Wednesday, October 31, 2018

All Saints Eve and Death in Oxford

With All Saints and All Souls – and my demise (No, I do not intend to die on those days.  But my say on that is limited.) – nearing, I have been thinking about death. 
“Well, that’s cheerful. Let’s dwell on something else,” you may understandably say and I may have said in years past.  But the Lord would apparently have us dwell on just that.
It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart.  Eccles. 7:2
Now I have to confess that was not one of my memory verses when I was younger.  I never was a party boy, so I understood “the house of feasting” is overrated.  But I was not particularly interested in dwelling “in the house of mourning.” Besides, the time of my death was sooo far in the future, it practically was never to happen, don’t you know.  So why go there?
But now death no longer seems so far way.  And knowing that not just in my head but in my heart is not pleasant.  But it is good for me.  Knowing that I will soon have to answer to the Lord for what I have done and not done in this life does motivate me to wiser and better living. Just thinking that one day I myself will have to look back on my life and evaluate it is motivation enough.
Still, the nearing of death can be more frightening than just about anything concocted to scare on Halloween. But when I sense fear of death creeping in, I remember Christ has defeated death for me so that I might really live and that now and forever.
When I was younger I did not fear death.  I know that because I had a near death experience in my twenties; a skid and a tire blow-out nearly sent me into a deep ravine in Tasmania.  A lot of things went through my mind including clinically thinking, “I am about to die.” But I did not fear at all. (Now whether I cussed the car to damnation is another question.)  
Now I do fear death a bit, but I have a bigger fear both now and back then.  Far more than death, I have long feared a wasted life.  In my twenties, I was struggling to make something of my life and hated that feeling I had at the end of at least one or two years, that the years were wasted, lost.  Now I fear that when I run out of time and energy, I will look back and see too many years wasted, lost.
Considering that I am going “to the house of mourning” before long goads me not to waste any more years, to make the most of my life with God’s help.  May God indeed help me.  May God help us all that as we rejoice in the new life He gives us, we at the same time make the most of the earthly life He gives us.

Monday, October 29, 2018

On the Feast of Ss. Simon and Jude in Oxford

Yesterday at Pusey House, we observed the Feast of Saints Simon and Jude.  With it falling on a Sunday this year, some are observing it today the day following.
I have to be honest, I’ve not thought much about this holy day much before.  But as the Principal, George Westhaver, pointed out in his sermon, it is the last major saint’s day before and a harbinger of the near Feast of All Saints.
It is hard to ignore the saints in Oxford although one can certainly take them for granted.  They are everywhere here, even in Broad Street where the place of the burning of the Oxford Martyrs is marked with a cross in the street.  (Yes, there were never canonized, and, yes, they were Cambridge men.) So much here and in England is named after saints.  Saints’ days are more remembered here with that of Frideswide being particularly noted in Oxford.  Before I first came here some dozen years ago I had never heard of her!
And before I became Anglican I did not pay much attention to saints at all, other than everyday non-canonized saints still alive.  Such inattention is hard to pull off in Oxford.  And Hebrews chapters 11 and 12 would not have that at all. We should be well aware that “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.”
When I study in the reading rooms of the Old Bodleian Library, I am reminded of that.  I look up at the wall above the book shelves and see portraits of old worthies supervising my reading*.  I used to find that amusing.  But now they almost speak and ask, “Are you doing your part to pass on the torch of learning?  We played our role and now are dead, but our legacy lives on and you are benefiting from it now.  What are you doing with that?  Are you well playing your role before you, too, must soon leave the stage of earthly life?”
In Oxford, old worthies may supervise even your meals.  Those who have visited the Hall of Christ Church know what I mean. They just won’t leave you alone here.
They serve as a reminder that we are obligated to more than ourselves.  Of course, our first obligation is to God.  But what are we doing with the legacy that old worthies, living and dead, have passed down to us?  What are we doing with The Faith the saints have passed down to us? And are we in turn doing right by the young and those to come?  Are we passing on the legacy and The Faith well to them?  Or are we, out of selfishness and laziness, dropping the ball?
The church through the ages is all connected – or should be connected.  If we just do our own thing, if we just become the Church of Me or the Church of What’s Happening Now, the connections become frayed.
Yes, the approach of All Saints Day has me reflecting.  This time of year with its colder rapidly shortening days reminding us the time is short to play our role can do that.  Oxford can do that.
*P. S. Oliver Cromwell of all people supervised my studies this morning.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

