A few weeks ago, we had the privilege of hosting the Ringers from Trinity Church in New York City for an afternoon of ringing. Their tower is currently under construction for maintenance work, and they are using this time to travel to other towers and ring.
Whenever we have visiting ringers, we take advantage of the years of experience and helpful advice that they willingly share, and we embrace the opportunity to improve our skills. Bell ringing is an art form that takes years of practice to develop. The “subculture” of tower ringing includes a longstanding tradition of hospitality (a perfect fit with our Benedictine heritage!), and of sharing experience and instruction between bands of ringers. Taking our place in this tradition is a privilege that we gratefully treasure!
When a strong band of ringers visits, it is the perfect time to stretch our own abilities and try to ring something that is just a little bit out of our grasp of understanding. Only through these faith- and skill-building forays can we improve and build confidence in our ringing; and in keeping with our determination to do “all things to the glory of God,” we will keep at it.
We are very grateful for the fun afternoon that we spent ringing together and we look forward to the Area Meeting this week, where we will see more familiar faces!
My soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1
The scripture from today’s devotional caught my attention with its translation “my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” It’s a strong image of your body longing for God. And hard to imagine in a “land” abundant with water.
I thought about my day yesterday, a series of events – cleaning jobs, rehearsals, gardening – darting from one thing to the next trying to stay on schedule. And realizing around 5:00 that my head was splitting and my mouth parched – I hadn’t stopped to take a drink and I could feel the effects. In that moment, I poured a big glass of water and drank it down. But what if there had been none? What if there was no relief? And this was just after a couple of hours! The Psalmist is describing a land of no water. Multiply my little headache by days of dryness. This is how he longs for God. Do I consider God as essential to me as water? Or, do I charge through my agenda for the day and only realize I need him when I’m parched?
Our scholas have just completed the recording sessions for a Gregorian chant CD to be released later in the year. Of course, much of the preparation for the recording involved chanting together.
However, a large portion of the preparation and, I would venture to say, the most important part, involved the time we spent together not actually chanting. All of us had agreed together that we would, individually, take the time to really study the text – even use it in our devotional time – before delving into the chant itself. Then, we met several times as a group to discuss what we had discovered in the text and then how the chant illuminated the text.
After concluding this process, our chant rehearsals changed dramatically. We had a new unity of spirit, thought, and expression that went far beyond the neumes – the chant had transformed into a living conversation between us and God. Did each of us think exactly the same thing at exactly the same moment? No. Were we committed to a shared vision of each work? Absolutely! And, even more amazing was that within the groups, we had greatly varied levels of cantors – many very experienced – some brand new!
Perhaps though what I found most moving was that at the end of the sessions, we actually found it difficult to tell each other goodbye. We had experienced something together that would not have happened without a shared vision of each chant and the conversation it helped create.
I recently had the opportunity to work with an extraordinarily enthusiastic group of cantors in preparation for a full Gregorian mass. As we moved through our preparations and, ultimately, the mass itself, I was struck by their sense of awe of and responsibility for the chant and how it was presented.
Even though we only had two hours of preparation time together, we all mutually stepped into a legacy of chanted prayer that had long preceded us, and will last long after any of us walk on this earth. It only takes a moment of pondering that thought to realize that we were joining ourselves into a type of repetition. In this case, repetition which changes every time it occurs. A bit of a paradox — perhaps. But just as liturgical seasons repeat every year, so do those scriptures which inflame and inform them and by extension — the chants, which help illuminate those texts!
It was that understanding in which I found myself standing with that group of cantors — the joy of having known these chants and yet discovering new dimensions and how these chants would enhance this particular mass. As you spend time chanting, take the time to return to chants which you already know – see what new insight they give you.
As part of our community’s call to ecumenism, the choir regularly sings music across many cultures and faith traditions. In this weekend’s concert, among others, we will visit regions of Denmark and Norway. We will be singing lyrics of a Danish pastor and hymn writer, set to music by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg. I would like to share some of the text from the second movement, titled “The Son of God hath set me free.” I find this text engaging and challenging, especially in the aftermath of a very unsettling week for our country.
Now I commend myself unto God
despite the snake a thousand times!
Let Him just stand and see me go
clad in the crimson clothes of freedom.
What good it doth my heart
to follow the voice of Jesus on the path of truth,
past all evil, to carefree Heaven!
Don’t let the world believe
yet again it can make me blind…..
No, I am too indebted
to play sin’s game of chance;
I whistle at the tempting food,
and look to heaven with joy.
.….My death is the ferryman
unto the solid ground of life;
the Lord Sabaoth, His own castle,
yes, it is for ever good.
Although the wind is oft against, mortifying the sprightly blood,…..
yes, the shape of the cross is precisely the sign to the proper realm of freedom.
I play in a brass fanfare ensemble. The instruments we play are referred to as herald trumpets, which are basically long belled trumpets and valved trombones that can hold banners. They come from the British tradition, and you’ve likely seen this type of instrument at a ceremony of some sort. Here at the Community of Jesus, we often use herald trumpets to play celebratory fanfares for large church feasts throughout the year. Currently, we practice each Wednesday morning at 6:00 am. Starting early allows the eight of us nearly thirty minutes together before anyone has to rush off to work. It may seem obvious, but sometimes first thing in the morning is a hard time to be playing an instrument, and even harder to try and work as an ensemble. (Personally, I’m often not worth talking to until I’ve been up for a while; with somedays being worse than others!) This past Wednesday morning, we were practicing a fanfare with a softer, exposed solo line in the middle, which is my part. We played it 2 or 3 times, and I could tell I wasn’t playing it very well. I was trying, and getting frustrated internally with myself. Not unexpectedly, after a few times of missing the mark, some of the other players started turning to me. I braced myself for whatever might be coming my way, since I sometimes don’t take criticism very well at anytime of the day, let alone first thing in the morning. There actually was grace to listen to their suggestions about the phrasing and my approach. They were much less critical of me than I was of myself. With their advice, I was able to relax my breath and give my energy to the group, rather then worrying about how I sounded. In return, my body, and finally the instrument responded with a much better sound. So it’s 6:15 with only 1/2 a cup of coffee, and God is already working away.
Beneath my feet the steady crunching of the stones on the path beside the south side of the church creates a consistent rhythm as I head toward my office. The notes of someone practicing scales on the organ seeps through the church stone wall. A cacophony of bird songs reaches across the marsh sounding as though they are rehearsing for a concert. Drifting from the practice area in the underground area of the Chapter House a young person is playing melodic exercises on a marimba. We are all part of a symphony; we are all part of a plan. God is the conductor!
My only previous experience as an extended choir member was singing Haydn’s Creation with the Cape Cod Symphony several years ago. This year I was invited to join the choir for a recording of Miserere Mei, Deus (Psalm 51) by Josquin de Pres (French composer 500 years ago). This piece is a five-voice version of the psalm we chant every Friday at Lauds, so the Latin words are very familiar. For the recording the challenge is to sing together, in time, in tune, with the same tone, while reflecting the full meaning of the words. Only by the grace of God, much help, and a great deal of work can I hope to reach this goal. The photo shows the score open to the most difficult bass line I am to sing. I now have a much richer understanding of what it means to sing to the Glory of God!