Howells & Simeon

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I’m sitting here currently listening to the Nunc Dimittis/St. Simeon’s Prayer/Νῦν ἀπολύεις in a setting by Herbert Howells. The Nunc Dimittis and it’s companion, the Magnificat, come from his Gloucester Service that he wrote for Gloucester Cathedral in 1946. The thing that strikes me about these two pieces is how hauntingly beautiful they are. I don’t know a whole lot about Howells however all of his pieces that I have heard have been deeply moving. The modal nature of much of his music especially endears itself to me.

29. Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:

30. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,

31. Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;

32. A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

-Luke 2:29-32

I took part in recording an audition CD a few months ago at Trinity to send to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London where they are hoping to get a spot singing for a week or two there, very big deal. I acted as page turner and music lackey for Michael, our choir director and head organist there. Richard, our assistant choir director and organist, conducted the choirs for the recording and played the part of priest for recording the responsories and collects. It was a glorious evening. Michael had called me in the afternoon asking if I could come in last minute to help out. Naturally I agreed and hopped on the train down to Boston, arriving just in time to grab a bite of dinner before the recording section.

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Now, something should first be said about the Trinity Choristers. The choristers are made up of kids between 7 and 8 years of age and high school, and Richard has been working with them to train them in singing and music. The results are simply stunning and when you hear these kids sing it is like hearing the angels. We started at 6:30 p.m. and ran to 9 something. Hearing the choristers and the schola sing these two settings by Howells was the highlight of the evening. There was magic in the air, or the Holy Spirit, whichever you prefer. The music was so pure and good that I truly believe that “God gave us music that we might pray without words.” That feeling is rarely present in most choirs nowadays, but we managed captured at least a little part of it on tape and sent it off across the Atlantic.

The power of this music is obvious when you listen to it. It is at once both ethereal and totally other yet rooted deeply within you and has a connection, an indescribable connection. The power in the Nunc Dimittis at “the glory of thy people Israel” is palpable, you feel that glory, somehow, in the music that St. Simeon speaks as he beholds the Christ-child, the salvation, our hope, our life, our God. St. Simeon had been waiting for this moment for many generations. Indeed, he had been made to live an abnormally long life just so he would see Jesus, the Messiah. Simeon had been one of the 70 Elders who translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, some 200 years before Christ was born. He had been translating the passage from the Prophet Isaiah that said, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Simeon doubted this and so translated “virgin” as “young woman”. An angel appeared to him and told him to change it back and said that he would not die till he had beheld the Christ with his own eyes, because of his disbelief. One can only imagine how relieved Simeon was when the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph entered the Temple that day. His eyes had truly “seen the light of Thy salvation.”

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The mystery of the music that Howells set this text to conveys, or attempts to convey, the mystery of the Incarnation. The completely incomprehensible mystery, that God would humble Himself and take on our flesh to save us. His love was so great, that He took the form of a servant, He that rules over all. There are few moments when music is able to capture some greater truth, in this case the text of St. Simeon’s Prayer has an especial power. I think that this is one of those things we need more of. Music that is truly prayer without words, music that lifts and soothes, empowers and humbles, music that glorifies God. He who made us, He who gave us the gift of music, He who inspires us.

And now listen.

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Cheese Steaks & Liberty Bells

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This past week I made my way down to Philadelphia to visit my brother and spend some time wandering about the city seeing the sites that are to be seen.  It was a fun trip and I am very glad that I was able to spend some time with my brother before he heads off to Australia for a while.  Ah, Philly, home of the Almighty Cheese Steak (wit wiz & onions, of course).  That certainly is one draw for people who go there, but there are quite a number of other things to be done beside gorging oneself on them, although it is required if you visit.

