Monday, March 13, 2017

Music On Monday: Be Thou My Vision

St. Patrick's Day is later this week, and so it seems like a perfect time to write a post on a favorite hymn, Be Thou My Vision. I'm willing to bet that this is one of the most-sung traditional hymns apart from Amazing Grace.  Legends abound about this popular hymn, and they are charming stories that add to my enjoyment of the hymn, but we don't know much about their veracity. Here's what we know for sure. The Old Irish text predates the song itself by centuries, and we have copies of manuscripts from the 10th or 11th centuries. There's a good chance that the text existed long before that time within the Irish monastic tradition. Mary Byrne wrote a modern English translation of the poem in 1905 and just a bit later, Eleanor Hull wrote a translation in metric verse. The first published version of the song set to the Irish folk tune Slane (which has charming legends of its own) was in 1909 in a collection called Old Irish Folk Tunes and Songs. The title leads me to believe that the text had been paired with that tune for some time.

The original poem has been attributed to a blind Irish monk named Dallán Forgaill. The request that God would be his vision is even more poignant if this is true.

I wish I could read it in Old Irish, but since I can't, I enjoy Mary Byrne's translation - it's much richer than the metrified verses we sing in the hymn. 

Be thou my vision O Lord of my heart
None other is aught but the King of the seven heavens.

Be thou my meditation by day and night.
May it be thou that I behold even in my sleep.

Be thou my speech, be thou my understanding.
Be thou with me, be I with thee

Be thou my father, be I thy son.
Mayst thou be mine, may I be thine.

Be thou my battle-shield, be thou my sword.
Be thou my dignity, be thou my delight.

Be thou my shelter, be thou my stronghold.
Mayst thou raise me up to the company of the angels.

Be thou every good to my body and soul.
Be thou my kingdom in heaven and on earth.

Be thou solely chief love of my heart.
Let there be none other, O high King of Heaven.

Till I am able to pass into thy hands,
My treasure, my beloved through the greatness of thy love

Be thou alone my noble and wondrous estate.
I seek not men nor lifeless wealth.

Be thou the constant guardian of every possession and every life.
For our corrupt desires are dead at the mere sight of thee.

Thy love in my soul and in my heart --
Grant this to me, O King of the seven heavens.

O King of the seven heavens grant me this --
Thy love to be in my heart and in my soul.

With the King of all, with him after victory won by piety,
May I be in the kingdom of heaven O brightness of the son.

Beloved Father, hear, hear my lamentations.
Timely is the cry of woe of this miserable wretch.

O heart of my heart, whatever befall me,
O ruler of all, be thou my vision.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Words on Wednesday: The Light and Lightness of Ash Wednesday

Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel

It's Ash Wednesday, the day on the liturgical calendar when we begin the season of Lent. Lent commemorates Jesus' 40 days of fasting in the wilderness, and on Ash Wednesday, the church encourages us to remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return. It's a time for self-examination and repentance. Of course, we are called to do these things daily, but I think we believe that in Lent we are supposed to repent... harder. Instead, what I feel today is relief and thankfulness to be mere dust. It means that I can give up the burden of saving the world and saving me and trust that God is doing both of those things. It's always beneficial to engage in examination and repentance, but the great thing is that the examined life can become the unburdened life. I appreciate the liturgical calendar and the rhythm it can supply to worship, but I also think we need to guard against allowing the culture of an institution to suggest extra-biblical practices that seem to be more dark and heavy than light.

I'm attending a spiritual formation class that has been like manna from heaven. We have great discussions, and yesterday we talked about the difference between doing "great things for God" versus simply living fully into every moment being fully ourselves as God created us and sharing the gifts of the Spirit's fruits - love, joy, patience, goodness, kindness, self-control, etc. These are greater gifts than any earthly skill or talent. We talked about the ripple effect something as small as a smile can have - the ministry of welcome and love to those we encounter. We talked about Jesus' lack of an agenda or program. He had no schedule like this: 9:00 am - Woman at the well. 1:00 - Take on some Pharisees. 3:00 - start a ministry to the leper colony. Instead, God incarnate walked through life ready to encounter whatever came his way. I'm not knocking ministry or relief programs. They do good work. I'm just giving up the idea that programs and agendas are a necessary burden.

It's easy to elevate the value of the program or the institution and fail to embrace the wildness of the Spirit. Today, I could easily allow the cultural and institutional weight of Lent to weigh me down. But, I don't feel heavy today. I feel light. I don't feel dark. I feel light. I think it's appropriate. So does this poet.

Ash Wednesday
by Louis Untermeyer



Shut out the light or let it filter through 
These frowning aisles as penitentially 
As though it walked in sackcloth. Let it be 
Laid at the feet of all that ever grew 
Twisted and false, like this rococo shrine 
Where cupids smirk from candy clouds and where 
The Lord, with polished nails and perfumed hair, 
Performs a parody of the divine. 

