Monday, March 30, 2009

Why Does God Sing?

A wonderful recent post by Fr. Stephen Freeman:

Why Does God Sing?

Why would God sing? The question may sound strange and yet it is said in Zephaniah (3:17), “He will rejoice over thee with singing.” I first noticed this verse when I was a very young Christian and have puzzled about it for nearly forty years. Equally puzzling to our modern way of thought is the question, “Why does anybody sing?” I have been to plenty of operas and have to admit that even the ones in English need subtitles - singing does not necessarily make something more easily understood. And yet we sing.

God sings. Angels sing. Man sings.

Other than some adaptations that have been made in a few places in the modern period, any Orthodox service of worship is sung (or chanted) from beginning to end (with the exception of the sermon). Like opera, this musical approach to the liturgy does not mean that it will be better understood. And yet, the Christian Tradition, until the Reformation, was largely universal in its use of singing as the mode of worship. In the Western Church there was a development of the “Low Mass” in which little chanting was used - though this never found a place in the East.

This is not solely a Christian phenomenon. As a teenager I had a close friend who was Jewish. As a young teenager he began training to become a Cantor (the main singer in a congregation - second only in importance to the Rabbi himself). I was curious about Hebrew so he began to instruct me privately. Hebrew is a great language - particularly as published in Hebrew Scriptures.

I mastered the alphabet and began to understand that most vowels were not letters at all, just dots and lines, strategically placed to indicate their sound. I felt somewhat proud the first time I read a line aloud without prompting. I recall that when I finished I pointed at yet another set of markings that my friend had yet to mention.

“What are these?” I asked.

“They’re for the Cantor,” he explained. He also had to explain what a Cantor was and, fortunately, was able to demonstrate when I asked him how the musical markings worked. The sound would have compared easily to Byzantine chant - perhaps with lines of kinship. This past autumn I became acutely aware of another singing religion: Islam. My wife and I made pilgrimage to the Holy Land in September. The first morning (it was the Islamic holy month of Ramadan) a canon went off at sunrise (that will wake you up in Jerusalem!) and suddenly a plaintive chant blared across the city as the Muezzin chanted the morning call to prayer.

Indeed, if you made a study of world religions, you’d be hard pressed to find any people who prayed or worshipped without singing (almost exclusively) other than forms of Christianity that have been influenced by the Protestant Reformation. In light of that fact it might be more appropriate to ask, “If God sings, and the angels sing, the Jews sing, the Muslims sing: why don’t Protestants chant their services?” What is it about modern man that changed his religious tune?

I’ll come back to that question in just a few moments. However, I would first like to take a tour through some experiences I’ve had with music and pastoral care. Wherever in our brain that the ability to sing and understand music resides - it is not the same place as pure speech. I have been making pastoral visits with patients for nearly thirty years. During that time I have frequently noticed stroke patients, who had lost one particular brain function (governed by the area effected by the stroke) be perfectly normal in another area not affected by the stroke. It’s as simple as being paralyzed on one side of your body but not on the other (a common result of strokes).

In the same way, I have seen any number of patients who could not speak or respond to speech, who, nevertheless, could sing and respond to music. The most extreme case I ever saw was in a patient suffering from multiple infarct dementia (thousands of tiny strokes). He was a paraplegic and virtually unresponsive. However, his devout Christian wife had discovered that he responded to both music and to prayer. He would say, “Amen,” at the end of a prayer and tried to join in when you sang a familiar hymn.

God sings. The angels sing. Jews sing. Muslims sing. George, with multiple infarct dementia sings. And so the mystery grows.

A surprising musical experience for me came in visiting St. Thekla’s Summer Camp (in South Carolina). We have youth in our Church, including some who attend the summer camp. However, my experience in Church, is that, like most teens surrounded by adults, they remain quiet. However at the summer camp, surrounded by their peers, they sang with all the gusto of their youth. It was completely natural. Kids sing.

So what happened in the Protestant West that made them change their tune? To their credit they did not completely stop singing. Some of the finest hymns in Christian history were written during the Reformation. Hymns that sang doctrine and offered praise to God - all these were part of the hymnody of Protestant worship. And yet something different did take place. What was different was a shift in understanding how or if we know God and the place that worship plays in all that.

For many in the Reformation God could be known only as He made Himself known in Scripture. Knowing God as He had made Himself known in Christ was a description of knowing what Christ said and did in the New Testament. God was distanced from the sacraments in most cases. He was distanced from worship. We could offer worship to God in our assemblies, but not necessarily because He was present.

