Sunday, March 31, 2013

One Song to Rule Them All: Happy Easter

One of the most special things about Easter Sunday is how unified Christianity is, even if just for the space of these 24 hours. The division between Catholicism and Protestantism, and between the furthering splintering among the sects of Henry VIII and Martin Luther, fall away before the mystery of Jesus Christ rising from the dead.

And there is one song that symbolizes this unity. In churches and cathedrals literally around the world the processional or recessional hymn today is "Jesus Christ Is Risen Today." It's a 1739 hymn by Charles Wesley, an English leader of the Methodist movement, based on a 14th century Latin hymn. A nice encapsulation of Christianity itself. I don't know if the eighth note motif was in that underlying 14th century hymn, but coping with them is another thing every Christian deals with in his or her own way.

Alas, in one version on YouTube, someone from East Liberty Presbyterian Church wrote: "Our cathedral joyously resounds with choir and members singing "Jesus Christ is Risen Today."

And then the comments took off with a pounce:
How can you be in a cathedral and be Presbyterian ??? You have to have bishops to have a cathedral. Like Episcopalian, Lutheran, Roman Catholic  ..

A cathedral is the church in which the diocesan Bishop's throne is housed, and Presbyterians most assuredly do not have Bishops. It is a large church, nothing more.

So, business as usual.

But the song. People can still at least be united in song.

Hereford Cathedral, Anglican
Hereford England, dating from 1079.

I love that the person who uploaded the video is French.
La maitrise et les fidèles de la cathédrale de Hereford chantent l'hymne "Jesus Christ is risen today" (Jésus Christ est ressuscité aujourd'hui) de Williams.

Northwood Presbyterian Church.
With a handbell choir! Love the comment "Trumpet stop was a nice touch on the 2nd verse."

Roman Catholic Church of Saint Michael, Stillwater, MN

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Carpet of the Sun: We Need a Little Annie Haslam

From the National Weather Forecast

Winter Storm Virgil brings a swath of heavy snow from eastern Kansas into central Indiana through Sunday afternoon.

Accumulations generally 5-8" with locally 8-12", including Kansas City, St. Louis and Indianapolis.

Snow will mix with rain near the Ohio River and Kentucky will mainly deal with rain.

As we all wait for the warmth of the new season to get going, Annie Haslam's soaring voice singing about sunshine springs to mind.

I don't know why my brother had the Renaissance Live at Carnegie Hall album when we were kids. But I devoured it from the first time I played it. Carpet of the Sun is a lovely short song that features a distinctive effortless trill from Annie.

I remember looking at the vinyl album for the first time and seeing that the "song" Sheherazade was the entire side. I remember thinking that that must be boring, much too long.

Instead, I found it was a masterpiece. It's progressive rock, an orchestrated piece with exquisite piano. And Annie soars into that elite soprano space and carries the audience away with her. As an alto I've always yearned to know what that stratosphere is like.

But I also love bassist Jon Camp, who has lead vocals on "The Sultan" section. I've carried his voice in my head for decades.

Sultan king, cruel majesty
Orders that his women die
A single night
This for all his brides
Takes his pleasure than their lives

If you've never heard this piece, you are in for a discovery.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Spring, Sprang, Sprung Rhythm: The Jesuits Gave us a Pope and a Great Poet for Spring

Much is being made of Pope Francis being the first pontiff of the Americas, the first non-European pope. I think that pales in comparison to being the first Jesuit.

The Guardian had an interesting voting interactive before the election. For each of the 115 cardinals they had some background, and listed the one thing each had stated as a priority. For the Argentine Cardinal Bergoglio, that was "reforming the Curia."

A Jesuit reforming a power structure is the ecclestiastical equivalent of bringing coals to Newcastle. The Jesuits wrote the book on intrigue and power. "God's Marines," an elite order of priests founded by Ignatius of Loyola during the Counter-Reformation, are characterized by their absolute obedience to the pope. Aligning with the main power base is part of what has made them powerful through the centuries.

Oxford Dictionary: dissembling or equivocating, in the manner once associated with Jesuits.

Merriam-Websters: given to intrigue; sly

Cullen Murphy examined the adjective "Jesuitical" in Slate back in 1998: "Very early, owing in part to English Protestant propagandists, the word "Jesuitical" came to characterize a form of argument designed less to seek the truth than to make a case, a form of argument that was aggressive and clever but perhaps not always sincere--indeed, one that was at times cunningly equivocal or downright deceitful. Aside from pure anti-Jesuit animus, this nuance probably arose from the work of some 17th-century Jesuit theologians who imperfectly employed a method known as "casuistry" in resolving questions of moral theology--an approach that gave the broadest possible leeway to individual behavior.

