Friday, August 31, 2012

"Drone-Tracking App Gets No Traction From Apple"

Today, from NPR :
Cellphones have ushered in an age of interruption, with apps that notify you when you're mentioned on Facebook or Twitter, or even if your favorite ball team scores a run.

But Apple is the ultimate arbiter of what kinds of notifications iPhone users can receive — and some apps just don't pass muster with the tech giant.

Take Josh Begley's idea, for example. Begley created an app that sends a push notification — or beep — to an iPhone whenever there is a U.S. drone strike anywhere in the world.
Apple blocked it from its App Store.

"They said the app has excessively objectionable or crude content," Begley says. "Which I found somewhat curious, because it is literally just a republishing of news — just tracking when strikes happen."

The app contains no gory pictures or classified information. But Begley admits he's trying to make a political point about these strikes with his app.

"[Drone strikes] are changing the face of warfare," he says, "and there are serious questions. And I think that it's worth having a conversation about it."
Apple, however, didn't agree.

The company routinely blocks apps from its store that it finds objectionable. There's no porn allowed. Hate speech is verboten. In 2009, Apple blocked an app created by a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist (later, Steve Jobs called that a mistake).

Apple has also removed apps encouraging people to take a stand against gay marriage, and another that promised to help gays become straight.

Ryan Calo, a law professor at the University of Washington, says Apple, as a private company, has the right to sell — or not sell — whatever it wants.

And while Calo says he respects that, he adds that "in these kinds of borderline examples, they ought to be finding in favor of free speech, just as good corporate citizens setting an example worldwide."

As more of our public conversations take place inside privately managed digital communities like Apple's App Store or Facebook, Calo says, these kinds of corporate decisions will carry even more weight.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"A Moral Education, Not Just an Excellent One"

A terrific article from the Spring 2012 edition of The Episcopal New Yorker, via Sed Angli.  My bolding below; I especially like the thing about "muscular virtues like grit and integrity" requiring "exercise to grow."   Well, there's a lot I like actually....

A Role for Episcopal Schools in Meaningful Educational Reform

by Robert M. Pennoyer II

This article was published on page 6 of the Spring 2012 issue of the Episcopal New Yorker.

STUDENT disengagement is more than a classroom problem; it’s a civic one. When students cannot make the connection between the work they do in school and the lives they lead (and will lead) outside of it, they are deprived of that which schools should seek most to impart: a passion for inquiry, discovery, and debate; the ability to think critically and to exercise moral and intellectual judgment; the tools and ultimate desire to live a meaningful life. Disengagement in any individual classroom leads to boredom, apathy, stress, and even truancy; it steers students towards shortcuts and lets atrophy those muscular virtues like grit and integrity, the sort that require exercise to grow. On the individual level the symptoms of student disengagement may be “not an important failure” (to borrow Auden’s iconic phrase), but, writ large, the social costs of an increasingly disengaged generation of students cannot, and must not, be ignored.

To a disheartening degree, however, the desire to promote student engagement seems secondary (or absent altogether) in many discussions of educational policy. New outlets seem never to tire of airing vituperative debates about standardized tests and teachers’ unions. The quieter story of students slogging through work they find meaningless wouldn’t sell and might hardly quality as news: disengagement is so pervasive as to be thought an intractable fact of adolescence. William Damon, a professor of education at Stanford University and the director of the Stanford Center on Adolescence, calls student disengagement “[t]he most pressing problem in education today.” In an article published in Independent School Magazine, he reports, “With the exception of a relatively small proportion of students (in the diverse national sample of my recent study, about one in five), young people in our country do not see the link between what goes on in their schools and their aspirations for their lives.”1 Not recognizing a link between one’s work and one’s life exemplifies a typical manifestation of student disengagement in the classroom, and Damon goes on to illustrate its effects. He describes students working hard on activities they find meaningless, resulting in “a pervasive sense of emptiness, boredom, or apathy; for others, a debilitating anxiety; and for still others, an ensnarement in the lures of hedonism and cynicism.”

Education reformers who fail to connect their reforms to students; ability to find meaning in schoolwork risk advocating for change that may be ultimately insignificant or, worse, counter-productive. The most inviting trap for the well-intentioned is the seductive notion that education needs somehow to catch up to the strong winds of modern culture, whose progress has left school curricula irrelevantly bobbing in its wake. Yes, schools should equip their students with tools to collaborate, to use technology productively, to understand the globalizing world or to interpret facts and figures—all crucial priorities for modern schools. Central to their scholastic mission, however, must also be the moral imperative to engage students in the quest for meaning and purpose—even in the midst of a culture that makes them harder to find.

In the new edition of Reasons for Being: The Culture and Character of Episcopal Schools,2 headmasters, chaplains, and leaders of Episcopal schools describe the challenges of resisting the cultural forces that engender the disengagement noted by William Damon. There are over 1200 schools and early-childhood education programs affiliated with the Episcopal Church3, and they are diverse in make-up and model. It is probably unwise to make generalization about them beyond what Episcopal educator Ann Mellow writes in her introduction: “Regardless of their history or constellation… Episcopal schools continue to live out the vision of Episcopal school founders… to provide a moral education as well as an excellent one.”4

That common thread binds Episcopal schools—their mission “to provide a moral education as well as an excellent one”—means that, according to St. Andrew’s School [Del.] headmaster, Tad Roach, “if true to its mission, [an Episcopal school] affirms, expresses, and enacts a faith, a set of values and principles—indeed a way of learning, thinking, and living counter to the culture of twenty-first-century America.”5 Roach explains that in their commitment to service and social justice, reverence for silence, reflection, and study, and celebration of diversity, Episcopal schools provide a counterweight to a culture that seeks to entertain rather than edify, celebrates exclusivity rather than equality, and ignores rather than engages the problems of the world. In “The Inefficiency of Episcopal Education,” [the] executive director of the National Association of Episcopal Schools, Daniel Heischman, echoes Roach, proclaiming, “We are called to muster the courage to define ourselves in ways that are often at odds with prevailing social norms. In other words, Episcopal schools today must be intentionally counter-cultural.”6

Unencumbered by the legal restraints on public education and united by a mission to promote faith and learning, Episcopal schools have the freedom and the responsibility to be leaders in meaningful school reform. “Meaningful” may be the operative word; it is “meaning” that former dean of Yale Law School Anthony Kronman finds almost entirely absent from higher education’s aims. In Education’s End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life,7 Kronman argues that, with extreme academic specialization, political correctness, the rise of sciences, and the decline of the humanities, universities have lost sight of their former aim: to help students find meaning in life. Instead, students obsess about their future professions, never gaining the ability to “develop the habit, which they will need later on, of looking at things from a point of view outside the channels of their careers.” He adds, “More deeply rooted even than the dogma of career is our addiction to technology and the equation of truth with science. We live today in a narcotized stupor, blind to the ways in which our immense powers and the knowledge that has produced them cuts us off from the knowledge of who we are.”8

Finding meaning in life and grappling with the “knowledge of who we are” requires teachers who will help students engage with ethical and existential issues, a practice that not only pays off in terms of students’ moral lives but in their intellectual ones as well.9 Without understanding the ways their studies connect to the lives they lead, students are left with only the hollow motivation of competition and careerism. If the question “Why do we have to learn this?” is met with a persuasive and personally meaningful answer, students begin to see their education through a lens of purpose rather than apathy. This is not a radical observation—others have urged educators to incorporate moral issues intentionally into their teaching10—but it remains a counter-cultural one. Teachers at schools that judge themselves by test scores and college placement lists may experience the pause to engage with moral questions as a debilitating restraint on their efforts to complete their curricula. Students (and their parents) who see education as a commodity to be consumed and traded for a diploma or a degree or a job may resent teachers’ efforts to plumb essential questions whose subjective answers won’t appear on an AP syllabus. Episcopal schools may be free from public oversight and empowered by the opt-in nature of their communities, but even they operate within a broader educational system that is defined in large part by the priorities, assumptions, and culture of colleges and universities.

