God Gifted

The Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci around 1490

1 Corinthians 12:12–31

12 For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. 14 For in fact the body is not one member but many.
15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? 18 But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. 19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be?
20 But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. 23 And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, 24 but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, 25 that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. 28 And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.


The wellness movement emphasizes a holistic understanding of man.  It reaches beyond physical health and aspires to that which is nebulously called mindfulness, thus attempting to bridge the body to the soul.  This is not new, of course; its roots are at least Platonic, and even Plato was predated by eastern thinkers who saw man as more garden than machine.

The irony runs deep here because man is contextualized correctly as a functioning member of the body of Christ.  He is singularly essential, yet unfulfilled unless joined to his complementary fellows.

In his book Out of the Depths, Ken Kovacs wrote:

Many years ago I came across profound wisdom in a statement by Sören Kierkegaard (1813-1855)—that blessed Dane. Kierkegaard has been one of my theological heroes for a long time, a faithful and trusted companion on my journey. (His surname translated into English means, literally, “cemetery”—kierke, meaning “church” and gaard, meaning “garden” or “yard;” hence, “church yard” or “cemetery.” With a name like that you can only imagine what his childhood was like.) With searing psychological and spiritual insight, this is what he said: “Comparison kills.” When I first heard those words, many years ago, it was as if the hammer of Thor had struck me, and cracked me open, and released my soul. Kierkegaard said, “. . . the more comparison, the more indolent and paltry a person’s life becomes . . . comparison kills,” he said, “with its insidious chill.”*

He’s right. There are healthy forms of comparison, of course. But when we’re always comparing ourselves to others—what others have, what others are doing, what others are achieving—if we’re always looking outward, valuing what’s “out there,” more than what’s “in here,” within us, that which has already been entrusted to us by the Spirit, we are doing ourselves a great disservice and effectively rejecting God’s gifts in us. This is not the way toward life, this is not what the Spirit intends for our lives, this is not the way of Christ. Pathological comparison kills; with its insidious chill it slowly, ever so slowly over time kills our souls.

 

Where does humanism fit into a proper understanding of the Church ?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

 

Ken Kovacs
Ken Kovacs

Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.

Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at http://kekovacs.blogspot.com/

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Soren Kierkegaard

*Sören Kierkegaard, “Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits (1847). The full quote: “. . . the more comparison, the more indolent and paltry a person’s life becomes. This consciousness is the straight gate and the narrow way. It is not the way as such that is narrow, although quite a few people walk along it single-file; no, the narrowness is that each one separately must become the single individual who must press through this narrow pass along the narrow way where no comparison cools, but also where no comparison kills with its insidious chill.”

Kierkegaard’s Writings, XV (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009), 152.

Soren Kierkegaard

b. in Copenhagen, May 5, 1813

A melancholy boy of deep religious inclination, who, attracted and repelled by Christianity, gave himself up to pessimism, from which the death of his father delivered him, leading him as a man to the study of theology (1840). But he conceived of it as pure subjectivity, and rejected existing Christianity as wrong, attacked Martensen, when the latter praised Mynster (1854), and was led into the bitterest attitude ag. Church and Christianity; d. Nov. 11, 1855. The subjective truth of the personality was the centre of K.’s system. The personality is the ethically existing, not the knowing, which must be capable of infinite suffering, though it is finite. To suffer is to be religious, which includes the paradox. The paradox or absurd is the contradiction between man, a sinner by his very existence, and man determining himself for faith, i.e. not likeness, but contemporaneousness with Christ, as shown, not merely in humility and inner suffering, but in actual experience of the hate of the world, which flies from truth.

(LIT.: Petersen, Sören Kierkegaards Kristendums forkyadelse; Martensen, Aus meinen Leben; Kierkegaard, in the various Cyclop.; espec. Nordisk Konversationslexikon.

Henry Eyster Jacobs and John A. W. Haas, eds., The Lutheran Cyclopedia (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1899), 262.

Renaissance Man

This explains the ideal of the Renaissance Man, the individual who masters a wide range of fields in both the arts and sciences. And the supreme instance was Leonardo da Vinci—scientist, inventor, mathematician, engineer, and above all, artist. For Leonardo, the painter was a “god” capable of creating images at will. His Vitruvian Man (named after a Roman architect who calculated the body’s ideal proportions) expresses the neo-Platonic idea that the human being is a microcosm uniting the two realms of spirit and matter. “In the iconography of the day,” explains a historian, “the square was generally taken as symbolic of the earth while the circle was representative of the eternity of heaven.” In Leonardo’s image, then, the ideal human is “both of this earth and heaven . . . the unifier of the universe.”

