Chairs… no – Music at Masses Review

A reader commented that my life must be pretty near to perfection if I can find the energy to gripe about church chairs. While he may have a point, sorta, the reality is more like I am so easily distracted that even something as trivial as weird church chairs can distract me from… uh…

Today, I went to a 9:00 Mass at one nearby parish so I could do the RCIA dismissal after the Scrutinies at Queen of All Saints at 10:30. We sat in these chairs:


Clearly, they are intended and used as flexible pews.


Vastly better construction than these chairs. Legs integrated into the seat and set at an angle to minimize pressure on the joints. Yet, I was distracted from the chairs which distracted me from Mass by the sweet smell of pancakes. One of the things these chairs tell you is that the parish is unsure of what, exactly, the church building is for. Normal pews commit one to viewing the building as exclusively a church. Evidently, this large box of a building is also for pancake breakfasts, because a bunch of tables were set up for one at the back of the church, and the smell of the pancakes cooking filled the church. There’s not even a visual barrier between the Mass and the breakfast – I walked through the tables on my way to the porta-pews.

So, of course, we sang, or rather listened to, Jebbies and Haugen. This mass had a children’s choir, a small passel of cute little girls miked up like they were calling for the repeal of the 2nd Amendment – more than one mike for every two girls. Otherwise, it would have been pretty darn quiet during the ‘singing’.

We listened to them singing Jerusalem My Destiny, a little ditty I’ve somehow missed.

I have fixed my eyes on your hills,
Jerusalem, my Destiny!
Though I cannot see the end for me,
I cannot turn away.
We have set our hearts for the way;
this journey is our destiny.
Let no one walk alone.
The journey makes us one.

Other spirits, lesser gods,
have courted me with lies.
Here among you I have found
a truth that bids me rise. (Refrain)

See, I leave the past behind;
a new land calls to me.
Here among you now I find
a glimpse of what might be. (Refrain)

In my thirst, you let me drink
the waters of your life,
Here among you I have met,
the Savior, Jesus Christ. (Refrain)

All the worlds I have not seen
you open to my view.
Here among you I have found
a vision bright and new. (Refrain)

To the tombs I went to mourn
the hope I thought was gone,
Here among you I awoke
to unexpected dawn. (Refrain)

Aren’t we wonderful! References to I, me, we, us, etc: 31. God: 1, and the one verse that even mentions Christ turns Him into some sort of abstract expression of group identity:

In my thirst, you let me drink the waters of your life, Here among you I have met, the Savior, Jesus Christ.

Pronoun trouble: the ‘you’ here seems to be Jerusalem at least some of the time, but not always? You’d be hard pressed from context to figure out when it is or isn’t.

This song represents perhaps the nadir of content-free hymnody. It says nothing and means nothing. It invites the question ‘what is that supposed to mean?’ without providing any sure context within which to to figure it out. Take the opening line, or any line, for that matter, of just about any classic hymn, and you’ll see what I mean:

Praise the Lord, Ye Heavens adore Him

Joyful, Joyful, we adore Him

Jesus, my Lord, my God, my All

Jesu, Joy of man’s desiring

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow

And on and on and on. A relationship between the singer and the Savior is established within the first 10 words; God is the subject of the hymn, praise the objective. God is described as the Giver of Blessings, the Joy that answers our desires, the Object of our adoration. Jerusalem My Destiny? Not so much. Evocative words and phrases  – Jerusalem! Destiny! – end up meaning exactly whatever you want to imagine them to mean. It is an anti-hymn, an anti-psalm.

On Saturday, went to a Catholic Men’s Conference. Our beloved – and he could sure use your prayers – Archbishop Cordeleone of San Francisco celebrated mass at noon, with a lovely choir doing chant and motets and a couple nice songs, some in Latin. We sang as Byzantine-style 4-part setting of the St. Michael’s Prayer. No question Who this mass and its music were directed toward.

