Ordinary Time 2017
A new article in Christianity Today combines two of my big interests: Evensong and the internet.
Thousands of people are turning out to hear free choral music around Britain, many for the first time.
The ancient church music has been around for centuries – but is getting a new audience due to a new website set up to enable people to find choral evensong services at cathedrals, colleges and churches anywhere in Britain and Ireland.
Gledhill, Ruth. "Why are thousands of people who've never set foot in church before suddenly showing up for choral evensong?". Christianity Today, 17 August 2017.
The total solar eclipse in the United States on Monday, August 21 will be quite an event. And it’s one that seemingly everyone is already talking about.
Why is this astronomical event such a big deal to us? I mean, we live in an age when we can carry around supercomputers in our pockets. (And these same supercomputers can tell us exactly how much of the eclipse we’ll be experiencing based on our precise location).
Are we really going to look up from our smartphones and gaze heavenward on Monday?
Well, if and when we do, we’ll be joining in one of those great human acts: pondering the mystery and majesty of the natural world.
For centuries, Christians have had a tendency to look up to these celestial bodies in their song. They are part of our world and part of God’s creation. Their movement orders our days and our lives and therefore our worship of almighty God. So, let's take a look at some of the hymns found in the Hymnal 1982.
It’s interesting to look closely at the processional cross used at St. Peter’s, St. Louis, and find both the sun and the moon peering out at you in the midst of the four Evangelists.
And why shouldn't they be on the cross of Christ? The date of Easter, the central mystery of the Christian faith, is determined by both the sun and the moon. It is the Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox (see page 880 of the Book of Common Prayer).
St. Patrick (372-466) invokes these two bodies in his glorious hymn of praise to the Holy Trinity
I bind unto myself today the virtues of the starlit heaven the glorious sun’s life-giving ray, the whiteness of the moon at even,
Hymn 370 (all hymn numbers in this essay refer to the Hymnal 1982), translated by Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895)
A few centuries later, an anonymous office hymn for Vespers, “Caeli Deus sanctissimae” has the natural order of day and night as one of its themes. It’s second and third stanzas receive a glorious free translation from Anne LeCroy in the Hymnal 1982.
Quarto die qui flammeam solis rotam consituens, lunae ministras orini vagos recursus siderum, Ut noctibus vel lumini diremptionis terminum, primordiis et mensium signum dares notissimum:
for you the dazzling star shines forth which in its gleaming path declares the wonders of your glorious power, And beckons us to worship you. The day departs, the evening stars serenely light the darkening sky; the moon with cool reflected glow will bring the silences of night.
Hymn 31 and 32. (I find the hymn tune Dunedin at Hymn 31 particularly irresistible with these words.)
The sun and the moon provided great inspiration to another beloved Christian figure and hymn writer St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226)
All creatures of our God and King, lift up your voices, let us sing: Alleluia! Alleluia! Bright burning sun with golden beams, pale silver moon that gently gleams,
Hymn 400, tr. William H. Draper (1855-1933), alt.
Episcopalians get to enjoy not one, but two translations of St. Francis’s marvelous text. A less commonly sung version by Howard Chandler Robbins (1876-1952) is found at Hymns 406 and 407. I have a great fondness for the hymn texts of Robbins, who was a Dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York.
My Lord be praised by brother sun who through the skies his course doth run, and shines in brilliant splendor: with brightness he doth fill the day, and signifies thy boundless sway. My Lord be praised by sister moon and all the stars, that with her soon will point the glittering heavens. Let wind and air and cloud and calm and weathers all, repeat the psalm.
There’s so much to admire in this language! “Signifies” – who knew that could be such a musical word? And in the moon stanza: the use of the verb “point”. The final sentence contains a chain of natural elements culminating in the peculiar “weathers”. There is much to savor here.
And the Calvin Hampton hymn tune “Lukkason” at Hymn 407 has much to recommend it.
John Mitlon (1608-1674) dresses up these spheres with some nifty descriptions in an often overlooked paraphrase of Psalm 136.
