Ready to fight back? Or Scared? Or don’t know what to do? (I’m all three)

I wrote a short homily the other day while I was stuck in bed with some kind of cold/flu thing. It was about introducing our Grand Baby into our house that has a pack of fairly attention whore dogs. You know you’re never sure how that’s going to go. It led to a meditation on “How I Came to Love Pit Bulls,” which I might publish soon, if I can get the thing to wind up with a pleasant end.

I’m not afraid of the dog breed (most any dog breed, come to think of it) and I know their reputation as a nursemaid, babysitter, protector. Sometimes there’s a difference between reputation and reality.

That same sort of unknown fear pops up when we get ready to fight back: it’s quite possible we could step forward and begin to speak and the whole thing explode in our face like a rotten tomato on a hot summer day. (Been there. You never forget that smell.) My fear was around my family. I have had this lucky, blessed life all the way up until this year in which universal acceptance is the norm. All those multiple coming-outs (there have been quite a few in the medical part of my life) have sped along as if … nothing.

Yet now, it’s different.

Within my immediate family there’s those of us who are pretty much mortified about current events and we wonder how we, as “the right kind of” Christians are supposed to respond to all that badness that fell into our lives, and which we cannot escape for a very long time.

And then there are those who ecstatic about these changes, who call the protesters “Losers”, and say terrible things like “They will thank us later.” No. I’m afraid I won’t. My choice.

Those people frighten me. After hearing/reading such comments I had a moment of panic because I did not know what to do with these people, now to respond to them, or how to even keep them in my life. I still don’t know the answer to that last one. I did send around news that we won’t be discussing politics (etc) at family gatherings. We see each other as a whole group so infrequently that let’s not waste precious time together focusing on what might bring hurt feelings to someone else at the table. We must love our family because they are our family, and they are – in Christian Speak – our Brothers and Sisters in Christ.

Good God, sometimes that’s tough to do. Especially if you fear their derision.

Find your ministry.

Mostly beyond that fear of emotional hurt, I’m not sure where to start or what to do. The answer to that is completely within you, and it’s not too difficult to dig in and get some ideas. Voting and politics is an example:

That whole milieu of volunteering and helping out and working the polls doesn’t interest me at all. Not that it isn’t a very important action that needs to be built up and maintained, it just isn’t my thing.

If I’m making a charitable contribution to a large/national organization, first I want to know how much of my donation goes to the mission of the organization, and how much goes to salary, fund raising, and fluff. I’m building a static page here that will list the best place to research the usefulness of your donation, along with some ideas on where to donate. Somewhere on that list there must be something that interests me, or that gives me an idea to then go looking for the charity that interests me.

Edit down if you have to.

You can’t do it all. And you can’t finance it all, even at $15-20 a pop. My first step in this process is to look at current charitable donations and see if I need to re-direct that money to something else. What on the list is must do, what is I’d like to do, and what is one of these days I’ll do it?

Learn to say NO.

The bane of my existence is “Oh. You’re retired. You have time to …” No I do not. Or the wasted subtlety of “What do you do with yourself all day?” You’re reading it. I had to learn to say no to what others thought for me that I could do, and focus on what I wanted. I’m a writer, a musician, a contemplative, and then I write some more. Maybe if I look around within my activities I can find something that I can do to help that I enjoy doing, that my body will endure doing (there’s some pretty heavy limitations there.)

Stop being so angry.

Oh, this is the most difficult one! My body and my spirit are filled with so much anger that by the end of my day I don’t want to hear about current events, I don’t want to discuss them. I want to sit in my proverbial prayer closet and have a rest. I want to recap the day. I want to quiet my mind and say, “Thank you for helping me make it through another day.”

Some days that is battle enough: to just make it through the day.

And the take-away from that is simple. I have made it through this day, and used my contemplative mind to consider the possibilities of standing up to fight (whatever “fight” means) and do it in a safe way that doesn’t feed my fears. Tomorrow, I learn a little more, and a little more the day after that.

As the old song says, “Every round goes higher, higher”

Keep the faith!
– Amen

 

 

 

The illustration above is from “The Siege of Antioch” during the first Crusade. Certainly not Christianity’s bright shining moment. We didn’t thank them later.

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Praying and Keeping Up

With the advent of smart phones, I began to see all sorts of Religion Management tools, starting with every possible translation of the Christian Bible, the Jewish Bible (aka the Old Testament), the Q’ran, etc. That’s the easy stuff to do. I actually keep one of them on my phone that makes for very quick “flipping the pages” to a certain book, chapter, verse, for when one of those preachers says something like, “Turn with me now to the Book of Philemon, Chapter one, verse 4.” I’m there in a second.

Good enough

After that came every kind of management app you could think of, including one that manages your prayer list so that you get a daily list of who is on your prayer list for that day, and presumably why. I suppose that’s a good idea if one has a huge prayer list, or one is doing ministry with a very large group of people in which some folks could get lost in the shuffle if you don’t have a tickler in your file to pray for them.