Did this polymath fulfill the Renaissance goal then of overcoming “man’s dualistic nature”? Sadly no, says philosopher Giovanni Gentile. As an engineer and mathematician, Leonardo anticipated the mechanistic worldview that arose soon afterward in the scientific revolution—a vision of nature “ordered in a closed and fixed system, necessary and mechanically invariable.” Yet as an artist, Leonardo never stopped seeking to capture the ideal or the universal. In a poignant passage, Gentile speaks of “the anguish and the innermost tragedy of this universal man, divided between his irreconcilable worlds.” Standing at the threshold of modernity, Leonardo is a symbol of the modern mind and its tragic inability to find a unified truth.

Nancy Pearcey, Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning (Nashville: B&H, 2010).

 

Maundy Thursday by Malcolm Guite

The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, 1495 Location: Church Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan, Italy

Here is the source of every sacrament,
The all-transforming presence of the Lord,
Replenishing our every element,
Remaking us in his creative Word.
For here the earth herself gives bread and wine,
The air delights to bear his Spirit’s speech,
The fire dances where the candles shine,
The waters cleanse us with his gentle touch.
And here he shows the full extent of love
To us whose love is always incomplete,
In vain we search the heavens high above,
The God of love is kneeling at our feet.
Though we betray him, though it is the night.
He meets us here and loves us into light.

Hear Malcolm Guite Read Today’s Poem

Matthew 26: 26-29

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”


The day before Good Friday is known as Maundy Thursday.  The events of that day are rich and densely packed with meaning.  Among other things Jesus said and did, He gathered His disciples for the first communion.  At the Incarnation, Jesus the Word became flesh, and now, on the eve of His sacrifice, He expanded that communion with man.

As Malcom Guite writes in The Word in the Wilderness:

It is the Word himself who says of that bread ‘This is my Body’, the same Word through whose utterance everything that is becomes itself. When this Word speaks then something substantial, something new, is brought into existence. From his words in that room, to his Word dwelling richly in our hearts, the Novum Mandatum, the new commandment from which this day takes its name, springs into being. So too does the new reality of our communion with him physically in his body and his blood. There is therefore on this day a renewal of incarnation, an opening out of its fuller meaning. The body and blood he took for our sakes, woven in Mary’s womb is shared with us as he shares our nature, extended to and through us, so that we too are Christ’s Body. Amazingly and wonderfully, he who took our human nature shares with us his divine nature: the Spirit is here for us to breathe, the substance of the true God is there with us, not high and inaccessible as Isaiah found it when he saw the Lord mighty and lifted up, but close, humbled below us, kneeling at our feet to wash us, or broken and placed into our hands to feed us.

How does communion inform our daily life?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

Malcolm Guite
Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings.  For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page. You can read more about him on this Interviews Page

He is the author of numerous books including

Parable and Paradox: Sonnets on the Sayings of Jesus and Other Poems Canterbury Press 2016

Waiting on the Word; a poem a day for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany Canterbury Press 2015

The Singing Bowl Canterbury Press 2013

Sounding the Seasons Canterbury Press 2012

 

 

 

St. Matthew’s Passion by Johann Sebastian Bach (1727)

Last measures of movement 1 and start of movement 2 in Bach’s autograph score

Come, daughters, help me lament,
behold! – Whom? – the Bridegroom!
Behold him! – how? – As a Lamb.
Behold! – what? – behold the patience,
look! – where? – at our guilt.
See him, out of love and graciousness
bear the wood for the Cross Himself.
  O innocent Lamb of God,
  slaughtered on the trunk of the Cross,
  patient at all times,
  however you were scorned.
  you have borne all sins,
  otherwise we would have to despair.
  Have mercy on us, o Jesus.


RickLeonardo da Vinci’s famous painting Last Supper captures the moment immediately after Jesus told the disciples that one of them would betray him.  John 13:22 tells us they were stunned to silence at such a statement.  In her wonderful book Saving Leonardo, Nancy Pearcey writes that it is “that dramatic moment of confrontation when the disciples asked, “Is it I, Lord?” And as Bach says in his St. Matthew’s Passion, for each person the answer must be, Yes, it is I and my sins that put Jesus on the cross. It is I who should have suffered what he is about to suffer out of love for me.”

As Terry Glaspey explains in 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know:

Like so much of Bach’s work, St. Matthew’s Passion was written to be performed at the church for which he regularly contributed new compositions to use in the weekly worship services. It was not written as a piece for the concert hall but for the Sunday service. Over the course of his life, he wrote music for every season of the church year but it was in this composition for Holy Week that he particularly outdid himself. St. Matthew’s Passion was first performed on Good Friday, 1727, though it underwent numerous revisions as it was performed again and again throughout Bach’s life. What an experience it must have been for members of his congregation to spend a portion of Good Friday in such a manner, meditating on this majestic combination of words and music. And its power to move the listener to the deepest spiritual contemplation remains just as great today.

