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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Songstories 34: To You Who Bow (GIA, 2014)

I usually don't do "SongStories" posts about songs that aren't totally "out there," both published and available in a recording, but I'm happy to say that someone actually asked me to write one about this song after it was featured at the GIA showcase (with a number of other fine compositions) at the NPM convention a couple of weeks ago. In fact, I was just thrilled in that I scored a rare "trifecta" at the convention in that, for the first time for me, I actually had a song I'd at least co-written at all three of the major publishers' showcases. At the WLP showcase, the company presented a couple of the movements of my Mass of St. Aidan that was revised in 2011 and released last fall, and at the OCP showcase  they presented a communion song I co-wrote with Tom Kendzia called, "One in Love." Really, any of us feels fortunate to have a song in just one of the showcases, but to have one in each is an embarrassment of riches.



The story of "To You Who Bow" starts back on my birthday in 2012, when I turned 60. A lovely gathering of choir members and friends from church had a birthday party at one of our friends' house, and my perennially generous choir gave me, as a birthday gift, a commission to write a song just for them, something suited to their voices and strengths. I think that they were tired of me writing songs for everyone else, and thought they had to get in some kind of a queue in order to get something special. That's not really true, but this definitely had the effect of moving them to the front of the line. I didn't start work on it right away, either. I wanted to get it right, because whatever else might be true, they deserved it.

Detail of the framed "card" from my choir,
detailing the occasion and commission 
If there is a "theme" running through the texts I've written over the last 8 or 9 years, it's something about trying to help reshape the image of God we've inherited from monarchy and haven't shaken off, an image of God derived from power, rather than from the stories of Jesus, the "image of the invisible God," that we get from Scripture. What I've been trying to do is to take what Jesus says and lives about service ("whoever wants to be greatest among you must serve the rest") and present that as an image of God alongside John's "God is agape" and the early Christian hymns quoted in Philippians about the kenosis of God and that in Colossians about Christ as eikon or image of the invisible God. There is so much richness in that vein of imagery that runs through the Christian scriptures that I don't think I'll run out of material for a long time. It was this cluster of scriptural metaphors that I wanted to start from, in any case, and develop into a song.

It's striking when you hear this strain of the tradition sung, because it's so counter-cultural to some main lines of hymnody and even modern praise choruses, which seem to delight (in my limited exposure to them) in praising and much noise-making around the God whom hymn writer Brian Wren described as KINGAFAP, i.e., King, Almighty Father, and Protector. the lightning-wielding, all-seeing, problem-solving warrior who kicks ass and takes no prisoners. You know. The image of the invisible Charlemagne. But a few years ago, I went to hear one of my songwriting heroes, Greg Brown, sing a little concert and a local venue, and he performed a song written by his wife, folksinger Iris Dement. The song was called "He Reached Down," and I was just smitten by the simplicity of the music and the way it wove the story of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery ("he bent down and touched the ground") and the Good Samaritan with the apocalyptic parable in Matthew 25, when the just say, "When did we see you hungry, thirsty, naked" and Jesus replies that whenever they "reached down ... and touched the pain" that they did it for him. This downward movement in those stories from three different gospels is typical of the movement of God in the New Testament, who "came down from heaven" and pitched his tent in our midst. In bending down to wash feet and being buried after the crucifixion Jesus continues the downward arc, and even after returning to the Father, he sends down the Holy Spirit to teach humanity to be like God, to bend down, pour ourselves out in love. 

Anyway, somehow as I was thinking about all this and the song I was trying to write, the "bow" and "bend" image kept recurring, and I began to see the possibilities of a song structure, using different verbs to suggest the downward arc of divine love and matching them to images from scripture, contrasting them with our song of praise, which is "lifted" to the "God who bows." 



A couple of notes about the text: I have always loved the idea in Isaiah that the servant of God is so gentle that "a bruised reed he shall not break." I wanted to contrast that image with a fluid image of divine omnipotence, one that allows for an imagining of God who doesn't necessarily control the destiny of the universe, but is present to its unfolding and whose "power" is hinted at by Jesus's insistence that "the greatest must serve the rest," a redefinition of power. This is why I chose to say that God is one "who know the boundaries of Orion/ But will not break the reed." The other is the one line at which I chose to slightly break the meter in order to perhaps call attention to a traditional nomenclature for God, "Alpha and Omega," i.e., the first and last, after the letters of the Greek alphabet. The line is, "At once the Alpha and Omega," by which I hope to suggest that God's presence and plan isn't linear, a good ending after a rough life, but rather, offers the possibility of the fullness of life no matter how rough things are; not light at the end of the tunnel, but light in the darkness, not a joyful reunion after death, but solidarity ever-present in the difficult journey of life. 

Someone asked me, at the convention, "when would you use this song at mass?" The short answer is that it's a song about the paschal mystery, and so I think it could be used at any mass, anywhere a hymn might be used. The first time we sang it was on the Solemnity of Christ the King. We also sang it on Holy Thursday, and I would use it on Good Friday and Easter, for that matter. For complete transparency, any time the gospel mentions the cross or service or the nexus of the two would be a good occasion. Christmas. Or funerals. When we do Sunday right, and Sunday's celebration is "about" the paschal mystery, the message of "To You Who Bow" is appropriate. We will be using it for August 31, the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, when the gospel, the second part of the "Peter's confession" pericope, is about taking up the cross, losing life in order to find it. We will probably use it again on September 14, the Triumph of the Cross.

Publication note: GIA opted to publish flute, trumpet, and cello parts for the octavo. I also wrote parts for the rest of a string quartet (which are on the recording). If you want a copy of those, drop me an email. Also, the assembly reprint box is not on the octavo even though I think of the assembly as being the main singer in this song. GIA is making it available through their "onelicense.net" division. Please use the reprint box and invite your assembly to sing too!

