Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Holy Wednesday Poems: Account and In Black Despair and A Task

Here are three poems by Czeslaw Milosz. They are all about original sin, one way or another.


The history of my stupidity would fill many volumes.

Some would be devoted to acting against consciousness,
Like the flight of a moth which, had it known,
Would have tended nevertheless toward the candle's flame.

Others would deal with ways to silence anxiety,
The little whisper which, though it is a warning, is ignored.

I would deal separately with satisfaction and pride,
The time when I was among their adherents
Who strut victoriously, unsuspecting.

But all of them would have one subject, desire,
If only my own—but no, not at all; alas,
I was driven because I wanted to be like others.
I was afraid of what was wild and indecent in me.

The history of my stupidity will not be written.
For one thing, it's late. And the truth is laborious.

In Black Despair

In grayish doubt and black despair,
I drafted hymns to the earth and the air,
pretending to joy, although I lacked it.
The age had made lament redundant.

So here's the question -- who can answer it --
Was he a brave man or a hypocrite?

A Task

In fear and trembling, I think I would fulfill my life
Only if I brought myself to make a public confession
Revealing a sham, my own and of my epoch:
We were permitted to shriek in the tongue of dwarfs and
But pure and generous words were forbidden
Under so stiff a penalty that whoever dared to pronounce one
Considered himself as a lost man.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Holy Tuesday Poem: Isaiah LXIII

I wonder what it would be like to actually be able to read the prophets as poetry. With a good deal of Hebraic study we can approximate it - but most of us are still studying the words rather being washed over by the words as happens to us in our native tongue. And when you really can't be sure how the words were even pronounced, how can you hear the poetry? (When our society and culture is nothing but a memory how many students of English poesy will marvel at the stupid poet who tried to rhyme "night" with "kite" when obviously they don't rhyme at all?)

Perhaps this poem by Phillis Wheatley is what the doomed inhabitants of Jerusalem heard and felt when Isaiah preached.

Isaiah LXIII

Say, heav'nly muse, what king or mighty God,
That moves sublime from Idumea's road?
In Bosrah's dies, with martial glories join'd,
His purple vesture waves upon the wind.
Why thus enrob'd delights he to appear
In the dread image of the Pow'r of war?
Compres'd in wrath the swelling wine-press groan'd,
It bled, and pour'd the gushing purple round.

"Mine was the act," th' Almighty Saviour said,
And shook the dazzling glories of his head,
"When all forsook I trod the press alone,
"And conquer'd by omnipotence my own;
"For man's release sustain'd the pond'rous load,
"For man the wrath of an immortal God:
"To execute th' Eternal's dread command
"My soul I sacrific'd with willing hand;
"Sinless I stood before the avenging frown,
"Atoning thus for vices not my own."

His eye the ample field of battle round
Survey'd, but no created succours found;
His own omnipotence sustain'd the right,
His vengeance sunk the haughty foes in night;
Beneath his feet the prostrate troops were spread,
And round him lay the dying, and the dead.

Great God, what light'ning flashes from thine eyes?
What pow'r withstands if thou indignant rise?

Against thy Zion though her foes may rage,
And all their cunning, all their strength engage,
Yet she serenely on thy bosom lies,
Smiles at their arts, and all their force defies.

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Poem for Holy Monday: Soldiers Bathing

Yesterday's poem was common Holy Week fare. For today, here is a poem that is certainly well-known, but unlike Donne's work, this was not written explicitly for the purpose of Christian meditation. But I think it's certainly worth pondering this Holy Week. - +HRC

Soldiers Bathing

By F.T. Prince

The sea at evening moves across the sand.

Under a reddening sky I watch the freedom of a band

Of soldiers who belong to me. Stripped bare

For bathing in the sea, they shout and run in the warm air;

Their flesh worn by the trade of war, revives

And my mind towards the meaning of it strives.

