Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"Salzburg to Lincoln Center, Spirituality Is on the Program"

 From NYTimes.com last week: 

SALZBURG, Austria — It has been called the city of churches, and bell towers sound frequent reminders. Yet there is little about latter-day Salzburg, which fiercely commercializes its status as Mozart’s birthplace and the setting for “The Sound of Music,” that brings to mind the word “spirituality.” Tacky Mozart mementos and confections vie for tourists’ dollars with magnificent performances of his music.

Nor is spirituality a word you associate nowadays with the Salzburg Festival, a once-modest summer presentation of classical music and theater founded in 1920 by the playwright Hugo von Hofmannsthal, the composer Richard Strauss and others, now grown huge and proud. A product of the economic and cultural despair at the fall of the Hapsburg empire, it is now the summer home of the vaunted Vienna Philharmonic; it’s famous for lavish opera productions and notorious for some of the highest ticket prices anywhere.

But last weekend the festival, with a week added to the front of its calendar, embarked on a 10-day Spiritual Overture. And in doing so, the festival, which has become something of a bellwether since Gerard Mortier shook it up in the 1990s after decades of elegant sameness under the conductor Herbert von Karajan, seems to have caught a wave of spirituality that is surging through the world of classical music (or, given the years of advance planning involved, helped instigate it).

On Aug. 8 the Lucerne Festival in Switzerland, which has in recent years been giving increased prominence to sacred music in its Easter outings, opens a summer season called Faith, with repertory including the Mozart and Verdi Requiems and with the spiritually minded Sofia Gubaidulina as composer in residence. Next season the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra expands on its Music of the Spirit weeks, which have so far included dramatic productions of the Mozart Requiem and Handel’s “Messiah,” with a reprise of the Mozart Requiem in the fall and a nine-day festival in the spring. Also formative in all of this, Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival, a highly personal creation of Jane Moss, the center’s artistic director, enters its third season this fall.

The Salzburg “overture,” the first in a projected annual series, is to feature a different faith each year. This season the focus is on Judaism, and on Tuesday evening in the Felsenreitschule, the moody auditorium carved into a mountainside, Zubin Mehta conducted the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the Collegiate Chorale (of New York) in the first of three concerts serving as centerpiece.

The inspired program — shaped by Mr. Mehta and Alexander Pereira, the festival’s new artistic director — was framed by Schoenberg’s eloquent “Kol Nidre,” composed in Los Angeles in 1938, shortly before Kristallnacht in Germany, and Noam Sheriff’s brilliantly conceived choral symphony “Mechaye Hametim” (“Revival of the Dead”), written in 1985 and centering on the Holocaust. It also included Mahler’s “Kindertotenlieder” (“Songs on the Death of Children”), which, though not ostensibly spiritual and certainly not Holocaust related, took on added meaning from the context: the more so, given the epic cast of the baritone Thomas Hampson’s superb performance.

Abetted by Mr. Hampson’s tour de force, in which he also served as narrator in the Schoenberg and spoke and sang in the Sheriff, the evening’s performances were everywhere excellent. To single out one other individual, Carl Hieger, a tenor, provided a touching cantorial inflection in the Sheriff.

The concert was greeted warmly, even clamorously, by an almost full house. This, in a city with a long tradition of anti-Semitism, came in striking contrast to, say, the Israel Philharmonic’s reception last September at the London Proms, where hecklers, injecting current Middle East politics, disrupted a concert.

“It’s not by chance that we start with Jewish music,” Mr. Pereira, the intendant, or artistic director, of the Salzburg Festival, said in an interview. Asked whether anyone had voiced objections, he responded emphatically, “They wouldn’t dare.”

Mr. Pereira, 64, said that he first conceived the notion of a spiritual festival almost 30 years ago, when he became secretary general of the Vienna Konzerthaus, but could only now implement it.

“There is definitely something in the air,” he said of the current wave of spirituality in classical music. He suggests that people are looking for something beyond rationalism: a kind of idealism, something that speaks to their own values.

He felt vindicated by audience reactions to the opening weekend of the overture, he said. “It’s as if people were expecting something that finally comes,” he added, “even if they didn’t know what they were expecting.”

Mr. Pereira is far from alone in finding the time ripe for spirituality. In Ms. Moss’s case, at Lincoln Center, spirituality is merely part of a larger concern: transcendence, looking inside yourself.

“There is a huge hunger for more human connections,” said Ms. Moss, who describes herself as “a secular mystic.” “People are looking for larger experiences in a cyberworld” that becomes ever more “like eating candy.”

“Music,” she added, “is going to end up being the only live experience left in the world.”

Manfred Honeck, the music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony, sees a nascent “spiritual revolution” partly in response to economic crisis. With economies failing around the world, he said, “it is a moment like the collapse of Communism.”

“People feel a lot of things,” he added, “and music helps them to understand. What we are presenting is not just performances but something meant to add context to our time.”

Helga Rabl-Stadler, the president of the Salzburg Festival, while seconding some of what others had to say about the mind-set of the times, also cited a simpler reason for a broadening appeal of spiritual music. The Mozart C minor Mass (K. 427) that she had heard at the festival the day before, she said, “was like opera, with more heart, more soul.”