I arrived Monday evening after an actually pleasant drive down, we hit no traffic and made good time.  And for our first night out we decided to go out to a Mexican restaurant, El Vez, which is supposedly excellent.  Once we arrived and the hostess said, “it’ll be half an hour”, we decided to go to a second restaurant.  In the car we hopped and less than 10 minutes later my brother gets a call from the hostess saying, “your table is ready.”  After the initial outbursts of anger we decided to continue to the second restaurant.  We found a place to park (always an adventure there) and walked the few blocks to the restaurant and found it closed.  Oh joy.  So instead we ended up walking to another place relatively close by, New Wave Cafe.  Not bad, the food was more than decent and the calamari was such as I have only had a few times before, perfectly done.

On Tuesday we arose later than perhaps we should have and made our way to the Philadelphia Art Museum, but first stopped for lunch at the Pub & Kitchen restaurant.  We parked and walked to it, only to find it closed *screams*.  By this point we were just a tad frustrated with all the places we wanted to go being closed however the place we actually went more than made up for it.

Some of you may know that I do enjoy French food.  Not that “here we have a single grain of caviar with a Bearnaise sauce, sautéed goat intestines with capers, garlic, and lark vomit” stuff but the good hearty dishes, like cocque au vin or something.  Well we ended up at a place called Parc in Rittenhouse Square.

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As soon as you walk in you feel you’re in Paris, complete with the car exhaust, cigarette smoke, and questionable drinking water.  The only tacky part was that the waitress we had insisted on saying single words in French even though her actual knowledge of the language was questionable, however I don’t begrudge her that for service was good and the food was impeccable.  We started off with escargot in hazelnut butter and garlic.  Oh my.  This was beyond good.  My only complaint is that there wasn’t nearly enough.

Our little dish of escargot.

Our little dish of escargot.

We feasted on our snails and then had various types of sandwiches, mine a Baguette Provençal.

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After our lunch we then realized we probably weren’t going to have time to take in the museum so we decided that we would go the next day and instead we went to the Rodin Museum.  On the front is the monumental “Gates of Hell” bronze by Auguste Rodin, a very frightening piece with writing bodies and tormented shapes.  Inside were the Burghers of Calais, a very famous piece.  It seems that only 11 copies of the original were allowed to be made by the French Government and one of them is in this museum.  In fact, this museum houses the largest collection of works by Rodin outside of Paris.

After that we decided to head back to my brother’s apartment and make dinner for ourselves.  We made pizza, and oh, what glorious pizza it was.  Suffice it to say the garlic content was so high that we could have expelled the vampires from the entire city.  And then we settled in to play the now infamous Settlers of Catan board game, or as it is known in my family, “Friends No More”.  If you haven’t ever played it I highly recommend it.  It is somewhat complicated and it requires strategy but is entirely worth it, if only for the yells of rage from family members when you place the robber on their most profitable piece of land thus making them lose all goods produced on it *cackles*.  We had a pretty good time.  I somehow managed to get a sheep monopoly as I had put three settlements around a bit of land that produced lots of sheep, and I mean lots of sheep.  All in all a fun evening.

But it wasn’t over yet!  My brother and I stayed up reading and doing other things till it was quite late and we decided it was time for that almost mystical experience of the late-night cheese steak run.  Luckily he only lives a 5 minute walk away from two 24-hour cheese steak establishments.  We ended up at Pat’s King of Steaks at 2 a.m.  Nothing beats a cheese steak at 2 a.m., except perhaps two cheese steaks at 2 .m.  We walked back at a leisurely pace eating our cheese fries (which are just so good there) and, once back to his place, commenced with eating our cheese steaks.

On Wednesday I awoke to find both my mother and brother gone.  Apparently they had decided to let me sleep in and went to the famous Italian market that is only a few blocks away.  *shakes fist at the heavens*  So I sat on the couch and read Lord of the Rings like a good little boy until they returned carrying their purchases, including some really marvelous Gouda.  After sitting around for a bit my mother and I went to do all the touristy stuff since neither of us had been to the Liberty Bell since I was 4.  The Liberty Bell museum was quite nice.  In one of the display cases my mother saw a Liberty Bell glass bank that was exactly the same as the one she had while growing up.  Down the long and winding passageway was the Liberty Bell herself.