The distance that arose between man and God at the time of the Reformation had many causes. Among the most important were the politics of severing God, the individual and the Church (particularly the Roman Catholic Church). Such a severing created the secular sphere as we know it today and at last established the state as superior to the Church with, for the most part, the happy cooperation of the newly minted Churches. For most centuries the Reformation has been studied on the basis of its religious issues - indeed “religion” has unfairly borne the blame for years of hatred and wars. The role of politics has been downplayed - indeed even seen as the force which intervened and spared Europe from further religious madness. The state, as secular state, was seen as the hero of the Reformation. However it is quite possible to understand the history of that period as the history of the rise of the secular state and the state’s manipulation of religion for the interests of the state (Eamon Duffy’s work on this topic is quite revealing).

The Reformation itself brought something of an ideological revolution, a redefinition of man as a religious being. The new thought saw man as an understanding, rational, choosing individual. Thus religious services began to have a growing center of the spoken word. God was reasoning with man through the medium of the spoken word. In most places of the new reforms, efforts were made to establish a radical break with the sacramental past. However God might be present with His people - it was not to be in the drama of the Liturgy. Vestments were exchanged for academic gowns, or no vestment at all. The minister was an expounder of the word, not a priest. The altar that had once clearly been an altar, a place where the bloodless sacrifice took place - a holy place where Christ Body and Blood were present - became a simple table - usually with the minister standing in a position that was meant to indicate that he was performing no priestly action.

The words surrounding the Liturgy were spoken and not sung. Singing at such moments were associated with acts of magic. Thus the “hoc est enim corpus meum” of the Roman Rite, was ridiculed as “hocus pocus,” ever to be associated with magic. Chanting was for witches, not for Christians.

Music did not disappear at the Reformation. As noted earlier, many great hymns were written as part of that movement - and have marked every major “revival” within Protestantism. People sing. But what do people sing?

There is no doubt that vast changes in much of Protestant Church music have taken place in the latter half of the 20th century. The same was true in parts of the 19th century. In efforts to remain “contemporary” much music has taken contemporary form. The influence of Pentecostal worship forms have also shaped contemporary “praise” music.

In many ways a revolution as profound as the Reformation itself has taken place within Protestant Christianity. Whereas the founders of the Reformation saw reason as the primary mode of communicating the gospel - contemporary Protestantism has become far more comfortable with emotion. An interesting player in this modern revolution has been the “science” of marketing which has made careful study of how it is that people actually make decisions and on what basis do they “choose” as consumers. From an Orthodox perspective, it is the science of the passions.

In this light it is important to say that people sing for many different reasons and that not all music in worship is the same. Orthodoxy has long held the maxim that music should be “neptic,” that is, should be guided by sobriety and not by the passions. Thus, there have been criticisms from time to time within the Russian Church that the great works of some modern Church composers are too “operatic” or too emotional. That conversation continues.

But why do we sing?

Here we finally come to the question that has no easy answer - just a suggestion based on human experience. We sing because God sings. We sing because the angels sing. We sing because all of creation sings. We are not always able to hear the song - usually because we do not sing enough. I will put forward that singing is the natural mode of worship (particularly if we follow the model of the angels) and that there is much that can enter the heart as we sing that is stopped dead in its tracks by the spoken word.

It is not for nothing that the one book of Old Testament Scripture that finds more usage in the Church (at least among the Orthodox) than the New Testament, is the book of Psalms, all of which are meant to be sung (and are sung within Orthodox worship). Years ago when I was a young Anglican priest - I introduced the sung mass at a mission Church where I was assigned. A teenager confided to me after the service that the chanting had made her feel “spooky.” She was clearly stuck in a Reformation “only witches chant” mode. She also had not learned to worship. In time, it grew on her and she grew with it.

The heart of worship is an exchange. It is an exchange where we offer to God all we are and all we have and receive in return Who He is and what He has. The exchange takes place as we sing to Him and He sings to us.

I have heard the singing of angels. I am not certain that I have heard God singing - though it is something of an open question to me. But without fail, I hear His voice singing in the person of the priest: “Take, eat. This is my Body which is broken for you, for the remission of sins.” And I have heard the choir sing, in the voice of the people: “I will take up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord.”

