overcome disaster. It is an echo of the motto of this town: “EX IGNE RESURGAM” (I will arise from the fire). It is a witness to our faith in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Continue reading “Bomb-shattered glass transformed into Resurrection Window”

A string octet for Easter Sunday

Hallelujah, Christ is risen!

I first heard Felix Mendelssohn’s Octet in E-flat Major, Op. 20, when a shortened form of its first movement was performed as a postlude several years ago at an Easter Sunday church service by the talented musicians at Citylife Presbyterian in Boston. Ever since then, I have associated it with Easter.

Having scoured the web, I’ve determined that the following recording, brought to you by Avrotros Klassiek, is the best of all those available for free listening:

The performance took place at the TivoliVredenburg in Utrecht, the Netherlands, during the International Chamber Music Festival on June 25, 2014. It features Boris Brovtsyn, Julian Rachlin, Julia-Maria Kretz, and Vilde Frang on violin; Amihai Grosz and Lawrence Power on viola; Jens Peter Maintz on cello; and Rick Stotijn on double bass (replacing the second cello in Mendelssohn’s original score).

Mendelssohn composed his Octet in E-flat Major in 1825 when he was just sixteen and with it opened up brand-new possibilities for the eight-piece string ensemble. Whereas his contemporary Louis (born Ludwig) Spohr, who also composed string octets, simply had two quartets operate as independent units, Mendelssohn took a much more integrated approach, using all eight instruments in multiple interactive permutations throughout the entire work.

Music critic Conrad Wilson notes of the piece that “its youthful verve, brilliance and perfection make it one of the miracles of nineteenth-century music”—its first movement especially, which is one of four but lasts twice as long as any other, through 13:54 of the video above. Played Allegro moderato ma con fuoco (“moderately fast but with fire”), it evokes for me Resurrection joy and vitality.

Resurrection by Stephen A. Wilson
Stephen A. Wilson (American, 1952–), Resurrection, 2008. Stained glass clerestory window, 10 × 40 ft. St. Agnes Catholic Church, Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Click on the image to read the artist’s description.

Christ is risen indeed!