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After viewing the Liberty Bell and taking many pictures we went back to the visitor’s center to pick up some tickets for the Independence Hall tour only to find out that they had given them all away already.  Much to our delight she told us that there was an open house at 5 p.m. so we could just have a nice walk-through instead of the regular 45 minute tour.  Since it was 20 of 5 p.m. we grabbed a drink and headed over to get in line.

Independance Hall

Independance Hall

The line was deceptive.  From the front of the Hall you saw only a little line of people going through security, however around back it was a triple horseshoe of people.  We stuck it out for about 45 minutes till we finally got in.  We had been standing behind this herd of children and their parents, cast quantities of children in this particular family.  But luckily they were not disorderly and the little kids were cute and amusing so it made it bearable.  Inside was blessedly cool and dim which was a welcome relief from the rather miserable heat outside.  We took our tour, saw where the Declaration of Independence was signed, and ran out the door as we needed to pick up a friend of mine from high school who we had over for dinner.

Oh what a dinner it was.  We had our various items from the Italian market, including these spinach and provolone sausages from a guy who has been making them for God only knows how long.  My mother made a salad and rice, my brother grilled up the sausage and some chicken, and his girlfriend, Alexis, pan-seared scallops.  I caught up with my friend Mike and we all sat in the kitchen talking and having a grand old time.  The end of the evening came and we said our goodbyes to Alexis who needed to get home and my mother and I drove Mike home.  That was an adventure in and of itself.  95 north was bumper to bumper traffic from the Washington Ave. entrance through the Betsy Ross Bridge, over 5 miles, and it was midnight!  As we progressed we saw only traffic cones and big arrows telling us to merge left, yet there was a conspicuous absence of construction crews.  We did not see a single worker until we reached our exit and looked past up 95 and saw them way off in the distance.  They had effectively caused a 6 mile back up for no reason.  We were laughing too hard to be seriously angry but I would recommend those Philadelphians who had to put up with that should raid the offices of the Highway Department and perhaps burning an effigy on the front lawn…

On Thursday we left Philadelphia around 11:30 to head back up to Massachusetts.  We figured that once we would get past New York easily and thus be back home by dinner time.  Oh how wrong we were.  Now, one thing you have to keep in mind is that my mother’s car has a manual transmission (which I have yet to learn how to use) and as such traffic is a much bigger pain, literally, than it is for those who are blessed to have an automatic transmission.  Well it was 5 solid hours of traffic we then drove through, from Philadelphia to when we gave up and drove screaming off a bridge.  No, not really.  We ended up pulling off 95 in Rye, NY and staying at a little hotel for the night.  I commend my mother for putting up with it for even that long, she was exhausted.  The reason we pulled over where we did was because I was checking the traffic reports and it only got worse as you entered Connecticut.

On Friday we made it home without further trauma, picked up the dog, and spent the evening sitting on the couch recovering.  And there you have it.

Please pardon the length of this post, but I didn’t feel like dividing it into parts.

Birettas & Poison: The Novel II

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Here is the second installation of Birettas & Poison: The Novel.  This section is written by me.  I hope you enjoy it.

carefully placed the small envelope in the pocket of his cassock.

He knew he had to find his way out of there fast, but he had no idea where his biretta went and his candle had rolled under the bookcase. For the love of God, he hissed, as he groped vainly under the shelf for the candle. Incensed at the loss he stood up and struck a match. By its pitiful light he made out a wall sconce with a torch in it. I guess that will have to do, he thought. With the match almost gone he lit the torch which blazed into life, illuminating the scene. He caught his breath, the room was even larger than he first thought. The bookcases towered above him giving the room the feel of the twisting narrow streets of Bergens most ancient quarters. He quickly forgot his wonder and remembered where he was, why he was there, and why he needed to get out.