William Safire argues that "Jesuitical" has by now developed a sense devoid of any overtones of prevarication: "subtle, intricate, moralistic reasoning, informed by a rigorous logic" is his definition. I am not as sanguine as Safire, and believe that using the word will always carry some slight risk: It may be wielded as a slur and received as a compliment, or vice versa."

That's the philosophical side. And I don't doubt anti-Catholicism has played a role in their image.

As for their power and influence, there have been lots of conspiracy theories through the years. The Church proclaims that tracts like the Monita Secreta—where one Superior General of the Jesuits leaves instructions on how to acquire wealth and influence for the society—are hoaxes meant to make the order seem sinister.

Nontheless the idea of power and Jesuits seeped into popular culture. Alexandre Dumas, for instance, makes Aramis maneuver to become the Superior General of the order in the sequel to The Three Musketeers so that he can carry out the highest of political intrigues.

Colleges & Poetry
Of course the Jesuits are also known for their excellence in higher education (and subsequent sports teams), giving the country Georgetown, Boston College, Fordham, Gonzaga, among others.

And they were blessed to have one of the truly great poets of the English language in their ranks, Gerald Manley Hopkins.

An English convert during the Oxford Movement, Hopkins was drawn to become a priest and chose the Jesuits. By all accounts he was a sensitive and tortured soul who could not reconcile his homosexuality with Victorian times or his adopted religion.

He had an extraordinary ear for the sounds of the English language and more uniquely, for the pressures and releases of its internal rhythms. He codified and or coined "sprung rhythm" which imitates natural speech with stressed/nonstressed fixed feet. Hence why he sprung to mind today, the vernal equinox, the first day of Spring. "What is all this juice and all this joy?"

I'm sorry to say that Hoplins died in Dublin, where he had been teaching, at only 44. He had been miserable there, finding no warmth or companionship amongst the Irish.

Two years ago on this change-of-season day I had a typo in a post, calling it the "verbal" equinox. That seems about right to honor Hopkins's poetry.


Nothing is so beautiful as Spring—
   When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush ;
   Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing ;
   The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
   The descending blue ; that blue is all in a rush
With richness ; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy ?
   A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden.—Have, get, before it cloy,

   Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
   Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

 Pied Beauty

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
  Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;        5
    And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
  Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:        10
                  Praise him.

The Windhover 
To Christ our Lord

I caught this morning morning's minion, 
   kingdom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
   Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
   As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
   Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, - the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
   Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

   No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
   Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Connecting the Dots for St. Patrick's Day, Starting in Rome

Start Here:
Being in a hereditary frame of mine, when I was in Rome last summer I made a pilgrimage to the resting place of Hugh O'Neill, earl of Tyrone (known as the Great Earl). He is the royal chieftain—from the royal Gaelic houses who had ruled Ireland since the days of Tara— who led the resistance against the English during the Nine Years War. 

Along with O'Donnell, they fought until they were defeated at the battle of Kinsale. They were under threat of arrest, and fled to Europe, the idea was to go to Spain and raise a new army and go back and root the English out once and for all.

This was called the Flight of the Earls, and it ended royal Gaelic rule in Ireland (clearly not their intention). The English took their lands to complete the Plantation of Ireland, bringing English Protestants over to live, and thereby planting the seeds of centuries of oppression. 

The harshest were the years of the Penal Laws. You don't hear many references to that collective atrocity, except the commentator of the parade yesterday explained that for Irish the traditional meal is not corned beef and cabbage, but bacon and cabbage. The cabbage came about because Catholics were not allowed to own livestock. So when they did procure a pig to celebrate their saint's day, they covered it with cabbage in the cart not to be found out. And so it went on, up through the Troubles of the 20th century, to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. 

O'Neill died in Rome of malaria on July 20, 1616, and with him the last hope for getting England out of Ireland. The Spanish buried them in their church, San Pietro di Montorio. The inscription: Dedicated to God, the Best & Greatest. The bones of Prince Hugh O'Neill. Because of the number of weddings in the church, the stone is usually covered by carpets. Most people have no idea they are walking on top of Ireland's bloody fate sealed by the fact of those bones. I found it very moving, touching this place of my ancient relative. 

The Next Dot
The Great Hunger Museum in Hamden, CT. If the English had not completed their domination of Ireland with the Plantation of Ulster, when the potato crops failed two hundred years later in 1847, the Irish might have rallied. But instead, because of the gross psychological hatred the English power class felt for the Irish, they perversely saw to it that food that could have fed the starving was exported to England and the continent. (Burying the Child, Lilian Lucy Davison. Photo Frank Poole).

Which Lead To . . .

Two million people leaving Ireland, many of whom landed and stayed in New York. And that led to the building of St. Patrick's Cathedral, started in 1858, haulted during the Civil War, continued in 1865 and completed in 1878.

