Saturday, December 27, 2008

Song of the Year

I have decided that my song of the year is "Goldilox" by Kings X.

Earlier in the year, I went to meeting, but arrived early.

I waited in our chapel until everyone was ready, or the right people were there.

I sat there, with my walkman on. This song was there, a favourite at that time, and still now,

I sat, staring at the large crucifix.

The words weren't about romantic love.

I can't believe summer's almost here
I made it through another year
even if alone
but there's no tears in my eyes
life is still full of surprise
I'm not looking for a one night stand
I stand behind you and I watch you from a mile away
wishing you could be the one but not here this way

I'd like to know your name and
I must know who you are

I look at you and I know who you are
you're just a little bit too far from my home
but please don't get me wrong
even though it has been long
I hope I never sing my last song without someone

I'd like to know your name and
I must know who you are

To me, listening to this song, staring at the face of the crucified Christ, it can only be about discipleship.

I'm almost sure it is about something different. On that night, it was about nothing other than a dialogue between myself and Jesus.

Wonderful stuff.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Music for Christmas: Nativity

Christopher Orczy

With my second major religious work, I have taken the moment of Jesus' birth as the subject. It is a long piece, 37 minutes.

You can listen and download here.

As in the earlier Annunciation piece, the source material was recorded on the Feast day; in this case Christmas day 2007. Likewise, the image for the artwork was again taken from
English Altars by Percy Dearmer.

Whereas in Annunciation, I used the text from Luke and expressed each "moment" of the dialogue between Gabriel and Mary with some inspiration from secondary, apocryphal sources; this time I wanted to express a singular idea: that of the birth of Jesus, the Incarnation of the Son of God.

Upon looking at the two Gospel narratives depicting the birth of Jesus one is struck by how scanty the information regarding the actual birth is. In both Matthew and Luke it is almost mentioned in passing.
And Joseph arose from his sleep,
and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him,
and took unto him his wife;
and knew her not till she had brought forth a son:
and he called his name JESUS.
Matthew 1:24-25 RV

And she brought forth her firstborn son;
and she wrapped him in swaddling clothes,
and laid him in a manger,
because there was no room for them in the inn.
Luke 2:7 RV

We are give more detail on events that occur after; in the case of Matthew, the wise men; in Luke the angels and the shepherds.

Turning to non-canonical sources, there are some fantastic versions of the actual birth, in particular The Protevangelium of James (c 150). At the moment when Mary goes into labour, she tells Joseph, who leads her to a cave. He then heads off to Bethlehem in search of a midwife. He experiences a vision:
And I Joseph was walking,
and was not walking;
and I looked up into the sky,
and saw the sky astonished;
and I looked up to the pole of the heavens,
and saw it standing,
and the birds of the air keeping still.

And I looked down upon the earth,
and saw a trough lying,
and work-people reclining:
and their hands were in the trough.
And those that were eating did not eat,
and those that were rising did not carry it up,
and those that were conveying anything to their mouths did not convey it;
but the faces of all were looking upwards.

And I saw the sheep walking,
and the sheep stood still;
and the shepherd raised his hand to strike them,
and his hand remained up.
And I looked upon the current of the river,
and I saw the mouths of the kids resting on the water and not drinking,
and all things in a moment were driven from their course.
Protevangelium of James 18.
The idea that time is stopping, that eternity is becoming temporal is a beautiful depiction;

Once Joseph returns with the midwife, visual phenomena that is usual for describing God's presence is described. We see this same imagery used at the Annunciation earlier in the Protevangelium of James:

And they stood in the place of the cave,
and behold a luminous cloud overshadowed the cave.

And immediately the cloud disappeared out of the cave,
and a great light shone in the cave,
so that the eyes could not bear it.
And in a little that light gradually decreased,
until the infant appeared,
and went and took the breast from His mother Mary.
Protevangelium of James 19.

The stilling of time, and the light and cloud images are a mythical description of:
And the Word became flesh,
and dwelt among us
John 1:14 RV

The Nativity piece is an attempt to put all this together, as much as it is possible. I didn't want to compose a Christmas piece using the Shepherds or the Wise Men; my interest was far less about narrative. I liked the idea of birth, the idea of a new beginning. While both Matthew and Luke tell us about Jesus' being born, they don't tell us about his birth.

The other idea that guided the piece was from later in Luke. When Mary and Joseph take the infant Jesus to the Temple, Simeon the prophet holds Jesus in his arms, and after blessing them, says to Mary
this child is set for the falling and rising up of many in Israel;
and for a sign which is spoken against;
yea and a sword shall pierce through thine own soul;
that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.
Luke 2:34-35 RV

Maybe it is my natural gloominess, but while I think Christmas is wonderful: we are after all celebrating God's love for us, there is a darker side. Simeon's prophecy that this baby will be the falling and rising of many is both good news and bad news. It also hints at what is to take place on Calvary 30 or so years later. While the birth of Jesus is the best thing to happen, to be a follower of Christ is not "an easy option". Simeon states to Mary (who may be seen as the ideal follower of God's Word) that a sword will pierce her soul, and the thoughts of many will be revealed. Many will not see the light, and many will be persecuted for speaking of it. It is a difficult road, but one which once shown, is impossible to deny.

Merry Christmas everyone.
For God so loved the world,
that he gave his only begotten Son,
John 3:16 RV

Monday, December 8, 2008

Music for Advent: Annunciation

Christopher Orczy

Since today is "The Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary", I thought it most fitting to post my piece "Annunciation".

You can listen and download it here.

7 Atmospheres for Luke 1:26-38

1. Mary
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee,
named Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph,
of the house of David;
and the virgin’s name was Mary.

Within Luke’s Gospel, we are told very little about Mary. She is a virgin, engaged to be married to Joseph, who is of Davidic descent. We aren’t told of her appearance, her expression, or her manner.