That simply did not work for me – it’s too impersonal for my own taste, having a computer (more or less) tell me who/what to pray/meditate for.

I still use my Little Black Book that I have been using for years since I have been with the prayer circle (prayer chain, some congregations call it) at my local parish. This list is coordinated by one of the ministers at the church who sends us monthly email updates on who to add to our lists.

For each day of the week we specialize in one aspect of the church as a whole, and these days don’t change so it’s easy to keep up with (I keep a printed page in the front of my notebook.) They are quite general terms and look like this:

Sunday

The Universal Church and for unity in Christ, for our Bishop and for the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and right now: the guidance of the General convention, election of a new Presiding Bishop.) For the peoples of the world (especially…. [fill in here])

Monday

The parish clergy, the priests and priests-associate

Tuesday

For our local Mission church (that has now grown to be its own parish), for our sister A.M.E. church, for our companion diocese outside of the US, for the missionary ministry that we support locally.

Wednesday

For the choirs, the Altar Guild, the Formation Ministry (Sunday School, Confirmation Classes, etc.) the Youth Ministry, and the University Ministry (this church is the Episcopal chaplaincy for a local university.)

Thursday

For the administrative staff of the church.

Friday

For various local ministries of the parish: Pastoral Care, Hospitality, Justice ministries, etc.

Saturday

For the members of the prayer circle.


 

pray

As you can see the list goes from Universal to Personal throughout the week, first praying for the big brush strokes, and working down to the very fine print.

Each Sunday the parish publishes a list of people and action items that are read during the Prayers of the People segment of the service. Those who are celebrating an anniversary or birthday, those who are sick, those who are in military service, those who have died, (etc.) and a minute of silence at the end that others may add their own petitions either silently or spoken aloud.

The prayer circle works with these names throughout the week as fits in, knowing that the names are presented at every church service’s prayers during that week.

The coordinator of the circle also sends out occasional emails to the group as requested on behalf of those who seek prayer. Just as with the Prayers of the People, this is a first name only list, with a simple reason for prayer (if any.) So it could be as simple as “Pray for Joe,” or detailed as in “Pray for Joe who is in the hospital after a fall.”

Those folks may or may not be members of the parish: they could be relatives, friends, acquaintances, Facebook buddies: that part doesn’t matter. Nor do the gruesome details of the request. This is a call for prayer, not gossip. “Pray for Anne whose sister is sick” is quite enough. Any details are left to the requester as to how much they want to share with our group.

For those incidental requests that come in, I write them in my  Little Black Book of prayers so I can keep up with them. Also, writing down the request gives me a personal, physical contact with the request. If I have taken enough time to copy it down in pen, I have taken enough time to read the request and understand it, and prayer begins as my hand and my pen moves across paper in my book.

We can feel our prayers as well as write them or speak them or sing them.

I have many pages of these in my little notebook, and the question is where to start leaving them off over time. The answer is that I don’t: I pray for the most recent for whom these requests have been sent to the group, and at some point (at the pray-er’s discretion, pray for the rest of the book as something like, “…and everyone else listed here.” I have one hand touching the open book full of names as I do this part, to again be in contact with the needs for those whose prayerful care is entrusted to us.

It’s incredibly easy to organize and is a personal contact with what is a most impersonal request. I’m guessing that 90-95% of the people on that list I do not know personally, nor do I have to. They have asked for my remembrance, and as I sit at home, perhaps hundreds of miles away, that pause in my meditations to remember them is the very least an active pray-er like myself can do.

I’d love to hear your own experiences with prayer circles and how you keep up with all of it (if you do – it can get overwhelming sometimes with all the names coming in.) All of the above can be modified by folks who do not Pray all the time. It can be used by those with an active meditation practice, or for those who say, “I am thinking of you,” so that you remember to do the thinking!

Best of luck. remember that the most important thing here is that you pray, as needed, when needed, as often as needed. It will do you good.

Keep the faith!

 – Amen

 

 

 

Singing the Psalms – Anglican Chant

 A few years ago (ok… five years ago) I wrote an article on how to pray with the Psalms that is located here:

