Thursday, March 31, 2016

For All the Saints: John Donne

In the Anglican communion, as well as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the English poet and cleric John Donne (1572-1631) is honored today, the anniversary of his death.

Here is an excellent summary of his life and influence (and the source of this picture):

And here are three favorite poems:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.


Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.


Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun,
         Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
         And do run still, though still I do deplore?
                When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
                        For I have more.

Wilt thou forgive that sin which I have won
         Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun
         A year or two, but wallow'd in, a score?
                When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
                        For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
         My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by thyself, that at my death thy Son
         Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;
                And, having done that, thou hast done;
                        I fear no more.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Landscape: Kiefer

Anselm Kiefer, "Lots Frau" ("Lot's Wife"), 1989. Cleveland Museum of Art.

For All the Saints: John Klimatos, & an Uncondemning Monk

Icon of John Klimatos,
from Wikipedia
On the Orthodox calendar, St John Climatus (John of the Ladder) of Sinai is honored today in the Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions, and he is also honored in Orthodox churches on the Fourth Sunday of Great Lent. Few facts are known of his life during the 600s; he joined the monastery at Mount Sinai during his teens and lived there until his death at 80. During a period of twenty years when he lived in a cave, he wrote a classic work, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, which is still read a treasury of spiritual wisdom which is read in its entirety in monasteries during every Lenten season. In that work, Jacob's Ladder Genesis 28) is used as an analogy for the progression of one's body and should to God. Each step corresponds to different virtues until one reaches the highest, which is love. In the 19th century, philosopher Soren Kierkegaard used "John Climatus" as one of his pseudonyms.

March 30 is also the day for honoring "an uncondemning monk." The Orthodox Saints site has this:
"This monk died joyfully because he had never in his life condemned anyone. He was lazy, careless, disinclined to prayer, but throughout his entire life he had never judged anyone. And when he lay dying, he was full of joy. The brethren asked him how he could die so joyfully with all his sins, and he replied: 'I have just seen the angels, and they showed me a page with all my many sins. I said to them: "The Lord said: 'Judge not, that ye be not judged.' I have never judged anyone and I hope in the mercy of God, that He will not judge me." And the angels tore up the sheet of paper.' Hearing this, the monks wondered at it and learned from it."

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Landscape: Tryon

Dwight William Tryon, "Autumn" (1892). From:

Landscape: Monet

Claude Monet, "The Seine near Giverny," 1888.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

A Year's Music: Tavener's "Veil of the Temple"

This is a very long piece that I plan on listening to during the upcoming week:

For All the Saints: Richard Allen

On the Episcopal Church calendar, Richard Allen (1760-1831) is honored today, the anniversary of his death. Born into slavery, Allen founded the first independent black denomination in the US, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, in 1794, and was elected its first bishop in 1816. In the AME Church, he hoped to give free blacks a place to worship with respect and dignity. He also organized Sabbath schools to teach literacy, promoted the well being of American blacks, and operated an Underground Railroad station. As a young person he had taught himself to read and write. Already active in Methodist evangelizing, he was qualified as a preacher in 1784 when the Methodist Church was founded at at the famous Christmas Conference in Baltimore.  He became a preacher at the St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, but when the white Methodists ordered the blacks to worship separately, he and the rest of the black congregation left and formed the basis of the AME Church, which in twenty years had nearly 1300 members.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Landscape: Allston

Washington Allston, "Landscape, American Scenery: Time, Afternoon, with a Southwest Haze" (1835).