In addition to the Israel Philharmonic performances the Spiritual Overture has included evenings by John Eliot Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir and will include concerts by Claudio Abbado and his Orchestra Mozart and Nikolaus Harnoncourt and his Concentus Musicus Wien. The Salzburg Festival proper opens on Friday, with Mr. Harnoncourt conducting the Concentus Musicus and Vienna State Opera forces in Mozart’s “Zauberflöte,” and the Vienna Philharmonic takes center stage on Sunday in a morning concert and an evening production of the original version of Strauss’s opera “Ariadne auf Naxos.”

As for the more distant future Salzburg’s Spiritual Overture moves on to Buddhism next year. And Mr. Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic should consider taking the splendid Schoenberg-Sheriff program to New York, where another audience sure to be receptive awaits, festival or no. The chorus, after all, is already there.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Step Seven

Which is:  "Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings."

They are quoting from this Step currently on the Facebook page for the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions; I find myself "liking" almost every entry Here is the long form of this Step in its entirety, from the book; I've bolded the parts I find especially interesting today.
Since this Step so specifically concerns itself with humility, we should pause here to consider what humility is and what the practice of it can mean to us.

Indeed, the attainment of greater humility is the foundation principle of each of A.A.'s Twelve Steps. For without some degree of humility, no alcoholic can stay sober at all. Nearly all A.A.'s have found, too, that unless they develop much more of this precious quality than may be required just for sobriety, they still haven't much chance of becoming truly happy. Without it, they cannot live to much useful purpose, or, in adversity, be able to summon the faith that can meet any emergency.

Humility, as a word and as an ideal, has a very bad time of it in our world. Not only is the idea misunderstood; the word itself is often intensely disliked. Many people haven't even a nodding acquaintance with humility as a way of life. Much of the everyday talk we hear, and a great deal of what we read, highlights man's pride in his own achievements.

With great intelligence, men of science have been forcing nature to disclose her secrets. The immense resources now being harnessed promise such a quantity of material blessings that many have come to believe that a man-made millennium lies just ahead. Poverty will disappear, and there will be such abundance that everybody can have all the security and personal satisfactions he desires. The theory seems to be that once everybody's primary instincts are satisfied, there won't be much left to quarrel about. The world will then turn happy and be free to concentrate on culture and character. Solely by their own intelligence and labor, men will have shaped their own destiny.

Certainly no alcoholic, and surely no member of A.A., wants to deprecate material achievement. Nor do we enter into debate with the many who still so passionately cling to the belief that to satisfy our basic natural desires is the main object of life. But we are sure that no class of people in the world ever made a worse mess of trying to live by this formula than alcoholics. For thousands of years we have been demanding more than our share of security, prestige, and romance. When we seemed to be succeeding, we drank to dream still greater dreams. When we were frustrated, even in part, we drank for oblivion. Never was there enough of what we thought we wanted.

In all these strivings, so many of them well-intentioned, our crippling handicap had been our lack of humility. We had lacked the perspective to see that character-building and spiritual values had to come first, and that material satisfactions were not the purpose of living. Quite characteristically, we had gone all out in confusing the ends with the means. Instead of regarding the satisfaction of our material desires as the means by which we could live and function as human beings, we had taken these satisfactions to be the final end and aim of life.

True, most of us thought good character was desirable, but obviously good character was something one needed to get on with the business of being self-satisfied. With a proper display of honesty and morality, we'd stand a better chance of getting what we really wanted. But whenever we had to choose between character and comfort, the character-building was lost in the dust of our chase after what we thought was happiness. Seldom did we look at character-building as something desirable in itself, something we would like to strive for whether our instinctual needs were met or not. We never thought of making honesty, tolerance, and true love of man and God the daily basis of living.

This lack of anchorage to any permanent values, this blindness to the true purpose of our lives, produced another bad result. For just so long as we were convinced that we could live exclusively by our own individual strength and intelligence, for just that long was a working faith in a Higher Power impossible. This was true even when we believed that God existed. We could actually have earnest religious beliefs which remained barren because we were still trying to play God ourselves. As long as we placed self reliance first, a genuine reliance upon a Higher Power was out of the question. That basic ingredient of all humility, a desire to seek and do God's will, was missing.

For us, the process of gaining a new perspective was unbelievably painful. It was only by repeated humiliations that we were forced to learn something about humility. It was only at the end of a long road, marked by successive defeats and humiliations, and the final crushing of our self sufficiency, that we began to feel humility as something more than a condition of groveling despair. Every newcomer in Alcoholics Anonymous is told, and soon realizes for himself, that his humble admission of powerlessness over alcohol is his first step toward liberation from its paralyzing grip.

So it is that we first see humility as a necessity. But this is the barest beginning. To get completely away from our aversion to the idea of being humble, to gain a vision of humility as the avenue to true freedom of the human spirit, to be willing to work for humility as something to be desired for itself, takes most of us a long, long time. A whole lifetime geared to self-centeredness cannot be set in reverse all at once. Rebellion dogs our every step at first.

When we have finally admitted without reservation that we are powerless over alcohol, we are apt to breathe a great sigh of relief, saying, "Well, thank God that's over! I'll never have to go through that again!" Then we learn, often to our consternation, that this is only the first milestone on the new road we are walking. Still goaded by sheer necessity, we reluctantly come to grips with those serious character flaws that made problem drinkers of us in the first place, flaws which must be dealt with to prevent a retreat into alcoholism once again. We will want to be rid of some of these defects, but in some instances this will appear to be an impossible job from which we recoil. And we cling with a passionate persistence to others which are just as disturbing to our equilibrium, because we still enjoy them too much. How can we possibly summon the resolution and the willingness to get rid of such overwhelming compulsions and desires?

