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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Speaking the truth to power

While he was praying his face changed in appearance
and his clothing became dazzling white.
And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah,
who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus
that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.
It struck me Sunday, listening to the gospel for the third or fourth time, that there might be more to the story of why Moses and Elijah are in the picture with Jesus on Mount Tabor at the transfiguration. The usual explanation goes along lines of “the fullness of the law and the prophets.” Moses stands for the law, Elijah for the prophets, and Jesus is the new Moses and the new Elijah, and they’re discussing his “exodus” in Jerusalem. 

Who knows? I wasn’t there, but what do you think of this?
John the Baptist statue at my church

John the Baptizer, in Mark’s narration of the story, and presumably Luke's, has just been put to death; it is his mantle which Jesus has picked up with the bold narrative, “Turn away from sin, the empire of God is at hand.” John’s death in Herod’s palace, his arrest having taken place because of his preaching against Herod’s illegal incestuous marriage, has silenced a powerful voice against both the collaborating Herod and the temple elite, whom John had called "poisonous snakes" — a “brood of vipers.” Sunday’s gospel, the passage about the transfiguration, is surrounded on both ends by a prediction of the arrest and execution of Jesus, the predictable result of a preaching career that suggests a different empire, and a different God, from the Roman one.

Now, consider Moses and Elijah, and their careers as characterized in these two brief passages:

Exodus 3-4, passim:
Chagall's Moses and the Burning Bush
...The cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have truly noted that the Egyptians are oppressing them. Come, now! I will send you to Pharaoh to lead my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt." But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of Egypt?" He answered, "I will be with you; and this shall be your proof that it is I who have sent you: when you bring my people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this very mountain." "But," said Moses to God, "when I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' if they ask me, 'What is his name?' what am I to tell them?" God replied, "I am who am." Then he added, "This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you."... 
Moses, however, said to the LORD, "If you please, LORD, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past, nor recently, nor now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and tongue." The LORD said to him, "Who gives one man speech and makes another deaf and dumb? Or who gives sight to one and makes another blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Go, then! It is I who will assist you in speaking and will teach you what you are to say."

Yet (Moses) insisted, "If you please, Lord, send someone else!”
I Kings 18: 8-18 passim
Obadiah fell prostrate and asked, "Is it you, my lord Elijah?"

Elijah confronts Jezebel and Ahab
"Yes," he answered. "Go tell your master, 'Elijah is here!'"
But Obadiah said, "What sin have I committed, that you are handing me over to Ahab to have me killed? As the LORD, your God, lives, there is no nation or kingdom where my master has not sent in search of you. When they replied, 'He is not here,' he made each kingdom and nation swear they could not find you. And now you say, 'Go tell your master: Elijah is here!' ... He will kill me!" Elijah answered, "As the LORD of hosts lives, whom I serve, I will present myself to him today." So Obadiah went to meet Ahab and informed him.

Ahab came to meet Elijah, and when he saw Elijah, said to him, "Is it you, you disturber of Israel?"

"It is not I who disturb Israel," he answered, "but you and your family, by forsaking the commands of the LORD and following the Baals.
Moses and Elijah were chosen by God to speak the truth to power. When John the Baptizer did this, some people started thinking that maybe he was Elijah come back again. When Jesus asked Peter what people were saying about him, Peter responded that they thought maybe Jesus was himself John the Baptist come again, or Elijah, or another prophet. Moses and Elijah are huge figures. In the story of a people with a history of subjugation, they are a voice that tells the truth to kings. And here, in this story of Jesus on his way to the confrontation with the powers in Jerusalem, they are on a mountain, talking to Jesus robed in light.

Who else is on that mountain? Francis of Assisi? Gandhi? Nelson Mandela? Dietrich Bonhoeffer? The monks of Saigon? Oscar Romero? Did they have the benefit of an experience of transfiguration and light, solidarity with the prophets and the affirmation of the voice of God calling them beloved? Who else is on that mountain? Everyone, maybe, for whom God’s truth was worth dying for, but not killing for (a point at which Moses and Elijah would have to part company with Jesus!) 

Maybe this is why the Voice says of Jesus, alone of the three, “This is my chosen son. Listen to him.” The Beloved will be the one who insists that everyone belongs at the Abba-God’s table, sinners and saints, the whores and the holy, patriots and collaborators. The Beloved will not allow for any distinctions in God’s love between friend and enemy, countryman and alien, sick and healthy, woman or man. The name, Chosen Son, gave Jesus his identity at the Jordan, carried him through the trial in the desert, and helped shape his preaching about his abba, “Our Father.” Our Father. The Beloved will not use the sword, however, to proclaim the God of peace, unlike the two with him in the light; will not call of legions of angels to fight his battle. No blood will be spilt in the name of Abba until the gospel has been “civilized” and domesticated, and a clever emperor turns the cross into a sword.

The “our” in “our father” is bad news to people who put up fences, borders patrols, country clubs, anything that keeps my people in and everybody else out. So Jesus is executed eventually by the Romans in a form of capital punishment reserved for violators of the Pax Romana. Maybe the light of Tabor, the echo of the voice calling him “beloved,” got him to the point where that was possible for him. His good news has rung down through the ages, giving courage to all those who, like Moses and Elijah before him, like so many who have come after him, were summoned by the Abba-God to speak the truth to power.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

If I Forget You, Jerusalem

The media, and lately the internet and particularly social media, has made this a very small world. Facebook has helped me, and, I presume, you, to find people we knew 20, 30, 40 years ago, when we were different people, you know, the ones who heard the Beatles before they were on the oldies stations. Or I'll hear a story on the news like I did a few years ago, that a tornado had ripped through Perry County in southeast Missouri, the county seat of which is the little town of Perryville, and my ears will start burning. My wife, Terry Donohoo, is from St. Louis, and much of her family is still homesteaded in the area. Our lives are entwined with a St. Louis parish called St. Vincent de Paul, the wonderful people there, and the religious community that runs it, the Vincentians. The little town of Perryville sits about 90 miles south of St. Louis on Interstate 55. It was home for a century or so to St. Mary of the Barrens Seminary, the college (and former theologate) of those Vincentians, or Congregation of the Mission (C.M.), and from 1970-1973, my alma mater.


The dome over the main altar at
St. Mary of the Barrens, Perryville.
St. Mary's in the early 1970s was a good place to be in formation. The theological vision of the Second Vatican Council was beginning to seep into the thinking and planning of the Congregation of the Mission. Several of their brightest and best theologians had served as periti (experts in a particular theological discipline) to various bishops at the Council; Annibale Bugnini himself was member of the Vincentians. There was a keen interest in liturgy as formative, as essentially participatory, and as the center of seminary life. As seems to happen in some kind of unpredictable cycle, in a group of barely more than a hundred collegians there was a striking number of excellent musicians and a greater number of enthusiastic amateurs. We always had four or five organists, excellent guitar players, and a number of players who covered other woodwind and percussion instruments. There was a lot of music in the seminary in those days.

