Duruflé’s Requiem And My Father

The Rev. Canon David C. Lord (1926-2009)

Just a week or so ago, while having lunch with our current Minister of Music, Mitchell Edgar-Galloway, and Bill Roberts of Virginia Seminary about our upcoming parish retreat at Shrine Mont, we talked about our enthusiasm for Maurice Duruflé’s choral setting of the Requiem Mass (I know, how typical for church musicians and clergy types).

I had purchased a recording of the Requiem sung by the Corydon Singers a few years ago and had not listened to it in some time.  Our conversation, coming just a few days before the anniversary of my father’s death, piqued my interest and sent me back to listen carefully and deeply once again.

Duruflé’s Requiem is without question an exquisite creation and an extraordinary fusion of disparate elements -­- plainsong, subtle counterpoint, and brilliant harmonies that bring profound depth to the ancient prayers we offer for those we love but see no longer:

May light eternal shine upon them, O Lord, for thou art merciful. Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.

As people of faith, we know that life, both its joys and difficulties, comes to us as generous gift.  We know our time is limited and this certainty can change the way we see and live in the present.  St. Benedict was right to remind his monks to “keep death before one’s eyes daily” (4:47).

The background of death is always to be before us, though not in a morbid or depressing way.  Awareness of the relative brevity of physical life is meant to help us appreciate and embrace those things that truly matter in the present.  Cultivation of this awareness in no way minimizes the difficulty of grief when the death of a loved one falls across our path.  But I think it is essential that we keep saying “yes” to life, to celebrating what makes human life distinctively human, to securing our hope in the “eternal now” of God’s kingdom, and bringing healing to a world in need.  St. Benedict also reminded his monks to “look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing” (49.7).

Duruflé’s Requiem is a musical masterpiece that holds St. Benedict’s reminders about death and our longing for fullness of life in perfect tension. Death and life are inseparable.  We lose our lives in order to gain them.  Beyond our physical life there is resurrection life. Some would call this utter foolishness.  But we’ve tasted it, and we’ve recognized it in the lives of countless fellow pilgrims who have loved and inspired us along the way.

My father would have said, “Amen to that!”  I do too.

iTunes Link to Duruflé’s Requiem by Corydon Singers

The Sabbath Manifesto

While doing some research for my sermon this Sunday, I came across a unique web-site titled, The Sabbath Manifesto, a creative project by a group of Jewish artists in search of a modern way to observe a weekly day of rest.  They have created 10 core principles and offer them to anyone looking for ways to develop a rhythm between work and rest in the relentless busyness of life.  Here are the ten principles offered on The Sabbath Manifesto web-site:

  1. Avoid Technology.
  2. Connect with loved ones.
  3. Nurture your health.
  4. Get outside.
  5. Avoid commerce.
  6. Light candles.
  7. Drink wine.
  8. Eat bread.
  9. Find silence.
  10. Give back.

I am helped by thinking about Sabbath both as a specific practice and as a larger metaphor to  recover the forgotten necessity of rest.  The very act of refusing to multitask seven days a week serves as a “manifesto” that we are deeply loved by God for who we are, not what we do.

A Day For Being Set Free

Think for a moment about the significance of worship on Sunday (or any other day of regular worship for that matter).  The gathering, the readings, the preaching, the singing, the breaking of bread – why do we do this week after week?  I wonder sometimes with the amount of work that goes into preparing and attending our Sunday liturgy, if we miss the significance of what it is all about in the first place.

The Gospel we will hear on Sunday (Luke 13:10-17), takes up this issue with the powerful story of Jesus healing a woman with a severe physical handicap in the synagogue.  He is challenged by a leader of the synagogue who tries to discredit his actions while elevating the Pharisees for so dutifully and faithfully following the Mosaic Law. When Jesus sets the woman “free” from her ailment, the leader of the synagogue can only say:

“There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, not on the sabbath day.” (Luke 13:14).

Talk about an adventure in missing the point! Jesus holds a very different understanding of the gift of Sabbath. Sabbath is not only a day given to rest from labor, but is also a day linked to the Exodus event, when God’s people were released and freed from their captivity (see Deuteronomy 5: 12-15).  I think this is the sabbath tradition that Jesus refers to in Luke’s Gospel, a tradition that is based on compassion, deliverance, and renewal.

The Sabbath Day – whether the Jewish Sabbath on Saturday or the Christian day of rest and worship on Sunday – reminds us that we too need to stop, rest, delight, and be released from those aspects of our busy lives that diminish us.  If we are only “going through the motions” on Sunday, and not actually receiving the gift of a day to fast from multi-tasking and concentrate on relationships that really matter, is it any wonder that we feel as if we are treading water and barely getting by week to week?

Was Jesus on to something about the Sabbath as a day to experience being set free from what restricts and depletes us?  Is it possible for people who live in Fairfax County to adopt sabbath-keeping as a formative spiritual practice so that rather than being “bent over” by the pressures of our world we are raised up to see at eye level the wonder and gift of God’s full world?

This is the question I will seek to address in my sermon for this Sunday.  If it resonates with those who gather, I’ll post it here next week.

Rescuing 1970 From the Remainder Bin

Jason Schneider

I enjoyed reading this article from The New York Times:

Is this 2010 — or 1970? The answer, strangely enough, is: both.  James Taylor wraps up a tour with Carole King.  A new Jimi Hendrix album makes its debut in the Top 5.  Elton John has joined forces with one of his heroes, the extremely hirsute singer-pianist Leon Russell. Fans think music should be free for the taking.

