Category Archives: music

Music and Musings on the Communion of Saints

Lately, I’ve been musing a lot on how we are connected with each other. In Christianity there is a concept known as “The Communion of Saints.” The premise is that when we join together in Holy Communion, we share this moment with the Mystical Body of Christ, and with those who have lived in the past, those living in the present, and those in the future, and that we pray for each other.

In the Apostle’s Creed, which is present in many main stream churches, the following lines are recited:

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.

Yet, I don’t think it is something we think about a whole lot.

And sadly, because of the difference in Catholic and Protestant understandings on the sacrament of communion, as well as the judgmental attitude of some of those in power, not all are welcome to receive at the table. Recently, there have been numerous articles about people being turned away from the altar because of political persuasion, or because of whom they love, or for simply not being “Practicing Catholics in Good Standing With the Church”

While theologically, I understand the complex arguments over whether the Eucharist has it been transformed from humble bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, which is a term called transubstantiation; or is the Eucharist a symbol and remembrance of that day. I know what I believe personally, but how or why is it my business about what someone else believes? Yet in any church, any tradition, since the upper room, whenever Christians have gathered to share the cup and break the bread, they have followed the words of Jesus, “Do this, in memory of me” Yes, that is it. No matter what else we believe and profess, we are to be remembering Jesus.

There have been thousands of gallons of ink spilled on these distinctions, and my simplification may be from theology 101, and while there are reasons and strong beliefs around these distinctions, the thing is this: “Joe Schmoe in the pew doesn’t know, and doesn’t care.” If you asked many Catholics if they believed in Real Presence answers would be varied. Sadly, I can’t count the number of weddings or funerals or Sundays, where family members have been upset, because they have been told they cannot receive communion. I have seen weddings where people actually printed the rules for who may and may not receive in the worship aid! And then we wonder why folks are walking away from organized religion altogether, or seeking solace in communities that they find more welcoming to those in second marriages, LGBTQ members, or many other situations.

Now, believe it or not, delving into Eucharistic theology was not my purpose for writing today. My real purpose was to say this: I truly believe that Eucharist is only one of many ways we can experience this “Communion of the Saints,” this joining with those in the past, present and future. I think there are many others, so please indulge me.

The next liturgical example would be the Liturgy of the Hours, the prayer of the Church. This is prayer in perpetual motion. Somewhere, someone is always reciting morning prayer or vespers, or one of the minor hours. For example, when we pray the Divine Office, we may be praying a happy psalm when we are feeling sad, or an angry psalm when we are rejoicing. But as we gather in that sacred rhythm, we are praying for someone elsewhere in the world who needs that psalm right now. It is not about me sitting on the rocker in my bedroom praying the hours, or the religious community gathered in their chapel. It becomes a part of a prayer much larger, much greater. As the Vatican II Document Sacrosanctum Concilium said in paragraph 99, “the divine office is the voice of the Church, that is of the whole mystical body publicly praising God. ”

When I pray a psalm, or a sacred scripture, I can often recall another time that I have prayed that, and to remember what was happening at that time in my life, or what the scripture spoke to me then. The Word of God is never stagnant though. While that past experience may affect my prayer and interpretation of that reading today, I’ve been touched and shaped by new information and experiences since that time, and it may be saying something different and fresh to me today. Or it may be an amusing reminder, come back to teach me yet again, e.g. one of my favorite lines out of Psalm 32:8 “Be not like horse and mule, unintelligent, needing bridle and bit, or else they will not approach you.” (Grail Translation) whenever i see that I muse, reminding myself not to be so darned stubborn and thickheaded. And usually God and I have a little laugh about it. “Oh am I doing it again?” “Yes, Jilsy, you are.”

But there are many other ways that we commune with those who have gone before us. I’m not speaking of Ouija boards or visiting a psychic or a medium. Family members regularly go to gravesides to remember their loved ones. For me, cooking is often a way to “be” with my Mom, who has been gone for many years. Similarly, others go to special places, or engage in activities to remember loved ones.

