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Wednesday, January 28, 2015 – 9:50am
Photo by Chris Ford
BY PARKER J. PALMER (@PARKERJPALMER), WEEKLY COLUMNIST

A while back, I saw that my 21 year-old granddaughter had posted a quote from one of my books on her Facebook page. I was honored, of course.

Because my granddaughter is a lot smarter than I am about a lot of things, I thought I ought to take a look at what I wrote in that book.  Maybe there was something to it!

So here’s a story about what I was struggling with in my late thirties, when I lived and worked at Pendle Hill, the Quaker living-learning community near Philadelphia.

I was trying and failing to find a new direction for my life, and feeling very discouraged about it, when I got some life-changing counsel from an older woman named Ruth.

I’m older now than Ruth was then, but her counsel continues to guide me. If someone else finds it helpful, I’ll be glad I passed her wisdom along…

“If I were to discover a new direction, I though, it would be at Pendle Hill, a community rooted in prayer, study, and a vision of human possibility. But when I arrived and started sharing my vocational quandary, people responded with a traditional Quaker counsel that, despite all the good intentions, left me even more discouraged. ‘Have faith,’ they said, ‘and way will open.’

‘I have faith,’ I thought to myself. ‘What I don’t have is time to wait for “way” to open. I’m approaching middle age at warp speed, and I have yet to find a vocational path that feels right. The only way that’s opened so far is the wrong way.’

After a few months of deepening frustration, I took my troubles to an older Quaker woman well-known for her thoughtfulness and candor. ‘Ruth,’ I said, ‘people keep telling me that “way will open.” Well, I sit in the silence, I pray, I listen for my calling, but way is not opening. I’ve been trying to find my vocation for a long time, and I still don’t have the foggiest idea of what I’m meant to do. Way may open for other people, but it’s sure not opening for me.’

Ruth’s reply was a model of Quaker plain-speaking: ‘I’m a birthright Friend,’ she said somberly, ‘and in sixty-plus year of living, way has never opened in front of me.’ She paused, and I started sinking into despair. Was this wise woman telling me that the Quaker concept of guidance was a hoax? Then she spoke again, this time with a grin: ‘But a lot of way has closed behind me, and that’s had the same guiding effect.’

I laughed with her, laughed loud and long, the kind of laughter that comes when a simple truth exposes your heart for the needlessly neurotic mess it has become. Ruth’s honesty gave me a new way to look at my vocational journey, and my experience has long-since confirmed the lesson she taught me that day: there is as much guidance in what does not and cannot happen in my life as there is in what can and does — maybe more.”

Mary Oliver on What Attention Really Means and Her Moving Eulogy to Her Soul Mate

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“Attention without feeling … is only a report.”

Mary Oliver is one of our era’s most beloved and prolific poets — a sage ofwisdom on the craft of poetry and a master of its magic; a woman as unafraid to be witty as she is to wise. For more than forty years, Oliver lived on Cape Cod with the love of her life, the remarkable photographer Molly Malone Cook — one of the first staff photographers for The Village Voice, with subjects like Walker Evans and Eleanor Roosevelt, and a visionary gallerist who opened the first photography gallery on the East Coast, exhibited such icons as Ansel Adams and Berenice Abbott, and recognized rising talent like William Clift. (She was also, living up to her reputation as “a great Bohemian American,” the owner of a bookshop frequented by Norman Mailer and occasionally staffed by the filmmaker John Waters.)

Mary Oliver (b. 1935, right) with Molly Malone Cook (1925–2005) at the couple’s home in Provincetown, Massachusetts

When Cook died in 2005 at the age of eighty, Oliver looked for a light, however faint, to shine through the thickness of bereavement. She spent a year making her way through thousands of her spouse’s photographs and undeveloped negatives, mostly from around the time they met, which Oliver then enveloped in her own reflections to bring to life Our World (public library) — part memoir, deeply moving eulogy to a departed soul mate, part celebration of their love for one another through their individual creative loves. Embraced in Oliver’s poetry and prose, Cook’s photographs reveal the intimate thread that brought these two extraordinary women together — a shared sense of deep aliveness and attention to the world, a devotion to making life’s invisibles visible, and above all a profound kindness to everything that exists, within and without.

Oliver — who refers to Cook simply as M. in most of her writings — reflects in the opening essay:

Though you have known someone for more than forty years, though you have worked with them and lived with them, you do not know everything. I do not know everything — but a few things, which I will tell. M. had will and wit and probably too much empathy for others; she was quick in speech and she did not suffer fools. When you knew her she was unconditionally kind. But also, as our friend the Bishop Tom Shaw said at her memorial service, you had to be brave to get to know her.