On the whole, the weekend was a huge plus on the music at mass front.


Music at Mass Review: 1st Sunday of Lent 2018

Up at Lake Tahoe for our annual President’s Day weekend snow trip with friends from Diablo Valley School. ‘Snow’ being pretty much nominal this year, unlike the 10′ high drifts last year.  So off to the striking church of St. Theresa’s Parish in downtown South Lake Tahoe for the 8:00 Mass. A lovely group of people with a good, humble priest.

One amazing thing happened. This building has a large window behind the altar through which one sees forest and the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra – very striking, especially on a windy winter’s day when clouds whipped by, sunlight dappling the sanctuary as they flew past.

At the Elevation, the altar was in shade. As the priest lifted the Host, It was brilliantly back-lit while all else remained in shadow. Very beautiful and appropriate.

In previous years, I found the amateur woodworking on the pews distracting, as discussed in the post linked above. I think I’m finally over that particular temptation. The music, however…

Again, some sweet people are doing their best. A young woman with a lovely light voice lead the singing. But if all you know is Ripple, good red wine will be spit out of your mouth.

Theory: contemporary church songs are particularly bad in Lent, because contemporary writers have no concept of repentance. How could they, when, at least in the West, the whole project since V-II seems to be to get everybody to accept everybody (themselves included) as, essentially OK as they are. Repent from what? in other words. Hurting Gaia’s feelings, I suppose?

That Desert Father and Counter-Reformation Jesuit recognition that we’ve screwed up both individually and as a Church and could not possible do enough to correct it (we need a Redeemer, after all – another thought conspicuously absent from 99% of modern songs) is completely foreign to enlightened sensibilities. The idea that it is meet and just and ESSENTIAL TO OUR SALVATION that we throw ourselves weeping on the Mercy of God, despairing of our own strength and trusting solely in grace of Christ’s Holy Sacrifice as the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world – not so popular. Am I saying we’re not OK? How dare me!

Pick any Catholic Lenten hymn more than 75 years old, and it’s easy to see St. Francis fasting and lying on the cold ground while praying those thoughts, or St. Catherine of Sienna weeping her eyes dry. It works. Now, imagine St. Teresa of Avila, in her stern humor, or Mother Theresa or even Dorthy Day reading over ‘Ashes’ and – I think some anathemas might be forthcoming.

Continue reading “Music at Mass Review: 1st Sunday of Lent 2018”

Music at Mass 01 14 2108

Robert Hugh Benson’s book Lord of the World has been praised and recommended by both Pope Francis and Pope Benedict. In the story, set in some future Britain in which a Humanitarianism indistinguishable from modern Progressivism rules with an ever-tightening grip, an Oliver Brand, a junior member of Parliament, is to give a speech in Trafalgar Square to a vast crowd that includes his mother and his wife Mable. Before his speech, the crowd is lead in a hymn.

In the following passage, his mother, a simple woman and still a Christian, is faced with the meaning of the hymn:

The hymn was one composed ten years before, and all England was familiar with it. Old Mrs. Bland lifted the printed paper mechanically to her eyes, and saw the words that she knew so well:

The Lord that dwells in earth and sea.” …

She glanced down the verses, that from the Humanitarian point of view had been composed with both skill and ardour. They had a religious ring; the unintelligent Christian could sing them without a qualm; yet their sense was plain enough—the old human creed that man was all. Even Christ’s, words themselves were quoted. The kingdom of God, it was said, lay within the human heart, and the greatest of all graces was Charity.

She glanced at Mabel, and saw that the girl was singing with all her might, with her eyes fixed on her husband’s dark figure a hundred yards away, and her soul pouring through them. So the mother, too, began to move her lips in chorus with that vast volume of sound.