He grabbed his biretta off the stone floor and to his horror his scrap of paper was gone. No! he yelled, forgetting where he was, he now had no way of finding his way out of this labyrinth of a palace. He doubted he could get back the way he came, but he had to check. As he guessed the organ bench had risen back to its place, five stories above. Trapped. Theres got to be another way out, he said to himself, all I need to do is find it. If Im caught here… He swallowed hard and absentmindedly rubbed his hand around his throat. The thought of imminent death gave him new resolve, he went row by row, searching desperately for a door or some passageway. He got to the end of the long room, and to his relief there was a door, and, to his even greater relief, it was unlocked. There was no way to know what was behind it, but he couldnt risk staying there, he had already dawdled enough and he was sure someone had to have heard him.

Easing open the door a few inches to peer out, he saw a corridor with at least twenty doors on each side. With no one else visible in the hallway he opened the door and closed it silently behind him. The Monsignor started on one side and worked his way down the hallway, trying each door, and peering to see what was behind each. All had stairways behind them. He reached the final door and opened it, he felt a slight breeze on his face, This is it, he said, This has to be it. Silently he stole up the stair with considerable agility for one of such rotund proportions. After what seemed to be eternity he reached a closed door, this too wasnt locked. Jeez, the Archbishop must be a few bells short of a full peal to leave all these doors unlocked. He blew out the torch, set it on a lower step, and slowly opened the door. Closing the door behind him he was in what he thought was a small closet, but there was light streaming in from a small window above the smaller door in front of him. Where the hell am I? he whispered. He opened the smaller door in front of him slowly and stepped out into the darkened Cathedral of St. George.

The familiar smell of incense and beeswax made him sigh with relief. The cleric turned around and saw he had just come out through the priests chambers of a confessional. My God, he muttered. He had sat in that very confessional to hear the confessions of the pitiful and powerful hundreds of times, and there behind that wall, the wall that he had sat against time and time again, was a door leading a room that had eluded him and his brethren for decades.

Making a mental note to go back and see how to get that hidden door back open, he started to make his way towards the north transept. In his mind he couldnt believe how easy it had been to get to it, and then to have it fall into his lap, “must be Divine Providence,” he muttered. To him there was no other explanation, and he felt sure the Brotherhood would feel the same way. Now he just had to make it out of the Cathedral without being seen. Too many questions would be asked if he was discovered in the Cathedral that early, seeing as he was famous for sleeping till noon everyday, and then taking a further two to get out of his bed. First making sure to make himself presentable in case he met anyone on the street, he checked his jeweled pocket watch, it was 5:30. He paused in front of the Shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and drew a fine candle from his pocket, pleased to see a brilliant green flame as he lit it. His hurried prayer of thanksgiving was rudely broken in upon by the sound of a door opening in the west end of the Cathedral. The Monsignor hurried towards the door in the northern transept. His hand was almost on the handle of the door when he froze, the handle of the very door he intended to leave by was turned and the door opened. He had no time to hide. Good morning, Monsignor, what are you doing here so early? It was…

Birettas & Poison: The Novel

Dear Reader, I have decided to post a little something that a friend of mine and I collaborated on two years ago when we were very bored, much like now.  I would like to thank Chris McQueeny for providing me with the original transcript of our little story.  Once I have posted everything we came up with I will continue writing it on my own.  We decided to try our own hand on those fun “church conspiracy” stories one sees all over the place, and which, I must admit, I have a special fondness for.  Please pardon any inappropriate language or other things that might disturb, this is a murder-mystery so you have been warned.

This first section was written by Chris, the next installment will be my continuation of it.  And now I invite you to go ahead and enjoy the show.

