Such grief is not Lent’s goal; But to be led to where God’s glory flashes i For by your holy cross and passion you redeemed the world ii The message of the cross is folly to those who are perishing But to us who are being saved it is the power of God. iii [We] are getting deaf, so that when we find ourselves in trouble, we prefer to listen to the enemies that harry us. But when will spring arrive for us? iv Struggling with the devil of the stairs who wears the deceitful face of hope and of despair Where shall the word be found, where will the word Resound? v Yet even now…”Return to me with your whole heart” vi Make clear, make clear, make clear where truth and light appear! vii
[i] Percy Dearmer [ii] Good Friday antiphon [iii] 1st Cor. 1:18 [iv] St. Augustine [v] T. S. Eliot [vi] Joel 2:12 [vii] Percy Dearmer
I was talking with a friend last night, just in passing. Talking about life, and change, and being afraid of new things. She said that someone had recently pointed out to her that the word adventure has the word advent in it. I know Advent is still two weeks away, but actually, it really caught my attention. I love words, and I love exploring where they come from and what they mean. Both the root of advent and adventure can be traced back to the Latin advenire — “to come to, reach for, arrive at.” Later uses introduced a sense of risk or danger. One definition that struck me was, “a risky undertaking of unknown outcome.”
Look at the story of Christ, who arrived on earth as a vulnerable baby, forced to flee shortly after his birth, challenged in the desert by the devil himself, betrayed by a friend, nailed to a cross, and raised from the dead… Talk about risk and unknown outcome!
But here’s what really got my attention — the suffix -ure indicates “act, process or result.” Start putting these parts together and you get things like — “the act of reaching for, the process of arriving at, the result of coming to.” So of course adventure requires risk, and unknown outcome — but can’t we hang on to the outcome that we do know? That Christ’s “risky undertaking of unknown outcome” resulted in our redemption. And so we reach for the adventure of Advent.
While chanting Psalm 51 this morning at Lauds, this phrase caught my attention:
“…et spiritu promptissimo confirma me” (…and give me a willing spirit).
What struck me was the word translated as “willing” is “promptissimo,” and from which is derived our word “prompt.” I ran home and looked up the Latin translation which reads “The most eager.” So, that phrase from Psalm 51 could be read in English as “…and give me the most eager spirit.”
The response to the first half of the verse is: ‘Restore to me the joy of my salvation.” I asked the Lord to tell me what he wanted to be said today. When I saw the word “promptissimo,” I knew instantly that I had my answer. I gave a prompt and resounding “thank you” to God for having answered me so readily! In that word, he told me he was listening to my prayer and that my joy would return in quick response of thanks to him! Amazing — all within one word in the middle of a chant recitation!
Today we celebrated the Feast Day of Simeon, a man to be admired for his simplicity of heart. Fame, fortune, and great accomplishments were not on his resume; instead, we find written these words, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
It’s funny, at Eucharist, how sometimes Latin words pop out at me at the least expected times. This morning, as I was somewhat mindlessly singing the Introit Proper, I was suddenly engaged by 2 words: Quem Timebo? Latin for “Whom shall I fear? ” I quickly read the English translation of the psalm verse to get the context of this question. It reads: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” The verse is stated in two halves. The first as a solid, indisputable fact, and the second as a known rhetorical question. This is a powerful sentence, full of hope, nobility and confidence. But as my day starts to move through morning into the afternoon, I can feel the question mark in the sentence switching from the second half to the first. With the slightest discomfort, will-crossing or negative thought, I start believing a new question: Is the Lord my light and my salvation? Now I have a choice for the next part of my day: will I choose to believe that the Lord is my light and salvation (without a question mark!), moving on boldly without fear, or will I choose to start questioning this psalm verse, and turning my back on God? Only if we choose the latter is there reason to fear.
You might expect that this is a chant blog for Lent with such a title. No. At Friday morning Lauds, we chant Psalm 51 – perhaps the most well-known penitential psalm – throughout the year. Though we have often discussed beauty and the value of repetition in both the Divine Office and Eucharist, I think this psalm and chant deserve a special mention.
Chanting Psalm 51 reminds me that I am in need of God’s mercy and loving restoration. The gentle Mode VI antiphon creates an aural “portrait” of God welcoming us home, much as in the story of the prodigal son.
Chanting Psalm 51 reminds me that we are about to go into the weekend, which concludes with Sunday – the Lord’s Day. Though that may seem an obvious thing, I often forget this and think primarily (if not exclusively!) of the projects I must accomplish which received none of my attention through the week. Chanting Psalm 51 reminds me that I am in need of God’s mercy to help me prepare for the Sabbath.
Finally, and perhaps most important, chanting Psalm 51 reminds me that I need to offer God’s mercy, forgiveness, and love to others which has been so generously given to me. Once again, chant – the song of prayer – turns me and all of us to God’s loving and welcoming voice!
So much contained in a single word….word made flesh. It strikes me that the Resurrection is like a second Incarnation. Christ, now bearing the wounds of our sins, after three days again stands among us-visible.
I had the privilege this past weekend to be involved with the chant group for the Triduum services. It brought the text alive in a new way, and no text more so than ‘Alleluia’. We slipped up behind the altar after one of the scripture readings at the Easter Vigil and turned to face the church. I felt suddenly overwhelmed, there under the mosaic of Christ, with a church full of people robed in white, faces full of expectancy, bells poised to ring…the excitement was palpable. We burst into the Alleluia chant with it’s rising line and everything burst into song, as creation must have on that morning. The tower bells joined the sparkle of hand bells and the vigorous chanting of the congregation of ‘Alleluia’, let loose after 40 days of being silenced….and I thought my heart would leap from my chest. He is risen indeed!
I know that Love healed the blind, reached out to children, and drove money changers from the temple. Love pleaded from the cross–Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. Love was the faultless sacrifice that shattered darkness and restored humankind to wholeness.
We tend to look at self-denial and Lent very negatively. Often I think I must give up another bad habit or tackle some self-punishment to feel like I’m being more holy and sacrificial.
I think it is a great tool of the devil to get us Christians to fall into this trap of self abasement. Are we not made in the image of God? He is wonderful, full of beauty, majesty, mercy, and things innumerable. This image of God is present and available in us all.
A friend recently told me about an exercise she had been given once. The exercise was: every day, for one week, to write 10 different positive things about herself. She said it was helpful, but surprisingly difficult and painful. Self-denial may be painful, but it is only to allow for an increase of this wonderful God inside us.
I’m trying to approach this Lent differently. In this season set aside for repentance and changing one’s direction, rather then commiserating over all the terrible parts of myself, why not try to see what I can add to my life this Lent instead of what can I take away?
This past Sunday, the Church celebrated the feast of the Presentation. In the Alleluia proper for the day, I think the text from the Alleluia verse has something to teach me. A translation of the Latin reads, “The old man carried the child; the child, however, was the ruler of the old man.”
This chant’s music spends about 1/3 of the piece on the single word “autem,” Latin for “but” or “however.” In this pivotal adverb lies a lot of mystery, and perhaps a good metaphor for our daily walks in life. Simeon carried the Christ child, but he knew that contained in this small baby was the reason he could finally rest in peace – he was grateful for the child to be his ruler.
Whether we remember it or not, we all carry a piece of this child with us where ever we go. So the “carrying” part is not the problem! We do this well, automatically in fact. The question lies in the word “autem.” He is with us, however, will we let him rule? Will we let him lift us up and carry our burdens?