Tuesday, March 20, 2012

At last it ringeth to evensong

Be the day weary or be the day long, at last it ringeth to evensong.

This very Anglican sounding proverb appears in many places, including at the stake in Fox's Book of Martyrs.  I can't remember where or when I first heard it, but since then, I have not forgotten it.

Last Sunday (Mid-Lent, Mothering, Refreshment, Laetare -- take your pick), we sang Evensong at the Cathedral.  We don't have the resources or the support to do it more often than a few times a year, but Lent 4 is one of them.  Our choirs do a fine job and have experience singing the service at home and on Choir Trips/Pilgrimages.  It is often well attended and appreciated (as it was this time).  I am always taken with the surprise of delight by those who have never been to Evensong before.  Evensong is certainly alive and well in many Cathedrals and Colleges, in "Quires and places where they sing (1662 Prayer Book)," and even on a weekly BBC broadcast.  I think there is a reason for this.

Stephen Hough wrote a piece for his blog in The Telegraph not long ago entitled, "Do not touch me: the wisdom of Anglican thresholds."  It includes this thoughtful passage:

"Evensong hangs on the wall of English life like an old, familiar cloak passed through the generations.  Rich with prayer and Scripture, it is nevertheless totally nonthreatening.  It is a service into which all can stumble without censure -- a rambling old house where everyone can find some corner to sit and think, to listen with half-attention, trailing a few absentminded fingers of faith and doubt in its passing stream.

Most religious celebrations gather us around a table of some sort.  They hand us a book, or a plate, or speak a word demanding response.  They want to "touch" us.  Choral Evensong is a liturgical expression of Christ's Nolle me tangere -- 'Do not touch me.  I have not yet ascended to my Father (St. John 20:17).' It reminds us that thresholds can be powerful places of contemplation; and that leaving someone alone with their thoughts is not always denying them hospitality or welcome.

I believe there are lots of folks among us who want such a threshold.  Many belong to our churches, and this may be one (of the many) reasons we don't see them so much.  Some of them may be more active members of our congregations, and some days or some seasons we may be fairly near them ourselves.  Evensong is one gathering place among the ruins of Christendom and I thank God for it.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The B-I-B-L-E

"The B-I-B-L-E, yes, that's the book for me..."

Somewhere back there I learned this song.  I doubt it was in the Episcopal Church.  There we were more likely to sing a song of the saints of God and to learn the four colors of the Church Year than the four Gospels.  So I probably heard it before my family became Episcopalians, or in a venture to another congregation for VBS or something like that.

Nonetheless, the Bible did function in very important ways in my Episcopalian upbringing.  The Lectern and its Bible were impressive (and now Gospel Books even more so).  The scripture readings were included in the Prayer Book then and it truly can be said that more Bible was (and is) read in Episcopal Churches than in those congregations where the preacher selects a few verses for a sermon.

But perhaps most important was the way biblical phrases, imagery, and narrative were embedded in the prayers and rituals of the Book of Common Prayer.  Scripture passed deep into the heart this way, perhaps more enacted than merely read.  I don't regret it one bit.

But it is a healthy thing when Episcopalians want to read and study the Bible outside of liturgical practice.  And there is a good bit of interest in this these days, more so than in the past.  Whether it is studying the Sunday Readings, or praying the Daily Office, the Bible Challenge (to read the Bible in a year), E-100 (100 key passages), or various kinds of book and study groups -- all of this is healthy and good (more Bible Study links here).  I even find real joy in seeing our cathedral kids learning the books of the Bible or memorizing verses -- they actually line up to do this in our Sunday School!

As so much of Christendom, of Church as we have known it, collapses and dies before us, certainly all of these ways of encountering the Word of God in Holy Scripture will be part of the way forward.  The story will continue as God's People arise in old and new ways in the days ahead.