Form and Feeling

In arguments about worship, both sides often cast the issues in terms of “formal styles” vs. “emotional styles.” That has always seemed a false dichotomy. To me, our formal, liturgical Lutheran services are very emotionally moving. Besides, the opposite of “formal” is “informal,” and the opposite of “emotional” is “unemotional.” And “informal” worship styles happen to leave me cold; that is, it leaves me “unemotional.” I realize that other people react differently.

The point is, form and feeling can actually support each other. That is practically a literary principle. A sonnet is among the most emotional of poems, and yet its form is among the strictest. This is even evident in the Bible.
Justin Taylor pointed me to these observations about the Book of Lamentations from John Piper:

First, Lamentations is a deeply emotional book. Jeremiah writes about what means most to him, and he writes in agony. He feels all the upheaval of Jerusalem in ruins. There is weeping (1:2), desolation (1:4), mockery (1:7), groaning (1:8), hunger (1:11), grief (2:11), and the horrid loss of compassion as mothers boil their own children to eat them (2:20; 4:10). If there ever was intensity and fervor in the expression of passion from the heart, this is it.

The second observation, then, comes as a surprise: This seems to be the most formally crafted book in the Old Testament. Of the five chapters, chapters 1, 2, and 4 are each divided into twenty-two stanzas (the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet), and each stanza begins with a different letter of the alphabet. They are three acrostics.

Chapter 3 is even more tightly structured. Again there are twenty-two stanzas, but now each stanza has exactly three lines. The three lines in each stanza begin with the same letter, and each of the twenty-two stanzas begins with a different letter in alphabetical order.

This is the only chapter that is not an acrostic. But it still has twenty-two lines in conformity with the acrostic pattern of chapters 1-4. Now what do these two observations imply? First, they imply that genuine, heartfelt expression of our deepest emotions does not require spontaneity. Just think of all the mental work involved in finding all the right words to construct four alphabetical acrostics!

What constraint, what limitation, what submission to form! Yet what passion and power and heart! There is no necessary contradiction between form and fire.

via Let the River Run Deep, Desiring God by John Piper – Desiring God, John Piper.

Tolkien vs. the Beatles

Imagine:

Once upon a time, the Fab Four—having slain the pop charts—decided to set their sights on the Dark Lord Sauron by making a Lord of the Rings feature, starring themselves. One man dared stand in their way: J.R.R. Tolkien.

According to Peter Jackson, who knows a little something about making Lord of the Rings movies, John Lennon was the Beatle most keen on LOTR back in the ’60s—and he wanted to play Gollum, while Paul McCartney would play Frodo, Ringo Starr would take on Sam and George Harrison would beard it up for Gandalf. And he approached a pre-2001 Stanley Kubrick to direct.”It was something John was driving, and J.R.R. Tolkien still had the film rights at that stage, but he didn’t like the idea of the Beatles doing it. So he killed it,” Jackson said.

via Little-known sci-fi facts: Tolkien killed a Beatles LOTR movie | Blastr.

HT: Joe Carter

Happy belated Cranach day!

Saturday, October 16, was the day the patron of this blog, Lucas Cranach, the artist of the Reformation, died in 1553, at the age of 81.  (His formal day of commemoration is April 6, set aside to honor him along with other Reformation-era artists, Albrecht Durer and Michelangelo.)  Read about him and contemplate his self-portrait in the sidebar to the right.  He embodies what we keep talking about when it comes to vocation. How should his day be celebrated?

See Commemorating and Remembering Lucas Cranach Today | CyberBrethren-A Lutheran Blog.

Cranach’s Law & Grace

I saw a reproduction of this print a long time ago in a church basement, and I was happy to stumble upon it in the Wikipedia Commons. (It’s in the public domain, so you could make big posters of this.) It’s Lucas Cranach’s “Law & Grace”:

Look closely at the details. (Go here for a larger version.) What is Cranach showing artistically about both the Law and the Gospel?

Color photos of Tsarist Russia

A Russian photographer used a complicated method to create color photographs way back before the Communist revolution.  The photos of Russia under the Tsar, dating from 1909-1912, are quite stunning, reminding us that history consists of real people, just like us.  See Russia in color, a century ago – The Big Picture – Boston.com.

 

Cranach’s book of portraits

Thanks to Paul McCain for tipping me off to this remarkable book of portraits by Lucas Cranach (or possibly his son or his workshop), now made available in digital format online by the Dresden State Archives and Library.

It’s called Das Sächsische Stammbuch: Sammlung von Bildnissen sächsischer Fürsten, mit gereimtem Text; aus der Zeit von 1500 – 1546. That is, in my rough translation, The Saxon Family Album: A Compilation of Pictures of the Saxon Nobility with Rhymed Text, from 1500-1546. It consists of a hand-written manuscript with portraits of the Saxon Princes, Counts, and Electors and their families, virtually all of whom were key players during the Reformation.

Here is John the Steadfast, along with his wife Elizabeth. He is known as “the first Protestant”–the first “protester” of the Church of Rome to be called by that name–and without his forceful defense of Luther (even more so than his father Frederick the Wise) and his practical provision for the evangelical churches, the Reformation would have been crushed.

If anyone can make out and translate the accompanying verses (the larger page is here, he or she will receive the thanks and accolades of us all.

UPDATE: This portrait is Duke John of Saxony, not John the Steadfast. Thanks to Martin Winter who did make out and translate the German verses, so we heap on him the thanks and accolades that we promised. John the Steadfast is on p. 213 of the book, which you can easily find via the link. Martin translates the verses about him, and they are very inspiring. (Go to the comments.) I wonder who wrote those verses, if they too are by a Cranach.