A Year's Music: McMillan's "Seven Last Words from the Cross"

       Matthias Grünewald's Isenheim Altarpiece 
I noticed that an area church is featuring Gabriel Faure's Requiem during this Easter Triduum. I want to write about that favorite piece eventually. Today (Good Friday) I'm listening to a much harsher piece, "Seven Last Words from the Cross" by contemporary composer James MacMillan (b. 1959). The All Music site has this about the piece: "Inspired by his Catholic faith, James MacMillan often composes intense works on religious themes. Yet unlike his older contemporaries, Sir John Tavener and Arvo Pärt, whose calm meditations and ecstatic paeans reflect their composers' certitude in Christian redemption, MacMillan frequently considers darker subjects and creates a dramatic tension in his music between expressions of suffering and salvation. His setting for choir and string orchestra of the Seven Last Words from the Cross (1993) is …[a] severe portrayal of Jesus' agony is much stronger than the pathos that is usually emphasized in such Good Friday services." Read the whole review at:

Here is a recording:

Thursday, March 24, 2016

For All the Saints: Oscar Romero

Archbishop Óscar Romero is honored today, the anniversary of his 1980 death, when he was assassinated while offering mass. The prelate of San Salvador, he was known for his ministry to the poor and for his criticism of the Salvadoran government for its human rights abuses, and of the U.S. for its military aid. He was beatified in 2015. The United Nations General Assembly designated Marhc 24 as "International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims." The Catholic Saints site has this summary of his life. See also:

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

"When the students are ready…"

There is a proverb, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear," or sometimes, "When the student is ready, the teacher is ready." According to this site, the proverb is not Buddhist but is from 19th century Theosophical writings. I always like the proverb because that really is the way of teaching: you can talk to students and explain things to them, but they won't understand until they're ready. Teaching has an aspect of kairos: we learn at the right time. Many times, students make comments about a subject that help me see something differently, and learning happens in a reciprocal way.

The other day, I commented that it's customary for us during Holy Week to point out the catastrophic drop in Jesus' "approval rating" during Holy Week. A pastor friend calls our Holy Week experience "liturgical whiplash."

Another customary thing to notice is the failure of the disciples to stand by Jesus. Jesus even predicted their behavior. Matthew 26:31 reads: Then Jesus said to them, ‘You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written [Zechariah 13:7],
“I will strike the shepherd,
   and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.”

I'm thinking of their desertion of Jesus in light of that proverb. Clearly the disciples (and the word means "students") weren't ready to understand the teacher!

But since Jesus already knew what they would do, what if their desertion was a way for them to be ready for the teacher's appearance: literally the appearance of Christ resurrected? For all their time listening to Jesus, they still needed the power of the risen Christ and the Holy Spirit for them to be really ready. Their readiness took a lot of time and regret---but Jesus was there and, in fact, had brought them along.

That's good assurance for all of us when we feel we are slow to learn. The Teacher is patient and hangs in with us in our own circumstances.

(A post from 2014.) 

For All the Saints: Gregory the Illuminator

The founder of Christianity in Armenia is honored today in the Anglican Communion and on September 30 in the Eastern Church. St. Gregory the Illuminator (c. 257 – c. 331) was the son of an Armenian Parthian noble who had been executed for the assassination of King Khosrov II. Gregory married but eventually he joined a monastery and, to atone for what his father did, he felt called to evangelize Armenia. Unfortunately, Kohosrov's son was the king and he imprisoned Gregory for years. He was eventually released so that he could help the new king, Tiridates II, whom Gregory baptized. That kind subsequently allowed Gregory to lead Christianity in Armiaia, resulting in he beginning of the Armenian church and the building of the Mother Church in Echmiadzin. At the end of his life he retired to a small convent of monks.

Monday, March 21, 2016

For All the Saints: Thomas Cranmer

In the Anglican Communion and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) is honored today. He was Archbishop of Canterbury during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI and part of the reign of Mary I. As archbishop, especially during Edward's reign, he made significant reforms to the Church of England, writing the first two editions of the Book of Common Prayer, and establishing doctrine in, for instance, the Thirty-Nine Articles. Earlier he helped establish the English monarch as sovereign over the English church. During Mary's reign, he was imprisoned for heresy and treason, during which time he recanted his earlier views, but he finally withdrew his recantations and was executed as a heretic.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