[…]

She was style, and she was an old loneliness that nothing could quite wipe away; she was vastly knowledgeable about people, about books, about the mind’s emotions and the heart’s. She lived sometimes in a black box of memories and unanswerable questions, and then would come out and frolic — be feisty, and bold.

Amish schoolroom, late 1950s (Photograph: Molly Malone Cook)

Oliver writes of the affair Cook had in the late 1950s, shortly before they met:

She had … an affair that struck deeply; I believe she loved totally and was loved totally. I know about it, and I am glad… This love, and the ensuing emptiness of its ending, changed her. Of such events we are always changed — not necessarily badly, but changed. Who doesn’t know this doesn’t know much.

The following year, Cook met Oliver and they remained together, inseparable, for more than four decades. That encounter — which calls to mind the fateful first meetings that occasioned such iconic literary couples as Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas or Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes — took place at Steepletop, the home of Edna St. Vincent Millay, where Oliver had landed the day after her high school graduation at the age of seventeen and stayed for several years.

Inside the library at Steepletop, the home of the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, late 1950s (Photograph: Molly Malone Cook)

One evening in 1959, when Oliver was twenty-four and Cook thirty-four, the young poet returned to the house and found the photographer sitting at the kitchen table with a friend. She describes their encounter with her signature elegance of unpeeling the mundane to reveal the momentous:

I took one look and fell, hook and tumble. M. took one look at me, and put on her dark glasses, along with an obvious dose of reserve. She denied this to her dying day, but it was true.

Isn’t it wonderful the way the world holds both the deeply serious, and the unexpectedly mirthful?

Mary Oliver in 1964 (Photograph: Molly Malone Cook)

It turned out that Oliver and Cook, in their regular lives beyond Steepletop, lived right across the street from each other in New York’s East Village. So they began to see one another “little by little,” and so their great love story began.

Chess players, Washington Square, New York City, late 1950s (Photograph: Molly Malone Cook)

But perhaps the greatest gift of their union was the way in which they shaped each other’s way of seeing and being with the world — the mutually ennobling dialogue between their two capacities for presence:

It has frequently been remarked, about my own writings, that I emphasize the notion of attention. This began simply enough: to see that the way the flicker flies is greatly different from the way the swallow plays in the golden air of summer. It was my pleasure to notice such things, it was a good first step. But later, watching M. when she was taking photographs, and watching her in the darkroom, and no less watching the intensity and openness with which she dealt with friends, and strangers too, taught me what real attention is about. Attention without feeling, I began to learn, is only a report. An openness — an empathy — was necessary if the attention was to matter. Such openness and empathy M. had in abundance, and gave away freely… I was in my late twenties and early thirties, and well filled with a sense of my own thoughts, my own presence. I was eager to address the world of words — to address the world with words. Then M. instilled in me this deeper level of looking and working, of seeing through the heavenly visibles to the heavenly invisibles. I think of this always when I look at her photographs, the images of vitality, hopefulness, endurance, kindness, vulnerability… We each had our separate natures; yet our ideas, our influences upon each other became a reach and abiding confluence.

[…]

I don’t think I was wrong to be in the world I was in, it was my salvation from my own darkness. Nor have I ever abandoned it — those early signs that so surely lead toward epiphanies. And yet, and yet, she wanted me to enter more fully into the human world also, and to embrace it, as I believe I have. And what a gift [that she] never expressed impatience with my reports of the natural world, the blue and green happiness I found there. Our love was so tight.

‘My first clam,’ 1964 (Photograph: Molly Malone Cook)

To lose the love of one’s life is something few have dared to live in public — the most memorable such bravery being Joan Didion’s — but Oliver brings to death’s darkness her familiar touch of emboldening light:

The end of life has its own nature, also worth our attention. I don’t say this without reckoning in the sorrow, the worry, the many diminishments. But surely it is then that a person’s character shines or glooms.

Oliver ends with a breath-stopping prose poem that brings full-circle her opening reflections on never fully knowing even those nearest to us — a beautiful testament to what another wise woman once wrote: “You can never know anyone as completely as you want. But that’s okay, love is better.”

THE WHISTLER

All of a sudden she began to whistle. By all of a sudden
I mean that for more than thirty years she had not
whistled. It was thrilling. At first I wondered, who was
in the house, what stranger? I was upstairs reading, and
she was downstairs. As from the throat of a wild and
cheerful bird, not caught but visiting, the sounds war-
bled and slid and doubled back and larked and soared.

Finally I said, Is that you? Is that you whistling? Yes, she
said. I used to whistle, a long time ago. Now I see I can
still whistle. And cadence after cadence she strolled
through the house, whistling.

