Tag Archives: singing

From generation to generation.

Long before I found my home in the Orthodox Church, a friend introduced me to the Private Prayers of Lancelot Andrewes, which sustained my devotional life for a long time. Andrewes was one of the translators and editors of the King James Bible and died in 1626. Various arrangements of his prayers and sermons have been compiled; the edition I have uses the F.E. Brightman translation (from the Greek, Latin, and Hebrew of the original) of 1903, and includes an essay by T.S. Eliot, which I am reading again after a long time, having taken the book of prayers from my shelf to refresh my memory on several points.

Eliot compares the homilies of Andrewes with those of John Donne, and says that Andrewes is “the more medieval, because he is the more pure, and because his bond was with the Church, with tradition. His intellect was satisfied by theology and his sensibility by prayer and liturgy.”

When he writes of the emotional sensibilities of the preacher, it reminds me of the tone of our Orthodox worship:

“When Andrewes begins his sermon, from beginning to end you are sure that he is wholly in his subject, unaware of anything else, that his emotion grows as he penetrates more deeply into his subject, that he is finally ‘alone with the Alone,’ with the mystery which he is seeking to grasp more and more firmly….Andrewes’s emotion is purely contemplative; it is not personal, it is wholly evoked by the object of contemplation, to which it is adequate; his emotion wholly contained in and explained by its object.”

That dear man loved Christ! Here is the first of his Morning Prayers, typically rich in the words of Holy Scripture:

Following closely from that, the ancient prayer hymn of the church, known as “Gloria in excelsis Deo” or the “Great Doxology.” This was the one in Andrewes’s collection that most thrilled my heart and made it say, “Amen.” When prayed aloud it seems to carry the soul quickly to heaven while the body is most feeling its lowliness and affinity with the humble earth.

In the Orthodox Church we have begun the weekday Lenten Matins, and I managed to get there this morning and make that wonderful start to the day. One of the best parts of the service for me is our version of the “The Great Doxology,” which made me think about Christ-lover Andrewes, one of my first mentors in the kind of prayer that connects me to the church that has prayed through the ages.

Below is the text as we sing it in my parish, and here: The Great Doxology, is a video I found, if you would like to hear it sung, not too differently from what I’m used to. Of course, every parish and every choir does it uniquely, and I like the way we sing it the best.  🙂  This morning I was sitting on the other side of the cathedral from my usual, and enjoyed the perspective on the dome and the icon of Christ Pantocrator, with the words in the encircling border: “He hath looked out from His holy height. The Lord from heaven hath looked upon the earth, to hear the groaning of them that be in fetters.”

THE GREAT DOXOLOGY

Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace, good will among men.
We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we worship Thee, we glorify Thee,
we give thanks to Thee for Thy great glory.
O Lord, Heavenly King, God the Father Almighty;
O Lord, the Only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ; and the Holy Spirit.
O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father,
that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy on us;
Thou that takest away the sins of the world, receive our prayer;
Thou that sittest at the right hand of the Father,
and have mercy on us.

For Thou only art holy, Thou only art the Lord,
Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father, Amen.

Every day will I bless Thee, and I will praise Thy name forever,
yea, forever and ever.

Vouchsafe, O Lord, to keep us this day without sin.
Blessed art Thou, O Lord, the God of our fathers,
and praised and glorified is Thy name unto the ages. Amen.

Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, according as we have hoped in Thee.

Blessed art Thou, O Lord, teach me Thy statutes.
Blessed art Thou, O Master, grant me understanding of Thy statutes.
Blessed art Thou, O Holy One, enlighten me by Thy statutes.

Lord, Thou hast been our refuge from generation to generation.
I said: O Lord, have mercy on me, heal my soul,
for I have sinned against Thee.
Lord, unto Thee have I fled for refuge;
teach me to do Thy will, for Thou art my God,
for in Thee is the fountain of life; in Thy light shall we see light.
Continue Thy mercy unto them that know Thee.

Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
both now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.

Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.

The singing life with boys.

I landed in Colorado with Soldier’s family four days ago. The airport and airplane were fun for me and the boys because it was their first experience, and because it was a short trip, to and from smaller airports and on Southwest Airlines which seemed to me much more easygoing and helpful than my usual United travel.

We have been in this Airbnb house in Colorado Springs for four nights. It has plenty of room for three wild Indians (as my mother’s generation would have called them, but I try not to) to race up and down stairs and roughhouse, yelling, shouting, and laughing. If I can get them to sing with me it’s sometimes possible to channel this exuberance into plain laughing, which carries less risk of maiming. 

Sing Through the Seasons from the Plough Publishing House has been for our family a wealth of children’s songs that are joyful music for all ages. I have been singing many of the original 99 songs of the first edition for over 40 years, but I’ve never introduced so many in as short a span as during this last week.