For All the Saints: St. Joseph

Today is St. Joseph's Day in many traditions: the feast day of Joseph the husband of the Virgin Mary, although in Eastern Christianity, his day is the Sunday after Christmas. Joseph is only mentioned in the Bible in Matthew's and Luke's birth narratives, and Matthew's genealogy for Jesus is that of Joseph's family. Mary is present throughout Jesus' adulthood and also in Acts 1, but we've no scriptural traditions about Joseph's death. For many centuries Joseph has been venerated as the protector and guardian of Jesus, and whose work as a carpenter Jesus shared prior to his ministry.

The Catholic Saints site has this about Joseph: "The Bible pays Joseph the highest compliment: he was a 'just' man. ...  By saying Joseph was 'just,' the Bible means that he was one who was completely open to all that God wanted to do for him. He became holy by opening himself totally to God.

"The rest we can easily surmise. Think of the kind of love with which he wooed and won Mary, and the depth of the love they shared during their marriage....

"The just man was simply, joyfully, wholeheartedly obedient to God—in marrying Mary, in naming Jesus, in shepherding the precious pair to Egypt, in bringing them to Nazareth, in the undetermined number of years of quiet faith and courage."

Friday, March 18, 2016

For All the Saints: Cyril of Jerusalem

During the past several months of reading about different saints of the church, I've learned that a few of them have been formally declared Doctors of the Church, those who contributed specially to theology and doctrine. Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 313-386), whose feast day is today, was declared such a doctor by Pope Leo XIII in 1883. A bishop of Jerusalem, he is honored on Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Eastern Orthodox calendars today.

The Roman Catholic Saints site has this about him:

"The crises that the Church faces today may seem minor when compared with the threat posed by the Arian heresy, which denied the divinity of Christ and almost overcame Christinity in the fourth century. Cyril was to be caught up in the controversy, accused (later) of Arianism by St. Jerome (September 30), and ultimately vindicated both by the men of his own time and by being declared a Doctor of the Church in 1822.

"Raised in Jerusalem, well-educated, especially in the Scriptures, he was ordained a priest by the bishop of Jerusalem and given the task of catechizing during Lent those preparing for Baptism and during the Easter season the newly baptized. His Catecheses remain valuable as examples of the ritual and theology of the Church in the mid-fourth century.

There are conflicting reports about the circumstances of his becoming bishop of Jerusalem. It is certain that he was validly consecrated by bishops of the province. Since one of them was an Arian, Acacius, it may have been expected that his 'cooperation' would follow. Conflict soon rose between Cyril and Acacius, bishop of the rival nearby see of Caesarea. Cyril was summoned to a council, accused of insubordination and of selling Church property to relieve the poor. Probably, however, a theological difference was also involved. He was condemned, driven from Jerusalem, and later vindicated, not without some association and help of Semi-Arians. Half his episcopate was spent in exile … He finally returned to find Jerusalem torn with heresy, schism and strife, and wracked with crime. Even St. Gregory of Nyssa, sent to help, left in despair.

"They both went to the (second ecumenical) Council of Constantinople, where the amended form of the Nicene Creed was promulgated in 381. Cyril accepted the word consubstantial (that is, of Christ and the Father). Some said it was an act of repentance, but the bishops of the Council praised him as a champion of orthodoxy against the Arians. ..."

Thursday, March 17, 2016

A Year's Music: Bach's Matthäus-Passion

Moving toward Holy Week, I'm starting to listen to J.S. Bach's Matthäus-Passion, BWV, 244, which I still have on an LP set, the 1972 recording conducted by Herbert von Karajan, with a wonderful cast including Peter Schreier, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Gundula Janowitz, Christa Ludwig, Walter Berry, and others. I wrote about the piece a couple years ago, too:

The passion is a setting of chapters 26 and 27 of Matthew's Gospel, concerning the suffering and death of Jesus. I found this excellent summary of the piece: That author, Joshua Rifkin, indicates that Bach was becoming discouraged with his work at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, wrote far fewer cantatas than before, and perhaps hoped to find a new position somewhere. "Yet at this very time ... Bach wrote his St. Matthew Passion, the longest and most elaborate work that he ever composed. It would appear that he saw significant phase of his life drawing to a close and took the occasion to produce a work that would synthesise and surpass all that he had previously done in the realm of liturgical music. The St. Matthew Passion was his last major composition for the Leipzig congregation... The first performance of the St. Matthew Passion, given at the Thomaskirche, probably fell on April 11, 1727... "

The Wikipedia site provides an outline of the chorales and arias. There are so many moving moments. Here is a wonderful recording of the entire piece, conducted by Philipp Herreweghe:

For All the Saints: St. Patrick

Today is St. Patrick's Day! Here's what I wrote about the saint last year:

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Maundy Thursday and Good Friday Scriptures

The manuscript for my book, Walking with Jesus through the Old Testament (available here or here), had an appendix that contained allusions and quotations to Old Testament passages that, for the New Testament writers, were pertinent to Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. The appendix was omitted because it didn't fit the devotional quality of the rest of the book. But with my editor's permission, I'm posting that material here on this blog.

The Gospel accounts of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are filled with allusions and quotations to Old Testament passages. The New Testament authors sought to demonstrate the messianic nature of Jesus by showing correspondence of Jesus' experiences with the biblical traditions. It is so difficult to discuss Holy Week scriptures without sounding anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic; the Gospels were written by Jews about other Jews, but as history moved along, Christianity became a predominantly Gentile religion, and the portrayal of Jews in the Gospels caused Christians to hate and persecute Jews. We must never forget this as we study the scriptures; in my book, I tried to show Jesus' continuity with the scriptures of his religion rather than to take a supersessionist approach.

With all that in mind: if you have time, look up some or all of these passages, so you can appreciate how the Gospel writers interpreted Jesus' experiences as deeply rooted in Hebrew scriptures. The way the Romans treated Jesus reflected their perception of Jews as a troublesome people who, in their religious integrity, refused to respect the Roman gods.

Then [Jesus] said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” 
(Luke 24:44-47)

Judas betrays Jesus (Ps. 41:9; Matt. 26:14–16; Mark 14:10–11; Luke 22:3–6; John 13:21–30) and receives thirty pieces of silver (Zech. 11:12–13; Matt. 26:14–16; 27:3–7).
Jesus’ friends abandon him; the sheep are scattered after the shepherd is struck (Ps. 38:11; Zech. 13:7; Mark 14:50).
The witnesses accuse him (Ps. 27:12; 35:11–12; Matt. 26:59¬–61; Mark 14:55–57).
Jesus is silent before his accusers (Isa. 53:7; Matt. 27:13–14; Mark 15:3–-5); he does not respond to them with deceit or violence (Isa. 53:12; 1 Pet. 2:22); but he testifies to the victory of the Son of Man (Ps. 110:1; Dan. 7:13; Matt. 26:64; Mark 14:62; Luke 22:67–70).