From Michael Jackson’s bank account to robust ticket sales for Roger Waters’s “Wall” tour, pop has witnessed its share of unlikely comebacks this year. Perhaps the least expected, though, is that of the year 1970, just in time for its 40th anniversary. (Pop-culture nostalgia tends to run in 20-year cycles, making this revival even more surprising.)

Mr. Taylor and Ms. King’ s  “Troubadour Reunion” shows — the second-highest-grossing tour of the year after Bon Jovi’s, according to Pollstar, which tracks tour grosses and ticket sales — recreate the period four decades ago when Mr. Taylor’s career was kicking in (with his “Sweet Baby James” album) and Ms. King, a veteran Brill Building songwriter not yet known for her own records, was simply the pianist in his band. On Oct. 19 Mr. Russell and Mr. John will release their first-ever collaboration, “The Union,” which recalls the months in 1970 when Mr. John opened for Mr. Russell at halls like the legendary Fillmore East. “Valleys of Neptune,” an album of exhumed recordings by Hendrix, entered the charts earlier this year at No. 4, just like his “Band of Gypsys” did, at No. 5, in 1970.

Even a relatively youngish act is paying homage. Marc Cohn, the piano-playing balladeer best known for the adult-contemporary standard “Walking in Memphis,” has just released “Listening Booth: 1970.” On it this gravel-road-voiced singer remakes and rearranges songs familiar to anyone who was glued to AM or FM radio that year: “Wild World,” “The Tears of a Clown,” “New Speedway Boogie,” “Into the Mystic,” “The Letter” and “Maybe I’m Amazed” among them.

Read the full article here.

Episcopal clergy ‘very stressed,’ but ‘very happy’

From Episcopal News Service

In early August, New York Times religion writer Paul Vitello touched an ecclesial nerve when he launched a story, “Taking a Break From the Lord’s Work,” and raised a range of important questions on clergy wellness. His reporting, based on studies of clergy health, cut across the interfaith spectrum and resonates with lay professionals in the church, as well. It concluded that self-care, sabbatical rest and time for re-creation help church leaders lean into rising levels of stress, depression and fatigue.

A week later, Jeffrey MacDonald opined in the Times in “Congregations Gone Wild” on the same clergy propensity for physical and spiritual burnout, yet his conclusions shifted the debate in a different direction. MacDonald nodded to “several new studies” on clergy burnout and offered seemingly anecdotal evidence that demeans the laity as entertainment hounds who hunger for little more than “comforting, amusing fare” and render the clergy the “spiritual equivalents of concierges.”

Based upon relevant data gathered and addressed in 12 years of conducting research and hosting more than 200 conferences on wellness in the Episcopal Church, CREDO Institute Inc., an affiliate of the Church Pension Group, comes to a different conclusion.

Through analysis articulated in the Clergy Wellness Report (2006) and the initial findings of the Emotional Health of Clergy Report (2010), we have observed that there is more to the challenge of clergy stress than fickleness of congregations and the cultural pressures of increased consumerism among churchgoers.

Read the full editorial here.

Always By Your Side

Photo by Chris Nelson

I first heard Ralph Towner play guitar in the early 1970s when he played with the Paul Winter Consort.  He later became a founding member of the group Oregon. Today he’s a prolific solo artist on the classical and 12 string guitar.

Recently, I picked up his album Time Line, which was recorded at a monastery in the Austrian Alps.   I immediately set down to learn one of the tunes, Always by Your Side, which is is a gem to play.  Leanne Hansen, of NPR’s Weekend Edition, interviewed Towner in May of 2006.  He discusses the lyrical nature of the piece as well as other aspects of his musical journey.  Definitely worth a listen here.

Earlier this week, I recorded my progress with the song.  I find both listening and seeing my performance a great help in identifying where improvement is needed. Wish I could have an hour session with Ralph to soak up his technique and knowledge about the guitar.  I understand he lives in Rome.  What a gift that would be!

Taking a Break From the Lord’s Work

The Episcopal Church gives significant support to its clergy through wellness programs such as CREDO, an eight-day conference that allows participants to focus on four areas affecting overall wellness (spiritual, vocational, health, financial).  I’ve been fortunate to attend two of these conferences over the last ten years.  I’m not sure one can survive in pastoral ministry (or any full time vocation) without the intentional practice of slowing down and disengaging for reflection and discernment.  It’s a constant challenge, and for many, an issue of spiritual if not physical survival.

From the New York Times:

The findings have surfaced with ominous regularity over the last few years, and with little notice: Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could.

Public health experts who have led the studies caution that there is no simple explanation of why so many members of a profession once associated with rosy-cheeked longevity have become so unhealthy and unhappy.

But while research continues, a growing number of health care experts and religious leaders have settled on one simple remedy that has long been a touchy subject with many clerics: taking more time off.

“We had a pastor in our study group who hadn’t taken a vacation in 18 years,” said Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell, an assistant professor of health research at Duke University who directs one of the studies. “These people tend to be driven by a sense of a duty to God to answer every call for help from anybody, and they are virtually called upon all the time, 24/7.”

As cellphones and social media expose the clergy to new dimensions of stress, and as health care costs soar, some of the country’s largest religious denominations have begun wellness campaigns that preach the virtues of getting away. It has been described by some health experts as a sort of slow-food movement for the clerical soul.

Read the full article here.