2. Appeared
And he came in unto her,
and said,
thou that art highly favoured,
the Lord is with thee.

Similar to the previous passage, we are not told anything of Gabriel’s appearance, or the manner of his arrival. Several of the apocryphal writings are more descriptive in their retelling of this passage.
The Nativity of Mary (600 CE) has "he filled the chamber where she was with a great light."
The Martyrdom of Bartholomew (400 CE) has Gabriel “gleaming like the sun”;
and the Questions of Bartholomew (400 CE), Mary describes Gabriel’s face as “incomprehensible.”

3. Troubled
But she was greatly troubled at the saying,
and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this might be.

Mary seems to have no difficulty with Gabriel’s presence, but his words worry her. “The Lord is with thee” is a phrase that would have been familiar to Mary (and Luke’s readers) from the Torah. “Thou that art highly favoured” is what is causing her concern. Mary ponders what has she done (or not done) that would cause God to favour her.

4. Greatness
And the angel said unto her,
Fear not,
for thou hast found favour with God.
And behold,
thou shalt conceive in thy womb,
and bring forth a son,
and shalt call his name JESUS.
He shall be great,
and shall be called the Son of the Most High:
and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:
and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever;
and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

Gabriel recognizes that Mary is troubled, and consoles her. Gabriel’s second discourse contains three elements: a reiteration of Mary’s favoured status; Mary is to conceive a child; and what the child will accomplish in his earthly existence. Once again, Luke uses familiar Jewish phrases to describe who this baby will be.

5. How
And Mary said unto the angel,
How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

The most important concept of this passage comes from what Mary does not say. She has no difficulty with idea of having a child. Her question concerns the howabouts of the conception. In many ways, Mary’s question and Gabriel’s forthcoming answer are the essential core of Luke’s annunciation, and central to the season of Advent and the Nativity.

6. Cloud
And the angel answered and said unto her,
The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee,
and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee:
wherefore also that which is to be born shall be called holy,
the Son of God.
And behold,
Elisabeth thy kinswoman,
she also hath conceived a son in her old age:
and this is the sixth month with her that was called barren.
For no word from God shall be void of power.

Luke uses imagery that is reminiscent of the creation passages of Genesis (1:2; 2:6).
And the earth was waste and void;
and darkness was upon the face of the deep:
and the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

but there went up a mist from the earth,
and watered the whole face of the ground.

In the aforementioned apocryphal Questions of Bartholomew, Mary describes the event
I looked up into heaven and there came a cloud of dew and sprinkled me from the head to the feet

7. “be it unto me”
And Mary said,
the handmaid of the Lord;
be it unto me according to thy word.

And the angel departed from her.

Mary’s acceptance of what to occur makes her the first Christian. On a larger scale, her agreeing to God’s will reminds us that God can and does act within our lives; and recognizing His presence is not the pursuit of Christians solely, but rather for all mankind.

Within the next week, I will be posting another piece, "Nativity".

Monday, November 17, 2008

The wonderful world of "Jesus Music" and music blogs.

My recent rant about Christian metal and Hillsong has stayed with me. In usual fashion, I began to wonder whether I have it all wrong, and Christian metal is in fact not "right". An independent test would suggest that it is evil. It certainly sounds so at times.

This is not really a problem most of the time. Yes, it sounds dark, but the lyrics are covering dark subject matter: the Crucifixion, the Apocalypse, sin, and so forth. But sometimes, one doesn't want to feel depressed about the faith (church attendance numbers does a good job of that)

I Googled "Christian Progressive Rock" and found a whole new world. Well, two in fact: the world of "Jesus Music" and "Music Blogs".

The world of Jesus Music is truly a timely blessing for me. Here I was thinking Christian rock was dire sentimental nonsense. And the golden era (1967-1979) didn't seem to hold much hope, from what I had read.

Then the whole idea of "underground" came up. It ends up there was a whole psychedelic Christian rock scene; sort of contemporaneous with the hippy thing. It is completely hippy: but instead of acid and dope, it is Jesus and the Bible. Istead of "free love", it is love everyone. Wonderful, and completely logical.

The first album I came across was Jimmy Hotz "Beyond the Crystal Sea".

A late 70's progressive rock gem: bits of Yes, Styx, Rush, Pink Floyd, and he sings a bit like Peter Gabriel.

I'll post more as I get time beyond listening.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Dreams do come true!

It is just a shame when it is the ones that really suck.
It is even worse when the dream only prefigures one small aspect of what is occur.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"Dream a little dream of me"

And while he was sitting on the judgment–seat,
his wife sent unto him,
Have thou nothing to do with that righteous man:
for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.
Matthew 27:19 RV

I was confronted in a dream this morning by two of my least edifying features, both of which are related to an earlier post.

The dream consisted of me organising the vessels for a Eucharist. It was in a restaurant kitchen where a meal was being prepared. The vessels I had been given to prepare were filthy with dirt and old wine.

As I was cleaning them, two of the chefs asked me to put four spoons of some tomato stuff into a pot. I did this.

When I realised that I had been taking way too long cleaning the vessels, I got ready to leave. Two of the chefs stopped me, and asked what size spoon I used. Was it a teaspoon? I knew I had used a tablespoon, but I lied, and said I had indeed used a teaspoon. They saw through my deciet and showed me the meals that I had ruined.

I was worried, and started to complain about the vessels, and the time, and how if there was any trouble with the Priest, I would walk out.

I awoke with a sense of dread. Before me were my weak points, the parts of my personality that I can't stand: open, bare and raw. A very harsh way to wake up.

My dream stayed with me all day.

In the New Testament, dreams are mention very infrequently: in fact Matthew is the only Evangelist who exclusively uses the idea of divine revelation coming from dreams. Joseph is told all about Jesus conception, when to go to Egypt, when it safe to go back. The Three Wise Men are warned in a dream about Herod's plan to kill Jesus.

