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.

Music & Ceremony at Mass: 5/14/2017

In accordance with long established practice, for Mother’s day, we drove up to Petaluma to visit Anne-Martine’s mom, who, as a result of some as yet undetermined illness, was hospitalized last week and is now in a nursing home for at least a while. Prayers appreciated.

We attended Mass at St. Vincent’s, a beautiful church and the church in which we were married coming up on 30 years ago. What we did not know going in was that this particular Sunday, the 10:30 Mass was to be said in Portuguese, and that a procession of an image of the Suffering Christ was to follow:

Seems that several centuries ago in the Azores, a beloved image of the Suffering Christ was feared destroyed in the collapse of a church caused by an earthquake. The weeping locals dug through the rubble and discovered the statue undamaged, and so, in typical Catholic fashion, had a procession and a party!

There is a large Portuguese population in California, clustered in places where fishing and agriculture were early established – Monterey, Pescadero and San Francisco for fishing, and, among other places, Petaluma for farming. So my wife grew up among several large Portuguese farming families, and St. Vincent’s as the local parish incorporated any number of Portuguese devotional practices. Including this procession and party.

I could hardly be more down with all this – rock on, Portuguese Catholics! Party down!

The Mass itself was full of pomp. And noise. I don’t know if the Portuguese are traditionally noisy people in church, or if the spirit of V-II had a disproportionate (or perhaps merely delayed) effect on them. They yak up a storm. But hey, I’ve seen worse. They all showed up for Mass in their Sunday best, which is way cool and to be commended wholeheartedly.

The exception was the music – when the band played on, any singing by anybody in the congregation fell below the sensitivity of my instruments – ears and eyes – to detect. The music itself was all some sort of modern-ish guitar tunes in Portuguese, so I have no idea what they were all about. More melodramatic than modern Mexican liturgical music; much less musically sophisticated than modern Filipino mass songs.

The thought I could not escape: what is now Portugal has been Catholic for about 1,500 years, and, while largely on the periphery of Christendom due to geography, nevertheless was a part of the Church’s general artistic and liturgical traditions for all that time. It a sure bet that there are vast amounts of perfectly wonderful liturgical music used and loved over the centuries in Portugal, some of which was no doubt even produced by locals. In any event, Portugal could not have escaped the effects of centuries of chant, polyphony, and other beautiful liturgical music.

Yet, here we sit in church, listening to music that cannot be more than 50 years old, performed well after the manner of its kind, by people who were pretty decent musicians. But this music is being performed in place of music that would actually have something to do with the events being celebrated in the procession and party! One can’t even use the feeble excuse of active participation – the people are going to sit there and listen, more or less, no matter what the musicians play.

Instead of lavishing the same sort of care on the musical traditions that they obviously lavished on the procession itself, they let die all the art and power that uplifted their ancestors in favor of music that the congregation, as far as I could tell, ignored any way.

The death of a musical tradition is just as sad as if the overall traditions of a people were to die. The Portuguese, and all of us, really, are poorer for it.

Musical Interlude #1

Autobiographical nonsense follows – warning issued.

Background: We Moores are a semi-musical family, as in: Elder Daughter has a music degree (voice) and plays violin and piano; Younger Daughter plays piano, guitar and ukulele and sings – she’s that modern ‘there’s a YouTube showing me anything I don’t understand’ generation, so few formal lessons; Caboose is a bit of a phenom on fiddle (meaning: he’s remarkably good for how little he practices – sigh. But he just turned 13, so there’s plenty of time). I torture both musical instruments and my audiences (those unwilling to chew off their own limbs to escape) with piano, guitar and singing.

This leaves Middle Son, 20 at the time, who showed little interest in music until, suddenly, he decided he wanted to play guitar after hearing some Rodrigo y Gabriela. He wanted to learn this song:

Here’s where the dad stuff gets a little challenging:  I certainly want to encourage him, but this is piece is just short of insane – It would take a good guitarist – better than me, for sure – months to get this down. And that’s just Rodrigo’s part. What Gabby is doing on the rhythm guitar, with the complex stums, strikes, and pops at breakneck speed is just nuts – she’s done ‘how to’ videos (see: ‘there’s a YouTube showing me anything I don’t understand’ above) and, even slowed way down, even after multiple viewings, I don’t understand what she’s doing. ‘Understand’ and ‘can do’ being separated by a wide gulf.