(Big THANK YOU to Lara Lynch, who took the video above at the convention.)

To You Who Bow page at GIA Publications, Inc. Instrument parts.

To You Who Bow, by Rory Cooney

To you who bow
To you who bend
To you who do not cling to heaven
But unto us descend
You who summon us as servants,
And call your servants friends:
To you we lift our song, 
Love ever new,
O God who bows, we sing our song to you.

To you who teach
To you who heal
To you, the leper's restoration,
The victim's last appeal,
You whose life is sown and gathered
And offered as a meal:
To you we lift our song, 
Love ever new,
O God who bows, we sing our song to you.

To you who weep
To you who bleed
Who dreamed the boundaries of Orion
But will not break the reed
You who sow the end of empire
With tiny, peaceful seed:
To you we lift our song, 
Love ever new,
O God who bows, we sing our song to you.

To you who starve,
To you who thirst,
To you condemned by malice,
Abandoned and accursed,
You who promised to the wretched
The last will be made first,
To you we lift our song, 
Love ever new,
O God who bows, we sing our song to you.

To you, who rise,
To you, our peace,
To you who lead the way before us
Whose spirit binds and frees
At once the alpha and omega,
Whose love shall never cease.
To you we lift our song, 
Love ever new,
O God who bows, we sing our song to you.

copyright © 2014 GIA Publications. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Treasure in Barrington (A17O, Ss. Joachim and Anne)

Sunday we celebrate as a parish our patronal feast day, which actually falls on Saturday. Our pastor (rightly) asked me whether the focus is usually on the saints or on the parish in the preaching, to which I helpfully answered, "yes." Then he asked me to write a few ideas down for the priests in case it might help them compile their homilies. So what you're about to see is some of that, and a little more.

For the last several years, instead of using the readings of the feast day, we've continued with the
readings of Ordinary Time in order to keep the flow of the gospel. This week, for instance, we have the end of the parables discourse that began two weeks ago. The three parables in Sunday's pericope are the treasure, the pearl, and the net. For a number of reasons, not the least of which is the overload of imagery when the longer reading is used, I have once again asked that the deacons and priests read and preach on the shorter version, which only includes the treasure and pearl parables. The ministers wear white, we use the orations from the feast day, use a sprinkling rite at the beginning of the liturgy, and call it a solemnity. So we're working from Solomon's prayer, a section of Psalm 119, and those two parables, along with the continuation of Romans 8 as the second reading.

The Solomon connection is a good one for us, because, according to the Hebrew bible, he built the temple that God would not allow David to build. In fact, Solomon is the temple the God builds, in a sense, the "house of David" that was built from the detritus of David's sin. In one of the readings that is part of the complex of choices for the dedication of a church, God teaches David a lesson about the architecture of creation, and just who is doing the building for whom. As the story goes, in Second Samuel:
"Go, tell my servant David, 'Thus says the LORD: Should you build me a house to dwell in?'
"It was I who took you from the pasture and from the care of the flock to be commander of my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you went, and I have destroyed all your enemies before you. And I will make you famous like the great ones of the earth.
I will fix a place for my people Israel; I will plant them so that they may dwell in their place without further disturbance. Neither shall the wicked continue to afflict them as they did of old, since the time I first appointed judges over my people Israel. I will give you rest from all your enemies.
The LORD also reveals to you that he will establish a house for you. And when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his kingdom firm.
I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever."
When we built St. Anne's new structure for worship that opened in 2000, our pastor (now emeritus) Jack Dewes chose for a "theme" the phrase, "This people is the house of God." You can hear the echoes of the promise to David in that phrase that became our parish motto for the next fifteen years. Sunday's first reading has that story in the background as soon after the passage we hear, when Solomon asks the Lord for the gift of wisdom, he begins construction on the temple that would stand until destroyed by Babylon after about four centuries (with a couple of intervening sackings by Egypt and Assyria.) The lesson here is that humanity can't build a house for the God of the universe, and that if they could, it wouldn't be so adorned that it gave the appearance of a palace. "This people is the house of God," as Paul says in Second Corinthians (6:16), "For we are the temple of the living God; as God said: 'I will live with them and move among them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people.'" Paul is citing Jeremiah 31:33 there, the prophetic tradition after the destruction of the temple emphasizing that it is in the heart of people where God makes a dwelling. So Sunday at communion time, we will be singing, "You Have Built Your House of Living Stones."

The parable of the treasure, in Bernard Scott's interpretation, takes into account the fact that (starting only from what is given in the parable, and some knowledge of property rights in Judea at the time) the person who buys the field is committing an immoral act, buying what he has no right to buy. Scott says that the reign of God can be like that: we can be so thrilled about the possibilities of it that we do things we shouldn't do, like judging other people as unworthy, or forming cliques in the community that shut out the poor (think of the communities of Christianity’s first century that required Paul’s intervention.) Starting from Crossan's insight that the treasure parable is unique in that it begins with the treasure as a random discovery and not as a reward for good behavior, Scott says it’s important to remember that the treasure-finder hid the treasure in the field. If he had a right to it, or if it were really his, there would be no reason to hide it. He's plowing somebody else's field; he's a hired hand. Unlike other “blessing of treasure” stories, we don’t know the moral character of the actor, just what he did. Of course, Matthew clustered the treasure and pearl together because he probably wanted to make a different point than Jesus did!

What David Buttrick says, in Speaking Parables: A Homiletic Guide, is that whatever else is in those stories, it’s not possible to possess the kingdom by some act of treachery, barter, or purchase. It’s God’s reign, not ours - we can only live in it. It’s another argument against the “selling everything” story: if the guy starts spending the treasure, everyone will know he’s a thief. If he sells everything to buy the pearl, he won’t have any money for food and necessities: all he’ll have is the pearl. He’ll be a laughingstock.