God sings and so should everything else.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Lenten Recipe of the Week

Macaroni and "Cheese"

3-1/2 cups elbow macaroni, uncooked
1/2 cup margarine
1/2 cup flour
3–1/2 cups water, boiling
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1-1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/4 cup oil
1 cup nutritional yeast flakes
1 pinch turmeric

Cook and drain macaroni.
In a saucepan, melt margarine and add flour.
Cook roux until bubbly and smooth.
Whip in boiling water, salt, soy sauce, garlic powder and turmeric.
Cook until thick.
Whip in oil and nutritional yeast flakes and stir to make sauce.
Mix noodles and sauce, topping with sauce.
Put into a casserole dish and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes – half an hour
Broil a few minutes to brown just before serving.

A Little Levity

This is probably why I never made it as a sin-ger.

HT: Believe it or not, my college voice teacher, via FB!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Put Up Yer Dukes!

Another fruitless online boxing match between the East and the West.

In this corner we have the confessional Lutherans, using Holy Scriptures and the Book of Concord (like that's gonna hold any water with the Orthodox in the first place) as a weapon with which to do battle with the Orthodox. In the other corner, we have the Orthodox, using the Church Fathers and Holy Tradition (like that's gonna hold any water with the Lutherans)in the same way. It's like some useless Christian scrimmage.

Guess who won? Nobody! (surprise, surprise).

It seems that lots of faithful Christians get some sort of an endorphine rush by flexing their intellectual and theologically bookish muscles online, waxing eloquent (usually by quoting Scripture and Church Confessions or the Church Fathers) about their profound knowledge of God. Specifically, in a sort of "can you believe that some Christians actually think this?" sort of way.

So this time it's about original sin (the Lutheran understanding of which I never bought even when I was a Lutheran. But the point is that what I buy or don't buy isn't what's important here and may not in any way be what is the Truth.)

Am I the only person who considers this sort of online sparring match to be an incredible waste of time and energy? Do people really think they are going to change another person's mind by regurgitating volumes of what they have read?

Worse, why don't those involved in such discussions view themselves as willing and eager pawns in the "why I am better than you" or "I'm a real Christian and you're not" or "We have the Truth and you don't" game? Remarkably, some (not just one!) will turn around and in a subsequent post attest to their desire for unity in the Church.

If unity in the Church is what we truly want and such online sparring is simply an excercise, then perhaps we should take off our gloves and start by praying for unity first.

Or at least consider who our punching bag is before we come out swinging.

End of rant.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St. Patrick, Enlightener of Ireland

Having missed the first loosely-set deadline for completing his first icon, YoungerSon finished it last night just in time for the second deadline, St. Patrick's Day. The varnish is drying on it now.

He struggled with this - alot - and learned many valuable lessons. I pitched in and helped out a few times, but mostly I just started a section for him, showing him how to do it, and left him to complete the section. My friend Phyl had to bail both of us out and help with the beard (as I told our priest recently, it takes a village to paint an icon).

It is a bit different from the beautiful prototype he used, yet it has a beauty all it's own. A beauty that only comes with struggle and perseverance - with falling down and getting up, with giving up and starting again.

Though different from the more traditional icon of St. Patrick, we were both most interested to notice that it bears a little resemblance to the statue of St. Patrick from Pr. Weedon's post today.

The First Robin of Spring

I saw him today.

Actually, YoungerSon heard him first (recognizing his song from the aforementioned clock in the kitchen).

Knowing that I have been keeping my eye out for a robin for at least a couple of weeks, he came to get me when he heard it singing outside and we went searching for him together, finding him on a bare limb in the neighbor's tree.

This isn't the very robin we saw, because it's dusk and I'd never get a decent shot at this time of the day. So I'm sharing this one from a Google image search.

Spring is finally here (but in Minnesota, that doesn't necessarily mean it's done snowing!)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Food For the Fast - Week 2

I didn't think to take a picture of this recipe before eating it all up! But here's the recipe I've chosen to post for the second week of the fast. It was our supper tonight - and it was delicious!

