Mercy in Music

As part of our Adult Faith Formation programming in connection with the Year of Mercy, Our Lady or Lourdes’ Organist and Choirmaster Chris Ganza gave a talk this morning on Music of the Church: Mercy in Music.

After talking generally about types of church music and the issues involved in selecting music for liturgy, Chris used three pieces to illustrate the theme of mercy: Frederick Faber’s There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy, Robert Vaughan Williams’ setting of George Herbert’s poem Love, and Ola Gjelo’s version of Ubi caritas et amor.  His talk addressed the both the theological and musical themes of each.

Perhaps because it is already a favorite of mine, I particularly enjoyed his discussion of the Herbert poem, which is such a beautiful expression of God’s forgiveness and mercy.  In the face of all of our protestations of our unworthiness, God keeps saying – join me, enjoy my feast.

I’ve posted Herbert’s poem here before, but it is worth posting again in this Year of Mercy.

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
                              Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
                             From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
                             If I lacked any thing.
A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
                             Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
                             I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
                             Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
                             Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
                             My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
                             So I did sit and eat.
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Love Bade Me Welcome

Flipping through a book of poetry earlier today I came across a poem of George Herbert’s I have always loved.  In some collections is it titled simply Love.  It is a good reminder of God’s constant invitation.
Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
                              Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
                             From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
                             If I lacked any thing.
A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
                             Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
                             I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
                             Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
                             Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
                             My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
                             So I did sit and eat.

Everything Points to God

I love the poetry of Hafiz.  Here is one for your reflection this morning (with thanks to Inward/Outward).  It is titled Everything Points to God.

Forget every idea of right and wrong

Any classroom ever taught you

Because an empty heart, a tormented mind,
Unkindness, jealousy and fear
Are always the testimony
You have been completely fooled!

Turn your back on those
Who would imprison your wondrous spirit
With deceit and lies.

Come, join the honest company
Of the King’s beggars—
Those gamblers, scoundrels and divine clowns
And those astonishing fair courtesans
Who need Divine Love every night.

Come, join the courageous
Who have no choice
But to bet their entire world
That indeed,
Indeed, God is Real.

I will lead you into the Circle
Of the Beloved’s cunning thieves,
Those playful royal rogues—
The ones you can trust for true guidance—
Who can aid you
In this Blessed Calamity of life.

Lover,
Look at the Perfect One
At the Circle’s Center:

He Spins and Whirls like a Golden Compass,
Beyond all that is Rational,

To show this dear world

That Everything,
Everything in Existence
Does point to God.

If we lose track of the reality that everything points to God, we miss one of, if not the, most fundamental point of all. Sacramentality, writ large.

A Minute Would Be Good Enough

The tradition at the Jesuit Retreat House is that the director who offers the reflection at Mass is responsible for leading the prayer at the following day’s staff meeting.  Since I offered the reflection at Mass on Monday, I had responsibility for the prayer at our final staff meeting yesterday.  (The retreat ends this morning with Mass and breakfast.)

After the opening song I selected, I read Stuart Kestenbaum’s poem Psalm, which I came across several years ago.  Here is the poem:

The only psalm I had memorized was the 23rd
and now I find myself searching for the order
of the phrases knowing it ends with surely
goodness and mercy will follow me
all the days of my life and I will dwell
in the house of the Lord forever only I remember
seeing a new translation from the original Hebrew
and forever wasn’t forever but a long time
which is different from forever although
even a long time today would be
good enough for me even a minute entering
the House would be good enough for me,
even a hand on the door or dropping today’s
newspaper on the stoop or looking in the windows
that are reflecting this morning’s clouds in the first light.

I then invited the others to reflect on a time when when “a minute” or “a hand on the door” was enough for them, a situation where something small, momentary, was enough to give them deep consolation, to give them exactly what they needed from God.  The sharing was deep and beautiful.

You might consider the same invitation.  Reflect on a time when a minute…a hand on the door was “good enough” for you.

We leave the retreat house this morning, each of us in awe and gratitude for the graces given by God during these days.

O God, I Am Thine!

Earlier this week was the seventieth anniversary of the execution of Dietrich Bonhoeffer at the Flossenbürg concentration camp in Nazi Germany.  Although Bonhoeffer is someone whose writings I have found enormously beneficial and someone whose faith and courage I greatly admire, I was not aware of this poem of his until I saw it on my friend Neil Willard’s blog.

Bonhoeffer wrote this poem while imprisoned.  It is titled, Who am I?  Its ending provides the only answer we need to have to that question.

Who am I? They often tell me
I step out from my cell
calm and cheerful and poised,
like a squire from his manor.

Who am I? They often tell me
I speak with my guards
freely, friendly and clear,
as though I were the one in charge.

Who am I? They also tell me
I bear days of calamity
serenely, smiling and proud,
like accustomed to victory.

Am I really what others say of me?
Or am I only what I know of myself?
Restless, yearning, sick, like a caged bird,
struggling for life breath, as if I were being strangled,
starving for colors, for flowers, for birdsong,
thirsting for kind words, human closeness,
shaking with rage at power lust and pettiest insult,
tossed about, waiting for great things to happen,
helplessly fearing for friends so far away,
too tired and empty to pray, to think, to work,
weary and ready to take my leave of it all?

Who am I? This one or the other?
Am I this one today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? Before others a hypocrite
and in my own eyes a pitiful, whimpering weakling?
Or is what remains in me like a defeated army,
Fleeing in disarray from victory already won?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, thou knowest me; O God, I am thine!

Neil’s post also has a clip from a film about Bonhoeffer I showed to my Heroes and Heroism seminar students this past January: Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace.  Take a look at the clip if you have a chance.

Joy and Hope: Poetry of the Easter Season

I have spoken to different groups about the use of poetry in prayer.   Poetry seeks an emotional or sensual response rather than an intellectual.  Because it operates more at the level of our affect than our intellect, it can help us attain a heart-felt, affective knowledge of God’s presence and love.

I came across yesterday a site that collected a number of poems for prayer during the Easter season.  here is one of them, The Death of Death by Scott Cairns.

Put fear aside. Now
that He has entered
into death on our behalf,
all who live
no longer die
as men once died.

That ephemeral occasion
has met its utter end.
As seeds cast to the earth, we
will not perish,
but like those seeds
shall rise again—the shroud
of death itself having been
burst to tatters
by love’s immensity.

You can find the whole collection, along with some wonderful suggestions for praying with poetry, here.

The Resurrection Process

On this Easter Monday, it is good to reflect on this poem written by Brazilian theologian and writer Leonardo Boff.  It is titled The Resurrection Process.

He penetrates the entire cosmos,
pervades the whole world,
and makes his presence felt in every human being.
The resurrection is a process that began with Jesus
and that will go on until it embraces all creation.
Wherever an authentically human life is growing in the world,
wherever justice is triumphing over the instincts of domination,
wherever grace is winning out over the power of sin,
wherever human beings are creating more
fraternal mediations in the social life together,
wherever love is getting the better of selfish interests,
and wherever hope is resisting the lure of cynicism or despair,
there the process of resurrection
is being turned into a reality.