In a fairly regional, if not parochial, minor seminary system of the time, St. Mary's was also our first experience of a wider brotherhood of young men with similar interests from several parts of the country. Active minor seminaries for the Vincentians at the time were located in Montebello, California (which I had attended), Lemont, Illinois, Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and Beaumont, Texas. All the guys in my class had spent a year in Santa Barbara, California, at the Vincentian novitiate, so we had met and lived with seminarians from all these places, but the college seminary was a four-year institution, and we now were thrown in with classes from the previous three years of novitiate and the traditions of a century-old institution. In short, it was like seeing more of the world for the first time, but without girls.

One of the many musicians I met there and admired was a second-year fellow named Bill Schutzman. Bill was from Colorado by way of Texas, at least, he had come to the VIncentians by way of the Beaumont minor sem. He had family roots in Estes Park, Colorado. Bill's guitar prowess was legendary; we had all heard about him before we got to St. Mary's, and we were amazed by him when we heard him in person. He had a singing voice that was extraordinarily rich and inviting, too, reminiscent of B.J. Thomas. It didn't really surprise us when Bill decided that the priesthood wasn't for him, and he decided to strike out into the musical world on his own.

I'm sure that his classmates kept track of him, but exactly what he did after leaving the seminary is a mystery to me. After I left in 1973, Bill contacted me again, and as I recall he was living in Tucson, Arizona, and working as the music director  at a church there. This could have been as late as 1978 or so, and he was preparing his first recording of songs for worship. He had made a demo, and Resource Publications was interested in distributing it (this is the company that produced "Modern Liturgy" magazine for so many years, and continues to produce resources for catechesis and worship.) 

Bill finally did make his album with a flute player and a bass player, though it was only produced on vinyl and I don't have a copy left to acknowledge his musicians by. He had changed his name to "Bill Foster," and the name of the record was "If I Forget You, Jerusalem," which was one of my songs. The recording included "Wings of Dawn," "Here I Am," "I Had a Dream," and another of my songs, along with five or six of his. Some of the songs were published on the pages of "Modern Liturgy" (Volume 10, 1983) as that was their practice when introducing new music. Bill also showcased his album at one of the St. Louis NPM conventions. 

After a few more years and another collection that didn't really ever get syndicated, Bill disappeared from our lives. Bill was homeless for a while, and was diagnosed in 1989 with schizophrenia. Occasionally we would get a bit of news about him, but nothing substantial. Then, along came Facebook, and there was Bill Fosterr as part of the group of St. Mary's Perryville alums, living and working as a recovery advocate with the Mental Health Association in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Bill is back playing music when he can, and recently made a new CD of some of his repertoire. 

I do know that a lot of people first got acquainted with my writing through Bill Fosterr's generous adopting of them into his repertoire. So today I'm saying "thank you" to him, and saying a prayer that he knows God's protection. He assures me that "what I'm doing is a Great Leap Forward and it goes to Society's Credit. We ARE Doing Better!!...I am Very Enthusiastic about my current Job and I feel that I am More Competent at the Job because of my previous difficulties. I'd like to focus on the job and the Principles that I am Happy to Spread to anyone undergoing difficulties...like the 'Participants' who visit 'Denver House', where I work here in Tulsa." Thanks, Bill. "If I forget you," and the beautiful music you've made and with which you have gladdened the hearts of so many,
"may my right hand be forgotten, too."

Side Bar: Both "If I Forget You, Jerusalem" and "Wings of Dawn," settings of Psalms 137 and 139 respectively, were written in the summer of 1973, after I left St. Mary's Seminary. (Both songs appear on the CD Safety Harbor.) It was becoming increasingly clear to me that the celibate aspect of priestly life, which was supposed to apply to formation as well, was not in my kit bag of charisms, so I decided that the most honest thing to do was leave, even though I was still a year away from the B.A. (I eventually got the degree from St. Mary's with a few hours credit for "life experience" in 1984 or 85.) I was reluctant to go back to Phoenix, family, and friends right away, feeling that I had never been out of the immediate surrounding of some kind of intense community. So I chose to spend the summer as a staff musician at a camp in upper peninsula Michigan for inner city children, run by the Dominican community. I knew no one at all there: it was a chance for me to see who I was and whether I could make it among people who didn't know me on mutual terms.

Generally, the summer was a tremendous experience, but after just a week or two I came down with a terrible infection (ironically, called "Vincent's infection"—another example of the cosmos's weird sense of humor) and was bedridden for a week. During that time, I was nursed back to health by a wonderful young woman who was the camp nurse. She and I got to be friends, and I eventually learned her story. She had been engaged to a basketball player on the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, who just two months before had been tragically killed in an automobile accident. "Wings of Dawn" originally bore the epigram "For Marie," and "If I Forget You" was subtitled "Peter's Song." Though those names have long disappeared from the manuscripts, I have not forgotten Marie's kindness nor her pain in those months. I have occasionally heard from her or about her, and know that she found new love and has raised a family in the years since then. Thanks be to God for carrying her, and all of us, through death to life.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Lenten iTunes Playlist

This is for someone who asked for it. A little addendum for today! I had to do it on the fly, so I just pulled titles off my own iTunes list.


SongStories 2 - Jerusalem, My Destiny (1989)

Just yesterday, again, someone told me something very moving about what a song I wrote meant to them. The story is personal, and enough of my friends know enough details of this person's life that I can't really go into it, but this kind of thing happens in out-of-the-blue ways often enough that it shakes one to the core. A song is like a virus, or a child, or a piece of gossip. You let it out in the wild, or it escapes you; you don't have any more control over the outcome or meaning of it than the man in the moon. You don't know whose hand will take it up, whose voice will sing it, what circumstances of elation or tragedy or just rite will precipitate its singing. You just write a song because you have to, and wait and see what happens. It's a mystery, and a privilege to be a part of it.

One of my best-selling octavos (choir music) at GIA has been “Jerusalem, My Destiny.” I wrote this piece for Lent in 1989, a "C" lectionary year, eight trips through the book ago. For about the first 15 years of its publication, it sold nearly twice as many copies as the runner-up, which is “Canticle of the Turning,” released the same year, though I think that might have evened out a bit in the intervening years. I don’t have records going back as far as the release of “Bread of Life” or “Change Our Hearts,” but they might be close.