Schools must take a counter-cultural stance in order to provide truly meaningful educations, and Episcopal schools are not only well suited to do so, but, if they are true to their missions, they must do so. The challenges are great: the anxieties about college admissions trickle down to secondary and even elementary programs. But so is the reward: students who yearn to do good in a world that tells them to do well; a community of faith and learning, eager to engage with issues that are meaningful, lasting, and real; and an example for others of the transformational work schools can do when they “provide a moral education as well as an excellent one.”

Pennoyer serves on the editorial board of the Episcopal New Yorker, is a member of the Church of the Heavenly Rest, of the faculty of St. Bernard’s School in New York, and is a postulant for the priesthood.

1. William Damon, “Education and the Path to Purpose,” Independent School Magazine (Fall 2008): 61-64.
2. National Association of Episcopal Schools, Reasons for Being: The Culture and Character of Episcopal Schools (New York: NAES, 2010).
3. Ibid., 3.
4. Ann Mellow, “A Brief History of Episcopal Schools in the United States,” Reasons for Being, 28.
5. Daniel T. Roach, Jr., “The Episcopal School Head,” Reasons for Being, 36.
6. Daniel R. Heischman, “The Inefficiency of Episcopal Education,” Reasons for Being, 45.
7. Anthony T. Kronman, Education’s End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007).
8. Ibid., 257.
9. Much of my thinking on this topic is informed by the work of Katherine G. Simon, specifically her book Moral Questions in the Classroom: How To Get Kids Thinking Deeply About Real Life and Their Schoolwork (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001).
10. See, for instance, Nel Noddings, Critical Lessons: What Our Schools Should Teach (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Sarum Office Hymns "From the Octave of Corpus Christi until Advent"

I have never posted the Sarum hymns for this long period in Ordinary Time! So I'll do it now; again the listing is from Hymn Melodies for the Whole Year from the Sarum Service Books.
From the Octave of Corpus Christi until Advent :

Mattins:   Nocte surgentes    (Sundays ... ... ... 16;  Ferias ... ... ... 18)
Lauds:  Ecce iam noctis  (Sundays ... ... ... 16;  Ferias ... ... ... 18)
Evensong:  Daily except Sats. - Lucis Creator optime ... 19                 
                 On Saturdays - O Lux beata, Trinitas ... 22
Here are the chant scores for these hymns:

Tunes 16, 18, and 22 are not used, according to the Sarum book, at any other time during the year - but  Lucis Creator optime, sung to tune 19, is also the Sunday Evensong hymn  "From the Оctave of the Epiphany until the 1st Sunday in Lent," the other part of "Ordinary Time" during the year.  

Here's an mp3 of Nocte Surgentes, from the website (new to me, and interesting!) Liber Hymnarius (see my post here about the site); here's their page about the hymn.  This is not the same tune as either #16 or #18 above; I have not been able to find those tunes online anywhere as of yet. TPL has this about Nocte Surgentes:
This hymn is usually attributed to Pope St. Gregory the Great (540-604), though some ascribe the hymn to Alcuin. In the Roman Breviary this hymn is used at Sunday Matins on the fourth and subsequent Sundays after Pentecost through September 27. In the Liturgia Horarum it is used for the Office of the Readings on Tuesdays during the second and fourth weeks of the Psalter during Ordinary Time.
NOCTE surgentes vigilemus omnes, semper in psalmis meditemur atque viribus totis Domino canamus dulciter hymnos, NOW from the slumbers of the night arising, chant we the holy psalmody of David, hymns to our Master, with a voice concordant, sweetly intoning.
Ut, pio regi pariter canentes, cum suis sanctis mereamur aulam ingredi caeli, simul et beatam ducere vitam. So may out Monarch pitifully hear us, that we may merit with His Saints to enter mansions eternal, there withal possessing joy beatific.
Praestet hoc nobis Deitas beata Patris ac Nati, pariterque Sancti Spiritus, cuius resonat per omnem gloria mundum. Amen. This be our portion, God forever blessed, Father eternal, Son, and Holy Spirit, Whose i s the glory, which through all creation ever resoundeth. Amen.

Here's an mp3 of Ecce iam noctis from Liber Hymnarius; the tune used is just about the same as the Sarum chant tune #18 above, except for a few notes in the 3rd and 4th stanzas.  TPL has this, about Ecce iam noctis:
Attributed to Pope St. Gregory the Great (540-604), but some think it may be a later composition by Alcuin (732-804). In the current Liturgia Horarum it is used for Laudes for the Sundays of the second and fourth weeks of the Psalter during Ordinary Time. In the Roman Breviary it is used for Lauds on the fourth and subsequent Sundays after Pentecost until September 27 inclusive.
ECCE iam noctis tenuatur umbra lucis aurora rutilans coruscat; nisibus totis rogitemus omnes cunctipotentem,1 LO! the dim shadows of the night are waning; radiantly glowing, dawn of day returneth; fervent in spirit, to the mighty Father pray we devoutly.
Ut Deus, nostri miseratus, omnem pellat angorem, tribuat salutem, donet et nobis pietate patris regna polorum.2 So shall our Maker, of His great compassion, banish all sickness, kindly health bestowing; and may He grant us, of a Father's goodness, mansions in heaven.
Praestet hoc nobis Deitas beata Patris ac Nati, pariterque Sancti Spiritus, cuius resonat per omnem gloria mundum. Amen. This He vouchsafe us, God for ever blessed, Father eternal, Son, and Holy Spirit, Whose is the glory which through all creation ever resoundeth. Amen.

Latin from the Liturgia Horarum. Tr. by Rev. Maxwell Julius Blacker (1822-1888). Changes made by Pope Urban VIII in 1632 to the Roman Breviary:1 ... / lux et aurorae rutilans coruscat:/ supplices rerum Dominum canora voce precemur. 2 Ut reos culpae miseratus omnem/ pellat angorem, tribuat salutem,/ donet et nobis sempiternae munera pacis.

Here's an mp3 from the LLPB of Lucis Creator optime, sung to tune 19;  the cantor is using the English translation by J. M. Neale.  TPL says this:
Attributed to Pope St. Gregory the Great (540-604), this hymn is used in the Roman Breviary at Vespers for Sundays after Epiphany and Sundays after Pentecost. In the Liturgia Horarum it is used for Sunday evening Vespers for Ordinary time for the first and third weeks of the Psalter.
LUCIS Creator optime lucem dierum proferens, primordiis lucis novae, mundi parans originem: O BLEST Creator of the light, Who mak'st the day with radiance bright, and o'er the forming world didst call the light from chaos first of all;
Qui mane iunctum vesperi diem vocari praecipis: tetrum chaos illabitur,1audi preces cum fletibus. Whose wisdom joined in meet array the morn and eve, and named them Day: night comes with all its darkling fears; regard Thy people's prayers and tears.
Ne mens gravata crimine, vitae sit exsul munere, dum nil perenne cogitat, seseque culpis illigat. Lest, sunk in sin, and whelmed with strife, they lose the gift of endless life; while thinking but the thoughts of time, they weave new chains of woe and crime.
Caeleste pulset ostium:2vitale tollat praemium: vitemus omne noxium: purgemus omne pessimum. But grant them grace that they may strain the heavenly gate and prize to gain: each harmful lure aside to cast, and purge away each error past.
Praesta, Pater piissime, Patrique compar Unice, cum Spiritu Paraclito regnans per omne saeculum. Amen. O Father, that we ask be done, through Jesus Christ, Thine only Son; Who, with the Holy Ghost and Thee, doth live and reign eternally. Amen.