But the most obvious thing that I can think of is the power of music. For those with dementia, music is one of the ways that people can be reached, and that often creates moments of clarity. Music therapy is also a way to help those who are in hospice find relief from pain . We all have had the experience of listening to a song on the radio, and being transformed back to the high school prom, or some other great life event. Music has a power to reach across time.

And this is where the concept of Communion of the Saints comes to mind. One of my favorite examples of this is the song “One Spirit, One Church” by Kevin Keil and Maryanne Quinlivan. In that hymn, the composers have combined “Come, Holy Ghost” which is a 7th century text, set to an 18th Century melody, LAMBILLOTTE, and then combined with a 20th Century refrain “We are a Pilgrim People.” So when we sing that hymn we are singing with those of the past, as well as those singing it today.

That is just one of thousands of examples. Every Advent we sing “O Come, Emmanuel” The verses of this song are taken from the 5th Century prayers of the Church which are different names for God. “O Key of David,” “O Emmanuel,” They were translated to English by John Mason Neale in 1861,

This year, as I was preparing for Christmas liturgies, I was doing my geek girl, and reveling at some of these details. “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” was first published in 1599. I marvel at this simple tune surviving over 400 years. Nowadays, it is so simple to transcribe music with Finale or another program, and to make recordings of songs and put them up on many formats. To think that songs like “Lo, how a rose” and others have survived this long speaks of their beauty and power.

The other morning when we sang “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” for the liturgy I was transported back to when I was 18. I sang that song in Europe with “The Montana Youth Choir.” Then, when I was at Sacred Heart Monastery, that hymn was the opening of Vespers on Christmas Eve. For many years I directed the choir at Saint Frances Cabrini singing this same song.

When we prayed Taizé on New Years, we heard scriptures proclaimed in six languages, uniting us with people around the world, and prayed and sang the chants from the community that have been shared by millions. Again, as I sang them that night, I felt like I was also singing them with the Sisters of Sacred Heart Monastery, or the Benedictines in Winnipeg, where I first went to a workshop with a brother from the Taize community. I also remembered Sylvia in Virgina, and all of my friends who joined in making music at Saint Frances Cabrini. And as Sisters helped me tear down afterwards, I recalled those who were kind enough to stay afterwards and help me put things away when I was at the parish and so tired I could barely walk.

One could say, “O these are just examples of ways that music has touched you through your life. ” and indeed, that would be true. But I think it is much more powerful than that. When we start to sing along with “Journey” or “Bohemian Rhapsody” we are transformed. We are much younger, and we are once again invincible. We have not yet been broken down by the difficulties of life. Recently I played at a local club, and as a group of Sisters and friends sang along with me to Mary Hopkin’s “Those Were the Days” we were all transformed. When I get a group of friends singing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” or my gospel medely, a similar thing happens.

Music, Sacred or secular has the power to move us and to take us to places we have been in our past, or places we would like to go. It has the power to reunite friends and family whether we are separated by distance, or by death. Music has the power to transform us. Music has the power to heal us. And in that way, it is much like the Eucharist. When we share it and celebrate it, we become more than we are without it.

The Failures of Youth

I remember my very first high school concert as a nervous director. I went to raise the stand a little after I already started a choir piece. The TOP of the stand came off in my hand, and the choir started snickering. I tried holding stand with left hand and directing with right for a moment, and realized that was not going to work. I stopped, spun around on one foot and held up the top of the music stand and said, “I told Mr Ding (Barbara Vieth Ding) that I felt like I was falling apart today, but didn’t mean this literally!” People laughed, I turned around, we regrouped and started the song again. Holy Man, that was in the fall of 1993….. Long time ago……


You Are Dust

Yesterday I played for three Ash Wednesday Services. Sometimes when you are so very close to the liturgy, you can get caught in the mechanics and logistics of making sure everything is set out correct and you didn’t forget anything; hoping the cantor gets it, having to pitch in for the sacristan who couldn’t make it, hoping the adjustment the sound crew made on the mics was correct, wondering why the numbers of people are different than last year, thinking about how much there is to do between Lent and Easter…. ya da yad…..