All's pathos now. The body that was gross,

Rank, ravenous, disgusting in the act or in repose,

All fever, filth and sweat, its bestial strength

And bestial decay, by pain and labour grows at length

Fragile and luminous. 'Poor bare forked animal,'

Conscious of his desires and needs and flesh that rise and fall,

Stands in the soft air, tasting after toil

The sweetness of his nakedness: letting the sea-waves coil

Their frothy tongues about his feet, forgets

His hatred of the war, its terrible pressure that begets

A machinery of death and slavery,

Each being a slave and making slaves of others: finds that he

Remembers his old freedom in a game

Mocking himself, and comically mimics fear and shame.

He plays with death and animality;

And reading in the shadows of his pallid flesh, I see

The idea of Michelangelo's cartoon

Of soldiers bathing, breaking off before they were half done

At some sortie of the enemy, an episode

Of the Pisan wars with Florence. I remember how he showed

Their muscular limbs that clamber from the water,

And heads that turn across the shoulder, eager for the slaughter,

Forgetful of their bodies that are bare,

And hot to buckle on and use the weapons lying there.

–And I think too of the theme another found

When, shadowing men's bodies on a sinister red ground

Another Florentine, Pollaiuolo,

Painted a naked battle: warriors, straddled, hacked the foe,

Dug their bare toes into the ground and slew

The brother-naked man who lay between their feet and drew

His lips back from his teeth in a grimace.

They were Italians who knew war's sorrow and disgrace

And showed the thing suspended, stripped: a theme

Born out of the experience of war's horrible extreme

Beneath a sky where even the air flows

With lacrimae Christi. For that rage, that bitterness, those blows,

That hatred of the slain, what could they be

But indirectly or directly a commentary

On the Crucifixion? And the picture burns

With indignation and pity and despair by turns,

Because it is the obverse of the scene

Where Christ hangs murdered, stripped, upon the Cross. I mean,

That is the explanation of its rage.

And we too have our bitterness and pity that engage

Blood, spirit, in this war. But night begins,

Night of the mind: who nowadays is conscious of our sins?

Though every human deed concerns our blood,

And even we must know, what nobody has understood,

That some great love is over all we do,

And that is what has driven us to this fury, for so few

Can suffer all the terror of that love:

The terror of that love has set us spinning in this groove

Greased with our blood.

These dry themselves and dress,

Combing their hair, forget the fear and shame of nakedness.

Because to love is frightening we prefer

The freedom of our crimes. Yet, as I drink the dusky air,

I feel a strange delight that fills me full,

Strange gratitude, as if evil itself were beautiful,

And kiss the wound in thought, while in the west

I watch a streak of red that might have issued from Christ's breast.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Holy Week Poetry

God is a poet - his words and phrases and rhymes are living men and the history of nations. Poetry is therefore the highest human art - an imitation of God. The best preaching is, as Fr. Petersen has said, on the edge of poetry.

(As an aside: This is why I secretly like many hymns of Anglican origin better than our great Lutheran heritage of Luther, Niccolai, Gerhardt, etc. The thing is, I'm a native English speaker and I love the poetry, the images and turns of phrase. The best translations of Gerhardt just don't ring in English as something composed in English by a capable poet. This is yet another reason to learn German - and why I keep trying to improve my own feeble understanding of that tongue.)

For this Holy Week, Gottesdienst Online will post a poem or two each day to aid our readers with sermon preparation, meditation, devotion, etc. Please leave your own Holy Week poetry suggestions in the comments.

For this Passion Sunday, here is a stanza from John Donne's La Corona:


By miracles exceeding power of man,
He faith in some, envy in some begat,
For, what weak spirits admire, ambitious hate :
In both affections many to Him ran.
But O ! the worst are most, they will and can,
Alas ! and do, unto th' Immaculate,
Whose creature Fate is, now prescribe a fate,
Measuring self-life's infinity to span,
Nay to an inch. Lo ! where condemned He
Bears His own cross, with pain, yet by and by
When it bears him, He must bear more and die.
Now Thou art lifted up, draw me to Thee,
And at Thy death giving such liberal dole,
Moist with one drop of Thy blood my dry soul.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

One Day Gottesdienst Workshop in NE - June 18

Gottesdienst West - June 18 - Ravenna, NE

Is beautiful Kewanee a bit of a drive for you? Don't like flying these
days, what with the government porno scanners? This June Gottesdienst
will sponsor the first of what we hope to be a series of one-day
workshops on the liturgy and related topics held in locales some
distance from HQ.

