Tuesday, April 29, 2008

St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380)

St Catherine of Siena,
Andrea Vanni, (1332-c. 1414)
San Domenico, Siena

April 29 is the Feast Day of St Catherine of Siena.

is a piece I have composed in her honour.

The music is an attempt to capture something of her mystical zeal and pain. She is more frantic than Julian of Norwich, and isn't as thought thorough as St Teresa of Avila. Yet I sense an overpowering light that seems to make her experiences shimmer. It is sudden and intense. It is this I have tried to capture in the piece.

At the execution of man she converted and has received Holy Communion for the first time, she had a mystical experience:
I prayed, I constrained her,
I cried "Mary!" for I wished this grace,
that at the moment of death she should give him a light and a peace in his heart,
and then I should see him reach his goal.
Then my soul became so full that although a multitude of people were there,
I could see no human creature,
for the sweet promise made to me.

The vision, and it's reason for happening show Catherine's true nature as one who desired to serve God to her utmost, and beyond.

At the age of 6 she started to recieve visions. By her early teens she was asking her parents whether she could become a Nun. When they refused, she cut all her hair off, and wanted to make herself as ugly as possible. She fasted regularly, often forgoing any food other than Holy Communion. Her parents were wealthy, and had hoped she would "marry well". 1363, at the age of 16 she joined the Dominican Tertiary. In 1373 she was told by God to leave the cloister, and enter public life. She initially thought of the Clergy, and asked God how this would be possible. He replied:
I will raise up women ignorant and frail by nature
but endowed with strength and divine wisdom.
Then, if the men will come to their senses and humble themselves,
I will behave with the utmost mercy towards them,
that is to say, towards those who, according to the grace given them, receive my doctrine,
offered to them in fragile but specially chosen vessels,
and follow it reverently.

Within her letters, we find out her thoughts concerning the privilege, call, and role of the Clergy.
To her future biographer, and Spiritual Advisor, Raymund of Capua, she writes:
Kind father,
cheer up,
for you have been called to him so sweetly.

Persevere with joy and patience,
without crippling pain.

... I desire to see you a seeker and lover of truth.

She also writes on what a Priest should do and be (same thing?). the sort of flower that breathes out a fragrance before God and for those in your care.
Be a true shepherd, ready to give your life for your sheep.
Consider God's ineffable love for your salvation;
open your eyes and you see his boundless blessings and gifts.
Fall in love with virtue;
its effect is the opposite of that of vice,
because sin brings bitterness
while virtue brings sweetness
and even in this life a foretaste of the next.

The Letters of Saint Catherine of Siena, Suzanne Noffke, O.P., volume 1, Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1988, 57-58.

Her opinion of the Clergy may be understood better by the words she recieved in a vision. God explains to Catherine the role of Ministers, and what they are actually administering at the Eucharist:

I have especially chosen My ministers for the sake of your salvation,
so that, through them,
the Blood of the humble and immaculate Lamb, My only-begotten Son,
may be administered to you.
To them have I given the Sun to administer,
giving them the light of science and the heat of Divine Love,
united together in the color of the Body and Blood of My Son,
whose Body is a Sun,
because He is one thing with Me, the True Sun,
in such a way that He cannot be separated or divided from Me,
as in the case of the natural sun,
in which heat and light cannot be separated,
so perfect is their union;

Of the dignity of the priest;
The Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena

Reading St. Catherine's thoughts on Priests has given me much to ruminate over.
Be the sort of flower that breathes out a fragrance before God and for those in your care.
Be a true shepherd, ready to give your life for your sheep.
I think this is good advice.

St. Catherine of Siena
from Orcherd of Syon*

*The treatment is of my down doing. Click on the picture for large version.The beautiful original is here.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

St John's Wort: Working?

Simone Cantarini
São João Evangelista

It has been two weeks since I started taking St John's Wort.

I can say that I have noticed an improvement in my overall mood, but the grimness still appears.

Within the first week, I experienced a period of general love, which while I can't state it was due to SJW, I can't state that it wasn't.

I have a good routine in place: 1 tablet in the morning, one mid afternoon, and the last one just before sleep.

I have also been drinking some SJW tea as an alternative to normal tea. It is quite nice: bitter, but drinkable. It also has the advantage of tasting fine cold.