I have to say I was blessed with two moments of grace yesterday. During the evening liturgy, during the distribution of ashes, there was a minister very near the piano. We were doing Rory Cooney ‘s “Hold Us in Your Mercy: Penitential Litany” which is so perfect for that time. But instead of just hearing the two part call /response between the cantor/congregation, I heard it as a four part canon, as I could continually hear the woman distributing ashes saying “Remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return” and the “Amens.” It was such a rich cacophony of sound…… and a full blessing. Sometimes, hearing the minister can be distracting while playing, but this time I was able to fully enter into it.

Then when I got home from my long day, a young parent contacted me. Her son was so very excited that we had done one of my songs that day, and told his mom “Did you know Jill Maria Murdy WROTE it?” It was just such a sweet and gentle moment….and it revived my drooping spirits.

Winter Blasts

Winter blasts, earth cold and dormant,

Seeds lie planted deep within

Slowly life begins her myst’ry

Healing stillness, cleansing sin

Teach us how to wait in patience,

Trusting in your constant love,

We like wheat, once sown in darkness

Bursting through to light above.


Fearful still, we find resistance,

Stubbornly we won’t let go

Holding burdens ever closely,

Doubting we can ever grow

Coax us gently, draw us nearer

That we may be born again

Finding joy, eternal richness

Rising from the single grain.


Ecclesiastes and the Lion King





Perhaps it sounds like a joke to start out a post with “What do sacred scripture and “The Lion King”have in common?”  but there really is an answer, and  a good reason for this post.  Well, at least I’d like to think so.   You could some it up by saying  “Turn, turn, turn”  or   “The Circle of Life.”

Let me explain further.

Many of us don’t know a lot of scripture.   But many others don’t know the scripture that they  DO know.  For example, if I said, “Can you quote me the third chapter of Ecclesiastes?”  you will probably respond “Can I whoee the whatza?”   or  “Sorry, I have no clue.” But if I flip on the 1965 hit “Turn, Turn, Turn” by the Byrds, chances are you will be able to sing it almost word for word.

This text is taken almost word for word from scriptures.     Here is the citation from the New American Bible.

There is an appointed time for everything,

and a time for every affair under the heavens.

A time to give birth, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant.

A time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to tear down, and a time to build.

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance.

A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them;

a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces.

A time to seek, and a time to lose;

a time to keep, and a time to cast away.

A time to rend, and a time to sew;

a time to be silent, and a time to speak.

A time to love, and a time to hate;

a time of war, and a time of peace.


Because of the association with the song, many pastors shy away from it, and yet, this is a very universal scripture. It fits most of life’s situations one way or another, yet remains very personal, and helps one gain a healthy perspective on much of life.   I have seen it used at times of great joy, or people cling to it at times of sorrow.     For many it is a passage of strength.

I loved the movie version of  “the Lion King” to be sure, and was known to sing “Hakuna Mattata” etc.  In fact, back in the monastery, one of the Sisters lovingly called me “Pumba” But one of the most powerful experiences I have ever had in my life was the opening scene to the Broadway version of the Lion King.    I am sure that I was so moved, so happy, that I could have left at that point without even seeing the rest of the show.    The music and symbolism and everything converged in an extremely powerful manner.