This sprang to mind as we – excluding me – sang the following entrance song:

Let us build a house where love can dwell
and all can safely live,
a place where saints and children tell
how hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions,
rock of faith and vault of grace;
here the love of Christ shall end divisions.
All are welcome, all are welcome,
all are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where prophets speak,
and words are strong and true,
where all God’s children dare to seek
to dream God’s reign anew.
Here the cross shall stand as witness
and as symbol of God’s grace;
here as one we claim the faith of Jesus.
All are welcome, all are welcome,
all are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where love is found
in water, wine and wheat:
a banquet hall on holy ground
where peace and justice meet.
Here the love of God, through Jesus,
is revealed in time and space;
as we share in Christ the feast that frees us.
All are welcome, all are welcome,
all are welcome in this place.

And so on. He Who Shall Not Be Named other than to mention it’s Marty Haugen tosses together a word salad of nice biblical-sounding phrases and, as part of his ongoing efforts (largely commendable in themselves) to reinvent the Lutheran hymn, sets those words to a fairly straight-forward and singable tune.

What here would give Fr. Benson pause? Weeeell…

  • The house doesn’t exist?

One might imagine – hope and dream, even – that those attending Mass at a Catholic church might share the vision that the Catholic Church is the House of God and the Body of Christ, and that we cooperate with God in building it up through humility and sacrifice. Or something like that. Let’s just say that this hymn (unlike others, thankfully) doesn’t actually go into the bulldozing of existing structures to prepare the ground for us and our new building project. It assumes that’s already happened – an understandable position – and starts right in with us building a new ‘house’ no doubt way better than the old one.

  • Note the ‘we’ are building a house remarkably free of God’s help and influence.

“Built of hopes and dreams and visions” – Whose? Do we care if such hopes, etc., comport with God’s will? Well, if we’ve more or less unconsciously absorbed Hegel-flavored modernism, we don’t, or rather, the question has no meaning. See, once God entered capital ‘h’ History, His only valid expression is His Spirit’s unfolding in that History – meaning, of course, whatever the enlightened people on the Right Side of History think. It’s not reasonable – the law of non-contradiction does not apply – and it is by definition certainly not traditional – history is becoming, in the sense of becoming something different that renders the past irrelivant.

The hopes, etc., of the proper set of hopefuls of course, ARE the Will of God. No need to trouble one’s head any further about that. Who constitutes the correct set of hopefuls is also not a question allowed – the detail that not all people share the same hopes, dreams and visions is something it is assumed the Spirit will unfold out of the way, if it is even considered at all.

The idea that pride is the first sin and humility the gateway to all virtue are more concepts the Spirit has clearly folded away.

  • We do not bring forth both old and new – just new, thankyouverymuch.

In the same way, “all God’s children dare to seek to dream God’s reign anew.”  Paul’s epistles, while full of admonitions to keep God’s commands and stick to the teachings of Jesus, seem strangely lacking in the dreaming God’s reign anew department. For example.

“We claim the faith of Jesus.” Note the direction of the action here. What ever happened to pure, unmerited grace? Neither Luther not Calvin would be pleased. Catholics, while recognizing the small but sacred role played by that great good gift of our free will, nonetheless never imagine faith as something to be claimed, as if it were our due or some primitive wilderness.

  • We must embrace the symbols while subtly rejecting the reality they are symbols of.

“Here the cross shall stand as witness and as symbol of God’s grace” and “love is found in water, wine and wheat”. No mention of the Cross as the *means* of our redemption from sin by Jesus’ obedience to the Father – talk about harshing our mellow! – nor of God’s real presence in that wine and wheat.  Nope, we define those realities away by redirecting our attention to superficialities.

Just as in Benson’s “The Lord that dwells in earth and sea” uses imagery and phrases meant to evoke traditional understanding while at the same time subverting that understanding, Haugen drops phrases like “rock of faith and vault of grace”, “where peace and justice meet” and even “as we share in Christ the feast that frees us” in order to invoke sentiment and cash in on unspoken associations while at the same time undermining everything those associations and sentiments were built on.

Don’t sing this song. Ever. But double don’t sing this song at Mass.