The night hung placidly over Bergen, as nights tend to do at this hour. But for the belches of the occasional drunken aristocrat wandering the streets after a house party, Bergen Square was silent. Not a man was stirring except one man. He was a Monsignor. This Monsignor was a tall, fat, and elaborately-dressed Monsignor, of about thirty years of age, and he was walking quickly and furtively across the Square. Suddenly affecting a calm and collected gait, he strode past the still-lit offices of the Bergen Inquisitor, where an early morning edition was being printed. Some distance away, he turned into a dark alley, stopped, and took the biretta off his head.

“What the devil was that turn? The sixth left? The fifth right?…,” he muttered, checking a scrap of paper taken from the hat. Walking again, he eventually made his way to a sheer wall of granite, the side of a massive building, ornamented with columns and Latin inscriptions. Clearly, it was Ellicott’s most imposing building: the new Archiepiscopal Palace, recently remodeled to the exacting specifications of Archbishop Cuthbert. The Monsignor stopped before a small side door, and drew a slim felt roll from his biretta. Using the lock-picks with the easy precision of an expert burglar, he soon gained entrance to the Palace. Several corridors later, he slipped into a small, dark room. Feeling around him, he soon found that he was in the right place: his hands met a smooth, cold, metallic surface which glimmered in the dim light. It was an organ-pipe.

Making his way through numerous side rooms, the Monsignor emerged into a vast chamber, in the centre of which the great organ’s console sedately stood. It was a massive five-manual affair, evidently confidnt about itself, and not stirred by this clerical interloper. The Monsignor inched across the polished marble floor, thanking God that he had worn silent shoes for this little enterprise. Striking a match, he was about to search the console when he suddenly stopped. “No,” he thought, “we have to do this properly.” Rummaging around his cassock, he drew out a taper candle and lit it from the match. “Much better.” Before his eyes were the banks of hand-labeled stops.

“It can’t possibly be called that, can’t possibly!” Peering at the rows of little labels, he again resorted to the scrap of paper stuffed in his biretta. “Ah, there it is…” He paused for a few seconds. “Fuchsschwanz? Crazy old bastard, I don’t even want to know.” He pulled the stop. It fell off into his hand, having no visible effect. Vexed, he slumped down onto the stool. Immediately there was an quiet hissing sound, and the stool plummeted through the floor, dropping at least five storeys. The Monsignor was not a cowardly man, but even he could not suppress a scream as he fell.

At last, he was there! It was the greatest triumph of a career which had taken him more than once to the Royal Forestry Commission, also known to some insiders as the Mercian Secret Service. But gaining entrance to this room was beyond his wildest dreams. In all of Hanover, only the Brotherhood and the Archbishop himself knew that this place even existed. It was no mere musty cellar, such as you might find in any vast palace. It was the Secret Archives of the Church of Mercia.

But the Monsignor knew immediately that he didn’t have long. That scream must have alerted someone; the Archbishop was nearly deaf after playing the Palace organ frequently during the month of his tenure so far, but surely he wasn’t living alone. The Monsignor rushed into the long, narrow room, re-lighting his candle as he did so. By its dim and stuttering light could be seen shelves stretching for at least a hundred feet, far more than he could search in this time. Fortunately, it turned out that he wouldn’t have to.

As he strode forward, his foot caught on the lengthy train of his cassock. “Damn it to the fiery hells!” he swore as he fell into a nearby bookcase, which chose this moment to liberate all of its volumes from their captivity. For a few moments he lay supine under the heavy weight of books, carefully considering how he would slay Barbiconi, Ecclesiastical Tailor, for managing to botch the cut of a simple robe. Admittedly he had demanded it without the piping usually accorded to his rank, and this anarchistic sentiment may have shocked the old man. But that is hardly an excuse.

