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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Calming the Storm (B12O)

The beautiful readings this weekend always remind me of a song I wrote almost 30 years ago called "Safety Harbor." My friends at Old St. Patrick’s in downtown Chicago have sung it in past years on this Sunday as we have. This year, I opted for a different “gospel hymn” for our mass, Tom Kendzia's inviting "Stand by Me," but I'll say a little more about Safety Harbor below.

Sunday, we hear the tiny first reading from Job which is meant to call to mind all the tortured rhetoric of that wonderful book of the Hebrew scriptures. After hearing out Job and his interlocutors for the first thirty-some chapters of the book, God enters into the debate of which divine justice is the center. In what amounts to a beautiful non-answer to the question, “why do bad things happen to good people?”, God makes the case that suffering is part of the divine plan, and that understanding its place in the cosmos is beyond human reason or access. This may or may not be the author's opinion, or s/he might be offended by the injustice of that, and is making the case with the sarcastic enthusiasm of, say, Qoheleth. Be that as it may, in the section that is cogent for today’s liturgy, God asks Job where he (Job) was when God set the boundaries of the sea, and wrapped clouds and darkness around it like a mother wraps a baby. In other words, “shut up, I’ll be God, you be Job.” This will eventually be good enough for Job, who will confess, when God has finished with the divine tongue-lashing four chapters later:

I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be hindered.
I have dealt with great things that I do not understand;
things too wonderful for me, which I cannot know.
I had heard of you by word of mouth,
but now my eye has seen you.
Therefore I disown what I have said,
and repent in dust and ashes. (Jb 42: 2-6)

This little reading, with the psalm of the day (I have substituted Psalm 98, because the "proper" psalm is so rarely used on Sunday), set up our hearing of the gospel pericope from Mark when Jesus calms the storm on the sea of Galilee. Psalms and wisdom literature like the book of Job attest both to God's rule over the waters "above and below" and to the joy the waters know,  in fact, that all of creation knows, in God's rule. So it comes as no surprise that the gospels remember and interpret this communal memory of Jesus as a sign of his divine power. Without dismissing the possibility of a miracle, modern scholars tend to interpret the meaning of the story, that in times of persecution and uncertainly, Christ is “in the boat with us.” Whatever it might mean for Jesus to exercise divine power, we can be assured of the solidarity of Christ, who is with the church in distress, and has suffered the same persecution himself and conquered it by the Father’s reversal of his death.

How does Christ calm the sea? There’s no one answer to that, nothing that is completely satisfactory. But let it be said that when we say “Christ” we acknowledge the communal dimension to divine action that complements the individual comforting we may be seeking. The message in this gospel is always twofold, at least, like so much of the gospel. This dual message is a mandatum that echoes Christ’s command at the end of the parable of the Good Samaritan: Go and do likewise. The gospel message is, as Christ has done for you, for me, in calming the storms of our lives, so let us do for others. The calming of the storms of the world, of the hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned, bewildered, all people, is the work of Christ, which is to say the work of the church. Christ, who is with the church always through the power of the Holy Spirit, sees to it that gifts are given to the faithful to serve the needs of the world. We have to believe that. That’s what it means to be baptized, to be part of the Body of Christ in space and time.

This brings me to the song I mentioned when I started this blog. One of the first workshop-concerts that Terry, Gary, and I gave was in a parish called Espiritu Santo Catholic Church in Safety Harbor, Florida. There wasn’t much memorable about us, I’m sure, we were just starting out. But the name of that town stuck with me, and some months later when I was going through yet another period of writer’s block, Terry suggested that I write something Irish-sounding that we could do in concert. I started to think about it, and remembered the town called “Safety Harbor,” thinking what a good metaphor that was for the church. The song didn’t start out as a sacred song, it was just about friendship and home; but as it went through some revisions as I brought it to Gary and Terry, it became more and more an anthem of solidarity, an allegory about the common life of the church, the church’s relationship to God, and God’s with us. Here’s a YouTube video with the song, and below, the text. I’ll leave you with this, and what we are singing at St. Anne Sunday.

Safety Harbor by Rory Cooney

Sweet vision, Bless my eyes! 

Land upon the western skies! 

Constant stars, I bid you rise over Safety Harbor.

Home, home! At last, becalmed! 

Far behind us screams the storm. 

Tattered canvas waves like arms greeting Safety Harbor. 

From the windows of the tower, where the beacon burns, 

Faithful friends at ev'ry hour watch for my return. 

Yours the calm and peace I claim 

When I face the waves and rain, 

When the searoad calls my name 

Out from Safety Harbor. 

Thru the fearsome, foaming gale, 

When no spirit fills my sail, 

I shall see, tho' sight may fail, 

Lights of Safety Harbor.

Where from windows of the tower, 

Bright the beacon burns. 

Faithful friends at ev'ry hour watch for my return. 

Heart's haven, mem'ry's shore, 

Call me thru the tempest's roar, 

Where the pilgrim sails no more, 

Home to Safety Harbor, 

Where the pilgrim sails no more, 

Home to Safety Harbor.

Copyright © 1989 GIA Publications Inc.

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time at St. Anne:

Gathering: How Can I Keep from Singing (Lowry) I wrote with some ambivalence about this song last year. It's not that I don't think the song is terrific, it's that sometimes it takes me a while to find the place from which I can sing it, should sing it authentically. Of course, the sections most apropos of this Sunday's scriptures are the (modern hymnal) refrain, and references to tumult and gathering darkness. But take a look at the first quatrain of the third stanza, below. The original text of this lovely American hymn may be even more beautiful than the verse-refrain adaptation in most hymnals these days. Someone posted it recently on a listserv - here’s a part of the original text:

My life flows on in endless song;

Above earth's lamentation

I hear the sweet though far off hymn

That hails a new creation:

Through all the tumult and the strife

I hear the music ringing;

It finds an echo in my soul-

How can I keep from singing?  
What though my joys and comforts die?

The Lord my Savior liveth;

What though the darkness gather round!

Songs in the night He giveth:

No storm can shake my inmost calm

While to that refuge clinging;

Since Christ is Lord of Heav'n and earth,

How can I keep from singing? 
I lift mine eyes; the cloud grows thin;

I see the blue above it;

And day by day this pathway smoothes

Since first I learned to love it:

The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,

A fountain ever springing:

All things are mine since I am His-

How can I keep from singing?

Psalm 98: The Lord Comes to Rule (Cooney, OCP) Among the many things that the psalm seems to celebrate is that, the human condition aside, nature never rebelled against God, and so when "the Lord comes to rule" the world, the seas thunder applause, and the rivers clap their hands.

Preparation rite: Stand by Me (Kendzia, OCP) “When the darkness overwhelms me, like a ship upon the sea,/ You who rule the wind and water, Lord,/ Stand by me.” Tom’s lovely song, inspired by an early 20th century gospel song, makes a great prayer and meditation on today’s scriptures, especially when the “me” is all of us together!

Communion: Be Not Afraid (Dufford) “Though you pass through raging waters of the sea, you shall not drown.” The promise of God, through Isaiah, to Israel, finds an expression in today’s gospel story. The key issue is that Christ, and therefore God, is in the boat with the Church. Unless we forget that, we are unafraid.

Recessional: I Am for You (vv 1&3, Cooney)

He woke up,

rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Quiet!  Be still!
The wind ceased and there was great calm.

Then he asked them, "Why are you terrified?”

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