Quemadmodum desiderat cervus ad fontes aquarum.

Like as the hart. . .

Like as the hart. . .

On a clear day in June, 2008, on a highway between the Sea of Galilee and the city of Nazareth the driver of the bus carrying the small group I was with slowed and told us to look left up the hill to see a Gazella gazelle, a Palestinian Gazelle. I saw a tan streak of motion a bit darker than the dry hillside and a couple of tiny patches of white. The Palestinian Gazelle disappeared up the hill faster than I could look.

Our driver said we were lucky—hardly anyone sees Palestinian Gazelles because they are a declining and endangered species. Since that day I have been fascinated by the Palestinian gazelle.

I’m also fascinated by the romanticizing of the demographics of The Galilee. Nazareth is west of the Sea of Galilee. About 150,000 people (mostly Arabs) live there. It’s not simply the mythical place where Jesus walked. Nazareth is a metropolitan area that was ceded to Israel in 1948 even though the population was over 60% Arab—60% of those people Muslim and 40% Christian.

Across the Sea to the east is the Golan Heights, until 1967 a part of Syria. While we are horrified at ISIS taking swaths of Syria in the name of religion, we accept uncritically Israel’s 1967 annexation of the Golan Heights in the name of religion. Fascinating.

A melody that often sneaks from my unconscious to my conscious mind to sing repeatedly is the opening of the anthem by Herbert Howells, “Like as the hart desireth the waterbrooks.” The King James “hart” is the Palestinian gazelle.

כְּאַיָּל, תַּעֲרֹג עַל-אֲפִיקֵי-מָיִם– כֵּן נַפְשִׁי תַעֲרֹג אֵלֶיךָ אֱלֹהִים.
ὃν τρόπον ἐπιποθεῖ ἡ ἔλαφος ἐπὶ τὰς πηγὰς τῶν ὑδάτων οὕτως ἐπιποθεῖ ἡ ψυχή μου πρὸς σέ ὁ θεός
Quemadmodum desiderat cervus ad fontes aquarum.
Like as the hart desireth the waterbrooks, so longeth my soul after thee, O God.

I used to think I remembered the words of this anthem because the uncommonly beautiful music, once learned, is impossible

Like as the hart

Like as the hart

to forget. It may be the other way ’round.

Jill A. Fisher proposes that there are

. . . four primary overlapping functions of the tattoo. First, the tattoo functions as ritual. . . the tattoo can serve . . . as a physical mark of a life event. . . interpreted as significant by the bearer . . . The tattoo also functions as identification. . . as part of a given group . . . A third function of tattooing is protective . . . a talisman to protect its bearer from general or specific harm. . . the fourth function of tattoos is decorative . . . modifying the body with tattoos, the individual has chosen to add permanent decoration to his/her body. (Fisher, Jill A. “Tattooing the Body, Marking Culture.” Body and Society 8.4 (December 2002): 91-107.)

About ten days ago I had the image of the face of a Palestinian Gazelle tattooed on my right forearm with the Latin Quemadmodum desiderat cervus ad fontes aquarum (“As a deer longs for flowing streams”) circling my arm below it.

This was not my first tattoo. I had a stylized version of the Arabic words for “peace” and “love” intertwined tattooed on that arm about five months ago.

Since I last wrote about this phenomenon of late-in-life tattooing, I have been thinking about and (frankly, having difficulty) explaining to myself why I’ve had them done. I don’t much care (my sister says we are of a generation that makes one of two assumptions about men with tattoos, neither of which apply to me; she has not told me what those assumptions are) what anyone else thinks of them, but I would like a bit of self-understanding around this permanent modification of my body, especially in such obvious places. Why not on my upper arms or some other place on my body that I can easily cover?

As I have written about before, I had my first tattoo about six months ago—on my left arm, a rather startling image taken from a 15th-century Gregorian chant manuscript, the incipit of the funeral hymn, Dies irae (“Day of wrath, O day of mourning”).

The only other tattoo I plan to have is already prepared for by the illuminated “H” on my left shoulder. It will be the beginning of another Gregorian Chant, Haec díes quam fécit Dóminus (“This is the day the Lord has made”). I decided on the Haec díes because I wanted a chant that begins with “H” and has lots of complicated notation for Joe, the artist at Tigger’s on Main Street in Dallas, to copy. It will stretch from my shoulder half-way around my back.

Ritual. Identification. Protection. Decoration.

I’m fascinated by my own motives. My first tattooing was one week after my final semester on the faculty of SMU ended. The “H” came at the time I made a decision about how I want to spend the first period of my retirement. The Arabic “peace and love” came during the Israeli devastation of Gaza. And the gazelle came at a moment of change and redefinition of my life.
My first awareness of—and secret desire for—tattoos was in 4th grade when the older brother of one of my friends came home on leave from the Navy. I wanted a tattoo like the anchor he had on his arm. My getting tattoos is arrested development?


. . . that day Will dissolve the world in ashes . . .

. . . that day
Will dissolve the world in ashes . . .

Or perhaps my mind is finding rest somehow that I can’t predict, control, or understand. And these tattoos are either a part of that process or keeping track of it.

An indelible reminder that the end is coming. An acknowledgement that I long for—for what?—I do not know. A declaration that this is the day. An abiding desire for peace and love. In ancient languages. In images of ancient languages?

I did not have a grand plan for these tattoos. I’ve taken each without much thought about how it fit with the previous ones. But “Like as the hart desireth the waterbrooks . . .” Palestine is desert-like. It’s easy to understand why a Palestinian Gazelle desireth the waterbrooks. Does the gazelle know why, or understand the nature of the water?

Dies irae
The day of wrath, that day
Will dissolve the world in ashes
As foretold by David and the Sibyl!
How much tremor there will be,
when the Judge will come,
investigating everything strictly!

Quemadmodum desiderat cervus
As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?
My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?”

Haec díes
This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
We bless you from the house of the Lord.

Peace and love.

It has my back.
Haec Dies banner

“Like as the hart desireth. . .”

I would be grateful if you would visit http://palestineinsight.net/
my new blog of news and opinion from Palestine from the internet,
and a growing anthology of work by Palestinian poets.

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.