Just as he was pulling himself up through the books, he saw something which took his breath away. There it was, sitting innocently in the folds of his rochet, as if it had not started more wars than money and sex put together: the object which the Brotherhood had vainly sought to acquire for nearly twenty years. It was a small black envelope, no more than three inches by four, and closed with a seal of immaculate red wax. In the wax, one could still see a faint coat of arms, now over one hundred years old. He was one of the few people who would recognize these arms. But there was no time for that now. He stood up, dusted off his once-neat apparel, and…

Beauty & Art

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After a lovely liturgy at All Saints Mission in South Weymouth yesterday morning I made my way into Boston with Fr. Dionysius, the priest at All Saints.  Fr. Dionysius graciously dropped me off downtown.  I had a few hours to kill before heading to sing the evening service at Trinity so I decided to head over to the MFA and spend my time there.

The last time I was at the MFA was this past semester with my Ancient Greek Drama class and our professor.  And when we were there we stuck to the Greek art section (and a very fine collection it is).  Other than that I hadn’t been to the MFA for years.  The wonders of the museum were truly apparent to me yesterday as I walked through the corridors.  I was particularly struck by the beauty of the the sun sending its rays through the high windows of the Koch Gallery onto the painting hung on the walls.  I sat there in that large room, reminiscent of a church in Rome with its marble and high ceiling, and looked a long time at a painting of Christ being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane.  It is a busy scene, I believe by a Dutch painter, with a wonderful interplay between light and dark.  Christ is being kissed by Judas in the right hand top portion of the painting, Peter is pulling out his sword to cut off the servants ear, light illuminates the scared faces of disciples.  All of this crammed into a painting about 6 feet wide and 5 feet tall, the figures bursting out at you.  Above this painting was one of Christ crucified with the Virgin Mary and St. John at the foot of the cross, weeping and tearing at their clothes in grief,  a powerful scene.  A few feet away was a large full-figure painting of the Virgin Mary, surrounded by adoring angels, crowned with a silver coronet, a look of peace and grace upon her face that radiates towards the viewer.

This is art.  This is beauty, true beauty.  It is beautiful in and of itself, it possesses it, holds on to it, shares it.  The artist merely reveals this kind of beauty, for it has always been and always will be.  This type of beauty is eternal, it surpasses time and fad, preference and pleasure.  A problem facing us today, especially in America, is that many people do not appreciate beauty.  And I don’t mean the beauty of clothes, supermodels, fast cars, or things people try to pass off as art  (putting a dead animal in a case and letting it decompose, the new art).  The art I’m talking about is natural and special.  And it is sadly missing from our daily life.  Sometimes you still see glimpses of it these days, although more often than not it was not made by human hands.  The waves of the sea by the moonlight, a forest glade at sunset, a flower hanging from a trellis.

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Much of art in the past was religious in nature and that contributed to religious art being given a special status.  It was a special status that was entirely deserved.  The artist, or craftsman, was spurred on in his art by his love for God.  And God spurred on the artist by that creative gift, that natural talent given to the artist by God.  The difference between that artist and most artists today is the denial of that gift, the denial that that gift comes from anyone other than themselves.  I posit that it is through this recognition and thanksgiving that truly remarkable works come, works that are “revealed” more than “created”.  When worshipers walked into the grand cathedrals of Europe, or the great churches of the East, they were immediately met with colors, shapes, faces, gestures, smells, and tastes.  The impact of this overwhelming sensation was the great enhancement of worship.  It confirmed to the worshiper that church was truly “not of this world” and that it wasn’t meant to be.

We’ve lost that sense of otherworldliness, both in our daily secular lives and our churches.  We need to bring that back.  Not by slavishly copying the ancient masters and forms, not by throwing off all modern innovations, but by remaining truly focused on what beauty, true beauty is and what it is meant to do.  Beauty is meant to enhance our lives, to focus us towards God who is all perfection, all glory, all beauty.  It is he who grants this gift of true beauty to us.  And this beauty goes beyond art, it goes deeper, much deeper.  Spiritual beauty is the pinnacle of beauty, the utmost form.  A form that all art, all music, everything, seeks to show and express.  And when somehow we manage to give viewers or listeners a glimpse of that beauty, we glorify the creator of all things.

