FROM FATHER SMITH: A WITNESSING PRESENCE
For hundreds of years, many Christians believed that it was possible for the biblical text to mean more than one thing and that multiple meanings need not be in conflict. They firmly believed that a passage might have both a literal and a spiritual sense, or, indeed, more than one spiritual sense. As a result, biblical commentary became a complex and creative task. The Song of Songs seemed particularly to invite such readings. Medieval monks were aware that the Song was about the love shared by a man and a woman. But they deliberately read past, or below, that meaning, discovering in the Song an allegory of the love of the soul for God, or of the monk's chaste love for Christ. Last fall, I introduced the members of the Wednesday Night Bible Study Class to such techniques of reading the Song. They were not impressed. One member of the class commented, "I'm not sure I understand the point of all this." Perhaps I was not a very convincing advocate for allegory. Or maybe modern readers have gotten too accustomed to asking questions like "what really happened?" or "what does this text really mean?"
Denise Levertov (1923-1994) was an Anglo-American poet who seems not to have lost the habit of allegory. She was born in England to a Russian Hasidic Jewish father, who converted to Christianity and became an Anglican priest, and an English mother, who was Christian. After World War II, she met and married an American, moved to the United States in 1947, and became an American citizen. She started writing poetry at a young age and got good at it. She published some twenty-four volumes of poetry, much of which was political. She was an ardent opponent of the Vietnam War. But she was long interested in spirituality and mysticism, in part because of her own religious heritage. Those interests grew and evolved over the years-she converted to Roman Catholicism in the 1980s-and were reflected in her work.
At one point, relatively late in life, Levertov moved to Seattle, Washington, and the natural beauty of the Northwest, in particular that of Mount Rainier, became a focus in her work. During this time, she wrote a poem called "Witness" (A Book of Luminous Things: An International Anthology of Poetry, ed. Czeslaw Milosz, 1996, p. 72):
Sometimes the mountain
is hidden from me in veils
of cloud, sometimes
I am hidden from the mountain
in veils of inattention, apathy, fatigue,
when I forget or refuse to go
down to the shore or a few yards
up the road, on a clear day,
that witnessing presence.
The language of the poem seems simple, but the levels of meaning are anything but. Who is looking at whom? Who is "witnessing" whom? The poem really is about a mountain. Levertov cared about, was a bit obsessed with, Mount Rainier. But the poem seems to be saying something else as well. I, and other readers, too, can't help thinking, just like those medieval monks, that the poem has a spiritual meaning in addition to its literal one. It's about a mountain, but the mountain's grandeur, beauty, and elusiveness have been transferred to another place, and suddenly the poem is saying something else about the relationship between God and believer.
This poem has become a good Lenten poem for me. Before I can get to the complicated business of giving up and taking on, before I can get to the important matters of sin, repentance, and forgiveness, I have to ask, why this "inattention, apathy, and fatigue"? Why this "forgetting" and this "refusing"? Is it fear of God's grandeur? Is it resentment at God's sometime hiddenness? Or is it simply that I am human, imperfect, susceptible to distraction and the persistent call of each day's concerns? And yet, the mountain, like grace, like God, remains, beautiful and persistent. Sometimes, like the athlete, you just have to "do it." Bow to the inattentiveness and apathy. Without judgment, acknowledge the fatigue for what it is. But, don't give up: open the door, walk up the road, and see.
—James Ross Smith
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Dick, Dennis, Bob, Randy, Mary, Mike, Kathleen, Colin, Rich, Jonathan, Kyle, Greta, Carlos, Bill, Mickie, Jerry, Eleanor, Wendell, Karen, Eugenia, May, Heidi, Takeem, David, Sandy, Barbara, and Burt; for Horace, Clayton, David, Gaylord, Louis, and Edgar, priests; for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Mark and James; for all the benefactors and friends of this parish; and for the repose of the souls of Jon Alan Bryant, George Taitt, Jean Marie Weber, and Laurence LeSeure and Harry B. Kraft, priests.
IN THIS TRANSITORY LIFE . . . We received word this week that the Reverend Harry B. Kraft died on February 19, 2018, after a long illness. Father Kraft was born on April 3, 1931, in Ozone Park, Queens. He graduated from the State University of New York, Oswego, served in the Naval Reserves during the Korean War, and, later taught in public schools in California and Long Island. He explored a vocation to the religious life at Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, New York. He attended seminary at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California. He served the church as a parish priest in Arizona, California, the island nation of Jamaica, and Rhode Island. He served as rector of the Church of Saint James the Less, Jamaica, Queens, until his retirement. In retirement, he did supply work in Trinidad and in Grenada. He was a great friend of Saint Mary's and often worshipped with us on holy days and at Mass on weekdays at noon. His funeral took place at Saint James the Less on Sunday, February 25, 2018. Please keep Father Kraft, his family and friends, and all who mourn in your prayers . . . We received word on Thursday that parishioner George Taitt had died after a long illness. He is survived by his sister Marian and his brother Gordon . . . We also received word this week that the Reverend Laurence J. LeSeure haddied after a long illness. Father LeSeure was a priest of the diocese of New York. He studied at Yale both before, and after, his ordination to the priesthood in 1971. He served parishes in Connecticut, Illinois, and New York City. He twice served at the Church of the Transfiguration, 1976-1979 and 1999-2000 . . . Please keep Father Kraft, Father LeSeure, Jon, George, Marian, Gordon, their families, friends, and all who mourn in your prayers.
