Monday, October 23, 2006

A Beginning

Ever since June I've been pondering how to start this blog. If the archives are to be believed, MadPriest started his with a sermon. I'm not a priest and I don't have a sermon at hand. So I guess I'll just jump in.

Yesterday I went to my home church, St. Mary's, for the first time in more than 12 weeks. As happens from time to time at St. Mary's, we had a guest preacher from the secular world. This time it was Joel Kovel. He spoke about prophets and cited William Blake as a prophet using as his text Blake's verses from the introduction to Milton: a Poem, anthologized under the title Jerusalem:

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?
And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among those dark Satanic Mills?
Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of Desire;
Bring me my Spear; O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of Fire!
I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant Land.
He didn't exactly do an exegesis of the poem -- in fact as I recall he read only the first two stanzas, but he did mention that in the context of Blake's works and thought, it was ironic that the poem, set to music by Parry in 1916, has become England's unofficial national anthem.

He also cited Blake's great and last poem Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion.

The thrust of the "sermon" was that God inspires prophets even today. One touchstone to help us determine true from false prophets is the preferential option for the poor.

I fail to do justice to the talk, so I'll stop.
For the offertory, we had a couple of excerpts from Ishmael Wallace's cantata, The West Harlem Christ, which was to receive its premiere performance that afternoon.

At St. Mary's we have announcements after the blessing and before the dismissal. At announcement time I learned that the man next to me was a dean from London (he didn't say Dean of what.) When for the postlude Janet improvised on Parry's tune Jerusalem, the dean was humming along. It felt a little like the Last Night of the Proms, especially since the closing hymn had been The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

It wasn't until this evening that I looked at the Carl P. Daw's words in the 1982 Hymnal to the tune Jerusalem.
O day of peace that dimly shines
through all our hopes and prayers and dreams,
guide us to justice, truth, and love,
delivered from our selfish schemes.
May swords of hate fall from our hands,
our hearts from envy find release,
till by God's grace our warring world
shall see Christ's promised reign of peace.
Then shall the wolf dwell with the lamb,
nor shall the fierce devour the small;
as beasts and cattle calmly graze,
a little child shall lead them all.
Then enemies shall learn to love,
all creatures find their true accord;
the hope of peace shall be fulfilled,
for all the earth shall know the Lord.
The poetry is no match for Blake's but the verses do evoke another prophetic vision. And it reminds me that the chorus HOWL takes its name from Randall Thompson's The Peaceable Kingdom.

Liz skipped church, but she came a little after noon. We thought we had a one o'clock call for the concert, but in fact the real call was for after the intermission.

The program was interesting, but in my judgement too long. The West Harlem Christ was the last piece. We did it well and it went over very well.

I thought I would get into the heavy stuff, but that's all for now.