The candles hiss; the organ-pedals storm; 
Writhing and dark, the columns leave the earth 
To find a lonelier and darker height. 
The church grows dingy while the human swarm 
Struggles against the impenitent body’s mirth. 
Ashes to ashes. . . . Go. . . . Shut out the light. 



And so the light runs laughing from the town, 
Pulling the sun with him along the roads 
That shed their muddy rivers as he goads 
Each blade of grass the ice had flattened down. 
At every empty bush he stops to fling 
Handfuls of birds with green and yellow throats; 
While even the hens, uncertain of their notes, 
Stir rusty vowels in attempts to sing. 

He daubs the chestnut-tips with sudden reds 
And throws an olive blush on naked hills 
That hoped, somehow, to keep themselves in white. 
Who calls for sackcloth now? He leaps and spreads 
A carnival of color, gladly spills 
His blood: the resurrection—and the light.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Words on Wednesday: Wendell Berry

Excerpt from "Sabbaths 2005" by Wendell Berry


If we have become a people incapable
of thought, then the brute-thought
of mere power and mere greed
will think for us.
If we have become incapable
of denying ourselves anything,
then all that we have
will be taken from us.
If we have no compassion,
we will suffer alone, we will suffer
alone the destruction of ourselves.
These are merely the laws of this world
as known to Shakespeare:
When we cease from human thought,
a low and effective cunning
stirs in the most inhuman minds.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Music On Monday: Where Charity and Love Are, God Is There

Yesterday, our associate pastor preached a strong sermon on the passage from Matthew 5:38-48 where we are told to turn the other cheek, hand over a coat as well as a shirt, travel two miles with someone who would compel one, and love our enemies. It made me think of the ancient hymn text Ubi Caritas. Some think that this text predates the formalization of the Mass and is from the early Christian church. It can be sung any time, but one of its traditional uses is at the washing of feet on Maundy Thursday. This is a beautiful setting by contemporary Norwegian-American composer Ola Gjeilo.

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exsultemus, et in ipso jucundemur.
Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.
Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul ergo cum in unum congregamur:
Ne nos mente dividamur, caveamus.
Cessent iurgia maligna, cessent lites.
Et in medio nostri sit Christus Deus.
Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul quoque cum beatis videamus,
Glorianter vultum tuum, Christe Deus:
Gaudium quod est immensum, atque probum,
Saecula per infinita saeculorum. Amen.
Where charity and love are, God is there.
Christ's love has gathered us into one.
Let us rejoice and be pleased in Him.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And may we love each other with a sincere heart.
Where charity and love are, God is there.
As we are gathered into one body,
Beware, lest we be divided in mind.
Let evil impulses stop, let controversy cease,
And may Christ our God be in our midst.
Where charity and love are, God is there.
And may we with the saints also,
See Thy face in glory, O Christ our God:
The joy that is immense and good,
Unto the ages through infinite ages. Amen.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Tower of Babel and God's Design For Human Flourishing

The Tower of Babel Destroyed by Phillip Medhurst

What a wild time the last couple of weeks have been! If you are, like me, someone who enjoys novelty over the same old routine every day, then you have been excited by the political storm of late. I admit, I've spent too much time reading news sites and twitter. I am having to discipline myself to read other things and stay engaged in my immediate, local life. The silver lining to all of this wildness is that it prompts me to consider things I've never thought about much before. This morning, I woke up thinking of the Tower of Babel.

I have a fondness for bible stories and characters that aren't preached on much. I've never in my life, that I can remember, heard a sermon on the Tower of Babel, yet, I think this story is highly appropriate to the political problems of our day.

I'm not going to retell the story. Read it here. There is an interesting examination from Oxford Biblical Studies here, and a good article by Peter Hong here. John Piper has a sermon on it here. I think our failure to fully understand this story is a failure of Christian formation, and one of the failures of American Christianity as we grapple with the problems of the moment in regards to nationalism versus globalism.

What was the sin of the people in constructing the tower? They wanted to make a name for themselves -  pride. They wanted to stick together in a safe, homogenous culture - fear. They wanted to avoid God's command to multiply and occupy the whole earth - disobedience. You might think that a safe, homogenous culture where everyone believes the same way and speaks the same language (whether literally or figuratively) would help the cause of Christ. After all, we are supposed to be unified, right? Yes, but God turns man's logic on its head. God instituted diversity - at creation (did we really need so many kinds of insects?) and at the tower. At Pentecost, the Spirit confirmed that God is never thwarted by diversity by speaking through the apostles in languages everyone present could hear. Man's desire to maintain superficial unity is a desire born in self-sufficient pride. God doesn't need our conformity to do his work.