I had wanted to write a song that would tie the weeks of Lent together. That year my son Joel was 10. His mother, Therese Marie, and I had delayed the kids’ baptism until they would be old enough to remember it. We weren’t so concerned about them accepting it or ratifying it, because baptism at any age is really about God’s universal call more than human response. The Catholic Church has infant baptism because it believes that babies “respond” the way they do to any kind of love and nourishment; they respond as babies, and their response and responsibility changes as they age. Complicating the whole thing was my increasing involvement with the catechumenate, and seeing how the order of initiation sacraments was so hopelessly messed up in parts of the church that we use confirmation like a carrot to keep kids in religious education “or else.” So rather than be a part of the problem, we just thought we take a step to be part of the solution. 
So we decided to have Joel involved in a catechumenate at the parish. There was another kid his age going through it, maybe two, and he was in St. Jerome’s school, so he had a natural peer group of children with whom he went on learning his faith. “Jerusalem, My Destiny” is dedicated to Joel and the other catechumens who were in their “baptismal retreat” in the Lent of 1989.

"Jerusalem, My Destiny" was inspired by the confluence of several things that roiled around in my imagination. First, there is the centrality of Jerusalem in the imagination of the author of Luke, how the narrative of his gospel builds toward Jerusalem, site of the passion narrative, the resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit, all of which take place in the city. From there, the narrative of Acts explodes out of the city of Jerusalem and goes out across the whole Mediterranean world. Second, there is the beautiful line that follows the transfiguration story in the gospel of St. Luke. As you might recall, perhaps from a previous blog entry, the transfiguration story is an “inclusio” narrative, sandwiched between two predictions by Jesus of his suffering and death. It happens in Luke 9. There is a first prediction of the passion in the story of Peter’s confession (18-22), then the transfiguration story (28-36), and another prediction of his betrayal at verse 44. Shortly afterwards, there is this verse at 51:
When the days for his being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem...
The NRSV says Jesus “set his face” to go to Jerusalem; “The Message” version says he “steeled himself.” This is the part that caught me, that after the transfiguration, he knew that he could not wander in Galilee any more, but had to go to Jerusalem, the city of his destiny. This is not to say that I think that Jesus had any clear idea that his death was immanent; I simply feel that he knew that he had to confront the people and structures who were at the source of interpretation of the law and prophets and put his reading of the scriptures in competition with theirs. It didn't take a prophet to know that the journey and confrontation might be dangerous. 
This is how the refrain came out:
I have fixed my eyes on your hills,
Jerusalem, my destiny!
Though I cannot see the end for me,
I cannot turn away.
We have set our hearts for the way,
This journey is our destiny.
Let no one walk alone:
 the journey makes us one.

The verses correspond to the gospels of Lent, with verses 3, 4, and 5 jumping to the “A” cycle of gospels used in the Order of Initiation for the three scrutinies. There is also a bridge, a fifth verse leading to a final refrain in a new key and sung more broadly, that we only use on Passion Sunday. (Actually there is another text so that the bridge can be used more often, such as at celebrations of Confirmation or other times.)
O city of hosannas! O city of the cross!
The hour is upon us: I have come within your walls.
I have fixed my eyes on your hills...

I think of Jerusalem as the city, yes, and so many people have told me that they sang my song when they went on tours to the Holy Land as they approached Jerusalem! How cool is that? I’ve never been there myself, but the thought of that fills me with joy and gratitude. I also think of Jerusalem as the “new Jerusalem,” God’s city that is beyond our imagining but nevertheless our destiny. Just as importantly in my view, though, Jerusalem is us, Jerusalem the “city of peace,” is the Church, is Christ, the community of Pentecost. We cannot see our destiny, but we cannot turn away. For apprentice Christians and us “old timers” alike, the journey to Christ is the destiny, because Christ is here among us, revealing self to us in our daily lives, in strangers, in the poor, in sacraments, in nature everywhere we look. So we sing “let no one walk alone,” because becoming part of the Jerusalem community is becoming one’s truest self, is becoming conscious of the Spirit that lives in everyone because of creation, and made visible and conscious in our baptism.

Thanks to everyone who ever sang this song, in Jerusalem of the Holy Land or in the Jerusalem of your parish community.

Click here for an "iTunes" link to Jerusalem, My Destiny - Safety Harbor

Monday, February 25, 2013

The "sign of Jonah" and the "Queen of the South"

"Queen of Sheba,"
American artist Nancy Reilly

The Lenten lectionary is, in a way, an intensive manual of the catechumenate. It’s as if the Church is giving a crash course before the great “oral exam” of the Easter Vigil: “If you’re going to say ‘yes’ to us, forever and ever, this is what you’re saying yes to. We just want you to be sure.”

On Monday of the first week of Lent, which in antiquity was the first day of the Lenten fast (since Sundays aren’t counted), the gospel is Matthew 25, the parable of the final judgment, where the king reveals himself to have be identified with the naked, sick, hungry, and imprisoned. Last Wednesday, the gospel was the gospel in which Jesus castigates the crowds who didn’t listen to his message, because they demanded a “sign” that he was from God. He retorts, you may recall, that no sign will be given except the sign of Jonah (and that story is referenced in the first reading), while Jesus extols the effort of the Queen of the South who came to hear Solomon, and Jesus’s says his teaching is even greater than Solomon’s.


14th century illustration of the Qu'ran, Jonah story
The lesson of Wednesday's scripture is related to the repentant vision of the Jewish feast of Yom Kippur. I’m not scholar of Judaism, but what I do know is that on this great yearly feast of atonement, the entire book of Jonah is read. Why? Why is this little satire with its well-known story of the whale and the reluctant prophet a call to atonement? Well, it seems to me that it’s exactly about what we need to be hearing: the breaking down of walls and prejudices, and the opening of the walls of the city of humanity to match the wide-open gates of the city of God. Jonah is sent to Assyria, for goodness sake, to preach repentance to a God that the Ninevites didn’t even believe in! No wonder he didn’t want to go. He was a religious bigot, not that there are any of those in our church or nation today. The god inside Jonah was too small, and it wasn’t until a whale regurgitated him up smelly and bile-drenched on the shores of Babylon that he began to get the idea: it wasn’t about him, it wasn’t about his little fantasy of divine favor for his nation, but it was about the God of the cosmos. And in the crazy story, he starts preaching in one of the largest cities in the known world, and the people believe him and repent.

It’s not Babylon’s repentance that’s required: it’s Jonah’s! Jonah has to divest himself of the little idol of his temple and open himself to the true God of the universe. 

Like Jonah, the Queen of the South, another non-believer like Nineveh, makes the journey to discover the truth that comes from Solomon, and Jesus singles her out for emulation as well. 