I know her so well, I think. I thought. Elbow and an-
kle. Mood and desire. Anguish and frolic. Anger too.
And the devotions. And for all that, do we even begin
to know each other? Who is this I’ve been living with
for thirty years?

This clear, dark, lovely whistler?

Boy with telescope, New York Cruises, late 1950s (Photograph: Molly Malone Cook)

Our World is a sublime read in its entirety — the kind that enters the soul like a deep breath and remains there as an eternal exhale. Complement it with Oliver on how rhythm sweetens life and her beautiful reading of her poem “Wild Geese.”

Archbishop’s Speech 2013 Summer:  New Wine

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The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev’d Justin Welby, has called for a renewal of prayer and the life of religious communities, saying “there has never been a renewal of the Church in Western Europe” without it.

In a major speech this week at a conference organised by the charismatic church organisation New Wine, Archbishop Welby said there had been “a fresh outpouring of the Spirit in worship” over the past 10 years, saying: “it’s been the most amazing thing to see the depth of worship growing and deepening.”

After reading from Acts 4: 32-37:

32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Archbishop Justin said:

Now, first of all, if you’ll excuse me being quite impolite, the trouble with New Wineskins is that they get older. I’m looking around. I look in the mirror. It’s a bit frightening. That may seem shocking and rude, but I’m afraid it’s true, and it is the pattern of all renewal in the Church. As they get older, they accumulate bits and pieces that attach to them; they get baggage.

Now, some of you may have heard this story, but it bears repeating because it’s true, and my apologies if you’ve heard it before. A friend of ours living in Paris, called John Moore – a very old friend, now ordained – used to travel a great deal, and particularly to the United States. We saw them in Paris after he’d just come back from a trip in the middle of winter, and he was telling us what had happened at Kennedy Airport, which is always pretty chaotic.

There’d been snow; the flights were late, everybody was bad-tempered. The person in front of him in the check-in queue was horrendously rude to the poor woman who was doing the check-ins. He didn’t like his seat; he didn’t like the fact the plane was late – it wasn’t her fault; he didn’t like the film that was going to be showed – it was the days when you just had one.  He didn’t like anything, and he was really, really unpleasant.

John, who is always courteous; when he got to the front, said, “I am so sorry; I feel ashamed to be a passenger when other passengers treat you like that.”  She obviously liked him, and she said, “Well, there’s bad news and good news, Sir.  The bad news is that he’s on the same flight as you, going to Paris.  The good news is I’ve sent his luggage to Tokyo.”

Now, there are a number of lessons there… One of which is always be polite when checking in on an aeroplane, but that wasn’t the one I was thinking of. But actually, with churches and with movements, there’s a point where we need someone who will do that for us. Because we accumulate baggage, and it pulls us down.

As someone once said to me, when things in the Church are not going well, or in bits of the Church historically, God does not repair; He renews.  He doesn’t just stitch it up; He gives us something new.   New Wine has been one of the great sources of renewal for the last 25 years.  Or, if I were to put it less comfortably,  a quarter of a century–it makes it sound longer.

So much has changed in that time.  There is a genuine desire in New Wine to be at the front of the wave.  There always has been.  It’s been one of the characteristics;  “If God is in it, we want to be on the front of it.”   We have seen that, in our family and in the churches I’ve been in.

Anyone from Southam here?  Say that again, I can’t… Oh, back there! Typical blooming Southam; they always sit at the back.  That’s my parish church, that is; they’re great.  Very nice to see you.

But when we came, 15 years ago, for year after year, we learned from here time and time again.  And as a family, when we were working in churches where things were often relatively slow, we used to come here, and benefited hugely.  Indeed, it was our lifeline, spiritually. Working in small churches, in places that some people think are far away from the great centres of life – they’re not, but some people think that – is a matter of step by step.  To spend a week every year, as we did for 12 years, at New Wine, getting a fresh vision;  being prayed for; learning; being part of the community, was wonderful.

Less wonderful was trench-foot; babies in buggies above the swirling floods; freezing cold; cooking under a gazebo – which leaked – and conducting family “discussions” in the kind of whisper that can be heard three tents away!   Some of you know what I’m talking about.

But it was worth it.  Far more than worth it.  We remembered what God does, who He is, and by the grace of God found the courage to take risks and step out, and see change.  But where now?

In these years, this quarter of a century, the world has been changing dramatically.  Attitudes to women have changed, including our own, for the better.  Listen to talks and comments from about 1990 and the cringe factor is often through the roof.  So have a lot of other things. Above all, in this country, we find ourselves in a revolution of culture and expectation which challenges the churches at the heart of their being and understanding and values.  That is nothing new, and whenever the world has mounted a great challenge to the Church, God has moved in renewal and revival.  We may be pressed down, but we are always hopeful.