I found a copy of the later edition I had bought used, and brought it along in my suitcase, and the three brothers and I have sat on the couch for long periods singing, “Nibble, Nibble,” “Where Are the Froggies When the North Wind Blows,” and many other favorites. “Trot Along, My Little Pony” by Marlys Swinger was a lullaby I used to sing to the babies, leaning over their cribs to pat them to sleep. Even 2-yr-old Brodie sings in his husky voice with “Nibble, Nibble,” and anticipates the ending when he can chime in with, “And the rabbit in my heart is you!”

Last night while the boys were waiting for dinner I taught them “Three Little Puffins.” They giggled through the song at the idea of puffin birds stuffin’ themselves with muffins, but the giggles turned to hilarity when I started calling them my own Three Little Puffins.

We’ve been on a walk around Palmer Lake just to the north of us in the community with the same name. A few bits of snow were still on the ground from Sunday, the day we arrived right after a snowfall, and I wished I had brought my wool scarf against the wind. We “did school” the very first morning here, because their mother Joy is incredibly organized, and have watched videos on Grandma’s laptop about Deep Sea Fishes, Dragonflies, and How Deep Can We Dig Toward the Center of the Earth?

At the closest public library, in Monument, Joy was able to get a library card, and we brought home lots of books. Not only that, but behind the library is a lake or pond where ducks swim, and the librarians give free cups of cracked corn for feeding the ducks.

At this house there are toys and games; Liam found a turntable Scrabble board and tiles, and wanted me to play with him. I would rather play Bananagrams, but most of his family’s belongings are in storage, so we don’t have that game here. Yesterday he and I drove to Walmart to pick up a few things, including Bananagrams, but the store had just stopped carrying it. I told the salesperson, “I bet Target has it!” We substituted a bunch of bananas, and a new Scrabble game that had all its parts. Liam took to this more complicated word game with enthusiasm. We love words!

I am nearly hoarse from all the singing and reading, but still want to do more, and usually at least one of my “puffins” is more than willing. This evening while dinner was cooking I read to dear Brodie four of his favorite books, including What Do You Hear, Angel?, by Elizabeth Crispina Johnson. It has plenty of repetition to please the child’s ear, but the message conveyed is a fundamental truth of the cosmos that is lifelong sustenance: Things seen and unseen are singing the same song. The illustrations by Masha Lobastov confirm that idea with images of a happy child engaging with, you might say, earthly and heavenly messengers.

That’s what we are living every day.

 

 

 

Heralds and singers all day long.

On the church calendar, we are still in Pentecost, that 50-day period between Easter/Pascha and Pentecost. We even take note of Mid-Pentecost, which was last week.

Of course, it’s never inappropriate to remind one another that “Christ is risen!” but during these weeks we make a special point of it and try to remember, instead of “Hello!” to greet one another with those words of joy and hope. For truly His resurrection from the dead, His overcoming of death, shows the power of God to deliver us from our own patches of darkness, no matter how impossibly deep and cold the current “grave” we find ourselves in.

Last night a robin came around to chirp the falling of dusk to me, “my” robin who always seems to be sent as an emissary from the Father – or more precisely, a herald: Gretchen, remember, God is here with you! I forgot to tell you that in my hotel in Atlanta earlier this month, the night when I was staying alone, a robin chirped right outside my ground-floor window just before darkness and a rainstorm.

This morning I woke to birdsong floating in from the garden and the trees. As I made my bed I joined in with them and sang a meditative version of the hymn, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing Life.”

Next week will be the Leave-taking of Pascha, after which we will focus on the Ascension of Christ. At Vespers the evening before, we will sing all those rousing Paschal choruses for the last time liturgically. I know the little sorrows and worries, confusing thoughts and maybe even some big heartaches won’t disappear from my earthly life, and I will want to keep singing these re-orienting melodies of Christ’s transforming Life.

I’m counting on the birds to be my helpers.

The Music of My Life

The third chapter of The Hidden Art of Homemaking is the impetus for this post. It is titled simply “Music,” and continues the theme of how Christians might express their creativity in their varied and unique circumstances. I am participating in the discussion of the book on Cindy’s blog, Ordo Amoris. This is a long post and I apologize — you would be smart to skip it and go do something creative!

It might have been 30 years ago that I first read Hidden Art, and I wrote on the day of the author’s death how important it was in developing a vision for my life. At the time of its publication in 1971 I don’t think there was anything else like it, but feminists were writing plenty about the stifling life of the typical housewife. It was lovely to have laid out before me many concrete examples of interesting people and their home-enriching activities.

