06 November 2020

‘A rehearsal within time,
for the age beyond time …
strife, evil and oppression’

The Stadttempel synagogue in Vienna … Franz Schubert produced a setting in Hebrew of Psalm 92 for synagogue (Photograph courtesy Jews of New York)

Patrick Comerford

Following Monday night’s on the Stadttempel, the only surviving pre-war synagogue in Vienna, I have written about the synagogue and about Franz Schubert, who produced a setting in Hebrew of Psalm 92, Tov Lehodot La’Adonai or Lecha Dodi (‘It is good to give thanks to the Lord’), for the synagogue on Seitenstettengasse in Vienna.

Schubert is the only great composer before the 20th century to compose a setting in Hebrew of the liturgy for the synagogue. But it is interesting to understand when he was commissioned to produce a setting of Psalm 92.

In the Authorised Prayer Book, one of two prayerbooks that I regularly use for prayers and reflections on Friday evenings, the former Chief Rabbi, Lord (Jonathan) Sacks, describes Psalm 92 as ‘a song for the Sabbath Day.’

Lord Sacks recalls that by the 12th century, the custom existed to say Psalm 92 as a song of welcome to the Shabbat. He says this psalm was understood by the Sages as ‘a song for the time to come, for the day which will be Shabbat and rest in life everlasting.’

The Tzfat mystics, including Rabbi Isaac Luria, developed the custom of saying special psalms and songs of welcome to Shabbat, including six extra psalms (95-99 and 29), before singing Psalm 92.

Lord Sacks says Shabbat is ‘not merely a day of rest, it is a rehearsal within time, for the age beyond time when humanity, guided by the call of God, moves beyond strife, evil and oppression, to create a world of harmony, respecting the integrity of creation as God’s work, and the human person as God’s image.’

He continues: ‘At that time people looking back at history will see that though evil flourished “like grass”, it was short-lived, while the righteous grow slowly but stand tall “like the cedar of Lebanon.” Because our time perspective is short, we seem to inhabit a world n which evil prevails. Were we able to see history as a whole, we would know that good wins the final victory; in the long run justice prevails.’

Psalm 92 (NRSVA):

1 It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
2 to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
and your faithfulness by night,
3 to the music of the lute and the harp,
to the melody of the lyre.
4 For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work;
at the works of your hands I sing for joy.
5 How great are your works, O Lord!
Your thoughts are very deep!
6 The dullard cannot know,
the stupid cannot understand this:
7 though the wicked sprout like grass
and all evildoers flourish,
they are doomed to destruction for ever,
8 but you, O Lord, are on high for ever.
9 For your enemies, O Lord,
for your enemies shall perish;
all evildoers shall be scattered.

10 But you have exalted my horn like that of the wild ox;
you have poured over me fresh oil.
11 My eyes have seen the downfall of my enemies;
my ears have heard the doom of my evil assailants.

12 The righteous flourish like the palm tree,
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
13 They are planted in the house of the Lord;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
14 In old age they still produce fruit;
they are always green and full of sap,
15 showing that the Lord is upright;
he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

Shabbat Shalom

‘The righteous … grow like a cedar in Lebanon’ (Psalm 92: 12) … a young girl with a violin and her friend beneath a cedar tree at Curraghchase Forest Park near Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

A new experiment
with a once forgotten
opportunity on YouTube

How was I going to save and share memories from two years ago of 45 seconds on the Grand Canal in Venice? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I have started in the last week or so to experiment with building up my own YouTube channel.

I had become quite adept in recent years in developing my use of other social media platforms, including my own blog, and my Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest pages – and, sometimes, even managing to link them.

But YouTube seemed to keep avoiding my attention until recently.

I have had a YouTube account since 2011, and became aware of the potential of YouTube when David Moore interviewed me in the chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, early in 2015 for a series of five short three- to eight-minute films about my life, my ministry, my values and my family connections with Lichfield.

It is not that I had ignored YouTube since then – quite the opposite. Like many people, I have used it to listen to music, catch up on short documentaries, hear other people’s sermons, or watch the occasional movie.