We expect great things, and we expect in the future, in this land, through the Church, greater things than in the past.  As Jesus said, greater things than these, if we are obedient and responsive; if we’re on the front of the wave.  Look back in history across Europe, at the history of God visiting and renewing His Church in times of change and crisis.

In the fifth century AD, the Western Roman Empire, which had stretched for half a millennium, from what is now the Balkans to Hadrian’s Wall, covering North Africa, fell to invading tribes from the east.  The population of Western Europe may have dropped by as much as two thirds.  The economy collapsed by perhaps 90 per cent or more. Peace evaporated; security disappeared, for nearly 1,000 years.  It was the Dark Ages.

Into that time came one of the most extraordinary Christian leaders of all times: Benedict; Saint Benedict. He started a monastery.  Didn’t go terribly well at first; the first one he started; after a few months, the monks found him a bit tough, so they tried to poison him. I just get hate mail, but then I’m no Benedict.  He lived in a cave for a while, and then started another monastery.  When he did that, he wrote a rule; the Rule of Saint Benedict; a rule for monks.  You can get hold if it; it’s very easily got hold of.  It’s about 40, 50 pages; quick read, and its first word is, “Listen”.   Not listen to each other, not listen to him; listen to Jesus Christ.  It’s all about getting to know Jesus and conform our lives to His.

The monasteries grew and spread.  There were a few incidental benefits to what he did.  He set a pattern of study, work and prayer, and more or less accidentally saved learning.  He preserved western civilisation.  They started the universities.  They started hospitals and schools.  They re-founded diplomacy and stopped wars.  They renewed music and worship, and spread the gospel as evangelists across the whole of Europe in the most dangerous places imaginable.  They built many of our cathedrals as monuments to a faithful God, who calls people back to Him.  But they never tried to do that; that was accidental, it just sort of happened on the side.  They tried to follow Jesus.

In the 11th and 12th centuries, there was another vast crisis.  The papacy was in its most corrupt phase.  The Arab armies had pushed north and conquered Spain.  They pushed into the Balkans, and many thought they’d conquer the whole of Europe and wipe out the Christian faith.  The human answer of the Crusades disgraced the gospel with its terrible cruelty.  Then another extraordinary figure appeared: Francis. He called people to follow Christ in love and poverty.  He challenged the invaders.  He started new communities.  He went to the headquarters of the invaders.  He preached and he served, and the Church found new life.

We can go on.  In the 16th century, God raised people up who translated the Bible in the face of the challenge of the Renaissance, which challenged our whole understanding of who God was.  The Bible was translated into people’s own languages, and home groups were started.   Although the Church got caught up in terrible scandals of war with each other, in His grace, God opened the way to another renewal.

There were bad moments.  There’s a dungeon at Lambeth Palace. It’s currently unoccupied, but there’s always space.  In it, William Tyndale was held.  The rings are still attached to the walls to which he was chained.  He translated the Bible into English and died for it. The Church found renewal.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Industrial Revolution swept away our social structures.  Wesley came.  He formed small groups that followed a method; the Methodists, and we saw the greatest revival in our history amongst the urban poor, and we did not have the revolution that France had.

There are a million more examples.  We can be like the psalmist of Psalm 107, recounting the many disasters, and ending each one by saying, “They cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them from their distress.”  This is our song.  A God who saves His people; a God who changes His world.  We are His people, and we may be hard-pressed, but we are always hopeful.

Today, we face another crisis.  As in the past, we cannot see the outcome.  Like the apostles in Acts, Chapter 4, the passage we read was just after they had faced their first bout of serious persecution.  They come back and report to the believers what had happened, and the believers turn in prayer.  The Lord shakes the place where they are, and you get that extraordinary reading: “They were of one heart and mind; they held all in common.”

A few weeks ago, I sat in the House of Lords, listening to the debate on the same-sex marriage act.  I took part; I spoke and voted against it, in case you wonder.  I spoke against, and I voted against, but I listened, and I heard the roar of revolution.

It came not merely from those one would expect in favour of the bill, but from every side of the House; Conservative and Labour and Liberal and mixed; from every age; from every opinion.  Those of us against the act were utterly crushed in the voting again and again and again.  More people turned out to vote in the House of Lords than at any time since the Second World War, and they voted against any opportunity to defeat the bill.

Let me be clear: popular opinion is not a cause for changing obedience to God.  But let me be equally clear: an overwhelming change that affects the opinions of the majority of people, and especially of younger people – even those who come here and to similar events – is a revolution to which we must pay attention.  Not to do so would be as foolish as Benedict pretending the Roman Empire still stood, or Wesley ignoring the Industrial Revolution and the urban poor.