Yet, this is the piece my son wants to *start* with. Not House of Rising Sun, or Good Lovin’ or Louie, Louie or any one of a bazillion 3-chord rock/pop songs that kids back in my day started on. Nope – straight on to graduate school without picking up the Bachelor’s first.

Soooo, what the heck. We get him a cheap guitar (nylon string with the cutaway – because that’s what Rodrigo & Gabby play) and I sit down and watch videos with him and figure little snippets out on my own, and we work on it.

And he’s smiling from ear to ear and playing until his fingers, while not bleeding, are very very sore.  A year later, he can in fact play Rodrigo’s part – not to speed, not quite in rhythm, but he’s got all the fingerings and notes.

And still grinning ear to ear. Amazing.

So: when we got his first guitar, we went down to Guitar Center (because, you know what? They have a LOT of guitars). I played a bunch and showed him the differences, tried to describe tone, action, intonation and so on. He nodded along. We picked a nice cheap guitar. Perfectly playable, decent tone, nice intonation, looks nice. What else do you want in a first guitar? Thomas was thrilled.

Sheer luck had Rodrigo Y Gabriela playing up in Napa a few week’s later, and, total fanboy waits over an hour (with me cooling my jets in the car) to meet them and maybe get his guitar signed. Which they very kindly do. Which creates problems: do you play the signed guitar and risk slowly erasing the signatures? Or do you do what collector’s do, and hang it on the wall?

Thomas feels guilty. He just got the guitar, he doesn’t want to turn it into a decoration. Yet, he soon discovers he is in fact slowly erasing Rodrigo’s signature – Gabby’s is more out of the way. After a year, Rodrigo is half-gone.

This weekend, down at TAC visiting him, we make a run to the local Guitar Center. He has hopes of maybe using a pick guard to shield what’s left of Rodrigo’s signature. While he’s looking into that, the Caboose and I head over to the guitars.

I play my way through the offerings, starting with the not-quite-so-cheap ones and working my way up. By the time Thomas joins us, I was up to the $700 guitars – very nice. So, I hand him the one step up from his guitar, describe it and tell him to play in. Not much reaction. Then I hand him the $700 guitar. He later admitted he had no idea what I was talking about regarding tone and playability and all that when we’d got his first guitar, but now, after a year and hundreds of hours of playing, he understands. So that $700 guitar sounded and played A LOT nicer. He go it.

Finally, the nicest cut-away nylon string they had was this beauty:

Image result for Cordoba Fusion 12 Rose Acoustic-Electric Nylon String Classical Guitar Natural

I played it for a minute. I lusted in my heart. Plays and sounds fabulous. Handed it to Thomas to check out.

Thomas could not get enough. For the next half hour,  he played through everything he knew at least twice(1). Then he asked me to play with him. Seizing the opportunity, grabbed a $1k Taylor dreadnought off the wall, and we jammed a little. (I’ve never bought a guitar anywhere near that expensive – I’m a hack and I know it, not dropping serious cash on a toy.)  The ear to ear smile never left his face.

Now Thomas wants that guitar bad. But he’s been raised well enough that that level of impulse buy isn’t happening. And he’s going to college at the moment. Maybe for his birthday, which is in November, we can pool some family resources and swing this for him. And that way cool signed guitar car retire to the wall.

  1. The help at Guitar Center were pretty cool – they asked how we were doing a couple times, otherwise left us alone to play with their expensive toys.

Divorce: Lying Starts at Home

Image result for henry viii
At least he didn’t kill his own children. But the divorces did – how do you say ? negatively impact a whole lot of people. (BTW – doesn’t his face look like a code monkey’s? The beady eyes and beard?)  

Divorce is like having both your legs amputated. It might be necessary in some extreme cases, but only a madman would make it anything other than a desperate last resort. And, afterwards, you can never walk unaided again.

Via some Twitter feed or other, I was made aware of this testament to our culture’s love affair with comforting self-deception and willingness, almost eagerness, to make someone else suffer for our sins, a currently popular song called When You Love SomeoneContinue reading “Divorce: Lying Starts at Home”

Dylan

Let me say this about that:

Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn
As suicide remarks are torn
From the fool’s gold mouthpiece the hollow horn

Plays wasted words that proved to warn
That he not busy being born
Is busy dying.

When I was 15, I went through a Dylan phase. That’s about the right age to do it. My older siblings had left a small pile of Dylan LPs, and I’d listen to them for hours on end.

