What I am planning for Lent…

No, not the music — more on that anon. I’m planning something else.

I’m planning on sowing, each day of Lent, some seeds for edible plants. I’ll be posting pictures to Tumblr and those will turn up on Twitter; once a week I’ll try and do a summary post of some sort, which I’ll link to from here and FaceBorg and various other places for those of you who aren’t into Twitter.

Do feel free to join me, and whether you do or not may you have a blessed Lent.


Wednesday: St Paul’s-in-the-Camp Flashmob Evensong

On Wednesday we will have Evensong outside St Paul’s — unless the cathedral has opened for worship again, of course, in which case we may as well join them inside.

Meet at 5pm for 5.15; outside M&S seems to be a reasonable place for it, although we may need to move (especially if there are enough of us to obstruct the walkway).

You can print a copy of the liturgy from here ON THE DAY or from here today (Tuesday). Alternately you can follow along online using the same links on a smartphone or using one of the various Common Worship smartphone apps.

The really simple way to do it will be to bring a Book of Common Prayer, though. I have a small number of spares. The Psalm will be Psalm 119:145-176. The Old Testament reading will be @ Kings 9:1-16. The New Testament reading will be Acts 27:1-26. I did not choose these readings; I want to use the same ones that will be on the Church of England website, for ease of letting others follow along at home or elsewhere. Readers for the readings will be assigned when we meet.

We will sing the psalm and canticles from the Parish Psalter. If you have a Parish Psalter please bring it, even if you don’t sing! These are harder to get hold of than the BCP and I only have a small number. Ditto the music for the ferial responses. I will cantor if there are no clergy there who are willing/able to do so.

We will use the same hymns as on Sunday, mostly because I have about 20 hymn sheets and I don’t want to waste them. If you want to print the words to these yourself they are available in .pdf format here. If you want to bring a hymnal to sing harmony I prefer New English Hymnal (note that some of the words are different).

If you don’t have any of these bits of pieces, you can still come! Really. You can look over my shoulder, or someone else’s, or participate in a more reflective manner.

If you want to join the choir for the anthem please contact @FlashEvensong on Twitter, who is organising that bit. I’ve said that if we don’t have at least two strong readers per voice part it’s better not to do the anthem. There is a poll here for you to sign up.

It would be helpful to have a rough idea how many people will be coming along, so if you are planning on it please do leave a comment here (even if you aren’t planning to sing the anthem). Anonymous comments are fine.

5 for 5.15pm outside M&S, St. Paul’s-in-the-Camp
Liturgy here on the day.
Bring BCP, Parish Psalter, and ferial responses if you have them.
Contact @FlashEvensong for choral anthem enquiries, poll here.

St Paul’s Evensong at OccupyLSX

I didn’t think, when I got up this morning, that I would somehow wind up leading a BCP Evensong at St Paul’s Cathedral.

The cathedral has had Occupy LSX, a protest camp, on their doorstep for the past week. Last weekend the Canon Chancellor, Revd Dr Giles Fraser, told the police to leave the protesters alone. As the week has worn on and the tents have stayed up, the cathedral has been operating on a reduced schedule, and on Friday the Dean issued a statement saying it would have to close until further notice.

I have no strong criticism of the cathedral closing to sightseers; there is a point at which keeping things ticking over stops making economic sense, and though I am uncomfortable with entry fees for cathedrals I cannot condemn them without calling into question the legitimacy of thousands of smaller, parish-based fundraising efforts. Fair game.

But a cathedral is more than architecture and establishment. Cathedrals exist to serve the local community, as well as to support parish churches in their work. Their primary task is of public worship, and it is difficult to see how Occupy LSX are a significant threat to that. The supposed health and safety reasons for closure given by the cathedral haven’t, to my knowledge, been specified in a way that would allow the protesters to improve matters, and so things have come to a sort of impasse.

Practising the organ this morning I half-joked on Twitter about being tempted to turn up at St Paul’s and hold Evensong myself, if they weren’t letting people in for services. Then I went back to practising, it being one of those mornings where I felt like I had someone else’s fingers and feet, and the choir turned up and we rehearsed, and there was a service and afterwards tea and toast. I checked my phone before heading home and there seemed to be some positive response to the idea of an outdoor Evensong, and I began to think more seriously about it.

I’m accustomed to Evensong services of varying sizes. I knew that without any real idea of who was going to turn up, I wouldn’t want to plan anything too complicated.. but there definitely wasn’t time to select metrical psalms, so we’d have to do simple Anglican Chant (and hope for enough people who can make sense of it for it to work) or even just said psalms and canticles. I made a few more tentative tweets, putting out feelers to see who else might be interested. I tried to contact both St Paul’s, and Occupy LSX, through Twitter, and got no response — fair enough, both are busy organisations. But people who had been involved in the protest, and various clergy and churchy types online, seemed encouraging, so I decided to go for it.