Here are the lyrics   (Melody Elton John – Lyrics  Tim Rice)

From the day we arrive on the planet

And blinking, step into the sun

There’s more to see than can ever be seen

More to do than can ever be done


 There’s far too much to take in here

More to find than can ever be found

But the sun rolling high

Through the sapphire sky

Keeps great and small on the endless round


It’s the Circle of Life

And it moves us all

Through despair and hope

Through faith and love

Till we find our place

On the path unwinding

In the Circle

The Circle of Life


It’s the Circle of Life

And it moves us all

Through despair and hope

Through faith and love

Till we find our place

On the path unwinding

In the Circle

The Circle of Life


I know that in comparing and contrasting these two I’m not in original territory, as others have remarked on the similarities.    However what I AM aware of is just how much I’ve been experiencing that circle, that turning in my own life, and in the lives of those who are around me.

Within one twenty four hour period this week, I saw or heard about the following:

Experienced the much anticipated meeting of a friend’s young grandchild

Prayed for two people began radiation or chemotherapy for cancer

Heard a beautiful young woman began a new ministry as cantor

Watched a woman found the inner strength and self worth to leave an abusive relationship

Sobbed when the nineteen year old son of someone I went to college with was killed in a farm accident

Rejoiced as a cousin gave birth to beautiful twins

I was just struck yet again by how many events go on around us all the time, and how rapidly life moves and changes.  The circle goes awfully fast sometimes and once more, it is bigger than me and beyond my understanding.   It reminded me of one of my favorite quotes by T.S. Elliot “We had the experience but missed the meaning. ”      Don’t miss the meanings of the moments in your life.   Sometimes we have to live, and just figure it out all later along the way.




The passage is taken from Eliot’s  “The Four Quartets”    #3  “The Dry Salvages”

I’m adding it to the post for your perusal.


I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river

Is a strong brown god – sullen, untamed and intractable,

Patient to some degree, at first recognized as a frontier;

Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyer of commerce;

Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.

The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten

By the dwellers in cities – ever, however, implacable,

Keeping his seasons and rages, destroyer, reminder

Of what men choose to forget. Unhonoured, unpropitiated

By worshippers of the machine, but waiting, watching and waiting.

His rhythm was present in the nursery bedroom,

In the rank ailanthus of the April dooryard,

In the smell of grapes on the autumn table,

And the evening circle in the winter gaslight.


The river is within us, the sea is all about us;

The sea is the land’s edge also, the granite

Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses

Its hints of earlier and other creation:

The starfish, the horseshoe crab, the whale’s backbone;

The pools where it offers to our curiosity

The more delicate algae and the sea anemone.

It tosses up our losses, the torn seine,

The shattered lobsterpot, the broken oar

And the gear of foreign dead men. The sea has many voices,

Many gods and many voices.

The salt is on the briar rose,

The fog is in the fir trees.

The sea howl

And the sea yelp, are different voices

Often together heard: the whine in the rigging,

The menace and caress of wave that breaks on water,

The distant rote in the granite teeth,

And the wailing warning from the approaching headland

Are all sea voices, and the heaving groaner

Rounded homewards, and the seagull:

And under the oppression of the silent fog

The tolling bell

Measures time not our time, rung by the unhurried

Ground swell, a time

Older than the time of chronometers, older

Than time counted by anxious worried women

Lying awake, calculating the future,

Trying to unweave, unwind, unravel

And piece together the past and the future,

Between midnight and dawn, when the past is all deception,

The future futureless, before the morning watch

When time stops and time is never ending;

And the ground swell, that is and was from the beginning,


The bell.





Where is there an end to it, the soundless wailing,

The silent withering of autumn flowers

Dropping their petals and remaining motionless;

Where is there an end to the drifting wreckage,

The prayer of the bone on the beach, the unprayable

Prayer at the calamitous annunciation?


There is no end, but addition: the trailing

Consequence of further days and hours,

While emotion takes to itself the emotionless

Years of living among the breakage

Of what was believed in as the most reliable –

And therefore the fittest for renunciation.


There is the final addition, the failing

Pride or resentment at failing powers,

The unattached devotion which might pass for devotionless,

In a drifting boat with a slow leakage,

The silent listening to the undeniable

Clamour of the bell of the last annunciation.