A Glorious Night at New College Oxford

Tonight, I went to Evensong at New College for their College Commemoration.  I thought it might be at least interesting; it was far more than I expected.  It began with a candlelit procession led by the choir around the main quadrangle.  Once in the chapel, the service included a poignant anthem by Parry and an excellent sermon by the Warden on the effect of World War I on New College and on how the way that war was remembered affected later history. I hope to post more on both the anthem and the sermon.  And the choir and the selection of music was excellent, but that is to be expected at New College, of course.
New College is rightly choosing to focus on the 100thanniversary of the end of the Great War. And that includes an interesting exhibition in the antechapel that I will have to revisit.
As if all that wasn’t good enough, when I went to the Turf Tavern afterward for physical nourishment, I listened to celebratory change-ringing from the bells of the tower of New College right next to the tavern as I finished my pint.  
By the way, this evening is contributing to my reflecting on our role in the company of the saints as we approach All Saints Day.  I hope to post on that as well.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Where to (and where not to) hear an organ recital in Oxford

One of my weaknesses is I love good church organ music.  But I can be picky about both the composition and the organ.  As far as the compositions, one cannot go wrong with Bach; he’s my favorite by far.  But little after 1800 impresses me except in a negative fashion.
As for organs, I’ve discovered I can be picky about that, too.  But now you can benefit from that as I will now tell you where and where not to hear an organ recital during term in Oxford.  I will start with the worst first.
Queen’s College, 1:10 on Wednesdays
I don’t know if they did something to their organ since I was last here but I was shocked two weeks ago to hear it sound like a carousel organ.  I will not be going again.
New College, Saturdays after Evensong
A bit better, but it is clearly a very new organ by outward appearances, which is not necessary bad (See Merton below.).  But it just sounds too electronic.  Go to New College for the choir, not the organ.
Keble College, 8:30pm on Thursdays
I have not yet decided on this one as I’ve only heard it once and I wasn’t thrilled with the selection of music that night.  But the huge chapel is an excellent space for an organ, and I can’t find anything wrong with the organ . . . yet.
A bonus is right after the organ recital comes Compline. Students were quietly lighting up a zillion candles during the recital.  (I didn’t stay as I was too tired, but I will sometime.)
Merton College, 1:15pm on Thursdays
This, too is a new organ. But it does sound like a real church organ.  If I were nitpicking, I would like it to sound older, but I thoroughly enjoy this one.  And it is huge and loud.
Perhaps because of its size it is placed in an odd spot, on the floor by the center back wall of the ante-chapel.  So if you sit in a center aisle or get permission to sit in the ante-chapel (I cannot guarantee said permission would be given.), you really get to see the organist do his work.  I highly recommend this to any aspiring organists.
Exeter College, 1:10 on Tuesday
THIS sounds like a cranky old European church organ, even though it is not that old. I love it. The first recital of term was all Bach.  After hearing so much Bach on this wonderful organ, I practically floated out of the chapel.  I was certainly energized and had a smile on my face.
So Exeter is my favorite place to hear an organ recital. (I intend to be there today for sure.)  I also highly recommend Merton to any trying to improve their organ playing or who just want to watch an organist at work.
If I am missing a good place to hear an organ, feel free to post in the comments.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

The Sanctus with the Benedictus is meet and right.

It is funny how long it can take one, namely me, to notice something both obvious and important.  But at Mass last Sunday at Pusey House I noticed how well the Benedictus fits with the Sanctus even if it was appended about a thousand years ago or more.
I therefore consider it an innovation . . . but a good one.
Perhaps the good fit of the Benedictus eluded me because my parish does not use it.  The Reformed Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer is traditional low church (even as we have become slightly higher church) and follows the 1662 BCP in not having the Benedictus with the Sanctus.  My memory is fuzzy on whether REC parishes are allowed to use the Benedictus, but my parish does not.
Back to this past Sunday’s Mass, the musical setting was Herbert Howells’ Collegium Regale.  That, sung by the very good Pusey House choir, drew my mind well to the holiness of God expressed in the Sanctus.
But then as the Benedictus was sung, I remembered that Christ is our holy King, yet he comes to us “lowly and riding on a donkey” and he comes to us in the Holy Communion.  And I finally but immediately saw what an excellent summation the Sanctus with the Benedictus is of the Eucharist – God is “holy, holy, holy”; yet he graciously and humbly comes to us in the incarnation and in the Holy Communion.
Yes, as wonderful as this is, it should be obvious to the catholic Christian.  But it is no less good for me to see it this past Sunday at Pusey House.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Hillary: “You cannot be civil” to Republicans

