“. . . Vainly we offer each ample oblation. . .” (Reginald Heber)

Each ample oblation

Each ample oblation

Creative non-fiction. That’s what I’d write if I were not self-absorbed. Knew more people and listened to their stories. Read more news—personal news. “UTD professor runs math tutoring program in low-income neighborhoods.” Write about Prof. Lee and his work and what makes him tick. An essay about the way his program has changed the life of one student.

Something interesting. Something important. The purpose of education. A creative piece about learning to do math.

But I can’t even write in complete sentences when I think about such topics.

Yesterday I had in mind to write a lovely creative non-fiction piece about the American traditional shape-note hymn, “Star in the East.” It’s from Southern Harmony of 1835. I have a facsimile copy of the 1859 edition of Southern Harmony, but by 1859 the hymn was set to a different tune.

The tune from the 1835 edition is in the Episcopal Hymnal 1982. The Episcopals, in their diligence to be authentic, used the earliest version rather than the one most 21st-century churches would (I think) be more comfortable with, the 1854 edition in four parts. I wanted the four-part version to record and post on Facebook.

Sorry. Who besides Charles Hiroshi Garrett wants to read musicological arcana?

I’ve had the tune running in my head since the Epiphany. I was exercising in the therapy pool that day singing Epiphany hymns to myself. That was one I thought of. Big mistake. I’ve been singing it for 10 days.

The next step, of course, (of course?) should have been to record the tune on my organ as an Epiphany post on Facebook. I don’t care about the Epiphany, but church observances as they come around every year give me a structure for my inner musical life. And a reason to post little ditties on Facebook.

I couldn’t find a transcription of the 4-part version of “Star of the East” from 1854, so I delayed. I didn’t want to bother writing it out myself or making myself play it from the shape-note open score (four different staves).

Yesterday I decided it’s time. Christmas and Epiphany and the star in the east and the Wise Men are long over. If Christmas can start before Halloween, can’t it as logically end after Valentine’s Day?

But now to the truth. I delayed until today because I couldn’t find my copy of Southern Harmony (that facsimile of the 1859 edition).

I was assuming my copy had the tune in 4 parts because that was the “improvement” of the 1859 edition—all tunes had four parts. What I didn’t realize was that those words had a different tune by that time.

I want a wife husband. Thanks to Judy Brady. I’ve stolen her idea before. It’s likely even in Texas that will soon be a possibility. In Judy Brady’s parlance, I want

. . . a wife husband who will keep my clothes clean, ironed, mended, replaced when need be, and who will see to it that my personal things are kept in their proper place so that I can find what I need the minute I need it.

This desire is not new in my senescence. I’ve always wanted a husband who could do those things. Because I can’t.

Keep track of my copy of Southern Harmony, for example.

I’ve been over this before, but it bears repeating. Not repeating, revising. The last time I wrote about not being able to find something—that is, living in disorganization and monumental disorder—I was only 67 years old. I had plenty of time left to get the clutter out of my life and begin to work in peace and order. Accomplish something.

Predictably, not much has changed—not much except the urgency. I’m 70. Statistically, living in Texas, I can expect to live 8 more years. If I want to improve those odds significantly, I need to move to Hawaii, or the District of Columbia.

It’s time. I’ve said it before.

I mean it now. I want to be rid of everything I own that won’t fit in my car. And then I want to move it all into a new tiny apartment and get rid of my car. That, of course is my plan in extremis. It’s not necessary. But I want to get closer and closer to that possibility.

Get rid of stuff.

Every morning while I’m making my coffee, this is what I see.
photoI have no need for those books (and the other hundreds in my apartment). Nor those containers of things—knives, kitchen utensils. The radio, fan, lamp. You say, “That’s useful stuff. You just need to get organized.”

No, it’s not. I don’t believe the common wisdom that clutter in our homes is analogous to or symbolic of clutter in our minds. And I don’t agree with Peter Walsh that we can’t be at peace in a cluttered home.

It’s not the clutter that prevents peace. It’s the ownership. I own this stuff. I could live in complete clutter and be at peace if I did not own the stuff.

Here I make a sharp at least 90-degee turn in logic and pretend I’m writing creative non-fiction.

First, a tiny bit of word history. According to the online etymology dictionary, “own” and “owe” come from the same root. I don’t pretend to be a philologist. But I see a connection. We “own” and “owe” at the same time. Everything we “own,” we “owe.” I don’t know to what or whom.

If we “owe” our stuff, then paying it off ought to give us some satisfaction, some peace, some sense of freedom—something.
Here’s my guess, however. We’re caught in a catch-22 of our own making. We own all this stuff, and we owe it. But we can’t even give it away. We’re too attached to it and we’ll think we’ve accomplished something by giving it away. We will clear our minds and souls. Because we think we will have done it, it won’t happen.