Personal Interlude

I’ll be 60 in 2 months. This is cause for self-indulgent navel-gazing self-reflection. Also, I’m feeling a bit better, let’s see if I can write anything.

The only things in my life I’m unequivocally happy about are my marriage and our children. Work? Nah. Grim necessity that is made worthwhile by the just mentioned wife and kids.  I’m a stone expert in certain arcane corners of equipment finance. Not a great conversation starter. I dread answering the question: what do you do for a living? I tend to say ‘sell software’ because it’s true, although not really the heart of the story – which no one wants to hear anyway.

Got a boatload of hobbies that have evolved over time. Love to make things out of wood – our house is full of bookcase, tables, shelves, and boxes I’ve made.

e.g., this triple bunk bed for the younger daughter’s room. Put in rails after this picture. 

For the last few years, it’s been bricks:

The woodworking I’ve been doing since I was 5. The first thing I remember trying to build was a boat, out of scraps of paneling left over from redoing the garage. Remember cutting a piece into a gothic arch sort of shape, and trying to attach sides with finish nails – yikes! Didn’t get real far, but kept at if for a good while, as my handsaw chops were, I imagine, only slightly better than your typical 5 year old. Realized it would never work because I could never get the seams closed enough to hold water. I remember sitting in it and pretending, though.

My proudest childhood achievement was a total remake of a 4′ x 8′ playhouse my older brothers had built earlier, when I was 11:

  • Added a 2nd floor, which required reinforcing the ceiling/roof;
  • Repurposed a ladder from a bunk bed into a super-cool retractable ladder hinged to a board that fit into the ceiling – the whole thing was balance by a series of pulleys, nylon cord and a coffee can full of rocks, so that when you lifted it, it just rose right up into the ceiling;
  • Added a door and windows that could be closed.
  • Added some railing around the top floor so kids wouldn’t fall 60″ to their deaths.

Ended up converting the playhouse into a workspace for balsa wood models, of which I made maybe 3-4.

Also, at age 5, my mother let me plant some pansies in a little spot by the front porch. I was fascinated by them, watched them grow. I have no green thumb, but do love growing things. Put in an orchard this past spring:

I’ve tried and mostly failed to grow stuff over the years, in the sense that, for example, the few tomatoes I’ve grown are very expensive even if I value my time at next to zero. I can’t even grow zucchini. But I keep trying.

Back to my wasted youth. Then we moved. At age 12, started working for my dad on Saturdays and eventually summers at his sheet metal fabrication shop, sweeping floors and cleaning up the scrap metal. Eventually learned to do most activities except welding (a failure I regret to this day) and set up of the fabricators and presses. (I was pretty good with a blowtorch – 35+ years ago!)

Dad had a heart attack at 59 that nearly killed him, and turned him from a high-energy maniac into a more plodding and easily-tired maniac. His doctor told him he had to sell the business. Neither of my older brothers was interested in working with my dad, I was all of 18 at the time – and so, after a 15 year run, Astro-Fab was sold, and my parents and youngest brother moved to Newport Beach.

Skipping over the boring basketball/drama/choir combo that occupied my time in highschool (and made me the oddest of ducks even before you factor in my reading habits – V-II docs, Plato and Asimov’s non-fiction, for example. Fit right in!), we get to a possibly odd little fact: I grew up in a blue-collar household, where achievement meant making something you could see. There was no value placed on what might be called intellectual achievements.

This bias toward stuff you can, as Ted Nugent says, bite and away from less concrete achievements I absorbed with my mother’s milk. It just is. College was, in some sense, baffling to me: unlike high school, which was filled with students who could have hardly cared less (or were careful to project that image) about intellectual stuff, here were all these people my age who, for example, kept papers they’d written! Like the written word was some sort of achievement to be proud of!

I could not imagine. Intellectually, I get it, but even now there’s a part of me that whispers: writing is not work, it’s not worth anything. (This same voice tells me in the same way that I, likewise, am not worth anything. Package deal.)