But again we are driven on by the inescapable conclusion which we draw from A.A. experience, that we surely must try with a will, or else fall by the wayside. At this stage of our progress we are under heavy pressure and coercion to do the right thing. We are obliged to choose between the pains of trying and the certain penalties of failing to do so. These initial steps along the road are taken grudgingly, yet we do take them. We may still have no very high opinion of humility as a desirable personal virtue, but we do recognize it as a necessary aid to our survival.

But when we have taken a square look at some of these defects, have discussed them with another, and have become willing to have them removed, our thinking about humility commences to have a wider meaning. By this time in all probability we have gained some measure of release from our more devastating handicaps. We enjoy moments in which there is something like real peace of mind. To those of us who have hitherto known only excitement, depression, or anxiety--in other words, to all of us--this newfound peace is a priceless gift. Something new indeed has been added. Where humility had formerly stood for a forced feeding on humble pie, it now begins to mean the nourishing ingredient which can give us serenity.

This improved perception of humility starts another revolutionary change in our outlook. Our eyes begin to open to the immense values which have come straight out of painful ego-puncturing. Until now, our lives have been largely devoted to running from pain and problems. We fled from them as from a plague. We never wanted to deal with the fact of suffering. Escape via the bottle was always our solution. Character-building through suffering might be all right for saints, but it certainly didn't appeal to us.

Then, in A.A., we looked and listened. Everywhere we saw failure and misery transformed by humility into priceless assets. We heard story after story of how humility had brought strength out of weakness. In every case, pain had been the price of admission into a new life. But this admission price had purchased more than we expected. It brought a measure of humility, which we soon discovered to be a healer of pain. We began to fear pain less, and desire humility more than ever.

During this process of learning more about humility, the most profound result of all was the change in our attitude toward God. And this was true whether we had been believers or unbelievers. We began to get over the idea that the Higher Power was a sort of bush-league pinch hitter, to be called upon only in an emergency. The notion that we would still live our own lives, God helping a little now and then, began to evaporate. Many of us who had thought ourselves religious awoke to the limitations of this attitude. Refusing to place God first, we had deprived ourselves of His help. But now the words "Of myself I am nothing, the Father doeth the works" began to carry bright promise and meaning.

We saw we needn't always be bludgeoned and beaten into humility. It could come quite as much from our voluntary reaching for it as it could from unremitting suffering. A great turning point in our lives came when we sought for humility as something we really wanted, rather than as something we must have. It marked the time when we could commence to see the full implication of Step Seven: "Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings."

As we approach the actual taking of Step Seven, it might be well if we A.A.'s inquire once more just what our deeper objectives are. Each of us would like to live at peace with himself and with his fellows. We would like to be assured that the grace of God can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. We have seen that character defects based upon shortsighted or unworthy desires are the obstacles that block our path toward these objectives. We now clearly see that we have been making unreasonable demands upon ourselves, upon others, and upon God.

The chief activator of our defects has been self-centered fear--primarily fear that we would lose something we already possessed or would fail to get something we demanded. Living upon a basis of unsatisfied demands, we were in a state of continual disturbance and frustration. Therefore, no peace was to be had unless we could find a means of reducing these demands. The difference between a demand and a simple request is plain to anyone.

The Seventh Step is where we make the change in our attitude which permits us, with humility as our guide, to move out from ourselves toward others and toward God. The whole emphasis of Step Seven is on humility. It is really saying to us that we now ought to be willing to try humility in seeking the removal of our other shortcomings just as we did when we admitted that we were powerless over alcohol, and came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. If that degree of humility could enable us to find the grace by which such a deadly obsession could be banished, then there must be hope of the same result respecting any other problem we could possibly have.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Des Prez' Domine, non secundum

This is from the post at SC:

Of all his music it's Josquin Desprez' motets that I find the most intriguing and satisfying. This particular motet is one those published by Ottaviano Petrucci in 1503 in his anthology of sacred motets »Motetti de Passione, de Cruce, de Sacramento, de Beata Virgine et huiusmodi B«. Petrucci included several motets by Josquin in his anthology of which Domine, non secundum is the most elaborate. At first it was thought by musicologists that Josquin composed it in his youth in Milan. However the conventional wisdom now is that in fact he composed it sometime between 1489 and 1495 while he was a singer in the papal choir.

It's based upon plainchant and is relatively florid with the chant's influence being especially keenly felt in the top line. Part of the motet's appeal is how Josquin progressively simplifies the music as the motet progresses – it starts relatively elaborately with a duet for the top voices which Josquin contrasts with a duet for the lower voices. For me the musical highpoint of the motet is at the line 'Quia paupers facti sumus nimis' (Because we beggars have become as nothing) followed a gentle let-down as Josquin ends the motet. It's performed in the music video below by Edward Wickham & The Clerks Group. Enjoy :-)

Domine, non secundum is the Tract for Ash Wednesday (and is also listed as being used at Ember Friday in that week). Here are the words in Latin, with translation to English from CPDL:
Domine, non secundum peccata nostra, quæ fecimus nos: neque secundum iniquitates nostras retribuas nobis.
Domine, ne memineris iniquitatum patrum nostrorum, cito anticipent nos misericordiæ tuæ, quia pauperes facti sumus nimis.
Adiuvanos, Deus salutaris nostri, propter gloriam nominis tui et liberanos; et propitius esto peccatis nostris propter nomen tuum.