The most interesting dream reference comes much later in Matthew's Gospel, when Jesus is on trial in front of Pilate. At one point, Pilate's wife comes to him and says:

Have thou nothing to do with that righteous man:
for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.
Matthew 27:19 RV
I am not suggesting that my dream was a divine revelation. What I am saying is that our dreams very often point out our horrible points. Without the benefit of gloss or blur or sugar.

I would love to know what Pilate's wife's dreams were.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Martha and Mary

Martha and Mary
Maurice Denis
Now as they went on their way,
he entered into a certain village:
and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.

And she had a sister called Mary,
which also sat at the Lord’s feet,
and heard his word.

But Martha was cumbered about much serving;
and she came up to him,
and said,
dost thou not care that my sister did leave me to serve alone?
bid her therefore that she help me.
But the Lord answered and said unto her,
thou art anxious and troubled about many things:
but one thing is needful:
for Mary hath chosen the good part,
which shall not be taken away from her.
Luke 10:38-42 RV

I have liked this story since I first read it last year. It has a wonderful twist. As a first time reader, we expect Jesus to heed Martha's request and rebuke Mary for being lazy.

dost thou not care that my sister did leave me to serve alone?
bid her therefore that she help me.
Luke 10:40 RV
But it is not so.

Instead, Jesus suggests she chill out, and look at the bigger picture. Instead of worrying about who is or is not doing their fair share, she should either just get on and do, or not. It is not worth worrying about.
thou art anxious and troubled about many things:
but one thing is needful:
for Mary hath chosen the good part,
which shall not be taken away from her.
Luke 10:41-42 RV

He then informs her that Mary has her priorities correct. Instead of worrying about the mundane, she is learning the word.

What are we to take from this?
Is it that we are to engage in the spiritual life at the expense of the active life?

I think Jesus' point is somewhat more subtle. I don't think he means that we should negate the active life of service for the spiritual life. More, that if we are to be active and serve, we should do so uncomplainingly. If we are to be concerned about something, it shouldn't be the mundane reality stuff, more the spiritual side of our lives.

for Mary hath chosen the good part,
which shall not be taken away from her.
Luke 10:42 RV

The learning of the spirit is something that cannot be taken or lost.

We meet this same Mary later in Jesus' life. It seems she did learn while at Jesus' feet.

Mary therefore took a pound of ointment of spikenard,
very precious,
and anointed the feet of Jesus,
and wiped his feet with her hair:
and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.
John 12:3 RV

I have previously written about the reasons for this incident here. What I am interested in now is for the second time we hear about her, she is doing something that someone believes Jesus should rebuke her for, in this case Judas:

But Judas Iscariot,
one of his disciples,
which should betray him,
Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?
John 12:4-5 RV
As in the earlier example, we expect Jesus to agree with the accuser. Yet once again, he surprises us with his reply:

Suffer her to keep it against the day of my burying.
For the poor ye have always with you;
but me ye have not always.
John 12:7-8

Both times, Jesus informs the accuser that they are looking at things the wrong way. Indeed, Mary has got it right once again. Both times, Mary is doing something that could be regarded as selfish, and both times Jesus response seems to be egotistical, which I don't think they are.

Jesus reminds us that the spiritual life is of more concern than the material life. Yes, Martha could use a hand. Yes, the poor could use the money. But beyond this, our devotion to Christ, and our commitment to our spiritual lives is where our prime concern should be. It is from here that we will be able to help others.

On a different point, it is interesting that Mary annoints Jesus' feet. In Matthew and Mark, it is his head. John uses this motif again:
and he took a towel,
and girded himself.
Then he poureth water into the bason,
and began to wash the disciples’ feet,
and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.
John 13:4-5 RV
So: Mary learns at Jesus' feet, then she annoints his feet, then he washes the disciples feet.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Criticism and Pride

For hereunto were ye called:
because Christ also suffered for you,
leaving you an example,
that ye should follow his steps:
who did no sin,
neither was guile found in his mouth:
when he was reviled,
reviled not again;
when he suffered,
threatened not;
but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:
1 Peter 2:21-23 RV

Accepting criticism is never an easy thing. Being criticised is never fun, is never something one actively seeks. Whether it is deserved or not, the normal reaction is one of negativity.

I have a real problem with criticism. I don't handle it well at all. In some ways, the older I get, the worse I am at dealing with it.

When I was at music school, we would present our pieces in front of all the students, and then there would be a discussion on the merits, or lack thereof, of the the piece. I always found this hard, but I was confident in my work, so whatever wrongs there were, I never felt personally slighted by them.

I recently had some criticism that I found difficult to deal with. My competence, qualifications and manner were called into question. I stewed on this for month, became ill, all while I was getting to set to train my replacement.

The same weekend was our parish jubilee, with all the hoopla that entails. During rehearsals an incident or a "joke" came to my attention, which I found hurtful. The next day I turned up, and was rebuked for not doing something.

It was all a bit much for an over sensitive person such as myself. I over reacted and left.

The next day I read the following:

To recieve rightly and without offence the criticism of our own acts or characters is a large part of true meekness. I do not think it makes much difference, as far as this virtue is concerned, whether the criticism is justified or not; it may be that the bearing of them is a harder test when they are justified. Yet if we have a true and sober estimate of ourselves, I think we shall know that every criticism is justified in its spirit if not in its details. The humble man will do more than accept criticism without anger or bitterness; he will rejoice in it, seeing in it an aid to greater light on himself and to a truer estimate of his character.
Following the Way, Anon, SPCK, 1925; p 53.
I wish I had read it earlier in the month.

To realise that my over reaction was based purely on my pride being hurt has been a difficult thing. Pride is a difficult thing to overcome, and in this early stage of my journey, I now realise, yet again, how much I have to learn.
And he said,
That which proceedeth out of the man,
that defileth the man.
For from within,
out of the heart of men,
evil thoughts proceed,
an evil eye,
all these evil things proceed from within,
and defile the man.
Mark 7:20-23 RV

Friday, October 31, 2008

Me, David, and the blood of Christ

The wounds on your hands never seem to heal
I thought all I needed was to believe

Here am I, a lifetime away from you
The blood of Christ, or the beat of my heart
My love wears forbidden colours
My life believes

Senseless years thunder by
Millions are willing to give their lives for you
Does nothing live on?

