As we approach the Feast of Saint Francis on 4 October, we have been looking at aspects of Creation and our part in it as co-workers with God, the mistakes the human family have made, and that you and I continue to make. We read C.S. Lewis telling us that we have to go beyond warm-feeling nature religion and engage in serious theology if we want to have the right idea about God. So let’s get serious and read what Pope Francis says about the crisis in our corner of creation, the corner we have responsibility for. Here is the opening.
1. “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.
2. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Romans 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Genesis 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.
Note that the Pope uses the language of the Bible, which also inspired the poet Walter Savage Landor’s verse ‘content to sink into her lap when life is spent.’ The realisation of our earthliness is a first step to caring for our sister as God intended from the beginning of humanity.
Continuing Sister Johanna’s reflections on the Psalms; click here.
I’d like to say a few words about singing the psalms. From my personal perspective as an ex-ballet dancer, music is highly important to me, and I am so grateful that this long tradition of singing prayer exists.
An all-female cultural dance troupe, comprising female students from Annunciation Secondary School, Nkwo, Nike, in Enugu State, Nigeria, dances to traditional Igbo music during the interhouse sporting competition held Feb. 26, 2019. (Wikimedia Commons/Arch-Angel Raphael the Artist, CC-BY-SA 4.0)
Sister Mary Morajeyo Okewola writes about dance from Nigeria for the National Catholic Reporter. An interesting reflection with a sting in the last paragraph for well-meaning missionaries.
As an African, dance is as much a part of my life as eating, drinking and working, but it is also an important part of our worship, following the guidance of the Bible where it is frequently referenced, particularly in the Old Testament. There dance is a form of worship — as a recognition of love and praise of God. It, along with other spiritual exercises, were believed to be accepted by God as satisfactory veneration.
A few years ago the Missionaries of Africa came to help celebrate the centenary of our parish school. Every parishioner I spoke to at the time was struck by the reverence shown by the African Missionary students as they danced the book of the Gospels to the lectern to the sound of drums. Other Masses that I have attended with African music and dance were also accessibly prayerful. So I was disappointed to read some of what Sister Freda Ehimuan describes in this article; a mismatch between Christian faith and practice in Africa. She reports that:
For the African, worship is the expression of feelings (negative and positive) toward the Divine, in different ways and through various media. Since worship is the expression of feelings, songs, dance, drums and incantations are significant to African worship. Physical expression is important in African worship; even if the person remains motionless, they may be crying, or making sounds from their throat. Without these expressions, Africans think that their worship is not deep enough and that it lacks the ability to reach God. They go through the rubrics of worship without experiencing an internal impact.
She describes one mismatch below:
A bishop has been speaking against dancing in the church for many years. One day he got a donation from some organization to build a pastoral center. He was so full of joy that right there on the altar he began to sing and dance. All the parishioners were so surprised that they spontaneously danced with him. Of course, he stopped when he realized what he was doing! When some Africans — who feel that they are civilized and too dignified to dance in worship — are shaken by incidents or experiences, their true nature comes out. Physical expression is their natural way of expressing faith whether they deny it or not.
I urge you to reflect on the article in the light of the recent posts about reforming the liturgy. Not just to ‘tut, tut’ at the missionaries whose predecessors had insufficient understanding of African cultures: they laid the foundations people like Sister Freda can build on today. But also to wonder what a truly local expression of faith would look like in your home town. What would you like to see happening in our celebrations? Read all of Sister Freda’s article here. (from Global Sisters Report, National Catholic Reporter, 12 July 2021.)
Let them praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp.
Another blog by Eddie Gilmore of the Irish Chaplaincy in London. Thank you Eddie, as always.
“You don’t realise how much you’ve missed something until you have it again.”
I’d only gone down to the newly re-opened library to return the couple of books that I’d had out since last year and to borrow a new one. As I came out of the main entrance onto Canterbury High Street I was greeted by an unusual sight. There were seven elderly-looking ladies about to start some kind of performance. They were dressed identically in grey headscarves and billowing black shawls and each had a zimmer frame. To the accompaniment of a slightly eerie soundtrack, they began to push their zimmer frames around one another and were looking more and more distressed and agitated. Their expressions then softened, as did their movements, and suddenly they all pushed away their zimmers and began to dance. Next, they undid their headscarves and flung them into a captivated crowd and ripped off the black shawls to reveal colourful dresses. A solitary man appeared with a large drum, onto which he was beating a flamenco rhythm. The spectacle ended with the setting off of party-poppers and the women throwing rice over the bystanders, before disappearing, dancing, round the corner. I was utterly enchanted and deeply touched. It was the first live dance performance I’d seen in over a year, the first live anything, and it was so good to experience it again.
As I went round to the other side of the library to get my bike I came across the women in their flamenco dresses, looking very pleased with themselves. “That was wonderful,” I gushed. “Thank you so much.” And I added, almost in tears, “You don’t realise how much you’ve missed something until you have it again.” One of them asked if I’d like more rice strewn over me. “Oh yes!” I replied, and was duly anointed. I felt truly blessed.
