Tuesday, January 27, 2009

8. The Psalm

The Psalm last Sunday caught my attention.

One of the things I like about the Episcopal church is its orderly use of scripture. Four readings every week: Old Testament, New Testament, Gospel, and a Psalm. We follow a three-year cycle called the Revised Common Lectionary and as a musician it is most helpful. I know far in advance what the lessons will be and if I were so inclined I could plan the music today for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost, 2025. The lectionary does not skip over difficult passages and it binds the readings together in a meaningful and relevant way. Best of all the preacher of the day can’t prepare a sermon and then go looking for scripture to back it up.

At my church we sing the Psalm on most Sundays when the choir is present. We do this in various ways, from plainchant to Anglican chant to hymntunes. Often the music allows the text to be understood on a deeper level than just words alone. The choir rehearses the Psalm several times and gets to know it well. This week we used a beautiful Simplified Anglican Chant which particularly highlighted the words of the Psalm.

Psalm 139 is about God’s loving creation of all human beings and the complete knowledge God has of each of us. The Psalmist sits in wonder and amazement that God “created my inmost parts; knit me together in my mother’s womb”. And he goes on to thank God, because “I am wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, and I know it well.” Please understand that I don’t take this literally; in fact I’m not sure I can begin to explain what it means to me. But the idea of a Creator taking the time to know every part of me is humbling.

I have been wondering why this Psalm struck such a chord with me; why I have not been able to get both the music and text out of my head for several days now. Maybe this is at least part of the answer: for some time I have been quite busy as a caretaker; of my parents, my husband, some friends. I do this willingly and freely, even perhaps naturally. But the balance between caring for others and myself can get skewed and this past week was one of those times. Singing that Psalm eased my weariness and filled my depleted spirit. And for that I am truly grateful.

Psalm 139: 1-5, 12-17

Lord, you have searched me out and known me;
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You trace my journeys and my resting places
and are acquainted with all my ways.

Indeed, there is not a word on my lips,
but you, O Lord, know it altogether.
You press upon me behind and before
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain to it.

For you yourself created my inmost parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I will thank you because I am marvelously made;
your works are wonderful, and I know it well.

My body was not hidden from you,
while I was being made in secret
and woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb;
all of them were written in your book;
they were fashioned day by day,
when as yet there was none of them.

How deep I find your thoughts, O God!
how great is the sum of them!
If I were to count them, they would be more in number than the sand;
to count them all, my life span would need to be like yours.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

8. Thanksgiving and Hope

Thursday, January 15, 2009

7. So Many Books, So Little Time

I have always loved that saying, ever since I saw it on a button worn by a librarian years ago. It is exactly how I feel, constantly. For a few years now I have been keeping a journal of the books I read and looking at the list for 2008 I realize what a good reading year it was. That list is unusually lengthy, though, and that gives me pause as it seems to point to some changes in my life, particularly my growing desire, and need, for solitude.

My preferred diet of soul food has long been both listening to and performing music. Those are what have brought me through the roughest times of my life. But increasingly I find that I need quiet, and lots of it. It is restorative and gives me energy to be my public self. And what better place to find quiet than when reading a book. On many a cold winter weekend my favorite activity is to sit by the fire and read. During stressful performance times a book is my solace and comfort. Sometimes I just can’t wait for the chores of the day to end so that I can crawl into bed with my latest companion.

In no particular order here are my favorites from the past year, several of which were written well before 2008. It has been a difficult job culling this list to something reasonable and after half a century of reading mostly novels, I find it interesting to see so much non-fiction on my list.

Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser: a huge, entertaining and yes, controversial book that I read in preparation for a trip to Paris with Emily last spring. I learned so much about the history and culture of the 18th century and it certainly made my trip more meaningful.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert: a re-read and another prep for Paris. This time around I found myself seeing the heroine as a sympathetic character and understanding her plight to be more than that of just a spoiled woman.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini: a novel about two women in modern day Afghanistan. Even though our country has been “at war” with Afghanistan for years now, I knew little about it or its people. The plight of these women is so desperate as to seem almost hopeless. This book spurred me to learn more and led me to an American organization that solicits and sends handknits to the people there:

Interpreter of Maladies and Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri: two beautiful books of heart wrenching short stories about love, loss, and acceptance.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver: both reading this book and traveling to Paris have made me very aware of what I put in my mouth. I have devoured all of Kingsolver’s novels and couldn’t put down this chronicle of her family’s year of eating only locally grown and raised foods. Fortunately I read this in the summer when we had a garden in our backyard and a farmer’s market down the street. Now I cringe in the supermarket when I see that the asparagus I want is from South America and the whole wheat bread seems to have more chemicals than flour.

Deaf Sentence by David Lodge: Bill’s daughters gave him this for his 75th birthday, not realizing that it was really me who would enjoy it. Both humorous and poignant, this is a novel of aging and the depletion that comes with it. It helped me look at the older people in my life with more compassion and understanding.

To Love What Is: A Marriage Transformed by Alix Cates Shulman: This small volume caught my eye in the new books section of the Bar Harbor library. The author tells the story of her husband’s catastrophic fall and subsequent brain damage. So many messages are in this book: live in the moment, be grateful for your blessings, life can change in an instant and nothing you do can prepare you for that. This woman’s courage and deep, abiding love for her husband and their marriage was extremely moving.

An American Childhood by Annie Dillard: for years I have wanted to read this author and I finally did. I loved her look back at growing up and discovering what it means to be alive.

I have saved the best for last: as wonderful as all the above books are, my favorite reads of 2008 were three books by Nuala O’Faolain. They deserve a separate posting and that will be next.

Happy Reading.