The revolution is not only about sexuality.  In other areas, there is a revolution in our economy, and the Church has responded faster and better than anyone else to this revolution.  The latest economic outlook forecasts that government spending will be constrained for the next 50 years.  World power is shifting.  Our society looks different. Medicine gives new possibility.  Science moves on ever more rapidly. What do Christians do?  They are first to form food banks; first to educate children; first to set up hospices; to care for the poor and ministry with the poor, and that pleases the Spirit of God.  We have shown and respond, and this great movement of New Wine has been at the forefront.

But did you notice something in that quick historical tour?  That God moves through prayerful communities.  People listened to the spirit; sought first the Kingdom; looked for intimacy with Christ.  The US Army gave us the expression, “Collateral damage”, which means killing people you did not mean to target.  People seeking Christ create collateral blessing.  That means changing the world for the better in ways you could not have predicted.

When asked what my own priorities are, I start with renewal of prayer and communities of prayer; what, in the jargon, are called “Religious communities”.   Communities that live with a rule in the sense that Wesley had one; Francis had one; Benedict had one.   All over Europe, new communities of prayer are starting.   They have women and men living together; they have families in them.   They have women leading communities with Roman Catholic priests in them.   They have communities that live together or just meet together for meals and sharing.   Like the people we read about in the Acts, they often hold all in common.   They bind themselves together for a few years; usually not for life.   Above all, they seek first to know and love Jesus.

There has never been a renewal of the Church in Western Europe without a renewal of prayer and the life of religious communities; never.   If we want to see things changed, it starts with prayer.  It starts with a new spirit of prayer, using all the traditions, ancient and modern, of prayer.   When it comes, it will be linked to what has gone before, but it will look different, because it is a new renewal for new times.   God’s created community is perfectly designed for its time and place.  It always comes from below; almost always.   It comes from Christians seeking Christ, and is often – says I, looking at the one bishop.  I can see from here – is often opposed by church leaders, and especially archbishops.

We must have a new movement of prayer, and I commit myself to opposing it, because that seems to work.   We must have, out of that prayer, lives changed.   The apostles went back and reported their persecution.   The people prayed and they were shaken.   Fear neither hindered their testimony nor caused them to become negative and inward-looking.   They were more and more the people of good news.  When the Church is real, people see the real Jesus.

The last few days have been astonishing, with this affair over the payday lenders.   For a start, the positive comments have outweighed the negative, which, in the letters that come to me, is unusual.   What people have commented on is a Church speaking for the poor.   When the Church is real, people pay attention.   Anne spoke about that very well and powerfully this morning.   When we are what we should be; when we deal with issues of gossip and slander and hatred and power-seeking and put them aside.

What are we going to do about it?  The change has to start with us.  We have to be transparent; accountable; self-aware.  It’s one of the reasons in recent weeks that I’ve spoken about safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults.  We cannot pretend that the Church has got it right.  Everybody knows it hasn’t, so let’s stop pretending and be honest, and repent, and change, because people will see what is right.

Whatever our attitude to the sexuality issue; wherever we stand on this, we cannot pretend that throughout the Church, our attitude to gay people has always been right.  We have not loved them as Christ loves us, and that is the benchmark.  Some of us have.  Many of you have, with great power.  Many haven’t; let’s be honest.  We are not saints, calling people – we are saints in one sense – but in the popular sense of people who don’t sin, we are not saints, calling people into a place away from the world.  We are sinners, calling other sinners to know and love Jesus Christ.

Look what happens as a result to those believers.  Having been a Jewish church, in a community that for 500 years had been locked into the belief that non-Jews were outside, they become a people that reaches out to gentiles and Samaritans; that draws them into fellowship with Christ, and this flows from lives lived in reconciliation, with God and with each other.  Where diversity is accepted as the gift of God of infinite variety, confronting a world that likes uniform certainty.  Our God has created a universe with more variety than all science will ever begin to scratch the surface of, and in our world, we like to put things in neat boxes.

If we’re honest, we’re not always good, as people, at reconciliation, except with people with whom we agree.  Or to be accurate in my case, who agree with me.  We look carefully, and we see someone, and we say, “Well, yes, he’s alright, Fred.  But actually his analysis isn’t quite the same as mine, so actually he’s outside.”

We forget. We forget that my sister, my brother, is never my enemy. We’re told to love our enemies.  We’re told to love our neighbour, and we’re told to love each other.  If anyone can spot the cracks, let me know, because I haven’t found anyone who can fall through them yet.

Jesus prayed that we might be one. He says this in John: 17 in the last seven verses, nine times, “So that the world may know”.  Do we want the world to know who Jesus is?  Then we need to be a reconciled people, who reconcile the world.  We are reconciled to Christ.  We need to be overwhelmed by reconciliation, converted and converting others.  Because Jesus died for us when we were His enemies.