I try to battle on. When I decided to write music (left out the part about taking piano at age 15 – bless them, the folks were cool with it), I developed a beautiful music script, even going so far as to get some calligraphy tools to make sure it was pretty. This, despite my handwriting being all but completely illegible. See, I think I needed to make it pretty to look at in order for me to think it was worth anything. Or something – all I know is that, when I wrote music, I compulsively wrote it out again at least once, to get the spacing right and clean it up. Pretty sure I spent as much or more time writing it out as I did composing the music in the first place.

Had one musical triumph: got a composition teacher in Santa Fe when I was maybe 23 who also directed the Santa Fe Women’s Ensemble. After a few lessons, she told me the Ensemble would perform a piece if I wrote one for them.

Wow. So I threw myself into writing something, decided to go ultra traditional and set the Kyrie. The first part was very much inspired by traditional polyphony; she told me to make the Christe part contrasting – which I overdid, a little harmonically adventurous, let’s say. Anyway, it was OK – I spent hours writing out a beautiful copy, even got a calligrapher friend to do a cover page – and they sang it, people paid to go to that concert, even got reviewed (favorably – the reviewer compared my piece to Victoria – I blush!) .

And – can I find that review? Can I find that recording? I can lay my hands on the music, I think, because I made a bunch of copies for the Ensemble – in a accordian folder somewhere.

Was I thrilled? Did I go on to be a composer, at least as a hobby? No, and pretty much no. Have a small pile of pieces, almost all incomplete, almost all 35+ years old. They molder.

Around this time I decided I actually enjoyed writing. This is pre word processor, and I don’t know how to type (this self-indulgent dump is brought to you by fast hunt & peck). Don’t know why I liked it. But here we are: half a dozen years, 1200+ blog posts and a million words later. Got piles of mostly unfinished stories and parts of maybe 3 novels accumulated over the last 30 years doing the electronic equivalent of moldering.

So: can I spend the years left to me overcoming a lifetime of failure to follow through and complete intellectual things, and get some stuff finished?

Stay tuned.

And pardon me for the self-indulgent nonsense.


Bach is Good

Bach is good. I just know you were all waiting breathlessly for me to tell  you that. But really, Bach is good in so many ways. Trying to play some Bach on the piano focuses and calms the mind. Even fairly simple Bach – all I’m ever likely to try – occasions that lovely combination of real learning and humility one gets, often, from reading Great Books – on the one hand, you have the thrill of learning new and beautiful things, while on the other, a growing certainty that you’re missing even more, and more profound, stuff, so that if you kept at it for the rest of your life you might not plumb the depths.

The side benefits include improved technique – I don’t know if I’ve ever tried a new piece of Bach’s without running into some requirement that I’d never run across before, framed up so that you’re dying to get it down. Also, the thrill you feel the first time, however haltingly, you play one of those little pieces all the way through – hard to describe, other than ‘satisfying.’

Bach may be the poster child for Chesterton’s quip that whatever is worth doing is worth doing badly.

You are without doubt the worst pirate I've ever heard of ...
Going the other direction, here: he can only be the worst pirate you’ve ever heard of if, indeed, he is a pirate. 

I am a terrible piano player. No false modesty here – I suck. But, like Jack Sparrow being a pirate, I am a piano player – just not a very good one. To put it generously.

Over the last decade or so, I’ve been hacking away at the Well-Tempered Clavier off and on. It’s Just So Good. My playing would cause good musicians to cover their ears or leave the room. I’ve hacked through maybe half a dozen of the preludes and fugues so that I at one time could kinda play them all the way through without cratering too obviously, and a dozen more where there’s at least a few spots, often more, where, as they politely say of Rolls Royces, it fails to proceed.