From the Roman Breviary, translation by J. M. Neale (1818-1866). Changes made by Pope Urban VIII in 1632 to the Roman Breviary:1 illabitur tetrum chaos, 2 The Liturgia Horarum has: Caelorum pulset intimum.

Here is the mp3 of O Lux beata, Trinitas from Liber Hymnarius; again, the tune used is very similar to the Sarum chant tune, #22, above, with some differences in various flourishes.  This is a well-known tune any case, for a well-known hym.  TPL offers this about it:
This hymn is ascribed to St. Ambrose (340-397) and is used for Sunday Vespers for the second and fourth weeks of the Psalter in the Liturgy of the Hours. The hymn appears in the Roman Breviary under the title of Iam sol recedit igneus, where it is the Vespers hymn for the ferial office on Saturdays and Trinity Sunday.
O LUX beata Trinitas, et principalis Unitas, iam sol recedit igneus, infunde lumen cordibus. O TRINITY of blessed Light, O Unity of sovereign might, as now the fiery sun departs, shed Thou Thy beams within our hearts.
Te mane laudum carmine, te deprecemur vespere: te nostra supplex gloria per cuncta laudet saecula. To Thee our morning song of praise, to Thee our evening prayer we raise; Thee may our glory evermore in lowly reverence adore.
Deo Patri sit gloria, eiusque soli Filio, cum Spiritu Paraclito, et nunc, et in perpetuum. All laud to God the Father be; all praise, Eternal Son, to Thee; all glory, as is ever meet, to God the Holy Paraclete.

From the Liturgia Horarum. Translation by J. M. Neale (1818-1866).
Interesting to me that this hymn is sung on Saturdays at Vespers!  Of course, Saturday Vespers is First Vespers of Sunday, so it does make sense.

So, there you have the hymnody for the Hours in the Sarum Use,  for this long stretch between June and November!   I didn't realize I hadn't posted this before - and there are still some missing items in my references.  I'm missing the hymnody for the Little Hours, for instance - and never did get back to that massive 21-count section of hymns for the period between Epiphany and Lent. I'll get there, eventually, though.

I'm excited about the Liber Hymnarius website!   It looks like it aims to be a complete hymn-tune reference for the Hours, which would be fantastic to have at one site.

The Liber Hymnarius wiki

A new (to me) and very interesting-looking website, the Liber Hymnarius wiki. From the main page:
Liber Hymnarius wiki
Dedicated to Our Lady, in memory of her nativity.
Welcome to the Liber Hymnarius wiki, a place where recordings and translations of the contents of the Liber Hymnarius can be collected.
And an information box there says this:
Under Construction The vast majority of the pages on this wiki have not yet been created. Blue links lead to pages that have already been worked on, while red links lead to pages that are still waiting to be made.
Which means that those of us with an interest in these things can contribute to this project.  The Community Portal page says this:
There are two big goals for the Liber Hymnarius wiki:
  • to provide recordings of the hymns of the Liber Hymnarius
  • to provide translations of the hymns.
For recordings, please try to keep the third line from the bottom on A.

“What can I do to help?”
Plenty! There are one big and two smaller areas that have yet to be tackled:
  • The big one: cross-reference of the melodies. Noticed how many of the melodies are the same? It would be great to easily be able to pull up all the hymns with the same melody. Right now, the only way to do that is to sift through the category each hymn is placed in according to meter. Huge thanks to Benstox for getting this going!
  • A littler one: cross-reference of the authors. For example, it would be nice to search for St. Ambrose and find a page for him with links to his hymns. Again, thanks to Benstox for putting in the time necessary to make this happen!
  • A littler one: cross-reference of the liturgical usage. Right now, coming to a particular hymn page from an outside website (like a search engine) won't tell you for what the hymn is used.
Many thanks also to Brennansia for providing so many translations!

Anything you can do to help is greatly appreciated!

Recordings that Contain Errors

In any case, it means that there is now a resource on the web dedicated to the hymnody of the hours, which is certainly an excellent thing.

The site contains, at the moment, these sections:
And links to these external sources:

Monday, August 20, 2012

"It fits the human heart....."

Rowan Williams and Francis Spufford on being a Christian | Mark Vernon | Comment is free |

What is it like to be a Christian? Not what do Christians believe or how many superstitions do they quietly excuse before breakfast? But what is faith as experienced?

It is an important question because, as Rowan Williams notes in his new book, The Lion's World, people might think they know what faith is about when, today, they perhaps don't, never having been there. Subtitled "A Journey Into the Heart of Narnia", the book is partly about CS Lewis. But it is also a chance for the archbishop of Canterbury to convey what Christianity means to him. This is difficult to do, not only because contemporary Britons lack Christian experience but because, as titular head of the established Church of England, Williams recognises a need to "rinse out what is stale in our thinking about Christianity – which is almost everything".

The elusory character of Christianity is also on the mind of Francis Spufford, the historian and science writer. The subtitle for his new book, Unapologetic, is "Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense". A central worry for him is not that the rational justification for belief has been undone. Faith is not about that anyway: as Coleridge noted, the best argument for Christianity is that "it fits the human heart". Rather, it is that so many of the secular alternatives to Christianity only work because they "depend on some tacky fantasy about ourselves". They are in flight from what is truly difficult about life; what is hardest to stomach about ourselves. Take John Lennon's anthem Imagine, which had such a prominent place in the closing ceremony of the Olympics. Spufford labels the lyrics the "My Little Pony of philosophical statements", with its monstrously deluded assumption that the default state of human beings – psychological, cultural and social – is one of peace.

Instead, Spufford likens the experience of being a Christian to listening to the adagio of Mozart's clarinet concerto. This "very patient piece of music" has been described as conveying the sound of mercy because its quiet beauty does not deny the horrors of life but admits they exist and yet insists there is more too. It is as if, running through the mess, there is an infinite kindness, or gentle forbearance, or what Dante called a love that moves the sun and stars. Reason cannot decide whether that is true. The feelings that deliver closer, insider knowledge of human experience can.

Williams reflects extensively on the nature of mercy as well. He portrays it as an unsentimental though humane experience, again because it means facing up to the truth about what you have done and who you are. The theistic insight is that this truth can only be seen when you are confronted by the divine. To meet God – or Aslan, as Lewis has it in the Narnia stories – is "to meet someone who, because he has freely created you and wants for you nothing but your good, your flourishing, is free to see you as you are and to reflect that seeing back to you".

In other words, to see yourself as others see you might be discomforting but it will also always be skewed by the distorting lens of their self-interest. To be unmasked as God sees you is painful because purgative, but is also a path to true liberation. It is merciful because without it we are left in a citadel of self-deception, life's energies being sapped and wasted on bolstering self-regard.

None of this proves the existence of God in the way a science would demand because its evidence arises from the inner lives of individuals. It does, though, reflect a strand in the philosophical discussion of God, often forgotten today. Pascal drew attention to the problem God has in revealing himself to creatures he has made to be free, because if God were to offer irrefutable evidence then that would force a relationship of coercion, not love. God's solution, Pascal proposed, is to "appear openly to those who seek him with all their heart, and [to remain] hidden from those who shun him".

The philosopher Paul Moser calls the demand for such proof "spectator evidence" in his more academic recent book, The Evidence for God: Religious Knowledge Re-examined. And being a spectator of life will not take you into life or reveal the ground of life to you. It separates the individual from both. Rather – and as Williams and Spufford stress – what is required is a transformation of the individual, akin to the transformation that occurs when someone falls in love. It happens not because there is a hardening of the evidence but because there is an unhardening of the heart, softened in relationship. Only then might we see as we are seen.

I suggest that it might be good for churchpeople to think through the answer to the question, "What would my life be like without my faith?" Again, it's just the well-known and popular "It's a Wonderful Life" approach: if the church were gone, how would this have affected you and your life? How would it have affected the world (if it's even possible to imagine this; it might not be)? Consider the counterfactual.