Where is the end of them, the fishermen sailing

Into the wind’s tail, where the fog cowers?

We cannot think of a time that is oceanless

Or of an ocean not littered with wastage

Or of a future that is not liable

Like the past, to have no destination.


We have to think of them as forever bailing,

Setting and hauling, while the North East lowers

Over shallow banks unchanging and erosionless

Or drawing their money, drying sails at dockage;

Not as making a trip that will be unpayable

For a haul that will not bear examination.


There is no end of it, the voiceless wailing,

No end to the withering of withered flowers,

To the movement of pain that is painless and motionless,

To the drift of the sea and the drifting wreckage,

The bone’s prayer to Death its God. Only the hardly, barely prayable

Prayer of the one Annunciation.


It seems, as one becomes older,

That the past has another pattern, and ceases to be a mere sequence –

Or even development: the latter a partial fallacy

Encouraged by superficial notions of evolution,

Which becomes, in the popular mind, a means of disowning the past.

The moments of happiness – not the sense of well-being,

Fruition, fulfilment, security or affection,

Or even a very good dinner, but the sudden illumination –

We had the experience but missed the meaning,   (Emphasis Mine  JMM)

And approach to the meaning restores the experience

In a different form, beyond any meaning

We can assign to happiness. I have said before

That the past experience revived in the meaning

Is not the experience of one life only

But of many generations – not forgetting

Something that is probably quite ineffable:

The backward look behind the assurance

Of recorded history, the backward half-look

Over the shoulder, towards the primitive terror.

Now, we come to discover that the moments of agony

(Whether, or not, due to misunderstanding,

Having hopes for the wrong things or dreaded the wrong things,

Is not the question) are likewise permanent

With such permanence as time has. We appreciate this better

In the agony of others, nearly experienced,

Involving ourselves, than in our own.

For our own past is covered by the currents of action,

But the torment of others remains an experience

Unqualified, unworn by subsequent attrition.

People change, and smile: but the agony abides.

Time the destroyer is time the preserver,

Like the river with its cargo of dead negroes, cows and chicken coops,

The bitter apple and the bite in the apple.

And the ragged rock in the restless waters,

Waves wash over it, fogs conceal it;

On a halcyon day it is merely a monument,

In navigable weather it is always a seamark

To lay a course by: but in the sombre season

Or the sudden fury; is what it always was.





I sometimes wonder if that is what Krishna meant –

Among other things – or one way of putting the same thing:

That the future is a faded song, a Royal Rose or a lavender spray

Of wistful regret for those who are not yet here to regret,

Pressed between yellow leaves of a book that has never been opened.

And the way up is the way down, the way forward is the way back.

You cannot face it steadily, but this thing is sure,

That time is no healer: the patient is no longer here.

When the train starts, and the passengers are settled

To fruit, periodicals and business letters

(And those who saw them off have left the platform)

Their faces relax from grief into relief,

To the sleepy rhythm of a hundred hours.

Fare forward, travelers! not escaping from the past

Into different lives, or into any future;

You are not the same people who left the station

Or who will arrive at any terminus,

While the narrowing rails slide together behind you;

And on the deck of the drumming liner

Watching the furrow that widens behind you,

You shall not think ‘the past is finished”

Or ‘the future is before us”

At nightfall, in the rigging and the aerial

Is a voice descanting (though not to the ear,

The murmuring shell of time, and not in any language)

””””””””””””””””Fare forward, you who think that you are voyaging;

You are not those who saw the harbour

Receding, or those who will disembark,

Here between the hither and the farther shore

While time is withdrawn, consider the future

And the past with an equal mind.

At the moment which is not of action or inaction

You can receive this: “on whatever sphere of being

The mind of man may be intent

At the time of death” – that is the one action

(And the time of death is every moment)

Which shall fructify in the lives of others:

And do not think of the fruit of action.

Fare forward.