The pattern: I get all enthusiastic, have my 40 year old copy of the WTC open on the piano, and start hacking away. My reading sucks – I look like a nearly blind man deciphering hieroglyphics as I stare at the mysterious black squiggles, and sound almost that good. Painful. But after a few tries, my one musical talent – I can memorize, at least short term, like a boss – I’ve uploaded the music into RAM. (This talent, not coincidentally, contributes to why I’m such a poor reader. That, and my squirrel-level attention span and focus. And lazy. Always figure lazy into it.)

So I start pounding away. Bach is very unforgiving of poor fingering, and of course my default fingering sucks, so I start in with the pencil, writing little numbers next to notes, circling them, arrows, stars – whatever it takes to remember I need a ‘1’ there or my left hand will look like a knot by the end of the phrase. And it won’t sound very good.

Hack hack hack. After a hundred times through, the fingering starts to feel natural, things start to get a little smoother. And –

Ever seen a little kid playing basketball start throwing up 30 ft shots?  Because his idol Steph Curry throws up 30 ft shots? The little kid ignores his own inability to make a layup and the couple of decades Curry spent honing his ungodly natural talents.  The kid doesn’t make very many Curry style.

Invariably, right about the time I start getting it down at a nice slow pace, I go all Glenn Gould or Vladimir Ashkenazy, playing it way too fast for me, because a lot of these little pieces sound good real fast, and that’s how the big dogs play it.

Here’s Daniel Berenboim playing the C# Major Prelude. This isn’t even particularly fast for this little piece.

I can play it that fast. Kind of. Even sounds OK about every third try if you don’t listen too hard. But at about 75% of that speed, I can play it so it’s not horrible – where the two hands mostly stay together, and the little turn-arounds Bach puts in about every 2 measures (anybody who’s tried this knows exactly what I’m talking about) where there are fingering landmines and just awkward bits (like notes that need to be crisp, fast and played with the 4th and 5th fingers of the left hand) – well, still working on getting those right at pro speed.

Anyway, the next step, after a few weeks, couple months, tops, is I get frustrated, bored or distracted and wander off to the next shiny object in view, with another 2-3 preludes and fugues almost down, not quite – and the memory bleed-off starts.

A year or three later, after ignoring the piano or playing blues and lame renditions of jazz and ‘free improv’ (to give a hoity-toity name to just futzing around to see if I can make something pretty), I’ll see that WTC sitting there, and maybe try to play one of the now half-forgotten pieces, and maybe remember how much fun it was, spend most of the time trying to relearn what I forgot, then add maybe another piece or two…

So, I’m in maybe the second or third week of another Bach WTC obsession. Got the E-Minor fugue nearly down (at light speed, with brio, because I’m weak – I do not play it nice and restrained and tidy as in the following video)

and the C# Major prelude, but still need (need?) to get it ever so slightly faster than Berenboim’s tempo above (Why? Don’t ask that!). I’d almost had these 2 down last obsession cycle. Then, need to dust off/relearn the four preludes and fugues in C  – the 4 part C–Major fugue it the hard one, for me, about as hard as anything I’ve ever played. Fingering from hell, and trying to play so it’s 4 lines, not just a bunch of notes. And the D-minor set, which I had pretty cold at one point years ago, but has bled away…

Then pick a couple new ones to learn (I’ve hacked through 90% of them at some point, so I have ideas.)

And get this done while I’m still hot to trot. Because, if history is any indication, in a few more weeks something will distract me…

Bach remains good, even when I abuse or ignore his little masterpieces.

The Presence and Absence of God

About a year and a half ago, my wife and I joined Teams of Our Lady, or TOOL. (Our 13 year old promptly pointed out that they should have called it Couples of Our Lady, which would have resulted in COOL, which is, well, much cooler.)  A French priest started TOOL back 1947 to support and encourage Catholic married life. Groups of 7 Catholic couples get together once a month to help reinforce our commitment to God through our marriages, A meal, some readings and prayers, review of certain assigned activities (praying as a couple, reading Scripture, that sort of thing) and just socializing.