He the golden-tressèd sun caused all day his course to run: The hornèd moon to shine by night, mid her spangled sisters bright:
Joseph Addison (1672-1719) has a particularly florid paraphrase of Psalm 19:1-6
The unwearied sun from day to day does his Creator’s power display;
And in the second stanza he begins with the moon:
Soon as the evening shades prevail, the moon takes up the wondrous tale, and nightly to the listening earth repeats the story of her birth:… and it concludes gloriously with stars and planets.
whilst all the stars that round her burn, and all the planets in their turn, confirm the tidings, as they roll and spread the truth from pole to pole.
Isaac Watts (1674-1748), the “Father of English hymnody,” included the sun and the moon in several of his hymns.
I sing the wisdom that ordained the sun to rule the day; the moon shines full at his command, and all the stars obey.
Growing up in the Presbyterian church, it seemed as though we sang “Jesus shall reign” every other week!
Jesus shall reign where’er the sun doth his successive journeys run; His kingdom stretch from shore to shore, till moons shall wax and wane no more.
Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847) is the author of that beloved Anglican hymn text “Praise, my soul, the King of heaven,” with that achingly glorious concluding stanza
Angels, help us to adore him; ye behold him face to face; sun and moon, bow down before him, dwellers all in time and space”
The familiar hymn "Fairest Lord Jesus" begins with earthly comparisons (Jesus, of course, outshines them all), and then reaches heavenward to drive it's point home.
Fair is the sunshine, fairer still the moonlight, and all the twinkling, starry host: Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer, than all the angels heaven can boast.
Hymn 383, German composite; tr. pub. New York, 1850, alt.
Folliott Sandford Pierpoint (1835-1917), wrote an enduring hymn of thanksgiving for creation, “For the beauty of the earth” when he was twenty-nine years old.
For the beauty of each hour of the day and of the night, hill and vale, and tree and flower, sun and moon, and stars of light,
Some marvelous twentieth-century texts have looked heavenward as well. In the era of space exploration, some of these texts take on a more “scientific” feel.
One of my very favorite hymns, which we don’t sing often enough is "Creating God, your fingers trace". The phrase “farthest space” could only appear in the age of space exploration when congregations could really conceive of what that might mean.
Creating God, your fingers trace the bold designs of farthest space; Let sun and moon and stars and light and what lies hidden praise your might.
Hymns 394 and 395, Jeffrey Rowthorn (b. 1934)
As of today, you can listen to the first episode of a new podcast that I'm starting with the Rev. Ian Lasch. It's about liturgy and music from our particular Episcopal/Anglican perspective called All Things Rite & Musical.
Of course, we've given this fledgling podcast every possible advantage:
And if you want to subscribe to the podcast, you can do that
We hope you'll have a listen!
Two years ago, I wrote about the "new worlds" sentiment found in two different hymns: new worlds - thousands of.
Frederick William Faber writes of "thousands / Of new worlds as great as this" in a stanza that has been cut from the Hymnal 1982.
And the midst of Robert Bridges's famous hymn gives us: "newborn worlds rise and adore"
But I had not realized how ancient the "many worlds" sentiment was in Christian liturgy.
Stephen Buzard, the director of the 2017 St. Louis Royal School of Church Music (RSCM) course drew our attention to a similar line in the Phos hilaron.
The Phos hilaron is truly ancient – the oldest known Christian hymn outside of the Bible.
While it's often rendered as "O gracious light," Lutheran theologian Marva Dawn loved to translate this literally: "O laughing light" or "O hilarious light".
The Phos hilaron was introduced to the Evening Prayer (Both Rite I and Rite II) with the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.
Here it is in the Rite I version:
O gracious Light, pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven, O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed! Now as we come to the setting of the sun, and our eyes behold the vesper light, we sing thy praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thou art worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices, O Son of God, O Giver of life, and to be glorified though all the worlds.