Gottesdient Online Editor, Fr. Heath R. Curtis, returns to his native
Nebraska to expose the semi-Arminianism of modern Missouri while
outlining a practice of worship and mission actually founded on the
Gospel of grace alone (also known as the doctrine of Election). In the
afternoon, the topic will be a how-to session on conducting the
traditional ceremony of the Lutheran Mass. Conference materials will
include a three-ring altar book of the Common Service with detailed

For more information or to register - contact the host, Fr. Micah
Gaunt: mgaunt2000 AT yahoo DOT com

Tentative Schedule

8:30 Matins

9:00 registration, coffee and rolls.

9:15 First Presentation: The Liturgy as Lighthouse for the Elect

10:30 Break & discussion

11:30 Lunch

12:15 Walk through the rubrics

1:30 Break

2:00 Divine Service

3:00 Beer

Monday, March 22, 2010

Finnish Lutherans Have a Faithful Bishop

by Larry Beane

Just nine days after the (Lutheran) Church of Finland elected an archbishop that approves of church blessings of same-sex couples, faithful Lutherans in Finland who believe in Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions now have a confessional and faithful bishop, the 75-year old Matti Väisänen.

Bishop Arne Olsson of Sweden's Mission Province consecrated Bishop Väisänen this past Saturday (March 20), and Sabre of Boldness recipient (2006) Bishop Walter Obare of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya preached the sermon. The newly-consecrated bishop studied at Concordia Theological Seminary from 1961 to 1963. And thanks to his consecration at the Sacred Heart Chapel in Helsinki, faithful Finnish candidates for the office of the holy ministry will be able to be ordained to the diaconate and the priesthood for the first time since 2001.

In the photo above, Sabre of Boldness recipient (2009) Fr. Juhana Pohjola, is standing right behind the bishop's crosier (the third man from the right). In the photo below, Bp. Obare gives Bp. Väisänen a blessing. Fr. Pohjola is the first man from the left.

Thanks be to God for the courageous work of the faithful pastors and laity in Scandinavia, who serve Christ and the Gospel in spite of the fiery darts of the evil one. Let us keep these brothers and sisters in Christ in our prayers, even as their example inspires us and stirs us to faithful service of our Lord and His Church.

For more information and photos, see Dr. Chris Barnekov's outstanding article here at the Scandinavia House website.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Judica Veiling

This coming Sunday is Judica, the beginning of Passiontide. All instances of the Gloria Patri are omitted and the images and crosses are veiled after the Gospel lesson. In a sanctuary with many images and crosses and few or no Servers, it may be more practical to veil all but the central two or three images before the service. Directly after the Gospel lesson the veils are placed, lowered, or raised (depending on what is being veiled) in silence.

My altar guild (a woman and her husband) really enjoyed rigging up the veil for our central portrait of Christ Blessing - it is raised by pulling a rope at the rear of the reredos. In my experience, people love these sorts of ceremonies: ones that teach about the faith in visible, almost visceral ways. During the Distribution many in my congregation gaze up at that central portrait: now it will be hidden for two weeks. And then when the veil is lowered at the Vigil as the bells ring and the Greater Gloria is sung – the joy of resurrection!

While over-explaining any ceremony can actually rob it of its teaching power, if this is your first year veiling the images you might include a bulletin or verbal announcement before the service along these lines:

As the Gospel words say, "Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple." The crosses and images of Jesus in the sanctuary are now veiled. As our mouths and ears have been fasting from Alleluia for all of Lent, now our eyes fast as well - we will not look upon these signs of faith and joy until the Easter Vigil.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

On an Organic View of Liturgical Diversity

Our intrepid Editor-in-Chief crying out for the freedom to have an Easter Vigil, circa 1984.