We need a whole new relationship with our things.

I don’t know what it is.

The funny old hymn says it. You don’t have to believe in the Baby Jesus or the Wise Men to see this.

Vainly we offer each ample oblation;
Vainly with gold we his favor secure;
Richer by far is the heart’s adoration;
Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.

Vainly. We have to do it, but it’s in vain.

(Anglican) Bishop Reginald Heber (1783-1826)
1 Hail the blest morn, see the great Mediator,
Down from the regions of glory descend!
Shepherds, go worship the babe in the manger,
Lo, for his guard the bright angels attend.

2 Cold on his cradle the dewdrops are shining;
Low lies his bed with the beasts of the stall;
Angels adore him, in slumbers reclining,
Wise men and shepherds before him do fall.

3 Say, shall we yield him, in costly devotion,
Odors of Eden and offerings divine?
Gems from the mountain, and pearls from the ocean,
Myrrh from the forest, and gold from the mine?
4 Vainly we offer each ample oblation;

Vainly with gold we his favor secure;
Richer by far is the heart’s adoration;
Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.

5 Low at his feet we in humble prostration,
Lose all our sorrow and trouble and strife;
There we receive his divine consolation,
Flowing afresh from the fountain of life.

6 He is our friend in the midst of temptation,
Faithful supporter, whose love cannot fail;
Rock of our refuge, and hope of salvation,
Light to direct us through death’s gloomy vale.

7 Star of the morning, thy brightness, declining,
Shortly must fade when the sun doth arise:
Beaming refulgent, his glory eternal
Shines on the children of love in the skies.

It’s a conundrum.

Vainly with gifts would his favor secure

Vainly with gifts would his favor secure

If you pray. . .

10-21-3-wise-men-and-a-wall2.

.

.

.

Wave of Prayer: This prayer ministry enables local and international friends of Sabeel to pray over regional concerns on a weekly basis. Sent to Sabeel’s network of supporters, the prayer is used in services around the world and during Sabeel’s Thursday Communion service; as each community in its respective time zone lifts these concerns in prayer at noon every Thursday, this “wave of prayer” washes over the world.


Sabeel Wave of Prayer

for January 8, 2015

As a new year begins, we take time to remember the events of the past year. The difficulties, the tragedies, and the hardships are fresh in our minds, especially as we think of Syria, Iraq, Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem. Lord, please remind us of your daily mercies, your grace, and your promise of peace.  Lord in your mercy…

The 2014 year marked the United Nations “international year of solidarity with the Palestinian people”; however, it ended with the UN Security Council failing to pass a resolution to end Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian land within two years.  Israel has now withheld millions of dollars in revenue owed to the Palestinian Authority (PA). This is collective punishment by Israel for Palestine recently taking the non-violent, legitimate step of joining the International Criminal Court (ICC). Merciful God, we pray that the international community will truly be in solidarity with the Palestinian people by having political will, speaking truth to power, and standing up for justice and peace. Lord in your mercy…

The weather in Palestine and Israel is expected to reach very cold temperatures this week, with predictions of snow.  During this time we think of our brothers and sisters in Bedouin communities who are being displaced and are unprotected from the weather elements and those in Gaza who are displaced, homeless, and living in inadequate housing after Israel’s massive military offensive this past summer.  Lord, give them your strength and warmth to endure the storms.  Lord in your mercy…

Lord, we pray for your blessing upon the celebrations of the Orthodox Christmas this week.  We also ask for your guidance in the New Year as our Sabeel programs begin anew.  We pray for inspiration and creativity in our activism and ministries.  Lord in your mercy…

Lord, we pray alongside the World Council of Churches for the countries of Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.  Lord in your mercy…

Christmas Lutheran Church, Bethlehem

Christmas Lutheran Church, Bethlehem

“I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day. . . “ (Gerard Manley Hopkins)

Follow the Mariachis

Follow the Mariachis

.
In about 1970 a group of us from Christ Church (Episcopal) in Ontario, CA, trekked to the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in East Los Angeles on January 5, the Eve of the Epiphany (the Twelfth Day of Christmas).  The church’s name for decades has been Iglesia de la Epifania. The congregation is predominantly Hispanic.

We wanted to participate in (or rubberneck at is probably more accurate) the colorful pageantry of their celebration of El Día de Los Tres Reyes Magos (Three Kings’ Day). A noisy and joyful procession around several city blocks accompanied by mariachis. Then our first celebration of the Episcopal liturgy in Spanish (again with mariachis). And finally a huge party with all of the Mexican goodies you can imagine to eat.