Learning to cope with feelings aroused in me
My hands in the soil, buried inside of myself
My love wears forbidden colours
My life believes in you once again

Ill go walking in circles
While doubting the very ground beneath me
Trying to show unquestioning faith in everything
Here am I, a lifetime away from you
The blood of Christ, or a change of heart

My love wears forbidden colours
My life believes
My love wears forbidden colours
My life believes in you once again

I have been on a rather big David Sylvian/Japan/solo kick in the past few weeks. As one of my longest music loves, Sylvian and co and I have been through a bit together: high school, first love, drugs, marriage, divorce, overseas travel, composing, university, becoming a father, second marriage, leaving my country. In all the big things in my life, their music has been a part of it. Sometimes it has coincided that a new release that come out when a new stage of my life has begun.

They also have the advantage of being an artist that I have shared with my best friend Chris. I first met Chris through Sylvian. In 1986 I was selling(!) my Sylvian LPs to buy something else. We carried on about how brilliant he was and so forth. Within a year, I was working at the same shop with Chris; listening to Sylvian of course. I'll never forget something Chris said to me at this time, something along the lines of "I know in 10 or 20 years, I'll be able to come over to your place, and we'll listen to Sylvian". This ended up being completely true. The same couldn't be said for other stuff we were digging. (The Mission or All About Eve, anyone?)

On my latest kick, David and co are now being listened to with Christian ears. It has been an interesting spiritual journey for David Sylvian. He is now a Hindu, but was raised a Christian (I think).

Christian imagery abounds in his early works, but by 1993 they are gone.

David's most explicit Christian reference is in the 1983 single "Forbidden Colours". This is a gorgeous song, the music gleams and sparkles, David's voice is a croon, but melancholic. The opening line expresses the essential meaning:

The wounds on your hands never seem to heal
I thought all I needed was to believe.

The songs is about faith and the problem of keeping and questioning it. The middle eight clarifies the core issue:

I'll go walking in circles
While doubting the very ground beneath me
Trying to show unquestioning faith in everything
Here am I, a lifetime away from you
The blood of Christ, or a change of heart.

When I was younger, I had no idea what "The blood of Christ" meant. These days the blood of Christ is central to my life: the Eucharist is vital in my daily life and faith journey.

He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood abideth in me,
and I in him.
John 6:56 RV

If I was to explain that to myself 20 years ago, I wonder what I would have thought?

Here is the video.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Verily, verily........

After yesterdays rumination upon a "verily, verily" phrase, my interest in them all has been rekindled. The fact that this blog comes from the first of these phrases should be enough to let you know my feelings on them.

The phrase "verily, verily" is unique to John, and could easily be "amen, amen," or "Truly, truly," or "Surely, surely." Whatever it is translated as, it is certain that what follows is of extreme importance.

So here they all are, all 25 of them.
I have started to organise them, but work is slow on this.

Verily, verily,
I say unto you,
Ye shall see the heaven opened,
and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.

John 1:51 RV

Verily, verily,
I say unto thee,
Except a man be born anew,
he cannot see the kingdom of God.
John 3:3 RV

Verily, verily,
I say unto thee,
Except a man be born of water and the Spirit,
he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
John 3:5 RV

Verily, verily,
I say unto thee,
We speak that we do know,
and bear witness of that we have seen;
and ye receive not our witness.
John 3:11 RV

Verily, verily,
I say unto you,
The Son can do nothing of himself,
but what he seeth the Father doing:
for what things soever he doeth,
these the Son also doeth in like manner.
John 5:19 RV

Verily, verily,
I say unto you,
He that heareth my word,
and believeth him that sent me,
hath eternal life,
and cometh not into judgment,
but hath passed out of death into life.
John 5:24 RV

Verily, verily,
I say unto you,
The hour cometh,
and now is,
when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God;
and they that hear shall live.
John 5:25 RV

Verily, verily,
I say unto you,
Ye seek me,
not because ye saw signs,
but because ye ate of the loaves,
and were filled.
John 6:26 RV

Verily, verily,
I say unto you,
It was not Moses that gave you the bread out of heaven;
but my Father giveth you the true bread out of heaven.
John 6:32 RV

Verily, verily,
I say unto you,
He that believeth hath eternal life.
John 6:47 RV

Verily, verily,
I say unto you,
Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood,
ye have not life in yourselves.
John 6:53 RV

Verily, verily,
I say unto you,
Every one that committeth sin is the bondservant of sin.
John 8:34 RV

Verily, verily,
I say unto you,
If a man keep my word,
he shall never see death.
John 8:51 RV

Verily, verily,
I say unto you,
Before Abraham was, I am.
John 8:58 RV

Verily, verily,
I say unto you,
He that entereth not by the door into the fold of the sheep,
but climbeth up some other way,
the same is a thief and a robber.
John 10:1 RV

Verily, verily,
I say unto you,
I am the door of the sheep.
John 10:7 RV

Verily, verily,
I say unto you,
Except a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die,
it abideth by itself alone;
but if it die,
it beareth much fruit.
John 12:24 RV

Verily, verily,
I say unto you,
A servant is not greater than his lord;
neither one that is sent greater than he that sent him.
John 13:16 RV

Verily, verily,
I say unto you,
He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me;
and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.
John 13:20 RV

Verily, verily,
I say unto you,
that one of you shall betray me.
John 13:21 RV

Verily, verily,
I say unto thee,
The cock shall not crow,
till thou hast denied me thrice.
John 13:38 RV

Verily, verily,
I say unto you,
He that believeth on me,
the works that I do shall he do also;
and greater works than these shall he do;
because I go unto the Father.
John 14:12 RV

Verily, verily,
I say unto you,
that ye shall weep and lament,
but the world shall rejoice:
ye shall be sorrowful,
but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.
John 16:20 RV

Verily, verily,
I say unto you,
If ye shall ask anything of the Father,
he will give it you in my name.
John 16:23 RV

Verily, verily,
I say unto thee,
When thou wast young,
thou girdedst thyself,
and walkedst whither thou wouldest:
but when thou shalt be old,
thou shalt stretch forth thy hands,
and another shall gird thee,
and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.
John 21:18 RV

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Door of the Sheep

Verily, verily,
I say unto you,
He that entereth not by the door into the fold of the sheep,
but climbeth up some other way,
the same is a thief and a robber.
But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.