O voyagers, O seamen,

You who come to port, and you whose bodies

Will suffer the trial and judgement of the sea,

Or whatever event, this is your real destination.”””””””””

So Krishna, as when he admonished Arjuna

On the field of battle.

Not fare well,

But fare forward, voyagers.





Lady, whose shrine stands on the promontory,

Pray for all those who are in ships, those

Whose business has to do with fish, and

Those concerned with every lawful traffic

And those who conduct them.


Repeat a prayer also on behalf of

Women who have seen their sons or husbands

Setting forth, and not returning:

Figlia del tuo figlio,

Queen of Heaven.


Also pray for those who were in ships, and

Ended their voyage on the sand, in the sea’s lips

Or in the dath throat which will not reject them

Or wherever cannot reach them the sound of the sea bell’s

Perpetual angelus.


To communicate with Mars, converse with spirits,

To report the behaviour of the sea monster,

Describe the horoscope, haruspicate or scry,

Observe disease in signatures, evoke

Biography from the wrinkles of the palm

And tragedy from fingers; release omens

By sortilege, or tea leaves, riddle the inevitable

With playing cards, fiddle with pentagrams

Or barbituric acids, or dissect

The recurrent image into pre-conscious terrors –

To explore the womb, or tomb, or dreams; all these are usual

Pastimes and drugs, and features of the press:

And always will be, some of them especially

When there is distress of nations and perplexity

Whether on the shores of Asia, or in the Edgware Road.

Men’s curiosity searches past and future

And clings to that dimension. But to apprehend

The point of intersection of the timeless

With time, is an occupation for the saint –

No occupation either, but something given

And taken, in a lifetime’s death in love,

Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender.

For most of us, there is only the unattended

Moment, the moment in and out of time,

The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,

The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning

Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply

That it is not heard at all, but you are the music

While the music lasts. These are only hints and guesses,

Hints followed by guesses; and the rest

Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action.

The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is Incarnation.

Here the impossible union

Of spheres of existence is actual,

Here the past and future

Are conquered, and reconciled,

Where action were otherwise movement

Of that which is only moved

And has in it no source of movement –

Driven by daemonic, chthonic

Powers. And right action is freedom

From past and future also.

For most of us, this is the aim

Never here to be realised;

Who are only undefeated

Because we have gone on trying;

We, content at the last

If our temporal reversion nourish

(Not too far from the yew-tree)

The life of significant soil.

To Music

Its been a long day  and I don’t have the energy to create something fresh, but  wanted to be faithful to poetry month.   I thought,  “Hmm    what are some of the things my friends have written about music?” Of course for every good piece, there are a zillion that I should not have unearthed. But let me share a couple that touched me:

Walter de la Mare was an English poet. 1873 – 1956.

When music sounds, gone is the earth I know, 
And all her lovely things even lovelier grow; 
Her flowers in vision flame, her forest trees 
Lift burdened branches, stilled with ecstasies. 
When music sounds, out of the water rise 
Naiads whose beauty dims my waking eyes, 
Rapt in strange dreams burns each enchanted face, 
With solemn echoing stirs their dwelling-place. 
When music sounds, all that I was I am 
Ere to this haunt of brooding dust I came; 
And from Time’s woods break into distant song 
The swift-winged hours, as I hasten along.
I love the line  “When music sounds, all that I was I am.”  It reminds me of Exodus, 3: 14 where Moses first meets God, who says  “I am who I am.”   Music has that sacred, transcendent quality about it.  I am ever grateful she is my muse.