For Good Friday, Old Testament passages connected to Jesus’ experiences are many.
Satan will “bruise” him (Gen. 3:15; John 12:31–33; 19:18).
Jesus will suffer for the world (Isa. 53:4–6, 10-11; Rom. 5:6–9).
Jesus experienced insults, rejection, and abuse (Isa. 49:7; 50:6; Ps. 22:8; Matt. 27:41–44; Mark 15:31–32;, Luke 23:35–38). He is spat upon (Isa. 50:6; Matt. 27:30; Mark 15:19). People gloat (Ps. 22:12–13, 16; 38:11; 109:25; Matt. 27:39–40;, Mark 15:29–30; Luke 23:35), and they reproach him and mock him (Ps. 22:6–8, 16–18; 44:13–16; 109:25; Matt. 27:27–31, 39–40; Mark 15:16–20, 25–32; Luke 23:35–36;, John 19:19–20).
He is led as a “lamb to the slaughter” (Exod. 12:3–13; Ps. 44:11; Isa. 53:7; John 1:29; 1 Cor. 5:7).
He is disfigured and brutalized (Isa. 52:14; Ps. 22:16–17; Matt. 27:26; Mark 15:2; John 19:1–3).
He is pierced (Ps. 22:16; Zech. 12:10; John 19:33–37; 20:25–27).
His betrayer dies and the money is used for a potter’s field (Jer. 18:2–3; 32:6–15; Zech. 11:12–13; Matt. 27:3–10).
He is executed with criminals (Isa. 53:12; Matt. 21:38, 44; Mark 15:27; Luke 23:32–33; 39–43; John 19:18).
He expresses thirst (Ps. 69:21; John 19:28).
He is given vinegar to drink (Ps. 69:21; Matt. 27:48; Mark 15:36; Luke 23:36).
Lots are cast for his clothing (Ps. 22:18; Matt. 27:35;, Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34; John 19:24).
He makes intercession for those who kill and mock him, and he invokes the compassion of God for them (Isa. 53:12; Luke 23:34, 39–43; Acts 2:36–39).
He cries, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” which is the first line of Psalm 22 (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34).
He experiences the onslaught of death (Ps. 69:15).
He declares, “It is finished” (Ps. 22:31; John 19:30).
He prays, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit,” which is taken from Psalm 31:5 (Luke 23:46).
Romans did not break Jesus’ legs, which would have hastened his death; that his bones were not broken connects us to Psalm 34:20, as well as to Passover Scriptures like Exodus 12:43–46 and Numbers 9:12. These Passover texts, in turn, connect us back to the image of Jesus as the Lamb of God.
God did not abandon Jesus to death, corruption, and anonymity (2 Sam. 7:12–13; Ps. 16:10; Acts 2:31, 31–32).
He is given another man’s grave (Isa. 53:8–9; Matt. 27:57–61; Mark 15:42–47; Luke 23:50–56; John 19:38–42).
Jesus accomplishes God’s salvation (Isa. 25:8, and many others).

Remember that nearly all these Psalm references come from Psalms of King David, connecting Jesus’ sufferings with those of his ancestor David and thus saying something about the kind of monarch Jesus is affirmed to be.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Campaign articles

Every once in a while on this blog, I like to collect articles on current, pressing events. Right now I feel like I need to do my part in publicizing the destructiveness of the Trump campaign (although most of my friends and FB folks who express opinions feel similarly). Much information and commentary on which to reflect!

Here is an article on yesterday's cancelation of the Trump rally in Chicago.

Rachel Maddow exposes Trump's deliberate inciting of violence at his rallies:

An essay by Mohammad Fairouz that "Destructive language has no place at the table"

There are several articles lately about the fact that Trump is an outcome of years of Republican political tactics, during and before the Obama administration. Here is an article, "Donald Trump is the candidate the GOP deserves."

And a recent essay by Fareed Zarkaria, "Where were the Republican moderates 20 years ago?" (or even the moderates of a few years ago who could have decried Sarah Palin):

And also President Obama's words to the GOP leaders and others: "I didn't create Trump, your bigotry did"

The NYT has this op ed piece this weekend, "Trump is a threat to national and international security."

Another interesting essay, that Nancy Reagan's passing also marks "the end of Reaganism." The new issue of Time Magazine, which came in the mail this morning but which I haven't yet read, includes a cover story on this same topic.

Landscape: Durand

"Kindred Spirits" by Asher B. Durand. Poet William Cullen Bryant and painter Thomas Cole are the two people, in an idealized view of two scenes that actually can't be viewed together: Fawns Leap in Kaaterskill Clove and the Kaaterskill Falls, both in the Catskill Mountains. The kindred feelings of the title can refer to the two people and also their spiritual connection to the natural world, in turn communicated through Durand's evocative depiction.

