A Red State Mystic.

"Mysticism is the art of union with Reality." Evelyn Underhill

Andy

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February 11th, 2011

Friends,

I am in the process of moving "A Red State Mystic" over to the home at Wordpress. Please adjust your bookmarks accordingly to its new address:

http://aredstatemystic.wordpress.com/

I will keep this Livejournal open indefinitely, so I can keep in touch with several friends who still blog here. I will check my friends' page once a day!

See you at the new place!

YSiC,
AF

January 26th, 2011

(Note: Here is a favorite little post of mine from a few years ago on what it means to be liturgically appropriate in the Episcopal Church. The moving of the Font at St John's has not been a controversial decision. I use it here only to make a point.)



A FEW WEEKS ago, I had the priviledge to overhear a conversation between someone who had recently started attending St. John's and someone who had been going there since Jesus was crucified. The topic was the Baptismal Font, which was moved recently to the back of the Nave and is now filled with Holy Water. The newcomer says, "I'm so glad they've moved the Font back to its traditional place; where God intended it to be." (Obviously listening to me and my ilk entirely too much). The older member responds, "No, that is not the traditional place. The font has always been in the front!" They both look at me, encouraging me with their eyes to give an opinion. I look down -- a reflex from my Baptist days (when sh*t goes down, so does your head. Do not make eye contact, lest anyone think you want to change the color of the carpet in the Sanctuary from deep red to blue). This conversation was much more cheerful than the ones from my Baptist days and they both went onto another topic.

THE IRONIC THING, of course, is that they both are entirely correct. The newcomer used the word traditional to invoke the ancient practice of the Church, which was to have the font by the door, (because you enter into the Church through Baptism). The not-so-newcomer used the word traditional to invoke the fact that for as long as she has been a member, the font has been up front. It was up front for her baptism and for her children's baptisms. They were both correct in both uses.

WHICH, OF COURSE, begs the question (maybe it doesn't, but this is my blog and I say it does), what is liturgically appropriate for Episcopalians? Legally, all that is required is the actual text of the Prayer Book and the rubrics (I think the Canons might say a little bit, but not much). Really. That's all that is liturgically "appropriate" for an Episcopal Church. This is marvelous because it leaves everything from a Mass that feels, smells and sounds like the Tridentine version to the lowest-of-the-low Churches with their handmade stoles and clergy shirts. The words are and should be the same at both, but everything else is just ephemera, legally speaking.

WE ARE NOT Romans, for heaven's sake! They have The General Instruction on the Roman Missal, which is a guidebook on everything from the position of the Priest's hands, to Church furnishings, to how long a pass-the-peace hug can be before it gets awkward (3 seconds, by the way [that was a joke]). The GIRM carries with it enough authority that at least Fr. Joe can say, "No, this is how it should be" and throw the book at the offenders. But, even the GIRM not always followed in Roman Catholic Churches. I'm not sure if the Orthodox have something similar because their services confuse and hurt my head.

ANGLICANS HAVE NO such luck. We have no book to throw at the offenders' heads. Yes, even though there are a plethora of Anglican Liturgical Manuals, they are not legally binding. Dennis Michno's A Priest's Handbook seems to be the most common Ceremonial in Episcopal Churches. If the medieval practice in England is your inspiration, there is Percy Dearmer's A Parson's Handbook. If you think that the Tridentine Mass was damn near perfect, there is Ritual Notes, which adapts the text of the Prayer Book to imitate its Roman counterpart. There are even Churches that use The General instruction on the Roman Missal. Your Church can write its own, for heaven's sake! Or, you can do what we do: we do it this way because we have always done it this way. All of these only have authority when it is given by the Church. For example, when training the Acolytes, they could refer to pages in Ritual Notes or whatever.

YOU CANNOT THROW a book at an offender, however unfortunate that may be. Some days it is VERY unfortunate! At least legally speaking, Episcopalians cannot say that some things need or should be done this way or that way. Of course, your over-opionated laity who likes to engage in some "backseat vicaring" will do this no matter what, yelling their concept of "Tradition" at each other. Lord knows I do this worse than anyone else. Again, apart from the text of the Prayer Book (et. al) and the rubrics therein, there is nothing that should or should not be done in an Episcopal Church.