Let me give you an example. In 2002, there were riots in a city in northern Nigeria called Kaduna.  I went at the end of them; I was working in that kind of work, and in that area.  They were huge riots; several thousand dead.  I met a number of clergy who’d been caught up in them; who’d lost friends and family and churches.  One of them was particularly bitter.  He used to preach a sermon in the ruins of his church, teaching people how to disassemble, clean and reassemble an AK47, rather than preaching from the Bible.  Probably got more attention than I do, but still not a good thing.  He came to the meetings that we had on reconciliation embittered, reasonably.  God touched his heart. It took several months; through the scriptures, God spoke to him.

He went to the local imam, and found out where their baker was of the Muslim community, and his community started buying their bread there.  The imam came and said, “Why are you doing this?  How can we help?”  He said, “Well, you can stop people coming round the ruins of our church from your community and lobbing petrol bombs through the ruined windows on Sunday morning, because it sort of disrupts the service.  The imam said, “Well… We’ll do that if you come on Friday and stop your lot doing that to our mosque.”

They started there; started with buying bread; stopping attacking each other.  Two years later, in that small part of Kaduna, they were digging a new sewage system together.  Still arguing furiously, but not killing each other.  The reconciled people had overflowed with such miraculous reconciliation that their enemies were able to work with them.

That is the Church that people recognise; a church that overflows.  I think one of the things that worries me most is the remorseless power of negative religion in this country.  The more we harp on the negative and fail to show love for one-another, and for Jesus Christ, to proclaim service to the poor; ministry to the poor, the more we give in to those who oppose the gospel.

I saw – you probably saw it yourself – a YouGov opinion poll a few weeks ago.  58 per cent of people under 25 didn’t say they opposed the church, or faith; they said it was completely irrelevant.  Opposition is one thing; indifference is far more dangerous.  That kept me awake at night. “Who cares what these people think?” was their attitude.

So thirdly, my priority – first: prayer and renewal of the religious life; secondly, reconciliation, within the church and overflowing into the world around us; and lastly, making new disciples.  If we are to grow the Church numerically; if we are to find life in all its fullness for many of our fellow citizens, we must be the people who show hope in the face of death; steadfastness in suffering, because we overflow with the good news of Jesus to those around us.

A friend of mine is gravely ill at the moment.  He’s younger than me. He’s a church leader.  He has children, and a probably inoperable cancer.   In his hospital ward, nurses come to sit with him, because they say it is the most peaceful place in the hospital.  He is winning people to faith in Christ, not through any words, but because he is overflowing with the presence of Christ.

Living Christians make new disciples because in all circumstances, the spirit spills over the edge of their lives. We need evangelists, witnesses, ordinary people, talking and living out of the knowledge of God.  God is faithful. He always has been, and He always will be.  He will hear our prayer and see our need, and bring what is required.

New Wine has done much; has been a great channel of the grace of God; has changed and trained two generations of leaders.  But we are in a time of revolution, and we need another revolution in the Church.   What it looks like, I do not know, but I want to be in it.  What it feels like is Jesus-centred, fire-filled, peace-proclaiming, disciple-creating, and the Church word for this revolution is revival.

Let us stand for prayer.

morning-sky-on-fire-209c9

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Ah! Whither should we fly, or fly from whom?
The Lord is still the same, today, for ever,
And his protection here, and everywhere.
Still shall thy servants wait on Thee, O Lord,
And in thy saving mercy put their trust.

As with rosy steps the morn,
Advancing, drives the shades of night,
So from virtuous toils well-borne,
Raise Thou our hopes of endless light.
Triumphant saviour, Lord of day,
Thou art the life, the light, the way!
As with rosy steps. . . da capo
.

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O bright example of all goodness!
How easy seems affliction’s heavy load,
While thus instructed, and companion’d thus,
As ’twere with Heav’n conversing, we look down
On the vain pomp of proud prosperity.
.
Bane of virtue, nurse of passions,
Soother of vile inclinations,
Such is, prosperity, thy name.
True happiness is only found,
Where grace and truth and love abound,
And pure religion feeds the flame.
Bane of virtue. . .
.

.
Lord, to Thee each night and day,
Strong in hope, we sing and pray.
Though convulsive rocks the ground,
And thy thunders roll around,
Still to Thee, each night and day,
We sing and pray.
Lord, to Thee.