Christianity has to be less a moral way or an ethical religion than a doxological one. There’s no basis for preaching a moral vision of Christ without the essential underpinning, which is the sense of “our Father,” one God whose love calls everyone, equally, into a non-covetous family of interdependence and mutual giving. See, the inner imperative to an ethic underlies our message, but the message is one of announcing the good news of God’s dominion, and not just any God, but a God whose visible manifestation (to us, literally, an incarnation rather than an avatar) is a human being living a life fully given for others. 

So the Lenten question posed to catechumens, candidates, and us pew-fillers might then be: first, who's your Daddy? And then, what are my prejudices? Whom do I shy away from, even abhor, because they don’t fit my idea of someone who could be a child of God? Because whoever it is, I’m wrong, and by Jonah I need to drop that prejudice before I’m thrown off a boat in a storm and swallowed by a whale. God’s going to have her way with me; it’s probably better to go willingly. At least I won’t need to be put through an industrial wash when I get there.

The bath that we all get at the beginning of our mission is baptism. I’m starting, again, to look forward to renewing those baptismal promises, even as I’m starting to fret about the music and liturgy of Triduum and Easter. I hope this Lent, with its penitential celebrations and scrutinies (for some of us), helps all of us to expose our parochialism and expand our horizons to become citizens of the city of God with its wide open gates and surprisingly diverse population. There’s that, and the dawning realization that we are not the servants of a cosmic Charlemagne, but the servant-God of Jesus, our Father, who not only serves a great feast, but washes the feet of all who gather at table. It’s not such a hard sell, really. We’re all in it together, equally, at last, and everywhere we turn there’s someone we didn’t expect to see, with a story to tell from Sheba, or Nineveh, or...well, where do you come from?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Mount Tabor is everywhere

I’ve come to look at the story of the Transfiguration as part of the story of the Passion. Of course, I know that’s sort of a given, since the entire gospel story is part of the passion, which is the visible manifestation of the “paschal mystery,” which is the nature of God in whose likeness we are created. In the gospel of Luke, the first book of his diptych that ends with the Acts of the Apostles, the mission of Jesus is oriented toward Jerusalem and what transpires there, his passion, death, resurrection, ascension, and sending of the Holy Spirit, and then the story moves to Acts where the Church’s mission parallels that of the Lord in many ways, dispersing from Jerusalem throughout the Mediterranean world.


Chapter 9 of Luke is full of interesting material, but the story of the transfiguration is situated between the end of the Galilean mission and the journey to Jerusalem. One interesting thing about the chapter is that Elijah keeps being mentioned, first by Herod, who has heard the rumors circulating that Jesus might be Elijah, back from the dead. Then, in the next section as when Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”, Peter replies that some are saying he is Elijah. Later, after the transfiguration (where Jesus appears to converse with Moses and Elijah), when there is a mission to Samaria mentioned, and the Samaritans won’t receive the band of travelers, the disciples ask if they should beseech heaven to “rain down fire” upon them. Jesus rejects this solution, which is the tack Elijah took in 2 Kings 1, when he called down fire from heaven on hostile forces from the king. Not being so knowledgable in my reading of the Jewish scriptures, I missed that allusion, and I think it’s important in the context of the Transfiguration story. Jesus (or, more precisely, Luke) is more or less putting to rest the “reincarnation” theory, at least as far as Elijah is concerned, because Jesus doesn’t act in the vindictive and violent way that the earlier prophet had acted when rejected. He simply moves on to tell the story elsewhere.

The story of the transfiguration is sandwiched between two predictions of the Passion (9:22, then 9:44), which further cements its relationship to that key gospel narrative. Moving toward his destiny in Jerusalem, Jesus takes his three friends up the mountain to pray for a while. There, the transfiguration takes place, a wondrous moment that leaves the disciples dumbfounded and babbling, but reveals the glory of God in Jesus. Again, as at the Jordan, the voice from the cloud is heard to call Jesus “my chosen son,” exhorting the three to listen to what he has to say. One has to think that, since the event is sandwiched between the predictions of the passion, that this is what the voice wants them to hear: that the Messiah has to die, which is what they don’t want to hear. They don’t understand it, but seem to interpret the event in terms of a regal ascendancy, because in 9:46 they’re arguing (again) over who will be the greatest.

It is from chapter 9 of Luke that I got the phrase that became the inspiration for one of what I consider my best songs, “Jerusalem, My Destiny,” which I wrote for Lent in 1989, if you can believe this, 18 Lents ago, six 3-year lectionary cycles. After coming down from the Mount Tabor, the mount of Transfiguration, Luke reports that “he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem,” (9:51). The literal translation of “resolutely determined” is “set his face toward”, which is the origin of the first lines of the refrain:

I have fixed my eyes on your hills,

Jerusalem, my destiny!

Though I cannot see the end for me,

I cannot turn away.

As you probably know if you are reading this, the rest of the refrain joins our “Jerusalem journey” to Christ’s and to each other’s, while each of the five verses tries to use imagery from the scriptures of each of the Sundays in Lent, culminating in a bridge with images from Palm Sunday.

I think that I have some incipient or nascent understanding of what is going on in the story of the Transfiguration. Not that I think I know what actually happened, or what it means in any complete sense, but I think there’s something about God’s goodness in the story, about God’s traveling with us the perilous journey of non-violence and faithfulness to the dream of an open society where there is no coveting, greed, prejudice, or exclusion. The more universal and analogous experience is the sense that however bad things get, we get moments, glimpses, rushes of insight, ecstasy and light. 
These moments give us the courage we need to persevere in our vocation, whatever it may be. Jesus, on Tabor, is seen talking to Moses and Elijah, and I think one of the reasons Luke names them is that both Moses and Elijah were part of the scriptural vector of resistance to both secular and religious power. As Moses faced Pharaoh and Elijah faced Jezebel, Ahab and the guild prophets, Jesus faced, on behalf of the reign of God, the Jerusalem cabal of Rome and the collaborating Temple economy. And, of course, mountain encounters with God figure into the stories of Moses and Elijah as well.

Certainly, there is a soul-shattering echo of this story in the preaching and ministry of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In fact, one of his most famous speeches, repeated in part on the night before he was assassinated amidst the barely contained tension and violence resulting from the Memphis garbage collectors strike of 1968, included the repeated refrain “I’ve been to the mountaintop.” King’s journey, which he took for and with people of good will of many colors and faiths on behalf of the poor and marginalized of this nation, was fraught with threats, terror, and violence. He certainly feared for his life and safety as he went about the country, and for the safety of his young family (it’s instructive to remember that King died a young man at the age of 39.) And yet, he continually preached that the vision he had been given “on the mountaintop” gave him strength to pursue his mission, with the sense that God was walking the streets of America with him, giving him the strength to overcome his fear and anxiety. 