HERE AGAIN THAT pesky old question comes back: what is liturgically appropriate for Episcopalians? Is it appropriate that the Font was moved to the back of the Nave? Does God really intend it to be there? Should it have remained up front and dry, except for when a baby's head hovers over it? Which Tradition do we appeal to: what's done here; what's done there; what some Parish in the late eighth century in East Anglia did; or what did the Romans did? Why do we do what we do and with what authority do we do it?

THIS IS ALMOST the exact same question that theboynamedfred posed in his response to my response on the Roman Option:
"Mr. Ford offers the classic suggestion of the majority of Anglicans - work it out. Pray, feed the hungry, clothe the poor, engage in social justice, and so on. The attitude is very commendable; in fact, the inertia of this proposition arguably could be what has sustained the Church of England for almost five hundred years . . . Now, however, that the English Church is unsure about so many issues, it finds itself faced with the question all 'doers' must address: why are we doing this?"
Why do we do what we do? Why do we move the font to the back of the Church? Why do we begin every Mass with the Collect for Purity? Why do we cross ourselves? Why do we feed the poor? Why do we fill the font with holy water? What is the end of all these things? What is their purpose? This is a valuable question, no doubt. It is one that all doers and hearers of the word must address.

BOTH LITURGICALLY AND morally speaking, I do not believe our answer is in imitating Tradition (which can be pesky, as seen above). Our goal should not be to be like the Medieval English Church, the Roman Church or even St.-John's-in-the-Kennedy-Administration. No, this is not our end. This is not why we pray. This is not why we give cups-of-water in Christ's name. This is not why we move Fonts. Though the result may look very similiar to what Christians have done for centuries, it is not our end. It is not our purpose to "ape" them.

THE PRAYER BOOK Catechism gives this answer:
Q. What is the mission of the Church?
A. The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.
THIS IS WHY the Font was moved (at least, for me). It was not moved because it was traditional or biblical. Yes, those answers are fine and good, but they are not enough. The font was moved as a constant reminder that Baptism is an outward and visible sign of unity with God and each other. That the sacraments are certain means by which we receive grace: that is, the grace of union with God. The Sacraments are given to us for this very end. Walking by a font that is filled with holy water reminds us that we set apart for union with him, as the Prayer Book puts it, Christ's own forever.

THIS RESTORATION OF unity with God and each other goes by many different names: the Mystics would call it "union with Reality." The Benedictines would call it the "amendment of life;" and our Orthodox brethren call it deification or theosis. This is our purpose: to become one with the Divine, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Of course, this is not only our ultimate end, but also the reason for our life here on this earth. This is why we do works of mercy and try to walk as humbly as we can. This is why we pray. This is why we submit to authority. This is why. This is why.

LITURGICAL APPROPRIATENESS SHOULD facilitate or at least point to this end. Tradition (whether it be from a millennia or fifty years ago) will lead to this. But we do not aim for being Traditional or aim for being appropriate or even aim for being pretty. No, we aim for the heart. To shoot for anything less would be to cheapen the Cross of Christ and rob us of awareness of the Kingdom of God.

AND THEN, WHAT would we be?

January 17th, 2011

(Note: As some of you might recall, I spent the Summer of 2008 working as an intern at The Episcopal Church of the Holy Comforter in Atlanta. You are most welcome to read my nine updates that I wrote while working in that blessed Mission. Not a week goes by that I do not think about it or send up a prayer for them. What follows here is a re-post of something I had written while I was in the ATL and it is most appropriate for Martin Luther King, Jr Day.)

"Almighty God, who by the hand of Moses thy servant didst lead thy people out of slavery, and didst make them free at last: Grant that thy Church, following the example of thy prophet Martin Luther King, may resist oppression in the name of thy love, and may strive to secure for all thy children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen." Lesser Feasts and Fasts: 2006.