I recently received the following correspondence from a conscientious lover of the historic Lutheran liturgy (i.e., a member of the Gottesdienst Crowd):

Why are the LSB One-year collects in Lent (and elsewhere?) not the historic collects? e.g.Laetare in my Latin sources (and TLH) has this collect:

Concede, quaesumus omnipotens Deus, ut qui ex merito nostrae actionis affligimur, tuae gratiae consolatione respiremus. Per...
But LSB has this significantly longer collect:

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, Your mercies are new every morning; and though we deserve only punishment, You receive us as Your children and provide for all our needs of body and soul. Grant that we may heartily acknowledge Your merciful goodness, give thanks for all Your benefits, and serve You in willing obedience; through...

While LW seems to have something in between the two. What's going on here?
I guess I was under the impression that the LSB One-Year "Historic" propers were, well...historic. Which ones do you use? Can I trust the LSB propers at all?

Perhaps our own Dr. Stuckwisch could best answer the wherefore and why behind LSB's translations and expansions of the traditional collects, introits, and intervenient chants. But what I want to comment on are the broader issues raised by this correspondence: should we be seeking to follow the books of our fellowship or the historic Lutheran liturgy? What is the former and what is the latter? What about the medieval inheritance? Should we all be doing our own thing? Should we acquiesce to the broadest accepted practice or seek what we view to be best in our common tradition? In short - what's a responsible Lutheran pastor who wants to worship like a Lutheran supposed to do?

Isn't that just the question of our age? It was not so very long ago - in living memory! - that North American Lutheranism of the overtly confessional sort enjoyed a striking degree of unity in liturgical practice from dress (Geneva gown or cassock and surplice), to lectionary (TLH's), to hymnody (TLH), to ceremony (minimal - nothing you wouldn't see in, say, a conservative Presbyterian congregation). Of course there were outliers - but they were, well, outliers: the exceptions that proved the rule.

Then came the mid-century revival in Luther studies and quick on its heals the ripples from the Roman Catholic liturgical changes. Turns out that a folk mass sounds a lot like an evangelical camp meeting. . . and in came the neo-evangelical seeker sensitive and contemporary worship movements. The push for a new Lutheran hymnal in the late seventies and early eighties could not put Humpty Dumpty together again, for the issue was not an "outmoded liturgy" but rather a desire to do away with Lutheran forms of worship altogether with the excuse that Lutheranism had no way of worship to begin with.

Reactions on the side of traditional Lutheranism have been diverse - but I will dare to group them into two camps. On the one hand, there are the Centralizers: everyone in a fellowship should follow that fellowship's liturgical sources in a straightforward manner for the sake of unity and good practice - and we who lament the loss of traditional Lutheran liturgy should be the first to sacrifice our druthers and knowbetters for the sake of leading by example.

The Centralizers would, therefore, answer the above correspondence in this manner: suck it up and do what LSB puts in front of you. Leave your obscure historical questions for your own private contemplation. You will do more good for our fellowship by providing a godly example of self-restraint to others. For how can you say expect a guitar wielding, polo shirt wearing, Worship Leader to use a Lutheran Divine Service if you yourself refuse to do what is in The Book?

I have a lot of sympathy for the Centralizing position. It's logical and simple. But like a lot of logical, simple things, it runs up against some difficulties in the real world. The first is this: the praise banders just don't care. Your keeping to the Synod's book does not inspire them to do the same. They honestly don't see the point of unity across parish lines. Having a more Arminian view of salvation they are apt to say that we need parishes with diversity of worship so that we can serve and save more people: all things to all men, and all that.

Second, we can run the Centralizing position through a sort of Kantian moral imperative: what if everybody in American Lutheranism had always and only done what was "in the Synod's book"? Well - with no outliers, liturgical pioneers, and guys who were willing to go beyond (but not necessarily contrary to) the Synod's book we would have no: chasubles, Easter Vigils, Tenebrae Vespers, Advent Midweek services, imposition of ashes, Compline, etc.