I think that much of life is like that, mostly in smaller ways. There’s the sense, every morning, however awful things might be in our lives, that there’s the possibility of a new beginning. That’s a little view from Mount Tabor, isn’t it? I don’t want to sound bourgeois about it; I know that there is much genuine suffering which goes unabated. But specifically, when a path is chosen because of divine mission, there are unexpected joys and moments of shining brilliance that surprise us with their intensity, and fill our memories with hope. In my day-to-day work, I know that I feel a sense of vocation and mission, that what I’m doing is important because God has called me to it. Sometimes it’s clear to me that success is not only not the prize but it’s out of my reach. Sometimes I want to quit, the voices of ultra-conservatism (or anarchy) in the church seem so loud and strident, and their theories, as repulsive as they may be to me, have won the day. Other days, things at the parish are just insane, and what we end up doing on Sunday seems about as far from what I want for the liturgy as they can be. But then I’ll get an email from a parishioner, or someone will drop by and talk to me, or a friend or colleague will remind me that “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.” (Eccl. 9:11) It’s in relation to the mission and the cross that the moments of Transfiguration happens, when we are allowed to see through the veil of fear, sadness, and mortality to see the greater picture.
Do you think that sounds too bourgeois? Could only a middle-class first-world person write that about the feast? It’s not that it’s about me, but it’s the sense that I matter to the whole reign of God, that I’m part of what makes it whole, and that that message is somehow delivered right in the midst of feeling badly about things. 

I don’t know. That’s how I see it today, anyway. Tabors everywhere. Some are more molehills than mountains, but there’s the sense that, in the midst of the cloud, while my friends are with me, someone is saying, “this is my chosen son.” Note that the “listen to him” has been divinely excised from any oracle surrounding my presence! I’ll settle for being chosen. That is challenge enough for my faith, and sustains it.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

On an Ordinary Sunday

When people in Barrington used to see me out running with the earbuds in my ears, they'd always ask me if I’m listening to my own songs. Help! No! But on Sunday, I do have a special playlist of songs that are a little more reflective, that help me lift my mind and heart to God, as we say. Not all of the songs are overtly religious, some of them just make me smile, but they help me keep Sunday special, as I’m often walking between the 11:00 mass in the morning and my mass and rehearsal that starts at 4:00 p.m., so I can “stay in the zone,” as it were.

Just for giggles, I thought I’d share that list with you. It’s not the entire list, but here are a few of the highlights. (The links at the bottom of the page will take you to iTunes, if you want to hear clips of the songs):

Hymn” by Peter, Paul, and Mary, from the album Late Again. I have adored this song from my high school days, with its gentle reminiscence of a simpler time and simpler faith. I think it’s Paul Stookey singing it, and it just kills me as it keeps coming around to, “all that I could say was I believe in you.”

Mystery,” by Paul Winter, from Missa Gaia. I actually also have my own song “Mystery” in the list as well, the title song from my 3rd album, but this great piece is a hymn to the God who inspires us to wonder and awe from the heart of the cosmos, suffusing everything with the energy of God’s own presence. I can never forget listening to this album for the first time while driving the Pennsylvania turnpike alone on a spring day between a gig in Latrobe in western Pennsylvania and Philadelphia. I nearly drove off the road in the overwhelming beauty of the experience. I also have the song “The Blue Green Hills of Earth,” from the same CD, in the playlist, a hymn written by Kim Oler from the perspective of astronauts coming “home to the blue green hills of earth.”

Stomp” (remix featuring Salt) by Kirk Franklin and God’s Property. Let’s face it, this song just rocks. You can’t stop smiling it’s so dang hot.

Be Thou My Vision” by Van Morrison with the Chieftains. Hello! This is Van singing a song from his childhood, complete with misunderstood and misremembered words, with the accompaniment of the greatest Irish musicians of our time and a tune as old as the Gaels. You gotta love it.

So Help Me God” by Ray Charles. Oh man, this song is awesome, from his CD My World, which I love. The prayer in the text is, “just help me one more time, this time, and I’ll be on the right path forever, I promise!” Of course, we know that we’ve made that prayer so many times, and God keeps answering, knowing how fallible we are. It’s raw and honest. I love it. And speaking of raw and honest, how about “Lord, I Have Made You a Place in My Heart,” by Greg Brown! That deserves a list all by itself, along with his unrecorded version of Iris Dement’s gospel song “He Came Down”, a folkie sermon on kenosis. Yow.

On the Road to Find Out,” “Jesus,” and “Home in the Sky” by Cat Stevens. Enough said. I should write a blog just about Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam. Yes, I will do that.

The Crucifixion,” by Phil Ochs. I learned this song in college when it wasn’t even that old, and in those days, we even used to sing it on Good Friday. By Ochs’s own admission, the song is a lengthy metaphor about the forces that caused the death of the Kennedy’s and Martin Luther King Jr. There are stunning images about the “cycle of sacrifice” running through the song that appeal to my inner Rene Girard these days, but the central verse about the beautiful matador in the bullring still kills me:
The excitement is ecstatic; passion places bets.

Gracefully he bows to the ovations that he gets,

But the hands that are applauding are slippery with sweat,

And saliva is falling from their smiles.

Gosh, I really have to wrap this up, don’t I? “Gotta Serve Somebody,” from Bob Dylan’s incredible Slow Train Coming collection, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” another Dylan song but in the version by Warren Zevon from his deathbed CD The Wind, the  haunting “Letter to Eve” by the wondrous Indigo Girls from the Pete Seeger retrospective Where Have All the Flowers Gone, an anthem of non-violence with a great percussion groove and a refrain that simply chants words for “peace” in several languages, “Oh, oh pacem in terris/Mir, shanti, salaam, hey wa” as it searches for the way back into the garden of Eden.

Wear Your Love Like Heaven,” the version by Sarah McLachlan from her CD Solace. I’m not a huge fan of hers nor of the whole Enya-like new agey genre, but this version of Donovan’s hippie paean to love gets under my skin, and after I listen to it I’m singing it for days. I heard it once in a store while walking around a mall, and couldn’t wait to get home and find out who had covered it so hypnotically. As far as I’m concerned, Sarah McLachlan was born to cover this song.

One of Us,” by Joan Osborne. I’m adding this in an hour after uploading because I should have included it before! We heard this driving through North Carolina a few years ago and couldn’t believe our ears. Had to get it, thanks, KJ, for lending me the CD!

