Tonight, after Tim and I went out for supper, I headed off to the Grande Prairie Regional College, where, after an hour or so of hanging around and one quick rehearsal, we sang at the Encana Grande Prairie Music Festival. “We” here is Jubilate, the six-member group I’ve been singing with since about the middle of March. We sang two madrigals (words by Michelangelo, music by Jacob Arcadelt) and John Rutter’s “A Gaelic Blessing.”
I was pretty nervous about the concert (my gut is still in a knot), especially since (as I mentioned in my previous post) the concert was being adjudicated and the adjudicator had given out very few gold stars earlier in the week. In the middle of the first song, I heard and felt my voice break slightly, but no one else noticed, and, in spite of the fact that I was trembling a bit with nerves and adreniline, people said we all looked quite comfortable.
The adjudicator told us that hearing us made her homesick, since she sings with a small ensemble herself and loves renaissance and baroque music. All week, she’d been hammering groups on their dynamics: their louds weren’t loud enough and their softs weren’t soft enough. But mirable dictu, she didn’t say anything about that to us, which means we must have remembered not to bellow through the pianissimo parts. She had us work on a couple of things, but complemented us on our phrasing and blend, and (though I should blush to relate it) she also complemented “Mr. Bass” on his low E.
Believe it or not, it’s snowing. It was wonderful spring weather for most of the week, but this evening the light rain has turned into light snow. I gather that farther south, around Calgary, they’ve had a few inches of it. Here it’s not coming down that heavily (yet).
I was thinking of going for a walk tonight, but that’s off. Instead, I’ll practice my madrigals for the upcoming Music Festival on Tuesday, where we’re going to be adjudicated, which means I have to learn to sing forward in the next couple of days or we’re in trouble. And then I’m going to return to the fun of James Blaylock‘s The Disappearing Dwarf, early Blaylock to be sure, but still enjoyable.
Last night, I finished reading Philip Lee’s Against the Protestant Gnostics. It’s a very good book in many ways, in spite of the significant differences between Lee’s theological and political stance and my own.
Lee’s goal is to reveal the gnosticism which lurks in much Protestant thought, but it seems to me that there’s more than a little gnosticism in his own thinking. For instance, it doesn’t seem that Lee believes in a historical fall; he speaks also about those who have “literalized and thereby gnosticized” the “biblical images” such as the Atonement (p. 107). He also indicates that he believes that Scripture, being the words of men, contains errors (p. 219). All the way through the book, I have penciled in question marks, x-es, and even a few comments.
And yet, as I say, in spite of those significant differences between Lee’s view and my own, I appreciated a lot of what Lee says. For instance, he argues that much modern feminism is gnostic in that it attempts to deny the significance of created sexuality. He defends ordinary Christian life as opposed to the spiritual flights of the gnostic elite. He upholds the importance of the church and the sacraments, as well.
Lee, following the early Reformers, argues passionately for weekly communion. He cites Calvin:
All this mass of ceremonies being abandoned, the sacrament might be celebrated in the most becoming manner, if it were dispensed to the Church very frequently, at least once a week…. Thus we ought always to provide that no meeting of the Church is held without the word, prayer, the dispensation of the Supper, and alms (Institutes IV.17.43-44, emphasis Lee’s, though I’ve modified the punctuation).
Later in the book, Lee writes something worth pondering:
The eucharistic feast must be restored to its rightful place if the churches of the Reformation are to be reformed. The account given in the Acts of the Apostles makes it clear that teaching, preaching, prayer and the breaking of bread were from the beginning the essential elements of Christian worship. Indeed, the Church’s teaching, preaching and praying culminate in the breaking of bread with Christ and all his people. “This is the joyful feast of the people of God” where and when the eyes of the faithful are opened and they recognize the Lord. Historically, the simple reenactment of the Last Supper and of the post-Easter meals of Christ and his disciples has been the central act of the Christian community.The irony of Protestant history is that although the sixteenth-century Reformers fought like tigers to restore the wine to the people, their descendents have now deprived the people of both bread and wine. The Protestant celebration, when it is on rare occasions held, has been spiritualized to the extent that it could scarcely be recognized as a meal at all. The purely symbolic wafer of the Roman celebration, which John Knox thundered against as a distortion of Christ’s “common bread,” has in most Protestant churches been replaced by minute, carefully diced pieces of bread unlike any other bread ever eaten by any culture. The common cup which the medieval Church withheld from the faithful is, except among the Anglicans, still the sole possession of the clergy. The unordained are now given thimble-like glasses filled with Welch’s grape juice. The symbolism is quite clear. We all come before God individually; with our individual bits of bread and our individual cups of juice, we are not of one loaf and one chalice. Our relationship to Christ is private and personal. What may be even more significant is that by partaking of this unearthly meal with our unbreadly bread and our unwinely wine we are making a clear statement that the bread and wine of spiritual communion has no connection with earthly communion. It is an unmistakable gnostic witness against the significance of ordinary meals: common bread, wine, the table fellowship of laughter and tears….
Frequent communion, of course, would call for a simple, less elaborate service than the unmeal-like ritual now practiced. The funereal procession of clergy and lay leaders passing the diminutive dishes to the solemnly sitting or kneeling communicants would probably have to be replaced by the crowded gathering of the faithful about the Holy Table for a breaking of the common loaf and the passing of a common cup. Those who argue that the intimacy and the everyday quality of such a celebration would take away the sense of mystery simply do not understand the nature of drama and mystery. It was [French filmmaker] Jean Cocteau who said “vagueness is unsuitable to the fairy world … mystery exists only in precise things.” Concreteness, the preciseness of home-baked bread and earthy red wine, in pottery plates and chalices, received with much chewing and swallowing, witnesses to the mystery of the Word made flesh. The present practice unwittingly undercuts the mystery and leaves us with the vague and unhelpful feeling that some undefined perfunctory act must be taking place (pp. 272-273).