I PRAYED AT the tomb of Martin Luther King, JR this afternoon. There, in one-hundred-degree weather, standing by the rank water of the reflecting pool, I stood at a distance and prayed to the man who many consider a Saint (the TEC does). What I prayed there, I suppose is best left between my God, that Saint and myself. Other than St. Thomas Becket, this was the only grave of a martyr that I have been to (And I visited Canterbury as a disgruntled Baptist and therefore didn’t appreciate it as I should have). As with most martyrs, it is not the death itself, but the principles that caused the death of the martyr that always impresses me. And the inspiration to those principles that arises from their death.

THEN, THERE IS my beloved Episcopal Church. It is true, I do love it: its traditions, its via media (that it is both Catholic and Protestant), and its ability to leave most things aside and come to the Table of the Lord. For being the self-proclaimed Church that “welcomes you”, many in the Episcopal Church do a terrible job at it. There are the uber-Liberals who would welcome the notorious and unrepentant sinner without batting an eyelash, but who would thumb their noses at their Evangelical brethren with a passive-aggressive pity. There are those Evangelicals who make litmus tests (whether it be the Articles or the Gay Question) as whether or not to eat at the same Table with you. There are the tat-queens who believe a Eucharist isn’t valid if x, y, or z are not done (or if x, y, or z are done). As I described in my last Atlanta Update, there are myriads of hoops that we all require everyone else to jump through.

NOW, MOST OF you know my Anglo-Catholic affinities; it is true that I could be easily described as an Anglo-Catholic (with the exception of the ordination of Women). But there are many aspects of Anglo-Catholicism that make me very nervous. Among them are the pretentious attitudes concerning certain ways of worship: the obsession with liturgical ephemera. Many would say that one is Anglo-Catholic if one likes incense, has a working knowledge of the maniple or – most especially – can critique the Priest’s “performance” at the Altar. Of course, these “Anglo-Catholics” treat the most sacred and holy duty of the Priest at the Altar as a performance and feel free to be a spectator at that most holy Table. Theology has been removed from liturgical action and deep reverence for irreverent opinions.

FOR EXAMPLE, THESE “Anglo-Catholics” only like the statue of Mary in the corner of the Church because of the beauty of the statue, not for any devotion to Our Lady. Many of these “Anglo-Catholics” only tolerate the benediction of the Blessed Sacrament for the beauty of the music, not for the purpose of spending an hour with our Lord. There is little to no respect or honor to the Episcopate or to the local Parish Priest, rather than trusting that God has put those people over us for a reason. And worst, many of these “Anglo-Catholics” will judge the effectualness of the Mass by the beauty of its music or vestments, without considering the effectualness of uniting with the body and blood, soul and divinity of their Lord. If being “Anglo-Catholic” means being a snarky spectator, then I want no part of it.

BUT MOST OF you know that Anglo-Catholicism should not be these things. At his best, an Anglo-Catholic understands that the Church pre-Reformation is just as important than the Church post-Reformation. At her best, an Anglo-Catholic believes in the Sacramental life of the Church is the most powerful avenue through which Christ changes hearts and minds. At its best, Anglo-Catholicism tries to be Christ to the world, in serving those who are least to be desired. As the Anglo-Catholic Bishop of Zanzibar Frank Weston once said,
“There then, as I conceive it, is your present duty . . . You have got your Mass, you have got your Altar, you have begun to get your Tabernacle. Now go out into the highways and hedges where not even the Bishops will try to hinder you. Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.”
I WRITE ALL of this to say where have the Martin Luther King, JR’s gone? Where have the Frank Weston’s gone? Where have those who give prophetic voice to the Church gone? Are we to be lost forever, O Lord, amidst a sea of waffling and political wrangling? Where are the Saints of the twenty-first century? Where are the men and women of God who see the Church not for what she has become but for what she was meant to be? The Anglo-Catholic Church of all frills and no substance will produce none; may we rediscover our own history!

