09 August 2022

Praying with USPG and the hymns of
Vaughan Williams: Tuesday 9 August 2022

Saint Edith Stein by Phyllis Burke in Saint Teresa’s Church, Clarendon Street … she was murdered in Auschwitz 80 years ago on 9 August 1942 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the 77th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki on 9 August 1945. In many parts of the Roman Catholic Church, today also recalls Edith Stein (1891-1942), the Polish-German Jewish philosopher who became a Roman Catholic and a Carmelite nun, and who was murdered in Auschwitz during the Holocaust on this day 80 years ago, 9 August 1942.

The Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship remembers Mary Sumner (1828-1921), Founder of the Mothers’ Union, with a Lesser Festival today.

Later today, I plan to visit London. But, before this becomes a busy day, I am taking some time this morning for prayer and reflection.

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.’

‘Knock, and the door will be opened for you’ (Luke 11: 9) … a front door in Bore Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 11: 9-13 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 9 ‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’

Today’s reflection: ‘The Five Mystical Songs,’ 2, ‘I Got Me Flowers’

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 [9 August 2022], I have chosen the hymn ‘I Got Me Flowers’ by the 17th century Welsh-born English priest-poet George Herbert (1593-1633).

For the weekdays this week, I am reflecting on ‘The Five Mystical Songs,’ composed by Vaughan Williams between 1906 and 1911. He conducted the first performance of the completed work at the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester on 14 September 1911.

The work, taken as one, sets four poems by George Herbert from his collection The Temple: Sacred Poems (1633).

Many of George Herbert’s poems have become hymns that are well-known and well-loved by generations of Anglicans. They include ‘Let all the world in every corner sing,’ ‘Teach me, my God and King’ and ‘King of Glory, King of Peace.’

George Herbert was the Public Orator at Cambridge for eight years, and spent only three years as a priest before he died. He was a younger contemporary of Shakespeare, and lived at a time when the English language was expanding and developing its literary capacities, aided by the publication of the King James Version of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.

Like most Anglicans of his day, Herbert sought to steer a middle course between the Roman Catholics and the Puritans. Perhaps he appealed to Vaughan Williams because were both men were creatively preoccupied with that age-old conflict between God and World, Flesh and Spirit, Soul and Senses.

Vaughan Williams wrote his ‘Five Mystical Songs’ for a baritone soloist, with several choices for accompaniment: piano only; piano and string quintet; TTBB chorus, a cappella; and orchestra with optional SATB chorus, the choice Vaughan Williams used at the premiere.

Like George Herbert’s simple verse, the songs are fairly direct, but have the same intrinsic spirituality as the original text. The first four songs are personal meditations in which the soloist takes a key role. They were supposed to be performed together, as a single work, but the styles of each vary quite significantly.

Vaughan Williams has divided George Herbert’s poem ‘Easter ’into two parts to provide the first two songs, ‘Easter’ and ‘I Got Me Flowers.’

The first four songs are personal meditations in which the soloist takes a key role. Vaughan Williams has divided George Herbert’s poem Easter into two parts to provide the first two songs, ‘Easter’ and ‘I Got Me Flowers.’

I have chosen the second of these Five Mystical Songs, ‘I Got Me Flowers,’ for my meditation this morning [9 August 2022]. This is second part of George Herbert’s poem ‘Easter.’ The setting for ‘Easter’ by Vaughan Williams is elaborate in design and Michael Kennedy ascribes its richness of orchestral detail to ‘Elgarian prototypes.’

2, I Got Me Flowers

I got me flowers to strew thy way;
I got me boughs off many a tree:
But thou wast up by break of day,
And brought’st thy sweets along with thee.

The Sunne arising in the East.
Though he give light, and th’East perfume;
If they should offer to contest
With thy arising, they presume.

Can there be any day but this,
Though many sunnes to shine endeavour?
We count three hundred, but we misse:
There is but one, and that one ever.

‘Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? ’ (Luke 11: 11) … fish at a taverna in the harbour in Rethymnon, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer:

The Collect:

Faithful and loving God,
who called Mary Sumner to strive for the renewal of family life:
give us the gift of your Holy Spirit,
that through word, prayer and deed your family may be strengthened and your people served;
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.

The Post Communion Prayer:

from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name,
your servant Mary Sumner revealed your goodness in a life of tranquillity and service:
grant that we who have gathered in faith around this table
may like her know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge
and be filled with all your fullness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Tuesday 9 August 2022:

The theme in the USPG prayer diary this week is ‘International Youth Day.’ It was introduced on Sunday by Dorothy deGraft Johnson, a Law student from Ghana.

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

We pray that young people are increasingly recognised as the present rather than the future.

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

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