Jesus therefore said unto them again,
Verily, verily,
I say unto you,
I am the door of the sheep.
John 10:1-2, 7 RV

The "verily, verily" saying of Jesus are peculiar to the Gospel of John. I like them. They are profound, rich, and useful.

These two from chapter 10 are particularly strong. Here Jesus tells us that there are many ways to look after people, but only one true way: through him.

He that entereth not by the door into the fold of the sheep,
but climbeth up some other way,
the same is a thief and a robber.

Here Jesus tells us that there are others ways to lead people; one can think of many things: money, power, false beliefs, ideologies....the list could go on and on. What Jesus tells us is that the only thing worth following is Him. Other ideas will only lead to disappointment, or worse, destruction.

One can visit many churches and see they are being honestly led by the Gospel. However, many may be being led by some other idea. Where a church starts to care more about what goes on the collection plate, or it's public image, and not about the sick, poor or oppressed, it is being led by a false Gospel.

Of course, it will never be that obvious. It is very easy to twist the Gospel for selfishness. One needs to be constantly alert and prayerful to avoid such misinformation.

The danger lies in not being able to see the difference.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Music for St Teresa of Avila

I have composed another piece for my ongoing "Saints" series. This time it was St Teresa of Avila.
Here is the piece.
My other posts about her will let you know my feelings about her, and what an impact she has had on my journey.

Where my other pieces in this series have been shorter (Catherine of Siena in particular), or in movements (Julian of Norwich), St Teresa ended up 9 minutes. It contains many peaks and troughs, and is rather dynamic. I think it reflects her writing style: rambling, unpunctuated, free and personal. The modulations seem to describe points of view from different angles.

I read and meditated on the following vision of hers before recording the piece:

I saw an angel close by me, on my left side, in bodily form.
This I am not accustomed to see, unless very rarely.
Though I have visions of angels frequently, yet I see them only by an intellectual vision,
such as I have spoken of before.
It was our Lord's will that in this vision I should see the angel in this wise.
He was not large, but small of stature, and most beautiful —
his face burning, as if he were one of the highest angels, who seem to be all of fire:
they must be those whom we call cherubim.
Their names they never tell me;
but I see very well that there is in heaven so great a difference between one angel and another,
and between these and the others, that I cannot explain it.
I saw in his hand a long spear of gold,
and at the iron's point there seemed to be a little fire.
He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart,
and to pierce my very entrails;
when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also,
and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God.
The pain was so great, that it made me moan;
and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain,
that I could not wish to be rid of it.
The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God.
The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it, even a large one.
It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God,
that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.
The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus (c.1565) Ch. 29

Pretty intense stuff, but hard to resist, and hard to not believe. Although this famous vision is fantastic and wonderful, The St Teresa that has stayed with me exists in the following:
Let nothing disturb thee;
Let nothing dismay thee;
All thing pass;
God never changes.
Patience attains All that it strives for.
He who has God Finds he lacks nothing:
God alone suffices.

When I am feeling difficult and harsh, these words remind me of why I am here, and why I am going through what I am.
And he said unto all,
If any man would come after me,
let him deny himself,
and take up his cross daily,
and follow me.
Luke 9:23 RV

No one, not even Jesus, said being a Christian would be easy.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Where does this leave "the Prosperity Gospel"?

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth,
where moth and rust doth consume,
and where thieves break through and steal:
but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,
where neither moth nor rust doth consume,
and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
for where thy treasure is,
there will thy heart be also.
Matthew 6:19-21 RV
I have been completely enthralled by this last week or so's financial crisis. I have been sick and in bed; I used the time wisely by watching CNBC, Bloomberg, Sky Business etc. ( I have also been trying to write a sermon about Teresa of Avila. I can't find out her feelings on the market economy anywhere)

While watching capitalism spiral into a smug blame game, I am left with a few conflicting emotions, ones that are not easy to reconcile.

The first is I think it is a good thing. Maybe people will work out that money and greed aren't what will make them happy. Maybe they will look for something more worthwhile, like their soul, their spiritual wellbeing. There are many paths on offer, but only one that will truly work:
Jesus saith unto him,
I am the way,
and the truth,
and the life:
no one cometh unto the Father,
but by me.
John 14:6 RV

And unlike a course in meditation, tarot, reiki or whatever, Christianity is free. All you need do is go to your local church.

It is this "free" aspect that has me concerned, and is making this financial crisis have a bit more bite than I would like. We all know church isn't actually free: it requires a tithe; 10% of one's wage is the norm (but probably not reality). In a few years time, I will be a Rector in charge of a parish. My stipend will be paid by my flock. If the crunch is being felt by all of society, my parishioners will be amongst them. While they will have less money, they will have the same bills etc. I imagine a tithe is one of the first to be reduced.

While all this is a concern in terms of my family and I being able to eat etc, it isn't huge, really. The larger concern is that less money will come in to help the less fortunate; and there are going to be far more of them.

