Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Flu Journal, part 2: Fever Ramblings

Somewhere in this house we have a thermometer, seen as recently as last week. Everyone put it somewhere it's not now; everyone thinks someone else moved it. Everyone's probably right. This is all to say that I don't know how high my fever is right now, but the heat in my cheeks tells me that it is Up There. I've spent about an hour waiting for my three ibuprofen to kick in, with no results.

What else suggests fever is the refrain pounding in my head. Of all the things I could be obsessively playing in my brain -- the complete Hamilton cast recording, American Pie, 100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall -- what has taken up repetitive root is the entrance hymn I sang on Ash Wednesday, when I was already a day in to being sick but still telling myself that it was a cold. This was a new song, one I've never heard before. That's always a bad sign.

The refrain went:
In these days of Lenten journey, we have seen and we have heard
The call to sow justice in the lives of those we serve.
The tune is drawn from the great tradition of Glory and Praise, a style that only makes sense in reference to itself. Perhaps "show tune" is the nearest genre that fits, but show tunes need to sell a show. Composers of modern Catholic worship music don't have to sell anything -- their audience is trapped in the pews, like it or not -- and so they're under no compulsion to make their music sound like anything, especially not like a hymn.

But aside from the nothingburger tune, what do we mean by "days of Lenten journey"? Did Jesus spend his time in the desert journeying? He did not. He was still. He was fasting. When did he journey? At the end of his time in the desert, when Satan dragged him around, that's when.

So, Lent is not a time of journeying, but of being still and responding to temptations with the word of God. Concepts we normally associate with Lent are penance, preparation, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, but the second line of this couplet hits none of the familiar tropes, but instead focuses on "the call to sow justice", not generally a Lenten theme.

However, perhaps scriptural allusions will make the connection clearer:
The wicked make empty profits,
but those who sow justice have a sure reward. Prov. 11:18 
Sow for yourselves justice,
reap the reward of loyalty;
Break up for yourselves a new field,
for it is time to seek the LORD,
till he comes and rains justice upon you. Hosea 10:1 
And he that ministereth seed to the sower, will both give you bread to eat, and will multiply your seed, and increase the growth of the fruits of your justice". 2 Cor. 9:10 (Douay-Rheims; other translations use "righteousness".) 
And the fruit of justice is sown in peace, to them that make peace. James 3:18 (Douay-Rheims; other translations use "righteousness".)
Pardon me if I think it's a stretch to fit these verses into the artificial context of "Lenten journey".


In the course of my Googling to make sure I had the words correct, I came across a composer's note, which stated that the song had been written to focus on the musically neglected Lenten theme of "acts of charity", especially from a social justice perspective. I leave it to the reader to determine whether verse lyrics such as, "In the coolness of evening we'll shelter their dreams," (in reference to the homeless) lives up to this noble aim.

Two hours and counting on the ibuprofen. Any moment now my head should stop pounding and my face cool down...


Brandon said...

There's a dadaistic technique, the cut-up technique, which consists in cutting up phrases from a newspaper, putting them into a bag, shaking the bag, and then drawing out phrases to make poems, and the Glory and Praise style always has a feel like a cleaned-up cut-up poem. There's a Mad-Libbish quality about it; you could practically make up your own:

In this Lenten
encounter with Christ
we are called
to accompany
those we serve

There is room for us all
on this Lenten journey
as we are called to justice
and service to all

We are called
in this Lenten accompaniment
to serve
those with whom
we encounter Christ

We accompany
on their journey
those we serve
and encounter Christ
with justice

Or else you get the over-allegorized, over-interpreted festooning of Scripture, which lead to something like Marty Haugen's "Shepherd Me, O God", one of my least favorite hymns in the universe:

God is my shepherd,
so nothing shall I want,
I rest in the meadows
of faithfulness and love,
I walk by the quiet waters of peace.

And you can just Mad-Lib that, too:

I rest in the meadows
of righteousness and peace
I walk by the quiet waters of love

I rest in the meadows
of charity and hope
I walk by the quiet waters of truth

I rest in the meadows
of holiness and grace
I walk by the quiet waters of faith

&c. &c. &c.

Ladyhobbit said...

We had to sing "Ashes" in church on Ash Wednesday. According to this song, we redeem ourselves: "We rise again from ashes." But then somehow we offer the ashes to God. My Lenten penance is singing Lenten songs like this one.