Lord, do not repay us according to our sins or our iniquities.
Lord, do not hold our old sins against us;
may your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need.
Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your name;
Lord, deliver us and forgive our sins for your name's sake.

The Brazilian Benedictines have recorded the plainchant of the tract, but I couldn't find it anywhere else. Here's their mp3, and below is the chant score.

Others have set the text as well. Here's a lovely version from Spain's Juan de Anchieta:

And here, the Warsaw Boys Choir sings Cesar Franck's setting:

Monday, July 23, 2012

A proposal for a new lay movement/organization

I am interested in starting some sort of broad-based Christian spiritual organization geared specifically towards laypeople.

Not long ago I noticed that there was a meeting nearby of the Society of Catholic Priests; I emailed the priest who was taking reservations for the event and asked him if there were any sort of parallel organization for laypeople.  He said he didn't think so, and suggested I become an Associate of a religious order; I am that, already.  But there appears to be no "Catholic" organization for laypeople of the same type.

There is the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament - but that has a very specific focus.   There are other kinds of organizations, too; quoting Chris Arnold from his blog "Open Thou Our Lips":

Catholic societies missing from General Convention

I popped up to General Convention on Monday, to browse the exhibition hall with its hundreds of exhibitors, to run into old friends and colleagues, and to stick my nose into the proceedings of the Houses of Bishops and of Deputies.

I noticed, and found it curious, that the Catholic societies were missing from the exhibitors. No sign of the Guild of All Souls, the Society of Mary, the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, or the Society of King Charles the Martyr. No sign of the Society of the Holy Cross, nor of the Society of Catholic Priests, of which I'm a member. Perhaps next General Convention...

I am all for Catholic societies, and for other organizations that have a specific focus - but I'm more interested at the moment in a broad-based organization.   (There are, of course, also Episcopal church organizations for women (the Daughters of the King) and Altar Guilds and Vergers and Acolytes.  I'm not sure how many of these groups are very active these days - but again, they are focused on very specific things; that's great, but not what I'm thinking of.)

Now, there is the new "Acts 8 Moment" in some sort of initial state of organizing itself.  I did suggest the same thing on that website - that is, that it would be good to have an organized movement mainly for laypeople (or perhaps for clergy AND laypeople).

I love the book of Acts, myself; it's full of fascinating characters and interesting doings - and it's about the building up of the church. One of my very favorite stories is that of the Ethiopian eunuch, found in Acts 8 itself.    Quoting one of my past posts from the now-defunct pre-July 2012 Topmost Apple (I did save the XML file!):
Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

From the sermon at today's noontime eucharist, and one of my favorite stories, Acts 8:26-40:
Then the angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, "Get up and head south on the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza, the desert route." So he got up and set out. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, that is, the queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury, who had come to Jerusalem to worship, and was returning home. Seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah.

The Spirit said to Philip, "Go and join up with that chariot." Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?" He replied, "How can I, unless someone instructs me?" So he invited Philip to get in and sit with him. This was the scripture passage he was reading: "Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opened not his mouth. In (his) humiliation justice was denied him. Who will tell of his posterity? For his life is taken from the earth." Then the eunuch said to Philip in reply, "I beg you, about whom is the prophet saying this? About himself, or about someone else?" Then Philip opened his mouth and, beginning with this scripture passage, he proclaimed Jesus to him. As they traveled along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, "Look, there is water. What is to prevent my being baptized?" Then he ordered the chariot to stop, and Philip and the eunuch both went down into the water, and he baptized him. When they came out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, but continued on his way rejoicing. Philip came to Azotus, and went about proclaiming the good news to all the towns until he reached Caesarea.


The celebrant noted that Luke and Acts were at one time one piece, written by the same person. And that the Ascension ends Luke and begins Acts, but with different characters.

In both Luke's story of Jesus and the disciples on the road to Emmaus, read last Sunday, and in this story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, the protagonist appears suddenly and vanishes suddenly. Poof! Philip appears, runs alongside the chariot, and yells at the Ethiopian, before the latter invites him in to talk. After the baptism: poof! Gone. He next shows up in Azotus, and then Caesarea.

In both stories, "the Scriptures are opened" to those who hear them, and their "hearts burn." In both stories, the reading of the Scriptures leads to sacramental acts: the breaking of bread at Emmaus, and baptism here.

And this is also exactly what happens at every celebration of the eucharist: first the Scriptures are opened to us, and our hearts burn; the sacrament follows.
So I want a group focused on the larger idea of  "the opening of the Scriptures" and on "hearts that burn" - as the prelude/adjunct to the Sacraments.

The patron saints of this organization could be Bianco da Siena, who wrote the lovely "Discendi, Amor Santo," (c. 14th C., later translated by Richard Frederick Littledale whose text is the basis for the hymn "Come Down, O Love Divine") and Marguerite Porete, a Beguine, who wrote "The Mirror of Simple Souls" (c. 13th C.).