What is the Christian response to all this financial mess? I really can't help but feel that it is a good thing. Money should have nothing to do with the Faith; and churches and preachers who prmote a "prosperity gospel" are wrong and are using the faith for all the wrong reasons. Christianity is about mission and spirituality; doing and being, not investing and buying. Hopefully people will see that the secular society has ripped them off, made them focus on goods instead of doing good. The church is making a mistake by following this path, and is totally missing one of Jesus' main points:
And Jesus entered into the temple of God,
and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple,
and overthrew the tables of the money–changers,
and the seats of them that sold the doves;
and he saith unto them,
It is written,
My house shall be called a house of prayer:
but ye make it a den of robbers.
Matthew 21:12-13 RV

The Christian response has to be one of removal from anything to do with capitalism. It really isn't the way we are supposed to be; and this crisis is showing that it isn't the way humanity is supposed to be. There are going to be many hurt and ruined people as a result of a greed false promises. It is the church's job to help these people, show them there is a better way, and one that won't cost them their house.
Jesus said unto them,
I am the bread of life:
he that cometh to me shall not hunger,
and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.
John 6:35 RV

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Holy Unblack Metal and Hillsong: The Mystical and the Homogenised

In the last few weeks, I have begun to explore the world of Christian Death Metal, Unblack Metal and so forth.

A friend commented that it must be something like tofu compared to a steak. A fair point, and one that shows the work that needs to be done in informing the secular world of the spirituality, power, and dread that accompanies the Christian faith.

In my earlier non-Christian days, I was a huge death metal fan: Morbid Angel, Obituary, Death, Carcass, Cannibal Corpse, Slayer, and so on. I left the scene once the whole "black metal" thing started, although I did like the first Emperor album. Much, if not all, of this stuff was satanic, or at least occult. Some was anti-Christian. In those days, this was not a problem. In fact
Demons attack with hate
Satan in the fires of hell awaits
Death against you all
God hear my death call

"Chapel of Ghouls" Morbid Angel Altars of Madness (1989)
was as good as it got for 18 year old me. The more satan was referenced with a death growl, the more I dug it.

Hankering for some heavy riffage recently sent me lurking back to these old gems. I still liked the music, but the lyrics And dumb.

A search began for Christian Death Metal. I found many great bands: Crimson Thorn, Mortification, Holy Blood.....

The great thing is, no heaviness or darkness is spared with the Christian message. Satan is mentioned in a death growl, but in terms of his destruction. Also, "Christ Jesus" sounds spectacular screamed. Many of the lyrics deal with the darker parts of Jesus life: the Passion, the Agony in the Garden. Mortification's "Envision Evangeline" is an eighteen minute epic that deals with the last hours of Jesus' life, told from the perspective of the evangelists.

Holy Unblack Metal is a new thing for me. Crimson Moonlight, Antestor, Horde. This stuff is insane: fast, brutal and incredibly Christian. Quite remarkable, considering Black Metal's full on satanism. In many ways, this stuff is even more subversive than the satanic bands. Brilliant.

What all this has led me to is that there is a longing within many young people to experience God, Jesus and the faith, but don't want it bland, secularized, homogenized or McDonaldsized. There is a real desire to experience something real
and supernatural. Hillsong is not going to offer that, neither are fake healings and arena style evangelism.

What the church has neglected in the past twenty or so years is the intense
spirituality and mysticism inherent with the Gospel message. It is not an accident that many of these bands reference the Eucharist. What this music, and the current interest in Christian mysticism are showing us is that there is genuine hunger for an experience of God; one that is real, unsanitised and wholly spiritual; not an overly sentimental cornfest that makes the Faith out to be the equivalent of, not tofu, but multi-national fast food.

Compare Horde with Hillsong, and you'll see what I mean.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A St Teresa for our times

Each time of communion beg some gift of God,
by the compassion wherewith He has entered thy poor soul.
Maxim 64, St Teresa of Avila

I am once again enthralled by Teresa of Avila. I find myself drawn to her regularly, at times when it makes not much sense: then, of course, it does.

On October 15th, we celebrate St Teresa, and on this occasion I will be preaching.

About what exactly?

It seems to me, at my early stages of researching that Teresa combined two wonderful qualities. She was a mystic, and a reformer. It is about these issues and their relevance today that I will speak of.

When I was interviewed by the Bishop, and again at selection conference, I spoke of my earnest belief that the future of the church lie in teachings and promotion of the mystic ideals. In many ways, the future of the church lies in it's past.

Instead of racing toward a plasma screen in every Chancel, or a cafe chat instead of liturgy; the church would be far better off delving back to the spirit of the mystics, none moreso than Teresa.

During the Spanish counter-reformation of the late 1500's, Teresa reformed the Carmelites in terms of Medieval ideas: a return to asceticism, prayer and poverty. Silence and solitude were among her ideals of life.

I believe that many Christians, and some who aren't as yet, are hunting for a stronger sense of the spiritual in their lives: it is a shame that many don't expect this from their church. Non Christians don't think they will find it within Christianity.

Teresa and the msytics are the key for the next generation of Christians. All want to experience God, but I don't think it will happen with the current batch of "new" ideas that the church is throwing up. Each new form (or formlessness) strikes me as a secularisation, reaching people where they are and so forth. There is nothing wrong with that, but once they are reached, what are you giving them?

Enter Teresa......

Call to mind continually throughout the day the matter of the morning meditation:
be very careful herein,
for it will do thee much good.
Maxim 31, St Teresa of Avila

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Spiritual Journey of Todd Rundgren. Part Two: 1975-1977

When I was a child
I thought as a child
I spoke as a child
I didnt know better
But now Im a man
I look like a man
I'm old as a man
And I should know better
"Real Man" Initiation (1975)

With these words, Todd opens his most spiritual album (at that point) Initiation. This is also probably his most maligned album: it has been voted one of the worst 10 albums of all time; a rough call. It's not that bad, actually very good (certainly in my Rundgren Top 10) and is also the longest single LP made at 67 minutes.