Now, no Centralizer likes everything on that list - but I bet there is no Centralizer who doesn't like at least one thing on that list. Enforcing "say the Synod's black and do the Synod's red", whether through force (kicking folks out of the fellowship who don't play ball) on the whole lot or by voluntary binding on a smaller group, would have prevented all of those things from coming into the wide acceptance that they now have.

But the main thing that the Centralizing position has in its favor is what debaters call the Bright Line. There is a clear demarcation between those who are doing the right thing and those who are doing the wrong thing: if you are saying the Synod's black and doing the Synod's red, you're OK. If you are saying some other black (using the Confiteor at Mass or writing your own creed) you are in the wrong. If you are going beyond the red (genuflecting after each consecration or giving a hand-clap praise to the Lord) you are in the wrong.

And therein lies the problem. A student of Lutheran liturgy should be able to recognize that Confiteors and genuflecting fall within our tradition while composing our own creeds and clapping applause to God do not. All of those would be innovations when compared to TLH - but not all of them are unLutheran and worthy of disapprobation.

So, I'm not a Centralizer. I did not advise the above correspondent to just do what was in LSB. The Church catholic has never been like that. The liturgy of the Church is the living result of God's Word being exhaled by the Church. New observances and actions continue to come into Christian worship - and not from central committees of professional liturgists, but from the people and pastors. The people saw Tenebrae vespers at some Anglican or Methodist church and they loved it. They forced their Lutheran pastors to go beyond the Synod's red and do it. The pastors ended up liking it, too: and a generation after it was really accepted, LSB finally comes out with an order for it. The pastors turned on EWTN and really liked the idea of Easter Vigil with all the stops - so they did it, and their Lutheran people ended up liking it, too: and lo and behold, LSB comes out with rubrics for it later on.

And so it has always been: the addition of the Agnus Dei in the 7th century, the addition of the elevation in the Gaulish liturgy of the 11th century, and so on.

You cannot cage the liturgy - it is a living growing thing. This does not mean that all changes are part of its growth - some growths are foreign - cancers, if you will, that will be rooted out over time after they just don't fit in with the Church's whole life or show themselves to be dead letters for the people.

It is antiquarian romanticism at its worst to wish that we were worshiping "just like the apostles on Straight Street in Antioch." No we don't - for then we would, ironically enough, be cutting off our link to those very same apostles. For our link to them is one of a living breathing history that goes back through the Reformation, medieval Europe, and the 4th centuries liturgical experimentation.

So I'm not a Centralizer - but neither am I for anything goes. I'm an Organicist - if that's a word. I'm for living out our tradition of worship as handed down to us by our fathers in all of its richness and beauty - and that includes, as all life does, diversity (yes, the D-word!) and growth.

It is meet, right, and salutary to use LSB's new translations and expansions of the old collects, introits, and intervenient chants. They are obviously an organic expansion and growth from our common liturgical tradition. But I don't think they will last. I think they will be weeded out as time goes on (where is LW's one-year lectionary today?). They are often not as elegant, beautiful, and graceful as a straightforward translation of the Latin collects (such as in TLH, but updated from the Jacobean diction). So I use the latter. There ought to be room in any Evangelical Lutheran Synod for such liturgical diversity.

Likewise, I think it would be very beneficial to recover the use of the Confiteor in the foremass. So we use that at our Wednesday spoken Divine Services. But I don't really see that catching on. We are probably the outlier here - a growth from our liturgical tradition that will eventually be pruned altogether when I die or am called away and the next guy axes it and no parishioner particularly cares. But the guys wearing chasubles were the outliers in the 1950's - and still the practice grows. So who knows, maybe the Confiteor will take off. It will be up to the collective wisdom and judgment of the Church.

Surely we can discriminate between such organic growth within our tradition and items altogether foreign thereto. If we can't, if we must fall back on a neo-papist Central Committee for Liturgical Permissions - then we've already lost the game.