11 August 2022
Praying with USPG and the hymns of
Vaughan Williams: Thursday 11 August 2022
The Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today remembers Saint Clare of Assisi, Founder of the Order of Minoresses or Poor Clares (1193-1253), with a Lesser Festival, and John Henry Newman, Priest and Tractarian (1890), with a Commemoration.
Saint Clare was born in 1193 in Assisi of a wealthy family, and caught the joy of a new vision of the gospel from Saint Francis’s preaching. Escaping from home, first to the Benedictines and then to a Béguine-style group, she chose a contemplative way of life when she founded her own community, which lived in corporate poverty understood as dependence on God, with a fresh, democratic lifestyle. Clare became the first woman to write a religious Rule for women, and in it showed great liberty of spirit in dealing with earlier prescriptions. During the long years after Francis’s death, she supported his earlier companions in their desire to remain faithful to his vision, as she did. Some of her last words were: ‘Blessèd be God, for having created me.’
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.’
John 15: 4-10 (NRSVA):
[Jesus said:] 4 ‘Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.’
Today’s reflection: ‘The Five Mystical Songs,’ 4, ‘The Call’
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 [11 August 2022], I have chosen the hymn ‘The Call’ 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.
The first four songs are personal meditations in which the soloist takes a key role. In the fourth song, ‘The Call,’ which I have chosen for my reflections this morning [11 August 2022], the chorus does not feature at all.
Although this poem has been set to music several times, the setting by Vaughan Williams in his ‘Five Mystical Songs’ is undoubtedly the best known. Herbert placed the title ‘The Call’ over the poem in his collection The Temple, so Vaughan Williams adopted it for his setting.
This poem is included in the Irish Church Hymnal as the hymn ‘Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life’ (No 610), where it combines the first half of the version in BBC Songs of Praise (1997) with the second half in The Cambridge Hymnal (1967).
This short poem is simple and direct, and it is composed almost completely with words of one syllable.
Herbert’s poetry abounds with Scriptural allusions, drawing on both the Old Testament and the New Testament, as well as references to the liturgy of the Church of England. In this short poem, we find references to Revelation 22: 26: ‘Come, Lord Jesus …’ ‘Come’ is the call of the poet to God, but it is also the response of the poet to a call from God.
The first stanza is also a working out of Christ’s self-description in which he tells Saint Thomas that he is ‘the way, the truth and the life’ (John 14: 6). But accepting and believing this means living a life that leads to the Cross.
The second stanza has allusions to Luke 8: 16, to the banquet of the Eucharist, and to the wedding at Cana (John 2: 10).
The third stanza summarises the qualities that characterise the soul’s intimate relationship with Christ, with the final line bringing together the three keywords, Joy, Love and Heart.
4, ‘The Call’
Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a Way, as gives us breath:
Such a Truth, as ends all strife:
Such a Life, as killeth death.
Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a Light, as shows a feast:
Such a Feast, as mends in length:
Such a Strength, as makes his guest.
Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a Joy, as none can move:
Such a Love, as none can part:
Such a Heart, as joyes in love.
God of peace,
who in the poverty of the blessèd Clare
gave us a clear light to shine in the darkness of this world:
give us grace so to follow in her footsteps
that we may, at the last, rejoice with her
in your eternal glory;
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:
who gave such grace to your servant Clare
that she served you with singleness of heart
and loved you above all things:
help us, whose communion with you
has been renewed in this sacrament,
to forsake all that holds us back from following Christ and to grow into his likeness from glory to glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Thursday 11 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 for university students and young adults finding their way in life. May they be guided by the Holy Spirit in all they do.
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