Recently we sang a serene hymn at Compline whose unusual name is simply “Tysk.” I first sang it at Compline shortly after I joined the choir in the 1960s, and although I love many hymns, this one is my favorite. One of the reasons it appeals to me is that I have both Swedish and German heritage, and this hymn was sung in the “German church” (Tyska Kyrkan) in Stockholm during the eighteenth century. The tune, from a collection called Psalm und Choralbuch (1719), found its way into the Episcopal hymnals of 1940 and 1982, with words based on the original German hymn by the German Reformed mystic and pietist writer Gerhard Tersteegen (1697-1769).
I love the hymn’s stanza structure, with each in the classic AAB form – the ”A” sections having lines of 6, 6, and 8 syllables, and the ”B” section groups of 3, 3, 6, and 6 syllables. It satisfyingly ends with the couplet of twelve syllables which it began. The lyrics too are ravishing, movingly speaking of adoration, quietness, surrender – ideal for prayer at the end of the day.
Listen now, and see what you think:
God Himself is with us; Let us all adore Him, And with awe appear before Him.
God is here within us; Souls, in silence fear Him, Humbly, fervently draw near Him.
Now His own who have known God, in worship lowly, Yield their spirits wholly.
Gladly, Lord, we offer Thine to be forever, Soul and life and each endeavor.
Help us to surrender Earth’s deceitful treasures, Pride of life and sinful pleasures:
Thou alone shall be known Lord of all our being, Life’s true way decreeing.
Thou pervades all things, Let Thy radiant beauty Light my eyes to see my duty.
As the tender flowers Eagerly unfold them, To the sunlight calmly hold them,
So let me, quietly, In Thy rays imbue me, Let Thy light shine through me.
Come, abide within me; Let my soul, like Mary, Be Thine earthly sanctuary.
Come, indwelling Spirit, With transfiguring splendor; Love and honor will I render.
Where I go here below, Let me bow before Thee, Know Thee and adore Thee.
I love the images, especially in the last two verses, of the flowers, eagerly unfolding themselves to God’s light, or letting ourselves, like Mary, be imbued by the Holy Spirit. The gospel for the same day we sang Tysk contained the familiar “You are the light of the world,” and this was echoed by the end of the hymn’s third verse: “Let Thy light shine through me.” As we consider often during the season of Epiphany, we are asked to receive the light, and then reflect it.
This last weekend I spent at St. Placid Priory near Olympia, Washington, where I attended Victoria Scarlett’s workshop on Van Gogh’s Art and Spiritual Journey through the Priory Spirituality Center. My friend Victoria, of the Center for Sacred Art, spoke of van Gogh’s passion for light. I felt the exact parallel between the hymn Tysk about light, and the brilliance and energy of the later paintings of Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). The artist, through line and color, suffuses his paintings with divine light.
I’ll leave you with two images, both of flowers – one by van Gogh, and the other a picture I took this morning at St. Placid. “Let Thy rays imbue me .”
In the Christian calendar, February 2 is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, also known as Candlemas (or “Candle-Mass”). This year, it falls on a Sunday, and we’re going to observe it in a new and special way at Compline at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle, and so I wanted to give you a preview.
Candlemas commemorates the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple in Jerusalem, on the fortieth day after his birth, to fulfill the Jewish law requiring both ritual purification of the mother and presentation of a firstborn son. As recounted in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2: 22-38, the aged Simeon (who may have been the officiating priest) took Jesus in his arms and said what we now know as the Nunc Dimittis:
Lord, now you let your servant go in peace;
your word has been fulfilled.
My own eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared in the sight of every people:
A light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.
In addition to Simeon, an elderly woman named Anna prophesied about Jesus as the long-awaited messiah – in fact, she is the first to utter this prophecy.
The Christian celebration of the feast of the Presentation (earlier called Purification) can be traced back to the early fourth century. When the birth of Christ became set to December 25, the celebration forty days later on February 2 was almost exactly midway between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox, coinciding with the returning light and the beginning of preparation for spring planting. It became the time when candles were blessed for the new year, and carried by everyone in a great procession.