I think this could have some good benefits for everybody. For people who "don't talk enough about their faith," it could help make clear exactly what part of the human heart their faith fits. For people who "talk too much about their faith" (i.e., for people who - at least as I see it - tote up religious belief as evidence of political/social/cultural "conservative" credentials), this could in the same way bring the idea closer to home, where "it fits the human heart," instead of being a weapon in the endless culture/political wars.

 In any case: "it fits the human heart" is where I think I will come down on the topic of faith, every time. What's interesting, really, is the fact that this can be true for somebody simply seeking asylum and rest - and also true when one is asked to take the leap out into the unknown (i.e., to "transformation"). That implies that "it fits the human heart" in all sorts of conditions - and is therefore a true and unfailing rule of life.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

"Does Religion Really Poison Everything?"

From The Chronicle Review, in The Chronicle of Higher EducationAt last, somebody's decided to be a bit more reasonable about the whole thing.
When a moth flies at night, it uses the moon and the stars to steer a straight path. Those light sources are fixed and distant, so the rays always strike the moth's multilensed eyes at the same angle, making them reliable for nocturnal navigation. But introduce something else bright—a candle, say, or a campfire—and there will be trouble. The light radiates outward, confusing the moth and causing it to spiral ever closer to the blaze until the insect meets a fiery end.

For years Richard Dawkins has used the self-immolation of moths to explain religion. The example can be found in his 2006 best seller, The God Delusion, and it's been repeated in speeches and debates, interviews and blog posts. Moths didn't evolve to commit suicide; that's an unfortunate byproduct of other adaptations. In much the same way, the thinking goes, human beings embrace religion for unrelated cognitive reasons. We evolved to search for patterns in nature, so perhaps that's why we imagine patterns in religious texts. Instead of being guided by the light, we fly into the flames.

The implication—that religion is basically malevolent, that it "poisons everything," in the words of the late Christopher Hitchens—is a standard assertion of the New Atheists. Their argument isn't just that there probably is no God, or that intelligent design is laughable bunk, or that the Bible is far from inerrant. It's that religion is obviously bad for human beings, condemning them to ignorance, subservience, and endless conflict, and we would be better off without it.

But would we?

Before you can know for sure, you have to figure out what religion does for us in the first place. That's exactly what a loosely affiliated group of scholars in fields including biology, anthropology, and psychology are working on. They're applying evolutionary theory to the study of religion in order to discover whether or not it strengthens societies, makes them more successful, more cooperative, kinder. The scholars, many of them atheists themselves, generally look askance at the rise of New Atheism, calling its proponents ignorant, fundamentalist, and worst of all, unscientific. Dawkins and company have been no more charitable in return.

While the field is still young and fairly small—those involved haven't settled on a name yet, though "evolutionary religious studies" gets thrown around—its findings could reshape a very old debate. Maybe we should stop asking whether God exists and start asking whether it's useful to believe that he does.

Let's say someone gives you $10. Not a king's ransom, but enough for lunch. You're then told that you can share your modest wealth with a stranger, if you like, or keep it. You're assured that your identity will be protected, so there's no need to worry about being thought miserly. How much would you give?

If you're like most people who play the so-called dictator game, which has been used in numerous experiments, you will keep most of the money. In a recent study from a paper with the ominous title "God Is Watching You," the average subject gave $1.84. Meanwhile, another group of subjects was presented with the same choice but was first asked to unscramble a sentence that contained words like "divine," "spirit," and "sacred."

The second group of subjects gave an average of $4.22, with a solid majority (64 percent) giving more than five bucks. A heavenly reminder seemed to make subjects significantly more magnanimous. In another study, researchers found that prompting subjects with the same vocabulary made some more likely to volunteer for community projects. Intriguingly, not all of them: Only those who had a specific dopamine receptor variant volunteered more, raising the possibility that religion doesn't work for everybody.

A similar experiment was conducted on two Israeli kibbutzes. The scenario was more complicated: Subjects were shown an envelope containing 100 shekels (currently about $25). They were told that they could choose to keep as much of the money as they wished, but that another member of the kibbutz was being given the identical option. If the total requested by the participants (who were kept separated) exceeded 100 shekels, they walked away with nothing. If the total was less than or equal to 100, they were given the money plus a bonus based on what was left over.

The kicker is that one of the kibbutzes was secular and one was religious. Turns out, the more-devout members of the religious kibbutz, as measured by synagogue attendance, requested significantly fewer shekels and expected others to do the same. The researchers, Richard Sosis and Bradley Ruffle, ventured that "collective ritual has a significant impact on cooperative decisions."

See also a study that found that religious people were, in some instances, more likely to treat strangers fairly. Or the multiple studies suggesting that people who were prompted to think about an all-seeing supernatural agent were less likely to cheat. Or the study of 300 young adults in Belgium that found that those who were religious were considered more empathetic by their friends.

The results of other studies are less straightforward. A Harvard Business School researcher discovered that religious people were more likely to give to charity, but only on the days they worshiped, a phenomenon he dubbed the "Sunday Effect." Then there's the survey of how belief in the afterlife affected crime rates in 67 countries. Researchers determined that countries with high rates of belief in hell had less crime, while in those where the belief in hell was low and the belief in heaven high, there was more crime. A vengeful deity is better for public safety than a merciful one.

None of that research settles the value of belief, and much of it is based on assuming that certain correlations are meaningful or that particular techniques (like the one used in the dictator-game study) actually prime what researchers think they prime. And questions remain: How effective is religious belief, really, if it needs to be prompted with certain words? And is the only thing stopping you from robbing a liquor store really the prospect of eternal hellfire?

Still, a growing body of research suggests that religion or religious ideas, in certain circumstances, in some people, can elicit the kind of behavior that is generally good for society: fairness, generosity, honesty. At the very least, when you read the literature, it becomes difficult to confidently assert that religion, despite the undeniable evil it has sometimes inspired, is entirely toxic.

That is David Sloan Wilson's point, or one of them anyway. Wilson, a professor of biology and anthropology at Binghamton University, is an atheist (as was his father, the novelist Sloan Wilson) who is interested in finding out what religion does, from an evolutionary perspective, for individuals and societies. Why does belief in the supernatural cut across cultures, and why has it persisted for millennia? He took a crack at such dauntingly large questions in his book Darwin's Cathedral, arguing that religion bestows an array of evolutionary advantages on groups of believers.

Wilson is in his early 60s, thin, white-haired, excitable. You get the sense that he might bubble over at any moment, and sometimes he does, issuing a four-letter invective in the midst of a multisyllabic explication. His most recent book is The Neighborhood Project: Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time. There isn't much Wilson thinks Darwin can't do. The professor's Skype handle is "evostud."

In two blog posts, one in March and one in May, Wilson questioned whether Richard Dawkins "might fail to qualify" as an evolutionist for, among other shortcomings, ignoring research on the evolution of religion. He has scolded the New Atheists for a militancy he sees as equivalent to religious fundamentalism. Firing shots at Dawkins is old hat for Wilson. When he reviewed The God Delusion, in 2007, he called Dawkins "deeply misinformed" on evolution. (Dawkins replied that the purpose of the book was not to discuss "religion's possible evolutionary advantages.") In a recent interview, Wilson declared that Dawkins and his fellow New Atheists "don't understand the nature of the beast" and yet still "go on and on in a very ignorant fashion."

When asked for comment via e-mail, Dawkins sent a link to a blog post by Jerry Coyne, a professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, and wrote that he had nothing to add to that "brilliant takedown." In the post, Coyne mocks Wilson as a whiner whose ideas have been ignored by mainstream scientists and who is "blinded by hubris." It's the kind of scorched-earth exasperation that has become Coyne's trademark. To drive the point home, he embeds a YouTube clip from Finding Nemo in which a pelican tells some annoying sea gulls to shut up. The sea gulls are, presumably, Wilson.