I WILL LET you all know this: At MLK’s grave, I prayed that God would look with favor upon His Church by sending us more of these. By his prayers and by the grace of God, may God have mercy on us all.

January 12th, 2011

On 2010 and 2011

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HAPPY NEW YEAR!

YOU MIGHT BE reading this and think to yourself, "Sweet Sassy Molassy, Andy, you're late!" If I were following the secular calendar, you'd be 100% correct and I wouldn't argue with you. But, as you well know, A Red State Mystic follows the Church Calender.

AS YOU WELL know, this is the calendar that was handed down to St. Pope Gregory the Great by Ss. Perpetua and Felicity in a dream. And as you well know, in 1198, the New Year's Celebrations were put on hold in the small town of Potenza, France because they were besieged by the Muhammadan Saracens. They had been besieged for so long that they didn't even have proper Christmas Feasts. Every day, the entire town gathered in the small chapel within the walls of Castle and prayed to St. Sexburga to release them from this evil hold and the Priest would offer the Mass. On January 11th, The Lord heard their prayers and delivered them from the scourge of siege by convincing the enemy that the neighboring town had more money. That night, they had a proper New Year's Eve Party and appropriately got -- what the French call -- "le smashed." And the Church has kept New Years on this date ever since. So, Happy New Year to you heathens.*

2010 Highlights:
Personal Predictions for 2011:
  • Some good things will happen.
  • Some bad things will happen.
  • Most of it will be forgettable.
Predictions for the Episcopal Church in 2011:
  • Someone "out there" (probably on one of the coasts) will do something "liberal": elect another openly homosexual Bishop, deny the dual nature of Christ or be entirely too "touchy-feely."
  • Everyone will react to this decision, either decrying it as an act of apostasy or as a "bold move of the Holy Spirit."
  • Recovering Evangelicals and disenchanted Romans will join.
  • Those wanting a solid stance on anything will go where they can share solid stances with those of like-minds.
  • The Eucharist will be given on Sundays.
  • The Daily Office will be said.
  • Babies will be baptized.
  • We will throw great parties.
Predictions for the US Government in 2011:
  • One party will do/say something about something.
  • The other party will overreact with childish histrionics not seen since Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
  • Cable TV and Blogs will continue this ad nauseum.
IN OTHER WORDS, 2011 will be more of the same.

*: This entire paragraph is a fabrication. But you knew that.

January 11th, 2011

On Dried Flowers

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On the hall table,
stems and all,
there were some dried flowers
gathering dust in that dusty bowl.
No one passing by would remark:
“My, what beautiful flowers!”
For these dusty white and dead flowers
were just accouterments to the rest of the room,
like salt to a roast – only less so.
Or a bow to a gift – only less so.
Hardly noticed, unless you noticed to pinch
a crunchy petal just to feel it
dissolve between your fingers
for the heck of it.
And you would, because you enjoy that sort of thing –
But you don't even notice them gathering dust.

I once saw a dried flower pressed between the pages
of a very old book. Its yellow, less vibrant
than that remembered blossom,
pressed there, yet forgotten
by lives that have since lived
(and kept there as a reminder).
Fragile, it fragments a little bit more
each time you open the dusty book;
Dissolving, therefore, every time you look at it directly.
This time, those crunchy bits land somewhere between
these fluid lines on the page:
Behold, he whom thou loveft is fick.
And Jefuf wept.

You shut the book and pass the dusty flowers in the dusty bowl.
And prophesy to the wind.
O Lord GOD, thou knoweft.
Perhaps it will.
Perhaps it will.

January 5th, 2011

On What I Said on Sunday

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(Note: These are the few words I said on the Second Sunday of Christmas as a Homily at Mass. I have left it in the form that I spoke from and I apologize if that makes it harder to read. I must confess that I had to resist the urge to make it all rhyme while writing it in this format, but it does make it far easier to speak from! Regardless, I hope you find it beneficial. Of course, the links are to whatever I was citing or alluding. The scripture readings were Jeremiah 31:7-14, Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19 and Matthew 2:13-18.)