Wiki tells us: "Most cathedrals and great churches have a cruciform groundplan. In churches of Western European tradition, the plan is usually longitudinal, in the form of the so-called Latin Cross with a long nave crossed by a transept."

It's a detail of architecture you don't see from the street. A guy I work with took this picture in 1979 when he worked on another building in midtown. Fifth Avenue is toward the bottom of the picture, Madison Ave is at the top, where the Lady Chapel juts out to the sidewalk. The Irish immigrants, who had not yet ascended to power in New York, built it out of pennies. It's a remarkable accomplishment.

Happy St. Patrick's Day to all with some Irish in their soul.

Monday, March 11, 2013

How to Become Pope: Our Friends at CGP Grey Help Out Again

The guys who explain a brief history of Santa, what the differences are between England, Britain, and the United Kingdom, and why the penny has to go,  explain the process for electing a pope just in time to help us out.  It's funny as usual, clear & informative, and very respectful, which might not have been the case, considering how much subtext they could have added alluding to the sins of the bishops/cardinals in the child abuse.

They point out that any male Catholic in good standing, technically, can be pope, since nothing is written down. One could say having a leader come from outside the corrupt system might be too radical.

Oh, but wait. We had a pope RESIGN in the MIDDLE OF LENT.  Radical doesn't seem to be an issue any more.

Get Back to Basics
Jesus chose Peter, "on this rock I will build my church." The Peter who denied him three times after he was arrested, when the serving girl and the Romans recognized him as a disciple "This fellow is one of them." That next moment, when Jesus' eyes meet Peter's, has been captured in art throughout the centuries (one instance here in Saint Peter's Worse Day.)

So we know, categorically, from the beginning, that popes are flawed. But Peter had a great love of Jesus, and of helping people find that love in their own lives. We need to get back to that. The Holy Spirit is supposed to guide these conclaves. . . .

OK Grey guys, now we need a video "How the Holy Spirit Works." 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

"He Never Failed Me Yet": And We Don't Mean Benedict

My church choir does the usual standards of choral sacred music each Sunday. Then last week director of music and organist Preston Smith programmed a Gospel piece by Robert Ray, and it stuck in my head all week. I saw today that Preston had it videotaped it.  The solo singer is the extremely talented Margarita Martinez. It was the Offertory anthem, and it's nice that the video captures a bit of the Mass. The congregation applauded when we finished, which is highly unusual in the middle of a Mass, but the spirit moved them. That's Gospel for you.

Interesting lyrics, given the history-making day of February 28, the day Pope Benedict's resignation went into effect.  I can respect the radical idea of a pope resigning. It's an astonishing signal that the Church which is not known for changing, can.

But,  I cannot accept a pope who decides to resign DURING LENT. It is unconscionable. I don't accept the health claim:  his predecessor JPII stuck it out to the end as Parkinsons ravaged his body. In fact, staying to the bitter end is a defining part of the job. You don't see Queen Elizabeth stepping down.

And if health were the driving force, he should have resigned in January, and a new pope would have been in place by Ash Wednesday.  There's nothing he knew February 11 that he didn't know January 1.

Leaving 1.2 billions Catholics without a spiritual head in the middle of the holy, solemn season of Lent is the height of narcissism. It is a symptom of everything that has been wrong with Benedict's papacy.

And if the gay shenanigans going on within the Vatican is the reason, I say again, he knew all this on January 1.

Da hoo dorais fa hoo dores

A comment in one of the New York Times's pieces on the papal resignation is the loveliest summary of Catholicism:

"One of the things that has fascinated me about Roman Catholicism is that Christ essentially left his followers with one Prayer, two Commandments, and a pledge that He would be with two or more that were gathered in His name, until the end of time. That we should do this by breaking bread and drinking wine. There were no clerical ranks, no hierarchies, no properties, no elaborate rituals, and nothing more than a desire to spread the Gospel in the hopes of securing salvation for those who followed His teachings."

Yup. That's it

And I can't help that since Feb. 11 an image popped into my mind and stayed. We all know the unfortunate resemblance of Benedict to the Grinch when we wore the white-fur trimmed hat called the camauro. I makes me think about the Whos, who gather on Christmas, to hold hands and sing, even though all the trappings of Christmas have been stolen and broken by the Grinch.

That's how I feel about Catholicism. It is on the parish level that it makes the most sense. Thank God.

And so we sing . . .

I will sing of God’s mercy, every day, every hour, He gives me power.
I will sing and give thanks to Thee for all the dangers, toils and snares that He has brought me out.
He is my God and I’ll serve Him,
[No matter what the test.]
Trust and never doubt,
Jesus will surely bring you out,
He never failed me yet.

I know God is able to deliver in time of storm.
And I know that He’ll keep you safe from all earthly harm.
One day when my weary soul is at rest, I’m going home to be forever blessed.
Trust and never doubt,
Jesus will surely bring you out,
He never failed me yet.

