Ich habe genug – celebrating Candlemas

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Today is Candlemas – the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.

As Mary and Joseph take their son to the Temple for his dedication, two elderly people, Simeon and Anna, get a glimpse of the saviour of the world and share their prophecies of hope, pain and joy.

Simeon sings a hymn of praise which we now sing at Evensong or Compline as the Nunc Dimittis.

Bach put this song to music in perhaps its most beautiful setting, sung in German, Ich habe genug – I have enough. Here are the lyrics and translation:

Ich habe genug,
Ich habe den Heiland, das Hoffen der Frommen,
Auf meine begierigen Arme genommen;
Ich habe genug!
Ich hab ihn erblickt,
Mein Glaube hat Jesum ans Herze gedrückt;
Nun wünsch ich, noch heute mit Freuden
Von hinnen zu scheiden.

I have enough,
I have taken the Saviour, the hope of the righteous,
into my eager arms;
I have enough!
I have beheld Him,
my faith has pressed Jesus to my heart;
now I wish, even today with joy
to depart from here.

The rest of the arias can be found here.

A wonderful 30 minute exploration of this cantata can be heard on BBC iPlayer, perfect to listen to after your Sunday lunch today:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09l07ly

Painting of Simeon holding the baby Jesus

By Aert de Gelder – Unknown, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=467320

The whole encounter with Christ in the Temple is filled with wonder and beauty – as often happens when a new born child is brought into a room. 4th century saint Ephraim of Syria imagined Simeon and Anna’s songs as a lullaby. Meditate on these words:

Praise to you, Son of the Most High, who has put on our body.

Into the holy temple Simeon carried the Christ-child

and sang a lullaby to him:

‘You have come, Compassionate One,

having pity on my old age, making my bones enter into Sheol in peace.

By you I will be raised out of the grave into paradise.’

Anna embraced the child; she placed her mouth

upon His lips, and then the Spirit rested

upon her lips, like Isaiah

whose mouth was silent until a coal drew near

to his lips and opened his mouth.

Anna was aglow with the spirit of his mouth.

She sang him a lullaby:

‘Royal Son, despised son, being silent, you hear;

hidden, you see; concealed, you know; God-man, glory to your name.’

The barren woman Elizabeth cried out as she was accustomed,

‘Who has granted to me, blessed woman,

to see your Babe by whom heaven and earth are filled? Blessed is your fruit

that brought forth the cluster on a barren vine.’

Praise to you, Son of the Most High, who has put on our body.

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The Spiritual Dark Age – @tokillaking – album review

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It’s years since I posted up a music review on my blog but I’ve felt compelled to write about this new album from underrated band To Kill A King. Full disclosure: the lead singer Ralph is a family friend I’ve known since he was a teenager so I’ve always followed his band’s work with interest. The Spiritual Dark Age is To Kill A King’s third album and was three years in the making. I saw them live on Monday at intimate Newcastle venue The Cluny – they are still on tour as I write – go and see them if you get the chance, a really energetic and entertaining band to see live.

5 Star Review: The Spiritual Dark Age – To Kill A King

I’m not sure how the band would feel about my describing this as a concept album – but I think it is and the clue is in the album name, title track ‘The Spiritual Dark Age’. The theme running through this blistering 40 minutes of anthemic, lyrical folk rock is ‘the crack in everything’. The feel of this album reminds me a little of Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible (although it doesn’t have as much a sense of dread). Ralph’s lyrics articulate a generation that is set adrift spiritually, perhaps most clearly in the title track:

And so the good man said:
“Turns out God is dead.”
They worshipin’ signs instead
Faith from books they haven’t read
They’re angry all the time
Angry at some hole inside
Welcome to the Spiritual Dark Age

Oh, don’t lose your grip
Don’t get contemplative
About this space we live
Between first breath and then the grave
No need to be saved
Just some rules on how to behave
Welcome to the Spiritual Dark Age