"This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet,
'Out of Egypt I have called my son." Matthew 2:15

+In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

St. Joseph and Our Lady would have known Egypt.
As a part of the Roman Empire, travel between it and Palestine would have been relatively easy,
but – more importantly, it was out of the reach of King Herod.
For (as we just heard), Herod in his raging heard that the Messiah was born,
and he wanted to rid himself of this meddlesome child who might threaten his throne.
Inspired by a dream, St. Joseph, Our Lady and the Christ Child pack up for Egypt
and left in the middle of the night.

But The Gospel Writer points out that Egypt has far more significance
by quoting the Prophet Hosea who once wrote, "Out of Egypt I have called my son."
By doing this, the Gospel Writer is telling us to pay attention,
for Egypt is more than just a convenient place
for the ancient witness protection program (so to speak);
Perhaps the Gospel Writer is telling us that Egypt is more than just a land.

I think this is because St. Joseph and Our Lady would have known Egypt
in a more deeper, more spiritual way then perhaps we do.
The knew the stories of Egypt
because every Passover at every Year, the youngest child asks the oldest person,
"Why is this night different than every other night?"
And for the rest of the evening, tales of bondage, slavery,
tales of bricks-made-from-grass and bitter herbs,
retell the darkest time in the history of the Jewish People.
 
Most especially, they knew that Egypt didn't care for Jewish Children,
as another wicked King – the Pharaoh,
feared that his reign was threatened by the growth of the population of the Israelites,
who moved into his kingdom after the death of Joseph the Patriarch,
so he tried to have all the Israelite boys killed shortly after their birth.

So, perhaps, Our Lady and St. Joseph knew in their blood
that Egypt was a place of darkness,
of idols, of slavery and of fear.
And, yet, they are called to flee to it in the middle of the night by a dream,

This would be like someone saying to us:
“Somebody in Erwin is trying to kill me,
so I'm running off to the safety of downtown Atlanta.”
And then they flee at night with a car stocked with bottles of water and snacks.
We would rightly think that they are crazy.
We might say to ourselves, "Who does that?"
But this is exactly what God called St. Joseph, Our Lady and Our Lord to do.
He called them to flee into the land of bondage,
to run into the land of fear and the land of darkness.
To run into that land of death.

And, He is calling us, too, perhaps,
to flee into the land of Egypt.

We know Egypt all too well, though we may never call it that.
We know that Our Egypt is a land of deep spiritual significance;
we know in our blood that Our Egypt is a place of darkness.
Our Egypt may be a place,
it may be a relationship,
it may be a business partnership,
or it may be a memory.
It is the land of work without results,
It is the land of brutal taskmasters,
It is the land of voiceless idols who demand continual sacrifice.
For Our Egypt is wherever fear and bondage reigns.
Our Egypt is whatever keeps us awake at night,
it is whatever drives us to drink,
it is whatever we avoid thinking about,
it is whatever we like to pretend never happened or is not happening,
it is whatever is blind and whatever is lame.
it is whatever keeps us from experiencing life,
it is whatever is death.
It is that dark corner of the heart that we keep locked
for fear that someone might see what frightening idols
we really worship in our darkest moments.
 
If someone were to ask you, (like at the Passover)
"Why is this thing different from everything else?"
And if your answer is full of tales of bondage, slavery and fear – then that is your Egypt.
What is your Egypt?

Like the Holy Family, we know of Egypt.
But, we also know of the Christ Child. too
For, This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
We know that He is God from God, Light from Light eternal,
abhoring not the Virgin's womb.

We know this Christ Child who of the Father's love begotten,
ere the worlds began to be, he is Alpha and Omega,
He the source, the ending he.


We know the Christ Child just as well as we know those shadowy corners of Our Egypt.
We know that our stubborn wills melt in front of his innocence,
We know our wealth becomes as rags in front of his poverty.

We know that he made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant,
to free the Children of Men from their sins, from each other and from themselves.
We know the Christ Child and thanks be to God that we do!