For All the Saints: Gregory the Great

Pope Gregory I, or St. Gregory the Great, was born in about 540 and was pope from 590 until his death on March 12, 604. He is honored today on the Episcopal, Lutheran, and Orthodox calendars, although the Roman Church moved his feast day from March 12 (which falls during Lent) to September 3. The Orthodox Saints site has this:

"He was born in Rome to a wealthy senatorial family. He received a good education in secular and spiritual learning, and became Prefect of Rome. While still in the world, he used his great wealth mostly for the good of the Church, building six monasteries in Sicily and another in Rome itself. At this monastery, dedicated to the Apostle Andrew, Gregory was tonsured a monk. He was appointed Archdeacon of Rome, then, in 579, Papal legate to Constantinople, where he lived for nearly seven years. He returned to Rome in 585 and was elected Pope in 590.

"He is famed for his many writings, his generous charity (he gave almost all his income to the poor, and often invited the poor to share his table), and for initiating missionary work among the Anglo-Saxon peoples. The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, celebrated on Wednesday and Friday evenings during Great Lent, was compiled by him. St Gregory introduced elements of the chanting that he had heard in Constantinople into Western Church chant: The Gregorian Chant which beautified the Western churches for many years is named for him. Its system of modes is related to the eight tones of the Eastern church. He is called 'the Dialogist' after his book The Dialogues, an account of the lives and miracles of Italian saints...."

Gregory increased the power of the papacy, bringing bishops back in strong connection with Rome. He was declared one of the Doctors of the Church and a Latin Father, and he was canonized not long after his death by popular acclamation.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Landscape: Gauguin

Paul Gauguin, "Martinique Landscape," 1887.

Monday, March 7, 2016

For All the Saints: Perpetua and Felicity

Anyone who has studied the history of the early church has likely heard of Perpetua and Felicity and perhaps has read the classic text, The Passion of St. Perpetua, St. Felicitas, and their Companions. I think I read that account in college and then again in seminary.

The saints, martyred in 203, are honored today of Roman Catholic and Protestant calendars and on February 1 on the Orthodox calendar. The Orthodox site has this account:

"Perpetua, Felicity, Saturus, Saturninus, Secundus and Revocatus were all young catechumens living near Carthage. Perpetua was of noble birth; Felicity (Felicitas) was her slave. All were arrested under Emperor Valerian's persecution and sent to Carthage. Perpetua had a young child still at the breast, which she asked to take with her.

"The holy martyrs appeared before the tribunal and joyfully received their sentence of condemnation to be thrown to the wild beasts in the arena. Felicity, who was eight months pregnant, was concerned that her martyrdom might be postponed because of her pregnancy, but at the prayers of her friends, she went into labor three days before the games. As she groaned in labor, a jailer mocked her, telling her that the pain she felt was nothing to the pain that she would feel in the arena. The Saint replied, 'Here I suffer for myself; then there will be Another with me, who will suffer with me; and my sufferings will be for Him!' When she gave birth, she entrusted her newborn child to the care of a Christian couple and prepared for her end.

"On the day of the games, the brothers and sisters in Christ entered the arena together. The men were soon killed by the beasts, but Perpetua and Felicity, though mauled, remained alive. The impatient persecutors ordered that they be beheaded. Walking to the center of the arena, the two spiritual sisters exchanged the kiss of peace and gave up their souls to God."

Here is another account:

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Landscape: Israëls

Jozef Israëls, "De zandschipper" ("The Sand Bargeman"), 1887.  From:

Landscape: Vermeer

Johannes Vermeer, "View of Delft" (1660–61).

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Merton and Praise

I like this essay by Thomas Merton in hisConjectures of a Guilty Bystander (New York: Doubleday & Co, 1966), 121-122. His reference to authors I and my classmates once had to read caught my eye, then I appreciated his evocation of praise.

