English: Traditional German Magnificat (music notes, transcription) Русский: Немецкий (протестантский) магнификат (ноты, транскрипция) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This last Sunday, I was reminded of a phenomenon that I had noticed before. When I sing with the choir (every Sunday) or have some other role during the service, I can get really distracted. The anticipation of whatever it is I am doing stops me from concentrating and enjoying the service, but also, even more importantly, it hinders my spiritual experience. I am not sure why this is the case for me, but it has something to do with nervousness and bad concentration in general. For example, after communion we all go back into our choir stall and this is when I usually pray to thank God for his sacrifice and for the opportunity to experience him through the bread and wine. However, depending on what we are singing with the choir, I find it very difficult to do that. This is, of course, amplified by the other choir members to the right and left to me who tend to not pray and rustle about and sometimes whisper to each other. I don’t blame then, though. I would be able to tune them out if it wasn’t for the song we are about to sing and when will we start and should I really be closing my eyes, what if I miss the cue? You get the gist. I wonder if I am the only one who feels like this. Many people are nervous when they have to get up in front of a crowd and read something or say something off their head. I certainly generally loose my breath when doing this because I am so nervous (unless the group is not so big, then I am fine). So should we make sure that the same person doesn’t have to read or pray or speak too many Sundays in a row? And I wonder, what about ministers? Can they ever really feel the same connection with God when they constantly have to concentrate on the service and what comes next? Or is their connection stronger, so it’s fine?
Personally I have been going to our Wednesday night communion services where I am just a normal member of the congregation and it has helped me. I am glad I have found somewhere because singing in the choir gives me a completely different but no less valuable connection to God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It is just as valuable to me as quiet prayer time during a service.
On Friday I learned an astonishing fact. Apparently, our choir leader (who, by the way, is a really nice person and an amazing musician) refuses to let us sing in Latin (and they’d prefer not to sing any language other than English, really). Coming from a Catholic background, this kind of thinking is utterly foreign to me. Because it is not, that our choir leader doesn’t like singing in a foreign language; it is, that from a Protestant point of view it is apparently important that the congregation understands everything without a problem, even if it is sung by the choir only (like a communion anthem). So, I started thinking about it. Is it a good thing if the congregation knows what’s going on and can follow the service? Certainly! If you’ve ever been to a service, where you did not speak the language (I have been to an English one when I didn’t really speak it yet, a Latin and a Spanish one) you know that you are really lost and that it is really, really hard to find any kind of connection even if you know what’s going on. So, yes, I am very happy, that all of the prayers, blessings and many of the songs/ hymns we sing are in English. (Or, in my home village in Germany, in German). But. But, because I like singing in another language. But, because singing in another language opens the way to new and exciting music and rhythms. But, because it reminds us that we are not just the Church of England but also the Church of Christ which is everywhere and in every country. God is worshipped in many languages. If you want the congregation to know what you are singing; why not tell them? It’s how it works in Taize, for example. And yes, anything the congregation joins in with, you want to make easily understandable and pronouncable (pronunciation is not to be taken lightly!) but what if the choir is singing all by themselves? I honestly don’t think that most people actually listen to the words; they listen to the sound and how it all goes together. So if it was in a different language than usual, hey would notice and then enjoy the music. Singing African songs in their original language is one of the most spiritual experiences I have ever had – and I didn’t really know every word but only had a general sense of what they meant. The text wasn’t that important. The music said it all.
Filed under Community, Music
Iona (Photo credit: wjmarnoch)
Generally, I think, we divide what we do in entertainment (stuff for fun) and thoughtful things and we never quite expect them to happen at the same time. Today I was reminded that it is perfectly possible to make people laugh and not be frivolous at the same time. Also I was encouraged to think. What an evening! I was lucky enough to go to a workshop organised by John Bell, a member of the Iona Community. Members of the Iona community, which was founded in 1938, live their normal lives but commit to the Rule; which means that they are accountable to the community for their income and time, they pray and read the Bible daily and they are committed to promote justice, peace and the integrity of creation. Also they meet regularly. There are centres on the Iona island ( which is where they get their name from), the island of Mull and in Glasgow where people can visit and join them for worship. You can find out lots more on their website. They also have developed their own style of worship. here is how they describe it:
It is direct, and to the point, allowing the ancient buildings and beautiful surroundings to speak for themselves. It is relevant and challenging, reflecting the Community’s engaged spirituality and its concern to ‘find new ways to touch the hearts of all’. And it is inclusive and accessible in language and gospel.