In terms of reading St John's works to see if I could find why this herb is names after him, I have found nothing concrete, only the following slithers:
Within 1 John, the terms
God is light
1 John 1:5

God is love
1 John 4:16

appear. Since taking SJW, I have had two very definitive results. One is that everything is brighter and glaring. Greens are more vivid than before, particularly in nature. It has been overcast and raining here, so that may explain the green (however, it is more dazzling), but does not explain the glare. I have since read the SJW does increase light sensitivity to the eyes, and of the possible dangers is cataract troubles. Maybe that is the light?

In terms of love, I have experienced a few days where love was dominant feel of the day, something unusual for me. Of course I feel love and loved everyday, but this was continuous and omnipresent. St John's Gospel is often referred to as the "Gospel of Love" (Love count for Gospels: Matthew 16, Mark 8, Luke 18, John 57)

But for all my musing, it seems as if SJW actually named after St John the Baptist. Some early Christian authors claimed that red spots, symbolic of the blood of St. John, appeared on leaves of SJW on August 29, the anniversary of the saint's beheading. It was the Baptist, not the Evangelist that was beheaded.

As long as it helps, I don't mind whether this plant is named after the Evangelist or the Baptist. Although the evidence (!) is against me, and it also doesn't really matter, I will continue to think of it as being named after the Evangelist. He has been an indescribable influence on my faith, and I like to think that the person who named this plant, how ever long ago, may have been in the same predicament: prone to melancholy, but inspired by St John.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Neil Peart and Love

This latest Rush album,
Snakes and Arrows, is hitting me. The music is great: Geddy's voice is only getting better with age, and his bass work is subtle and understated, his tone trebly. Lifeson's guitars are rich and varied; lots of acoustic and 12 string. Peart's drums and cymbals are sublime. He really is one of the best ever.

Yet is the lyrics which are really making me listen. The album really seems to be about spirituality. I wrote about "Workin' them Angels" in my last post, but other bits have popped up.

On the song "Faithless" Peart makes his strongest statement about his spirituality:
I don't have faith in faith
I don't believe in belief
You can call me faithless
You can call me faithless
All this is sung with an earnestness (not by Peart, but by Geddy*) that sounds very spiritual. It has the classic soaring quality that Rush do achieve so often, yet there is a tenderness that is not tinged with mawkishness. It sounds like a decision that has been only made through many triumphs and loses. Yet it sounds to me as if the loses won.
I still cling to hope
And I believe in love
And that's faith enough for me
To essentially the same music we then are told the above. Geddy alters his vocal melody to show the real glimmer. The few tones difference is the difference between losing and winning. Love is indeed great.
But now abideth faith, hope, love, these three;
and the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13 RV
For a Christian, it is difficult to separate love from God.
God is love;
and he who abides in love,
abides in God,
and God abides in him.
1 John 4:16
In the song "Ghost of a Chance" from Roll the Bones (1991), Peart has this to say about faith and love:
I don't believe in destiny
Or the guiding hand of fate
I don't believe in forever
Or love as a mystical state
He is essentially saying the same thing, but now (16 years later) love has a "higher status". I would still say he doesn't see a mystical side of love, but now he believes in it. The difference is profound, and the music reflects this. In 1991, the music is smooth and controlled. In 2007, it has become ragged and more human. It also sounds more spiritual.

*An interesting side issue: I am not sure of Geddy's religious beliefs. I know his parents survived being in a concentration camp. If he is a religious man, how would he feel singing those words?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Neil Peart and Angels

Heaven of Angels
Catherine Andrews

Neil Peart is the drummer and lyricist for Canadian band Rush. Lyrically he can be a bit preachy, and a bit too well meaning for my liking. However, he sometimes gets it spot on.
I recently got Rush's lastest album
Snakes and Arrows (2007).
For me the highlight is "Workin' them Angels". The song soars with a deep sense of freedom and danger. The guitars sound barely able to contain the momentum, the drums working hard to keep the song grounded. The vocals convey a sense of of sorrow and nostalgia, combined with an ecstatic sense of luckiness. Fantastic stuff, and an example of Rush really getting it right, like no other band can.
All my life I've been workin' them angels overtime
Riding and driving and living

So close to the edge
Lyrically, the song is about the way Peart has lived his life: "living so close to the edge." He is aware that he must have had some divine assistance, if anything, the way he has been living has needed extra help. It is an interesting way to think: without asking (or necessarily believing in*) them, he regards that he must have received help from above. Intriguingly, he changes "close to" to "just over" the edge. The angels help remained even when he pushed things too far. The feel of the music suggests that he thinks he may need to amend his ways. He may have pushed his luck too far.

