The Beatitudes: The Fall Issue of The Yale ISM Review, Now Live

The fall issue of The Yale ISM Review is now live! Published by the Institute of Sacred Music, an ecumenical, interdisciplinary graduate center at Yale University, this publication serves a diverse readership that is interested sacred music, worship, and the related arts. Each issue is organized around a theme. The current issue centers on the Beatitudes.

I’d like to highlight some articles that may be of interest to the readers of Pray Tell.

  • First, Paul Inwood has a fascinating piece on how his composition for the Year of Mercy came into being. You may remember that he won the Vatican-sponsored international competition. His composition was sung (and continues to be sung) worldwide. In this article, he shares the backstory on how this extraordinary experience unfolded. Be sure to click on the videos – one in Slovak, the other in Arabic – to see how beautifully and variously this hymn has been sung. Blessed are the merciful.
  • There’s also an article on preaching that you won’t want to miss. We had a bit of a crisis when one of our authors, who was writing on the beatitude “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” had to pull out at the last minute because of a health emergency. But every crisis is an opportunity and, in this case, a happy end resulted. We reprinted a classic that is now out of print: an essay entitled “Preaching the Just Word,” by Walter Burghardt, SJ (d. 2011) – who is regarded as one of the best preachers of his era. He was a keen thinker and a fabulous writer too; his words just fly off the page. Be prepared for time travel (1979!), but the insights in this essay are not outdated. A bracing read.
  • Another article I highly recommend is the piece on funerals. It is simply the best thing I’ve read on this subject. Thomas Long, of Emory University, who wrote the book, Accompany Them with Singing: The Christian Funeral, explains the difference between grief and mourning and gives a stimulating account of why those who mourn are blessed. He also raises a much-needed critique of the rising practice of abandoning funerals altogether in favor of “celebrations of life.”
  • Finally, I’d recommend a wonderful combination of religion, liturgy, music, and theology in “Climbing the Mountain of the Beatitudes.” This is admittedly a challenging read, but if you love Dante’s Divine Comedy, do take a look at Peter Hawkins’s brilliant essay on singing the Beatitudes in the Purgatorio. Peter, a renowned Dante scholar and professor of religion and literature at Yale, is retiring this year, so it’s a special grace to have his voice in this issue.

I’ve highlighted these four, but there are many other treasures here as well. Methodist pastor Hyuk Seonwoo wrote a beautiful and moving essay about his Korean-American congregation’s practice of celebrating weekly communion (something not common in his denomination). And U.C.C. pastor Cheryl Cornish has a profound reflection on the “strange promise of blessing” for those who suffer persecution for the sake of righteousness.

Blessings of animals, and the cultivation and blessing of community gardens, are examples that Methodist pastor Michelle Lewis brings to life in her essay on the meekness of creation. And Episcopal priest Cathy George reflects on the spiritual lives of children in an essay that will make your heart break and make you laugh out loud.

An extract from the book-length poem Beatitudes, by acclaimed Canadian poet Herménégilde Chiasson carries us in a postmodern direction. This poem has been described as “both a cry and a prayer.” More essays about music can be found in this issue too too: one by musicologist Swee Hong Lim on what music from the global south—particularly Africa—can teach us; and one in which Mennonite musician Benjamin Bergey reflects on how we can build peace through music.

Canon Christopher Irvine contributed a thought-provoking reflection on the human body as locus of living the Beatitudes, using as a point of reference the sculptures of Antony Gormley. Teresa Berger, who first wrote about the Trauerort at Pray Tell, expanded her reflection on these unique places to mourn. And of course our cover art—which many of you will recognize—is drawn from the gorgeous and unique St. John’s Bible.

Over the past year, the readership of The Yale ISM Review has doubled, which pleases me a lot (as our regular readers know, I’m the general editor of the Review). If you visit and see something that you like, I hope you will share it—via Facebook or another medium — so that more people can enjoy and benefit from these essays. Subscription is free, and the articles can be downloaded at no cost.

OK, and if you just can’t tear your thoughts away from the feast we are soon to celebrate, you could even look at a past issue . . . on the theme of, you guessed it, Christmas.

Blessings, everyone!


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