“Like as the hart desireth. . .”

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A Palestinian Gazelle in The Galilee

A Palestinian Gazelle in The Galilee

This morning, I awoke with a musical phrase in my mind, the opening of Herbert Howells’ setting of Psalm 42 (the English Prayer Book translation). It’s a melody that hangs in the back of my mind, ready to pounce on my consciousness at appropriate (or inappropriate) moments.  My favorite recording of the anthem is by the choir of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

In the summer of 1979 I tagged along with the choir of men and boys from Boston’s St. Paul Episcopal Cathedral, directed by Thomas Murray, on their concert tour of England. My partner was one of the men of the choir. I had no responsibilities, and while the choir rehearsed (and even more often if I chose), I could wander off and see the various cities on my own. The best of all possible worlds—time to see the country without having to plan any of my accommodations, and opportunity to hear glorious music sung in famous churches all over England.

Whether or not the Howells was in their repertory that summer I don’t recall. I heard them sing it often enough in other venues. However, I knew the work before I met any of them. The University of Redlands choir sang it when I was a member.

Howells set only the first three verses of the Psalm.

LIKE as the hart desireth the water-brooks,
so longeth my soul after thee, O God.

My soul is athirst for God, yea, even for the living God:
when shall I come to appear before the presence of God?

My tears have been my meat day and night,
while they daily say unto me, Where is now thy God? (1).

The late afternoon we spent in St. Paul’s London was the most memorable of the trip. Years ago our Music History professor at Redlands used pictures of St. Paul’s as examples of Baroque architecture. The cathedral was consecrated in 1697 (J. S. Bach was 12 years old at the time) at the early edge of the great Baroque period in the arts. The architectural style is overwhelming and ornate—shapes and swirls and colors that seem to have no beginning and no end.

Flannery O’Connor, in her story “Parker’s Back” (inadvertently, I’m sure) wrote a description of the baroque when Parker sees “. . . a single intricate design of brilliant color. The man. . .  moved about on the platform . . . so that the arabesque of men and bears and flowers on his skin appeared to have a subtle motion of its own” (2).  The baroque is not far from the grotesque in art.

Creators of both styles of art expect their works to have the same effect: Parker was filled with emotion. . .

As the Boston St. Paul’s choir rehearsed at St. Paul’s London, I wandered around the cathedral. I saw it as almost no one ever does. The

Miraculously not destroyed

Miraculously not destroyed

rehearsal began as the tourists were shooed away and the doors closed at the end of the day. Except for the music, the cathedral was covered in awesome silence, and the lights had been turned off. I saw the cathedral as Christopher Wren meant for us to see it—with light only from the sun through opaque, not stained, glass windows. Real light, real silence—except for music. Wren’s architecture is not Gothic. This is not Chartres. For all of its awesome size and grandeur, St. Paul’s has a feeling of light because it is lighted by the sun.

Very few tourists ever see it in that light.

I don’t remember if the choir sang the Howells that day, but Howells was intimately associated with St. Paul’s. He wrote a Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in 1951 for the cathedral as it was being reopened after the blitz—which it miraculously survived when the bomb intended to destroy it did not detonate and was removed to be exploded elsewhere.

Very few tourists ever see a “hart” in the Galilee in Occupied Palestine.

The “hart” of the Bible may be the Persian Fallow Deer. “Hart” is Old English, usually used for “red deer.” However, the fallow deer is historically the more prevalent deer in Palestine. The deer was extinct for many years. It has been reintroduced in the Occupied Territory , and is thriving.

A few years ago I was with a group in Palestine. We were returning by bus from Capernaum (on the Sea of Galilee) to Bethlehem. Our bus driver suddenly stopped and told us to look into the hills to the left to see a deer (hart?). He was excited. He had traveled that highway for years and had never seen a deer. I must admit I caught only a glimpse disappearing into the brush. I would not say I “saw” a hart, but many of our group did.

When I first learned the Howells “Like as a Hart,” I believed in God. The anthem was a comfort to me, both for its delicious music and for the text. Now when I hear it, I am “filled with emotion” as Parker is in O’Connor’s story. But the emotion is, I fear, grief.

Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks, so longeth my soul. . .

Imbued with sunlight and faith

Imbued with sunlight and faith

The hart desiring water in the dry hillside of Palestine is perfectly understandable to me. I am filled with wonder whenever I remember St. Paul’s bathed in sunlight. My mind holds the Howells “Like as a heart” with a sense of beauty (yes, beauty is still, even in these post-post-post-modern times, a legitimate idea).

Howells set the opening three lines of the Psalm as a lovely wandering melody. The first moment of intensity—it’s almost shrill, a cry for, for what? help? a cry of anguish?—comes at the word When.

When shall I come to appear before the presence of God?

I know that anguish.

Neither music, light, nor nature has yet answered the question for me.
__________
(1)The text  Psalm 42. Quemadmodum (“In the manner of”) is below. (2) O’Connor, Flannery. “Parker’s Back.” Everything that Rises Must Converge. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1965.

LIKE as the hart desireth the water-brooks, * so longeth my soul after thee, O God.
2 My soul is athirst for God, yea, even for the living God: * when shall I come to appear before the presence of God?
3 My tears have been my meat day and night,* while they daily say unto me, Where is now thy God?

4 Now when I think thereupon, I pour out my heart by myself; * for I went with the multitude, and brought them forth into the house of God;
5 In the voice of praise and thanksgiving, * among such as keep holy-day.
6 Why art thou so full of heaviness, O my soul? * and why art thou so disquieted within me?
7 O put thy trust in God; * for I will yet thank him, which is the help of my countenance, and my God.
8 My soul is vexed within me; * therefore will I remember thee from the land of Jordan, from Hermon and the little hill.
9 One deep calleth another, because of the noise of thy water-floods; * all thy waves and storms are gone over me.
10 The LORD will grant his loving-kindness in the daytime; * and in the night season will I sing of him, and make my prayer unto the God of my life.
11 I will say unto the God of my strength, Why hast thou forgotten me? * why go I thus heavily, while the enemy oppresseth me?
12 My bones are smitten asunder as with a sword, * while mine enemies that trouble me cast me in the teeth;
13 Namely, while they say daily unto me, * Where is now thy God?
14 Why art thou so vexed, O my soul? * and why art thou so disquieted within me?
15 O put thy trust in God; * for I will yet thank him, which is the help of my countenance, and my God.

One Response to “Like as the hart desireth. . .”

  1. Pingback: From Samia in Jerusalem – The Human Sandwich | Sumnonrabidus's Blog

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