Theodora review by Dennis Mahoney

The title character is a young Christian woman martyred by the Romans because she won’t honor Venus and Flora, and while the story’s as paint-by-numbers as one would fear, Handel delivers so many transfixing meditations it’s like staring at one vivid fire after another. I burst into tears—more than once—watching a DVD performance, and while I’m not a man who never cries at all, neither am I a big man-flower who cries at any old bit of Baroque. Overall, the oratorio works less as a dramatic narrative and more as a paean to mercy and devotion, transcending its libretto by evoking the purest beliefs of each character—a simplification that leads to depth instead of shallowness.

His crowning duet, “As Steals the Morn,” is so natural that the question of opposing halves vanishes altogether.

The unshakeable belief of Theodora and her closest friend, Irene, would be difficult to swallow (and frankly boring) if it weren’t for the pathos and clarity of their songs. “Oh! That I on Wings Could Rise” blends optimism and despair, Theodora’s prayer to escape a fate worse than death. “Bane of Virtue” is a good example of how Handel’s ebullience can overcome a dull lyric, and “As With Rosy Steps the Morn” is a gorgeous ode to both the real and metaphoric hope of dawn—something Romans and Christians would applaud.

Two Roman soldiers, Didymus and Septimius, offer a fascinating contrast. Both are charged with persecuting the helpless offenders, and though their consciences are torn, only Didymus rebels. His friend Septimius, who eventually witnesses the execution of Theodora and Didymus, is all the more compelling because of his failure to act. His luminous aria, “Descend, kind pity,” shows his truest self, and his pain is familiar to anyone who’s ever seen the light and turned away.

Recommended Recording: Theodora: Gritton, Bickley, Blaze, Agnew, A. Smith, N. Davies, Gabrieli Consort and Players, McCreesh.

” If Vermeer could sing this would be it. AND not only is her singing beyond heavenly..her onstage performance and countenance are also so amazing. Can this be equaled? maybe…..surpassed? doubt it.”]

as with rosy steps the morn

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson: In Memoriam

“Fervor”

by Alex Ross

The New Yorker, Sept. 25, 2006.

On the day before the Fourth of July, the mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson died of complications from breast cancer, at the age of fifty-two. News of her passing aroused little interest outside the classical-music world, since she was hardly a household name, and lacked even the intermittently twinkling, Sunday-morning-television stardom achieved by the likes of Renée Fleming and Yo-Yo Ma. She recorded infrequently in later years; she was shy about being interviewed; she had no press agent. Her fame consisted of an ever-widening swath of ardor and awe that she left in her wake whenever she sang. Among those who had been strongly affected by her work, there was a peculiarly intense kind of grief.

I was one of those people. In recent years, I found it hard to assume a pose of critical distance from this artist, even though I never got closer to her than Row H. In the days after she died, I tried to write about her, and failed. It felt wrong to call her “great” and “extraordinary,” or to throw around diva-worship words like “goddess” and “immortal,” because those words placed her on a pedestal, whereas the warmth in her voice always brought her close. Nonetheless, empty superlatives will have to do. She was the most remarkable singer I ever heard. She was incapable of giving a routine performance—I saw her twelve times, and each appearance had something explosively distinctive about it—and her career took the form of a continuous ascent. New Yorkers saw her for the final time last November, when she came to town with the Boston Symphony to perform “Neruda Songs,” composed by her husband, Peter Lieberson. She sang that night with such undiminished power that it seemed as though she would be around forever. Then she was gone, leaving the apex vacant.

She was born Lorraine Hunt, in San Francisco, the daughter of two exacting Bay Area music teachers. She grew up studying piano, violin, and viola, settling on the viola as her main instrument. She made relatively few public appearances as a singer in her youth, but when she did she invariably caught people’s attention. At a concert by the Oakland Youth Orchestra, in 1972, she stepped forward to deliver an aria from Saint-Saëns’s “Samson and Delilah,” and Charles Shere, in a perceptive review for the Oakland Tribune, described a now familiar spell being cast for perhaps the first time: “She simply stood there and sang, hardly even opening her mouth, with an even range, secure high notes, and marvelous control of dynamics in the swells.”

By 1979, she was the principal violist of the Berkeley Symphony. When the orchestra decided to mount a production of “Hansel and Gretel” at San Quentin State Prison, she volunteered for the role of Hansel. Under these fittingly unconventional circumstances she made her operatic début. She took up singing full time while studying in Boston in the early eighties, drawing notice first for her precisely expressive accounts of Bach cantatas at Emmanuel Church and then for her work in radical opera productions, by Peter Sellars, of Handel’s “Giulio Cesare in Egitto” and Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.” She rose to fame in Europe in the mid-nineties, mainly on the strength of an instantly legendary performance in Sellars’s production of Handel’s “Theodora” at the Glyndebourne Festival, in 1996. She made a belated Metropolitan Opera début in 1999, in John Harbison’s “The Great Gatsby.” The ovations that greeted her Dido in “Les Troyens” at the Met, in 2003, signified her assumption of diva status.

