With a Song in my Heart – 40 Days of Sacred Songs
Day 14 – Thursday after 2nd Sunday of Lent
To Listen: Phos Hilaron
Hail, gladdening Light,
of his pure glory poured
from th’immortal Father,
holiest of holies,
Jesus Christ our Lord.
Now we are come
to the sun’s hour of rest,
the lights of evening
round us shine,
we hymn the Father,
Son and Holy Spirit divine.
Worthiest art thou at all times
to be sung with undefilèd tongue,
Son of our God,
Giver of live, alone:
Therefore in all thy world thy glories,
Lord, they own.
Greek (3rd century or earlier) trans. John Keble (1792-1866)
From the Scriptures:
161 Princes persecute me without cause,
but my heart stands in awe of your words.
162 I rejoice at your word
like one who finds great spoil.
163 I hate and abhor falsehood,
but I love your law.
164 Seven times a day I praise you
for your righteous ordinances.
165 Great peace have those who love your law;
nothing can make them stumble.
166 I hope for your salvation, O Lord,
and I fulfil your commandments.
167 My soul keeps your decrees;
I love them exceedingly.
168 I keep your precepts and decrees,
for all my ways are before you.
And now, as they used to say on Monty Python’s Flying Circus, for something completely different. I suspect that for them this was their way of saying ‘from the sublime to the ridiculous’ although when it comes to different ways of worshipping the One Who Loves us Best heaven rejoices over Gregorian Chant as much as it does
Fisherfolk Chorus or Thundering Organs. Worship is worship and we must be careful to not malign each other’s. I cringe when I hear the phrase ‘happy-clappy’ (almost always used in a pejorative sense) as it belittles someone else’s sanctuary. I also get upset when those who profess that their worship has no boundaries and is somehow more ‘spiritual’ than those who use a set liturgy. Like the Scribe in their treasure house (Matthew 13v52) the worship that our Beloved receives is both ‘new and old’. There is no hierarchy in singing the praises of the most High.
So my musical journey turns to time at the Federal Theological Seminary in Imbali Township outside Pietermaritzburg. Much happened there, after all we were one of only two ‘White’ families (with two other single ‘White’ students) living on a mixed-race campus in an area designated as a Black Residential Area. Our card was well and truly marked by the Security Police and I had a ‘spy’ planted in my first congregation after ordination.
Where, in the middle of all the changes of giving up the security of secular work, coping with the awesomeness of the birth of our first son, settling into a community where you (well I especially) had to learn to listen first and speak last, were we to find any roots to anchor our souls? (remember Day 3?)
I found myself surprisingly quickly (perhaps it was Evensong muscles kicking in from time at The Royal Hospital School) slipping comfortably into the routine of the Daily Office and especially Psalm Chant and Compline. We always began Compline at Seminary with Phos Hilaron’. It is simple yet profound. It is repetitive yet constantly fresh. It is familiar yet ‘New every morning’.
In-between the pages of the admittedly ‘thin’ Liturgy 1975 (later replaced by the marvellous An Anglican Prayer Book 1989 available in nine languages) was a treasure trove worthy of any Scribe in a parable of Jesus. The joy of learning to keep regular hours of prayer was that in the middle of all the changes of life this was constant. In a changing, challenging and often frightening world I was reminded again and again that the Monks and the Nuns had got it right down the centuries and the answer to any challenge was faithful prayer.
Whatever hymns and sacred songs make our hearts beat faster.
Whatever instruments – organ or orchestra, guitar or acapella voice – bring us to the heavenly heights.
Wherever we find it easier – cathedral or chapel or monastic cell – to realise that we are always in the presence of the One Who Loves us Best.
Each of us needs a home room, home words and home music that calls us back to our Beloved and reminds us that we always have a ‘guard and keeper’.
God of mercy, swift to help us,
as our lips pour forth your praise,
fill our hearts with the peace you give
to those who wait for your salvation
in Jesus Christ our Lord.
(Psalm 119 – Resh to Taw)
1) Try for a season to keep a regular rhythm of prayer. The Daily Prayer App is very helpful and will unite your prayer and Scripture reading with Christians all over the world. If you already ‘keep the Office’ how about using the Prayer Book from a different tradition for a season?
2) Find a short favourite prayer, commit it to memory and try to pray it to yourself each night before sleep or each morning on waking. Mine is the Nunc Dimittis, and yes I do stick to the traditional language – they are the words I first learnt and those that have held me down the years.
Reprise: Te Lucis Ante Terminun
Some would say that the only hymn to ever use at Compline is this one. I will leave it up to you to decide which one is your favourite so long as you promise me to get into the habit of trying to use a set from of prayer each night before the Greater Silence and sleep.
Before the ending of the day,
Creator of the world, we pray,
that with thy wonted favour thou
wouldst be our guard and keeper now.
From all ill dreams defend our eyes,
from nightly fears and fantasies;
tread under foot our ghostly foe,
that no pollution we may know.
Father, that we ask be done,
through Jesus Christ thine only Son,
who, with the Holy Ghost and thee,
doth live and reign eternally. Amen.
‘Te lucis ante terminum’ (pre 8th century) trans. John Mason Neale (1818-1866)
Please Note: These reflections are also published on my blog: suffolkvicarhomes.com on Twitter as @SuffolkVicar, and on my public Facebook page Rev Andrew Dotchin
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Prayers are adapted from the Psalm Prayers in the Common Worship Psalter. material from which is included here, is copyright © The Archbishops’ Council 2005
Scripture quotations are copyright © New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
These Reflections, ‘With a Song in my Heart’ are copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2022