Didn’t my God deliver Moses from King Pharaoh?
And didn’t He cool the fiery furnace for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego?
When I think of what my God can do,
He delivered Daniel,
I know He will deliver you.
Trust and never doubt,
Jesus will surely bring you out,
He never failed me yet.

I will sing of God’s mercy, every day, every hour, He gives me power.
I will sing and give thanks to Thee for all the dangers, toils and snares that He has brought me out.
He is my God and I’ll serve Him,
[No matter what the test.]
Trust and never doubt,
Jesus will surely bring you out,
He never failed me yet.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Dydd Gwyl Dewi Dedwydd! (That's Happy St. David's Day)

Happy St. David’s Day to the Welsh and the Welsh at heart. As a devotee of St. Patrick I have always enjoyed the honoring of our Celtic cousins.

The Cymraeg are not much on the international stage these days. There is no one of Richard Burton’s stature (with his nationalistic red socks), or Tom Jones who were defacto ambassadors of that distinct part of Great Britain. Although there are still good actors reaching Hollywood from their shores, including Christian Bale, John Rhys-Davies, Desmond Llewelyn (Q!), Roger Rees (which is a surprise because Robin Colcord was so bloody English), and Sir Anthony Hopkins, who does exude the "Welshness" that Burton did.

Wales doesn’t have the bloody history with England that infuses so much of the psyche of its Irish neighbors, and yet the Welsh were equally invaded by the English, under the 1284 Statute of Rhuddlan, their language equally ripped from them. A “formal Union,” as Wiki calls it, did not happen until 1536, as Welsh law was fully replaced by English law under the Laws in Wales Acts 1535-1542. A big difference is that Wales followed the Reformation, circa 1533, thus bonding itself closer to England and further from its shared Celtic roots with Erin.

The symbols of the day are leeks and daffodils, both of which will be worn on the lapels of serious Welshmen today, sometimes even seen on the streets of New York. There is a thought that these symbols became confused over centuries because of the similarity of their words in Welsh: Cenin (leek) and Cenin Bedr (daffodil, literally " (St.) Peter's leek").

For earlier generations, Wales meant two things: the celebrated male choirs, seen on The Ed Sullivan Show; and How Green Was My Valley, the John Ford film of a novel by Richard Llewellyn, a Englishmen who researched and appropriated Welsh childhoods in the mining valleys!

For a later generation, the Princess of Wales was a touchstone that brought the great Welsh hymn “Cwm Rhondda” (its English words, “Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer”) to the international stage at her funeral.

Why do Welshmen sing in large groups? The website of Treorchy Male Choir, one of the oldest and most celebrated, traces it to two late 19th century events: the fervor of religious nonconformity and the acceleration of the coal mining industry. It is testament to the human spirit that the men of the mines tried to improve the dreadful condition of their work by the beauty of their own voices singing. And so a national identity was born, still widely seen at rugby matches.

Fishguard, Swansea, and Cardiff

I’ve been to Wales twice. Fishguard, via train from Southampton England to get the ferry to Rosslare, Ireland. I had more of the Welsh experience in Mumbles, a town in Swansea, on the Gower peninsula, with a Welsh classmate of mine from Southampton University. I stayed with her family for several days, seeing the natural beauty of South Wales. Nobody sang.

And Cardiff. Well, that would be Cardiff, New York, where as a kid I saw the Cardiff Giant at the Farmer’s Museum in Cooperstown. He is the great American hoax of 1869, the bright idea of a New York tobacconist named George Hull. An atheist, he was ticked off after an argument with a fundamentalist minister about Genesis 6:4 “There were giants in the earth in those days” unless you’re Catholic, then 6:4 says “At that time the Nephilim appeared on earth (as well as later) . . .”

Hull dreamed up this scheme to create a petrified giant man, bury him near a farm in Cardiff New York, and then a year later ask for a well to be be dug in that spot.

“The finished Giant was 10 feet 4½ inches tall and weighed in at a fraction under 3,000 pounds. His shoulders were 3 feet across and his feet 21 inches long. He would have taken a size 37 collar.”

Everything about this fascinates me. The sheer crazy strength of will of Hull to create the thing: quarried in Iowa, carved in Chicago, shipped to New York; the desire of the public to believe in something miraculous; the fact that the South is suffering through Reconstruction as this is going on.

But enough of American whimsy. Here is Tom Jones, a favored Welsh son, singing in a pub, with the Treorchy Male Choir as backup.

Oh, and "Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer" is also known as the "Welsh Rugy Hymn" sung in stadiums, like our "Take me out to the ball game." The Welsh are an interesting people, no doubt about it. This is from Wales v. England, 2007.