The album was made when Todd was experimenting with Theosophy, which makes the above opening lines even more intriguing, seeing how they are a paraphrase of:
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child: now that I am become a man, I have put away childish things. 1 Corinthians 13:11 RV
It is interesting that on his first overt spiritual record, he opens with a phrase that many of his listeners would know, like letting them know where he is heading, getting them into the right headspace before he takes a strong left turn. Even his phrase
There's a real man
Forget about my body and be a real man
"Real Man" Initiation (1975)
This wouldn't have given his listeners any trouble, seeing how Paul carried on about how one needs to think about their spirit rather than their flesh.

A few tracks in, and Todd puts his cards on the table:
I'm on my knees, one question please
Will the real God please stand up?
Jesus and Moses, Mohammed, and Sri Krishna
Steiner, Gurdjief, Blavatsky, and Bhudda
Guru Maharaji, Reverend Sun Myung Moon
"Eastern Intrigue" Initiation (1975)
Which one? On Initiation he was certainly following Blavatsky, and particularly Alice Bailey: the 36 minute instrumental that takes up all of Side 2 is entitled "A Treatise on Cosmic Fire;" the name coming from Alice Bailey's 1928 book of the same name.

The title track is the most explicit for it's spiritual message:
See the shining soul break the ring-pass-not
Spiraling upward and it shall be revealed
The spirit is free
The universe wants it to be,
it calls you and me
Love has come, love has come
Over under,
it shall be revealed
"Initiation" Initiation (1975)
A read through this should help in understanding what Todd is going on about, but essentially the point is the separation of the spirit from it's human shackles, something not foreign to the New Testament:
And I know such a man
(whether in the body, or apart from the body, I know not; God knoweth),
how that he was caught up into Paradise
2 Corinthians 12:3-4 RV

I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day,
and I heard behind me a great voice,
as of a trumpet
Revelation 1:10 RV

That which is born of the flesh is flesh;
and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
John 3:6 RV
The above words of Jesus to Nicodemus seem to me to be of a more conservative nature than Blavatsky's. Jesus isn't saying to forget about our bodies; more to recognise the importance of our spirit.

On the next track, Todd explains his newfound spirituality to all. The opening line is very importnat to me. I remember feeling and saying a similar thing to my confused friends when I became a Christian:
I know that youve been wondering
If I'm the same man inside
Never tried to fool you
cause Ive got nothing to hide
I gave you fair warning I could never be tied down
'til Ive seen paradise with my very own eyes
Love owns us all,
time owns us all,
life owns us all
But the world doesnt own me
"Fair Warning" Initiation (1975)
The end of the song has Todd repeating "goodbye". Again, I know this feeling. It isn't goodbye is the sense of finality, more the person you once knew has gone. I'm still the same, but I now have a different outlook, different priorities. Todd also references some of his earlier pop "hits". It is like he is saying goodbye to that part of himself.

The next album Another Live Utopia adds to all this, but not as personally. Where on Initiation we have Todd dealing with his new spirituality, here he explains some of the philosophy with us. More about the rays here.
Take one beam of light
Prism acquire
Break the white light down
Seven rays appear
One - red, the ruler seeking freedom
Two - gold, the father seeking unity
Three - orange, the thinker seeking understanding
Four - yellow, the poet seeking harmony
Take the seven rays
Pure as fire
Focus anywhere
White light will appear
Five - green, the scientist seeking truth
Six - blue, the disciple seeking goodness
Seven - indigo, the artist seeking beauty
"The Seven Rays" Another Live Utopia (1975)
It is strange that when Todd expresses his spirituality interms of his personal experience, he is convincing and I really want to know more. When he explains some of the actual beliefs, he comes across as matter of fact, and not that interested in communicating them. Maybe the gig was off.....

Something must have happened to Todd after this. Mentions of a spirituality take a breather for a while, and what we do find is definately more Christian.

On 1976's Faithful on one of the lesser songs, Todd makes a very Christian paraphrase:
Now I lay me down to sleep
I'm praying Lord my soul to keep
If I die before I wake
Somebody make a big mistake

I dont expect for nothing
But Lord when I pray,
please be there
"When I Pray" Faithful (1976)
Unfortunately, the song is humourous, especially Todd's awful fake Jamaican accent.

1977 saw two albums by Utopia. Interestingly the more obviously mystical Ra contains very little in the terms of spirituality. The next album Oops! Wrong Planet! however, does have some sense of spirit. (and is a far better album, to boot)

The opening track, while not spiritual, does tell us about soemone who is, and what the religious leaders think of such a happening:
Brother John saw visions of God
So they put him in chains
For acting too odd
As the crowd shouted, off with his head
The priest said, have mercy
Lets burn him instead
"Trapped" Oops, Wrong Planet! (1977)

If anything, it does tell us Todd's feeling on the Church. While he may be spiritual, he isn't neccesarily religious.

On the ballad of the album, "Love is the Answer" Todd make his most explicit Christian references (to my thinking, anyways):

Light of the world, shine on me
Love is the answer
Shine on us all, set us free
Love is the answer

We got to love one another

Just give it one more chance
Lord you just cant let it stop Lord
Love is the answer
Got to be free to let love into your life
Let it shine
"Love is the Answer" Oops, Wrong Planet! (1977)

Great stuff, and if you don't know this song, please check it out. To some it may be a bit AOR, but the sincerity is very hard to resist. Here Todd is referencing the Gospel of John
Jesus spake unto them, saying,
I am the light of the world:
he that followeth me shall not walk in the darkness,
but shall have the light of life.
John 8:12 RV

A new commandment I give unto you,
that ye love one another;
even as I have loved you,
that ye also love one another.
John 13:34 RV
Of course it is possible that Todd was not deliberately using these terms as Christian terms; in fact they are common phrases, but "light of the world" in Western society is normally used in reference to Christ. Considering the journey Todd was on, I think he knew what he was saying.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Spiritual Journey of Todd Rundgren. Part One: 1968-1974

I first heard Todd Rundgren in the August school holidays of 1989. The album I heard was 1973's A Wizard; A True Star. It blew me away like very few albums ever have. (This is a subjest for another blog entry: those albums on first listen that change your conception of what you like about music). The album is a rambling riot of pop, psychedelia, soul, avant garde, metal, and showtunes. Awesome.