Marshaling all his compositional skills, and putting them at the service of not one but two orchestras and choirs, Bach was able to fashion a piece of great musical complexity and spiritual depth, one that went far beyond the standard Baroque passion settings with which the audiences of his day would have been familiar. The text was created by Christian Henrici, who wrote under the pen name Picander. Like Bach, he lived in Leipzig, and there is little doubt that the two men collaborated on this sublime combination of the actual text from the latter chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, already extant hymns and chorales (which would have been familiar to their audience), and original poetry of great beauty and emotional weight.
The passion opens with a chorus that sets the tone for the entire piece: “Come you daughters, share my mourning.” What follows is a sustained meditation on the atoning death of Christ. Unlike the more celebratory Messiah by Handel, the concentration of Bach’s work is upon Christ’s agony, suffering, abandonment, and death. In fact, the resurrection is only mentioned in passing. The emphasis is upon the pain and anguish that Jesus took upon himself in our stead: scourged, mocked, beaten, spat upon, tortured, then crucified. Hence there is a stately, elevated, brooding sadness that marks both the words and the music, and the listener is left to contemplate the great exchange—the innocent Lamb of God dying for the guilty.

To listen intently to this masterpiece is to be reminded of the immensity of what Jesus Christ accomplished as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Bach does not allow us to simply contemplate this sacrifice as a theological abstraction. Instead, we feel it. The deeply emotive music lets us experience again the redemptive sacrifice that arises from the boundless depths of God’s grace and mercy. Bach reminds us that our salvation comes at a very high price. Therefore, our proper response is not only wonder at what God has wrought on the cross but also heartfelt introspection and repentance.

Is the crucifixion beautiful?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

D I G  D E E P E R


ST. MATTHEW’S PASSION

Johann Sebastian Bach

 

Death Set to Music: Masterworks by Bach, Brahms, Penderecki, and Bernstein, by Paul S. Minear. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1987. Pp. 144. $14.95.

Throughout the twentieth century theologians have appreciated and explored the theological significance of musical composers. Most notably, Albert Schweitzer, Karl Barth, and Jaroslav Pelikan have written musicological analyses and theological interpretations of Bach. And shorter essays and religious reviews have dealt with the theological significance of works ranging from the ebullient melodies of Mozart to the stark dissonance of Ives. Yet little has been written about theological themes or issues shared by great musicians.

In Death Set to Music Paul Minear, Emeritus Professor of Biblical Theology at Yale Divinity School, begins to correct this deficiency as he analyzes the ways in which four composers deal with the complexities of death: J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion, Johannes Brahms’s Requiem, Krzysztof Penderecki’s St. Luke’s Passion, and Leonard Bernstein’s Mass. Minear does not attempt to explicate each composer’s theology or “world-view” (in this case, perhaps, “world-sound”); instead, he focuses on the ways in which the works interpret familiar biblical texts and contemporary poetry about death itself and the human recognition of mortality.

In addition to chapters devoted to analyses of each of the musical compositions, Minear introduces his book with a summary of the biblical theologies of death, wherein he notes that biblical concerns with death are not confined to medical death: “Only in relatively few instances do the [biblical] nouns and verbs for dying bear the medical definition as their primary denotation” (p. 8). Biblical concerns with death extend to emotional and religious deaths—fears and sins—that persons experience throughout life. In this line of reasoning Minear emphasizes the Pauline maxims of “death in sin” (the fallen state of human beings) and “death to sin” (the salvation achieved through commitment to God).

With this general background Minear comments upon the four compositions because of their common biblical concerns with death—“their extensive use of Scripture and their abilities to express in musical language the biblical perceptions of mortality” (p. 146); but he does not intend primarily to compare the musical perspectives on death. For the composers span four centuries, four cultures, four religious traditions (“orthodox” Lutheran, liberal Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Jewish), and even more musical styles. Just as the biblical texts throughout different periods and perceptions treat the subject of death in a variety of illuminating ways, so too these composers treat the subject of death in equally variant, reflective, and revelatory ways.