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Julian & Gregory

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Julian of Norwich was an anchorite who lived from 1342 c.a. until 1416 A.D. St. Gregory Palamas was a monk of the Holy Mountain and later Archbishop of Thessaloníki and lived from 1296 until 1359 A.D. What do they have to do with each other?

Last week I read “Revelations of Divine Love” by Julian of Norwich, the “short text” as later in life she went back and significantly added to it. I bought it after browsing through the religious section at Borders in Copley Square and her name jumped out at me. I started to read it while sitting having dinner in an Uno’s on Boylston St. and the waiter had to grab my attention a number of times during that solitary meal. What caught my attention was the way in which Julian wrote about her experience of God. It reminded me of the writings of St. Gregory. While she did not experience the “Uncreated Light” of Gregory, she did have a most intimate encounter with God. The power of this encounter is felt even while reading the words off the page. While, most unfortunately, Julian is usually lumped in with more shall we say “interesting” mystics like Bernard of Clairvaux and Catherine of Siena, I think she deserves a second look.

In her work, Julian goes over a number of topics from sin to prayer and all of it is a very interesting read, not least because it offers insight into the mind of a young woman (she was 30 when she had her vision) living in 14th century England. And all of the things she goes over Our Lord spoke to her about in the vision as she lay on her sick bed. It is also remarkable at how “Orthodox” she is. So much of what she says agrees with what I have heard from our own priests and bishops. She also defers to “Holy Church” at every opportunity, she says repeatedly she does not know better than the Church, it is this humility that is apparent throughout. As she says in chapter 15, “God showed me the very great pleasure he takes in men and women who strongly and humbly and eagerly receive the preaching and teaching of Holy Church; for he is Holy Church; he is the foundation, he is the substance, he is the teaching, he is the teacher, he is the goal, he is the prize which every true soul works hard to win; and he is known and shall be known to every soul to whom the Holy Ghost reveals it.”

St. Gregory speaks of experiencing God’s energies, experiencing God, very really, in the world in which we live and breathe. Julian does the same, although perhaps in a more roundabout way. Julian was an anchorite, living in a cell attached to the church of St. Julian of Norwich (from which we get her name, we don’t know her real one). She worked on acquiring stillness in her heart, and through prayer, fasting, and silence she hoped she might be granted contemplation of God.

And in this vision he (Our Lord Jesus) showed me a little thing, the size of a hazel-nut, lying in the palm of his hand, and to my mind’s eye it was as round as any ball. I looked at it and though, ‘What can this be?’ …I thought it might suddenly disappear. And the answer in my mind was, ‘It lasts and will last for ever because God loves it; and in the same way everything exists through the love of God.’ In this little thing I saw three attributes: the first is that God made it, the second is that he loves it, the third is that God cares for it. But what does that mean to me? Truly, the maker, the lover, the carer; for until I become one substance with him, I can never have love, rest, or true bliss; that is to say, until I am so bound to him that there may be no created thing between my God and me. And who shall do this deed? Truly, himself, by his mercy and his grace, for he has made me and blessedly restored me to that end. …[the little thing] is all he has made; it is cast and wide, fair and good, but it looked so small to me because I saw it in the presence of him that is Maker of all things; to a soul that sees the Maker of all, all that is made seems very small.

The above passage is packed full of interesting imagery to get the point across. In her vision God showed her all that he had made, that appeared so small in the presence of the Maker, and it is his love that caused all to be made. How welcome is this idea in our age of cold rationalism and indifference.

The next long quote I wish to share is about prayer:

And so we pray for all our fellow Christians, and for all manner of men, according to God’s will, for we wish that all manner of men and women were in the same state of virtue and grace that we ought to desire for ourselves. But yet, for all this, often we do not trust God Almighty fully for it seems to us that, because of our unworthiness, and because we are feeling absolutely nothing, we cannot be certain that he is hearing our prayers. For often we are as barren and as dry after our prayers as we were before, and so we feel our folly is the cause of our weakness; I have felt like this myself.