Here's Wikipedia on the Jesuati, a lay organization in Italy of which da Siena was a member:
The Jesuati (Jesuates) were a religious order founded by Giovanni Colombini of Siena in 1360. The order was initially called Clerici apostolici Sancti Hieronymi (Apostolic Clerics of Saint Jerome)[1] because of a special veneration for St. Jerome and the apostolic life the founders led[2]. Colombini had been a prosperous merchant and a senator in his native city, but, coming under ecstatic religious influences, abandoned secular affairs and his wife and daughter (after making provision for them), and with a friend of like temperament, Francesco Miani, gave himself to a life of apostolic poverty, penitential discipline, hospital service and public preaching.

The name Jesuati was given to Colombini and his disciples from the habit of calling loudly on the name of Jesus at the beginning and end of their ecstatic sermons. The senate banished Colombini from Siena for imparting foolish ideas to the young men of the city, and he continued his mission in Arezzo and other places, only to be honourably recalled home on the outbreak of the bubonic plague. Howard Eves[3] writes that the order was then "dedicated to nursing and burying the victims of the rampant bubonic plague."
Their rule of life, originally a compound of Benedictine and Franciscan elements, was later modified on Augustinian lines, but traces of the early penitential idea persisted, e.g. the wearing of sandals and a daily flagellation. Paul V in 1606 arranged for a small proportion of clerical members, and later in the 17th century the Jesuati became so secularized that the members were known as the Aquavitae Fathers. Eves[3] writes, "certain abuses, apparently involving the manufacture and sale of distilled liquors in a manner not sanctioned by Canon Law, crept in. This, along with a difficulty in maintaining a reasonable membership quota, led to the order's abolishment by Pope Clement IX in 1668."

Mathematician Bonaventura Cavalieri was a member from the age of fifteen until his death.[3]

The female branch of the order, the Jesuati sisters, founded by Caterina Colombini (d. 1387) in Siena, and thence widely dispersed, more consistently maintained the primitive strictness of the society and survived the male branch by 200 years, existing until 1872 in small communities in Italy.
The Beguines and Beghards were two other lay organizations (the first for women and the second for men) from about the same period; this movement began in northern Europe:

The Beguines

At the start of the 12th century, some women in the Low Countries lived alone and devoted themselves to prayer and good works without taking vows. At first there were only a few of them, but in the course of the century, their numbers increased. This was the age of the Crusades, and the land teemed with widowed women—the raw material for a host of neophytes. These single women tended to live on the fringe of towns, where they attended to the poor. About the beginning of the 13th century, some of them grouped their cabins together to form a community, called Beguinage.

The Beguine were not nuns; they did not take vows, could return to the world and wed if they chose, and did not renounce their property. If one was without means, she neither asked nor accepted alms, but supported herself by manual labour, or by teaching the children of burghers. During the time of her novitiate, she lived with "the Grand Mistress" of her cloister, but afterward she had her own dwelling. If she could afford it, she was attended by her own servants. She was bound to her companions by having the same goals in life, kindred pursuits, and a community of worship.

They had no mother-house, nor common rule, nor common general of the order; every community was complete in itself and fixed its own order of living. Later many adopted the rule of the Third Order of Saint Francis. These communities were varied in terms of the social status of their members; some of them only admitted ladies of high degree; others were exclusively reserved for persons in humble circumstances; others again opened their doors wide to women of every condition, and these were the most densely peopled. Several, like the great Beguinage of Ghent, numbered their inhabitants by thousands.

This semi-monastic institution was adapted to its age and spread rapidly throughout the land. The women influenced the religious life of the people. Each of these institutions was a centre of mysticism, and it was the Beguines, the Beghards, and the sons of Saint Francis who shaped the thought of the urban population of the Low Countries. There was a Beguinage at Mechlin as early as 1207, at Brussels in 1245, at Leuven before 1232, at Antwerp in 1234, and at Bruges in 1244. By the close of the century, most communes in the Low Countries had a Beguinage, whilst several of the great cities had two or more.

As the 13th century progressed, the women tended to become mystics and relied less on their own labour, often turning to begging instead. In some cases, this shift toward mysticism caused problems for the Beguines. For example, Marguerite Porete, a French Beguine and mystic, was burned at the stake in Paris in 1310 by civil authorities (heresy was against state law at that time). She was condemned by the Church for heresy and accused of being a Free Spirit. She was finally condemned and executed for reasons that are still not entirely clear. One reason may have been her refusal to remove her book The Mirror of Simple Souls from circulation.

The Beghards

The widespread religious revival inspired several kindred societies for men. Of these the Beghards were the most widespread and the most important. The Beghards were all laymen, and like the Beguines, they were not bound by vows, the rule of life which they observed was not uniform, and the members of each community were subject only to their own local superiors. They held no private property; the brethren of each cloister had a common purse, dwelt together under one roof, and ate at the same board.

They were for the most part men of humble origin—weavers, dyers, fullers, and so forth—they were closely connected with the city craft-guilds. For example, no man could be admitted to the Beghards' community at Brussels unless he were a member of the Weavers' Company. The Beghards were often men to whom fortune had not been kind—men who had outlived their friends, or whose family ties had been broken by some untoward event, and who, by reason of failing health or advancing years, or perhaps on account of some accident, were unable to stand alone. If, "the medieval towns of the Netherlands found in the Beguinage a solution of their feminine question"[citation needed], the growth of the Beghard communities provided a place for the worn-out workingman.