Minear’s primary purpose is to provide an exegesis of the texts about death that the composers have adopted and adapted. As such, almost half of the book is devoted to a reproduction (and translation) of the librettos from the musical works. Basically, he applies the methodologies of form criticism and redaction criticism to the literary texts of the compositions. He remarks on the collaboration of Bach with Picander to make the Matthean passion story a contemporaneous event. He muses about Brahms’s choice of Hebrew scriptural texts for the Requiem, noting that the choice of non-exclusively Christian texts extends the universality of Brahms’s perceptions of death. Minear also comments on the insertion of numerous excerpts from the gospel of John into Penderecki’s rendering of the Luke passion story, and he notes Bernstein’s weaving of texts from the mass with modern verse by Stephen Schwartz to interpret the political and public mourning of John F. Kennedy. By their formulation of texts, he contends, the composers disclose new insights into the human condition in terms of its anticipation of death and its reflections on mortality.

Minear avers that these new insights reveal an emotional intensity (“the rich subtleties experienced in suffering and joy” [p.18]) often lacking in academic interpretations, but he does not dwell on the distinctive visions or perspectives that the compositions finally offer. Nor does he fully elaborate the theological significance of sound and musical style, a process which he adequately begins. For instance, he notes that musicologists have often remarked on Bach’s use of the sostenuto violins accompanying the recitatives of Jesus, thus creating a kind of “halo effect” around his words. Just as the presence of the violins suggests the transcendence of Jesus’s words, however, so too their absence is significant in the occasions of Jesus’ abject refusal to answer Pilate and in his agonistic words on the cross. Yet Minear could have gone further in his analysis of the theological significance of the musical score. Equally as impressive as the violin sostenuto underlying Jesus’ transcendent words is the fact that the voice of Jesus is that of a deep baritone. With that choice of tessitura, Bach identifies the “transcendent” voice of Jesus not with that which supervenes, but that which underlies. Transcendence is not carried by the high voice of a tenor (which Bach assigns to the literarily transcendent perspective of the Evangelist), but the voice resonating with that which comes from the depth of all creation, from “the Ground of Being,” to use one of Tillich’s appellations for Transcendence.

Although Minear does not provide a final overview of the volume or a thorough analysis of the theological contributions and innovations of the various interpretations of death in the compositions, he does offer a practically oriented conclusion in his “Postlude,” which is directed to theological exegetes, musicologists, and musicians and suggests how they might improve their appreciation, understanding, and performance of the works.

Despite these shortcomings Minear makes a significant new contribution to biblical interpreters, theologians of culture, and sacred musicians by establishing a context in which they inform each other about the experience and understanding of the potential pathos and power of death. As both a theologian and a musician who has performed three of the four works, I attest to the provocative and enlightening character of Minear’s work. Consistently illuminating and stimulating, the book is theologically accessible to church musicians and concert masters and musicologically accessible to theologians and pastors. It is highly recommended for all library collections in religious studies and sacred music.

Joseph L. Price, “Review of Death Set to Music: Masterworks by Bach, Brahms, Penderecki, and Bernstein by Paul S. Minear,” Critical Review of Books in Religion (1989): 124–126.

Greenburg, Robert. Bach and the High Baroque. DVD. Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company, 1995.
Koopman, Ton, and the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir. Bach: Matthäus Passion. DVD. Amersfoort, Netherlands: Challenge Classics, 2006.
Marschall, Rick. Johann Sebastian Bach. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011.
Pelikan, Jaraslov. Bach among the Theologians. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986.

 

Terry Glaspey

Terry Glaspey

Terry Glaspey is a writer, an editor, a creative mentor, and someone who finds various forms of art—painting, films, novels, poetry, and music—to be some of the places where he most deeply connects with God.

He has a master’s degree in history from the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!), as well as undergraduate degrees emphasizing counseling and pastoral studies.

He has written over a dozen books, including 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know:  Fascinating Stories Behind Great Art, Music, Literature, and Film, Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis, The Prayers of Jane Austen, 25 Keys to Life-Changing Prayer, Bible Basics for Everyone, and others.

Terry enjoys writing and speaking about a variety of topics including creativity and spirituality, the artistic heritage of the Christian faith, the writing of C.S. Lewis, and creative approaches to apologetics.

He serves on the board of directors of the Society to Explore and Record Church History and is listed in Who’s Who in America Terry has been the recipient of a number of awards, including a distinguished alumni award and the Advanced Speakers and Writers Editor of the Year award.

Terry has two daughters and lives in Eugene, Oregon.

Dig Deeper at TerryGlaspey.com

 

Some of the greatest painters, musicians, architects, writers, filmmakers, and poets have taken their inspiration from their faith and impacted millions of people with their stunning creations. Now readers can discover the stories behind seventy-five of these masterpieces and the artists who created them. From the art of the Roman catacombs to Rembrandt to Makoto Fujimura; from Gregorian Chant to Bach to U2; from John Bunyan and John Donne to Flannery O’Connor and Frederick Buechner; this book unveils the rich and varied artistic heritage left by believers who were masters at their craft.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).

Order it HERE today.