Compline was influenced by themes of light and salvation, and the Nunc Dimittis was made a key part of the Cathedral observance of the office. Jesus, as the “light of the nations,” gives us hope and encouragement as the day’s light dims and darkness takes over. And the themes of salvation and resurrection give us hope at the time when sleep presents us with a portent of our own death.
At St. Mark’s, people will receive candles on the way in to the Cathedral. The Compline Choir, Dean, and acolytes will gather in the chapel behind the altar, where the candles will be blessed, and the Nunc Dimittis sung with its antiphon Lumen ad revelationem gentium. Then a procession will be formed and go out into the cathedral, with the choir singing the chant Adorna thalamum, while acolytes will pass the light to everyone’s candles. The procession will stop at the altar, while it is incensed, and then the choir will process to its normal place singing the chant Obtulerunt pro eo Domino (“They offered for him unto the Lord a pair of turtledoves…”). From there, the Compline Service will take place as usual – except it will be entirely in the light of everyone’s candles.
Candles and incense and processions – oh my! Sounds like a beautiful way to celebrate this special midwinter day in the Emerald City.
Last Sunday was January 5, the last of the twelve days of the Christmas liturgical season. Our service of Compline fell on this night – ”Twelfth Night,” which was also the Eve of the Epiphany. Both of the themes of the birth of Christ and Divine Light were captured by one of the anthems we sang at Compline: Lux Aurumque. It was a most meditative moment, with the dark space of the cathedral punctuated by the Christmas lights, which you can see in the picture taken on New Year’s Eve. By January 5, the Labyrinth was no longer there, and the only lights were those on the trees and suspended on the walls — but it still gives one an impression of what it was like.
Lux Aurumque was written in 2009 by the composer Eric Whitacre, to words by the poet Edward Esch which were translated into Latin by Charles Anthony Silvestri. The use of Latin gives a kind of ancient, evocative quality to the words, and enhances the mystical effect of the music. Whitacre composed a version for mixed voices at first, but then did a version for men’s voices, which is what we sang.
warm and heavy
as pure gold,
and the angels sing softly
to the newborn babe.
pura velut aurum,
et canunt angeli,
canunt moliter natum,
(Click to play)
If you want to learn more about Eric Whitacre and see the YouTube Virtual Choir singing the original version, click here.
I wish you many blessings in 2014.
Many things have made me think about mountains this past month. My oldest daughter has been hiking in Nepal along the trail to Mt. Everest, but I’ll wait for some pictures to show before writing about that. Rather, I’m going to describe three other recent events relating to mountains.
It all started when the psalm we sang at Compline was Psalm 121 – “I lift up my eyes to the hills.” In fact, four of the five parts of the service that change from week to week were built around this text, and you can listen to any of these on the podcast from October 20, 2013; I’ll give time references so you can play any particular selection.
The orison, a musical “prayer” sung at the beginning of our service in Seattle (podcast: 1:11), was an Anglican chant setting by Henry Walford Davies (d. 1941), with the first line of each verse sung alternately (and very effectively) by a solo countertenor (alto) and solo tenor. The psalm (podcast: 4:44) was written in the 1980s for the Compline Choir by its founder and director Peter Hallock (b. 1924). Both the psalm and the orison were settings of the psalm text from the Book of Common Prayer 1979:
1 I lift up my eyes to the hills; * from where is my help to come?
2 My help comes from the LORD, * the maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot be moved * and he who watches over you will not fall asleep.
