05 August 2022

‘We are one, after all, You and I:
Together we suffer, together exist’

The Atomic Bomb Dome, Hiroshima

Patrick Comerford

Tomorrow marks the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima 77 years ago on 6 August 1945. During the week, I have been listening once again to Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony No 3 (Kaddish).

The composer Leonard Bernstein was a peace advocate who travelled the world to share his music in joy and peace. Even in the later years of his life, he continued to share music in moments of historical importance.

On the 40th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, Bernstein travelled back to Japan in 1985, to attend the Hiroshima War Memorial event as part of his ‘Journey of Peace’ series of concerts.

Later in the evening Bernstein performed his own Kaddish. It was originally dedicated to John F Kennedy after his assassination and it is named after the Jewish prayer chanted at every synagogue service.

Before a full house of 1,800, Bernstein conducted the European Community Youth Orchestra in moving performances of Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No 3 and his own Symphony No 3 (Kaddish), composed on the theme of a prayer for peace.

The Japanese audience was deeply moved, and people applauded Bernstein for 10 minutes at the end.

He said, ‘I hope it does some good to grant us the wisdom that war is obsolete and that we should stop all this nonsense once and for all.’

For Jews everywhere, the word Kaddish (‘Sanctification’) has a highly emotional significance. It is the name of the prayer recited for the dead at the graveside, on memorial occasions and at all synagogue services. Yet, there is not a single mention of death in the entire prayer. On the contrary, it uses the word chayei or chayim (‘life’) three times. Indeed, the Kaddish is a series of paeans in praise of God.

In his Kaddish Symphony, Bernstein exploits the dualistic overtones of the prayer: its popular connotation as a kind of requiem, and its celebration of like and creation. He does this both in his speaker’s text and in his music.

In the original version, the choice of a woman as the Speaker and as vocal soloist – singing sacred words traditionally reserved for men in the synagogue – was in itself a dualistic decision. The woman in the symphony represents that aspect of humanity that knows God through intuition, and can come closest to Divinity, a concept at odds with the male principal of organised rationality.

The Speaker mourns, in advance, humanity’s possible imminent suicide. At the same time, it is observed that people cannot destroy themselves as long as they identify themselves with God.

There is a particularly anguished outburst by the Speaker in the middle of the Din-Torah (trial-scene or ‘Judgement by Law’) in which God is accused of a breach of faith with humanity.

This scene has a Biblical precedent in the story of Job and also has its roots in folk such as the legend of Rabbi Levi Yitzhok of Berditchev. Bernstein strongly felt the peculiar Jewishness of this ‘I-Thou’ relationship in the whole concept of the Jew’s love of God, from Moses to the Hasidim, there is a deep personal intimacy that allows things to be said to God that are almost inconceivable in other religions.

This change is manifested by agonized, non-tonal music which culminates in an eight-part choral cadenza of vast complexity. But immediately after this, the Speaker begs God’s forgiveness and tries to be comforting; and the ensuing lullaby is explicitly tonal, with gentle modulations.

At the climax of the Symphony, another painful spoken moment is followed by a gradual clarification and resolution into G-flat major.

The concluding words are:

O my Father, Lord of Light!
Beloved Majesty: my Image, my Self!
We are one, after all, You and I:
Together we suffer, together exist,
And forever will recreate each other.
Recreate, recreate each other!
Suffer, and recreate each other!

Shabbat Shalom

Praying with USPG and the hymns of
Vaughan Williams: Friday 5 August 2022

‘… if I should go where all is dark, / he makes my darkness light’ … darkness settles on the River Ouse at Wolverton Mill (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose music is celebrated throughout this year’s Proms season.

In my prayer diary for these weeks I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a hymn or another piece of music by Vaughan Williams, often drawing, admittedly, on previous postings on the composer;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

The calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today (5 August) remembers Oswald, King of Northumbria, Martyr (642), with a Lesser Festival.