GRANT THEM PEACE . . . March 11: 1888 Thomas Tweedle; 1897 Zenobia Lawrence; 1907 William Chapman; 1920 Joseph Rogers Fallon; 1921 Elizabeth Jane Smith; 1958 Grace Clark; 1987 Vincent Onorato.
DAYS OF SPECIAL DEVOTION . . . Ash Wednesday and the other weekdays of Lent and of Holy Week are observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial in commemoration of the Lord's crucifixion.
THE BURIAL OF THE DEAD for Jon Alan Bryant will be celebrated at the high altar on Saturday, March 10, at 10:00 AM. Jon was born on May 6, 1947, and died on Sunday, February 18. Our parish register records that Jon transferred his membership to Saint Mary's on August 15, 1985. A lifelong Episcopalian, he grew up at the Church of the Holy Cross, Shreveport, Louisiana. He was an architect by profession. He was an active member of our congregation for many years. In 2015, he moved in retirement to Connecticut and later to Washington, D.C., where he worshiped at St. Paul's Parish, K Street. He was a member of the board of trustees that called me as rector. He made many contributions to our common life and will be mourned by many. Please pray for him, for his brother, William, priest, his sister, Claire, and for all who mourn. —S.G.
THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY'S . . . Saturday, March 10, 10:00 AM, The Burial of the Dead for Jon Bryant . . .Sunday, March 11, Daylight Saving Time begins. Clocks move forward one hour . . . Sunday, March 11, The Fourth Sunday in Lent (Laetare Sunday), Sung Matins 8:30 AM, Mass 9:00 & 10:00 AM, Adult Education 10:00 AM, Solemn Mass 11:00 AM, Solemn Evensong & Benediction 5:00 PM . . . The Wednesday Night Bible Study Class will meet on March 14 at 6:30 PM in Saint Benedict's Study, in the Parish House, 145 West Forty-sixth Street . . . Friday, March 16, Evening Prayer 6:00 PM, Stations of the Cross 6:30 PM . . . Friday, March 16, 6:30 PM, Centering Prayer Group, Atrium in the Parish House.
CHRISTIAN FORMATION . . . On March 11 (and on March 18 and 25), at 10:00 AM in Saint Benedict's Study, Father Peter Powell will continue his series on the Gospel of Matthew . . . The Adult Forum will not meet on April 1 or April 8. The Adult Forum will resume on Sunday, April 15, topic and presenter to be announced . . . On Sunday, April 22, Brother Aidan Owen, OHC, will lead the Adult Forum at 10:00 AM in a discussion of the monastic practice of chanting the psalms each day as a form of prayer and contemplation . . . On Sunday, April 29, at 1:00 PM in Saint Joseph's Hall (note time and location), poet Chester Johnson will discuss his new book, Auden, the Psalms and Me, and the translation of the psalms used in the Book of Common Prayer 1979 . . . On May 13 and 20, at 10:00 AM in Saint Benedict's Study, Deacon Rebecca Weiner Tompkins will teach a two-part series The Dove Descending: bird, fire, wind, water, cloud, light, and other depictions of the Holy Spirit in readings from scripture and beyond (primarily poetry). This is a two-Sunday survey of symbol and significance, ending on the Day of Pentecost. . . The Wednesday Night Bible Study Class will meet on March 14. The class will be reading the Passion Narrative in the Gospel of Mark, which we will hear this year on Palm Sunday. This coming Wednesday we will be reading the portion of the Passion Narrative dealing with Jesus' arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. (Class was cancelled on March 7 due to inclement weather.)
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Though snow fell fairly heavily in Manhattan on Wednesday afternoon, March 7, the church remained open throughout the day. The regular services were celebrated, including a Sung Mass at 12:10 PM. We are grateful to all the members of the staff who traveled to Midtown in order to keep the church open . . . In the Gallery in Saint Joseph's Hall, Scenes from a Natural Bar, works by Matthew Fogarty . . . We are always happy to receive donations for our ministries of hospitality and floral design. If you would like to make a donation, place call the parish office at 212-869-5830 x 10 . . . Attendance: Last Sunday 174.