There are too many songs on the list, but I need to mention one more, the song “Sunday,” from Sondheim’s incredible musical Sunday in the Park with George. Along with most of Chicago, I was privileged to be able to see the Art Institute’s show of the works of Seurat, especially the influences and notebooks that led up to his masterpiece, “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte” which hangs in the AIC. Sondheim’s appealing work in this musical is to capture the both the beauty that drives the artist and the techne that moves the artist to capture that beauty in artistically “perfect” ways even when that seems impossible. The pain of “putting it together” with one’s personal life, both in relationships and in financial responsibility, is humorously and achingly caught in the music and lyrics of the songs themselves. But in “Sunday,” for me, Sondheim has caught the thing that catches in my throat as I try to sing it, the desperate embrace of the transcendence of divine beauty and the earthy immanence of the world we live in, the impossible task of the artist, the impossible task of faith, to draw near to what is essentially ineffable, and all with dots of music and color. “Sunday,” as strange as it sounds, almost always makes me cry a little, even though it has almost nothing at all to do with how I spend my Sundays and have for almost all my life. It just seems to suggest the Promethean beauty of the human struggle to describe the Creator, or at least an aspect of the Creator. I’ll leave you with some of those lyrics, and hope that this little insight into my listening habits awakens a desire in you to explore your musical world.

Leave some comments, if you’d like, about what you like to listen to, or anything else my little reflection might have stirred in you!
Order.

Design.

Tension.

Balance.

Harmony.

Sunday,

By the blue

Purple yellow red water

On the green

Purple yellow red grass,

Let us Pass

Through our perfect park,

Pausing on a Sunday

By the cool

Blue triangular water

On the soft

Green elliptical grass

As we pass

Through arrangements of shadows

Towards the verticals of trees

Forever...

By the blue

Purple yellow red water

On the green

Orange violet mass

Of the grass

In our perfect park

Made of flecks of light

And dark,

And parasols:

People strolling through the trees

Of a small suburban park

On an island in the river

On an ordinary Sunday...

Sunday. 

Sunday.


Friday, February 22, 2013

Mother dearest, mother fairest

Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord will be praised. (Prv. 31:30)

Today is my mom's birthday. Scripture notwithstanding, she is charming and beautiful, and she always says to me, "I'm too young to have a son who is (fill in number with scientific notation here) years old." And let me say that I agree with her.

The year of her birth is irrelevant, but she was born on George Washington's birthday. Rather than naming her Georgia or Georgene (!), her mom and dad called her "Martha," and so her odyssey began. Her positive attitude about life has been tested by fire many, many times, and yet her cheerful reaction to adversity, deeply rooted in good old midwestern realism, makes her an inspiration to me and to all of her children. Even a stroke a few years ago hasn't kept her from her church activities, and keeping up with her family. She even came to BOTH of the Phoenix concerts I was able to be part of last year, even though she already knows how I sound!


Mom, thank you for this life that you gave me, gave us, and gave our children (and grandchildren, yikes.) Thank you for singing all the time at home, and getting that old upright piano, and giving Cathy piano lessons so I could look at those books once in a while. Thanks for washing my mouth out with soap all those times, and I'm sorry it didn't take any better. Thank you for that morning back in grade school when we looked in the mirror together and I asked you if I was ugly because that's what I heard at school, and you reassured me over and over that I wasn't. Thanks for the example of how you dealt with adversity, of how you took care of your parents and in-laws, and for the way you always try to have something nice to say about people, not judge people, and lead with such a gentle, cheerful heart. Thank you for teaching us how to be like God. Happy birthday!
Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking,
it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
It crossed my mind to put a link here where you could send her a "happy birthday" note, but if you just leave a comment here or on Facebook (yes, she's groovy enough to be on Facebook, too) I'm sure she'll see it. Back tomorrow with further blitherage.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The iconographer of "cooneytoons"


Gary at the Ponte Vecchio last year
Happy birthday to my brother-in-law and "pal of my cradle days," Gary Palmatier, whom I've known since 1966 and who has blessed my life in ways large and small ever since.

Montebello is a small suburb of Los Angeles near Whittier and Pico Rivera, just east of East Los Angeles, where St. Vincent's Seminary, my high school alma mater, used to be. I say "used to be" because the buildings are still there, but it has long since become an evangelization center, still run by the Vincentians. In the years since the Second Vatican Council, happily, the approach to priestly formation has changed, and rather than keeping kids in homogeneous groupings from the time they are out of the eighth grade until they ordained, the trend has been to let men answer the call to priesthood after they have been through college. But in 1965, along with about 40 other boys right out of the 8th grade, I headed to St. Vincent's to discern my career path with others who thought they might want to be Vincentian priests.


Gary, in our Montebello days.
(not really, it's Wonder Warthog)
In my second year at Montebello, I met Gary when he came in as a freshman. Gary was an artist, and a very fine one, even at that age. He and I became good friends over the next three years. Gary's family lived right in Montebello, two or three miles from the seminary. I had other good friends there who had mercy on me occasionally and brought me home to spend free days (these happened one weekend a month or so), including a friend whom I had known in grammar school and whose family had since moved to Burbank. But most often, I spent these days with Gary and his mother and father. It was in Gary's house that I came to appreciate Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane, and the other great bands of era that were NOT the Beachboys (it was a matter of survival not to be an LA Rams fan like most of my classmates, as well as to avoid most surfer music. The distaste for the music was mostly feigned, however, as the Beachboys had me at "I Get Around" and never let go, even after "Heroes and Villains" became an oldie.) It was also there, in Gary's room at Montebello, I was introduced to the mystical "underground" comic book called  Wonder Warthog, the Hog of Steel, which I came to love even more than Green Lantern and the Justice League. Few freedoms in life will ever compare with the freedom to go out on a Saturday morning and walk the mile or so to the local Winchell’s and have a couple of donuts and hot chocolate. After the sometimes suffocating common life of the high school seminary, these pastry junkets were theophanies, and Winchell’s was Mount Tabor.

Gary was a bass in the seminary choir, I was a 2nd tenor. The director of the choir, David Windsor, also ran a choir school for boys in Whittier, and had a traveling group called the Windsor Boys Choir who had sung for Queen Elizabeth and other dignitaries in annual concertizing trips to Europe. The seminary choir wasn't of the same caliber as the Windsor Boys, but we did sing regularly at Los Angeles churches, especially the old cathedral, St. Vibiana's, and St. Vincent de Paul Church, in downtown Los Angeles. On a couple of occasions, we toured other Vincentian churches, including St. Vincent de Paul in Phoenix. It was probably on one of these trips, or on summer visits to the house, that Gary met my sister Cathy, who was just a year and a half younger than he. Not that I noticed, but they fell in love. 


When Cathy graduated from high school, Gary and she married, in January of 1972. I don't remember much about their life at the time while they lived in Phoenix, but among the surreal pieces characteristic of my memories of Gary, I know that he worked for a while at a chinchilla farm. Later they moved to Los Angeles while he did his alternative service during Vietnam at the Catholic Worker House, and eventually they ended up in Santa Rosa, California, raising their three daughters Renée, Jeannette, and Noelle.