It was part of God's plan that mankind be scattered abroad speaking different languages, but man was resistant to that command. Why would they resist speaking different languages and living in different places? Man's logic says that we are safer and stronger when we circle the wagons and stay within the confines. But, God's logic doesn't see things that way. The tower story tears down the idea that human-created cultural oneness is in keeping with God's plan for humanity. The theologian Walter Bruggeman says this about the Tower story:
The fear of scattering is resistance to God’s purpose for creation. The people do not wish to spread abroad but want to stay in their own safe mode of homogeneity. They try to surround themselves with walls made of strong bricks and a tower for protection against the world around them. This unity attempts to establish a cultural, human oneness without God. This is a self-made unity in which humanity has a ‘fortress mentality.’ It seeks to survive by its own resources. It is a unity grounded in fear and characterized by coercion. A human unity without God’s will is likely to be ordered in oppressive conformity.
A "cultural, human oneness" without God - what would that look like? In its worst form, it would look outwardly Christian and so fool people into believing themselves to be disciples. Satan always disguises himself as an angel of light. In our country today, many people who support Trump seem to wish for a return to a time when Christianity was a strong cultural force, a sort of 1950s culture where church-going and school prayer was the norm. Unfortunately, this was also a time of racial exclusion and deep suspicion of those who were "other," and that in complete opposition to the way of Christ. Was there really less sin in those days, or were we just better at covering it up? I'm not so convinced that the culture we are nostalgic for was really rooted in faithfulness.

The ideology of Trump and his aides such as Steve Bannon is one of nationalism, and they tell us they want a nationalism based on strong "Judeo-Christian values." First, though, I believe the Tower of Babel shows us that God is a globalist. He deliberately broke up man's efforts to create a homogenous culture, and by doing so, to reach heaven. He wanted man to be scattered and different. He expects us to respect the laws and government we are placed under, but his kingdom, the one we should be loyal to above any earthly one, is global. Secondly, I think we need to have some healthy suspicion towards a culture which espouses Judeo-Christian values and the protection of our rights but seldom mentions the hard path of discipleship which often requires that we sacrifice our "rights." External conformity to Judeo-Christian values separated from discipleship = white-washed tombs. Satan would like nothing better. We need to guard against creating a towering nation with a strong name for itself based on self-sufficiency, a common "language," and the outward espousal of "Judeo-Christian values" when our inward values make idols of power and wealth and neglect justice, mercy, and faithfulness which Jesus tells us are the "weightier things of the law."

The human argument is that a strong, nationalistic culture preserves a flourishing society. I don't believe that man's definition of flourishing society is God's definition. We say that when we are powerful and wealthy with a strong name for ourselves, we are more able to help others, and so justify our prideful ambition. But God teaches us that his power to communicate is greatest when ours is weakest (the tongues at Pentecost), his power to help others is greatest when our power to do so is weakest (the feeding of the 5,000), the power of his kingdom is greatest when our empire is weakest (the Jewish empire during Christ's incarnation). The more we try to protect ourselves, and the more our tower of power, wealth, and cultural conformity is built, the greater my belief that God will scatter and confuse us for the sake of displaying his own glory. I wish we would listen to our better angels and understood that we are God's nation when we embrace discipleship with its incumbent denial of self, wealth, and safety. Easier to put a camel through the eye of a needle. There's a reason that God has allowed the story of the Tower of Babel to persist from ancient times all the way to 2017. It's because it is still relevant.

What can we learn from God's "scattering and confusing" the human race? What kind of unity is it that God wants us to have instead of the superficial kind?  I think that serious Christians need to think hard on those questions.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Music On Monday: Fishy Laundry

Last week's Music On Monday selection featured a rather chaotic-sounding piece by Eliot Carter, and my week immediately fell into chaos. I was rear-ended in a car accident the same day and had unrelated minor surgery at the end of the week. My car is probably totaled, but all of the humans involved were okay. Still, I'd prefer not to have another week like that, so today's selection is one of the most tonal, upbeat pieces of classical music I could think of just in case my music selection has some bearing on the week's events!

A few years ago, my husband and I finally upgraded our slowly dying washer and dryer to new, front-loading Samsung models. Little did we know that the folks at Samsung are fans of Schubert. His piano quintet in A (nicknamed "The Trout") contains a happy tune that is meant to suggest a trout swimming in a stream. It's arguably the most famous piece of classical chamber music.

I've enjoyed discovering videos of other proud Samsung owners dancing to and playing along with their appliances. Here are three funny videos followed by a serious performance of The Trout.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Words on Wednesday: Quotes That Speak To Me This Week

“Authority without wisdom is like a heavy axe without an edge, fitter to bruise than polish.”
― Anne Bradstreet

“Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast.”
― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Self-love is often rather arrogant than blind; it does not hide our faults from ourselves, but persuades us that they escape the notice of others.
----Samuel Johnson

It is a sign that your reputation is small and sinking if your own tongue must praise you. 
-----Matthew Hale

“People who have so much of their personality invested in the Internet can’t really survive as whole individuals without it.”
― Mark A. Rayner, The Fridgularity