It was a glorious and humbling moment this summer when I first encountered “Lift Every Heart And Sing,” known as the Black National Anthem. Glorious, because as a pastoral musician, it moved me for its universality and the challenge contained within. Humbling, because how did I make it to the age of forty-six as a pastoral musician and never hear it?
So I want to share this video today in honor of today’s commemoration of Martin Luther King, Jr. This is a very simple version and they give you the background of the hymn before they sing it. I’ll paste the text below.
Lift ev’ry voice and sing, ‘Til earth and heaven ring, Ring with the harmonies of Liberty; Let our rejoicing rise High as the list’ning skies, Let it resound loud as the rolling sea. Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us, Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us; Facing the rising sun of our new day begun, Let us march on ’til victory is won.
Stony the road we trod, Bitter the chastening rod, Felt in the days when hope unborn had died; Yet with a steady beat, Have not our weary feet Come to the place for which our fathers sighed? We have come over a way that with tears has been watered, We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered, Out from the gloomy past, ‘Til now we stand at last Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, Thou who has brought us thus far on the way; Thou who has by Thy might Led us into the light, Keep us forever in the path, we pray. Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee, Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee; Shadowed beneath Thy hand, May we forever stand, True to our God, True to our native land.
Today begins a week I look forward to all year–Liturgical Composers Forum. The reality of my rich, busy life as a work-from-home mom is that time is at a premium. Always. Concentrated time has to be planned for. And retreat time is VERY hard to come by.
In one sense, it’s funny to use this quote in this context. After all, I’ll be spending this week with a whole lot of people I really like hanging out with. Not a “deserted” place at all. But it is a restful one. One where we get to do morning and evening prayer in community every day.
And let’s be honest: as any parent knows, four or five days spent away from direct, hands-on responsibility for kids is, by definition, a retreat. This is a week in which I get to spend several of each day’s breaks walking quietly outside or settling into the recliner in my room, being still in the presence of God.
So pray for me this week, and I will pray for you. I’ll be back next week.
I tend to view it as a sin, although a web search this morning seems to indicate that it’s more a cross to be borne. But I think Catholics in general are particularly susceptible. I would argue that scrupulousness is a big part of “Catholic guilt.”
Once I was sensitized to this tendency in myself, I saw it cropping up all over the place. It may not be a sin, but the inevitable fallout of scrupulousness is a rush to judge anyone who doesn’t share whatever I think is the right way to look at the world, and to place rigid expectations on others that constitute a heavy burden on people prone to scrupulousness–which, as I said, I think is many of us.
I would argue that scrupulousness plays a big part in a lot of the no-compromise fights we have within the Church–the political ones, yes, but also the liturgical ones (and many others). Most recently it’s struck me in the arguments about texts of liturgical songs–an assumption that because I read a particular text fragment in a certain way, a song is inarguably heretical, even though thousands of other people may find great spiritual benefit in it, and great potential for growth in holiness, because they don’t interpret that text fragment the same way I do.
For a long time, because I myself was very conservative and all my scrupulousness was about doing the right things (which were always conservative values), I thought scrupulousness was only a problem conservatives have. As I got better at combating my own scrupulousness, I began to move to the center, and that seemed to confirm my assumption.
But I was wrong. These days I am more likely to suffer from scrupulousness about environmental issues. It’s never enough. And I am VERY judgy about other people’s lack of environmental stewardship.
But the example that sparked this post was this: In the midst of my great world view shift, a quote kept cropping up over the course of months–I can’t find it anymore, but it was something like, “Your money doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to the poor.” It was attributed to a pope. No arguing with that!
The obvious conclusion to draw from this quote is: anything I do to save money is a sin. I have no right to enjoy the things of the world as long as poverty exists. I should never go out to a nice dinner, I should never take a trip to see the wonder of the world, I should never own jewelry–because as long as people are suffering, “my” money doesn’t belong to me. Also, I pointed it at conservatives who don’t like taxes.
It was a big struggle. I told myself that religious figures exaggerate to shock their listeners into doing something for the poor. But that didn’t help, because of who we hold up as the ideal of Christianity: Francis of Assisi and Katherine Drexel, rich people who did give away everything they had; Mother Teresa, who lived in abject poverty for decades; the fact that to this day, a lot of religious orders take a vow of poverty. A papal quote + the body of evidence of what the Church holds up for honor made it hard to draw any other conclusion than the Church intends us to be poor rather than rich.
Even Robert Barron used that quote once.
I tried for a long time to find the exact verbiage, but couldn’t find it anywhere. Then one day, someone attributed it to Rerum Novarum #22. Finally! I went to look it up.
Guess what? Rerum Novarum 22 does NOT say I am obligated to give every single penny I don’t absolutely need for my bare survival to the poor. Here’s what it actually says:
It’s also worth noting that St. Basil the Great is a little more blunt on the topic of our responsibility to the poor:
(Note: I have not checked that quote, for what it’s worth.)
