Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Replacing the indicator light.

The bus had just arrived outside the bus garage and the drivers had just changed over ready to continue what is, for me, another hour bus journey. As a matter of protocol, the incoming bus driver went through a process of checking the bus. It was a well-drilled process which he had obviously done many times before. The trouble was that this process seemed to be taking longer than usual. After about five minutes, the driver got out, returned and got onto his cell-phone. The right-rear indicator was not working.

Clearly, it was impossible for the bus to proceed with such a vital little light out of action. Fortunately within 15 minutes and engineer had returned with a new indicator light and within 5 minutes we were off again - late, but away.

Rather an insignificant an event, you might think - a frustration for bus passengers, but on the cosmological scale, merely a blip in the eternal bus-timetable.

It did set me thinking though. That careful ritual that the driver performs means that the bus he drives is as safe as could reasonably be. The driver, fully aware that he has a duty of care for his passengers knows the importance for checking all the little lights and gadgets to ensure full safety, and that safety ranks higher on his list of priorities than getting the bus around the route on time.

It also means that this assiduous and thoroughly professional chap earned the trust of his passengers. Though we might be 20 minutes late, we were assured that we would arrive in one piece. Perhaps that's a lesson for us in our impatience with public transport. I know that I can be terribly impatient when the train does not arrive on time, but the duty of care (whether genuine or forced by legal pressure) of employees gives them better priorities. While one or two might be on the indolent side, I feel that I can trust the system the public transport has in place for ensuring my safety.

Now what of Cof E Bishops and Priests with the care of my soul?


Monday, October 18, 2010

Disarray or datarray?

From the Forward in Faith Assembly

Resolution 2010/01
This Assembly, recognising the variety and sincerely-held convictions amongst the Members of Forward in Faith, commits itself to the prayerful support in every way both of those who are exploring the
generous provision of Anglicanorum Coetibus as well as those who are committed to remaining in the Church of England and achieving proper and adequate arrangements for all those who in conscience dissent from the ordination of women as bishops and priests.

If I'm honest, I haven't much to say on the current developments within the CofE. My own situation is rather solitary, and not through choice, though I am of course responsible for my movements within and without Anglicanism.

I am however relieved about this commitment by Forward in Faith to look after Anglo-Catholics who want to stay, and Anglo-Papalists who wish to take up the challenge of building the Ordinariates. This is just what is needed - acceptance of two different integrities in amidst great upheaval. Of course, there needs to be a final commitment made by each Anglo-Catholic according to his conscience, but he needs support from some organisation with his interests at heart, and while it isn't perfect, Forward in Faith seems at least committed to help its members find their own stability.

As for me? Well, semper incipiemus, I have made a commitment which I intend to see through to the bitter end. I've yet to understand what it means for my commitment to be at an end but if the feeling in my heart is right then end is not too far away.

I pray for the vanguard who will leave to set up the Ordinariates that God would make them stout of heart and resolute of mind to build an edifice in communion with the Holy Father of true Anglican proportions. I pray for those who remain that they may have the strength and energy to continue to provide the rest of the Anglican Communion with the salt that it needs to reconsider its actions in the Love of God.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Gyrovagues in the key of G

Bless, O Lord, us Thy servants,who minister in Thy temple.Grant that what we sing with our lips,we may believe in our hearts, and what we believe in our hearts,we may show forth in our lives.Through Jesus Christ our Lord.Amen.

The RSCM chorister's prayer.

If you've sung in choirs since you were small, you may well have prayed this prayer. It's a right and proper prayer for a chorister to pray. I find, however, that it is that very prayer that, these days, keeps me out of church choirs. Why should someone who loves singing be forced out of church choirs for praying this prayer?

The Anglican Church has a wonderful Choral Tradition which, to all intents and purposes, is still alive. Regularly in Anglican Cathedrals one can hear Choral Evensong and Mattins executed very well. The excellence of the Anglican Choral tradition has lasted longer than Rome's by several centuries. One can compare the music as sung for the funeral of His Holiness Pope John-Paul II and the recent services in Westminster Abbey and Cathedral at which the current Holy Father was present.