Then, one day, listening to ‘It’s Alright, Ma‘ I had a revelation: it’s all doggerel. Now, I’m cool with doggerel as pop lyrics, and as pop lyrics, Dylan’s stuff is outstanding. But if the idea is that Dylan ranks higher than a middling 2nd rate *poet* – nah. The jokes Tom Leher makes about folk music – e.g., “The reason folk music is so bad is that it’s written by the people.” and, from his masterpiece Folk Song Army:

The tune don’t have to be clever,
And it don’t matter if you put a coupla extra syllables into a line.
It sounds more “ethnic” if it ain’t good English,
And it don’t even gotta rhyme —
Excuse me — “rhyne.”

were, it seems to me, written with Dylan clearly in mind.

It’s Alright, Ma is often cited as one of Dylan’s poetic masterpieces. The lyrics are dark, with accusations of hypocrisy thrown around liberally. Things are bad, man. The thing about hypocrisy is that, before throwing it around at others, one should take a good, long critical look in the mirror – an act to which that 1960s generation seemed disinclined or incapable of. When I hear these lyrics, I tend to see all those brats raised by the Greatest Generation ™, whose parents had suffered through a terrible depression and a horrible war and so spoiled their children insufferably. Or at least enough of them did to provide fodder for a movement.

The whole hippy scene thing was just too lame. And yet, that’s what Dylan lyrics are: hippy scene poetry that relies for whatever power it has on seeing the world as hippies like to think they did. The flower children seemed to think they were the first generation to notice that war is bad and life isn’t fair, and, in their innocence, they also seemed to believe that all it was going to take to fix it all was some pointed songs and lots of sex and drugs.

That that whole sex and drugs thing might also cause war (at least, on the very local level) and injustice (ask all those love children how that justice thing worked out for them) seems to have honestly never occurred to them.

Since the world didn’t reform itself even when they asked nicely, a number of hippies took one of two paths: the cynical – the Age of Greed people were just those same hippies hitting their working primes – or the ‘idealistic’ along the lines of Alinsky. Saul’s arguments that honesty was for suckers, that real revolutionaries only judge their actions by the intended results, found a ready audience, an audience of kids with bruised feelings. It also never seemed to occur to them that, if all that matters is the goal, then all Alinsky was telling them was designed solely to achieve his goals, which, insofar as he was to be believed, meant, circularly enough, that he could never be believed. Perhaps all he wanted was to see the world burn – that’s certainly a much more likely result than the magic fairies of History delivering a Worker’s Paradise on a bed of fresh greens right on top of the smoldering wreckage of culture Alinsky’s tactics are designed to create.

I digress. Dylan is cool as a pop singer, and does deliver the occasional zinger lyric (and just as often or more often a tin-eared shoe-horn job: “He hears the ticking of the clocks/And walks along with a parrot that talks” – suuuuure….). And, frankly, if Gore and Obama are deserving of Nobels, give Dylan 3 or 4 at least.

Now I want to go listen to Tangled Up In Blue, perhaps Dylan’s least political song (unless one counts the largely incoherent lyrics in the penultimate stanza – they seem more atmospheric than carrying any real political weight). It’s remained my favorite, because it’s all atmosphere and feelings, which, IMHO, is where Dylan is at his best.

 

 

Being Rash for Christ

When reading the lives of the saints, it’s common to see both a relentless practical disposition and utter spontaneity side by side in the same person. This is that whole Catholic both/and thing Chesterton among others likes to go on about. Thus, great saints will typically devote themselves to a rigorous, no excuses life of prayer and discipline AND run off to convert the Saracens at the drop of a biretta. Or kiss the leper, give somebody the clothes off their backs, take a condemned man’s place – that sort of thing.

A certain tiny rash act on my part, not remotely in the league of anything an actual saint would do reflects,  I hope, a tiny bit of the spirit of the thing: I will, it seems, be in charge of a bit of continuing Catholic education at our parish. Because the director said I could do a class, and so I submitted an outline and that was that.

Here’s what I’ll be trying to do. First note my abiding hatred of the graded classroom model, so imagine this as being done in a way to defeat that model (which lurks, after 12+ years of Pavlovian training, in our minds despite our dislike of it and despite even efforts to root it out) so as to allow actual personal relationships to be formed – which is by far my most obvious weakness as a ‘teacher’. People are just so much more demanding than living in my own head! Anyway:

Feasts and Faith: Continuing Catholic Education Continue reading “Being Rash for Christ”