Monday, December 26, 2005

Celebrate the New Year at St James Cathedral

This coming New Year's Eve, a fantastic way to celebrate the New Year is the gorgeous Mozart at 250 at St James Cathedral in Seattle.

This concert features the 60-voice Cathedral Choir of St James, the organists Joseph Adam and Clint Craus, the beautiful voices of the Cathedral soloists, all directed by Dr James Savage--all singing and making music Mozart composed all through his life for the glory of God's Beauty!

It's Saturday 31 December 2005, at 11:00pm at St James, 9th & Marion, in Seattle. What a beautiful way to ring in and sing in the New Year!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Take Her to Sea!

And then the tale, at long last, begins.

A real story, a true story, like that of the Titanic. “On Saturday . . .”sings stanza 12. The true tale of the voyage and wreck of the Deutschland. And the origin and goal of the voyage—from Bremen to America—have their won romantic significance: it is the journey, the quest, the westward expansion, the “American-outward-bound” of the European nations and peoples for four hundred years before Hopkins’ own time. And even with all the details, facts, acts, events of European history, the one Big Story since about 1500 is “American-outward-bound”—a story also synonymous with the break-down of Christendom.

While the passengers believe they are going to America—to newness, to expansion, to freedom perhaps, to the new horizon of “American-outward-bound”—they little know they are doomed, that a fourth of the passengers would die and the others be irrevocably marked, like the survivors of the Titanic, by the forever-altered awareness, in horror, of mortality. Telling this tale as the symbolic meaning of modern European history is fitting, because the ideologies of the modern era—materialism, secularism, capitalism, communism, atheism,--all not only deny God but also deny Death, or rather, not deny Death but ignore Death even while promoting Death.

The chug-chugging along, full ahead, of a big modern engine-powered ship in westward transatlantic crossing is a terrific symbol of the spiritual condition of modern Europe. Of course, we don’t mean, nor did Hopkins, that there’s anything wrong about sea-travel; after all, Dante used the image of a boat all through his Comedy as the image of the soul, the human reality, the Church, and the spiritual life. But the modern powered-ship is rather like an airplane or a rocket—the wonder, near-divine, of modern Man; and something like September 11th or the Space Shuttle disaster, which reminds us of our mortality and fallibility, all the more strikingly glaring in the context of our arrogance. Though modern man be modern, he is no more divine than medieval or ancient man or even cave-man. Man is Man, or “dust!” Yet, yet once we admit Death, then we can start to see the reality of God’s love and blessing.

The 1875 voyage of the Deutschland was as real as the voyage of the Titanic—and on board were those nuns, fleeing the anti-Catholic laws of the newly united Germany (“Deutschland”, by the way, soon to be wrecked!). Thus Hopkins has set up, in this telling of the tale, a real thing which can carry the spiritual significance of the boat in Dante. What magic and what blessing will be in its telling!

On Saturday sailed from Bremen,
Take settler and seamen, tell men with women,
Two hundred souls in the round—
O Father, not under thy feathers nor ever as guessing
The goal was a shoal, of a fourth the doom to be drowned;
Yet did the dark side of the bay of thy blessing
Not vault them, the million of rounds of thy mercy not reeve even them in?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Death in the Wreck

The opening stanza of Hopkins' great poem's second part is about Death.

Death. A painful, ugly topic--yet a fact, a universal fact for every one of us.

This stanza, stanza 11, is a meditation on Death--putting the entire poem in the context of Death. "Dust!" is our universal, common destiny. Death is a real thing--metaphysical debates aside. Perhaps this is why tales of shipwreck are so effectively romantic--because a tale of a shipwreck mythologizes our common fate. We are all on the Titanic, all on the Deutschland.

Hopkins has Death speak and use the many names, many experiences, by which people encounter Death--sword, flange, rail, flame, fang, flood. But the image of the shipwreck is a powerful poetic image that puts us all on the deck of Death.