Just a couple of years later, Karen Mains wrote Open Heart, Open Home, which also contributed to my Christian vision, on the theme of hospitality. And I was married in the early 70’s, and enjoying keeping house and garden even before the children started arriving. When the house began to fill with kids, I never lacked for creative projects and plans.

But I hadn’t even read Schaeffer’s book yet. My young-married-childbearing years were overflowing with culture and creativity, and I could not relate to the reader Edith seemed to be writing for, someone who is frustrated, locked up, or unfulfilled (her words).

Only recently have I been able to look back over my life and see with more understanding (I hope) why the story reads the way it does. I needed time to think, and I needed to see more of the plot toward the end, before I could notice how the first chapters fit with middle parts of my saga.

Part I contained an excess of family drama, as we call it these days, emotional and psychological stress that I didn’t get any help dealing with. If you have a splitting headache it is hard to tap into your creativity. It’s the same with emotional pain, maybe more so when it isn’t diagnosed or even acknowledged, but stays like an always-freshening wound that makes you want to move as little as possible.

Me in Part II

What brought me into Part II was getting married to a good man and empowered to create my own story, free of distracting pain. The setting was calm and clear and full of the hope of the gospel. It was somewhat the opposite of what Schaeffer talks about, because being home was my obvious opportunity to do just about anything. I had had no lack of examples and ideas; actually, the hippie era for me segued into a homesteading spirit a la The Mother Earth News. And there were all the creative people I’d known growing up (just about everyone), while I was storing up tinder for my creative fires.

I see that I have mixed a few metaphors here trying to tell my story — or am I writing the score for the symphony that has been playing out? Though this chapter is about music, it seems as good a place as any to bring up what seem to me to be realities on which our artistic life is built. They apply to music, too.

I received little musical training as a child, and I had no career that I had to put on the back burner. But growing up in church was good ear-training, and even in the Girl Scouts and in public school we sang a lot. I was lucky to marry a musician, and by means of his guitar and my singing we filled the house and our children’s ears with music.

We sang in the car, using songbooks I wrote out by hand. We sang around the campfire. We parents sat on the bedroom floor and crooned lullabies to our children every night. And in church I helped the young readers to develop fluency while hymn-singing, running my finger along the page under the words while they looked on. But I don’t know how to read music.

At first there wasn’t money for music lessons, and I wept over the injustice of a world in which my firstborn had no opportunity for a more structured musical education. Then grandparents and great-grandparents stepped in and God provided a generous piano teacher two blocks from our house. From that time forth the provisions continued in various ways, so that eventually all of our five children learned to play at least one instrument. The photos are of them and a grandson enjoying their music. Two of our daughters became piano teachers in their teens.

But for many families, music is not something they can really accomplish. My parents could not provide it for me, but it all worked out o.k. Some women find that their distracting drama only starts when they marry, or when a child falls ill. There are women for whom getting through the day is like climbing a steep mountain, and while they might be relieved to stop and smell the flowers, it’s asking a lot to tell them they ought to get out the seed catalog and develop a plan for further landscaping. But I suppose they aren’t the ones reading Hidden Art.

When Schaeffer says things like, “Christian homes should…be places where there is the greatest variety of good music,” I balk at the word should. I don’t know how she might otherwise have presented a picture of what she considers the ideal home, but every time she says we should do this or that to develop our creative side — and in the short Chapter 2 she used the word nine times — I get annoyed that she is telling me what my Christian duty is.

To me that’s backwards, because I can’t recall ever doing one creative homemaking thing out of a sense of duty, though I firmly believe we are all obligated to do our duty. To fear God and keep His commandments is the whole duty of man, according to Ecclesiastes (Not that we can even accomplish those basics on our own). It seems to me that the rest, the art and music and beauty, flow naturally from a human soul that is nurtured by God’s love — just as sap running up a tree trunk results in bright leaves and colorful fruit. The main thing is not to tell the tree to make fruit, but to keep the connection to the life-giving Fountain — Who is also the One who heals all those diseases of the heart that might hinder us.

What do you know — beauty in our life is one of the healing potions God provides. So if we start with small things that brighten our homes, say, singing a few lines from a hymn over the kitchen sink, or teaching a nursery rhyme to a toddler, just in response to the impulse, we are creating culture and feeding our own souls. It keeps the sap running, and the more the tree grows, the more sap and delicious fruit there will be.

Since Edith Schaeffer wrote this book and What is a Family, the only two of hers that I have read, thousands of families have discovered that homeschooling provides the opportunities to build the kind of family life and culture that the author presents a vision for. Just give us enough time with our children and all these good things are more likely to happen. The vision she sets forth was an ingredient in the soil that nourished my own heart and gave me the courage I needed. All the rest is in Part II, Part III, and still writing… Oh, and still singing new songs!