ABOUT THE MUSIC . . . The musical setting of the Mass on Sunday morning is Missa "Il me suffit" by Orlando di Lasso (1532-1594). Lassus, as he was also known, was one of the most prolific and admired European composers of his time. Born at Mons in the Franco-Flemish province of Hainaut, Lassus was well traveled particularly in northern Italy, but was centered in Munich much of his adult life. His compositions include about sixty authenticated Mass settings, most of which are elaborate parody works based upon motets, often his own, as well as French chansons, and Italian madrigals from such composers as Gombert, Willaert, Resta, Arcadelt, Rore, and Palestrina. The Missa "Il me suffit" is based upon a French chanson by Claudin de Sermisy (c. 1490-1562), a notable composer both of sacred and secular music who may have been a student of Josquin des Prez (c. 1450-1521) and was a singer in the Royal Chapel of Louis XII. Lassus's Mass, based upon on Sermisy's chanson, is a reasonably concise setting for four voices. The opening phrase of Sermisy's chanson is clearly represented in the soprano voice of Lassus's Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus Dei.
Henry Purcell (1659-1695) is the composer of Sunday's Communion motet. Purcell, more than any other composer of his time, defined English Baroque musical style in a variety of vocal and instrumental genres which included works for theater, court, and church. He was born in London, and his family home was virtually in the shadow of Westminster Abbey where he became organist in 1679. At an early age, Purcell made copies of anthems written by such composers as Tallis (c. 1505-1585), Byrd (c. 1543-1623), and Gibbons (c. 1583-1625). Standing on the foundation of such composers, Purcell forged a musical language of rich harmony and vivid textual expression. His anthem Hear my prayer, O Lord is a setting for eight voices of the beginning of Psalm 102. Thought by some scholars to have been intended originally as a part of a larger work, the anthem was composed about 1682 near the beginning of Purcell's tenure as organist and master of the choristers at Westminster Abbey. Beginning with a single alto voice, Purcell gradually adds seven more voices in successive entrances. Purcell uses the gradual thickening of choral texture and daring chromatic harmony to achieve an extraordinary crescendo of fervent supplication in his setting of this short portion of Psalm 102.
The organ prelude on Sunday morning is a setting by J. S. Bach (1685-1750) of the chorale
O Mensch bewein dein sunde gross ("O mankind, bewail thy sins so great") from his Orgelbüchlein ("Little Organ Book"), a collection of short preludes for the liturgical year. In this piece, Bach presents a florid form of the chorale melody in the soprano voice, supported by three lower voices. It is an exceptionally expressive musical meditation on the chorale text which speaks of human sin and God's redeeming love manifested in Christ's death on the cross. —David Hurd
MARK YOUR CALENDARS. . . Monday, March 19, Saint Joseph,
Mass 12:10 and 6:20 PM . . . Saturday, March 24, Eve of Palm Sunday, Blessing of the Palms and Vigil Mass 5:00 PM . . . Sunday, March 25, Palm Sunday, Blessing of the Palms and Sung Mass 9:00 AM, Blessing of the Palms, Procession to Times Square and Solemn Mass 11:00 AM. (Please note: the Feast of the Annunciation will be celebrated this year on Monday, April 9.). . . .Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday in Holy Week, March 26—28, Sung Matins 8:30 AM, Noonday Prayer 12:00 PM, Mass 12:10 PM, Evensong 6:00 PM . . . March 29, Maundy Thursday,
Sung Matins 8:30 AM; The Holy Eucharist with the Footwashing, Procession to the Altar of Repose, and the Washing of the Altar and the Stripping of the Sancturary. The principal celebrant and preacher at the Maundy Thursday liturgy is the Right Reverend Allen K. Shin, bishop suffragan . . . March 30, Good Friday, Sung Matins8:30 AM; Liturgy 12:30 PM. The principal celebrant and preacher at the 12:30 PM liturgy will be the Right Reverend Allen K. Shin, bishop suffragan; Liturgy 6:00 PM. The principal celebrant and preacher at the evening liturgy will be the Reverend James Ross Smith, curate . . . Saturday, March 31, Easter Eve, Sung Matins 8:30 AM, Great Vigil of Easter 7:00 PM . . . Sunday, April 1, Easter Day, Sung Matins 8:30 AM, Mass with Hymns 9:00 & 10:00 AM, Solemn Mass 11:00 AM, Solemn Paschal Evensong and Benediction 5:00 PM.
AT THE GALLERIES . . . At the Met Museum, Fifth Avenue and Eighty-second Street, February 5, 2018-January 6, 2019,
Dangerous Beauty: Medusa in Classical Art. From the museum website, "Beginning in the fifth century B.C., Medusa-the snaky-haired Gorgon whose gaze turned men to stone-became increasingly anthropomorphic and feminine, undergoing a visual transformation from grotesque to beautiful. A similar shift in representations of other mythical female half-human beings-such as sphinxes, sirens, and the sea monster Scylla-took place at the same time. Featuring sixty artworks, primarily from The Met collection, this exhibition explores how the beautification of these terrifying figures manifested the idealizing humanism of Classical Greek art, and traces their enduring appeal in both Roman and later Western art. The connection between beauty and horror, embodied above all in the figure of Medusa, outlived antiquity, fascinating and inspiring artists through the centuries. Medusa became the archetypical femme fatale, a conflation of femininity, erotic desire, violence, and death. Along with the beautiful Scylla, she foreshadows the conceit of the seductive but threatening female that emerges in the late nineteenth century in reaction to women's empowerment."