Like the Holy Family, we are not called to Egypt –
to Our Egypt – alone!
No, for we are called to take the Christ Child and flee into that land of darkness,
and expose Our Egypt to the light of the Christ Child.
Expose the terribleness of Our Egypt's murder to the innocence of that Child,
See the futility of idolatry fade in the faithfulness of that Child.
Let that Child gather from Our Egypt,
from the furthest parts of our darkness, our pain, our sin,
all that is blind, all that is lame;
all that is in labor with wickedness
and that which gives birth to a lie.

Let the Holy Child gather it up and heal it.

The purpose of Our Flight into Our Egypt
And the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt,
Is not to conquer it nor to destroy the darkness,
but to transform it!
For as St. John Chrysostom said about this transformation:
They who once killed Hebrew babies, now protect the most important Hebrew baby.
They who once were cruel taskmasters, now guard the life of Our Christ Child.
They who exposed and killed, now serve and protect.
In much the same way, that which once held us in bondage and fear,
will transform into freedom and peace,
in the presence of the Christ Child.

Those mute idols and those Brutal Taskmasters,
That which once was scattered will be gathered,
And the Christ Child shall keep us like a flock,
gathering us even from Egypt.
for he is our true Shepherd,
for he is our God,
who will lead us by brooks of water and in a straight path in which we will not stumble.

The purpose of the flight into Egypt is to gather up that which is lost.
and to transform it in the presence of the Christ Child.
So, take the Christ Child into your Egypt,
into your land of Darkness.
Say to that Christ Child,
Let us give him our hearts, let us give him our Egypt's,
So that we may stand and say in the words of the Prophet Hosea,
“Out of Egypt, have I called my son.”
We flee to Our Egypt with the Christ Child so that we may say,
in my Egypt, in my darkest hour, in my darkest heart-of-hearts,
I have found salvation in it.
I have found salvation in my Egypt.
And God has transformed it into something beautiful.

January 4th, 2011

On Christmas Music

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HERE WE ARE in the downward-slope of the Twelve Days of Christmas, barreling towards the Feast of the Epiphany. I spent most of last week in Indiana, spending time with my family and seeing many old friends. I hope you had a fantastic Christmas and that your New Year has started out on good footing.

I HAVE ASKED four questions of numerous people for the last few weeks and have always been surprised by their responses. The four questions are: 1) What is your favorite Sacred Christmas Song?; 2) What is your Least Favorite Sacred Song?; 3) What is your Favorite Secular Christmas Song? and 4) What is your Least Favorite Secular Song? Here are my answers:

Favorite Sacred Song:



"In the Bleak Midwinter"
Words by Christina Rossetti and music by Gustav Holst.

I'm not quite sure why this tops my list, as I did not grow up singing it. The words are deeply contemplative and the tune is slightly melancholic, but I find it all very beautiful. Plus, it has anachronisms that I just find delightful: eg. talking about the "snow on snow" around the manger. The last verse always gets me and I almost always choke up during this hymn. I can still remember the first time I sang it a few years ago.

Honorable Mentions:
"O Come, All Ye Faithful" for the bombast!
"Angels We Have Heard On High" for the most pleasing tenor line on the Glooooooooria in excelsis parts.
"Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day" because you can't sing the word "love" too many times! "Betwixt an ox and a silly poor ass" has to be one of the best lines in any hymn, too.

Least Favorite Sacred Song:



"It Came Upon A Midnight Clear"
words by Edmund Sears and music by Richard Willis.

My biggest gripe with this hymn is not the words, but the tune (Noel), which just grates my ears and makes me want to punch kittens in the face. The tune is schmaltzy and overly-sentimental, lending itself to sliding between pitches as best exemplified by crooners and untrained singers (listen to the above video). I would much prefer it sung to another tune. In fact, I'd prefer it sung to any other tune. Someday I'll record myself singing how I imagine everyone sings it -- you might get a good laugh from it.

Un-honorable Mention:
"Angels from the Realms of Glory" because the tune is just plain annoying.