Garlic Ginger Mock Duck

Marinade Ingredients
1 cup Orange juice (or other fruit juice)
4 teaspoons cornstarch
6 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon ginger
2 cloves garlic
crushed red pepper flakes, to taste

Other Ingredients
1 can mock duck, cut into chunks
5 green onions, sliced
3-4 medium carrots, sliced (we julienned)
1 can sliced water chestnuts
other vegetables as desired

Pre-cook the vegetables and water chestnuts, as needed.
Marinate the mock duck, then drain, reserving marinade.
In a hot skillet, sear the mock duck (really sear it! So that a lot of it sticks to the pan)
Add green onions, carrots, water chestnuts and other vegetables.
Then add marinade and boil for 1 minute.
Serve over rice or noodles.

A couple of modifications we'd make: replace the OJ with vegetable stock (the OJ wasn't bad in this dish, but it hid the glorious flavor of the ginger and with the abundance of flavors already going on in this dish, it was unnecessary, we thought); and we'd cut the soy sauce in half - at least.

But we're definitely making this again!

Oh, and by the way, this recipe came from our church's new cookbook, "The Community Table," which has some treasures in the section on lenten recipes.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Save Your Skins!

I recently subscribed to's Greek food site, primarily because it had a link to some Lenten recipes I thought might be helpful during this time of the year. And I suppose it has been somewhat helpful - even though I have yet to try any of those Greek Lenten recipes I saw.

But here's an interesting portion of their post from Clean Monday (which just showed up in my inbox today!?) I enjoyed the following article on using onion skins to make your red eggs for Pascha. Thinking perhaps others might find this informative, if not helpful, I share it below.

(As a member of the OCA, I admit that I giggled and rolled my eyes - just a little - when I read little turns of phrase like "Greek Orthodox Lent" and "Greek Orthodox Easter." Hello, folks - there are actually a few Orthodox people out there who are Orthodox, but who aren't Greek Orthodox!)

Use Onion Skins to Dye Red Easter Eggs
Monday March 2, 2009

Looking for a new tradition to add to your Spring celebration? Red eggs mark every Greek Easter meal, starting with the meal to break the fast after midnight Easter services. This year, Greek Orthodox Easter will be observed on April 19th, so I'll probably tell you about these again later on (we make them on Thursday of Holy Week), but for those who dye eggs earlier, give these a try! They're great fun for kids as well, who get a chance to use a natural dyeing process.

The skins used to make the dye are from yellow (Spanish) onions. Whenever I cook with these onions, I save the skins in a plastic bag and put them in the fridge... to use for dyeing the red eggs that are one of the most traditional elements of the Greek Easter celebration. It may be a bit surprising, but those drab looking onion skins (below) actually do produce those beautiful red eggs (above right).

Sure, there are lots of other dyes I could use, but this method, that dates back at least to the Middle Ages, delivers a fabulous, deep red color. Learn to dye red eggs with onion skins.
Red eggs are symbolic of the Easter holiday, but we make dozens, and people often ask what we do with them. Well, we cook with some, we eat some, and we play a game with some. Learn more about this Greek game with red eggs.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Saint Joseph the Betrothed

Saint Joseph the Betrothed was of the lineage of King David. In his first marriage, he had four sons and two daughters. After he became a widower, St Joseph led a life of strict temperance. He was chosen to be the husband and guardian of the Most Holy Theotokos, who had taken a vow of virginity.

An angel told him of the Incarnation of the Son of God through her. St Joseph was present when the shepherds and the Magi worshiped the new-born divine Infant. On the orders of the angel, he fled into Egypt with the Mother of God and the Infant Jesus, saving them from the wrath of King Herod. He lived in Egypt with the Virgin Mary and the divine Child, working as a carpenter. St Joseph reputedly died at the age of one hundred.

St Joseph is commemorated on the Sunday after the Nativity. If there is no Sunday between December 25 and January 1, his Feast is moved to December 26. The Righteous Joseph is also commemorated on the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers.

Source: The Orthodox Church in America

Double Tragedy in Maryville

Read about it here.

The first and most grievous part of this tragedy is that a pastor was shot and killed at his church this past Sunday morning.

The second tragedy is that at least initially, the congregation couldn't tell the difference between worship and and a murder.

Sad and tragic on both counts.
Lord, have mercy.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Book Confessions

Tagged by Emily!

Book Confessions
1. To mark your page you: use a bookmark, bend the page corner, leave the book open face down?
All of the above, though mostly I leave the book open face down (shame on me, it's bad for the binding).

2. Do you lend your books?
Yes, I do - and I've lost a few favorites this way - but I think it's a risk worth taking.

3. You find an interesting passage: do you write in your book or NO WRITING IN BOOKS!
I don't usually write in books, though years ago in college I used to be a highlighter.

