Sunday, April 25, 2021

Psalm 98: Cantate Domino

The psalm (in Latin) begins Cantate Domino. In English, that's Sing to the Lord. (Psalm 98:1) That's also the title of Barbara Hepworth's 1958 sculpture shown here. Do you see "Sing to the Lord" in the piece? 

Barbara Hepworth. Cantate Domino. 1958. Middleheim Museum, Antwerp, Belgium.

Are they hands lifted in prayer? The abstracted shape of a lyre? Turned sideways, the design looks like hills in a landscape. Let the hills sing together for joy (98:8), the psalmist says. Nature and humans are singing together in praise of the Lord. How do you read this sculpture?

Made of cast bronze in an edition of six, Cantate Domino was intended to be the sculptor's headstone. She wrote to Norman Reid, Director of the Tate Gallery: 'It was intended to be reserved as a Headstone for my grave in St Ives ... I only mention this because I have always considered this a religious work' (27 Nov. 1967, Tate Gallery Acquisitions files).

John 15.1-8: You are the Branches

I am the vine, Jesus said. (John 15:5) And immediately our minds are off and running with images of vines and grapes, Communion and Jesus. But Jesus continues "...and you are the branches." The point of the conversation is the connection. 

Mosaic. Church of San Clemente, Rome. 12th or 13th century.
The apse mosaic in the Church of San Clemente in Rome is a crucifixion-turned-tree-of-life. From an acanthus plant at the foot of the cross grows a vine that curls around the crucifixion scene and throughout the entire half-dome of the apse. At the base of the plant four deer drink from the four rivers of paradise. And inscription at the bottom of the half-dome says [in part], Ecclesiam Cristi viti similabimus isti quam lex arentem, set crus facit esse virentem... (“We have compared the Church of Christ to this vine; the Law made it wither but the Cross made it bloom.”). Christ is the vine. 

And "You (we...the church) are the branches," Christ continues. The designers of the church seem to have gotten that second part, too. The circular vine pattern on the mosaic is echoed in the circular pattern of the floor mosaic running down the middle of the choir. The pattern visually connects the Christ-vine in the apse with the congregation-branches standing in the church. Connected. And if they aren't connected, then the branches, the congregation, can't do anything.

It's nice when the whole story gets told in the fabric of the building. 


Sunday, April 11, 2021

Acts 4.5-12: By What Name?

"By what power or by what name did you do this?" (Acts 4:7) That's what Peter and his fellow prisoners were asked. By what name? And Peter was not afraid to give an answer:
...if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
Good answer, Peter. Of course Peter had to tack on a few more things that might have made his reception a little more awkward. He continued, "...whom YOU (emphasis mine) crucified, whom God raised from the dead." That Peter...going all in most of the time.

The important thing, though, is that Peter announced that anything being done by them was being done in the name of Jesus Christ. That name thing is important. Remember that Moses asked for God's name when he was being recruited to lead God's people out of slavery. If you can associate a person or activity with a name you can automatically know more about them. 
It's certainly true of art. An artist's signature is one of the ways to identify which paintings were done by which artists. That task is made more difficult when artists like Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) didn't have a consistent signature. 

Shown here are three of the dozens of different signatures the artist used on his drawings, prints, and paintings. His signature changed throughout his career. Sometimes he used initials, but sometimes his whole name. One of the ways that experts authenticate a "real" Rembrandt is by the artist's signature. Did the artist put his name on his work? Can we safely say that this particular print or drawing or painting show what a "real" Rembrandt looks like? There are plenty of people in the world who would be happy to trick someone into believing that a fake Rembrandt is actually a real one. One of the ways they try to do that is to add a signature - the name of Rembrandt. Experts work hard to be able to tell a real signature/name from a fake one.

In the same way, can the world look at those of us who identify ourselves with the name of Christ and call us examples of what someone like that should do and be ? If someone asks us, "By what name do you do these things, live your life, move through the world?" And we reply, "We live and move in the name of Jesus Christ." Would they believe us? Would they say that the name of Jesus looks "right" on us? 

Psalm 4: Sleeping

Look at the bookending verses of Psalm 4: Answer me when I call, O God of my right! You gave me room when I was in distress. Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer... I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O LORD, make me lie down in safety. You gave me room...I will lie down and sleep in peace. What a gift it is to have security and space to rest. 

Psalm 23 may be the automatic go-to for a song about God providing rest. Those green pastures and still waters are an enticing image. But in this fast-paced, overscheduled, no-time-to-stop world, the gift of rest is priceless. Our inattention to rest is manifesting itself in children younger and younger, and that's a shame, since our day begins with rest. And there was evening, and there was morning, the first day. 

How often do we remind ourselves that, according to the rhythm of creation as we read it in Genesis, our day begins with rest? We probably more often tend to think of sleep as a time when we desperately try to recharge from the previous day's journey. We stay up late to get work done, and just don't get the sleep we should. We may think of it as extending our work day, but it's actually borrowing from the "next" day. 

Depending on which internet source you trust(!), it was the Romans or the Egyptians who settled midnight as the beginning of a new day. The pivot point was noon - the time of day when the sun was at its highest point, and there was no shadow on the sundial. That is the meridian. Opposite noon is midnight, which was the dividing point between ante-meridian (before the meridian, or a.m.) and post-meridian (after the meridian, or p.m.). The Romans may have taken their idea from the Greeks who got it from the Babylonians and so on. 

But in our story of Creation, a new day begins when the sun disappears. We are charged to begin a new day with a meal and then with rest. And, after resting, we move through our day. I confess, that's not the way it usually happens in my world, but I'm trying to change the way I think. 

David Bradley. To Sleep, Perchance to Dream. 2005. Museum of Indian Arts and Culture

Psalm 4 promises that the psalmist can lie down and sleep in peace. Is that the case in the painting above? David Bradley,  Minnesota Chippewa artist, uses bright colors. What are the colors saying about this sleep? What is the subject matter saying about this sleep? 

The opportunity to start the day with rest is a gift from God built into our vision of how the world was made.  You gave me room...I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O LORD, make me lie down in safety.