I’m not alone and you’re not alone in this
There’s no map and we’re all just set adrift
Just children making pictures in the sky
Arguing about who’s wrong and who’s right

Aye, there’s the rub. Other tracks include the Unspeakable Crimes of Peter Popoff – about a televangelist, and Compassion is a German Word, which contains my favourite lyric: ‘compassion is my weapon of choice’. I made this little poster (my first piece of fan art!) to illustrate it (shamelessly nicking Banksy’s image from Palestine):

Compassion is my weapon of choice.jpg

There is hope to be found too, a sense of solidarity, a sense of finding out what really makes life worth living such as the insight of Good Old Days:

There’s time to waste
There’s a golden beam lights up their face
But you never stopped to appreciate it

So tell me now how it’s possible that a single day seems so
Beautiful and you never know them till they’re gone

This is a great album. Having received it on (cool purple) vinyl has made me listen to it ‘properly’ – as in all the way through without skipping. It’s a cliche but it really is all killer, no filler.

I can’t remember the last time I heard an album that so accurately pinpointed the current spiritual zeitgeist. Have a listen!

The album’s available on Spotify or direct from the band’s website here: http://www.tokillaking.co.uk/

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My vinyl copy of the album on my record player

Merry Christmas and a very happy 2018! #GodWithUs

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My sermon this Advent 4 about Mary was inspired by Banksy and Danny Boyle’s Alternativity and Malcolm Guite’s Annunciation sonnet. I post the text of the sermon here as my Christmas message this year. May you have a blessed Christmas and a very happy and healthy 2018!

alternativity

We’ve had a week of nativity plays here in church. I wonder if you can remember who you played in your nativity play as a child?

A few years ago a survey was undertaken of adults about their role in a nativity play. When children, 42 percent of women said that they would have liked to play Mary and 23 percent of men would have liked to play Joseph. When asked which character they would like to play now if they were given the chance, most people responded with either Herod or the Innkeeper – people for some reason wanted to play the ‘baddies’!

This week an unusual production of a nativity play called the Alternativity was broadcast on BBC2. This was a staging of the play directed by the artist Banksy and film director Danny Boyle by the big wall in Bethlehem in the West Bank. Sadly, today, if you look up pictures of Bethlehem on the internet you will see that a huge two-story wall – twice the height of the Berlin Wall cuts directly through the town, dominating the landscape and making it feel like a prison with men with guns manning the watchtowers. Local Palestinian children were brought in to play the roles in this special production of the nativity. I was very moved by the young girl who said she wanted to play the part of Maryam (as she pronounced Mary). She had a beautiful pure singing voice and sang a beautiful hallelujah to the baby Jesus – all with the appalling backdrop of the wall that keeps the Palestinian people from travelling freely into the occupied parts of the West Bank. It really gave me a new perspective on the little town of Bethlehem about which we sing.

Would I want to play Mary in this nativity play? I don’t think so.

Some of the parents of the children who were in Banksy’s play in Bethlehem weren’t sure about allowing them to perform. Many of them had been shielded from the presence of the wall – their parents had kept it from them for as long as they could so that they could have as normal a childhood as possible. Being in the play would expose these children to the reality of the wall and their position as people living under occupation. Engaging directly in the nativity story for these children was literally dangerous. They were not even sure if anyone would want to come and watch – you don’t hang around a wall that has snipers at every tower.

I’m not sure you’d want to play any of the characters in this nativity play.

The Alternativity in Bethlehem that I watched this week reminded me that the nativity story is dangerous too. It’s fraught with danger. Which makes Mary’s response to the angel’s message that we heard in our gospel reading, all the more amazing.

If you read it closely, Luke has written his gospel in such a way that it makes us want to play Mary, or at least, want to be like Mary. She is an example to all of us.

Tonight we are going to be celebrating the incarnation – God becoming one of us, God becoming enfleshed, God reaching down literally into the mess and danger of our world on the edge of an occupied town where all life was fragile. This morning, the 4th Sunday of Advent we celebrate the role of Mary the mother of our Lord. Without Mary’s ‘yes’, we would have no Christmas. This is a reminder that God chooses to work in partnership with us, to work directly through ordinary human beings. God chooses us and then gives us the choice.