“The kingdom of God is a like a treasure…"
“The kingdom of God is like a pearl…”

No matter how wonderful they might seem, we can’t get there from here on our own. They’re God’s gift.

Which brings us to St. Anne Parish and our feast day. The other readings save us from having to try to make sense of these two parables in too short a time.

It’s is God’s gift of wisdom that made Solomon the national memory that he was, the giftedness of wisdom being the point of the story. As in the gospel, we don’t have control over God’s gifts - they’re given to us (usually) unawares, and all we do is surrender to them.

The psalm says, "Lord, I love your commands. For I love your command more than gold, however fine.” In the new covenant of Jesus, the “compassion” and “kind” command of God is that we “love one another as I have loved you.” This is the characteristic virtue of the dominion of God, the treasure and the pearl we so long for.

The second reading continuation of Romans says that "We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called … to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” To be formed by love, and to form by love. This is the Christian life - Jesus reveals what God is like, and by the gift of his spirit invites us into the very life of God. Saints Anne and Joachim, about whom we have literally no historical information including their names, we honor nevertheless as the parents of the one who said, “Let it be done to me according to your word,” and to whom was entrusted the formation of the Messiah. Like us, they are the "living stones" of whom the temple of God is built. Their anonymity is transformed into eternal memory because they surrendered to the ordinariness of their vocation as parents, and taught their daughter the way of God.

Anna and Joachim may be a corrective to our sense of entitlement: without so much as an actual historical record of their names, they hold a place in God’s reign and in human history as the grandparents of Jesus. Everyday people who taught their daughter to be open to God’s voice and to follow the Torah, they opened the doors of history to the Jesus Christ. If Christianity makes us proud or exclusive or seduces us into building up our own kingdom, it has led us the wrong way. But if it teaches us to surrender to love, to be formed by the desire to rely on God and, like God, put the good of others ahead of ourselves, we have been found by God. If we find one another, then, and become a parish, we can start to be a light shared in the neighborhood, the “many brothers and sisters” of Jesus, formed in his likeness. That is how our worship, our very existence, as a parish might be judged: not by the organizations, or the music or liturgy, but by how Barrington was changed. Who was fed, clothed, comforted, taken in, who might otherwise have been forgotten? To the extent that we are servants of the poor, that we "do not cling to godliness" as Jesus did, that we bend down and kneel to wash feet, we are the temple, the house of the living God.

Music for this weekend:
Entrance song: Walk in the Reign, with the summer verses again, this time just verse two.
"O one day we'll know them, the treasure, the pearl,
That brighten our spirits, and stir up our world.
We ache to possess them, the burden that frees:
The treasure of justice, the pearl of God's peace."

Psalm 119: Lord, I Love Your Commands. I set this psalm back in college to its more often-used refrain, "Happy are those who follow in the law of the Lord," but added this alternate refrain at a later date. We recorded it on "Psalms for the Church Year, Volume 4" back in 1991. Because of the tenor tessitura of the whole thing, I lowered the key a minor third, and I think it sings better for our female cantors now. I still can't play it with the jazzy authority of Beth Lederman, but who can?

Gifts: I Found the Treasure, by Dan Schutte. One of the last recordings the St. Louis Jesuits made was a double album The Steadfast Love, which also contained my oft-cited favorite of John Foley's, "The Christ of God." I saw Dan in St. Louis last week, and told him how often we use this song, particularly at weddings, and he said that he couldn't even remember the last time he sang it! It just shows how you never know, once the song is out there, what will happen next, who will like it and use it, and how it will be used. Again, when I arranged his song for strings and flute, I lowered the key from F to Eb, and I'm always happy to unleash its simple beauty on an assembly. Easy to sing, it's inviting melody and flow capture Matthew's fascination with the treasure story (perhaps different from the Master's, but...) and combines it with the confession at the end of John 6: "Lord, to whom can I go? You alone have the words of eternal life."

Communion: You Have Built Your House of Living Stones (see above)

Missioning: either All Are Welcome or Donna Peña's On Holy Ground at the masses with choir or teen group. When the musical forces are available, I love to pull out Donna's salsa anthem, which we used at the dedication of the church back in 2000. It not only recalls that day, and Easter time, and rings with creation and resurrection imagery, but it reminds us of our diversity, that we're richer because of it, and that the whole of us is always greater than the sum of the parts, mostly because when we surrender together to the gospel, God is building the house out of us living stones, and living right here among us.

In addition to the above, two special songs for St. Anne are included in this weekend's song list: Greg Brown's "Canned Goods" about a visit to his grandma's and the memories the food brings, and John Denver's "Grandma's Feather Bed." Happy feast day, church!

 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

NPM 2014: Quite a week

Last week, I attended the 37th annual convention of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians, which was held in St. Louis. It was a homecoming of sorts, since Terry grew up there, and that made lots of time for her and Des available for visiting mom and family. For me, this was probably the most I have ever had to do at one of these conferences, working for several hours a day for all five days of the conference. And back here in Barrington, people thought we were going on vacation!

The National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM) has been a part of my life since 1980-81, which means I've been in NPM longer than I've been out of it. During the first twenty years or so, I attend national or regional conventions most of the time, often on NALR's or GIA's dime, less often in the last ten years or so, but I've gone when possible, especially when I had something to. NPM is an international organization, really, if you go by membership and convention attendance, but it is organized for U.S. musicians, clergy, and educators "to foster the art of musical liturgy."