Another favorite comes from the Bard himself:

Sonnet 128: How oft, when thou, my music, music play’st by William Shakespeare
How oft, when thou, my music, music play’st,
Upon that blessèd wood whose motion sounds
With thy sweet fingers when thou gently sway’st
The wiry concord that mine ear confounds,
Do I envy those jacks that nimble leap
To kiss the tender inward of thy hand,
Whilst my poor lips, which should that harvest reap,
At the wood’s boldness by thee blushing stand!
To be so tickled, they would change their state
And situation with those dancing chips
O’er whom thy fingers walk with gentle gait,
Making dead wood more blest than living lips.
Since saucy jacks so happy are in this,
Give them thy fingers, me thy lips to kiss.
It starts right away with the very beginning of the poem: “How oft, when thou, my music, music play’st, Upon that blessèd wood whose motion sounds With thy sweet fingers when thou gently sway’st”       Did you know that the Spanish word for playing guitar is   tocare la guitarra “to touch” the guitar.  It is such an intimate gesture, in contrast to just playing the the guitar.   And if you look at the guitar, or almost any instrument,  one does that. You
embrace it, and it embraces you and makes sweet music in return.
Ironically  Shakespeare always seems to lead me to Schubert’s “Die Musik”  that is  “To Music.”   which is such a beautiful piece, whether it is an instrumental or vocal performance. The texts seem to steal from each other quite readily .

German.png German text

Du holde Kunst, in wieviel grauen Stunden,
Wo mich des Lebens wilder Kreis umstrickt,
Hast du mein Herz zu warmer Lieb entzunden,
Hast mich in eine beßre Welt entrückt!
Oft hat ein Seufzer, deiner Harf’ entflossen,
Ein süßer, heiliger Akkord von dir
Den Himmel beßrer Zeiten mir erschlossen,
Du holde Kunst, ich danke dir dafür!

English.png English translation
by Gerard Mackworth-Young

O gracious Art, in how many grey hours
When life’s fierce orbit encompassed me,
Hast thou kindled my heart to warm love,
Hast charmed me into a better world!
Oft has a sigh, issuing from thy harp,
A sweet, blest chord of thine,
Thrown open the heaven of better times;
O gracious Art, for that I thank thee!
With that dear friends, I bid you a blessed night.   Be thankful for the music, the poetry and those who hear it and make it.   

April Poetry Month hmmmmm which came first?

April is National Poetry Month.      Many of my friends are writing posts about it on Facebook and other such happy places.    I think I’m too tired to write a poem tonight, but want  to talk about poets and poetry and literature and life.   My undergrad is in music, and it has always been part of my vocation and avocation.

As such, I am a “Jill of all trades, master of none.”   I am a trained vocalist, play multiple styles of  guitar, sax, and trombone well.  As a former band instructor, I have at least a semester on a zillion other instruments so could understand them and do basic fingering charts etc and play well enough to stay ahead of a Jr. High player.

I can usually handle my own on the keyboards, but no matter what, that is always a secondary skill for me.  I have a couple of musician friends who are gifted in ways that I could never even fathom.   Yes, They have been gifted, and they’ve also worked incredibly hard to be what I call ‘thoroughbred’ musicians….they are skilled at a level that I can barely even covet.     Thankfully they are generous with their time and talents, and I’ve been able to work with them for most of my large liturgies, and other musical events.    When I have to play for something important, I actually pray that their spirit may enter my fingers.

I’m reminded of a quote I’ve heard attributed to a couple of people:  “A genius! For 37 years I’ve practiced fourteen hours a day, and now they call me a genius!” –Pablo Sarasate (Spanish violinist)  The truth of the matter is the musicians I mention had both a natural gift and a discipline that I will never have.

My brain frequently works in loose associations, and friends and  associates  either marvel or cringe at the fact that you can say dang near anything and I will break into song.   It could be a popular song, an oldy, or a freshly minted paraphrase on an existing tune just to fit the situation.

This actually comes in handy when I am doing liturgy preparations.   When I meet with a funeral family, or look at Sunday’s liturgy,  I can read the scripture, or listen to the story about the deceased, and think of a song that would be a really good fit. I had a boss once who used to call me  “the human jukebox. ”

What I am saying  is that LYRICS are very important to me.   If I get a new CD, I’ll play it over and over until I have internalized the whole thing and know the text and the changes.   Sadly, people in the pews don’t always catch the  painstaking steps one takes to tie together the hymns with the scriptures and prayers.   Or it is an AHA moment when one realizes “Hey, those hymns went right a long with what Father said today…..”