In the end, we all have to wrestle, to try to find a balance between enjoying with gratitude the good things of the earth (which are, after all, made by God), and hoarding the wealth that allows us to do so, thereby sinning by not helping those who suffer.
Whether we are talking about the justification for raising or lowering taxes, the question of Dreamers and refugees, whether “voting prolife” must mean voting Republican or whether it can or should incorporate a larger view of the total life issues, or arguing over musical styles in worship, one thing is pretty much universally true: conflict gets ugly because we focus on issues instead of people.
Am I talking about the dignity of the person on the opposing side of the debate? Yes, but also the dignity of the people who are impacted by whatever issue we’re talking about. It’s much easier to look at issues as black and white, with no room for discussion or working together, when they are looked at in the abstract, rather than considering the real life people involved. When you start thinking about the dignity and well-being of refugees and Dreamers as beloved children of God, and of the Biblical call to be “our brothers’ keeper,” it becomes a lot less defensible to chant “build a wall” and tell Dreamers to go to the “back of the line.”
When we consider the dignity of the people involved, we have to look for solutions that take into account everyone, not just our own well-being. If we want to be a Christian nation, this is what we must do. It’s unsatisfying. Every one of us would be happier if the world laid itself out neatly in exactly the way we think it should. But we have to recognize that the world is flawed, and we’re not God. We can’t see the whole picture, and the only way we get anywhere close to seeing the big picture is by looking through the eyes of everyone else and figuring out how to set up the world to meet their needs as well as our own.
This is a lesson we learn as children: walk a mile in another’s shoes, see the situation through their eyes. Why do we stop thinking it matters when we reach adulthood?
I’ll take a day off the usual today by sharing a few pictures from the trip I took to see the St. Louis Jesuits’ final concert in St. Louis yesterday. Powell Symphony Hall in St. Louis was sold out–in fact, I bought 4 of the last 7 tickets in July. That alone demonstrates the impact this group of men have had on the Church. It was quite an experience to sit in a symphony hall and be part of a choir of 3000. When the Church sings, it is a beautiful, beautiful thing.
This was, in many ways, the music of my childhood. Some of them have stood the test of time and will remain with us for the long term; others that have fallen out of use were fun to revisit. Best of all was getting to share the experience with one of my children and a friend/fellow pastoral musician.
I am often guilty of trying to control everything, to take charge and fix what I see needs fixing on the strength of my own convictions and abilities. Since I’ve been quite opinionated the last two days on matters of liturgical music, I put this out as a reminder to all of us who feel passionately about liturgy–myself above all–that God is in charge, not me. That if I try to lean on my own understanding, I’m going to make things worse, not better.
Come, Holy Spirit. Sweep us along with you, and get us where You meant us to be all along.
This whole section of Evangelii Gaudium is talking about unity (as distinct from uniformity) and diversity. Bear with me, or better yet just go read it yourself, because it may seem strange that I’m zeroing in on liturgy.
Evangelii Gaudium says the message of the Gospel has been “closely associated with” some cultures, but that doesn’t mean the culture is essential to the message (117). “We cannot demand that peoples of every continent, in expressing their Christian faith, imitate modes of expression which European nations developed at a particular moment of their history, because the faith cannot be constricted to the limits of understanding and expression of any one culture.” (118)
127-8 talk about how for most of us, opportunities for evangelization come one on one in personal settings, and suggests how that might look–but then 129 warns against being slavish to a particular formulation. This opens up a discussion of the many and varied charisms within the Church, which brings us to this quote and the one I will share tomorrow.
So it’s not specifically about liturgy, but the liturgy wars demonstrate clearly the confusion between unity and uniformity–specifically as regards music. That final sentence: “This is not helpful for the Church’s mission,” is what ties it all back to evangelization. Liturgy is the source of our strength to go out and accomplish the Church’s mission of bringing people to Christ and unfolding the Kingdom on Earth, but if the summit of our faith is corrupted by bickering over guitar vs. organ and whether drums are actually part of the culture and whether pop styles are intrinsically inappropriate for liturgy–etc., etc.–if we’re pouring all our emotional energy into fighting over these issues, how are we supposed to evangelize anyone? More to the point, why would anyone want to join that Church?
In other words: “Not helpful for the Church’s mission.”
I want to spend a few days pondering liturgy. The Eucharistic celebration is the “source and summit” of our faith, which to me means it is the spiritual food that strengthens us for discipleship in the real world, and it’s also the purest expression of our faith, uncomplicated by the messiness we experience outside the walls.
Because we waste a lot of energy fighting about liturgy. My higher ed degrees are both in music performance, so I’m well steeped in classical music. But it’s contemporary music that lit me on fire and has shaped my Catholic identity as an adult.
So I react pretty strongly when people try to dismiss entire styles or instruments as “less worthy” or even “unworthy.” We all have things that speak to us more authentically and deeply than others. They’re not the same from person to person, because we are fearfully and wonderfully made, in diversity as wide as the creativity of God. We have no business trying to box in the Holy Spirit, Who inSpires across all eras, all cultures, and all artistic styles.