Christmas 8: Order my beginning

Cornelis_de_Vos_-_Mysteries_of_the_Rosary,_Presentation_of_Jesus_at_the_temple (1)
Cornelis de Vos, “Mysteries of the Rosary: Presentation of Jesus at the Temple”, 1620

Another year begins, and today we have a special piece of music to see in the new year: Bach’s Cantata for New Year’s Day, Part IV of his spectacular Christmas Oratorio. This cantata takes as its theme the presentation of Jesus at the Temple, but as often happens with Bach the story is explored through a number of voices who apply the story as aptly to our hearts today as for Bach’s hearers in his day. You can read the text and its translation here.


Order my beginning: For New Year’s Day

When they took him, on the eighth day,
as required by law,
with their offering of pigeons
(an allowance for the poor),

there was nothing about them
to startle the eye,
the custom being usual,
his name ordinary.

Yet the many other Yeshuas
in Bethlehem alone
were named looking backwards,
to a hero long gone.

This child looked forward.
His saving acts stood
in the imminent future,
with an immanent God.

No wonder the marvel,
the gathering throng,
the prophecies spoken,
the singing of songs,

and me on the sidelines,
praising and yet
reluctant to settle,
still hedging my bets.

Does salvation start here?
No, it’s as ancient as Him,
but it reignites dulled hearts
and lights growing dim.

O order my days here,
my thoughts and my sight.
My years will be nothing
save He sets them right.

Clutching at Light: For Leonard Cohen

…everything that is illuminated becomes a light…
(Saint Paul)

Too dark, Leonard.
Just after Solstice, the days still short,
the dark surprised me in its early arrival,
and your first song grabbed me
with its midnight-pitch grip,
and Isaac bound by demons,
crying, Here I am, Lord.

These days are dark enough; I
turned from you to Bach,
where even wintry Leipzig
could sing with counterpoint.
I did not want it darker. The darkness always gapes
and I have fought for life to prise
myself out from its grip.

Hineni, hineni.
A cry of what? Of pain?
I cry, I cry, out to the Light
to banish dark again.

Lent: Enough 1

Hold tight. Hold me tight:
what coverings I have sought,
     what fig-leaves,
cannot disguise my nakedness.
My shame burns garments – yet
You clothe in righteousness.
            Hold tight.
Hold me tight; You are enough,
yet I am afraid, and turn
to fig-leaves when rightly I should
   bathe myself in You.
O Lamb, my joy, my garment of blood,
               hold tight.
         O hold me tight.

J.S. Bach / Ich habe genug, BWV 8 (Herreweghe): https://youtu.be/XopQG0Gjgmo

Lent: The Wait, the Weight 6

Number days, yet know your days
     are kept in Him.
If He held stars, then He can hold
your dross, your deadened weight.

At dead-ends, wait. He makes
      all things well.
Hope can break, yet covenant
anchors days and ends.

Morning mends. The dross, the deadened weight
      of broken hope lifts.
When days are numbered, unencumbered
steadfast love holds tight.

[BWV 12] 06. Choral. Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan: https://youtu.be/3Il1YH2x280

Lent: The Wait, the Weight 1

Waves drag, anchor fails –
my God my God why

In this torpor, what lifts?
The heart, bird-like, hovers –
an albatross, a vulture?
Yet a dove dives deep and holds;
it coos what cannot be cried.

My God my God why
– too heavy for words, yet hands can be raised,
barely, above the waves.
This is enough. Moan, wail, cry.
Words are not needed where the Spirit has flight.

Trust, and open your drowning arms.

Lent: Man of Sorrows 4

Lay me down –

slow me down and lay me down

upon the Cross, in Jesus’ hands.

Slow my heart and silence all

the numb self-serving of my pleas;

stifle pride, unlock the clench

of fists deep in this fickle dust.

Lay me down, my soul;

lay down

my soul in Jesus’ hands. Their scars

have room enough for me.

 

Lent: Man of Sorrows 1

What fuels my pride is nothing like
what You gave up – true God, true man –
when you bowed as low as bowing goes,
    as low as heaven spans.

What strikes my face is feather-like
beside the spear that pierced Your side;
my burdens roll onto the floor
     beside the death You bore.

What mercy waits, my God, my God,
at bleeding, nailed, twisted feet,
is life abundant; this is death
     which, dying, we call life.

Lent: Humility 1

In praises, bow.
The dust heap is not your final home, yet He is king
and though a king He also bowed
and, humble, became dust.
So wait in dust, and bow.

And sing!
Such humble, unaffected fun befits the heirs
of one who danced the stars alight –
again! again! – in child’s constant joy.
Breathing into soil, He cherished soil;
rejoice; do not forget.

Do not forget His downward climb,
or His eyes turned in heavenward tears –
praise for truth revealed to babes;
anguish at the cup outstretched;
and always, Not my will but yours.
Bow at His feet and sing.

Bach Cantata, BWV 47 – 1.Chorus – Wer sich selbst erhöhet

Lent: New Song 1

Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord all the earth!…Tell of his salvation from day to day.
(Psalm 96:1, 2b)

Old songs rot in dead ears;
Old ruts of thought declare:
That was not me       I will try harder
         I had no choice
                That’s just the person that I am…

To fudge is human; to change is divine.
The former things are dying;
Listen to this newest song,
The freshest song to sound in years:
All your dead deeds will crumble, fade,
yet there’s a God who gladly saves
and in the stars’ ancient dust He calls forth light…

Turn; sing to Him from your dust heap
      and praise
your morning Son,
your great Ancient of Days…

J.S. Bach: Motet BWV 225 ‘Singet dem Herrn’ – Vocalconsort Berlin

Lent: Emmaus 1

” And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?'”
(Luke 24:25-26)

Slow to understand, the day turns to night.
Light dwindles, the length of days shortens;
have we time to hear His words?

Walk. The road is long, but your companion
stays as sun retreats and understanding hides.
Slow to understand, we turn:

we slow our hearts to hear.

J. S. Bach – Cantata “Bleib bei uns, denn es will Abend werden”