Tonight we were talking about psalms and their role and place I worship. I only discovered the psalms as a medium for prayer fairly recently (before that they had always seemed very archaic and irrelevant to my life in the modern world) and after tonight I have become a convert to praying by psalm. We sang many. many songs that were just adapted psalms and they were all beautiful and meaningful. Some were sad, some triumphant, some atoning and others grateful. The whole spectrum of reasons to talk to God was covered with brilliant music and an even better speaker. John Bell really is hilarious, not least thanks to his Scottish accent (which to a German will always sound exotic and cute, probably like an English accent sound to an American). His stories made the psalms come to life and he gave a great many ideas about how to include them in everyday worship. Probably quite a few people feel similarly to how felt not too long ago about them and would resist their introduction. What nearly brought me down to my knees, was when he was talking about how in today’s songs God is always praised but we never bring our fears and sorrows before him anymore. He then gave us an example of what this might look like and I almost started to cry. It just pushed so many of my buttons. And that is when I realised that this is exactly what I had been missing; this is what God is best at: to bring my fears and whatever is wrong in my life to him and tell him about them and then receiving his strength to let me cope with them. We really don’t do that enough anymore. I am resolved to at least make it a part of my daily prayer from now on. I wish I could share this song with you, but, alas, it is not on youtube. However, if you have the chance to see or work with John Bell, do it. You will not be disappointed.
10 years ago I went to the World Youth Day of the Catholic Church in Toronto with my best friend and a group of people we didn’t know very well (she got married to one of them this year). While there we were introduced to English modern worship music for the first time. We hated it. we came up with a new descriptor for it: Holy Pop. One of the songs that we loved to hate was this:
It’s funny how things change. because now I am actually quite fond of this type of music (my friends are not going to be able to stop laughing at me when they read this). I have learned to love it. The repetitiveness that I used to ridicule is actually quite helpful in connecting to others, and the simpleness makes it easy to pick up. Still, there are some people who listen to this music recreationally and that is definitely not for me. For me to really enjoy this music there would have to be a little bit more substance to the texts although, there are some songs that do have that and I wish there were more. Because Holy Pop can be really good music. Listen to this:
It’s amazing! I can listen to this all day (when I don’t happen to feel like something more edgy, but then, there is a type of music for every mood). I am very grateful to have had the chance to get know Holy Pop (yes I still call it that) better and therefore to learn to love it’s finer points.
Title page of Book of Common Prayer, Scotland 1637 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Today, in choir, we were preparing for Sunday’s anniversary service of the Book of Common Prayer. The Book of Common Prayer, of course, is the first prayer book of its kind with the complete liturgy of the different services. It was first published in 1549 but quickly revised in 1552 (which is what we are celebrating on Sunday). I was very surprised to learn that the order of the service has actually been changed around a lot and parts of the service that I am used to being at the beginning (like the Gloria for example) end up at the end and vice versa. Apart from the arrangement we were practicing being ridiculously difficult, the words being different (i.e. more archaic like you’d expect) and no-one knowing whether we were singing the beginning or the vicar (as indicated in the sheet music but who knows whether our vicar wants to sing solo, he usually doesn’t) the music was very, very pretty and I really liked singing some of the prayers that we usually just say aloud. I wish we’d have had the chance to practice the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer as well but there really wasn’t enough time. I really like singing prayers, it makes me feel closer to God in some way. Music is a really large part of how I connect to God and while I like the hymns and anthems we sing in church, I wish there was a little more singing at times. I miss the whole congregation just singing a prayer that everyone knows with no accompaniment or music in front of them. I really fosters the communal spirit I think.
Back to the BoCP though, I am not sure how I feel about Sunday’s service. I have said earlier on this blog that I like the ritualistic sameness of a service and on Sunday that is going to be completely changed around. Obviously doing this for one service celebrating a centuries-old tradition that feels more adventurous than anything else, but I am glad that normally we do it the “normal” way. By that I mean the way I am used to it because it is mostly (as in 90% are the exact same words) as in the Catholic service I grew up with. It’s funny how how we first learn to realte to God stays with us for a long time and, for me at least, is difficult to change. I spent some time in Canada and while there went to quite a few modern protestant services and it never felt quite right. Luckily there is something for everyone out there and we don’t have to force ourselves and make the relationship with God more difficult. I am looking forward to Sunday because it should be interesting and of course the BoCP should be celebrated. Also, I get to sin, praise and worship and what could be more rewarding?
Taize is one of my favourite and most rewarding ways to communicate with God. Here is one of my favourite chants, called Bleibet hier und wachet mit mir. Wachet und betet. In English that means: Stay here and wait here with me. Wait and pray; reminding us on Jesus asking his disciples to stay up with him during his last night before he was crucified.
Filed under Music, Prayer, Taize