4 Behold, he who keeps watch over Israel * shall neither slumber nor sleep;
5 The LORD himself watches over you; * the LORD is your shade at your right hand,
6 So that the sun shall not strike you by day, * nor the moon by night.
7 The LORD shall preserve you from all evil; * it is he who shall keep you safe.
8 The LORD shall watch over your going out and your coming in, * from this time forth for evermore.
The hymn (podcast: 9:22) was a paraphrase of the text, set to an 18th-century tune. The text of the anthem (podcast: 23:16) was from the first four verses of Psalm 121 in the Book of Common Prayer 1662, and set to music by Ernest Walker (1870 – 1949), in the first of his Two Anthems for Male Voices and Organ, Op. 16 (1899). The music is very lush, and post-Wagnerian; I am hoping that the Compline Choir will take a look at the other piece in the opus, which is a setting of Psalm 90 (“Lord, Thou hast been our refuge”). The organist for this broadcast was Kyle Kirchenman, who was a high school student when I wrote my blog in February 2011 about organ music after Compline. He’s now studying organ at the University of Washington in Seattle.
* * * * * * *
The very next Saturday after this Compline service I was in the town of Wenatchee in Eastern Washington, having taken a vanload of immigration attorneys (including my wife) to give free legal advice to prospective citizens at a “Citizenship Day” event. I was driving around without any particular aim, and I was drawn to a distant mountain, which you can see in the photo above. The early morning fog was still clinging to the top, and I was immediately reminded of Psalm 121. But equally beautiful were the apple orchards near where I had stopped my car to take the picture, and they became the subject of a November 4 blog which I wrote for the Abbey of the Arts on being “A Monk in the World.”
* * * * * * *
Also in October, my wife and I attended a workshop at St. Placid Priory in Lacey, Washington, on “The Arts of Holy Russia.” The workshop was given by Victoria Scarlett and Joseph Anderson, whose organization is the Center for Sacred Art. It was there that I learned about a multi-cultural chant retreat weekend March 28-30, 2014 focusing on “Mountains as Sacred Places” (see more on their home page). The event will be at St. Andrew’s House Retreat Center on Hood Canal – I have been to several of these retreats (read a previous blog I wrote about one of them), but this will be their first one going beyond the bounds of only Gregorian Chant. More details will be forthcoming in the new year - when I mention it again, it might be a good time to show my daughter’s Mt. Everest pictures.
Looking at the full moon recently reminded me of a blog entry that I started almost a year ago, and then left unpublished when I had to turn my attention elsewhere. It was about a piece, “Jubilemus omnes,” which the Compline Choir sang last year for the annual “O Antiphon” service sung by the Compline Choir and the St. Mark’s Cathedral Choir on the first Sunday of Advent. When I saw the bright October moon in the misty chill of the night the words of Thomas Merton’s translation of the 11th-century poem came back to me: “the moon, the grace of night, and all things shining.”
The piece is the second of a pair of pieces written by Peter Hallock for the Compline Choir, accompanied by five cellos – a very rich and wonderful texture (the other piece is a setting of ”The Dawning,” by the seventeenth-century metaphysical poet Henry Vaughan). I particularly love Hallock’s word-painting of such things as “showers of rain” (Latin pluvia) with the appropriate melancholy that is immediately understood by anyone who has lived in Seattle.
The following excerpt is from the Compline podcast for December 2, 2012. Enjoy this wonderful composition.
|Jubilemus omnes una Deo nostro qui creavit Omnia.
Per quem condita sunt saecula;
Coelum quod plurima luce coruscat, et diversa sidera;
Sol mundi schema, noctium decus luna, cunctaque splendentia,
Mare, solum, alta, plana et profunda flumina;
Aeris ampla spatia: quae discurrent aves, venti atque pluvia.
Haec simul cuncta tibi soli Deo Patri militant,
Nunc et in aevum, sine fine, per saecula:
Laus eorum tua Gloria:
Qui pro salute nostra Prolem unicam,
Pati in terra misisti sine culpa, sed ob nostra delicta.
Te, sancta Trinitas, precamur ut corpora nostra et corda regas et protegas et donas peccatorum veniam. Amen.(11th century, French-Roman Missal)
|Let us sing together to our God, Who made all things,
And who created time.