Peart references angels in another song: "The Big Wheel" (1991).
He gives us a bit more information on his beliefs; institutional religion has no place in his spirituality.
Well, I was only a kid, on a holy crusade I placed no trust in a faith that was ready-made
Take no chances on paradise delayed
He mixes his teenage pursuits into this song: music, women, spirituality. In particular he fuses women and spirit into one. It is difficult to know exactly what he is referring to:
Looking for love
For an angel to forgive my sins
I love this line. It perfectly encapsulates my teenage years: women and spirit. The two do become intermixed.
Hoping for heaven -- hoping for a fine romance
He accurately describes the teenage excitement of finding spirituality:
Playing for time
Don't want to wait for heaven

Playing with fire
Chasing something new to believe in
The song is a nostalgic look at youth. It could only be written by someone looking back. With "Workin' them Angels" we are in the present. Life is still on an edge. The searching of youth led to no real spirituality; the Angels have changed from something to find; he now realizes they were always present.

*In the song "Ghost of a Chance" from Roll the Bones, Peart states:
I don't believe in the stars or the planets
Or angels watching from above

Saturday, April 19, 2008

St John's Directions

The First Letter of St John
Johann Christoph Weigel

He that loveth not
knoweth not God;
for God is love.
1 John 4:8 RV

I have had a very strange relationship with
1 John. I have read the letter many times, and have read quite a bit about it's authorship problems, it's language and structure. Yet, it's true nature only reveals itself after being allowed to wander into one's life.

I recently described the
Gospel of John as having "a focusing effect" on my faith. This letter has had a different effect. It appears from nowhere into reality. Where the Gospel truly reveals Jesus as the Son of God, the letter suggest what to do with that knowledge. It amplifies, extends, teaches, all with a gentle fervency that is disarming. The "spiral" effect of the authors writing seems to offer a way to view differing perspectives on one's current situation.

There is a mystical quality that permeates the writing. Consider:
the kingdom of God is within you.
Luke 17:21 RV

In 1 John, it is God that dwells within, but the journey toward this state is explained and expanded.
God is love;
and he that abideth in love
abideth in God,
and God abideth in him.
1 John 4:16 RV

In Luke, Jesus informs the Pharisees of where God is.
1 John gives a little map.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Oh, Teresa!

The Ecstasy of St Teresa
Gian Lorenzo Bernini

In the last couple of days I have read comments by people referring to God in a negative way. Both were with obvious humour. One in particular was referring to the God of the OT, The other was just a general reference. Both made me laugh; they were too jocular to find offensive.
God is light,
and in him is no darkness at all.
1 John 1:5 RV
My feelings and thoughts of God are not negative.
I question what sometimes feels as his absence. The moments when God feels distant are when I experience negative things.
Sometimes I have created the negativity.
The moments I recognise an absence is when my arrogance and selfishness becomes too big for me to feel a presence.
Standing in a river torrent, Teresa of Avila complained:
Lord, amid so many ills this comes on top of all the rest.”
A Voice answered her, “Teresa, that is how I treat my friends.”
She retorted, “Ah, my God! That is why you have so few of them!”

I wouldn't dare say such a thing, but I haven't had the experiences of Teresa that would allow me to do so. Teresa's mystical writings have been, and are still,a revelation. Interior Castle is a fantastic example of a true mystic explaining the mystical experience; lucid and majestic, vague and humble. Christians are very blessed to have had someone with such a beautiful soul explain a deeply personal experience in such a meaningful and glorious way.

Oh, Teresa! What a wonderful soul, spirit, woman, and wit.

Monday, April 14, 2008

My Favourite Anglicans: George Herbert (1593-1633)

George Herbert
Robert White

I picked up a copy of Ralph Vaughan Williams "5 Mystical Songs" on CD from the library. It was a complete fluke that I saw it, even more so that it had the author of the texts prominently showing: George Herbert.

The music itself is fine. Very RVW Choral sound, and unfortunately, spirit. I don't get any sense of religious awe, or mystery from his works. I do however enjoy his 3rd Symphony; a very nature mystic work.