The men had banded together in the first place to build up the inner man. While working out their own salvation, they remained mindful of their neighbours and ,thanks to their connection with the craft-guilds, they influenced the religious life. They are credited with shaping the religious opinion of the cities and towns of the Netherlands for more than 200 years, especially for the peasant.

So you see, there is quite a history of lay spiritual organizations with deep mystical roots.  (The English Little Gidding is another example.)

I'm interested in a spiritual organization dedicated to study, discussion, and prayer, mainly, I think (and perhaps to writing as well).   Because, going back to the Book of Acts:  discussion is at the heart of every story that has to do with "Sacramental action."   Again:  first the Scriptures are opened, and hearts burn; then the sacrament follows.  Whenever a person is baptized, or breaks bread, or is ordained, somebody holds forth - often in great detail - on the story of Salvation.  The centrality of  "the Word" (that is, a clear explanation of the ideas and events involved) is made utterly explicit - and human beings talk to one another, one person explaining what's happening, and questions are taken.   It's all put out there for people to hear and to judge for themselves; there's nothing hidden or (dare I say it) gnostic about it.   One thing our organization could be dedicated to is finding new ways to communicate all of it (especially since the story itself is no longer embedded in the culture in the way it's been for so many hundreds of years).

BTW, discussion and explanation is very central to what happens in A.A., too; A.A.'s primary Sacrament is, in fact, talking.  It's "sharing our experience, strength, and hope" with others, so they can get sober; this is crucially important and really the sole reason for A.A.'s existence in the first place.  I'd go so far as to say, in fact, that talking is the entire basis and raison d'etre of Alcoholics Anonymous; it's an organization dedicated to communication between human beings. And this is pretty clearly central to the Book of Acts as well; what story is more wonderful than that of Philip and the Ethiopian, riding along in their chariot together, talking for hours - and then together finding a stream by the side of the road, right in the middle of their journey, so that the Ethiopian can be baptized?

The organization's doctrinal foundation would consist very simply of the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds; no other position need be taken.

I'm not at all averse to a mystical element, either; that could be part of the study/discussion aspect - perhaps via the writings of people like St. John of the Cross and the others I've mentioned above.   We could have a website to talk about different topics, etc.  The Jesuati, and the Beguines and Beghards, could be a great historical inspiration for such a lay group - and "the Acts 8 Moment" could provide some current inspiration.  I do think we're in a sort of a "new moment" at present - even though, of course, it's only new to us who are living now.   Moments like this have happened before - but I think it's important to build up a true organization around them, rather than  depending on "momentum" to carry things through.  I think, too, that it's important for people to feel they belong to something larger.

I don't think such an organization should be specifically Anglican (or Lutheran, or Catholic, or Quaker); it should be open to all laypeople, IMO.   It might emphasize the Anglican tradition of equal emphasis on Mass and Daily Prayer, though, and of course since I would be founder (!), the Anglican tradition would get its due, since I don't really know any other.  (Anyway, Anglicanism is really ideally suited as a "base of operations" for lay spirituality, primarily because of the Book of Common Prayer and what it's meant in Anglicanism's history.   Another excellent resource for such an organization is the website Full Homely Divinity, which explores this idea in wonderful and inspiring depth.)

In other "new movement" news:  Robert Hendrickson is proposing a "New Oxford Movement" at his blog, too.

Now, I can't steal the "Acts 8 Moment" from the people who've started it - and I can't steal Fr. Hendrickson's idea, either, or start my own lay adjunct to the "Society of Catholic Priests" - but I'd really like to get going on some sort of new lay (or clergy and lay) organization.  I'm willing to start a new blog to discuss it, if anybody else would be interested (and I can think of a few people I think would be!).

Let me know what you think in the comments, if you're interested.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A hymn of Christ and Mary Magdalene in the garden

The YouTube page says this is taken from the Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Church - "the Badarak" - and is a hymn about the encounter in the garden.

There is all this (and more!) at the video page:
"Oh Gardener..."
"Ov Bardeezban..."

Taken from the Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Church
"Badarak" or Mass
Lyrics with Translations:

Haryav Kreestos (Christ is risen)
Zartyav Kreestos) (Christ is awakened)

Ov Bardeezban (Oh Gardener)

Too asa, oor daran zeesoos? (Tell me where did they take Jesus?

Vor Gardzem te, too yes numan (Whom I believe you resemble...)

vo, numan? (Who Resembles?)
too numan. (You resemble)

Me Lar too, ov guin (Don't weep, O woman)
Yes em gentaneen! (I am the Living One!)

* Yeg Yev des zdegheen (Come and see the place)
* Zor khotsyatz azken eesrayeleen. (That the race of Israel Pierced)
*(Repeat )

Haryav Kristos (Christ is risen)
Zartyav Kristos (Christ is awakened)


This is an ancient hymn taken from the middle-ages. The Lyricist & Composer is unknown.

The hymn is the encounter Mary Magdalene has at the empty tomb of Jesus on Easter Ressurection Sunday, where she does not recognize the Glorified Lord and addresses him as the "gardener":

John 20:10Then the disciples went back to their homes, 11but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 13They asked her, "Woman, why are you crying?" "They have taken my Lord away," she said, "and I don't know where they have put him." 14At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15"Woman," he said, "why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?" Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him." 16Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher).