The day after that I was having a well-earned coffee with a couple of the guys I’d done my Saturday morning club cycle ride with (and what a treat it is to be riding in a group again). We were basking in the sun by the Argentinian café in the Dane John Gardens in Canterbury, and it was great to see people out and about again. I’d been chatting with Conor en route about coming out of lockdown and I’d told him about how much I’d enjoyed seeing a live dance performance again. Just then I spotted a couple in the nearby bandstand doing a tango. “Look!” I exclaimed to Conor and Chris, “there’s a couple dancing.” Chris then told us of how he had practised for months the first dance, to an 80s song, he did with his wife at his wedding, and the conversation went onto other songs from the 80s. Then I told Dublin-born Conor about a nice scene from the film ‘Sing Street’ in which the protagonist, a boy who forms his own band, gathers a load of fellow-pupils at his Dublin school to be dancers at the first gig and implores them to “dance like it’s the 80s!”
One of my favourite scenes from ‘Mamma Mia’ is where all the women, young and old, dance down to the harbour to the tune of ‘Dancing Queen’ and then leap into the sea. An especially touching bit of that scene is an older woman casting off the large pile of sticks she’s been carrying on her shoulders, joining the joyful procession, and crying out, “Oh YEAH.” A few months ago my ninety-one year old mum was sent a wind-up dancing leprechaun by one of her sisters in Newry. The care home where she lives sent a gorgeous video of her standing up and doing a little jig alongside the leprechaun. This from someone who needs a zimmer frame these days to get around.
The day after the Argentinian coffee and tango in the park was Trinity Sunday and Yim Soon and I were at our customary zoom Mass. Part of a reflection from one of the women present was the playing of a Nina Simone song ‘I wish I knew how it would feel to be free.’ During the song several of us present began to sway and dance, and David the priest was moving from side to side the icon of the Trinity, so that it looked as if the Trinity themselves were dancing. It was a special moment.
I’ve always been taken by the Hindu belief that the Lord Shiva danced the world into existence. On this theme, the most well-known song of Sydney Carter is ‘The Lord of the Dance’, whose lyrics go ‘Dance, dance, wherever you may be; I am the Lord of the dance, said he.’ As a child I was convinced that this lyric was, ‘I am the Lord of the dance settee.’ When we were young my sister and I used to jump up and down on the settee in the living-room, and it seemed to me very fitting that God would be jumping up and down with us! The image of the dance settee has, happily, never really left me.
Yim Soon and I are delighted to have just been invited to a wedding, the first such invitation in ages. It’s friends who are musicians and as well as the prospect of good music one of my first thoughts was that we’ll hopefully be able to have a good dance as part of the celebration. I’ve written before of my August holiday in Barmouth, which is an annual reunion of old friends (who met in the 80s!), plus their now mainly adult children, which began in 2000. One of the traditions of the week is a concert night and one of the traditions of the concert night is the singing of ‘500 Miles’. At what was to be the final performance before Covid, the song turned into a long conga of people snaking around the concert room and that led in turn to everyone dancing, old and young together, to other 70s and 80s classics. It was one of the highlights for me of Barmouth 2019.
To finish, here again are the immortal words of Sydney Carter, at least how I remember them:
‘And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be; for I am the Lord of the dance settee’!
This hymn by Sister Mary Xavier was a staple of my childhood. It is worth turning to when life seems pointless or confusing, and ‘Lord, for tomorrow and its needs I do not pray‘ is enough of a motto, enough of a prayer, to see us through every day. A vocation is something to be lived out day by day; sometimes a day can be very different to what we expect, but today is enough for us; we can worry about tomorrow when it comes.
Lord, for tomorrow and its needs I do not pray; keep me, my God, from stain of sin just for today.
Let me both diligently work and duly pray; Let me be kind in word and deed, just for today.
Let me be slow to do my will, prompt to obey; help me to sacrifice myself, just for today.
Let me no wrong or idle word unthinking say; set thou a seal upon my lips just for today.
Lord, for tomorrow and its needs I do not pray; but keep me, guide me, love me, Lord, just for today.
Lyrics by Sybil Farish Partidge (1856 – 1917) – alias Sister Mary Xavier. Public Domain.
London’s Irish Chaplaincy will host a ‘Fireside Gathering’ concert on February 5th 2021 at 7.30pm. Headlining again is the London Celtic Youth Orchestra, and we’re delighted as well to have Thomas McCarthy on the bill. Thomas, an Irish Traveller, singer and storyteller was named Traditional Singer of the Year in the Gradam Ceoil Awards 2019. Various other talented musicians and poets will complete the line-up, there will be a special message from the Ambassador and it promises to be a great and uplifting evening. The event will be Live on the Irish Chaplaincy Facebook Page and is free to watch. Follow the Fireside Gathering link to find the flier.