We had our July meeting Saturday. While I am radically not a joiner, I’m so glad we joined TOOL. Some of us are retired, kids all grown; some have babes in arms; we are in the middle. Getting to hang out with sane couples committed to their marriages is such a change of pace from the rest of our lives, where many if not most of the adults we know move from tragedy to delusion and back, leaving a wake of misery in their lives, the lives of exes and kids, all the while sure that’s just the way things are, no one is to blame, the kids will get over it.

The opportunity to spend a few hours with folks who would have in the past been viewed as simply normal and healthy is a great blessing.

One of the women mentioned in passing having attended a Catholic gathering a few years back in which the composer David Haas was a featured speaker. He stated that since God is present in us, we can praise God by focusing on each other. She was one of the few people present not to respond to this assertion with a ovation.

What could possible go wrong?

This, for one thing:

Refrain: We come to share our story. We come to break the bread.
We come to know our rising from the dead.

1. We come as your people. We come as your own.
United with each other, love finds a home.

2. We are called to heal the broken, to be hope for the poor.
We are called to feed the hungry at our door.

3. Bread of life and cup of promise, In this meal we all are one.
In our dying and our rising, may your kingdom come.

4. You will lead and we shall follow,
you will be the breath of life; living water, we are thirsting for your light.

5. We will live and sing your praises. “Alleluia” is our song.
May we live in love and peace our whole life long.

(Ahh! 2/3rds of this post just vanished! Ratzen-fratzen technology!)

Music at Mass 07/09/2017

(And now for something completely different:)

Praise where praise is due: Bernadette Farrell’s O God, You Search Me is a pretty good hymn, a pleasant tune, easy to sing, theologically sound and appropriate for use at Mass.

O God, you search me and you know me.
All my thoughts lie open to your gaze.
When I walk or lie down you are before me:
Ever the maker and keeper of my days.

You know my resting and my rising.
You discern my purpose from afar,
And with love everlasting you besiege me:
In ev’ry moment of life or death, you are.

Before a word is on my tongue, Lord,
You have known its meaning through and through.
You are with me beyond my understanding:
God of my present, my past and future, too.

Although your Spirit is upon me,
Still I search for shelter from your light.
There is nowhere on earth I can escape you:
Even the darkness is radiant in your sight.

For you created me and shaped me,
Gave me life within my mother’s womb.
For the wonder of who I am, I praise you:
Safe in your hands, all creation is made new.

The text is based on Psalm 139:

1 You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you.
19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked! Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Must say I love the line from the song “And with love everlasting you besiege me,” which captures “5 You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me” beautifully. God has besieged us, we hide behind our castle walls, trying to keep him out. But he nonetheless lays a loving hand on us. Beautiful.

Nice hymn. See, I don’t hate *all* ‘contemporary’ church music! I owe this praise especially since I have earlier offered harsh criticism of Farrell’s work, such as God Beyond All Names, a tune a bit tricky to sing because of some too-precious by half rhythmic goosing. But the real problem is the incoherent and baffling lyrics that don’t stand up to a moment’s thought.

But this is a happy occasion! O God You Search Me is a perfectly nice song to sing at Mass.

Also sang a Jebbie tune this weekend, with the usual feature of too many dotted figures added to a milk toast tune in a failed effort to lift it to the level of mediocrity.  This sets up the traditional War Between the Organist & Congregation, where the organist’s years of training and practice cause her to read the music as written, while the congregation – at least, that minority willing to try to sing – smooths the tune right back out, ignoring most of the dotted figures. In the more extreme cases, typically where the composer has modified each verse individually so as to leave the congregation guessing when to come in and how this particular verse goes,  the War ends up silencing all but an intrepid few (me, for example, who read enough music to generally hang with the organist). In the eternal irony that surrounds the Church throughout her history, music supposedly written to encourage active participation ends up silencing even those few who might otherwise try to sing.

So it goes.