The book is certainly thought-provoking, though it requires a fair bit of discernment. I’ll leave you with this beautiful bit of the French Reformed baptismal liturgy, which Lee quotes. The minister takes the child in his arms and says:
Little child, for you Jesus Christ has come, He has fought, He has suffered. For you He entered into the shadows of Gethsemane and the terror of Calvary; for you He uttered the cry “It is finished.” For you He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, and there for you He intercedes. For you, even though you do not know it, little child, but in this way the Word of the Gospel is made true, “We love Him because He first loved us” (cited p. 254).
Here’s a brand-new article in which N. T. Wright explains the significance of the resurrection, which is not quite what Rev. Gospelman or Mr. Smoothtongue thought. And here, for those who might be interested, is a related news story, which also mentions the lightning bolt incident alluded to in the Ship of Fools article.
Here’s a snippet from James Jordan’s “Biblical Perspectives on the Arts” (Biblical Educator 4.1). It was written in 1982 and I don’t know if Jim would put it the same way today, but I thought it was worth passing on:
Francis Schaeffer, in his fine booklet Art and the Bible (Intervarsity), mentions what he calls the major and the minor themes in Christian art. The minor themes are sin, depravity, ugliness, and the like. The major themes are salvation, righteousness, beauty, and the like. Because Christian fine arts are realistic, they deal with the minor themes, but they show the triumph of the major themes. This need not be true in each and every piece of art, but will be the message of the corpus of an artist’s work as a whole….Because fine arts often deal with the minor themes as well as the major ones, fine arts are not always “beautiful.” To bring across the horror of sin, the fine arts sometimes present what we might call “anti-beauty,” but the overall tendency is to create a fuller beauty as the ultimate goal.
Tolkein has put it very well in the opening passages of the Silmarillion. Satan abstracts one small set of notes from the great hymn of the angels, and harps only on them; but God is able to turn this dissonance into a new tragic melody, which eventually works its way back into the hymn, and the last beauty is greater than the first.
During this past week, I have been listening to appropriate music: Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion and Arvo Part’s Passio (short, of course, for Passio Domini Nostri Jesu Christi Secundum Johannes: The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to John).
Today and tomorrow, I’ll be listening to John Taverner’s Lamentations and Praises, fitting music for Good Friday and Holy Saturday. I realize I quoted these lines last year at this time, but I’ll quote them again:
In a grave they laid You,
O my Life and my Christ;
and the armies of the angels were sore amazed
as they sang the praise of Your submissive love.Right it is indeed, life-bestowing Lord,
to magnify You;
for upon the Cross
were Your most-pure hands outspread,
and the strength of our dread foe
have You destroyed.
Way back when I started blogging, three of my earliest posts talked about Krzysztof Kieslowski’s trilogy, Blue, White, and Red. Now, at long last, the movies have come out in a DVD box set: Three Colours. Tim spotted them in a store here in Grande Prairie.
Two more quotations from Wright’s The Challenge of Jesus:
The mission of the church … can be summed up in the phrase “reflected glory.” It is precisely through engaging in the christological task, focusing on Jesus and allowing our picture of God to be shaped thereby not as a detached intellectual exercise but as the very heart of our worship, our praying, our thinking, our preaching and our living, that we are enabled to reflect that glory. When we see, as Paul says, the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and when we discover the length and breadth of what that phrase means, we see and discover this not for our own benefit but so that the glory may shine in us and through us, to bring light and life to the world that still waits in darkness and the shadow of death (pp. 124-125).
And toward the end of the book:
But if we are to be kingdom-announcers, modeling the new way of being human, we are also to be crossbearers. This is a strange and dark theme that is also our birthright as followers of Jesus. Shaping our world is never for a Christian a matter of going out arrogantly thinking we can just get on with the job, reorganizing the world according to some model that we have in mind. It is a matter of sharing and bearing the pain and puzzlement of the world so that the crucified love of God in Christ may be brought to bear healingly upon the world at exactly that point. Because Jesus bore the cross uniquely for us, we do not have to purchase forgiveness again; it’s been done. But because, as he himself said, following him involves taking up the cross, we should expect, as the New Testament tells us repeatedly, that to build on his foundation will be to find the cross etched into the pattern of our life over and over again (pp. 188-189).
Barb points out that my article entitled “Reading the Bible” has been published in U-Turn online. I received the hardcopy in the mail last week, but hadn’t checked yet to see if it was up on the webpage.
I’ve been reading N. T. Wright’s The Challenge of Jesus and came across this paragraph on the relationship between Jesus’ death and our vocation:
When we speak of “following Christ,” it is the crucified Messiah we are talking about. His death was not simply the messy bit that enables our sins to be forgiven but that can then be forgotten. The cross is the surest, truest and deepest window on the very heart and character of the living and loving God; the more we learn about the cross in all its historical and theological dimensions, the more we discover about the One in whose image we are made and hence about our own vocation to be the cross-bearing people, the people in whose lives and service the living God is made known. And when therefore we speak … of shaping our world, we do not — we dare not — simply treat the cross as the thing that saves us “personally,” but which can be left behind when we get on with the job. The task of shaping our world is best understood as the redemptive task of bringing the achievement of the cross to bear on the world, and in that task the methods, as well as the message, must be cross-shaped through and through (pp. 94-95).