L-R, Rick Reed, Paul Inwood, me, Mark Wunder, last day
I was privileged to have been asked by the association and Paul Inwood to lead a five-day "institute" for composers and songwriters interested in getting better at the craft; privileged, I say, because the supposition might be that I had something to offer them. Paul Inwood is a well-traveled and distinguished British composer, a member of the original St. Thomas More group of composers with the likes of Chris Walker, Ernest Sands, and Bernadette Farrell, and former director of music at the cathedral of the diocese of Portsmouth. He is a part of the Psallite project, new church music from Liturgical Press written by a collaboration of artists and specifically focused on assembly singing, with or without accompaniment. Since I have some experience of his egregious talent, thanks to annual meetings with him and other composers in St. Louis, I did not hesitate long in saying "yes" to the opportunity, knowing we would all be in good hands.

It was important to me that our institute go really well. Attendees paid an extra fee, nearly $100, over and above the convention registration, to attend, and were committing to skipping every other workshop block for the entire week in order to attend the institute. Paul had the idea that we would use the first day's time block, about four hours, to share our own process and give some input about ways to approach writing texts, set them to music, and perhaps apply some theological insight to the task. We assigned the attendees the task of setting an original Genevieve Glen OSB text and a Grail psalter text, and spent the other 8 hours singing through each of those settings and learning about the craft by some (admittedly hasty) analysis of them as we did. All who submitted works got to hear their pieces sung and played, and received the benefit of some loving mutual critique from colleagues in the same ministry. All things considered, this played out very well.

We used projection for the entire process - no trees were killed in the edification of these composers. On the downside, two projectors were pilfered from our supposedly secure room, and we were finally rescued by using the personal projector of one of the security team who happened to be a St. Louis policeman in real life. I suspect that helped solve our disappearing projector problem.

It was a big convention for the simple fact that it introduced to most of us the new president of the organization, Father Rick Hilgartner, a lovely man and pastor who comes to us most recently from the office of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on his way to a pastorate in Maryland. I was able, on Monday evening, to attend a reception for him in one of the hospitality suites at the hotel and have a conversation with him, and know that he is up to the task of leading the organization with energy, and he seems to have a particular gift and insight about expanding our membership and musical horizons to include more people who do this ministry. It was the first time I had met Rick, but other friends of mine told me that in the months of meetings and interviews leading up to the convention, his name kept coming up in conversation, until finally someone just said, "Why don't we call him?" I have high hopes for the future of NPM.

Two big aspects of any NPM convention, aside from the exhibit hall with its ongoing mini-concerts
with Jerry Galipeau at WLP party
and musical activities and merchandise, are the plenum addresses and musical showcases. In my experience, so much of the inspiration I have derived over the years from NPM come from these events, particularly the plenum addresses which are given by spiritual, musical, and liturgical leaders in the country (and, thanks be to God, these are often packed gracefully into the same people). This year, I was unable to attend all of these sessions beginning to end, though I tried, but I got to hear the brilliant and passionate Jerry Galipeau, the animated, erudite, and pastorally acute Paul Westermeyer, and the beautifully affirming and challenging Fr. Ray East for their entire sessions, and a good deal of Ann Garrido's and Sr. Honora Werner's humorous, gentle, and moving talks as well. They brought to mind the dozens of motivational exhortations we have heard for all these years from NPM stages, helping those of us who have been around a few years to give thanks that we have stood on the shoulders of spiritual giants, and been very privileged in our lives to have done so.

with Tom Kendzia (r)
with David Haas (l)
 Besides the plenum addresses were the showcases, and I was delighted to have scored a "trifecta" in this department, in that some work of mine (at least in collaboration) was presented by each of the three major Catholic publishers in their showcases. The first, on Tuesday, was World Library Publications' event, where, with many other lovely pieces, two parts of my "Mass of St. Aidan" were sung by the attendees. On Wednesday was the GIA showcase, at which was presented my most recent publication from them, "To You Who Bow," which was commissioned by my own choir on the occasion of my 60th birthday in 2012. They wanted me to write them a song, suited to their voices, which was a very touching (and not a little bit intimidating!) thing to be asked. After about six Here is a Facebook link to the performance: I don't know if it's accessible to everyone, but I hope so! Finally, on Thursday at the OCP showcase, the song "One in Love," which I co-wrote with my friend Tom Kendzia was sung by the group. I was sitting about halfway back in the center, and the effect of singing in the midst of such an assembly, with the composer-choir and orchestra accompanying, was such a wash of beautiful sound that I was overcome with gratitude, and again remembered that it was just moments like this that have been sustaining for me in my ministry for so many years.
months, I began writing the text out of a new place I think I was being led to in my spirituality, and with which those who read this blog are probably already aware. It speaks of a God who turns our expectations about what a god is and what a god does upside down by making us consider Jesus seriously from scripture. I'll write a little about this song and our current project another day, but the thrill of hearing it sung by the 1500 or more people gathered for the event, in parts, with oboe, piano, and the brilliant cello of Joe Hebert accompanying, led by Terry, was just overwhelming.

Gary Daigle, me, Marty Haugen
Me, Jaime Cortez, Terry, Ray East
But I'd be lying if I didn't say that a real high point for me of this or any NPM I've attended was receiving the "Pastoral Musician of the Year" award on Thursday morning at the members' breakfast.
Since then, I've had to endure statements like, "you deserve it" and "what took them so long" and "no one is more deserving" and other such hyperboles and adulation, but if you know me, you know that it is a surprise and wonder to me that in a room and national organization of people, any number of whom can do everything I do better than I can, I should be selected to receive this honor. I tried to say, in my remarks after getting the award, that NPM is a valuable asset in our lives as pastoral musicians, one that is responsible for fostering the vocation of liturgical musicianship in my life, helping me to see that my shortcomings aren't the last word, but that my calling is. I have received so much inspiration, vision, and formation from the association over the years, and I really want to see that continue and be passed on as vision to the next generations of pastoral musicians as well. So, thank you to NPM for that great honor, and thank you to my teachers and the parishes who have called me to service for the opportunity to share my gifts.