It is Gary's vision and artistry that has produced the covers of my albums over the years. Sometimes I would give him an idea about what I thought the cover might suggest, but most often he would just listen to me describe the music (he would not have heard the music, because the development of the art would be happening while the recording was being produced) and then do a cover piece to suggest the content. He was already doing some experimentation with digital art in the mid-1980's, and though there are hints of it on the covers of "You Alone" and "Do Not Fear to Hope," the cover of "Mystery" (1987) was the first one of mine to really show his design talent. The covers of the two "Cries of the Spirit" collections also showed the range of his ability with digital art.
The cover art for "Christ the Icon" is a mural
which deserves (and will get) a post of its own.

Above and below, the covers for "Cries of the Spirit",
volumes 1 and 2, expressive of their content, the psalms. 

You Alone (1984)

"Do Not Fear to Hope" (1985)

"Mystery" (1987), still one of my favorites.

"Keep Awake" (2000), another one dear to me.

The surrealistic trumpet replacing the sun on "This Very
Morning" announces both Easter and "The Trumpet
in the Morning"

The beautiful original artwork at the center of the cover of "Safety Harbor"

My personal favorite cover, which captured the "vision" of
the collection and the image in the lyric, "one is the breath/
of the star and the rose." (Vision, 1992)

Gary has a commercial art studio called Ideas to Images in Santa Rosa, California, where he still lives with my sister after 41 years of marriage and is enjoying being the grandfather of four! Gary, thank you for everything, especially for your wild sense of humor and generosity. You're one of a kind, and I'm grateful for your presence in my life.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Ten Songs, 1985-2005, part two

Continued from yesterday. I don't know why this kind of thing is fun. I'm certainly not saying these are the only songs that are important to me, but each one sort of represents certain others, and the list could go on and on. But for today, here we go:

5. "The Winter Name of God," J. Michael Joncas, (GIA). I think it's a terrible shame that the current climate of suspicion and retrenchment among some leaders and others in the church has slowed to a trickle the kind of experimentation with text and music that led to the writing of "The Winter Name of God," an original eucharistic prayer by Fr. Michael Joncas. Much is made in this discussion about "organic growth" in the church's liturgy and music, as though what happened after the Second Vatican Council was not "organic" but somehow grafted on, or planted anew after old material was uprooted. How can such a statement be supported by any person of faith? If new life erupts in the church from its living members, is it not organic? Isn't the "organum" of the church's life its people, filled with the Holy Spirit, giving their gifts for the life of the church and in turn having those gifts discerned over time and space by other members of the church in love and good will? It is our great loss that such works are not being encouraged and tried in faith communities.

I heard "Winter Name of God" in Phoenix when Michael was there for something or other, an FDLC meeting or a regional NPM, and we rehearsed at the church where I worked, at St. Jerome. All of us were completely overwhelmed by the depth of our reaction to the words and music of this beautiful Eucharistic Prayer. I wish he would find a way to save it as a communion song or something so it isn't lost until the end of this liturgical Ice Age.

If you don't know this piece, it contains within it a motival "homage" to Huijbers's tableprayer called "To Become Man in People," made all the more poignant (to me) by its dedication to Tom Conry. Rather than becoming too sentimental about all this, you should read some of the lyrics for yourself, if you don't already know them:
Our parents taught us your ancient story,
Filled us with longing for a land where justice reigns:
Bread for the hungry, rest for the weary,
A God compassionate and tender with our pain.
We felt your thunder, saw signs and wonders,
We staked our future that your word was true.
God of the Promise, God of the journey,
We call to you:
We want to thank you, to sing your praises,
To learn to call you by your winter name;
We long to see you, to feel your presence,
To sing your glory in our lives through all our days.
I wish I could quote you the entire song, but at least that gives you a little taste. The words and music together are such an engaging paean to agape through the language of eros, which is about all we have to communicate with, physically speaking. This reminds me, appropriately or not, of Pope Benedict XVI's recent homily to World Youth Day in Germany (2005?), when he described "adoration" in erotic terms, prompting me to go out and buy his encyclical. Here is what B16 said:
"The body and blood of Christ are given to us so that we will be transformed in our turn. We are to become the body of Christ, his own flesh and blood." 
God no longer simply stands before us as the One who is totally Other. He is within us, and we are in him. The Latin word for adoration is ad-oratio - mouth-to-mouth contact, a kiss, an embrace, and hence, ultimately, love. Submission becomes union, because he to whom we submit is Love. In this way, submission acquires a meaning, because it does not impose anything on us from the outside, but liberates us deep within. (Emphasis mine)
I think B16 and JMJ should get along well. I wonder if the pontiff might liberate Michael's prayer from the censores ipsis deputati before his retirement?

4. "Lead Us to the Water," Tom Kendzia and Gary Daigle, OCP. The thing about this fun gathering song is that it helped to sort of break the hold of the ubiquitous 3/4 gospel rhythm in Catholic church music, and reintroduce the lively and versatile 4/4 gospel style with a tune accessible to congregations even without a choir. That, and a text that celebrates baptismal calling and memory, make "LUttW" a song that incarnates exactly what is joyful about the Lenten season.

3. "Uyai Mose" and "We Are Marching (Siyahamba)," collected and arranged by John Bell (Wild Goose Worship Group, GIA). I don't get Taizé music. It might be that I don't worship in a big, resonant building that can sustain those ponderous ostinatos for ten minutes at a time. But I was instantly drawn to the more rhythmic and percussive acclamations and songs written or collected from around the world by the amazing John Bell and his colleagues from Iona. Many of these I was exposed to at conferences like LAREC and NPM, often by John himself. The experience of singing these African chants is a liberating breath of solidarity, reuniting religious experience with a vision of a politically diverse world united in the Holy Spirit. John's gifts to the church are many, his own songs like "The Summons" and "Take, O Take Me as I Am" enrich the musical language of many Christian churches. But these exuberant opportunities to step into the rich musical tradition of African Christianity are the reason I'm including John in this list. Throw in "Freedom Is Coming," and "We Cannot Measure How You Heal," and the Iona catalog is a force to be reckoned with, like the missionary monks who first settled and then spread the gospel from that island.

2. "Glory in the Cross," by Dan Schutte (OCP). For years, we had relied on "We Remember" or "One Bread, One Body" to begin the Triduum liturgies at the Holy Thursday procession. Then one year not too long ago Dan called my wife Terry to sing on a collection he was working on of music for Triduum. It took me a few listenings to realize that the title song was so good. Using three different sets of lyrics, one for each day of the Triduum, Dan has crafted a stately and beautiful tune around a simple refrain that summarizes the Paschal Mystery with an elegance that summons our wonder:
"Let us ever glory in the cross of Christ,
And the triumph of God's great love."
The lyric for Holy Thursday begins with words that harken back to the Introit for Holy Thursday, the "Nos autem gloriari oportet...", "We ought to glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom is our health, life, and resurrection." By the time we got to singing the Easter text the first year we used it on Easter morning while the gifts were prepared, I could barely croak out the words with the rest of the assembly.

