Today is the feast of St. John the Baptist. The Feast of the Incarnation of Christ (Christmas!) is but six months away.
Almighty God, by whose providence your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Savior by preaching repentance: Make us so to follow his teaching and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and, following his example, constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
O God of Grass and Pollen, Dust and Mold: you created everything in this vast domain, and see all things to their proper end. Look with mercy, we pray, on those who suffer allergic reactions to these natural things, and relieve them of their itchy eyes and runny noses and gurgly ears and sneezy soundings, that may soon be whole and hale and unencumbered of their afflictions, and may at length praise you as the Great Physician and Healer. This we ask through the merits of our one Lord, the Healer of All Humankind, who lives and reigns with you, One Holy Trinity, undivided and indivisible, now and forever. Amen.
Yes, I wrote this little Collect for myself just now, since my ear is gurgling again for the third day in the last eight. E’en so, Lord Jesus, deliver me.
Rather than being at church as I wish and desire, I am laid up at home this morning.
At two different points in last evening’s Easter Vigil, I had a hard time rising from my chair to stand, so bad was the back spasm. (I twisted hard as I fell last week, and the back has been getting progressively worse all week. Heat and stretching at home don’t seem to be efficacious.) By the time I got home last evening, I had trouble getting out of the car.
So, after struggling to get out of my clothes and my walking boot, I went to bed, and on an empty stomach. At about 2 in the morning, I moved from bed to the recliner in my office, which felt better on the back. At about 5, I took a pain pill.
And then I didn’t hear my alarm, and when Nick texted and called at 8.30 this morning to find out where I was, the phone was in the other room and I couldn’t get to it. Then when I did start moving, I realized that standing is great for my back spasms, but not for my ankle swelling (because it is indeed swollen again).
The day has not started off propitiously. I am missing church . . . I have about one sitting position that is comfortable . . . Samson is angered because he can’t be on my lap since I can’t lift him . . . I’m missing Easter service . . . and I’m frustrated as I can be, at least at this moment.
But — Christ the Lord is risen, and all is well. Of this I am certain.
I enjoy very much the letter of St. Paul to St. Titus. The entire little book — all three chapters — are on the docket for Evening Prayer this weekend. I’ve just read aloud chapter two.
Hear these words:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all,* training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Saviour,* Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.
Meanwhile, SLUH has a home ball game tonight against a rival school, so parking is at a premium. I’m walking over there in a few minutes to see the Dauphin Players production of a delightful favorite musical, Brigadoon, at a different location on campus.
And . . . wait for it . . . I successfully changed an outdoor security light this afternoon, dealing with electricity (with success) for the first time. And I’m alive to tell about it.
Today is the Feast of the Presentation, also known as Candlemas. Forty days after Christmas, today is the symbolic day of Jesus’ presentation at the Temple, as decreed in the Levitical law.
Almighty and everliving God, we humbly pray that, as your only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple, so we may be presented to you with pure and clean hearts by Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Samson is snuggled by my side, gently snoring. He’s feeling better. He did decide one day this week to embrace his achiness and poop on the office carpet upstairs. But I can forgive him for that, and I have.
I went last evening to Powell Hall for a performance of the Sibelius Fifth Symphony by the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. My favorite work by Sibelius, it’s a strange concoction of murmurings and shufflings and brassiness and climaxes. And it’s incredibly powerful. I sat with some of my students way up in the gods. ‘Twas a good evening.
Today is a relatively down day, with a couple of lessons, a Mass to sing around sundown, some laundry, and a manicure.
I’m off to Chicago for two days this week, so I’ll likely do some school work today as well, since tomorrow is very full.
And so Advent arrives. The Christian year is complete, and the cycle of story and parable, song and prayer, starts over again.
I welcomed Advent this evening after dark by singing an Advent I Vigil Mass at the Church of Saint Michael and Saint George in Clayton. Then I dined with colleagues from the choir, stuffing myself in chips and salsa before the chimichanga arrived.
I shall abed early tonight, as the day has been a long one.
Oswald Chambers has been on my mind this week. Read on:
We have all had times on the mount, when we have seen things from God’s standpoint and have wanted to stay there; but God will never allow us to stay there. The test of our spiritual life is the power to descend; if we have power to rise only, something is wrong. It is a great thing to be on the mount with God, but a man only gets there in order that afterwards he may get down among the devil-possessed and lift them up. We are not built for the mountains and the dawns and aesthetic affinities, those are for moments of inspiration, that is all. We are built for the valley, for the ordinary stuff we are in, and that is where we have to prove our mettle. Spiritual selfishness always wants repeated moments on the mount. We feel we could talk like angels and live like angels, if only we could stay on the mount. The times of exaltation are exceptional, they have their meaning in our life with God, but we must beware lest our spiritual selfishness wants to make them the only time.
Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly beseech Thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of Thy favor and glad to do Thy will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in Thy name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to Thy law, we may show forth Thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in Thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
O Lord, our Governor, whose glory is in all the world: We commend this nation to Thy merciful care, that, being guided by Thy providence, we may dwell secure in Thy peace. Grant to the President of the United States, the Governor of this State, and to all in authority, wisdom and strength to know and to do Thy will. Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve this people in Thy fear; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Spirit, one God world without end. Amen.
O God, the fountain of wisdom, whose will is good and gracious, and whose law is truth: We beseech Thee so to guide and bless our Senators and Representatives in Congress assembled that they may enact such laws as shall please Thee, to the glory of Thy name and welfare of this people; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
And God, thank you.
We opened the service today with the great and wonderful hymn “The Church’s one foundation.”
The last verse, as it reads in the Episcopal hymnal (since many versions of this poetry exist), is:
Yet she on earth hath union
With the God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won:
O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we,
Like them, the meek and lowly,
On high may dwell with thee.
This verse always makes me cry. I recall singing it in 1998 on one of the Sundays of Easter. My mother had just died the previous month, and that last verse caught me unaware, then grabbed hold of me so much I had to leave the service for a few minutes.
Today, I knew what to expect, so I just took off my glasses after the closing chord, wiped my eyes, and went on with the service.
‘Tis a good thing to love, and to lose, and to long.
Here’s a thrilling rendition, with altered words —
At 1 p.m. this Wednesday, I am in my office with the door closed. My speakers are pouring forth the joy and sorrow of Herbert Howells’ Hymnus Paradisi, live via the miracles of technology from Royal Albert Hall in London.
I know this piece so well . . . .
This weekend, as I was poking around in the basement looking for some DVDs, I stumbled onto the folder of cards and articles from my mother’s death. I haven’t touched this folder in years, but I pulled out the state Baptist newsletter and re-read the obituary. Then I started reading the sidebar commentary by Betty Poor that accompanied the article, and I melted into tears.
Hymnus Paradisi, written by Howells to help assuage his grief at the death of his six-year-old son Michael in 1935 (and perhaps to help work out his grief over the death of his dear friend Ivor Gurney), is an intensely personal work, one that he kept to himself for nearly 15 years before he allowed its first public performance.
Somehow, some way, I need this piece today.
And after the opening prelude from the orchestra, there is the BBC Symphony Chorus singing “Grant them eternal rest, O Lord,and let perpetual light shine upon them.” Such simple words, so full of truth and meaning and comfort.
- Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.
- This is hyper-Romantic music, tinged with lush and lascivious chords and prone to moments of ecstasy. Little of this music is pathos; rather, it is sometimes hesitant, but always hopeful when not somber. Howells knew what he was doing.
- “And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
- And the low strings and harp promise just that, with the rest and repose of F major after the drama of the 23rd Psalm.
- The conflagration of Sanctus and “I will lift up my eyes to hills” is a masterstroke. We think of Psalm 121 as something comforting. Here Howells makes it triumphant and joyous with the swirling shouts of ‘Sanctus’ swinging round. Violins add their own throaty joy in their highest positions, their sound the cloud of incense round the hills . . . and the throne.
- And the words of St. John: “I heard a voice from Heaven, saying, ‘Write, from henceforth, blessed are the dead which die in the Lord’.” Blessed, blessed, blessed. Howells keeps piling on the assurances, ones that sometimes we need. Sometimes I need.
- I was scheduled to rehearse and perform, in 1998, Howells’ Requiem for unaccompanied voices. The Requiem is the source material for much of Hymnus Paradisi. On March 23, 1998, my mother died. Suddenly this performance of the Requiem was a memorial to her, and a catharsis for me. Today, hearing these same strains now with orchestra, magnified and exalted, I am one again with those days in April 1998 as I lived with this music for hours each day.
- “Holy is the true light, and passing wonderful. Alleluia.” As I taught this morning, enharmonic third relationships can create magical transitions. Howells . . . brilliant as ever! . . . goes from the heaviness of D-flat major to the light of A major, using the D-flat and C-sharp as enharmonics. One could not find a more textbook example!
- But that moment is also embued with glory. The release comes at the right time. For an instant, we inwardly shout “alleluia” with the angels and the choirs of heaven and earth. “Alleluia. Evermore.” The wind-down commences, the final alleluias tender and peaceful and intensely piercing in their ecstasy.
- Requiem dona eis sempiternam.
- One final raised fourth scale degree (the Lydian Howells touch!) and we are home. And Home.
- Visionary climax. Luminous tranquility. Comfort for the living. Blessed peace for the dead.
- Said Howells, “The texts are immemorial reflections on the transient griefs and indestructible hopes of mankind.”
- (I shall be in London at HH’s grave this year on the 30th anniversary of his death. I expect I shall shed a tear or two.)
- Requiem æternam, Marie, and Herbert.