You never know who you are going to run into at Evensong . . . or after Evensong.  There was quite a commotion during and after Evensong at Magdalen Oxford this past Sunday.  Afterward I found out why when I saw Hillary Clinton herself enjoying the adulation of students.  She looked well and happy by the way.
 But look what she said while in Oxford.  Her response to the recent uncivil, abusive, threatening, and, yes, violent tactics of Leftists?
 You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about…
 She thereby justifies the Brown Shirt tactics of the Leftist mob.  She endorses the tactics of totalitarians.  And face it, the way the Leftist base of the Democrat Party has been acting, with the blessing of Hillary, of Eric Holder among others – that is the way totalitarians act.
 I’ve said before the Democrat Party has a totalitarian streak.  Its tactics against Kavanaugh, trying to turn his confirmation into a show trial, its attacks against the free speech of opponents and even against the peace and persons of opponents, reveal it is becoming a totalitarian party if it is not there already.
 And that is further indicated by even the uber-establishment Hillary Clinton being okay with that.
 With the way the Democrats are going, I expect to revisit this subject.  But it suffices for now to say that if they are not politically punished for their totalitarian tactics and soon, namely November, it will be a disaster for the United States. 

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Christ Church Oxford has issues with time

Christ Church Oxford has long had issues with time.  Because they apparently don’t believe in time zones, official Christ Church time is 5 minutes slower than Greenwich Mean Time.
But this evening they really did it.  Their music list had Evensong starting today at 5pm (Christ Church time).  But that was in error; it started at 6pm.  People who came for the non-existent 5pm service were turned away at the gate (although invited to come back in an hour), and my schedule was thrown off for sure.  I adapted but could not make Evensong.
I hope the choir is being run better than that.  Perhaps the Dean, Martyn Percy, should pay more attention to his knitting rather than blackballing the orthodox.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Latin BCP Holy Communion at St. Mary’s Oxford

Yes, a Latin Book of Common Prayer service may seem a bit of a contradiction, an oxymoron even. Wasn’t the BCP written in English precisely so that it would be “understanded of the people”? Wasn’t it a pointed break from the Latin Sarum Rite?
But remember that in times past, Latin was very well “understanded” by Oxford scholars.  You really could not even get into the place, much less flourish within, without knowing Latin well.  So in 1560, just one year after the Elizabethan Prayer Book of 1559 was approved, a Latin BCP was promulgated for the use in the universities.
A survivor of those times – because tradition! – is a Latin BCP Holy Communion service at the University Church of St. Mary’s in Oxford at 8am the Thursday before the beginning of the academic year, which service I attended this morning.
I attended (among only about 15 so to do) because . . . tradition! and because Oxford could use all the Latin prayer it can get.  But I have to admit it was more stirring than I expected.  As I walked down the High about ten minutes early, St. Mary’s main bell was calling scholars to the service. Of course, most of even Oxford students on High Street were probably clueless as to why all the gonging.
The service itself was quiet and said, only about 35 minutes.  I found hearing and saying (tolerably well) the Latin moving.  There is something about Latin.  And when I crossed my arms for a blessing only (Oddly, the sacrament was brought around to the stalls instead of the congregation going forward.), being quietly blessed in Latin moved me indeed.
I attended this in 2007, missed it in 2011.  I am glad I didn’t miss it this time and recommend it to all visitors to Oxford, at least those not allergic to Latin.

Monday, October 01, 2018

Arriving in Oxford

I arrived in Oxford today.   I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Oxford in the past.  But right now it’s love!  It’s funny how excited I was at arriving here and walking around like when I arrived for my past stays.  You’d think that would not happen so much now given my past two Michaelmas Terms here (in 2007 and 2011) were a bit of a struggle.
Oh well.  Oxford does bring out peculiar responses in people as I’ve experienced first hand.