The substance of Coyne's criticism is that while Wilson is speculating about religion's origins, which Coyne sees as a quixotic endeavor, he and other New Atheists are on the front lines battling extremists, and that Wilson would do well to enlist. Coyne, in an interview, doesn't dispute the claim that religion might serve as a sort of societal glue, but he's not sure that's a point in its favor. "Does it bind a community together if they throw acid in the face of a schoolgirl?" he asks.

PZ Myers has sounded a similar note. Myers, an associate professor of biology at the University of Minnesota at Morris, writes the popular blog Pharyngula, which is subtitled "Evolution, development, and random biological ejaculations from a godless liberal." He has a generally low opinion of those who, like Wilson, equate evangelical atheism with evangelical Christianity, saying in a Reddit question-and-answer session that such people deserve "a good punch to the balls." He said it with a smile in the video, but it seemed as if he meant it.

He responded to Wilson by maintaining that only one word was required to prove that religion is more destructive than beneficial: women. "Those with eyes to see," Myers wrote, "can see for themselves that religion has for thousands of years perpetuated the oppression of half of our species," which is "reason enough to tear down our cathedrals." Some commenters were even more disdainful, like the one who branded Wilson a "hypocrite quisling."

Going tit for tat, though with a touch less venom, Wilson accused Myers of "not functioning as a scientist" on the subject of religion. "It's absurd for Myers to say that the impact of religion on human welfare can be understood merely by opening one's eyes," he wrote. Myers says that Wilson is advancing an overly benign portrait of faith in support of his pet idea. Wilson contends that Myers and the rest are fabricating a cartoon version of religion, one that doesn't grapple with the science, and deciding on the outcome (religion is bad) before the evidence is in.

Like Wilson, Scott Atran, an anthropologist at France's National Center for Scientific Research, is an atheist ("Yes!" he exclaimed when asked) and an evolutionist whose book In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion was one of the first, along with Darwin's Cathedral, by Wilson, and Religion Explained, by Pascal Boyer, to chart a course for the field (the first two books were published in 2002 and Boyer's in 2001). In his book, Atran, who also teaches at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and the City University of New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice, calls religion an evolutionary byproduct, a sort of cognitive accident. He's since modified his view to take into account the apparent culturally adaptive upside of faith. Atran, whose most recent book is about faith and terrorism, describes New Atheism as moronic. "I don't see anything in the New Atheists' work that tells us anything at all about religion," he says, "and I think their ad hominem attacks are ridiculous."

That view is echoed by Dominic Johnson, a professor of biopolitics at the University of Edinburgh, who has written about how the threat of supernatural punishment appears to enhance cooperation. The trouble, he says, is that the New Atheists have become the face of science. On one side, there is antiscience fundamentalism. On the other, there are pro-science New Atheists. "Whatever they say tends to be taken as the scientific perspective on religion, that it's representing the whole of science," Johnson says. "That's a problem."

Of course, you can hardly blame the New Atheists for their own success. They've been speaking out against religious extremism in all its malicious forms, whether it's states permitting pseudoscience in school curricula or suicide bombers angling for a post-mortem harem. By comparison, humble studies of who takes the most money from an envelope can feel trivial. But it's not the criticism of ecclesiastical overreach that bothers Wilson and Atran; it's the conflation of science and advocacy. Wilson supports efforts to destigmatize atheism, like the running feature "Why I Am an Atheist" on Pharyngula, and said so in his anti-Dawkins posts. Atran believes that "attacking obscurantic, cruel, lunatic ideas is always a good idea." It's proclaiming that religion is rotten to the core that they think is misguided.

That includes laying the blame for much of human conflict at the feet of the faithful. In a recent Science article, Atran and Jeremy Ginges, an associate professor of psychology at the New School, cite evidence suggesting that "only a small minority of recorded wars" have been mainly motivated by religious disputes (though making distinctions between religious and political causes is notoriously knotty). They complain in the article that the New Atheists are quick to remind everyone how fundamentalism fuels Al Qaeda but neglect to mention the role of churches in the civil-rights movement. The New Atheists are, according to Atran and Ginges, cherry-picking the horrors. "Science produced a nuclear bomb. Therefore we should throw away science," says Atran, to illustrate the baby-bathwater logic. "Sometimes it can be really noxious, and other times it can be quite helpful."

The bad blood between Wilson and Dawkins isn't only about religion. Wilson has, for decades, been an advocate of the theory of group selection: the idea that human beings (and other organisms) have genetic adaptations that benefit the group rather than the individual. That may not sound like cause for much of a quarrel, but if he is right it would require a rethinking of natural selection and a rewriting of textbooks, including The Selfish Gene, another Dawkins best seller. Group-selection theory is often dismissed as unnecessary because the behavior it supposedly explains, many biologists say, can be accounted for in other ways, like kinship selection (we sacrifice for our family to perpetuate our genes) or reciprocal altruism (we're nice to others so they'll be nice to us). Group selectionists counter that the math behind kinship-selection theory doesn't add up, and that there are behaviors that it simply can't explain.

The controversy waxes and wanes and lately has been experiencing a resurgence, in part because group selection has been embraced by E.O. Wilson, who is no relation to David Sloan Wilson except now as brothers in championing a highly contested theory. Dawkins, not surprisingly, panned the esteemed Harvard biologist's latest book, The Social Conquest of Earth, saying readers were forced to "wade through many pages of erroneous and downright perverse misunderstandings of evolutionary theory." Dawkins also made a list of scientists who agree with him. Wilson (E.O., not D.S.) replied that if science depended on polls, "we would still be burning objects with phlogiston and navigating with geocentric maps."

But while the addition of a scientific heavyweight to their numbers was a coup for group selectionists, another brand-name intellectual, Steven Pinker, recently published an essay laying out why he agrees with Dawkins that the siren call of group selection should be resisted. Group selection, he writes, has "no useful role to play in psychology or social science" and "refers to too many things."

It was group selection that sparked Wilson's interest in religion, which he called "the groupiest thing around" because of how effectively it knits believers together. But some others in the new field don't see how arguments over group selection have much to do with the evolution of religion. They espouse the fuzzier and less controversial notion of "cultural group selection," which skirts the question of a genetic preference for religion.

Whether this deserves to be classified as "group selection" is up for discussion (that is what Pinker meant by "too many things"). Atran sees genetic group selection as unlikely and not necessary to explain the evolution of religion. Richard Sosis, a professor of anthropology at the University of Connecticut and an author of the studies on cooperation at kibbutzes, thinks the debate is a distraction. The "assumed association" between the evolutionary study of religion and the theory of group selection is "unfortunate," he says.

Another source of friction is over where Wilson and some of his fellow scholars get money for their research. The John Templeton Foundation has been a generous backer of research into the evolution of religion. Wilson has received several of those grants, in the low six figures, as have others in the field. Templeton's stated mission is to answer "big questions," but it's been criticized by some scientists for its preference for research that blends religion and science. Winners of the foundation's annual Templeton Prize often have to defend their acceptance of the sizable (around $1.5-million) check. Dawkins has been critical of Templeton, as has Daniel Dennett, another New Atheist stalwart and best-selling author. Wilson and others say the money comes with no strings attached.

Among the New Atheists, Dennett has given the most attention to analyzing what religion does and how it came to be. He has written a book on that topic, though the tone is less investigative than prosecutorial. It begins by comparing religion to a lancet fluke, a type of parasite that invades the brains of ants. Later he calls religion an attractive nuisance, like a swimming pool stumbled into by an unwatched toddler. Even the title, Breaking the Spell, gives away the conclusion. In an interview, Dennett explains it this way: "One of the good reasons for studying religion is that it does so much harm, and it's worth trying to figure out how to control it."
As for where religion came from, Dennett surveys the theories, calling Wilson's "the best case to date" for the argument that religion fosters cooperation within groups, while also making plain that he isn't exactly on board. He writes that we're decades of research away from arriving at a conclusion on the provenance and usefulness of the divine.