Gabriel tells Mary that she has found favour with God. He then tells her what will happen to her. She is allowed to question this experience she has of God speaking to her. And then, she says ‘let it be to me according to your word’.

God calls each one of us and just like Mary, God says to us, you didn’t choose me but I chose you – God is waiting for our reply.

Do you want to play Mary?

Oh that we can be like that young girl playing Maryam in the nativity play by the wall in Bethlehem, risking her life to bear the message of good news to all, singing hallelujah into the darkness of the listening audience. Oh that we can be like Mary and even knowing how much more challenging life is going to get once we allow God into our lives, we can still say ‘yes’ to God, yes to working with God to bring his presence into the world, into this dangerous and dark world.

I want to finish with a sonnet by Malcolm Guite called Annunciation:

Annunciation – Malcolm Guite

We see so little, stayed on surfaces,

We calculate the outsides of all things,

Preoccupied with our own purposes

We miss the shimmer of the angels’ wings,

They coruscate around us in their joy

A swirl of wheels and eyes and wings unfurled,

They guard the good we purpose to destroy,

A hidden blaze of glory in God’s world.

But on this day a young girl stopped to see

With open eyes and heart. She heard the voice;

The promise of His glory yet to be,

As time stood still for her to make a choice;

Gabriel knelt and not a feather stirred,

The Word himself was waiting on her word.

 

 

Luxury Advent Calendar for the Soul – 24 December

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So I’ve saved for the final window one of my all time favourite pieces of Christmas music and one of my all time favourite YouTube videos. Enjoy and may you have a peaceful and blessed Christmas!

The Latin lyrics being sung are:

LUX AURUMQUE

Latin Translation ©2001 by Charles Anthony Silvestri

(English poem by Edward Esch)

 

LUX,                                              Light,

CALIDA GRAVISQUE                warm and heavy

PURA VELUT AURUM               as pure gold,

ET CANUNT ANGELI                  and the angels sing softly

MOLLITER MODO NATUM.       to the newborn babe.

Luxury Advent Calendar for the Soul – 22 December

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Behind today’s window is another poem. This is almost a fixture now at our traditional carol service and is usually read by Ros, one of our Lay Readers. It is so moving.

‘Mary’, by Lisa Debney

Your eyes are open now.
Those eyes which will open the eyes of others.
You study my face and, just for the moment,
though you came for the world,
you are mine and mine alone.
I made you and you made me
and we gaze at each other in equal wonderment.

Your eyes are open now,
so dark-bright –
sent from a night full of light and stars –
that I could watch you for ever,
watch your chest rise and fall
as you breathe the cattle-soaked air.
I would like this moment to last for ever,
you are so wonderful to me,
so truly wonderful as you are.

But not my will, Lord, but yours be done.
I must hand you over for the world cries out for you,
though I cry out to let you go.
Just for tonight let the future leave us in peace.
Close your eyes, baby.

Close your bright eyes on the dusty darkness of the world.
There is majesty in you but for now let it hide,
let it hide like a gem while you sleep.

Luxury Advent Calendar for the Soul – 21 December

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Behind today’s window is a sonnet. I was inspired by this for my sermon I’m preaching this Sunday morning for Advent 4 – which celebrates the Virgin Mary.

Annunciation – Malcolm Guite

We see so little, stayed on surfaces,

We calculate the outsides of all things,

Preoccupied with our own purposes

We miss the shimmer of the angels’ wings,

They coruscate around us in their joy

A swirl of wheels and eyes and wings unfurled,

They guard the good we purpose to destroy,

A hidden blaze of glory in God’s world.

But on this day a young girl stopped to see

With open eyes and heart. She heard the voice;

The promise of His glory yet to be,

As time stood still for her to make a choice;

Gabriel knelt and not a feather stirred,

The Word himself was waiting on her word.