4. Dust jackets - leave it on or take it off.
I leave 'em on and often use them as bookmarks. But they seem to be always in the way. But I always remove the dust jacket when I first get a book to look at the book's cover. It's important to me to know what my book looks like without it, too.

5. Hard cover, paperback, skip it and get the audio book?
Paperback is fine. It's what's inside the book that I'm looking for.

6. Do you shelve your books by subject, author, or size and color of the book spines?
Sadly, I'm just glad to get my books on the shelves at all. I recently went searching for a book and had to go through all of the books on all of the shelves - many times (never found the book, either).

7. Buy it or borrow it from the library later?
Yes. Sometimes I borrow it first and buy it later.

8. Do you put your name on your books - scribble your name in the cover, fancy bookplate, or stamp?
Scribble my name in the front cover - often the year of purchase, too.

9. Most of the books you own are rare and out of print books or recent publications?
I have a bunch of each.

10. Page edges - deckled or straight?

11. How many books do you read at one time?
One book at a time is all my pea-brain can handle.

12. Be honest, ever tear a page from a book?
Books - no. Magazines? Yes

Saturday, March 7, 2009

By Whose Prayers Are You Being Saved?

A wonderful and timely post today from Fr. Stephen Freeman of Glory to God For All Things.

Bird Calls

We have this clock at our house, a gift from a former neighbor. You've seen (or heard) these clocks before - at each hour the clock sings with various bird calls.

Now I have never been much of a fan of this clock which hangs in our kitchen. For one thing, it's really nothing to look at. For another thing, we have lots of clocks around here - 3 others in the kitchen alone - so we really don't need it.

Yet we've had it for years and it's become an integrated part of our lives. When the robin sings it's really, really time for everyone to be out of bed in the morning. The hoot owl tells me that it's either time for lunch or it's way past my bedtime. The canada goose honks to tell me it's suppertime (or time to get serious about getting supper on the table). And so it goes. The calls of the various birds call me to attention for different tasks throughout the day.

Most notable at our house is the call of the cardinal, who sings at 3:00. No matter what is happening in our house, when the cardinal sings at 3, the dog runs to the front window and, looking out, stares up the street waiting expectantly for the boys to come home from school. And he stands there staring until they are visible - once he sees them, his tail starts to wag. The closer they get to the front door, the more fervent the wagging, until they come in the front door and cannot really get into the house because the dog pretty much fills the entire entry (a fact which can be verified by anyone who has been a guest in our house) wagging and turning circles and licking their hands.

Even though I have never cared all that much for this clock (it nags at me!), it and the dog's response to it are a good metaphor for me of this time of the church year. The mockingbird calls and the church knows that it is Sunday of the Prodigal Son, the chickadee chirps and the church knows that it is Sunday of the Last Judgement, and then the cardinal calls and it is Forgiveness Sunday, the beginning of Lent. And we, too, go to the window and look out, staring up the street and waiting in anticipation for what we know is coming soon.

The trick for me is learning to use wisely those moments spent staring out the window. There is much work to be done in those few important moments.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Food for the Fast

I decided that I'm going to try and post one Lenten recipe or food idea each week during the fast this year, as I always find them to be very helpful when others do this at this time of the year.

This week's recipe is from a new cookbook, Taste and See: Traditional, Ethnic, and Favorite Recipes. It's a Centennial cookbook published by Holy Assumption Orthodox Church of Lublin, WI. I got the cookbook last summer and this is the first recipe from the book we tried and we've made it lots of times already. Now I am not a big bean soup eater, but I have found that I really like this recipe!

This soup was our supper this first evening of the fast, served with this bread.

Bean Soup
1 lb. great northern beans
1 c. diced onions
1 c. diced celery
1 c. diced carrots
1/2 c. diced green pepper
2 T. parsley leaves
2 T. oil (we do eat oil during the fast at our house)
2 c. tomatoes
1 T. flour
1 onion, diced finely

Wash beans and put to boil in cool water for 10 minutes. In another pan, boil 2 quarts water. Strain beans, add new boiling water, add all vegetables and boil until beans are done - about 2 hours.
In frying pan, put oil and flour and fry until deep brown. Add onion and fry ten minutes. Add tomatoes and cook 10-15 minutes, mixing constantly. Add mixture into soup and mix well. If you like it a little sour, add a bit of vinegar.