Wilson and Dennett have been amiable adversaries in the past, though that friendship lately has been strained. While Dennett doesn't regard Wilson as an enemy, he's exasperated by his attacks on Dawkins. "I'm getting fed up with David," he says. Dennett also finds Wilson's prominence in the field overstated, and says Wilson tries to drum up cheap attention by going after New Atheists: "Is he the leading theorist? I wouldn't say so." Wilson chides Dennett for "not doing his homework" in Breaking the Spell, instead bashing what he doesn't understand.

Homework or no, Breaking the Spell was a best seller, while Darwin's Cathedral was not. If the conflict over the best scientific approach to religion is measured in popularity, the New Atheists would win with ease. As of this writing, PZ Myers has more than 100,000 followers on Twitter and Wilson has around 500. A YouTube clip of Dawkins tying Bill O'Reilly into knots has over four million views, while Wilson interviewing a fellow scholar, Michael Blume, on his findings about religion and fertility has around 300. Skewering God makes for better box office.

Wilson is trying to seize a piece of that limelight by engaging the New Atheists in a public back-and-forth and by starting an ambitious online magazine, Evolution: This View of Life, devoted to "anything and everything" about evolutionary theory. Other work is also under way. Dominic Johnson is leading a two-year, Templeton-supported project at the Center of Theological Inquiry to look at the "relationship between religion, culture, and human evolution," while Ara Norenzayan, an associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, is writing a book on "how pro-social religions with watchful gods helped human groups scale up from small hunting and foraging bands to the vast, complex societies of today."

The New Atheists have deemed Wilson not only wrong but dull. Coyne writes that if Dawkins took Wilson's advice and discussed the evolution of religion in detail, it would make for a "long and boring lecture." Myers compares Wilson's communication skills with Dawkins's and finds Wilson sadly wanting. For Wilson, though, it's the New Atheists who have become a bore. If you've seen one video of Dawkins slaying a naïve believer, you've seen them all. If you've read one New Atheist anti-God tome, you know what the others will say. Wilson insists that trying to discover why we believe is more intriguing than the debate over whether anyone is up there looking down.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Cristóbal de Morales: Missa Benedicta est regina caelorum

It's the Gloria from the "Blessed is the Queen of Heaven Mass," in honor of today's Feast of St. Mary the Virgin.


From the wonderful Full Homely Divinity website:

The Feast of Saint Mary the Virgin - Marymas
August 15th

O God, who hast taken to thyself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of thy incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of thine eternal kingdom; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (Collect for the feast, 1979 BCP)

The feast days of the saints are often referred to as their "heavenly birthdays" since they ordinarily celebrate the day when the saint died and thus passed into the new life of the Kingdom of Heaven.  No one illustrates this better than the Blessed Virgin Mary. Tradition relates that, when the time of her death drew near, all of the apostles gathered in Jerusalem to be with her--all except Thomas, who was preaching the Gospel in India and was unable to return to Jerusalem in time. The apostles gathered around her in a house on Mount Zion, near the Upper Room where they had shared the Last Supper with Jesus and had also received the Holy Spirit with Mary on Pentecost. In the charming medieval carving at the left, John still appears quite youthful, standing on the near side of her bed. Peter is wearing glasses and is reading to her. When she died, the apostles carried her to a tomb in the Garden of Gethsemane, which, tradition says, belonged to Mary's family. 

Some time later, the apostles discovered that Mary's tomb was empty. This was not like the Resurrection of Jesus: Mary was not raised from the dead and did not appear to the apostles after her death; nor did an angel announce the news. Rather, her tomb was simply empty and they concluded that she had been taken directly into heaven ("assumed"), in much the same way that scripture and tradition attest that the greatest saints of the Old Testament--Enoch, Moses, and Elijah--were taken up bodily. In time, Thomas returned from India and the apostles told him what had happened, together with their conviction that Mary had been assumed into heaven. According to this tradition, Thomas once again played the role of the doubter and insisted that he would have to see the evidence before he would believe. At this point, we may perhaps be forgiven for thinking that the tradition is a bit unfair to Thomas. It hardly seems possible that this apostle who had traveled far and risked much to share his faith would make the same mistake twice. Nevertheless, the tradition has him going to the tombEntrance to the Medieval Basilica over the Tomb of Mary of Mary where, instead of her body, he found the tomb full of fragrant flowers--one version of the tradition says the flowers were roses and lilies. And then, looking up, he saw Mary herself, going up to heaven. Looking back, she saw Thomas and dropped the girdle which had tied her robe and an angel delivered it into the hands of Thomas.

It was not until 1950 that the Assumption of Mary was defined as a dogma of the Roman Catholic Church, when Pope Pius XII proclaimed that "the ever-virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heaven." In reality, however, this dogma was nothing new. It simply made it a matter of obligation for Roman Catholics to believe what many Christians have always believed, namely, that God had "taken to himself," for eternity, the blessed woman who had borne his incarnate Son in time. All believers look forward to "the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come." At the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the emperor asked the patriarch of Jerusalem to bring the relics of Mary to Constantinople so that they could be enshrined at what was then the center of the world. The patriarch replied that there were no relics because, as he said, the apostles had found that her tomb was empty and her body had been assumed into heaven: she had already gone where we all hope to go.

Some Christians have difficulty with this idea because it is not in the Bible (though, as we have already noted, the Bible does tell of others who have been assumed, body and soul, into heaven). Nevertheless, Mary's role in our salvation, and her particular relationship with God is a pivotal one on our behalf. Her "yes" to the Archangel Gabriel opened the way for God to take on our humanity, to become fully one with us in the flesh. As an ancient prayer says, God humbled himself to share our humanity in order that we might share in his divinity. In the moment that Mary said "yes" to God's plan, she was already one with God in a unique way, bearing within her body God himself. A connection such as this transcends by far the intimacy of human relationships. Indeed, it reaches beyond death--and so the Church believes.

At the Council of Ephesus in 431, Mary was given the title "Theotokos"--"God-bearer" or "Mother of God." Nestorius taught that the divinity and humanity of Jesus were distinct and never mingled, so that Mary was "Christotokos," the mother of the man Jesus, but not the mother of God incarnate. The teaching of Nestorius was rejected by the Council and Mary has been known ever since as Theotokos, in token of the fact that she carried God himself in her womb, and continued ever after to share a special union with him, both in life and in death. In the West, Mary's feast on August 15th is called the Assumption. In the East it is called Koimesis--"Dormition" or "Falling Asleep." Both titles areRussian Icon of the Dormition - 19th century somewhat vague about the details. Indeed, in spite of the tradition concerning Thomas's vision of her ascent into heaven, the Church is officially silent on the way in which she got there. What is clear is that, as our Collect says, God took Mary to himself, to be with him and one with him for ever. And that is what we celebrate on this day.

There are two places in Jerusalem associated with the end of Mary's earthly life. One is the basilica in the Garden of Gethsemane (above) which houses her tomb. The other is a monastery on Mount Zion on the traditional site of her falling asleep. Dormition is the name the community of German Benedictines have given to the Abbey that crowns Mount Zion. A life-sized sculpture of the Theotokos in the crypt of the Abbey church shows the influence of traditional Byzantine iconography. In the traditional Orthodox icon, Jesus himself is depicted, standing by his Mother as she falls asleep, and holding her soul, like a child, in his arm.