From the CD:
The Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Church
(Markar Yekmalian)

Komitas Chamber Choir of Armenia

Hovhannes Mirzoyan, music director and principal conductor
Khoren Mekanejian, guest conductor

St. Mary Magdalene

Feast date: July 22nd

First person documented in the Gospels to see the Resurrected Lord. Is called the "apostle to the apostles" in the Greek orthodox Church because she brought the good news of the Resurrection to the apostles.

Patron Saint of:
Atrani, Italy;
Casamicciola Terme, Ischia;
contemplative life;
glove makers;
penitent sinners;
people ridiculed for their piety;
reformed prostitutes;
sexual temptation;
 Here's a short introduction to the Badarak, from the website of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church in America:
The Divine Liturgy is the main worship service of the Armenian Church.  But the Badarak, as we call it in Armenian, is much more than that.  It provides the most intimate encounter we can have with God in this life.  In the Divine Liturgy, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, comes to his people—to you and me—in two forms: First, by his Word, in the reading of the holy Gospel; and second, by his holy Body and Blood, in Holy Communion.  These two actions—the reading of the Word of God, and the reception of Holy Communion—are the two pillars or building blocks of the Divine Liturgy in all ancient, apostolic churches.

Supported by these two pillars is a magnificent structure of words, music, symbols, and rituals.  For those unfamiliar with it, the Divine Liturgy can seem like a bewildering array of disjointed movements and rituals, and arcane theological terminology.  The complex interplay of the celebrant priest, the deacons, the other altar servers, the choir, and the people might lead one to overlook the logic and purpose of the Divine Liturgy, and to miss its very real benefits.

Back in the 10th century, the great Armenian theologian Khosrov Antsevatsi eloquently described the importance of the Divine Liturgy when he wrote: "Since those who confess and show repentance receive atonement by means of the Holy Mystery [the Badarak], and are reunited to Christ in order to become for Him Body and members, we should be eager for the great medicine."  The Divine Liturgy is the great medicine that provides true meaning and direction for our lives.  It offers the peace and solace that only God can give—a free gift no less—in an age when so many people are searching, and spending millions of dollars in vain to find personal stability and security.
 More at the link.

"Communion Hymn from the Paraklesis to Saint Mary Magdalene The Myrrh-Bearer"

On the eve of her feast day:

The blurb at the YouTube page says this:
Communion Hymn from the Paraklesis
To Saint Mary Magdalene The Myrrh-Bearer.
Plagal 4th tone.
Chanted By"Monks of the Holy Monastery of Simonos Petra, Mount Athos.

Text in English: "Her sound has gone forth into all the earth, and her words unto the end of the world, Alleluia (cf. Ps19-5)
Liturgica.com has a listing for this in their web store.

Here's the beginning section of Wikipedia's entry on "Paraklesis":
A Paraklesis (Greek: Παράκλησις) or Supplicatory Canon in the Orthodox Christian Church and Eastern Catholic Churches, is a service of supplication for the welfare of the living. It is addressed to a specific Saint or to the Most Holy Theotokos whose intercessions are sought through the chanting of the supplicatory canon together with psalms, hymns, and ekteniae (litanies).

The most popular Paraklesis is that in which the supplicatory canon and other hymns are addressed to the Most Holy Theotokos (the Mother of God). There are two forms of this service: the Small Paraklesis (composed by Theosterictus the Monk in the 9th century), and the Great Paraklesis (composed by Emperor Theodore I Ducas Lascaris in the 13th century). During the majority of the year, only the Small Paraklesis to the Theotokos is chanted. However, during the Dormition Fast (August 1—14, inclusive), the Typikon prescribes that the Small and Great Paraklesis be chanted on alternate evenings, according to the following regulations:
  • If August 1st falls on a Monday through Friday, the cycle begins with the Small Paraklesis. If August 1st falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the cycle begins with the Great Paraklesis.
  • On the eves of Sundays (i.e., Saturday nights) and on the eve of the Transfiguration (the night of August 5) the Paraklesis is omitted.
  • On Sunday nights, the Great Paraklesis is always used unless it is the eve of Transfiguration.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"Flannery O’Connor on Emotional Jellyfish and the Repulsiveness of Truth (and Incarnation)"

Dave Zahl at Mockingbird posted this the other day:
From the collection of her letters, The Habit of Being, pgs 99-100, ht WH:
I can never agree with you that the Incarnation, or any truth, has to satisfy emotionally to be right (and I would not agree that for the natural man the Incarnation does not satisfy emotionally). It does not satisfy emotionally for the person brought up under many forms of false intellectual discipline such as nineteenth century mechanism, for instance. Leaving the Incarnation aside, the very notion of God’s existence is not emotionally satisfactory anymore for great numbers of people, which does not mean the God ceases to exist. M. Jean-Paul Sartre finds God emotionally unsatisfactory in the extreme, as do most of my friends of less stature than he. The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally. A higher paradox confounds emotion as well as reason and there are long periods in the lives of all of us, and of the saints, when the truth as revealed by faith is hideous, emotionally disturbing, downright repulsive. Witness the dark night of the soul in individual saints. Right now the whole world seems to be going through a dark night of the soul.