You know, it doesn’t matter how great the homily was though, more people are going to leave the liturgy humming the final hymn than the homily.   Music has such a subliminal ability to carry the message, and to connect life moments.   I could do a whole life timeline by what I was doing  or where I was at in life when I heard that song, or where I prayed that hymn for the first time.

So  where all this is leading  is to a major insight I had a few years ago.   For many many years, I thought of myself as a musician who liked to write, but a few years ago, I had an AHA moment and in that epiphany, discovered that I was actually a writer, who makes music.    Perhaps that may seem like splitting hairs,  but it was an important piece of self knowledge, and that gnosis  has given me a truer vision of my gifts and my talents as well as my strengths and weaknesses.

The rich imagery and poetry of the Psalms have always been some of my favorite parts of scripture, and how those lines of poetry that I prayed daily for so many years in the Monastery  still come back as a source of strength and insight to me now.   It seems the right line and emotion are always there.

We just finished Holy Week and the Sacred Easter Triduum.  Perhaps the most powerful moment for me was Sunday AM after communion, when the congregation sang a hymn together that summarized all that we had been through.   M. D. Ridge’s beautiful “Three Days” set to Gustav Holtz’s THAXTED  In its concise three stanza format, it captured all that hours of prayer had said, creating a ‘nutshell’ version that was ever so rich.

KALEIDOSCOPE_WEBSo, as we begin this month of poetry I’m reflecting back to the influences on my life:  Our primary reader series (school was JUST beginning to move away from Dick and Jane (Kaleidoscopes)  with Miss Olson.  (Panorama and Serendipity were the other books in that series… they were so cool, and I loved those big words!)

The Roberts English books (remember one had the turqoise stripes on the covers and others were patterned?)   It was there with Mrs. Dannis, Mrs.McIvor, John Moffatt, and so many others that I learned Robert Frost’s “stopping by the woods on a snowy evening” and “the road not taken”  Walt Whitman, and Joyce Kilmer’s “Tree”  and so very many other poems. But my very favorite was a line from Shakespeare that I still tend to throw out in odd places and situations:  “And greasy John doth keel the pot!”  It appears the actual quote is  “While greasy JOAN doth keel the pot” but I always pictured a big sloppy guy in renaissance clothes…. for many years I had it that way, until I actually looked it up a few years ago and discovered it was all Joan’s fault


When icicles hang by the wall,  
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
And Tom bears logs into the hall,  
And milk comes frozen home in pail,  
When blood is nipp’d, and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl, 
To-whit! To-who!—a merry note,  
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.  
When all aloud the wind doe blow,
And coughing drowns the parson’s saw,  
And birds sit brooding in the snow,  
And Marian’s nose looks red and raw,  
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,  
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
To-whit! To-who!—a merry note,  
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

Love’s Labour’s Lost, V.ii; written circa 1593

I remember a Bismarck State instructor, Arnold Lahren, who taught  Doug Blumhardt, Isolde, Cynthia Trondstat nee Katharine Swanson the importance of poetry, and accepted our feeble efforts and attempts and found some greatness in them.  Kathleen Norris and her husband poet  David Dwyer, David Whyte,  and Anne Sexton gave me an appreciation for contemporary poets.

Yet, all that paled when I first experienced someone writing a love sonnet for me.  It moved past the intellectual, even beyond the spiritual, as there were those wonderful, terrible, truly ineffable vicissitudes of emotion that accompanied it.   For when a simple statement is not enough,  when one needs to wax eloquent, or to try and find the perfect word, then only a poem will do.

It is late, the month is young, and while I have strayed far from my initial concept, there is much more to be said about poetry, but I will leave it for another day.