There it is again – right there in the very last line – the "many worlds" idea. The plural is deliberate.
This year is the 20th anniversary of St. Louis RSCM course, and a new setting of the Phos hilaron has been commissioned to honor the course's founders: Phillip Brunswick and Brother Vincent Ignatius, OSB. The composer is Gary Davison.
Yesterday, Mr. Buzard drew our attention to that last phrase of the Phos: "through all the worlds".
There is an exceptional, mystical way in which Gary Davison has set those words.
And so here we have it, the best of the Anglican choral tradition: an ancient Christian text in a brand new, beautiful, thoughtfully-composed setting.
It will be sung for the first time at Evensong on Saturday.
Until last month most people had never heard of Belleville, Ill, the home of the man who aimed a rifle at Republican members of Congress on a baseball field on Wednesday, June 14.
Belleville is a little town east of St. Louis. They have an Episcopal church there, St. George's.
And while I've never been to Belleville, I have been to Toddhall Retreat Center, which is run as a ministry of St. George's.
Toddhall is the location of the Royal School of Church Music (RSCM) St. Louis Course, which I attended last year.
This is a very tenuous association with political violence. My spouse, on the other hand, had a frightening experience in Washington, DC last year: she was under lockdown in Politics and Prose Bookstore as "pizzagate" came to its ignominious and dangerous end.
Last year, in what seemed to be a particularly violent summer, I wrote a bit about church music in a violent world. And since learning the shooter was from Belleville, my thoughts naturally turned to the music that I will make near there this week, and what liturgy and music generally have to say in this era of continual mass shootings and seemingly incessant police shootings of black people.
I'm on my way toward Belleville again this morning. At the 2017 RSCM St. Louis Course, which begins today, we will be singing Rejoice in the Lamb by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976).
In the midst of the 18-minute cantata, these words of Christopher Smart (1722-1771) are sung by the full choir:
For I am under the same accusation With my Savior, For they said, He is besides himself. For the officers of the peace Are at variance with me, And the watchman smites me With his staff. For the silly fellow, silly fellow, Is against me, And belongeth neither to me Nor to my family.
Being struck by the night watchman was serious. His job was to keep order, and his weapon was a staff.
The blow was often powerful enough to kill, and it is in this way that composer Michael Wise (1648-1687) met his end.
"He is besides himself."
Who in their right mind opens fire at a baseball game, we might ask? Or fires a shot in a pizza parlor?
But then there are the "officers of the peace" who are at variance with the crazies.
NBC News: Darren Wilson Described Michael Brown as ‘Crazy,’ Intent on Killing Him (25 November 2014)
Woe betide anyone who is at variance with the officers of the peace these days. Many of them smite first and ask questions later. They work under a system that has not found them culpable – not once.
Today is the Feast of William White (1748–1836), the Bishop of Pennsylvania who served as the first and fourth presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. The Collect of the Day begins "O Lord, in a time of turmoil and confusion..."
How much has changed since the times of Smart, Bishop White, and Britten. And yet we find ourselves in another time of turmoil and confusion.
Thank God for the blessing of words, music, and liturgy like this in a place like this.
And for the opportunity to come together to sing "with the spirit, and with the understanding also."
There are several things that led me to begin an email newsletter.
Every now and then I have a half-baked idea that's not quite ready for this blog.
Or I just don't want it to be that permanent, or that widely read.
I'm fascinated by a kind of "retro" movement on the internet – blogs and email haven't gone anywhere, so what are we doing with these tools?
I'm giving a couple of talks about social media this summer, so I thought I should look into email newsletter services. I chose Tinyletter.
Also, I just thought it might be kind of fun to have an email newsletter.
That's really all there is to it.
You can subscribe here if you want to. It really is it's own thing. (You're not going to get a digest of posts on this blog.)
There. That's all I'm ever going to say about this here.
Frankly, why shouldn’t Christianity look a little odd to a modern viewer? Our tradition insists that a God-Man rose from the dead. Constant ecclesiastical searching for ‘relevance’ can be highly damaging spiritually and institutionally.