with Delores Dufner, OSB
receiving the Pastoral Musician of the Year award

At the table with Terry that morning, along with Fr. Rick Hilgartner and Gordon Truitt, were our great friend and colleague Gary Daigle, and my colleague at St. Anne, Courtney Murtaugh. It was at the St. Louis NPM in 1993 that Courtney contacted me about the opening at St. Anne in Barrington. Though we almost never got to meet, we did make contact, and on the weekend which, that year, was the feast of the Assumption, I visited the parish, sat in with the musicians, and was interviewed. Even though they needed someone, the pastor, Fr. Jack Dewes, said that if I wanted the job, they would get along until after Christmas so that I could put some closure to things with my Phoenix parish. The rest is history. It was very special to have Courtney at the table that morning, representing all the great people of St. Anne and my wonderful choir. Coincidentally, completely coincidentally, a song that I wrote for Fr. Jack's 40th anniversary of ordination, "Heart of a Shepherd," was the communion at the convention liturgy. Maybe there really aren't any coincidences?

I'm going to link, for archiving sake, a couple of videos on YouTube. One is a panel I took part in that was sponsored by Fr. Anthony Ruff's PrayTell blog, hosted by Nathan Chase who is running the blog while Anthony is on sabbatical. The topic was the effect of Pope Francis on liturgy and music, and I was delighted to be able to share that time with Sister Kathleen Harmon and Paul Inwood.


The other video was taken by the omnipresent Alyssa Bellia, who posted a number of interviews to the NPM Facebook page. She did a brief interview with me after the award breakfast. Watch it if you want to find out what my favorite ice cream is, at least, the only flavor not vanilla I could imagine eating at 9 o'clock in the morning.



Thank you, NPM, for a lot of years of inspiration and motivation, for helping us "claim your art," and for teaching us, little by little, how to sing the good news.

Some related posts:
Acknowledging Impostor's Syndrome
What a Liturgy Director Doesn't Do
The Privilege of Our Calling
So You Think You Want to Write Liturgical Songs - Part one - Part two
Prophets and Martyrs for a New World

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The field of God's dreams (A15O)

"Lavish."

I will never be able to hear the parable of the sower again, ever, without hearing John Gallen speak about it. He brought it up often in his homilies and spiritual talks, and it was always with a single message: it's about the Sower. We tend to focus on the various kinds of ground in the parable, but the thing is, the parable is about the reign of God—God is sowing it everywhere, and doesn't care where the seeds fall. The "lavish" Sower wants the earth to bring forth the grain, and tosses the seed everywhere so that it can have its day.

I rarely advocate for the short version of the scriptures, when two are offered, but I recommend to our presiders and deacons that we use the short version of the gospel for this Sunday, the parable of the sower. The short version is just the parable–it doesn't have the "explanation" of the parable attached. According to many scripture scholars, it is most likely that the explanation does not originate from Jesus but from the redactors or editors of the gospel The explanation of the parable narrows its field of meaning and even possibly gets us off track from the intent of Jesus, reducing it to an allegory. It is an important parable in the great schema because it appears in all three synoptics and the gospel of Thomas, with the Mark version probably being closest to the original. The parable focuses on the divine initiative and lavish gift of the reign of God; the explanation focuses on the response of the ground. One might argue - “hey, if I'm rocky ground, I was made that way.” Anyway, the parable itself is much more, well, parabolic, and allows us to concentrate on the important aspect: the reign of God is God's work, and it is being sown everywhere. Also, and perhaps more importantly, “failure, miracle, and normalcy” are all part of the way the kingdom operates. In the beautiful conclusion of Bernard Brandon Scott,
"In failure and everydayness lies the miracle of God's activity. The accidents of failure are not exploited for their possible moral overtones, but are coordinated with the harvest. The hearer who navigates within this triangle can experience God's ruling activity under the most unfamiliar guises, even among prostitutes and tax collectors–in the everyday... Both the ordinary and the unclean belong to the miracle of the kingdom. The kingdom does not need the moral perfection of the Torah nor the apocalyptic solution of overwhelming harvest." (Hear Then the Parable, Bernard Brandon Scott, © 1989 Fortress Press)

May I just suggest, if you are looking for a terrific book on parables, one that will help get your mind clear of the moralistic and allegorical way we westerners hear them, get hold of Scott's book. It will see you through these Matthaean parables and the rest of them, and help put the parables back in the mouth of the Jewish storyteller who used them.

I love this section of Matthew, with its cluster of kingdom parables one after another, each one bringing new light and meaning to our search for the reign of God. It’s going to be a good month. Here’s what we’re singing Sunday:


Gathering: The Reign of God (Like Farmer's Field) is S. Delores Dufner OSB's beautiful hymn text paired with MCKEE, which most of us have sung forever with the words "In Christ There Is No East or West." It picks up images from several of the parables that we will hear over the next few weeks so bears repeating. It was not only a pleasant surprise that the editors of Gather Third Edition included it, but included it with two verses that I hadn't seen printed in missalette incarnations of the hymn.

Responsorial psalm:  Psalm 65 You (GIA octavo) I’m fairly certain that I wrote this for the same Sunday in 1993. The lectionary antiphon, “The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest” puts, it seems to me, too much emphasis on us and not enough on God, the sower. So I wrote a longer antiphon that focused on the sower when I wrote my metric paraphrase of Psalm 65:
You, you visit the earth; you make it fruitful, you make it bloom.

You, your rivers overflow, spilling to earth in the rain.

You call forth the grain.

To you belong the sowing and the harvest,

To you alone the rainfall and the sun.

We will praise your name,

You have staked your claim on the fierce and stony landscape

Of the human heart. 

by Rory Cooney © 1993 GIA Publications

We took the title song from the album we recorded that year, Stony Landscapes, from this song.