The Gospel reading at the Eucharist in Exciting Holiness this morning is:

John 16: 29-33 (NRSVA):

29 His disciples said, “Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God.” 31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. 33 I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”

‘He knew my days before all days, / before I came to be’ … sunset at Fintramore, near Miltown Malbay, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Today’s reflection: ‘There is no moment of my life’

Ralph Vaughan Williams was the composer of symphonies, chamber music, opera, choral music, and film scores, a collector of English folk music and song. With Percy Dearmer, he co-edited the English Hymnal, in which he included many folk song arrangements as hymn tunes, and several of his own original compositions.

This morning [5 August 2022], I have chosen the hymn ‘There is no moment of my life,’ by the late Father William Brian Foley (1919-2000), which is set to the tune ‘Newbury’ in the Irish Church Hymnal (No 19).

This arrangement of ‘Newbury’ by Vaughan Williams is also used in some hymnals as a setting for the hymn ‘Jerusalem, thou city blest’ (see New English Hymnal, No 228) and ‘Ye high and lowly, rich and poor’ by Anne Steele.

This tune is one of the folk melodies arranged by Vaughan Williams. He found the tune in a collection published by Miss MG Arkwright in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society. There it was used for a Christmas carol, ‘There’s six good days set in a week,’ also known as the ‘Hampshire Mummers’ Carol.’

Vaughan Williams harmonised the melody for the English Hymnal in 1906, and set it to ‘The Maker of the sun and moon’ by Laurence Housman (1865-1959), who I was wriring about on Wednesday morning:

The Maker of the sun and moon,
The Maker of our earth,
Lo! late in time, a fairer boon,
Himself is brought to birth!

How blest was all creation then,
When God so gave increase;
And Christ, to heal the hearts of men,
Brought righteousness and peace!

No star in all the heights of heaven
But burned to see Him go;
Yet unto earth alone was given
His human form to know.

His human form, by man denied,
Took death for human sin:
His endless love, through faith descried,
Still lives the world to win.

O perfect love, outpassing sight,
O light beyond our ken,
Come down through all the world tonight,
And heal the hearts of men!

This morning’s hymn, ‘There is no moment of my life,’ which is set in the Irish Church Hymnal to ‘Newbury’ by Vaughan Williams, was written by the late Brian Foley. He was born into an Irish family in Liverpool, where he later served as a Roman Catholic priest from 1945.

This hymn is based on the principal theme of Psalm 139, and is one of 14 hymns by Foley in the New Catholic Hymnal (1971). Foley once wrote that he tried to base all his hymn writing ‘as far as possible on scripture and theology.’

It has an elegant simplicity and a perfect rhythmical structure. In some hymnals it is set ‘My Life in God’ by Elizabeth Poston, but it has been set to other tunes, notably ‘Gerontius’ by JB Dykes (1823-1876).

There is no moment of my life,
no place where I may go,
no action which God does not see,
no thought he does not know.

Before I speak, my words are known,
and all that I decide.
To come or go: God knows my choice,
and makes himself my guide.

If I should close my eyes to him,
he comes to give me sight;
if I should go where all is dark,
he makes my darkness light.

He knew my days before all days,
before I came to be;
he keeps me, loves me, in my ways;
no lover such as he.

Saint Oswald (left) and Saint Aidan (right) in a stained-glass window in the Chapter House, Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Thomas Quine/Wikipedia CC BY-SA 2.0)

Today’s Prayer:

The Collect:

Lord God almighty,
who so kindled the faith of King Oswald with your Spirit
that he set up the sign of the cross in his kingdom
and turned his people to the light of Christ:
grant that we, being fired by the same Spirit,
may always bear our cross before the world
and be found faithful servants of the gospel;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

At the annual conference of the USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) in High Leigh last week, we were updated on the work of USPG’s partners in Ukraine, Russia and with USPG’s partners with Ukrainian refugees. The theme in the USPG prayer diary this week is ‘Refugee Support in Poland,’ and was introduced by the Revd David Brown, Chaplain of the Anglican Church in Poland.

Friday 5 August 2022:

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

We pray for the countries neighbouring Ukraine, that they respond to the refugee crisis with warmth and humanity.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org