Irish Chaplaincy will host a ‘Fireside Gathering’ concert on February 5th 2021 at 7.30pm. Headlining again is the London Celtic Youth Orchestra, and we’re delighted as well to have Thomas McCarthy on the bill. Thomas, an Irish Traveller, singer and storyteller was named Traditional Singer of the Year in the Gradam Ceoil Awards 2019. Various other talented musicians and poets will complete the line-up, there will be a special message from the Ambassador and it promises to be a great and uplifting evening. The event will be Live on the Irish Chaplaincy Facebook Page and is free to watch. Follow the Fireside Gathering link to find the flier.
Today’s post is an extract from a longer article from the Hermit of Saint Bruno. Worth reading in full, I’m sure much in there will resonate with you, especially if we cannot sing together this Christmastide!
Carthusian monks spend a lot of time singing in choir and cell. They gather to sing the Mass in the morning, then to sing the Office of Vespers at the end of the day, and at night for the long Office of Readings and Lauds. It is the common activity that takes the most time in the life of the monks.
Not only is Gregorian chant inseparable from the liturgy – it is not an ornament – but it is considered an essential spiritual instrument. The Statutes specify it thus:
“Let us observe this manner of chanting, singing in the sight of the most Holy Trinity and the holy angels, penetrated with fear of God and aflame with a deep desire. May the songs we sing raise our minds to the contemplation of eternal realities, and our voices blend into one cry of jubilation before God our Creator.” (Statutes book VI, §52:25)
The Statutes state precisely that singing can elevate the spirit to contemplation of God, that is, to the highest one can expect here below.
To round off this reflection, may I send you back three years to this video from the Poor Clares of Lilongwe, singing and dancing their prayers.
Here is another posting by Eddie Gilmore of London’s Irish Chaplaincy. I’ve just shared a paragraph from the middle, but the whole article, and the links he provides, are worth your perusal. Eddie writes as a musician, so his thoughts on angels and other intelligent beings’ singing are most interesting.
We are told that angels sang at the birth of Christ. Who were those celestial beings that sang at an event that was never going to be on the front page of the Bethlehem Gazette? Whoever they were, I’ll bet they laid down a good tune, with some sublime harmonies and with no one angel hogging the limelight. And what about their unusual audience that starry night? Shepherds, who were outcasts in their community because staying out in the fields at all hours meant that they were unable to observe the normal rituals of the Jewish faith, and who might as well have been a bit tipsy, since they were known to have a little toddy to keep themselves warm. And then those three mysterious characters who had followed a star and who arrived with gifts that the mother of a newly-born wouldn’t exactly find that practical!
I have to say, though, I thought the wise men’s gifts had their uses. Gold would have got the Family to Egypt and bought new tools for Joseph. Frankincense might have sweetened the air of the stable, myrrh helped look after Baby Jesus’ skin, especially in the nappy area. At least, so I used to tell the children!
29 December used to be kept as King David’s feast day as well as Saint Thomas’s.
Pope Francis spoke about King David to a recent general audience .
Jesus, said the Pope, is called “Son of David” and fulfilled the ancient promises of “a King completely after God’s heart, in perfect obedience to the Father.”
David’s own story, said Pope Francis, begins in Bethlehem, where he shepherds his father’s flock. “He worked in the open air: we can think of him as a friend of the wind, of the sounds of nature, of the sun’s rays.” The Pope said David is first of all a shepherd. He defends others from danger and provides for their sustenance. In this line, Jesus called Himself “the good shepherd”, who “offers His life on behalf of the sheep. He guides them; He knows each one by name.”
Later in life, when David goes astray by having a man killed in order to take his wife, he immediately understands his sin when the prophet Nathan reproves him.
“David understands right away that he had been a bad shepherd,” said the Pope, “that he was no longer a humble servant, but a man who was crazy for power, a poacher who looted and preyed on others.”
Pope Francis went on to reflect on what he called David’s “poet’s soul”.
“He has only one companion to comfort his soul: his harp; and during those long days spent in solitude, he loves to play and to sing to his God.” He often raised hymns to God, whether to express his joy, lamentation, or repentance. “The world that presented itself before his eyes was not a silent scene: as things unravelled before his gaze he observed a greater mystery.”
David, said the Pope, dreamed of being a good shepherd. He was many things: “holy and sinful, persecuted and persecutor, victim and murderer.” Like him, events in our own lives reveal us in a similar light. “In the drama of life, all people often sin because of inconsistency.”
Pope Francis said that, like David, there is one golden thread that runs through all our lives: prayer. “David teaches us to let everything enter into dialogue with God: joy as well as guilt, love as well as suffering, friendship as much as sickness,” he said. “Everything can become a word spoken to the ‘You’ who always listens to us.”
David, concluded Pope Francis, knew solitude but “was in reality never alone! This is the power of prayer in all those who make space for it in their lives. Prayer makes us noble: it is capable of securing our relationship with God who is the true Companion on the journey of every man and woman, in the midst of life’s thousand adversities.”