Preparation Rite: Open My Eyes (Manibusan) Jesse's well-known little gem of a song helps us to see, hear, and love in a new way. In the context of today's scripture proclamation, I hope it is a response to the invitation re-imagine the world in the reign of God.
Communion:  Within the Reign of God (Haugen) One of Marty's many great communion songs, this one from his gospel musical based on Luke, The Feast of Life. The connection to this section of Matthew, with its cluster of kingdom parables, will, I hope, be obvious!
Closing: Walk in the Reign (octavo) I wrote this song for Advent in 1989, the beginning of a Matthew year, so I wanted to highlight the aspects of the emerging reign of God that appear in the advent Sundays, the familiar verses corresponding to the four Sunday of Advent, with a bridge employing the direct address to Bethlehem and its projected inferiority complex:
Bethlehem! You think you’re so small

That God doesn’t notice your children at all?

But Bethlehem is all of us who don’t think that God-with-us can really mean “us,” who don’t think that God can notice us with all our silly little issues and problems. Anyway, later that year I wrote a couple of verses so that we could sing the same song in the summer as we reflect on these parables and their meaning, and so I included them in the octavo. I love using “Walk” in the summertime, and singing these verses about the emerging reign of God:
A sower is planting in acres unseen

The seeds of the future, the field of God’s dream.

Those meadows are humming, though none sees them rise:

The name of the sower is “God of surprise, the God of surprise.”


Oh, one day we’ll know them, the treasure, the pearl,

That capture our spirits and brighten our world.

We ache to possess them, the burden that frees:

The treasure of justice, the pearl of God’s peace, the pearl of God’s peace.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Revisiting "lex orandi lex credendi"

Or, as others might put it, "De lege orandi-credendi disputandum est."

This probably falls in the "angels dancing on pinheads" department, but I wrote all this down a while back, and thought you might like to read about it as well. Some of the insights below came via Christian McConnell, professor of liturgy at University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto. Chris is the real deal, and he humors my musings here and elsewhere with both corrective and supportive comments. I may be fiddling with words while Rome burns the historical foundations of the liturgical tradition, but this is just a blog, after all, and one deserves a little latitude.

In the years of the North American Forum on the Catechumenate, we tried, as experienced practitioners in the ministry of Christian Initiation of Adults in the Catholic church, to empower others charged with the same ministry but perhaps with less background in the rites and their theology, to develop the tools to be good ministers of initiation by experiencing the rites and reflecting on them catechetically. In other words, we told them "don't do unto others what you haven't done unto yourself," then we helped them experience the dynamics of initiation rites and then reflect on them as “first theology,” the prayer of the church. In traditional theory, to experience the prayer of the Church, that is, to be immersed in the divine liturgy which is suffused with the presence of the Holy Spirit and the Logos of God in the scripture and activity of the baptized as we join in the eternal prayer of Christ, is to be shaped by the action of God, conformed to Christ, the logos incarnate, who is kenosis and agape.

All of this is based on an ancient theological principle that is simplified in the phrase lex orandi lex credendi. This Latin aphorism means, literally, “the law of praying is the law of believing.” Translated into English, the principle tells the basic truth outlined above: prayer (and particularly and par excellence the liturgy) shapes belief. One doesn’t take the beliefs of a person, or a group, or the world and make them into a rite, but rather one submits to the rule of the ritual, in this case initiation ritual, and is shaped by it. Behind this principle is the promise of Jesus to be present to the Church “wherever two or three are gathered in my name,” as well as the faith of the Church that the sacraments had their origin in the life and habits of the Messiah, and grew organically among his disciples into the liturgy we have today through the practice of the apostles and the Church in the earliest decades of her existence. That’s all by way of some background.

At many Forum gatherings (and I suspect at other catechetical meetings as well) the phrase lex orandi lex credendi was expanded to include lex vivendi and then lex agendi, that is, the law of life (living) and the law of action (doing).Those who make these kinds of presentations are trying to expand the meaning of the original phrase to more clearly express the truth that lex credendi is not just a matter of intellectual assent to a body of truths, but a way of living, a pattern of action. You know, if you read this blog, that this might have pushed a button in me, the “faith” button, the place where I bristle when people suggest that faith is a matter of intellectual assent, that platonic sense that “knowledge is power,” rather than “knowledge is possibility.” I believe in Forum's model, really the RCIA model, of  "apprenticeship-to-discipleship." This model of initiation holds fast to the truth that Christians are made by other Christians, that God’s gift of faith is nurtured in community, and that it includes not just introduction to the truths of Scripture and tradition, but walking with other Christians in communal solidarity, prayer, and service to the world. This four-sided dynamism of kerygma, leiturgia, koinonia, and diakonia has its origin in the Acts of the Apostles, and it is along the trajectory of all four of them that candidates for initiation are discerned to be moving toward the sacraments at every ritual stage of their journey. What struck me was that by excising vivendi and agendi from the equation, we might be contributing to the misunderstanding of credendi as meaning “what we do about faith with our heads,” that is, taking life and action out of the meaning of “credo” where they belong. As I’ve stated before (and I tried to find my first post on this to prove it, but navigating through all those pages turned out to be looking for a needle in a haystack), belief is more related to love than it is to knowledge, even in its etymology. Credo, “I believe,” in the Latin, is a portmanteau verb created by the evolution of the words cor (heart) and do/dare (to give); that is, to believe is to give one’s heart to, not just one’s head, and the heart here is a synechdoche for the whole person.