Favorite Secular Song:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2gmiSPMHrWQ&feature=related
(You'll have to click the link as they've disabled embedding)

"Christmas Time Is Here", music by Vince Guaraldi Trio.
It's not that I mind the version that has the kids singing, its just that it is so much nicer without them. While I am a Pianist, I don't have much experience playing Jazz, but this is the kind of Jazz music I'd like to play. It's just so smooth. I love just about all the music from "A Charlie Brown Chrismas", but this one is my favorite!

Honorable Mention:
"The Christmas Song" Because I'm still young enough to giggle at the opening line.
"Carol of the Bells" it is loads of fun to sing, especially at a breakneck speed!

Least Favorite Secular Song:



"Santa Baby", performed by Eartha Kitt
I must confess that the list of "Least Favorite Secular Christmas Songs" is lengthy, but for me, "Santa Baby" takes the cake. I'm not sure if its the rank materialism, the suggestive lyrics or the objectification of St. Nicholas that gets me the most. Could you imagine Eartha Kitt singing this to the actual St. Nicholas? I wonder what kind of blushing he would do underneath his big, Orthodox beard and his mitre. He'd probably smite her, too. The only thing "sliding down her chimney tonight" would be a slap in her face. Boo doo bee doo.

They're actually playing in the third ring of hell:
"I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" No, you did not.
"All I Want For Christmas is My Two Front Teeth" All I want is for you to be quiet.
"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" is only good when it is sung in Yiddish.
"Silver Bells" should be sung as "Sliding pitches, sliding pitches, why can't we sing like real singers?"

SO, WHAT ARE your favorite and least favorite music from the Christmas season? I'd love to hear from you!

December 24th, 2010



(I wrote this at a Midnight Mass in 2008. It is probably the only piece of poetry I've ever written that I'd even try to get published. A very blessed and Merry Christmas to you all, my dear readers, friends and family! I need to shower and get ready for our [almost] Midnight Solemn High Mass!)

Athens says that you were born much later,
In May or June at the latest,
For “shepherds kept their watch by night”
And “by night,“ Holy Writ
Actually meant:
“Shepherds kept their watch by the warm summer night.”
Of course.

But as I sit here (in Jerusalem),
Warmed from frigid temps,
And after numerous attempts
To see the altar over the shoulder
of an exceptionally tall man,
kneeling in a wooden pew,
I can see the wafting clouds of incense, and
I can see the watchful eyes
Of the blood-dried
Crucifix:
(one eye gazing on the crib and one on my sin).
And I believe you were born at Midnight,
When snow fell on snow
In a Church’s manger set-up to the left (by the Tabernacle).

I think you were born at Midnight,
Breaking forth with light --
Neither beauteous nor ghastly.
Ordinary light for a baby
(A baby so vastly Ordinary).
So much that if Our Lady were not so holy,
Perhaps she would have remarked coyly,
“This is it?”
And shook her head and laughed
At the “My soul doth magnify” and all that.
But Our Lady of the Manger Set-up To the Left (by the Tabernacle),
Isn’t laughing,
but gazing and adoring --
Much like the Lady crowned in the heavenly Jerusalem.

You slipped into the world in the dead
Of night,
You slipped into the world in the dead
Of winter,
Bringing salvation -- the Word -- to those who were dead
Of heart.
Slip into this heart, O Lord,
Like you once did in the womb of Our Lady,
Like you once did in that stable so shady,
So ordinary, so vastly ordinary.

And through your peace,
free me from these bonds,
So ordinary, so vastly ordinary.

Of course, we’re probably idiots to keep some outdated,
Probably pagan date
Probably cooked up by a certain
Pope Leporus --
or was it Septus
. . . Clementine the XXIII?
Whatever.
Modernity rushing to our Medievalness with aid,
“Come out of Jerusalem -- that unclean thing!”
While those Post-Modernites smarmily sit and say,
“I think its quite nice. Whatever works for ‘they!’”
Athens, Athens all-around disagreeable with our Winter Feast.