Taking its cue from the experience of Thomas at the tomb of Mary, the celebration of this feast includes the blessing of fragrant flowers and herbs. Flowers have always been associated with Mary in a particular way. She is the Mystical Rose and many flowers are named for her or have popular names that relate to her. Here is a link describing many of Mary's flowers. And here is another link to a slide show with more information about Mary's flowers and Mary Gardens. A Mary Garden is a place to honor the Mother of God, as well as a place to go for quiet reflection and prayer. It could also provide a setting for your Easter Garden.  Mary Gardens may be found on the grounds of monasteries and churches, and also in the gardens of private homes. They are planted with flowers, herbs, and trees that are named for Mary or associated with her and her Son in scripture and tradition. They may also have statuary, icons, and other art and symbols that provide a focus for prayer and contemplation. Ideally, a Mary Garden is enclosed to provide a place truly set-apart, but even a dish garden can serve the purpose if properly used as a means of focusing prayer.

August is the wrong time to plant any kind of garden, but Marymas would be a good day to begin planning and marking out a Mary Garden. Some plants and seeds and bulbs do best if planted in the fall, and others can be added in the spring. Here is a link that will help you choose appropriate plants for your Mary Garden. In addition to the online resources linked above, Vincenzina Krymow's book Mary's Flowers is a beautifully illustrated text about the flowers associated with Mary and their legends. It includes information about how to create your own Mary Garden. Krymow has also written a companion volume, Healing Plants of the Bible. (Click here to find both of these books in our Bookshop.)

Llandaff Cathedral in Wales has a unique variation on a Mary Garden which we like a lot: each of the niches in the reredos of the Lady Chapel has a sculpture of a flower named in Welsh in honor of Mary.

From ancient times, in every culture, herbs and various flowers have been known to have healing properties. The blessing of herbs and flowers on Marymas is a way of "baptizing" the wisdom of traditional healing and combining it with the Christian wisdom that recognizes that God is the true source of healing and that salvation (wholeness) is ultimately found only in the Son of Mary, Jesus Christ. Thus, it was customary for the faithful to bring bunches of herbs and wild flowers to church on this day. They were blessed at the beginning of the Eucharist and then taken home to be used for healing and protection through the coming year. For the renewal of this tradition, an abbreviated form of the traditional prayers are found on our Marymas Prayers page (click on the title).

In many parishes and especially at shrines, this is a day for processions and for celebrations that continue after the liturgical observances have been completed. Traditionally, working people had a holiday from work, so that there were also family celebrations. Today, we must be more creative about marking these holidays in our homes, and it may be necessary to transfer some of the celebration to the weekend in order to keep the spirit of a fully homely divinity alive and healthy. If your parish does not have a procession on this day, or if you are unable to attend, why not have a family procession? Hymn singing does not require an organ for accompaniment, and does not need to rival the Kings College Choir in order to praise God in joyful song. (You will find an assortment of good hymns on our Sing of Mary page.) Homemade banners can be as simple as strips of cloth waved by children, or as elaborate as those with greater skills can make them. Our homes can be filled with fragrant flowers and herbs. In the northern hemisphere, this is an outdoor feast. If you do not have a Mary Garden, any garden or park will serve--even the back porch, fitted out with potted plants and cut flowers and herbs, will serve quite well.

An especially good, yet relatively simple way to celebrate this feast is to have a tea party. A festive table can be set in your version of a Mary Garden, which is already full of flowers. Perhaps a few Mary flowers could be put in a small vase on the table. For drinks, we suggest teas that are scented with herbs or made entirely with herbs, as well as a fruit and herb punch from our friends at Catholic Culture that children will enjoy. For those who like old fashioned black teas, there are teas that are flavored with roses--a natural for the feast of the Mystical Rose. Earl Grey tea is another good choice as it is infused with Bergamot, a variety of Monarda, or Bee Balm, which is also known as Sweet Mary. For food, at the tea party, we suggest nasturtium sandwiches and strawberry shortcake. It is a little late in the season for local strawberries but, with modern refrigeration and transportation, it seems that almost any fresh fruit or vegetable can be obtained year-round. The strawberry was known as the "Fruitful Virgin" because it blooms and bears fruit at the same time. Another lovely European tradition says that the strawberry is sacred to Mary who accompanies children to keep them safe when they go strawberry picking on St. John's Day. The nasturtium is known as "St. Joseph's Flower." It is an edible flower and can be combined with cream cheese to make tea sandwiches. Tea should be accompanied by prayers appropriate to the occasion, such as the Collect of the Day which begins this article. Children should be told the story of Mary's heavenly birthday--how else will they learn it? Tomie de Paola's beautifully illustrated book Mary:The Mother of Jesus (available in our Bookshop) tells the story reverently and well. Finally, everyone will enjoy a walk in the garden which could easily be made into a game, with an award, such as a Mary-blue ribbon, for the person who identifies the most flowers and herbs that are named for Mary.

For more information about Mary on FHD, click on the links below and also visit our pages on Marymas Prayers and Sing to Mary

This is from that "Marymas Prayers" link:

Prayers for Marymas
(The Feast of Saint Mary the Virgin)

Walsingham PilgrimageMarymas (August 15th) is certainly a day for a procession and other festivities and prayers. The procession may be part of the liturgy and very grand, or it may be a family or neighborhood affair. A procession can be a parade for people to watch, or it might have a destination, such as a Mary Garden. A procession is a celebration, so it should be happy, not sombre. Still, it is always best for a procession to have litanies and hymns for people to participate in while they are walking. Otherwise, they may forget why they are are processing and wander off to the playground before the procession is over.

A litany is a form of prayer that is easy for large groups to participate in. A leader says the changing parts of the litany and the people respond with the same words, such as "Lord, have mercy" or "Pray for us" after each petition. A litany may be said or sung. The Litany of the Saints is always appropriate for church processions. There are also litanies that are just about Mary, and one of those would be especially appropriate on this day. In this Litany from Saint Augustine's Prayer Book, Mary is addressed by many of her traditional titles. In it, we call upon the the person who is the closest of all people to the heart of God, to pray for us.

Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Lord, have mercy upon us.
Christ, have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy upon us.

God the Father of Heaven,       
                              have mercy upon us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
                              have mercy upon us.
God the Holy Ghost, the Sanctifier, 
                              have mercy upon us.
Holy Trinity, One God,  
                              have mercy upon us.

Holy Mary, pray for us.
Holy Mother of God, pray for us.
Holy Virgin of virgins, pray for us. 
Mother of Christ, pray for us.
Mother of divine Grace, pray for us.
Mother most pure, pray for us.
Mother most chaste, pray for us.
Mother inviolate, pray for us.
Mother undefiled, pray for us.
Mother most amiable, pray for us.
Mother most admirable, pray for us.
Mother of our Creator, pray for us.
Mother of our Savior, pray for us.
Virgin most prudent, pray for us.
Virgin most venerable, pray for us.
Virgin most renowned, pray for us.
Virgin most powerful, pray for us.
Virgin most merciful, pray for us.
Virgin most faithful, pray for us.
Mirror of Justice, pray for us.   
Seat of Wisdom, pray for us.
Cause of our Joy, pray for us.
Spiritual vessel, pray for us.
Vessel of honor, pray for us.
Singular vessel of devotion, pray for us.
Mystical Rose, pray for us.
Tower of David, pray for us.
Tower of ivory, pray for us.
House of gold, pray for us.
Ark of the covenant, pray for us.
Gate of heaven, pray for us.
Morning star, pray for us.
Health of the sick, pray for us.
Refuge of sinners, pray for us.
Comforter of the afflicted, pray for us.
Help of Christians, pray for us.
Queen of Angels, pray for us.
Queen of Patriarchs, pray for us.
Queen of Prophets, pray for us.
Queen of Apostles, pray for us.
Queen of Martyrs, pray for us.
Queen of Confessors, pray for us.
Queen of Virgins, pray for us.
Queen of all Saints, pray for us.
Queen of Peace, pray for us.

Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
                         spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
                         hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
                         have mercy upon us.

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray.