Once I brought this issue up to my non-Forum friends on an internet list, and ask what they think. J. Michael Thompson, a wonderful musician and former seminary professor, pointed out that “lex orandi lex credendi” is a shortcut catchphrase for a longer statement by the anti-Pelagian scholar Prosper of Aquitaine, a contemporary and disciple of St. Augustine, to the effect that “legem credendi statuat lex supplicandi”, which more clearly articulates who’s zooming who here: the law of prayer legislates the law of belief. It’s not so much an equation (lex orandi = lex credendi) as a statement of the true order of things. Popular or even theologically sophisticated belief does not shape prayer, but vice versa. In a way, it is saying in theological language what the Directory for Catechesis says about the influence of parents on children’s faith, that parents are the first or primary catechists of their children. This is not a law: it’s a fact. It’s not burden the church imposes on parents: it’s the natural way of things. Kids learn from their parents. Jesus learned to be a good Jew from his mother and father. He might have learned other details later in life that were also important, but how to live as a Jew, the prayers, habits, rites, world view, practice of justice, all of that, he picked up from Mom and Dad. And so do we. Similarly, mother Church teaches us, through the community’s prayer life, how to live as Christians. The sense is that, as long as we keep remembering who we are, keep listening to the self-revelation of God in the scriptures, keep using real stuff – bread, wine, water, meal, oil, songs, gestures, color – to signify God’s presence, we won’t stray too far from the truth. When we start making it up, doing our own thing based on what “we” believe in, we’ll be in dangerous waters. (Don’t get me started on “making it up” again; we’ll be here all night!)

So I brought up my concern to others. I wondered whether the lex vivendi lex agendi business was part of the tradition, and it clearly is not. It’s an accretion used by contemporary scholars to make a two points: one, that liturgical prayer (orandi) precedes catechism in its role as shaper of Christians, and two, that life and action (vivendi and agendi) are elements of faith (credendi). But if they are elements of faith, why distinguish them from faith by using new Latin words for them, as though they were principles from some greater, more ancient authority? That is really bugging me. By our use of those words, aren’t we actually contributing to the dichotomy? By saying they’re distinct, aren’t we saying they’re different? At a time when we ought to be reconciling and integrating, are we making distinctions that aren’t helpful?

Chris McConnell went so far as to point out that the quote from Prosper is truncated from the original, which is part of a conditional phrase introduced by the connective ut, so that Prosper is saying we ought to pray in a certain way in order that the law of prayer might legislate the law of belief (this explains the subjunctive statuat in the phrase, too). McConnell makes the point that, in a sense, while Prosper seems to admit that prayer shapes belief, his actual statement is arguing for prayer in a certain way in order to shape belief—he’s arguing against the liturgy and prayer of the heretical Pelagians! Chris, who is nothing if not passionate about the liturgy and the God who enables and sustains it, wrote further to me:
I think it's worth noting that when people have hashed out the lex orandi/lex credendi thing, I don't think the content of orandi and credendi even pertained to the point they were making. It was all about the direction: which way does it go? Which one is built on the other? They were trying to rectify the tendency to think that liturgy has to be built on doctrine, a major Reformation and Counter-Reformation assumption. But they got a little carried away with thinking it was unidirectional the other way. That's starting to fall apart now.  After my initial attempts to work through that stuff, I came to the conclusion that theologia prima and theologia secunda can be salvaged, but lex orandi -> lex credendi is rightly dying a natural death. It's just untenable. It's a dialectic between the two, both ways, and everyone will admit it when you bring it up, even while they continue to try to hold on to it.

He’s talking about liturgical prayer as primary or “first” theology (theologia prima) versus what we traditionally think of as theology, which is a reflection on mystery, fides quaerens intellectum, faith seeking understanding, but after and because of an experience of mystery that animates faith in the sacraments.

So what? My gut instinct is to say that we ought to lay off expanding the lex orandi lex credendi principle for two reasons. One, it’s intellectually dishonest, since we’re treating modern additions to an ancient principle unfairly by retrofitting them with Latin and making grammatical parallels. It might even be misusing the original principle, when we look back at Prosper’s original statement. (However, as I write this, I certainly don’t dispute the possibility that Prosper was rearticulating a principle that already existed by the end of the fourth century when he was active.) Two, it tends to further the disintegration of the truth that credere, to believe, is an action of the whole person, mind, body, spirit, heart, and fortune. To separate "to believe" into parts, as though it were possible to genuinely believe in parts, or that we’re divided into parts as persons somehow, is to dis-integrate faith, and to contribute to the very misunderstanding about tradition that we’re trying to correct! Belief is a matter of love. Creed is a way of giving one’s heart, which is to say, one’s whole self, over to a way of imagining the world with God as its caretaker, heart, and breath. All I wanted to do here was get my concern down in words, and at the end of it, I guess I’m not sure of the value of the effort. But I’m grateful for the people who have made me think like this, and in whose footsteps I walk as I negotiate the trails of the kingdom with you and the rest of the people of God.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Come to Us (14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A)

I’m so far behind! Trying to keep up with work in the parish, prepare for NPM, keep an eye on Composers' Forum work and pay attention an hour or two a week to my home life has left me spinning this summer, and there's no end in sight until maybe the last week of this month. I love writing, but I hate writing on a deadline. I feel it ought to be a leisurely activity, especially this kind of blog writing, you know? Reflective, so there's a chance of a payoff for the person who finds it worth reading!

The two threads that struck me the hardest preparing for Sunday are captured in these texts:
Praise and thanksgiving; i.e., vertically right relationship. 
From the psalm:
I will extol you, O my God and King,

and I will bless your name forever and ever.
Every day will I bless you,

and I will praise your name forever and ever.

From the gospel:
I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
 for although you have hidden these things
 from the wise and the learned
 you have revealed them to little ones.
 Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.

Humility and meekness, horizontally right relationship.
from the first reading (Zechariah):
See, your king shall come to you;

a just savior is he,

meek, and riding on an ass,

on a colt, the foal of an ass.

He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim,

and the horse from Jerusalem;
the warrior’s bow shall be banished,

and he shall proclaim peace to the nations.

from the gospel:
Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,

for I am meek and humble of heart;

and you will find rest for yourselves.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.