The second consideration for the Psalms is to sing them by way of plainsong or chant. I’m not going to delve into Gregorian chant because the work is much more complex and for those who are just beginning a spiritual practice, keeping up with the melodies and the words becomes distracting. (And then there’s that whole singing in Latin thing.)
If you are not of a particular religious practice keep in mind that many non-religious people do chant and hymn singing not as much for the message in the words, but for the healing rhythm that runs through the body while participating, both in melody and the physical sensation of the lyrics as they are sung.. (I will later share later an interesting article I read on atheists who have a regular prayer practice.)
So there are two types of chanting that are very similar: those in the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church which is the easiest of all to learn and has the most use of Latin lyrics, and the Anglican chant which has slightly more texture of the voices and is a little more complex to sing. Since I grew up with Anglican chant and it’s in my blood and my soul, we will look at that.
In the earlier page above I used a clip from Psalm 23, the most recognizable of the songs, The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want….
Singing works exactly the same with the breath points you see in the lines, except instead of stopping for a pause/breath, that is the point at which the melody phrase changes.
Anglican chanting in general is a 1-2 * 1-2 * etc pattern of two musical phrases.
This runs from the beginning of the psalm to the end. An exception here is if the song has an odd number of lines or verses. We end up the odd line with note #2
Confused yet? Excellent!! 
The musical example I have for you shows two musical phrases (plus the breath points,) and how they are split between the verses. Below that, I’ve marked up a copy of the Psalm showing where to sing each phrase.
This melody is chanted as:
  • first half of the phrase (breath)
  • second half of the phrase (pause)
  • first half of second phrase (breath)
  • second half of second phrase (pause)
  • (repeat to the end.)
  • (Optional) depending on your practice, the Glory to the father… is added to the end of all Psalms that are sung in this manner. If you do not use that in your practice, this may be omitted.
More after the song:

Psalm 23
(1a) The lord is my shepherd, *
(1b)   therefore I lack nothing
 
(2a) He shall feed me in a green pasture *
(2b) and lead me forth beside the waters of comfort. 
 
(1a) He shall convert my soul, *
(1b) And bring me forth in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
 
(2a) Yea tho I walk through the valley of the shadow of death *
(2b) I will fear no evil,
 
(1a) For thou art with me *
(1b) they rod and they staff comfort me.
 
(2a) Thou shalt  prepare a table for me *
(2b) against them that trouble me
 
(1a) Thou has anointed my head with oil, *
(1b) and my cup shall be full
 
(2a) But thy loving kindness and mercy shall follow me
      all the days of my life, *
(2b) and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
 
 
(1a)Glory be the Father and to the Son *
(1b) and to the Holy Ghost.
 
(2a) As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, *
(2b) world without end, Amen.

 

If I’ve counted correctly you hear that there are only 5 notes per phrase, regardless of how long the lyric is. The stretch is on the first note, and you repeat that single note over as many words in the verse as necessary until you get to the final four notes. (These numbers will vary by the tune being used, so 5+5 is not a hard and fast rule.)

The great benefit here to that the very long repetition in the lines like “…And bring me forth in the path of righteousness….” is that of the great harmonics that build up in your lungs, radiating through your body as you hold on that one note, repeating it, and turning your attention to the words you are singing rather than having to follow a hymn melody. This brings singing and praying to its simplest form.
These tunes always appear in a tight harmony across a very small musical range so that it’s comfortable for any singer with no wild vocal stretches. Again, through the simplicity of the singing, our thoughts turn to the Psalm itself, and our communal singing is the Amen that wraps it all together.
 
With practice, these tunes become as well-known to your body as humming, and at that point they become invisible to your reading: they are there in your singing voice, and they do not interrupt your reading and understanding mind.There are a number of different tunes and variations used, and if you look for recordings of singing the Psalms, you will find great examples and can pick tunes that work best for you. The recording that I use in my office is The World of Psalms, a recording of 18 Psalms done in various Anglican chant tunes. It also makes wonderful background music for times you need to knuckle down and get serious.
 
What is the point of this simple two-phrase singing?
 
In congregational singing, this is one way to make sure that everybody stays in tempo with reading the psalm aloud together. It also takes your reading of these songs to a deeper and more advanced level. As the music becomes more like humming to you, the minor key used in the music draws your whole being to attention that something special is going on here. Right now, among us all. Holy, if you will. 
 
And as these tunes become so memorized by your whole body, your attention focuses on the words of the Psalm, rather than trying to keep up with a congregational hymn. And the breath points further break it down so that as you’re singing, your attention can stay on … and my cup shall be full, and what that is saying to you as a lyric. The melody only carries the words to your heart. 

 Think of this as an ancient form of multitasking.

 Notice that the melody is very slow. At this point in your meditations, it’s not the time to speed up, to keep on schedule, to hurry on to the next thing that you like to do better. It is a time of very close, focused attention – if this is a prayer, it is a time alone with you and God to sit together, for you to be receptive and calm, and to spend five minutes or so getting your spiritual ducks in order for the day, or put away today’s mistakes at the end of the day.

 

If you do not have a religious spiritual practice, consider the melody and the simple words. Again, this is a time of centering, of bringing peace to yourself and hopefully to those around you. In order to meditate well, you must first focus well.

 Give this a try if you haven’t already, and see how it effects your prayer and meditation time.

 Keep the faith!
– Amen

 
 
(Please feel free to leave a comment on any technical errors in the musicology of the above text and I’ll be glad to make corrections.)