I went on to get all Todd's albums, starting from 1968-1970's Nazz, right up to his (then) contemporary Nearly Human. It was a huge journey, as it dose consist of 25 (now well over) albums. While many of the albums are fantastic, some are a bit lacklustre but containing at least a gem or two.

In those days, I listened to the lyrics, mainly loving his self deprecating humour, and loser in love stance (I
was 17!). The older I get, the less I listen to words in pop music; however, a recent Todd binge has made me aware of his lyrics once again. This time, his spirituality mutterings have caught my attention.

The early part of his career (1968-1972) is almost exclusively about women and associated emotional pain.

The first mentions, on
A Wizard; A True Star (1973) are vague. No longer is Todd just concerned about women: he now has bigger issues, like the destruction of his ego by psychedelic drugs, and the world in general. There is a surreal vibe throughout; nothing overtly spiritual. The lyrics to "Zen Archer" seem to point toward a deeper understanding, however.
Rivers of blood,
Oceans of tears,
Life without death,
And death without reason

Mountains of pain,
Valleys of love,
Death without life,
And life without meaning
"Zen Archer"
A Wizard; A True Star (1973)

Later in the album, Todd makes his first overt reference to the Christian faith:
Another virgin mary, another case is shut
Have another helping, prime cut of babys butt
A sip of holy water, a shot of saving grace
Another western mystic, the words pore out my face
"Just Another Onionhead"
A Wizard; A True Star (1973)
Todd's next album, Todd (1974) expands his spiritual outlook. Song titles like "A Spark of Life" and "In and Out of the Chakras we go" allude to something more than romance, to a more cosmic outlook. The two tracks are both instrumentals; it almost seems as if he is not yet ready to formulate his beliefs, but wishes to publicly explore them in a vague way.

Todd Rundgren's Utopia (1974) contains nothing about women at all; more sci-fi freak stuff. Some lyrics do make some spiritual points:
Your reward will come
Its just a question of how and when
And the truth will come and the change will come
Its just a question of how and when
"Freedom Fighters" Todd Rundgren's Utopia (1974)
Of course we could interpret this in many ways, but it does remind me of
Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake:
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:10 RV

On the side long epic "The Ikon" things definately more overt:
On a day like no other
In a time unique, in a place divine
Keep your eye on the ikon
Shining in the light of eternal mind.

Someone knows who you are
Someone watches over you
Someone knows how you feel
And someone feels the same.

So you dont have to be afraid
We live and we die
You dont have to be afraid to know why.
"The Ikon" Todd Rundgren's Utopia (1974)

Admittedly, this song is really about a future civilisation, sort of controlled by everyone's combined mind. We are a long way from "We gotta get you a woman"!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Epiclesian gestures

On commencing
This Oblation, &c.,

he extends his two hands over the Host and Chalice together,
so that, the thumbs being joined in the usual manner,
the palms of the hands are turned towards the Host and Chalice,
and they are retained in this position until the words

Through Christ our Lord,

when they are closed without being first disjoined.
During the next prayer,
at the words


three Signs of the Cross are made over the Chalice and Host together
and at the word

a single Sign of the Cross is made over the Host alone,
and at the word

a like Sign over the Chalice alone;
these Signs are made with the right hand,
the left being placed on the Altar outside the Corporal.

The above is taken from Ritual Notes (1894)

On Monday, a woman who helps with our Playtime group joined us at Midday mass. She is not a church goer at all.

It was interesting to be a part of the service, and hear it, experience it, with a sense of it being completely new for someone. It made me remember how confusing and odd the Communion service was for me when I first experienced my first service. Of course these days, I understand the words and what why we do it.

Upon the end of the service, the woman turned to me and said "If you're going to be doing that, you are going to have to remember an awful lot of stuff". Very true. She also pointed out the "ritualness" of it all.

I am interested in the epiclesis at the moment, and it is this part that contains some distinctive movements and gestures by the priest, which I have placed above.

Monday, August 11, 2008

An epiclesian ramble

Verily, verily, I say unto you,
Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man
and drink his blood,
ye have not life in yourselves.
John 6:53 RV
I have had my interest in the epiclesis reignited in the last week or so.
A series of incidents and talks have made it central to my thinking once more.

The other week, I was engaged in a talk about OLM's (Ordained Local Ministers), like part time priests, I guess. The idea of lay presidency is something I don't approve of.

I suppose this comes down to my Eucharistic Theology.

I believe the bread and wine do become the body and blood of Jesus in the Eucharist. I believe thsi is done during the epiclesis, or invocation of the Holy Spirit over the elements.

During the aforementioned talk, this part was referred to as "the magic bit". A bit dumb really, but the point is there. To use the term "magic" is deliberately disparaging, and offensive really. The point being made is that the priest at this point is invoking the Holy Spirit and changing the elements. The point being made is that anyone can do this, or, far more likely, that it is not needed.


Anyway, the epiclesis is easily one of the most sacred and profound moments within the Liturgy. It is a moment that calls for still reverence. Truly wonderful; a time when the reality of what the sacraments are is unavoidable. One can feel the infinite becoming temporal.

Here are my two favourite epiclesis'.

Hear us,
O Merciful Father,
we most humbly beseech thee,
and with thy Holy and Life-giving Spirit
vouchsafe to bless and sanctify both us and these thy gifts of Bread and Wine,
that they may be unto us the Body and Blood of thy Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ,
to the end that,
receiving the same,
we may be strengthened and refreshed both in body and soul.
Epiclesis BCP 1928

Hear us, merciful Lord;
through Christ accept our sacrifice of praise;
and, by the power of your Word and Holy Spirit,
sanctify this bread and wine,
that we who share in this holy sacrament may be partakers of Christ’s body and blood
Thanksgiving 3 Australian Prayer Book