But as I walk out into the frigid air,
And gaze up at the starry firmament,
Once gazed upon by Abraham,
And Jesus
And that Pope who set the date,
I realize that I don‘t care about objections
About the date or the precise moment,
Treating it as if it is more scientifically special than the rest of these moments. . .
For what does Athens have to do with Jerusalem
When it comes to changed hearts?

December 23rd, 2010

On the Last O Antiphon

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OH MY! WHERE has the time gone? As you might expect, I am rapid work mode finalizing preparations for our Christmas Eve Solemn High Mass, putting together the bulletin, rehearsing with the Altar Party, rehearsing with the Choir for the thirty-minute prelude from Handel's Messiah with String Quartet and Organ and still working eight-hours-a-night somewhere in there. Oh yes -- and getting ready for my trip back to Indiana! Needless to say, my O Antiphon meditations were dropped. They were dropped like a sack of forgotten, tacky Christmas Tree Ornaments from the fifties (you know what I'm talking about).

SO, TO MAKE it up to you, my most faithful and kind readers, here is an audio file of yours truly chanting the last O Antiphon, O Virgin of Virgins. This Antiphon is interesting because it is only found in the English Use (and not in the Roman Rite). I trust that if you're interested in the minutia of how the addition of this Antiphon changes the acrostic or what-have-you, there is the proverbial Wikipedia page. In the English Usage, it is set to be sung at Evening Prayer or Vespers tonight.

I ONLY WENT through it twice before recording, so be kind. Also, I seemed to have forgotten the last line of the Antiphon "That which ye behold is a divine mystery". I'd love to go back and do it again, but I'm afraid I'm short on time, so it will have to stand as is. Click right here to download the file. Anyway, I hope this is of some benefit to you:

Antiphon: O Virgin of Virgins, how shall this be? For neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after. Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me? That which ye behold is a divine mystery.

My soul doth magnify the Lord, *
and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.
For he hath regarded *
the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold from henceforth *
all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath magnified me, *
and holy is his Name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him *
throughout all generations.
He hath showed strength with his arm; *
he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat, *
and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel, *
as he promised to our forefathers,
Abraham and his seed for ever.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

Antiphon: O Virgin of Virgins, how shall this be? For neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after. Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me? That which ye behold is a divine mystery.

December 19th, 2010

On "O Radix Jesse"

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O Radix Jesse – December 19th
Previous Meditations: 2008 & 2005.

O Root of Jesse, which standest for an ensign of the people,
At whom kings shall shut their mouths,
To whom the Gentiles shall seek:
Come and deliver us and tarry not.”

(Taken from The Anglican Breviary, C26)

“THE ROOT OF Jesse” is an odd phrase. As you well remember, Jesse was David's father and the Prophets wrote that the Messiah would come from the line of David (Micah 5:2). Of course, Our Lord was in David's lineage. But to say that Christ is “the root of Jesse” is like singing that silly song, “I'm my own Grandpa” -- except with far holier implications! This Holy Baby is the Father of his Fathers and Grand-Fathers, far back enough to Adam. In a real sense, Christ is his own Grandpa and we recognize this when we call Him “the Root of Jesse”.

IN MUCH THE same way, Christ is the root of all our desires towards God. The work of salvation does not begin with us, nor does it begin with the preachers whose feet are beautiful in carrying the good news. No, our salvation begins in God and the roots of our holy inclinations are found in Him. This was revealed to St. Julian of Norwich in her Fourteenth Showing, where Christ says to her:

“I am the ground of your beseeking:
first it is my will that you have it,
and then I make you want it:
now since I make you seek,
and then you do seek,
how should it then be that you should not have whom you seek?”

The Gentiles seek after this Root of Jesse, because they have been sought by God. And we, too, who come to the creche to adore Our Lord only adore Him because He has brought us to that place of adoration and we have followed Him. All of our Holy Desires begin in Him. As the Priest says at the Eucharistic Doxology, “Through Him, with Him and in Him . . .”

MAY CHRIST, THE Root of Jesse (He's His own grandpa!) and the Root of all our Desires continue to draw us up into the mystery of salvation.

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