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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

(Vienna)

I

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. 


(Hinterbrühl)

II

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

XII.

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.

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


Monday, February 6, 2017

Music On Monday: Elliott Carter And The Hazards of Democracy

Photo by Justin Ormant

Music on Monday is a weekly series featuring music that connects with the current events of my life in some way and that might be interesting to those who would like to learn more about classical music. 

Today, we're going to venture into the realm of the musical avant-garde. Don't be afraid!

Elliott Carter was an American composer who died only a few years ago, and of all of the modernist, non-tonal music that came about in the 20th century, his is the stuff I like best. Yes, I actually listen to it. It's an acquired taste, but the more you learn about it, the more you get it. You just have to change your expectations. This is not soothing music.


For today's Music On Monday selection, I chose Carter's composition A Symphony For Three Orchestras. In a great article published by Matthew Guerrieri in the Boston Globe shortly after Carter's death, Guerrieri connects Carter's vision of America with his music, and that view is strongly reflected in the political chaos of the moment.


Carter's musical output can be seen as always straddling the line between "faction and unity." Guerrieri quotes James Madison: “The friend of popular governments never finds himself so much alarmed for their character and fate, as when he contemplates their propensity to this dangerous vice.” The dangerous vice he refers to is "the violence of faction." Consider the riots and protests we've seen so far in only two weeks of President Trump's administration. We are alarmed for the character and fate of our government. Carter made that concern musically his own: As Guerrieri says, "faction and unity would become the latitude and longitude of his musical map."

If you listen to Carter with this in mind, you can hear the very individual character of each instrument going its own way, even when many instruments are caught up in a sweep that heads in a similar direction. Each instrument is it's own, yet it also works in concert with the others.

As we watch the federal court rulings fly in response to President Trump's travel ban, we are watching our three branches of government in action, exercising the checks and balances designed by our country's founders. The piece I'm showcasing today, A Symphony for Three Orchestras, was composed in honor of the American Bicentennial in 1976. It divides the musical forces into three separate, contentious groups. Coincidence? Maybe not.

How to listen to this? First of all, don't bring romantic expectations to the table. This is not music to soothe or to suggest beautiful, pastoral scenes. It's intellectual and visceral. Don't expect melodic or rhythmic patterns that will stick with you (although you might discover a few if you listen very closely). Keep your mind open and let the music tell you what it will. Listen for jagged vs. smooth, coordinated vs. uncoordinated, bright vs. dark, hurried vs. not hurried. Can you hear the individual trajectories of the individual instruments? Can you hear the three separate groups? This is music as ideology, not music as emotion. It may spark emotion in you, and that's a valid experience, but if it's a completely intellectual experience, that's okay, too.