Listening to the work, I started reading through Herbert's The Country Parson. I picked this up last year, and loved it immediately.

It is very hard to dislike George. The book is full of great information concerning marriage, one's library, how to keep your Church clean, as well as general mood.
After explaining that a country Parson as being "generally sad" he goes on to suggest:
nature will not bear everlasting droopings,
and that pleasantnesse of disposition is a great key to do good;
not onely because all men shun the company of perpetuall severity,
but also for that when they are in company,
instructions seasoned with pleasantnesse,
both enter sooner, and roote deeper.
Wherefore he condescends to humane frailties both in himseife and others
The Country Parson, Chap27, The Parson in Mirth

His language is beautiful, his heart is honest and pure, his spirituality soars. All that in a book about how to manage your country Parish, and yourself as a Priest.

George Herbert was ordained in 1630, at the age of 37. He was known for his devotion to his flock, bringing the sacraments to them when they were ill, and providing food and clothing for those in need.

He died three years later of tuberculosus. On his deathbed, he handed his manuscript of all his writings to a friend, telling him he should publish them if he thought they may "turn to the advantage of any dejected poor soul"

Sunday, April 13, 2008

St John's what?

St. John's Wort Hypericum perforatum

In my dealings with depression, I have been put on various "meds'. I stopped taking the nasty little things months ago, and finally feel like they are out of my system (brain shocks, anyone?)
Anyway, the depression remains.
Apparently St John's Wort is an anti-depressant.

It is yet another one of those odd "co-incidences" that a herbal anti-depressant is named after
St John, the writer who has had the biggest impact on my Christian journey. I have a lot of time for St John. If I could meet one of the Evangelists it would be him. His thought and expression has been a constant source of spiritual nourishment and intellectual stimulus since reading his Gospel for the first time last year.

Why is it called St John's Wort? Why not St Luke's Wort. Luke was supposed to be a doctor.
The following sort of helps:
St. John's Wort Hypericum perforatum
The name derives from eikon (a figure, possibly an unwanted apparition) and hyper (above), which relates to the ancient use of St. John's wort to exorcise evil spirits or influences [10], since the plant may have been placed over religious icons as a symbol of protection. The common name, St. John's wort, is obviously a reference to St. John. Its earliest use may date back to the 6th century AD when, according to Gaelic tradition, the missionary St. Columba always carried a piece of St. John's wort because of his great regard for St. John [12]. Some early Christian authors claimed that red spots, symbolic of the blood of St. John, appeared on leaves of Hypericum spp. on August 29, the anniversary of the saint's beheading, while others considered that the best day to pick the plant was on June 24, the day of St. John's feast [10]. In the Christian tradition, St. John represents light, hence the flowers were taken as a reminder of the sun's bounty [13].

Whatever the reason for it's name, it makes sense. Hypericum coming from "unwanted apparition" is logical in the sense that depression used to be regarded as possession by evil spirits. The St John part is slightly more difficult to understand.
John the Evangelist
Hans Memling (1480?)
Anyway, I am going to try St John's Wort. My sister in law had an unwanted bottle of tablets, and I have some teabags. Apparently it takes a week or so to have any effect. Maybe reading St John's works at the same time will make it more efficacious. Or at least reveal while this plant has been given his name.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Immaturity and The Trinity

The Holy Trinity
from a Book of Hours

Christianity, and the Christian journey, is full of "coincidences".The cross which I have inherited from my Mothers side of the family is a Cross Botonnee. I am unsure on how far back it goes, but at least a few generations.

I bought a book this week Symbols of the Church, which explained this type of Cross symbolises the young, or immature Christian. Upon finding a picture to illustrate this type of decoration, I read that:

Cross Botonnee (or Budded): This Cross received its name because the points appear to be capped with what appears to be a tree bud. The three-fold points (Trefoil) stand for the Holy Trinity.

Both explanations make sense; both on a theological and symbolical level.
The intruiging thing here, and the point of this bit, is that this week is the first time I have ever known anything about the symbolism of my Cross, and the first time I have really considered the Trinity. Of course I have thought about it, but never spent time really considered the concept.

To summarize:
something I have wanted to know (Cross decoration),
was found to symbolize something appropriate (immature Christian).
On further research,
the decoration actually ends up meaning what I had been studying during the week (The Holy Trinity).

