A song of penitence

Detail from St Augustine c. 1650 by Philippe de Champaigne. Via Wikimedia Commons.

For this Ash Wednesday, a metrical version of a famous prayer by St Augustine. Do feel free to make use of it under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 Creative Commons Licence (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0). First, though, the text of the prayer, as provided on the New Advent Fathers of the Church site:

Too late did I love You, O Fairness, so ancient, and yet so new! Too late did I love You! For behold, You were within, and I without, and there did I seek You; I, unlovely, rushed heedlessly among the things of beauty You made. You were with me, but I was not with You. Those things kept me far from You, which, unless they were in You, were not. You called, and cried aloud, and forced open my deafness. You gleamed and shine, and chase away my blindness. You exhaled odours, and I drew in my breath and do pant after You. I tasted, and do hunger and thirst. You touched me, and I burned for Your peace.

Augustine, Confessions, Book 10, Chapter 27

Next is my metrical version: the two most obvious tunes are Gerontius and Billing; the latter is rather less commonly used, but quite similar in mood.

Late have I loved you, O my Lord,
before whom beauty pales,
whose glory shines in Christ the Word,
whose splendour never fails.

I searched for you in all you made,
in all my eye discerned.
I failed to look within, afraid
to know what passion burned.

You walked with me unseen, unloved,
I trod as one alone,
I seized your gifts, though my use proved
the Giver was unknown.

Yet still you called, to me you spoke
your powerful words of love,
and my long-practiced deafness broke
by thunder from above.

Your flashing lightning cleared my sight,
your storm winds conquered me,
and now I see love shining bright,
I breathe air pure and free.

Your love, your life, is now my meat,
I hunger still for more;
your breath of life is true and sweet,
your touch of peace is sure.

Late though I loved you, O my Lord,
beauty both new and old,
now my heart welcomes Christ the Word,
my priceless pearl, my gold.

Hymn for Lent

This is a retrieval of a text I’ve never quite been satisfied with. One day, I shall come back to it knowing what I’ve got to change. Nonetheless, I think it still usuable, given how few hymns for Lent there are. It is probably most appropriate for the first Sunday of Lent, with the gospel of the temptations in the desert.

I wrote this with the tune Picardy in my head. Since that draft, Kathryn Rose (@artsyhonker) wrote a tune for it, Harringey, which you can find here.

Here’s the current text. As with other hymns and prayers on this site, you can use it under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 Creative Commons Licence (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0).

From the Jordan to the desert,
from the crowd to barren place,
Spirit-driven, devil-tempted,
Lord, you sought the Father’s grace
show us now your pow’r, in weakness,
presence in the empty space.

Out of Egypt with God’s people,
freedom brings its testing stress:
what is right and what is truthful,
how the name of God confess?
Jesus, lead us on our journey,
guide us through the wilderness.

Lack of food for empty stomach,
offered only cold hard stone;
scripture used to tempt and strengthen;
easy route to grasp the throne:
Bread of life, and Word incarnate
help us worship God alone.

In the search for loving justice,
in the quest for truth and right,
Jesus walk beside, before us,
hold your Cross of love in sight;
keep us in your Father’s presence,
guide us to your risen light.

Pet hates: the running homily

This is the first of an occasional series. You’ve probably heard the joke: what’s the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist? You can negotiate with a terrorist. (Other variations are available!) Like many people interested in liturgy, I have strong views about a number of things that make, or don’t make, for good worship. I will, from time to time, write a post on one or other of them.

Today I critique what I call the running homily or sermon. This is where the presider or leader feels compelled to introduce every item of the liturgy with some kind of explanation. Very often this will be an attempt to tie each item to a theme they have decided to give to the service.

The Alternative Service Book (ASB 1980 – RIP 2000) introduced themes to Anglican worship: each Sunday’s readings were linked in some way to a teaching theme. (I think that was where the rot set in.) And so those responsible for shaping and leading the liturgy felt compelled to tie everything to this theme: not only the homily, the prayers and the hymns, but virtually every item in the service by way of giving it an “introduction”. So the idea of a running homily developed and threaded its way through the whole service.

There are three reasons why this is a bad idea. The first is that the liturgy is primarily a vehicle for us to offer worship to God. The running homily turns it primarily into a vehicle for educating the congregation. It is counter to the purpose for which we gather.

The second is that it prevents the liturgy from flowing, leading people through its own rhythms of word, song and silence, of speaking and listening, of moving through preparation to word, from word to prayer, from prayer to table, from table to mission. At every point we stop to be instructed. Even assuming a higher standard of instruction than the vapid and vacuous “vain repetitions” I have sometimes experienced, the point still stands. The presider stops the liturgy working by constantly inserting themselves as explainer and instructor.

The third is that no congregation will be on the same page on the same day. Indeed, probably no individual within the congregation will be on the same page throughout the service. We have different needs and come from different contexts. Trying to shoehorn the diversity of individual needs into a monochromatic teaching theme inhibits people from bringing their real selves to the table. Good presiding facilitates the encounter between people’s real lives and God’s story and presence. That means the creation of space in which it can happen. Too much thematic teaching fills the available space with a single voice rather than making space for the diversity of voices people bring with them.

There is a reason Common Worship turned its back on themes. May each presider do the same. Reject the running homily.