“Lorraine’s a bit of a nut,” people in the music business used to say. They were referring to her Northern California nature—her spiritual pursuits, her interest in astrology, her enthusiasm for alternative medicine. She sometimes unnerved her colleagues with her raucous sense of humor and her braying laugh. In retrospect, her alleged eccentricities seem essential to the evolution of her art. She broke through the façade of cool professionalism that too often prevails in the classical world, showing the kind of unchecked fervor that is more often associated with the greatest pop, jazz, and gospel singers. She was often compared to Maria Callas, but she might have been a shade closer to Mahalia Jackson.

The voice was primally beautiful, rich in tone and true in pitch. It had a wonderful way of materializing from the instrumental background, as if from the ether. In “Ombra mai fù,” from Handel’s “Xerxes,” the first note begins like an extra resonance around the strings. There was something calming and consoling about the mere fact of that sound. “Time itself stopped to listen,” Richard Dyer wrote in his obituary for the Boston Globe. Central to the singer’s repertory was a group of arias that I think of as her benedictions, her laying on of hands: “Ombra mai fù,” with which she made an overpowering first impression on New York operagoers in City Opera’s 1997 production of “Xerxes”; “As with rosy steps the morn,” from “Theodora,” which she made into an anthem of beatitude; Bach’s “Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen,” which, in an uncomfortably haunting Sellars staging, she sang while attired in a hospital gown; and the African-American spiritual “Deep River,” her signature encore. Listening closely, you could hear how immaculately crafted these performances were. Their emotional transparency was rooted in the fact that each expressive inflection was joined seamlessly to the next.

Loveliness was only the point of departure. She could also communicate passion and pain and a fearsome kind of anger. Her Xerxes whipped around to deliver an up-against-the-wall tirade in “You are spiteful, perverse, and insulting.” There was an apocalyptic quality to her rendition of “La Anunciación,” her centerpiece aria in John Adams’s Christmas oratorio, “El Niño.” When she sang Britten’s cantata “Phaedra” at the New York Philharmonic, she froze listeners in their seats with her high monotone chant of the words “I stand alone.” And as Irene, a spiritual leader of the martyrdom-bound Christians in “Theodora,” she made her voice into a kind of moral weapon. There is a DVD of the Glyndebourne “Theodora”—it is one of three essential recordings, the others being the Nonesuch CD of two Bach cantatas and the Avie CD of Handel arias—and the pivotal moment comes in the air “Bane of virtue, nurse of passions . . . Such is, prosperity, thy name.” In other words, money kills the soul. The phrase “thy name” is sung eighteen times, and by the end the voice is seared around the edges, raised up like a flaming sword. Deployed in the right way, this sound could bring down a government.

Having run the gamut from angelic serenity to angelic wrath, this most complete of singers concluded her career with a very human demonstration of love. She met Peter Lieberson in the summer of 1997, on the occasion of the première of his opera “Ashoka’s Dream,” in Santa Fe. They fell in love and eventually married, and Lieberson began to write with his wife’s voice in mind. By reputation a brilliant practitioner of twelve-tone technique, he had always had a secret yen for sensuous, late-Romantic harmony, and in “Neruda Songs” that desire came rushing to the surface. This is some of the most unabashedly lyrical music that any American composer has produced since Gershwin. It is also courageously personal music, the choice of Neruda poems seeming to acknowledge the fragility of Lorraine’s health. The final song, “Sonnet XCII,” begins, heartbreakingly, with the words “My love, if I die and you don’t—” The music is centered on a lullaby-like melody in G major, and it has the atmosphere of a motionless summer day. The vocal line ends on a B, and afterward the same note is held for two slow beats by the violas, as if they were holding the hand of the singer who came from their ranks. The composer is holding her hand, too. The last word is “Amor.”

1- Recit: ‘Ah! Whither should we fly, or fly from whom?’
2- Aria: ‘As with rosy steps the morn’
3- Recit: ‘O bright example of all goodness!’
4- Aria: ‘Bane of virtue, nurse of passions’
5- Recit: ‘The clouds begin to veil the hemisphere’
6- Aria: ‘Defend her Heav’n!’ lyrics
7- Aria: ‘Lord, to Thee each night & day’
8- Recit: ‘She’s gone, disdaining liberty & life’
9- ‘New scenes of joy’

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I know this now. Every man gives his life for what he believes. Every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing yet they give their lives to that little or nothing. One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. And then it is gone. But to sacrifice what you are and live without belief, that's more terrible than dying.--

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Beannacht

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

John O'Donohue, Echoes of Memory