Moreover, the concept of Christian immaturity is in itself an explanation of why I have haven't considered the concept of the Holy Trinity before: it was too earlier before now.

But why now?
The last week has been one of deep spiritual movement.
One of Sensing God more ambiently, yet more acutely.
It was been a tumultuous time emotionally as a result.

In a time of crisis, faith is tested unconsciously.
New elements are introduced and they only need to be noticed.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit

Holy Trinity
Fridolin Leiber

How weird is that picture?
I have been looking at it while looking at The Shield of Trinity

It makes for some very good meditation.
It comes in fleeting glimpses, tangible, yet elusive.

"The Father is God"
"The Son is God"
"The Holy Spirit is God"
"God is the Father"
"God is the Son"
"God is the Holy Spirit"
"The Father is not the Son"
"The Son is not the Father"
"The Father is not the Holy Spirit"
"The Holy Spirit is not the Father"
"The Son is not the Holy Spirit"
"The Holy Spirit is not the Son"

The mysteries of the Christian faith are wondrous.

How to get a sore left cheek

but if ony smyte thee in the riyt cheke,
schewe to him also the tothir;
Matthew 5:39 WycliffeNT

"we ought not to be content till we have utterly crushed out of ourselves the least desire, as far as our own personal feeling is concerned, to take any kind of revenge whatsoever. We are to efface ourselves utterly, we are to turn the other cheek. That means, of course, that we decline to show in any way that we know who has done the wrong, and that we are at pains to look for opportunity of kindness to the person who has wronged us"
Charles Gore,
The Sermon on the Mount, (1896) p. 89

Being wronged is a real test. For a Christian, there really is only one option, as Gore puts it:
"any other course of conduct at all is more or less morally wrong, because no social duty compels us to assert our just cause" (p.90)

In secular terms, this would be regarded as "sucking it up": taking a deep breath, getting on with things.
We all do this, and most of the time it is not easy. There are other times where it can be a real challenge, and here is the test.

It's all a process of deepening faith, to take these from word to reality.

Blessed are the meek:
for they shall inherit the earth.

Matthew 5:5 RV

Sunday, April 6, 2008

St Christopher in early 1970's American rock music:

This little writing is just an odd adjunct to a larger topic: that of Saint Christopher.

My interest in St Christopher stems from before becoming a Christian. Being the patron Saint of travellers, he is a common figure. He was also the first Christopher, so anyone with that name (which I share) should have an interest in the story.

St Christopher's feast on 25 July was removed from the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints in 1969.

Since I have been researching St Christopher in the past few months, I have been really pleased to find a couple of music related items.

Styx "Christopher, Mr Christopher" Man of Miracles (1974)

The song "Christopher, Mr Christopher" was written by lead singer and keyboardist, Dennis DeYoung. De Young was a Roman Catholic, and the song is essentially a plea to have Christopher reinstated. The lyrics deal with two themes: one a retelling of the legend of Saint Christopher; and another which deals "Mary Margaret" who thinks the world has gone mad, due to his demotion. The music is very seventies American, FM sound: distorted whining twin guitar leads, the vocal harmonies are shrill with exaggerated vibrato. However, the synth textures (Oberheim?) are in advance of their UK counterparts.

I dig it. I'm not a huge Styx fan by any means, but they did some stuff of value, this song being an early example. From 74-77 Styx did some quintessential American rock. It would be impossible to listen to side one of The Grand Illusion (1977) and not think of late 70's suburban America. It is sound of WKRP in Cincinnati or That Seventies Show.

s/t (1970)

From an earlier period in music history, the Texas power trio Christopher are a different story. Christopher saw themselves as a religious band, and when they had to change from their earlier name of United Gas, they chose Christopher in reference to the then contemporaneous demotion of the Saint. The lyrics alternate between themes of mystic visions, the apocalypse, Christian love, women. The music is classic late 60's sound: Cream, Love, Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead (sort of). Christopher only recorded one album, 1000 copies were pressed. The band was plagued by drug problems, suicide attempts, womanising and a changing line up. Thankfully, the album has been issued on CD, and it truly is a forgotten gem. Although there is no mention of Saint Christopher on the album, the fact that they chose him for their name says a lot about peoples feelings toward him.