I rediscovered YouTube during the recent pandemic lockdowns as a way to keep up my daily walking average as I paced around the rectory gardens, listening to music or talks and having my mind broadened.

In recent months, as the lockdown has returned in different stages and with varying intensities, I started to record my Sunday sermons and to post them on different platforms. Soon, I found the Facebook viewings of Sunday sermons could total 200, 300 or even more. It was a viewing audience I had never expected, and it surpassed all my expectations.

More people were watching and listening to my sermons on Facebook pages during the lockdown than were reading them on my blog, and countless more were watching and listening than would ever hear them in church on a Sunday morning.

For some time, I had also been posting short videos on Facebook with a theme of ‘30 seconds’ – 30 seconds on a beach, by a riverbank, or in the countryside, or the occasional video collection of photographs that had been put together by Google.

But there is a problem with Facebook videos and recordings. They are there for a few days … and then they are gone. Few people are going to scroll through their feed for a week or more to find the previous Sunday’s sermon or 30 seconds from the beach in Ballybunion or by the River Blackwater in Cappoquin. I know how to find them in my own Facebook files, but it is difficult for anyone else to … and, in any case, who is going to bother?

Longer videos seldom appear as an option for reposting as a memory on Facebook. In addition, recordings take up a lot of space on my phone. If I wanted to save them, and allow other people to find them, I wondered, how I could archive them?

I was then reminded of my own almost-forgotten and much-neglected YouTube channel that had been dormant since 2011.

I began with a sermon recorded for Nagasaki Day, 9 August 2020, recorded in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, for the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

In all, I have recovered five sermons, mainly since October: 9 August 2020, 11 October 2020, 18 October 2020, 25 October 2020 and 1 November 2020.

But I have also recovered some video clips from my travels in Ireland and in Europe, such as 30 seconds by the Blackwater in Cappoquin, 35 seconds on the River Deel at sunset in Askeaton, 30 seconds of sunset in Rethymnon, 45 seconds on the Grand Canal in Venice, 30 seconds by the seafront in Thessaloniki, and a minute of Klezmer music in Kazimierz, the historic Jewish quarter in Krakow.

As I experimented with my newly-rediscovered YouTube channel, I also saved those five interviews in Lichfield with David Moore, and started experimenting with making my own themed video-clips with photographs taken over the years, including a collection of photographs from Saint John’s Hospital in Lichfield, a summer day in Tamworth, Comberford and Lichfield, Lichfield at night, Vicars Close in Lichfield, and a stroll around Comberford village, between Lichfield and Tamworth in Staffordshire.

In addition, I have added a playlist of those five short films made by David Moore in association with the local history and environment groups, Lichfield Discovered and the Friends of Sandfields Pumping Station, and with the hospitality of Canon Andrew Gorham, then Master of Saint John’s Hospital, and the staff and residents of Saint John’s:

A Self Defining Moment, first published on 21 January 2015, when I talk to Dave Moore talk about my own self-defining moment, and the scenic route I took to ordination and priesthood;

Lichfield and the Comerfords, published on 21 January 2015, when I talk to Dave Moore about my connection with Lichfield and my links with the Comberford family;

The Vision, the third, published on 26 January 2015, and has been described by Dave Moore as a ‘very powerful and moving film,’ when I talk about my grandfather, Stephen Comerford, and the impact on him of World War I;

The Causes of War, published on 12 February 2015, in which I talk about the causes of war, and the impact of nationalism;

Humanity, the fifth and final film in the series, when I talk to David about those personal feelings that define my views of humanity, and how I answered the call to ordained ministry in the Anglican tradition.

The pandemic lockdown has also prevented me from visiting the school in Rathkeale, apart from meetings of the Board of Management. But now YouTube provides another fresh opportunity of making those links.

These are small beginnings. But this is an interesting experiment, and it is work in progress.

More people watch and listen to my sermons on Facebook and on YouTube than ae reading them on my blog or hearing them in church on a Sunday morning