"The greatness of the Old Testament is beginning to be fully evident in some of the fine Old Testament theologies written by Protestant scholars like Von Rad, Eichrodt, and others. The universe of the Old Testament is a praising universe, of which [humanity] is a living and essential part, standing shoulder to shoulder with the angelic hosts who praise Yahweh: and praise is the surest manifestation of true life. The characteristic of Scheol, the realm of the dead, is that there is no praise in it. The Psalms then are the purest expression of the essence of life in this universe: Yahweh is present to His people when the Psalms are sung with triumphant vigor and jubilation... This presence and communion, this coming into being in the act of praise, is the heart of Old Testament worship as it is also of monastic choral praise. Living praise is the fullness of man's being with God and 'the mystery of the spirit' (Von Rad). But it also has a historical dimension: faith in the power of Yahweh and in His great works of mercy as well as in His promises makes history present to the singer as a theological reality and fact (again Von Rad). The theological realization of these great acts of the Lord is felt and experienced in their beauty; the magnificent power of the radiance of the Lord revealed in His saving acts takes hold entirely on the worshiper. Hence the 'transported' quality of the Psalms which we priests miss entirely when we simply mumble our way through the breviary, with no taste left for words like cantate, jubilate, exultate... Jubilate: it is a joy one cannot contain. Where is that in our liturgy today? This is the true liturgical shout of triumph, the triumph we know when divine and angelic beauty possess our whole being, in the joy of the risen Christ!...

"The beauty of God is best praised by the [ones] who reach and realize their limit knowing that their praise cannot attain to God..."

A Jewish author might say that Merton overlooks the importance of Torah and mitzvot, even purer a reflection of life's essence and purpose. Merton writes as a Roman Catholic author involved daily in worship and liturgy as well as work and reflection.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

A Year's Music: Britten's "Rejoice in the Lamb"

Here is a piece that I've loved for a long time---yet another LP that I purchased at the old Chapel Square Mall in New Haven, CT in 1981 or 1982, during my div school days.

Benjamin Britten's cantata is based on Christopher Smart's poem Jubilate Agno, which in turn was written in praise of God while Smart was in an asylum. The cantata is for four soloists, choir, and organ and premiered in 1943.

Here is the text, selected from Smart's much longer poem:

There are several versions on YouTube; here is part 1 (with a link to part 2), with Choir of King's College, Cambridge, conducted by Sir David Willcocks.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

For All the Saints: John and Charles Wesley

On the ELCA calendar, John and Charles Wesley are honored today as renewers of the church; they are honored tomorrow (March 3) in the Anglican communion. Here is a good site about them:

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

For All the Saints: David of Wales

With a little Welsh ancestry, I was interested in today's saint, David (c. 500 - c. 589), bishop of Mynyw and patron saint of Wales. Today is the Welsh holiday St. David's Day.

The Roman Catholic site has this information: "It is known he became a priest, engaged in missionary work and founded many monasteries, including his principal abbey in southwestern Wales. Many stories and legends sprang up about David and his Welsh monks. Their austerity was extreme. They worked in silence without the help of animals to till the soil. Their food was limited to bread, vegetables and water.

"In about the year 550, David attended a synod where his eloquence impressed his fellow monks to such a degree that he was elected primate of the region. The episcopal see was moved to Mynyw, where he had his monastery (now called St. David's). He ruled his diocese until he had reached a very old age. His last words to his monks and subjects were: 'Be joyful, brothers and sisters. Keep your faith, and do the little things that you have seen and heard with me.'

"St. David is pictured standing on a mound with a dove on his shoulder. The legend is that once while he was preaching a dove descended to his shoulder and the earth rose to lift him high above the people so that he could be heard. Over 50 churches in South Wales were dedicated to him in pre-Reformation days."

According to his Wikipedia page, "'Do ye the little things in life' ('Gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bywyd') is today a very well known phrase in Welsh."