Tag Archives: music

His house smells heavenly, too.

In the Orthodox Church, near the end of Divine Liturgy, there is a prayer to God to “Sanctify those that love the beauty of Thy House.”  Especially in my first months and years in the Orthodox Church I clung to that prayer, thinking, “Lord, there is a lot I don’t understand, and there are many ways in which I fail to live for You, fail to enter fully into the services; but one thing I know is that I do love the beauty of Your House.”

One aspect of that beauty that contributes to the worship I offer is incense. It is one of those elements that is left out whenever I post a picture taken in a church service. In those visual images you get, of course, only the visual.

When I shoot the photograph, it is in the midst of a lavish sensual experience: hymns and prayers being sung almost constantly, deacons and priests frequently censing everything and everyone in the temple, the smell of beeswax candles, and the touch of fellow worshipers as we bump past one another or when we arrange ourselves on the floor to hear the homily. Later when I look at the picture in my home, it so noticeably does not convey half of the sensations that were pressing upon my mind at the time. It is literally flat, and as a testimony of what went on, very lacking.

We believe that the heavenly Kingdom comes to us in the liturgy, so I can’t hope to give an inkling of what that is like to someone who has never been present, or whose heart is not ready to receive the Lord in these material ways. You really have to be there.

But I will include yet another image in this post, just to add visual interest, conceding to the limitations of this medium. This pic shows the people singing. Someone has said that the liturgy is like one continuous song.

I’ll let Wikipedia tell more about the tradition of censing: “As part of the legacy handed down from its Judaic roots, incense is used during all services in the Orthodox Church as an offering of worship to God as it was done in the Jewish First and Second Temples in Jerusalem (Exodus chapter 30). Traditionally, the base of the incense used is the resin of Boswellia thurifera, also known as frankincense, but the resin of fir trees has been used as well. It is usually mixed with various floral essential oils giving it a sweet smell. Incense represents the sweetness of the prayers of the saints rising up to God.”

From The Lament of Eve by Johanna Manley:

The fragrance of love! When we burn incense, we think of the fragrant heavenly aroma of love. The Holy Spirit, like a heavenly fire, brings the warmth of love into the human heart, and like a fresh wind, chases away the stench of sin and spreads the aroma of Christ to the world. That savor all the saints have borne within themselves. People have sensed it in living saints and in their relics. The Apostle speaks of this: “We are unto God a sweet savour of Christ,” the sweet perfume of recognition of the truth and the sweetness of love (cf. 2 Cor. 2:14-16).

Bob

Today is the birthday of Bob Dylan. In high school I owned one 45 of Bob; it had “Like a Rolling Stone” on one side and “Gates of Eden” on the other, and I listened to it quite a bit.

Far away from me, but still in California, my husband-to-be was an ardent Bob Dylan fan, so after we married I became the co-owner of a good collection of his music that we continued to acquire. It’s hard not to develop a fondness for songs that you hear again and again over the years, so I did come to appreciate “Bob,” as he was known around here.

My favorite of his songs was always “Everything is Broken,” because it’s such a simple expression of the reality of humankind fallen and needy, and all creation groaning. We are often dismayed about our material possessions wearing out or being destroyed, but they are insignificant when laid beside the hearts and lives that are daily shattered and traumatized. The lyrics of the song seem a little flat to me without the music, and Bob’s burnt-out voice conveying an appropriate tone to the words.

I also have watched several times on YouTube Bob singing with Johnny Cash “A Girl of the North Country” on Cash’s show. It’s sweet! (But I’m afraid it may have been taken down.)

I didn’t hear about this birthday until I read The Writer’s Almanac for the day, and it’s interesting that the poem Garrison Keillor posts for the day is by Billy Collins, titled “Despair” and lamenting that there is “So much gloom and doubt in our poetry—”

Keillor tells us that today is also the birthday of the Russian poet Joseph Brodsky who was born just a year before Dylan. He suffered a lot for his poetry under the Soviets and would have had good reason to write gloomy material. I haven’t read many of his poems other than those in the book Mr. Glad gave me, his Nativity Poems, from which I posted one here at Christmastime once, and it was filled with hope.

Here is the Dylan poetry. Happy Birthday, Bob!

EVERYTHING IS BROKEN

Broken lines broken strings
Broken threads broken springs
Broken idols broken heads
People sleeping in broken beds
Ain’t no use jiving
Ain’t no use joking
Everything is broken.

Broken bottles broken plates
Broken switches broken gates
Broken dishes broken parts
Streets are filled with broken hearts
Broken words never meant to be spoken
Everything is broken.

Seems like every time you stop and turn around
Something else just hit the ground
Broken cutters broken saws
Broken buckles broken laws
Broken bodies broken bones
Broken voices on broken phones
Take a deep breath feel like you’re chokin’
Everything is broken.

Every time you leave and go off some place
Things fall to pieces in my face
Broken hands on broken ploughs
Broken treaties broken vows
Broken pipes broken tools
People bending broken rules
Hound dog howling bullfrog croaking
Everything is broken.

music-Dylan face cropped

Gleanings – The Vocabulary of Artists

Fr Patrick pantocrator domeTo convey to our imagination an abiding sense of the world’s goodness and givenness, artists require a vocabulary capable of such representation. Many of the conventional aesthetic resources of the contemporary arts are well suited to expressing anxiety, alienation, chaos and violence, but are not as capable of evoking innocence, simple purity, or quiet delight. (I’m more and more convinced that the omnipresence of relentless rhythm sections, even in love songs, is an expression of the mechanistic and brutish presuppositions of a culture convinced that all life forms are the end-result of a mindlessly competitive process of mere survival.)

–Ken Myers

“From Heavenly Harmony” in Touchstone Nov/Dec 2014

The Huron Carol

My favorite “Poem A Day” blog that was written by Maria is not currently active, but its archives remain online, a treasure store of poetry and art. This Christmas post that I read in her collection is titled Jesus! Ahatonhia! It’s a heartwarming telling of the Christmas story.

In that entry Maria shared “The Huron Carol,” which was composed in 1643 by a Jesuit missionary who lived and worked with the Indians in what is now Ontario, Canada. He was French, and though he wrote the lyrics in the Huron language, he set them to a 16th-century French melody, “Une Jeunne Pucelle.”

You can listen to the song on YouTube; the version I put here has singing in French and English as well as what I take to be Huron. The story is about an angel who appeared in the Northern Lights to tell the Indians about the Christ Child. A series of three stamps commemorating the carol were issued in Canada in 1977.

My favorite stanza:

The earliest moon of winter is not so round and fair
As was the ring of glory on the helpless infant there.
And chiefs from far before Him knelt with gifts of fox and beaver pelt:
Jesus, your King, is born;
Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria!

Amen! And Merry Christmas to you all!