There is nothing fancy here; just a solid text that proclaims Jesus Christ and him crucified, and an engaging tune that invites participation from singers and non-singers alike. This is a really good one.

1. "Christ Be Our Light," by Bernadette Farrell (OCP). It is a rare occasion when a sampler CD from Oregon Catholic Press or any publisher stops me in my tracks. But I recall vividly the first time that I heard "Christ Be Our Light," and thinking to myself that this was a liturgical song that was going to be around a while, in the way that has only happened a couple of times in my life (listening to Lord of Light the first time, with "Here I Am, Lord," and "City of God" was another.) Bernadette had a few other songs I had liked and used, notably "God of Abraham" and her lovely setting of Psalm 139, "O God,You Search Me." But this one was different; a cut above. Moving with almost indiscernible ease between the verses set in the relative minor key and the major key refrain isn't such a great musical accomplishment, but the seamless way in which it exposes human need and lack of fulfillment in the verses and the confident plea (or is it an acclamation, or creed, in the ambivalent subjunctive?) of the refrain is a master stroke. This is the kind of song that everyone I know wishes s/he could write: one that is prayerful, accessible, original, and wears well with frequent use.

I think that this may be the best liturgical song written in our time, but I'm not putting any money on it. "Christ Be Our Light" has a lot of august company, and I'm grateful to all those composers whose gifts, given back to the church, have enriched our worship and led us more deeply into the mystery of God in Christ.

That's all for today! Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

10 Songs That Influenced Me: 1985-2005

In the previous book, Theophilus...

When I started this blog last month, some of the first articles I did were about ten songs that influenced my writing in the earliest days of the renewal, between 1965 and 1985. This list will be a follow-up to that, and present ten more songs from the next 20 years. (No, I can't believe it either. I can't even believe I'm writing that sentence.) I'm sure I'll regret this list as soon as I commit myself to it: there were just so many songs in those 20 years! Still, these will be representative, and I hope to tell you why.

And once again, this is a personal list, about influence, not about use in worship. Of course these are not the songs that were necessarily used by me extensively or anyone else during that period. Some very significant songs and composers, even to me, are not represented. That doesn't mean anything of value. It's just that these were special to me. As a courtesy to the composers, I have linked the titles to the publishers' sales pages if you are interested. Where they exist, I also put iTunes links for your listening pleasure.

10. "I Shall Be Living" (Antoine Oomen, OCP; tr. Tony Barr, A. Oomen, and James Hansen) Continuing the Dutch tradition of Bernard Huijbers, Antoine Oomen produced this gem of a song with a text by Oosterhuis in a larger collection of music by several Dutch composers, called Turn Your Heart to Me. Here is a piece of music written for the piano by someone who really knows the instrument, evocative, cascading triplets washing over the melody like a Debussy song, painting with an impressionist's palette the haunting lyric of an eschaton that, somehow, we recognize:
It will be at the breaking dawn, as then.
The stone rolled away.
I have risen from the earth.
My eyes can endure the daylight.
I walk and do not stumble.
I speak and understand myself.
People are approaching me,
We find that we know each other....
Beyond this,
As crystal dazzling and blinding,
The sea that gave back her dead.
We pass the night in each other's shadow.
We are awakened by the light of dawn,
As if someone has called our true name.
I shall be living.
I shall be living.
I shall be living.
© 1979, 1983, 1996 Gooi en Sticht. Excl. agent: OCP.


9. "Justice," Cyprian (Daniel) Consiglio, NALR. I didn't really know which piece of the earlier Consiglio works I should mention, but this seemed as good as any. Better than anyone else, Cyprian was able to integrate the music he heard in the streets and airwaves with the words and emotions of scripture. In "Justice" and a number of other songs, he caught the simmering religious longing for equality and freedom that drives the reggae style of  Bob Marley and paired it with the texts of the psalms and other scriptures, creating dancing musical anthems that inspired thousands of young people in the early days of the nascent "LifeTeen" masses. "Justice" is a setting of Psalm 72, and as good an example of the joyful genre as he composed.

8. "Eucharistic Prayer II", by Marty Haugen (GIA). This is the "Loyola" setting of the prayer, in  one sense a Bauhaus kind of liturgical music: utilitarian, democratic, essentially monodic, though published with the usual assortment of optional instrumental and choral parts. What set the idea apart was that this was a democratic setting of a Eucharistic prayer, a genuinely dialogical setting of a normative liturgical text, in which the sung prayer is shared by the priest, a cantor, and the assembly in a startling and unique way. Marty belongs on this list for the sheer volume and quality of his oeuvre: his Reformation sensibilities and less centralized ecclesiology have been a good fit for American Catholics, who have taken to his music more than any Roman Catholic composer's for the last thirty years or so.

7. "Light in the Darkness," by Michael Balhoff, Gary Daigle, and Darryl Ducote, (Damean Music, GIA) Light In the Darkness - Today This Christmas anthem from the Dameans' album by the same name really stood out from most of the other songs in the collection, though there were some others to like as well, including "In the Stillness" and "O Antiphons." With his proven ability to develop a lyrical idea with simple elegance, Balhoff takes the phrase "Glory to God for light in the darkness" through a prayerful circle of gratitudes for divine action in different times and places. Darryl's Ducote's unerring sense of melody and Gary Daigle's careful harmonizations combine to create a musical chiaroscuro in an unjustly overlooked work that should have become part of the Christmas repertoire of many congregations and choirs. I like this song so much that I asked the Dameans to allow our trio re-record this song on our 2006 CD Today.

6. "On Holy Ground," Donna Peña (GIA).   On Holy Ground - I Say Yes / Digo Si  One of the first genuinely bilingual and bicultural pieces I ever experienced, "On Holy Ground" blew my socks off when I was part of the musical group that performed it for its premiere when it was the theme song of the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress in 1992. Verses in both English and Spanish, with a dialogical refrain that thunders back and forth in a laughing salsa rhythm between the two languages, "On Holy Ground" proclaims a new heaven and a new earth in a sexy Latin rite of spring, announcing the unity of the incarnation and resurrection in a way that simply transcends theological exposition. When you sing "On Holy Ground," you share in the passion of the woman who wrote it and the vibrant faith of the Latin American cultures for whom her music begins to speak.


How am I doing so far? Five more will appear here "soon and very soon." Apologies to Casey Kasem and David Letterman for stealing the countdown-from-ten meme.