Sunday, August 25, 2013

Why I continue to love Sunday mornings....

Why "Sunday shakes the world," in other words:
  • Where else can you hear stories from thousands of years ago - stories that are still vibrantly alive and still speaking to the deepest parts of the human psyche?    Where else can you finally cast off the oppression of the narrow mindset of what's happening now and what I feel like thinking about - and spend some time thinking in a different way, about a different reality, and a different kind of world and its people?   Where else can you get the big picture and the wide view - the huge picture, in fact, and the long view through the eyes of eternity?  

    Where else can you hear things like this, the call to remember and attend to the needs of the world:
    Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
        you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

    If you remove the yoke from among you,
        the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
     if you offer your food to the hungry
        and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
    then your light shall rise in the darkness
        and your gloom be like the noonday.
     The Lord will guide you continually,
        and satisfy your needs in parched places,
        and make your bones strong;
    and you shall be like a watered garden,
        like a spring of water,
        whose waters never fail.
     Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
        you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
    you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
        the restorer of streets to live in.

     If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
        from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
    if you call the sabbath a delight
        and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
    if you honor it, not going your own ways,
        serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;
    then you shall take delight in the Lord,
        and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
    I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob,
        for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

    Where else can you hear from the prophet Jeremiah, called to speak the word of the Lord despite his protestations and feelings of inadequacy:
    Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
     “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
    and before you were born I consecrated you;
    I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

     Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”  But the Lord said to me,
    “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
    for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
    and you shall speak whatever I command you.
     Do not be afraid of them,
    for I am with you to deliver you,
    says the Lord.”

     Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,
    “Now I have put my words in your mouth.
     See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
    to pluck up and to pull down,
    to destroy and to overthrow,
    to build and to plant.”
    Where else can you hear - again! - about the Great Physician and his continuous work of healing?
    Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath.  And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight.  When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”  When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.  But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.”  But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water?  And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?”  When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.
  • The range of emotion you can experience during worship is quite literally endless - including some very fine and subtle shades and gradations of feeling.  That's because both repetition and variety work together to evoke the entire range of human experience, in infinite combinations.  For instance:  today we sang Hymn #8, "Morning Has Broken": it's a beautiful hymn that everybody knows (thank you, Cat Stevens) and can sing (almost) by heart.  It's warm and beautiful and evocative of things deeply human - and of things deeply holy:
    Praise for the sweetness
    Of the wet garden
    Sprung in completeness
    Where his feet pass
    Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
    Born of the one light, Eden saw play

    When the cross passes, I always bow; today it was with an easy, grounded feeling of being blessed to be alive in this beautiful created world;  it's a beautiful day here.  I'm sure anybody, believer or not, could have experienced the same feeling while singing that song.  (That's the wonderful thing about Christianity:  no special knowledge is required.  It can speak to anybody who's ever been born and lived in this world;  God himself has been here.   Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto; "I am human; nothing human is alien to me.") 

    For me, though, the music and the words of the song got mixed up with the bow to the cross, and I actually experienced it fully, and was aware of it, because that was the marker.  The music and the gesture - a gesture I've repeated thousands of times, but never in combination with this music and on this beautiful day - then combined to create and evoke a feeling different from any I've had before:  a particular fine and subtle shade of easiness with living the life of faith that I'd never experienced till now.   Other days, I experience feelings of deep reverence when the cross passes; at still other times - depending on the day or the season or the music - it might be a feeling of awe or surprise or confidence or sorrow.
  • Where else can you look forward to hearing - for the first of many times this week - the special collect for the day:  "Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."   Where else can you hear, immediately first thing in the morning, about power and glory and the mysterious and glorious Most Holy Trinity?
  • Two young women sang Monteverdi at the Offertory:  Salve Regina:

    Salve Regina, Mater Misericordiae,
    Vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra, Salve!
    Ad te clamamus, exsules filii [H]evae,
    Ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes,
    In hac lacrimarum valle.
    Eja ergo, Advocata nostra,
    Illos tuos misericordes oculos ad nos converte
    Et Jesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui,
    Nobis, post hoc exilium, ostende,
    O clemens, O pia, O dulcis Virgo Maria.

    Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of mercy,
    [Hail] our life, our sweetness and our hope!
    To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve,
    to thee do we send up our sighs,
    mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.
    Turn, then, most gracious advocate,
    thine eyes of mercy toward us,
    and after this, our exile,
    show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
    O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

    So we get to hear some of the really beautiful music of the world - and two young women get a chance to sing the same great stuff publicly.  Where else does this happen as if it were the most natural thing in the world, for worship and the benefit of everybody involved - and for the rest of the world, too, if they wanted to be there? 

    (This Monteverdi anthem was immediately followed, BTW, by the congregational singing of "Rock of Ages"!   I actually laughed out loud - but dove right in and sang along anyway.)

    Marian devotions are an interesting thing to me; I don't really necessarily understand it - but I've learned to love the praying of the Angelus several times during the course of the day.  I first experienced this at monasteries and convents; people would stop and say the prayer wherever they happened to be at 6am, noon, and 6pm - and then just pick up their work again.  I loved hearing the bells; it really did seem to me as if the heavens had cracked open and there were angels all around.  I've added the Angelus to my Daily Office prefs, too, and it does make a difference in how the prayers feel.

  • Then, during Communion, it was Taizé:

    Wonderful to have something simple to sing on the way to the altar and on the way back; you can make your own harmonies easily, too. The whole church fills with the sound of chant and footsteps and the murmurings of the priests and ministers as they whisper the prescribed words to each communicant. (Interestingly, the Taizé website gives the last line of the refrain as "Bless the Lord my soul, He leads me into life."  But today we sang, "Bless the Lord my soul, He rescues me from death."  I like the latter better.)

All of this - free for the taking, to anybody who wants it.  And you could go home later and spend hours, if you had them, investigating all the parts of the liturgy:  you could re-read the Scripture selections and then you could try to find commentaries on them; you could look up the old readings in the 1928 BCP if you wanted, to see what the differences might be; you could check out more Monteverdi online, and read his biography and what kinds of things he was trying to do with his music; you could go the Taizé website and find other chants you might like.  That's 2,000 years worth of history, and of things you might not know that you could learn - all of which will probably point you to other things you don't know and want to find out.

It's really quite amazing, actually; I'm very  sorry that more people don't find a way to lay hold of this and to have and use it as a base of operations - a place to return weekly for strength and solace, and simply for the sheer splendor of it all.  Because what a relief to have this way to learn, to experience and understand the world and your own life through this lens, and to detoxify!  What a wonderful and miraculous thing it is to be able to get beyond yourself to the real life - the fuller, larger life - and all set there right before you, the result of thousands of years of worship and thinking and writing and music.  It's part of your own system now, a way to investigate the world in its entirety, and an endless source of fascination and cause for admiration and amazement....


Toni Alvarez said...

Thank you for this post. It's the greatest paean to the liturgy I've read in a while.

bls said...

Thanks, Toni.