Of course, you have to spot me too the almost un-Matthew-like eikon saying in the gospel:
No one knows the Son except the Father,

and no one knows the Father except the Son

and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.

I'm almost certain that I've mentioned in another post that I once heard Fr. Richard Fragomeni of CTU call the lectionary a "new canon" of scripture. Certainly that's a dramatic way of saying something we know pretty well, having lived with this book of readings for a couple of generations now, that is, that it represents a particular way of looking at scripture. The readings of the Sunday lectionary, at least, reflect on and echo each other in ways that are often just alluded to in the actual texts, and help us with less knowledge of the texts hear some of the echoes in the words that we were intended to hear by the writers and editors of the sacred texts. My advice to pastoral musicians and composers especially is to know the context of the pericope (the liturgical passage) within the whole gospel, read a commentary, and read the footnotes in your bible! 

Today's gospel is a good example of this. With the references to revelation to children and joy and an easy yoke, we might miss both the context of this passage in Matthew and perhaps a wider field of meaning when it is heard in the context of the reading from Zechariah. I would say that if we listen to the gospel on Sunday without considering the first reading and psalm for context and subtext, we run a good chance of missing the point of the gospel alone, because it's as part of a whole that the gospel was intended to be heard liturgically. 

That reading from Zechariah will be used later by Matthew to shed the light of meaning on the arrival of Jesus on a donkey on what we call Palm Sunday. This late entry into the prophetic tradition denies the mimetic violence that underlies the imperial hopes of Israel after the exile. The prophet insists that the messianic king will not be astride a warhorse and enter breathing threats of violence, but will enter the city riding on a beast of burden, banning weapons of mass destruction, and proclaiming peace to the nations. Jesus says in the gospel, “Come to me, I will give you rest.” Jesus (whether you choose to recognize him as king or not is immaterial) is like the king in Zechariah, an anti-king, if  you will. He is a king whose kingdom is “not like those of this world,” a living sign of the empire of God, whom Jesus reveals. Rather than announcing a way that is full of burdensome laws and restrictions, the gospel of God’s empire is written upon the heart; its yoke is easy, it is a light burden, it is the fulfilment of our humanity. Empire is hard and dangerous work: threats and violence lead to more threats and violence, it's expensive work, paid for with life that cannot be redeemed. The way of Jesus and Abba does not go down that road. Without the first reading and gospel, without knowing the gospel context of the rising tension with the Jerusalem elite, we will almost certainly overspiritualize the gospel today.

No wonder Jesus bursts forth with praise and thanksgiving to Abba for revealing this truth among the simple, among whom he includes himself, “I am meek and humble of heart.” He knows who he is: not that he is God, but that he is a human being, a creation of the divine. Yes, he is our God, and we know the rest of the story, but Jesus himself cannot have known that he was God, or he could not have been fully human. We cannot believe, can we, that Jesus was just pretending to be human? That is heresy. He was fully human, and felt it, and knew it, and gave thanks for it. So we sing with him, as we sing the responsorial, “I will praise your name, my king and my God.” But what kind of king? One who rides a beast of burden, and proclaims peace to the nations.

Gathering:  Come to Us (Gather #842, published by OCP) This is one of my compositions, originally on the record and cassette (yes, record) Do Not Fear to Hope, from 1985, which some people still think of as my best work (I really, really hope not, but I’m glad people like it.) I actually wrote this song after a homily on a summer Sunday probably in 1984, a homily by Vernon Meyer, a St. Louis transplant who became incardinated in the diocese of Phoenix and eventually the third pastor I served with at St. Jerome. He also taught scripture at the diocesan higher education center, the Kino Institute. As often happens in my songs, the lyric transfers the words of Christ more explicitly to the lips of the assembly, that is to say, it tries to allow us to sing who we really are, the body of Christ. I'm also happy to promote, however self-servingly, a beautiful new arrangement by Patti Drennan at Hope Publishing, for choir, piano and flute.

In the words of the great American preacher William Sloane Coffin, “It is one thing to say with the prophet Amos, 'Let justice roll down like mighty waters,' and quite another to work out the irrigation system.” To sing a song like “Come to Us” means that we don’t just say, “Go to Jesus, and he will give rest for your soul.” It says, “Come to us, we are the people Christ made through the Holy Spirit by our baptism. There is rest here among us, we can share the yoke with you.” My fellow parishioners at St. Anne make this come alive every day of the year at our local resale shop ("House of Hope") and used to add a massive annual “Annie’s Attic” garage sale, raising over $125,000 for the poor in the Ministry of Hope at the parish. Come to us, indeed. And thanks be to God.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 145 I Will Praise your Name Gather, Haas

Preparation Rite:  Only In God (Gather, John Foley) When a song uses “God” and “only” in the same sentence, it is pretty sure to be delivering the right message. We tend to be at least mildly Pelagian as American, we pull ourselves up, we think, by our own bootstraps. We help other people, we don’t need help ourselves. Songs like “Only in God” set the record straight. All good, every good thing, originates in God. The distribution rights are in our hands; the only thing we can do wrong is hold on tight and forget where they come from.

Communion:   Come to Me (Gather, Joncas), to iterate in the communion procession the beautiful words of today’s gospel, to remind us the kind of God we are being made into by the gift of the Holy Spirit in the eucharist.

Sending forth: Joyfully Singing (Balhoff, Daigle) or On Holy Ground (Donna Peña). Donna's great song is harder for us to pull off in the summer because of our reduced numbers, but it's worth the effort when the choir forces are there! Otherwise, we'll end with a perennial favorite at St. Anne's, the Dameans' aptly titled "Joyfully Singing" from their Morning to Night collection, mysteriously and undeservedly dumped from the current incarnation of Gather Comprehensive. Another eye-roll to the heavens and church music gods.