The Epiphany Season
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."
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