On the church’s Ordo Kalendar (which you can purchase in the exactly same format and colors I used to buy 20 years ago) today is the Feast of the Epiphany.

The Feast of the Epiphany is my favorite day in the church’s year of commemorations and celebrations. It’s the day of the ἐπιφάνεια (“showing”) to the Wise Persons from the East of the Divine nature of the Baby Jesus. Or is it the human nature of God? I forget.

At any rate, it’s the day the church says to the world, “Even you, heathens, agnostics, apostates, followers of other religions, even you can understand the presence of God in human life.” Those Wise Persons from the East didn’t know anything about Hebrew scripture and prophecies and stuff like that. They knew some kid who was a Capricorn was born, and he had to be special because a new star appeared. Of course, they also knew Capricorns were intended to rule the world (ask Richard Nixon and Mao Zedong), so they ought to go and see this kid over in that insignificant little kingdom, that “protectorate” of the Romans in Palestine.

Follow the Capricorns?

Follow the Capricorns?


[Interlinear note: It was hardly remarkable when President Nixon visited China and met Chairman Mao. Capricorns are meant to rule the world. Ask any of us. The most interesting description of their meeting is written by the wacko blogger, The Last Columnist, with the most interesting out-of-step-with-official-explanations discussion of
the US “debt crisis” on the Internet.]

I take great comfort in the fact the Church Universal says to all of us who never did or no longer do believe all of the theology and rationalizations about the creation and salvation of mankind, “You’re part of this, too.” I’m not even cynical enough to think the church universal is saying, “Give us your gold, frankincense, and myrrh (whatever that is), and you can be saved.”

No, I think Epiphany and the story of the Wise Persons from the East are simply the church’s shorthand for, “Here, you guys—whoever you are—this is for you, too, if you want it and are willing to make a little effort to find it.”

If I really want to struggle with words and try to figure out what a writer means by ideas complex enough to leave me scratching my head (and admitting the limitations of both my conscious and unconscious mind), I sometimes look for a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889). Like this one.

I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.
What hours, O what black hours we have spent
This night! what sights you, heart, saw; ways you went!
And more must, in yet longer light’s delay.

With witness I speak this. But where I say
Hours I mean years, mean life. And my lament
Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent
To dearest him that lives alas! away.

I am gall, I am heartburn. God’s most deep decree
Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;
Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.

Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see
The lost are like this, and their scourge to be
As I am mine, their sweating selves, but worse.

With the help of Spencer Reese, I could give you the English professor’s analysis of this dark and complex poem (Reece, Spencer.

Follow the poet-priest

Follow the poet-priest

“Countless Cries: Father Gerard Manley Hopkins.” American Poetry Review 38.5 (2009). But I won’t—partly because it would be boring, and partly because it would be more a report on what Reece says than thoughts of my own.

Hopkins was a Roman Catholic priest. Depending on what critic or academic you read, he either was or was not a homosexual (and either did or did not ever have a sexual relationship with a man, especially Dugby Mackworth Dolben, a handsome classmate of his at Oxford). Never mind. That’s “argumentation by distraction,” as our favorite waitress at O’Reilly’s Irish Delicatessen in Ontario, CA, said one Sunday also about 1970 when a group of us from Christ Church were having lunch after services (see “comments”).

The point is that Hopkins sees himself waking in the night (during a time when he was physically, mentally, and spiritually drained and defeated—we know what was going on in his life at the time) having dreamed of his wasted life, his (perhaps unfulfilled sexual) desires and other sins—the first two stanzas—and his “terrible” conclusion. This is one of the six “terrible” sonnets—so-called by academics who have nothing better to do than categorize things.

The conclusion is that he is—like the rest of us heathen—“lost” because we expect ourselves to be the “yeast” that leavens our own lives. We make the dough sour (as opposed to sourdough bread). Our scourge is the same as his. He, like us, he says is “. . . gall, I am heartburn. . . my taste was me; / Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.” Our blood is brimmed with the curse.

And that’s what the Feast of the Epiphany is all about. We’re all in this together. We’re all the same. Even being a Capricorn won’t help. Even President or Chairman. Or a rubbernecking Anglo. Or a Christian.

We three kings of Orient are;
Bearing gifts we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.

Refrain
O star of wonder, star of light,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.Born a king on Bethlehem’s plainGold I bring to crown Him again,
King forever, ceasing never,
Over us all to reign.
Refrain

Frankincense to offer have I;
Incense owns a deity nigh;
Prayer and praising, voices raising,
Worshiping God on high.
Refrain

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in the stone cold tomb.
Refrain
Glorious now behold Him arise;
King and God and sacrifice;
Alleluia, Alleluia,
Sounds through the earth and skies.
Refrain