Until recently, I was, for many years, part of a Parish Church Choir which was of a cathedral standard. We would regularly sing Evensong in the Parish and frequently elsewhere in cathedrals and abbeys and the like. However, what used to be weekly was, by the time I was asked to leave, monthly but the standard remained.

These days I sing in the school choir which, although brilliant in standard, is not a Church choir. When I do go to Church, I very rarely sing. Why?

I used to pray the prayer above assiduously. Reading it carefully, you can see that we are asking to believe the words that we sing and live them out in our lives. The problem begins if the words that a Christian is being required to sing are not those that the Christian should be believing. If the words of a hymn are pretty but actually say nothing at all, then by virtue of the Chorister's Prayer, what substance is there for me to believe, and subsequently, what substance is there for the way that I live life?

The chorister, as the prayer intimates, is a Church minister. The orders may be at best minor, but it is still an important ministry to fulfill for it is how the chorister leads the congregation in song that helps reinforce the belief of the Church in the faithful in attendance. The chorister must be disciplined to obey the direction of the choirmaster at all times. When the choirmaster says sing, we must sing. As he waves his hands, so must we keep time with him so that our song is excellent in its execution and clear in its promulgation of the message. The choirmaster is under the direction of the Parish priest, and the music chosen is at the whim of the priest under the advice of the choirmaster, though the former will usually devolve much of the choice to the latter, and whatever music is put in front of the chorister, that is what the chorister is bound to sing.

This, then, is where the Christian Chorister comes unstuck. How can one who believes in the Orthodox faith be obedient to a choirmaster when what is put in front of him is something that actually contains nothing for him to believe and thus practice, or worse goes against what the Church teaches? Further, what is the effect on a congregation of a choir singing a hymn that is riddled with vapidity and nonsense? It can be the most beautiful sound imaginable with stirring chords from the organ, sixteen-part harmonies executed by a choir that would make Kings College Cambridge sound like a box of angry cats and a fox, but if it is not singing the words of Truth which are the words of love, then St Paul's words in the first letter to the Corinthians come into play: their speech is as sounding brass or tinkling cymbal.

There is also the danger that Anglican Choirs become too "good" and then go professional. Why is this bad? Well...

Quartum vero genus est monachorum quod nominatur gyrovagum, qui tota vita sua per diversas provincias ternis aut quaternis diebus per diversorum cellas hospitantur, semper vagi et numquam stabiles, et propriis voluntatibus et gulae illecebris servientes, et per omnia deteriores sarabaitis. De quorum omnium horum miserrima conversatione melius est silere quam loqui.

The fourth kind of monks are those called Gyrovagues.These spend their whole lives tramping from province to province, staying as guests in different monasteries for three or four days at a time. Always on the move, with no stability, they indulge their own wills and succumb to the allurements of gluttony, and are in every way worse than the Sarabaites. Of the miserable conduct of all such it is better to be silent than to speak.

As St Benedict intimates in his description of the gyrovague, the choir that destabilises itself by ceasing to provide a vehicle for worship in a Church service and by becoming "performers" of Church music to be heard for their beauty rather than point to the greater Glory of God are damaging the faith of those who hear them. The Mass is not a concert platform, neither are Mattins and Evensong which are solemn offerings of prayer to God.

A good voice is necessary but simply not sufficient reason to be entered into a Church choir. A good tune is necessary but simply not sufficient reason for a song to be sung in Church. The Chorister must be committed to personal discipline and growth: as a minister of the Church he must work hard to improve the mastery of his instrument and of his personal subscription to the Faith that the music should express. All church choirs should seek the best in execution and belief. The choir should see itself in the role of a group of educators (literally ones-who-draw-out) by allowing the congregation to have their worship drawn from them and directed Godward.

As St Thomas Aquinas says:

Hymnus est laus Dei cum cantico; canticum autem exultatio mentis de aeternis habita, prorumpens in vocem.

The hymn is the Praise of God with song; but a song is the exultation of the mind dwelling on Eternal things, bursting forth in the voice.

Demanding? Yes. But then, isn't the life of a Christian necessarily sacrificial in nature? Why should a choir be any less sacrificial?