There is question whether faith can or is supposed to be emotionally satisfying. I must say the thought of everybody lolling about in an emotionally satisfying faith is repugnant to me. I believe that we are ultimately directed Godward but that this journey is often impeded by emotion. I don’t think you are a jellyfish. But I suspect you of being a Romantic.

Desprez: Tu pauperum refugium (New York Polyphony and Lizzie Ball)

More from this wonderful concert:

The words, via CPDL with translation by The St. Ann Choir:
Tu pauperum refugium, tu languorum remedium,
spes exsulum, fortitudo laborantium,
via errantium, veritas et vita.
Et nunc Redemptor, Domine, ad te solum confugio;
te verum Deum adoro, in te spero, in te confido,
salus mea, Jesu Christe.
Adjuva me, ne unquam obdormiat in morte anima mea.

Thou art the refuge of the poor,
remedy for afflictions, hope of exiles,
strength of those who labor, way for the wandering,
truth and life.
And now, Redeemer, Lord, in thee alone I take refuge;
thee, true God, I adore, in thee I hope,
in thee I confide, my salvation, O Jesus Christ.
Help me, lest my soul ever sleep in death.
The text's author is unknown.

Monday, July 16, 2012

"Whales Show Signs of Coping With Man-Made Noise Underwater"

Whales Show Signs of Coping With Man-Made Noise Underwater - NYTimes.com

Scientists have long known that man-made, underwater noises — from engines, sonars, weapons testing, and such industrial tools as air guns used in oil and gas exploration — are deafening whales and other sea mammals. The Navy estimates that loud booms from just its underwater listening devices, mainly sonar, result in temporary or permanent hearing loss for more than a quarter-million sea creatures every year, a number that is rising.

Now, scientists have discovered that whales can decrease the sensitivity of their hearing to protect their ears from loud noise. Humans tend to do this with index fingers; scientists haven’t pinpointed how whales do it, but they have seen the first evidence of the behavior.

“It’s equivalent to plugging your ears when a jet flies over,” said Paul E. Nachtigall, a marine biologist at the University of Hawaii who led the discovery team. “It’s like a volume control.”

The finding, while preliminary, is already raising hopes for the development of warning signals that would alert whales, dolphins and other sea mammals to auditory danger.

Peter Madsen, a professor of marine biology at Aarhus University in Denmark, said he applauded the Hawaiian team for its “elegant study” and the promise of innovative ways of “getting at some of the noise problems.” But he cautioned against letting the discovery slow global efforts to reduce the oceanic roar, which would aid the beleaguered sea mammals more directly.

The noise threat arises because of the basic properties of seawater. Typically, light can travel for hundreds of feet through ocean water before diminishing to nothingness. But sound can travel for hundreds of miles.

The world’s oceans have been getting noisier as companies and governments expand their undersea activities. Researchers have linked the growing racket to deafness, tissue damage, mass strandings and disorientation in creatures that rely on hearing to navigate, find food and care for their young.

The danger has long been a political football. In 2008, the Supreme Court heard a lawsuit by the National Resources Defense Council against the Navy over ocean noise; the court ruled that naval vessels had the right to test sonar systems for hunting submarines. But environmentalists saw a tacit victory in getting the nation’s highest court even to consider the health of sea mammals in a debate over national security.

The latest development took place at a research facility off Oahu — at an island where the opening shots of “Gilligan’s Island” were filmed.

Scientists there are studying how dolphins and toothed whales hear. In nature, the mammals emit sounds and listen for returning echoes in a sensory behavior known as echolocation. In captivity, scientists taught the creatures to wear suction-cup electrodes, which revealed the patterns of brainwaves involved in hearing.

The discovery came in steps. First, Dr. Nachtigall and his team found the animals could adjust their hearing in response to their own sounds of echolocation, mainly sharp clicks. The scientists then wondered if the animals could also protect their ears from incoming blasts.

The team focused on a false killer whale named Kina and sought to teach her a conditioned behavior similar to how Pavlov taught dogs to salivate upon hearing a bell.

First, the scientists played a gentle tone repeatedly. Then they followed the gentle pulse with a loud sound. After a few trials, the warning signal alone caused Kina to decrease the sensitivity of her hearing.

“It shows promise as a way to mitigate the effects of loud sounds,” said Dr. Nachtigall, founding director of the Marine Mammal Research Program at the University of Hawaii. “People are generally very excited about it.”

In May, Dr. Nachtigall and his colleagues presented the findings to acoustic scientists and groups meeting in Hong Kong, including the Acoustical Society of America. The team cited the protective deafening as a potential way to help sea mammals cope with noisy blasts from naval sonars, civilian air guns and other equipment.

In the future, the team plans to expand the research to other species in captivity and ultimately to animals in the wild. “We have a problem in the world,” Dr. Nachtigall said of the oceanic roar. “And we think the animals can learn this response very rapidly.”

Scientists unconnected to the mammal research called it important. “It’s a big deal,” said Vincent M. Janik, a prominent marine biologist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. In an e-mail, he said it revealed a rare ability among the planet’s creatures.

More at the link.

Monday, July 2, 2012

A fresh start

Hi - I decided to delete my blog, and start over again. This is just a post to say so, until I decide what I'll be doing next....