At 12.12 I tweeted “Right. Evensong at @OccupyLSX outside St Pual’s, 3.45 for 4pm. Please bring Parish Psalter & BCP if you have them.” From there it was a matter of choosing hymns with words in the public domain and printing them, providing links to those and to the BCP liturgy for the day through the C of E website, making sure I had the readings and the Collect for the 21st Sunday after Trinity to hand, and the sort of low-grade terror at what I was doing that you might expect, complete with wildly beating heart and trembling hands. A lot of people were generally supportive but simply unable to get there due to geography or prior commitments. But people said they would come, and I turned up and they found me. Our numbers were small but mighty, and included an atheist and a Roman Catholic, as a typical Evensong at St Paul’s well might! Apparently there had been some sort of praying and singing not too long before my arrival, but the clergyman involved was busy being interviewed by someone with a camera and I had come over all shy, so we decided just to get on with it. We chose an almost-quiet spot outside M&S and did just that.

And it was good. Christ is made the sure foundation was our introit, chosen because I love it and it is a good length, and one or two people did join us as we sang. There was a bit of informal awkwardness going from one bit of the service to the next — I nearly forgot the psalm, think of it! — but we chanted psalms and canticles in something resembling unison, and the ferial responses were fairly straightforward. The readings were Ecclesiastes Chapters 11 and 12, and St Paul’s 2nd Letter to Timothy, Chapter 2, verses 1-7. One annoying photographer insisted on trying to ask us questions during the service, which I found a bit difficult — I tried to explain we weren’t finished, I think someone else went and talked to him and then came and joined us again. Instead of sermon (the epistle said it all with “The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits.”) or anthem we had Guide me, O thou great Jehovah and after the “Prayer for the Clergy and People” (rather apt I thought) and “A Prayer of St Chrysostom” and the Grace we sang O God, our help in ages past and went our respective ways — some of us to the pub, to slake the thirst after righteousness (I’ll get my coat), others off home or to other parts of the protest.

So, that was a pretty strange day. I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

The Singer and the Song

Maggi Dawn, looking for debaters on the subject of scripture and translation, asked some questions on Twitter this morning which got me thinking.

@maggidawn: The Message: do you love it or hate it? I’m looking for debaters on the subject of translation
@maggidawn: The King James Version: beautiful or incomprehensible? I’m looking for debaters on the subject of scripture and translation
@maggidawn: who have you read/listened to that has most influenced you on translation and interpretation of the Bible, tweeps?

I have very little familiarity with “The Message” as a paraphrase or translation, and my familiarity with the King James Version is by no means complete. But I am also acutely aware that my Hebrew is very poor and I don’t understand Greek at all. When I read the King James Version I think I understand the language fairly well, but I know that isn’t true for everyone. If we are going to have scripture available to everyone that means we will need to renew our translations and interpretations as our use of language changes. So I find a certain irony in the existence of groups which believe the King James Version is the only valid scripture, given the Reformation value of accessibility of the text — despite the situation surrounding the actual translation, which I understand was made with certain goals regarding the status quo in church and politics.

A few years ago I read various books by Karen Armstrong, and was struck by her repeated assertion that in many faiths there has at some point been a tradition of compassionate exegesis. That is, the “rules” are that any interpretation of scripture which is harmful, violent or cruel, is necessarily incorrect. That helped me a lot in coming to terms with a collection of texts which is often contradictory. Indeed, learning to see the Bible as an anthology rather than as one coherent book was also helpful.

As far as interpretation is concerned, there’s a great post by the Three Minute Theologian which illustrates the difficulty of scriptural literalism. A musical score contains a certain amount of information about which notes are to be played when, and if you’re lucky you get instructions about volume and articulation, too. But all of that must be interpreted in the context of the performance expectations of the time: in some periods there is a great deal that nobody bothered to write down because it was just the done thing, for example repeated phrases having some variation in dynamic. Debussy and Brahms are both composers who wrote a huge amount of what they wanted on the page, so that it is possible to follow their instructions exactly and get a half-decent musical result, but both still require a sense of line and direction, and the knowledge to interpret things like the time signature, which doesn’t only tell the performer how many beats there are in a bar but how they should be stressed in relation to one another. Bach left much more to the discretion of the performer. As I commented there, an historically accurate interpretation of music requires study of contemporary performance practice, but an informed contrast to that tradition of interpretation also requires some understanding of how the music would have been performed. Performers always end up interpreting, too.

What is important in the interpretation of music, in the end, is not how correctly one interprets the dots and squiggles, but the impact of doing so on the listener. A very historically authentic performance and one that departs drastically from traditional performance practice can both be moving and inspiring; it is likely that neither will consist only of what is written on the page. The creative interpretation of the performer or performers is an intrinsic part of the music, whether the performance consists of singing, blowing air through tubes, drawing a bow across stretched strings or even putting together instructions for robots to play the music (I refer to various forms of digital music, most of which are so far outside my own area of training as to be incomprehensible to me in their performance techniques).

I’m not a theologian, but I’ll go out on a limb here: I believe that how people present scripture in the way they live their lives is a more important interpretation issue than which translation or tradition of interpretation they might use to read it. That doesn’t apply only to Christianity, either. Actions speak louder than words and actions are more important than which words you read.

What do we say in our daily actions?

(edited slightly for clarity)