I lift my eyes to the hills

Wenatchee MountainMany 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.

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