Who made the sky, and filled it with light, and with the different stars –
Who made the sun, for the world’s finery: the moon, the grace of night, and all things shining:
The sea, the land, the highlands, and the level places, and the deep rivers:
The air, whose open distances birds, in their flights, and winds traverse, and showers of rain.
O all these things together, God, our Father, are marshaled under Thy command:
Now and forever, and never an end to their service, world without end!
Their praise is Thy glory.
Who, for our salvation,
Didst send to earth, to suffer, guiltless, for our sins, Thine only Son.
Thee, Holy Trinity, we pray to rule and guard our souls and bodies
And grant us pardon for our sins. Amen.
(translation by Thomas Merton, c1968 by the Abbey of Gethsemani Inc.)
About a week ago, the Byrd Ensemble uploaded a video all about their new recording of the works of Peter Hallock (b. 1924). The new CD is called Draw on sweet night. It is a wonderful tribute to the man who originated the Compline Service at St. Mark’s Cathedral, and to whom I’m dedicating my book.
Lovely filming of Peter’s Japanese garden and St. Mark’s Cathedral, giving a good perspective of the “Holy Box” where I became passionate about the Compline service almost fifty years ago…
Select this link: An interview with Peter Hallock
For last Sunday’s Compline service at St. Mark’s Cathedral, Seattle, Jason Anderson, the director of the Compline Choir, had us sing the hymn “Dear Lord and Father of mankind.” He asked us, as he does occasionally, to guess the reason for his selection. Many got it right away – the second verse made reference to Syria, as in “beside the Syrian Sea” (really a reference to the Sea of Galilee). Also, the hymn reminds us that in times when the temptation is to act in haste, to take some time for stillness and calm reflection.
The words of the hymn were excerpted from the last portion of the poem “The Brewing of Soma” written in 1872 by John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892), American Quaker poet and advocate for the abolition of slavery. The poem begins with a description of the ecstatic religions of ancient times (assisted by the drinking of soma juice), and becomes a plea against what Whittier considered the frenzied religious fervor of the “revivalist meetings” of his day. The last six verses of the poem (12 through 17) are a prayer for the return to peace, calm and simplicity. Five of these six verses became the familiar hymn, included by Garrett Horder in his Congregational Hymns (1884). He omitted verse 15, but I have included it below to show how the reference to manna from heaven sets up the next verse (“drop thy still dews of quietness”).
The two most popular musical settings of the hymn are Repton, by C. H. H. Parry (1848-1918), and Rest, by Frederic Charles Maker (1844-1927). The Compline Choir sang the latter, and I felt that we were all especially inspired that evening. It is always gratifying to sing with others who can turn out such quality work with only ten minutes of rehearsal. And it’s such fun to sing close harmony on nineteenth-century hymns (think “barbershop”), especially in the third verse, where the tenor part sings the melody an ocatave lower, and the top part sings the tenor part an octave higher.
So, set aside a few minutes to let the words and the beauty of this hymn lift your spirit this week:
Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
Forgive our foolish ways!
Reclothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise.
In simple trust like theirs who heard
Beside the Syrian sea
The gracious calling of the Lord,
Let us, like them, without a word
Rise up and follow Thee.
O Sabbath rest by Galilee!
O calm of hills above,
Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee
The silence of eternity
Interpreted by love!
[the following stanza is omitted]
With that deep hush subduing all
Our words and works that drown
The tender whisper of Thy call,
And noiseless let Thy blessing fall
As fell Thy manna down.
Drop thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.
Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm!
For the Whittier poem, see The Brewing of Soma. Parry’s hymn tune Repton, can be heard in a wonderful version (especially the soprano descant at the end) here. The podcast of last week’s Office of Compline can be heard on king.org - just look for “Compline Service” in the drop-down menu under “On Demand”. “Dear Lord and Father of mankind,” in a setting by Searle Wright, is one of the musical examples in my book, Prayer as Night Falls: Experiencing Compline, to be published in November.