Perhaps that is why the greatest cheezey movie of all time--James Cameron's Titanic--was so powerful a film for so many millions of people. Despite the inelegant dialogue, the tale of Leonardo di Caprio & Kate Winslett on the Titanic was a kind of romantic universal myth of the situation of everyone--in the face of the fact of Death, the point is how we face it, what we do, how we act, to what and to whom do we give outselves. Some choose to struggle for life against everyone else, some with a few others; some make their art or their music, while some do their duty of rank or office; some kill thmselves in despair, some just get drunk; and some--Jack & Rose in the movie--offer themselves for each other in a self-sacrificial romantic Love that prefigures Christian love and Christ's sacrifice. No wonder Rose uses words like "He saved me."!

In the face of Death, Leo (Jack) & Kate (Rose) live for Love. Their romantic, secular example in Titanic is a myth for all of us: since we are all on the Titanic, since we are all, inevitably, ultimately, every one of us, going to die, thus how we face that absolutely real fact is the very existential definition of our lives. In Titanic, we weep with a grief that is Joy for Leo & Kate, for Jack & Rose, because in the face of Death they live for Love. And like Titanic, Hopkins' poem is of the same genre--in the face of Death, a Tall Nun calls out "O Christ, Christ, come quickly!" And like Titanic, Hopkins' poem, through exploring the most profoundly sad experience, ultimately expresses not only Hope but joyful, glorious Hope! But for that Hope to be truly Hopeful, we must first risk hopelessness in the real fact of Death. "All flesh is grass, and its beauty is the beauty of the flowers: the flowers wither, the grass fades, but the Word of the Lord remains forever!"

Hopkins' second part of the "Wreck" reminds us that in the midst of life we are on the deck of a sinking ship:

‘Some find me a sword; some
The flange and the rail; flame,
Fang, or flood’ goes Death on drum,
And storms bugle his fame.
But wé dream we are rooted in earth—Dust!
Flesh falls within sight of us, we, though our flower the same,
Wave with the meadow, forget that there must
The sour scythe cringe, and the blear share come.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Rest of the Wreck

Hopkins’ great Wreck of the Deutschland unveils the reality of Christ and the human person in the tale of the wreck of a ship, the Deutschland, in a storm in the Thames—a ship coming from Bremen en route to America. Amongst the passengers were a group of Franciscan nuns, exiled from Germany on account of the anti-Catholic German laws of the time. That their exile was also the hour of their death by drowning became a symbol for Hopkins of the reality of human life in our difficult world, but also an inspiring account of the nuns’ witness to Christ by unity with His cross.

As the First Part--the first ten stanzas--served as a kind of “First Principle and Foundation” or spiritual background of the encounter between God and the human person, so now the Second Part tells the story of the ship, the storm, the wreck, and the heroic witness of one of the nuns, whom we will call the Tall Nun, who calls out, “Christ, come quickly” at the climax of the poem.

Hans Urs von Balthasar pointed out in The Glory of the Lord:

“But the ultimate for Hopkins remains still his shipwreck poems, because here the foundering and shattering of all worldly images and symbols yield a final picture of the sacrament of the world: perishing and ascending to God—death as Resurrection: Resurrection not beyond death but in death. The nun on the foaming deck, who from the midst of the tumult of the elements cries ‘Christ, come quickly’—she cries to her Redeemer in and through the elements: ‘christens her wild-worst Best.’ The wreck is as a harvest (‘the goal was a shoal’); everything alive was washed away (‘lives at last were washing away’). Foundering in God—that is the high point of the poem—man finds nothing more to cling on to, not his longing nor reward nor Heaven nor any of God’s attributes, for beyond all that there is nothing but Him alone: ‘Ipse, the only one’—the self beyond any nature. Here the poet rejoices because the ‘heart right’ (cor rectum), the ‘single eye’ of the parable, is capable of the highest: to interpret the formless and unformable chaos of the night as form and in the senselessness of pure question to know the who and the why.”

So let’s explore this “Second Part” of Hopkins’ great poem as we await the coming of Christ!