And our Lord brought all this suddenly into my mind… as a comfort to me against this kind of weakness in prayers, he said, ‘I am the foundation of your prayers: first it is my will that you should have something, and then I make you desire it, and then I make you pray for it; and if you pray, then how could it be that you should not have what you pray for?; And thus in his first statement… our good Lord shows us something immensely helpful. Where he begins by saying, ‘If you pray for it’, there he reveals the very great joy and unending reward that our prayer will receive from him. And where he says next, ‘Then how could it be that you should not have what you pray for?’, there he gives a serious rebuke, because we do not trust as strongly as we should.
For it is God’s will that we should pray, and he moves us to do so in these preceding words. He wants us to pray with sure trust, for prayer pleases him… And thus prayer makes accord between God and man’s soul… when we do not see God, then we need to pray because we lack something, and to make us open to Jesus; for when a soul is tempted, troubled and isolated by distress, then it is time to pray and to make oneself pliable and submissive to God. Unless we are submissive [to God’s will], no kind of prayer can make God bend to us [our will], though his love is always alike.

I leave you with these words, to contemplate and go over. I found that she really does speak for more people than she knows. And she speaks a very real truth, that we must trust God with all our heart and that we pray. Pray that we might do his will and not our own. That God may open those doors that he wishes us to go through, that we are knocking at. That God might firmly close those doors that will only do us harm if we go through them. Of course we are still free to go through them and perhaps God might make something good come out of it. It might take a while, but it will come. For, as Julian says, “So what our blessed Lord’s teaching means is that we should take heed of the following: ‘Since I have turned the greatest possible harm [Adam & Eve’s sin and expulsion from Paradise, separation from God] into good [our reunion with God through the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection], it is my will that you should know from this that I shall turn all lesser evil into good.”

I suggest you go and pick yourself up a copy of “Revelations of Divine Love.”

Cadfael & Maniples

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After writing the first post last night I got a hankering to watch one of the Masterpiece Mysteries(!) that inspired the title of this blog, Cadfael. Some of you might have seen this series and know exactly how good it is, some of you probably have no idea who this crime-fighting Welsh monk is. Let me just say that Sir Derek Jacobi is a stellar actor and it comes out in his portrayal of Cadfael the Benedictine monk in the Abbey of Shrewesbury. I highly suggest renting a few episodes from netflix or some other fine rental establishment.

The reason this got me thinking of poison is because in the series Cadfael is the herbalist and physician in the monastery and oftentimes the particular episode involves someone being poisoned, stabbed, drowned, hung, trampled, set afire. You know, really happy stuff. However Cadfael always gets his man, or if it is a murderess, his woman.

There is something that has always irritated me about the Cadfael series though, and more generally, about portrayals of liturgical services on the silver screen. It always seems that Hollywood, or in this case the BBC, are completely and totally ignorant when it comes to correctly portraying Christian services.

One of the worst is when they have the priest wearing his stole (epitrachelion) on top of his chasuble (phelonion). This bugs me to no end. How hard is it to Google pictures of a mass or liturgy? Honestly, you’d think they were doing it on purpose just to annoy me. In the Cadfael series they have the Abbot wearing all sort of bizarre and interesting pseudo-medieval “vestments” that have no bearing to historical vesture whatsoever. And they seem to think everything looked poor and decidedly worn out, when in fact the Abbeys had some of the greatest vestments of all. This photo below is a shot of a cope from 1040 A.D.

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Does this look like it’s made out of home-spun wool? No. It does not. It is silk and gold embroidery, come on people, let’s get things right.

I must say one of the most amusing things that I’ve seen in a long time was Robert De Niro playing a Roman Catholic priest in the movie True Confessions. The thing that struck me was that in the opening scene of the movie he is serving as the priest in a High Mass and, more importantly, is serving correctly. I have included it at the end of this post just because it’s so fun to watch. You see, it isn’t that hard to do your research and do things right.