"#MitreGate: And the End of Vestments". Pray Tell, 10 July 2017.
I have always loved this prayer by the Rev. Jeremy Davies – at least, I assume he is the author.
The prayer is part of a recording of Evensong from Salisbury Cathedral called King of Glory on the Griffin label from 2003. Davies is the precentor for the service on the recording.
I loved this prayer so much, and I listened to the CD so often that I used to have this prayer memorized. I know that I wrote it down at one point, but I couldn't find it today. So, I pulled out the CD to have a listen.
Thank you God for this beautiful world
and for all the good things around us:
for all we have and all we are,
for health and intelligence,
for food and warmth,
for rain and sunshine,
for the beauty of the earth:
the mystery of the mountains, the immensity of the sea
for food, home and family, and friends;
for parents and teachers,
for skills and hobbies,
and things that make us laugh.
Forgive us that we take these things so much for granted
and grasp them as our own.
Forgive our selfishness and greed,
and help us to remember, with practical generosity,
those who do not have the advantages we enjoy;
for you are the giver of all good things,
and we are made in your likeness,
our God, for ever and ever.
The rest of the disc is certainly worth hearing too. It's a pristinely sung, beautifully recorded service of Evensong in a great cathedral. This is one of those discs where it all just comes together, in no small part due to the Rev. Jeremy Davies.
When talking to a group of organists who had registered for an American Guild of Organists (AGO) regional convention, I borrowed some language from the mission of the AGO itself to explain why we should engage with social media: to share knowledge and inspire passion.
The mission of the American Guild of Organists is to foster a thriving community of musicians who share their knowledge and inspire passion for the organ.
One of the ways in which I think organists owe it to themselves to live out the mission of this organization is to not keep our knowledge a secret.
We all have unique interests and experiences, and one of the joys of getting together at conventions like this is sharing our stories with each other.
But while we might be able to attend a conference only a few days a year, the web affords us an opportunity to have these conversations year round.
Furthermore, we are all passionate about the organ. It does our organization and our profession no good to keep this passion under a bushel. We should unashamedly demonstrate our passion by letting our social media mirror the things we are excited about.
I always consider Halloween to be peak organ evangelism time. It's sort of like, Christmas and the church. Here, let me do one of those SAT analogy thingies:
Halloween : organ :: Christmas : Church
People who would never otherwise think about the organ are Googling words like Bach, organ, Toccata, D minor, and BWV 565. Some of them might even consider going to an organ recital for the first time.
And while interest in the instrument is always at a peak at this time of year, there is a certain level of curiosity about the organ year-round.
Organists would do well to help people find us and the organ online year-round because someone is always looking.
If your early fascination with the organ was anything like mine, you were just as fascinated with the instrument itself as with the music written for it (if not more so!).
So one of the things I think is of great value to share through social media is our instruments themselves. Photos of the console, the pipe chambers, the blowers. Videos of the stop action, the swell shades. Recordings of the individual stops themselves (in fact, one of my so far unrealized projects is an "interactive stop list" where you can click each stop name to hear a short sample of that rank of pipes).
There are so many things that are worth getting out, and so many people live more and more of their lives online.
If you're an organist who is not already on the web and social media, why aren't you? If you are already on social media, do you think you share enough about the organ?
Today we noticed that The College of St. John's has been busy joining other Cambridge college choirs for Evensong recently.
All of these choirs sound fabulous on their own, but the result of cramming the stalls of one of these chapels with the singers of two choirs is a yet more thrilling sound.
Most recently, King's College for a Thursday, July 6 service that can be heard from the King's College webcast page.
About a month ago, the St. John's Choir was at Trinity, Cambridge, for a Thursday, June 8 Evensong
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Yes, but they're not the kind you buy on Wheel of Fortune.
the owner of a bower at Bucklesfordberry?
Full daintily it is dight.
interested in touch lamps?
And fountain pens.