We beseech thee, O Lord, pour thy grace into our hearts; that as we have known the Incarnation of thy Son Jesus Christ by the message of an Angel, so, by his Cross and Passion, we may be brought unto the glory of his Resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

Blessing of a Mary Garden

Almighty and everlasting God: We beseech thee to bless this garden that has been planted in honor of our most blessed and glorious Lady, the ever-Virgin Mary. Make it a place of tranquility and peace, and a pleasing commemoration of the goodness and virtue of thy dear Mother. May it be fragrant with the abundance of good things and a safe refuge where, through the prayers of the Theotokos, thy faithful people may find rest from their labors, comfort in their sorrow, and healing from their ills; through Jesus Christ, Son of Mary and Son of God, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Old Rose - Photo by Rodney Blackhirst

Blessing of Herbs on Marymas

V:  Our help is in the name of the Lord;
R:  Who hath made heaven and earth.

Psalm 65 may be said or sung

Let us pray.

Almighty, eternal God, Creator of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible: As thou didst command that the earth bring forth plants and trees for the use of men and animals, and that these plants should serve not only as food but as medicine in time of sickness, we beseech thee to bless these various herbs and plants which we now present unto thee;  

Holy Father, who on this day didst raise the root of Jesse, the mother of thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, to the heights of heaven: We humbly pray thee, that, by her intercession, these herbs may be for us a source of protection and a means of healing from all sickness and tribulation when we use them in Thy name.

Savior and Redeemer of humankind, grant that, wherever these herbs may be placed, they may be a potent means against sickness and pestilence, against the poison of serpents and the sting of poisonous animals, as also against the deceits, snares, and machinations of the devil; and grant that we may be made worthy to be received into heaven together with the most Blessed Virgin Mary and all thy saints; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the Holy Ghost liveth and reigneth ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

The Rosary

The rosary might best be described as a method of meditative prayer. It entails reciting certain fixed prayers for a set number of times and using those prayers as a kind of meditative background noise to blot out distractions while the person who is saying the rosary meditates prayerfully on a passage of scripture or other sacred subject. A string of beads is used to count the fixed prayers. The devotion was made popular by St. Dominic in the 12th century. The word rosary means "a garland of roses" and is a reference to Mary, the Mystical Rose, who is at the center of the mysteries which are meditated upon. The traditional rosary has been a popular devotion among Anglicans of a catholic frame of mind for many years.  A fuller description of how it works may be found by clicking here. Recently, some Anglicans have developed a variation on the traditional rosary which they call the Anglican rosary. Information about how it works may be found by clicking here.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

"Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour"

Kenneth Lonergan set the final moments of his 2011 film, Margaret, in the orchestra section at the Metropolitan Opera, during Act 3, Scene 1 of Offenbach's Tales of Hoffman - a scene that opens with the lovely duet, "Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour."

I think this was another of Longeran's long-and-dramatically-drawn-out movie-release events.  From what I know and remember, there's always some huge drama with Lonergan's production process; it takes forever to settle on rights or editing or something before his work gets out there.  All that is to say that I'm not exactly sure when this film was originally made or released; 2011 is the date given at IMDB (I know it had a short theater release sometime last year - like, 2 weeks or something, and then it died), and I saw it on streaming video last night.

For me, this last scene was one of the most compelling in the movie - primarily, I think, because of the sheer beauty of the music, but also because of the way it was staged and shot.  I'm still working out what I think and feel about this film overall; Lonergan is brilliant at packing just a ton of stuff into movies, some of which you don't fully absorb and can't articulate at first. My test of a great movie these days is:  does it stay with you?    Do you still think about it months and years later?   Does all that stuff you can't articulate still whisper to your heart, even when you're not quite sure what it's saying?   That's a good movie - but it takes some time to evaluate.  (Lonergan's 2000 movie, You Can Count on Me, was like that - and was terrifically entertaining as well; it's one of my all-time favorite films.)

My immediate interpretive takeway from Margaret is that it's an enacted parable about "the return of the repressed."   (Yes, that's right.)  I will have more to say about this later, I think - but this post is about the  song in particular.

I believe that in this last scene in Margaret, Rene Fleming sings the role of Giulietta (I'm not sure about this); I don't know who the other woman was, nor do I understand at all what is happening in the scene - and Wikipedia hasn't been much help so far.   Certainly you could see what's going on as strong "lesbian subtext" - or, really, as "lesbian surtext"!   However you view it, though, it was all pretty wonderful, and beautifully and expertly filmed.   The movie was great to look at in other parts as well.

I don't know Tales of Hoffman, but the video below is another perfectly exquisite rendering of the duet; the singers are Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca.   The song is a "barcarole" - "a folk song sung by Venetian gondoliers, or a piece of music composed in that style" - and "characterized by a rhythm reminiscent of the gondolier's stroke, almost invariably a moderate tempo 6/8 meter."  Yes, indeed.

Here are the French lyrics:
Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour,
Souris à nos ivresses,
Nuit plus douce que le jour,
Ô belle nuit d'amour!

Le temps fuit et sans retour
Emporte nos tendresses,
Loin de cet heureux séjour
Le temps fuit sans retour.

Zéphyrs embrasés,
Versez-nous vos caresses,
Zéphyrs embrasés,

Donnez-nous vos baisers!
Vos baisers! vos baisers! Ah!
Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour,
Souris à nos ivresses.

And here is how I would translate that (seeing as how I speak French, more or less):

Lovely night, O night of love
Smiles at our intoxication,
Night sweeter than the day
O lovely night of love!

Time flees and does not return
And carries our tendernesses
Far from this happy moment.
Time flees and does not return.

Burning breezes
Pour on us us your caresses,
Burning breezes
Give us your kisses!

Your kisses, your kisses!  Ah!
Lovely night, O night of love
Smiles at our intoxication.

The film's title, BTW, is taken from one of Gerard Manley Hopkins' poems, "Spring and Fall":

MÁRGARÉT, áre you gríeving   
Over Goldengrove unleaving?   
Leáves, líke the things of man, you   
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?   
Áh! ás the heart grows older   
It will come to such sights colder   
By and by, nor spare a sigh   
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;   
And yet you wíll weep and know why.   
Now no matter, child, the name:   
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.   
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed   
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:   
It ís the blight man was born for,   
It is Margaret you mourn for.

For the Feast of the Assumption: "Come my swete, come my flower" (Geoffrey Burgon)

markfromireland at Saturday Chorale offers another lovely post today, anticipating this week's (August 15) Feast of the Assumption.  I'll just post the whole thing here, as it seems there's nothing I ought to add or take away (and I know parts of the post will be of particular interest to some of our friends!):
Just a short posting today about a piece by one of my favourite modern English composers,  Geoffrey Burgon.  (If you're new to Burgon's music you'll find all my postings on music here:  Geoffrey Burgon | Saturday Chorale). Burgon composed The Assumption in 2001 it's a deceptively simple piece of music in which each of the eminently singable four voice lines combine to produce a piece of music that greatly exceeds the sum of its parts. As well as being a lovely piece of music it shows Burgon's abiding interest in and affinity with early English texts. Pre-reformation England was famous for its devotion to the Virgin Mary. This devotion was notable from the earliest times and long predated even Abbot Ælfric of Eynsham's  sermons and the Blickling Homilies. The text 'Come my swete, come my flower' is early medieval and consists of a dialogue between Christ and his mother in which Christ calls her up to heaven and responds with eagerness and love. It's a charming setting of a charming text sung beautifully by the Wells Cathedral Choir conducted by Matthew Owens. Enjoy :-).

Video Source:
Burgon - Come my swete come my flower – YouTube  Published on Aug 11, 2012 by markfromireland

Text: The Assumption Come my swete, come my flower

Come my swete, come my flower,
Come my culver, mine own bower,
Come my mother now with me,
For Heaven-queen I make thee.

My swete Son, with all my love
I come with thee to thyn above;
Where thou art now let me be,
For all my love is laid on thee.

Come my swete, come my flower …