The Faure Requiem with Poetry

On October 14 our choir at First United Methodist Church in Waynesville, North Carolina, presented six movements of the beloved Requiem by Gabriel Fauré as the heart of a service of worship. Scott Taylor, our Director of Music and the Worship Arts, asked me to compose poetry to introduce each movement in order to ground this classic text and music in the lived experience of worshippers. I included one piece that I wrote some eight years ago as well as a recent unreleased poem with those written for this occasion. I also composed a prayer at the conclusion.  The Scripture, Hebrews 11:8-16, begins at 18:30, the Introduction to the Requiem begins at 20:30 and the poems and Requiem begin at 26:30.

You can view the service by clicking HERE.

Here are my poems as well as the text for the Requiem, which is available in many recordings.

Prologue I: (Introitus — Kyrie)

Our ship so safe, secure, a world lashed down,

Now shudders in the storm,

Washed with waves, roiling in the foam.

The clouds that shroud the beacon’s light,

The rain that pounds upon the rocks

Now soak us to the bone.

We steer by signals felt, not seen,

Strain to shores unknown.

Awed by the Life beyond our life

We row.

We pray.

Hear us.

Hear me.

Help us pray and row

            to the last beating of our hearts,

Be heard and known by the Creator of the sea,

Be seen and rescued by the God of light.

 

Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine

et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Te decet hymnus, Deus in Sion

et tibi reddetur votum in Jerusalem.

Exaudi orationem mean, ad te omnis caro veniet.

Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison.

(Rest eternal give them, Lord,

and let light always shine on them.

We sing you hymns, God in Zion, and turn our hearts to you in Jerusalem. Hear my prayer, to you all flesh will come.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.)

Prologue II: (Sanctus)

A single thread

            in the cloth bag

            holding our treasures

            breaks.

Our glistening marbles,

            photographs of younger smiles,

            address books,

            journals of our inward thoughts,

            slip through

            the widening tear.

We fall

            with them,

            wondering

            if loving hands will catch us.

 

Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth.

Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua.

Hosanna in excelsis.

(Holy Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts.

Heaven and earth are full of your glory.

Hosanna in the highest.)

Prologue III: (Pie Jesu)

At the end as at the beginning

            we come to you as little children,

            helpless,

            wobbling like bewildered toddlers

            across a vast and alien land.

O, give us your hand,

            give us something for our tongues to taste,

            our mouths to chew,

                        to speak,

                        to sing,

                        to laugh.

Though our eyes may weep,

            let us see through the Stygian waters of loss

            to the rainbow on your mountain heights.

 

Pie Jesu, Domine. Dona eis requiem.

Dona eis requiem sempiternam requiem.

(Merciful Jesus, Lord, give them rest.

Give them rest, eternal rest.)

 

Prologue IV: (Agnus Dei)

So many sacrifices brought us to this place.

            Our way lies not through gleaming streets of happiness

            but through stony roads in fearful darkness and distress.

Can not the blood of sacrifices past transfuse our veins

            and bring new life from death?

Cannot the light the martyrs saw

            illuminate our stumbling way?

All the gaudy trumpets of this world

            are but a clamorous cacophony

            before the great tranquility

            of the sabbath yet to come.

At the end we find a meadowland of peace

            beyond the chasm of our death.

 

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,

done eis requiem.

Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine,

Cum sanctis tuis in aeternum,

quia pies es.

Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine,

et lux perpetua luceat eis.

(Lamb of God, who bears the sins of the world, give them rest.

Let light shine upon them, Lord,

with your saints for eternity,

for you are merciful.

Give them eternal rest, Lord,

and may perpetual light shine upon them.)

 

Prologue V: (Libera Me)

The power of creation is the power of destruction.

The light that guides us on our way can blind us,

            its heat can blast the atom’s nucleus,

            incinerate us into dust,

            leaving only light itself,

            the heart of God.

Is there then no place that truly

            we can call our home?

God’s longing for our liberation

            sears us all,

            burns away our falsehoods,

            shatters our illusions,

            re-creates the image of God’s wisdom

            in our souls,

Leads us to a home beyond our fearful wanderings.

 

Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna in die illa tremenda

quando coeli movendi sunt et terra

dum veneris judicare saeculum per ignem.

Tremens factus sum ego et timeo

dum discussio venerit atque ventura ira.

Dies illa, dies irae, calamitatis et miseriae,

dies illa, dies magna et amara valde.

(Liberate me, Lord, from death eternal on that terrible day

when the heavens and earth shall be shaken,

when you come to judge the world with fire.

I tremble with fear

before the coming angry trial,

That day, that day of anger, of calamity and misery, that day, that day of great and exceeding bitterness.)

Prologue VI: (In Paradisum)

It is enough to know

            There’s More.

A universe of galaxies resplendent with creative power—

            There’s More.

A rainbow reconciling every ecstasy of color—

            There’s More.

A meal that satisfies the need of every living being—

            There’s More.

A work that binds up shattered limbs and lives—

            There’s More.

A mind that numbers every star and grain of sand—

            There’s More.

A tree whose limbs are birds, whose roots are fingers of divinity—

            There’s More.

A love that pours its hope through steep ravines of grief—

            There’s More.

A life completed in the mercy of our finitude—

            Yes, There’s More.

“There’s more,” the subtle body spoke,

            and then became the More.

 

In Paradisum deducant Angeli

in tuo adventu suscipiant te Martyres

et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem.

Chorus Angelorum te suscipiat

et cum Lazaro quondam paupere

aeternum habeas requiem.

(May Angels draw you into Paradise.

May the martyrs receive you when you come

and lead you into the holy city of Jerusalem.

May the chorus of Angels receive you

and with Lazarus, once a beggar, may you have eternal rest.)

 

 

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Bowls from the Dogwood

The dogwood tree (Cornus florida) is a beloved feature of the woods and yards of the southern Appalachians. The four white, or sometimes pink, petals of its flower are tinged with red at their tips and a “crown” of small flower parts stands at the center, leading the devout in this region to see it as a symbol of the cross of Christ. Legend holds that it was once a large tree on which Christ was crucified, but was stunted into its present small and contorted shape as a curse for this wicked history. In the fall, bright red berries prepare the way for winter’s coats of snow and ice.

In spite of its small size, it offers woodturners a hard material veined in pink hues. I have been working with some pieces that have been aging for a few years and which exhibit some decay. One of the bowls has a knotted hole. A couple of them have fillings of ground turquoise in their eroded surfaces. They’re small, of course, but have a gem-like beauty, so I thought I’d show some of them to a wider circle. You can work out your own symbolic meanings from there.

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Slavery’s Amnesia

In our local paper recently a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans wrote an Op-Ed holding that slavery was not the cause of our Civil War. While acknowledging that it was a factor, he attributed the war to sectional, economic, and political factors. This is a claim often echoed around this region and can be conveyed by some history books. Some years ago, I took a carriage ride around old Charleston, South Carolina, and heard the same claim from our garrulous guide. I knew that it didn’t sound right, but I couldn’t google the matter on my phone (yes it was back then!), so I just remained congenially quiet but somewhat guilt-afflicted. I later looked into the matter and found a document that led me years later to write a response to this Op-Ed. Here is what I said.

[In response to claims that slavery did not cause the Civil War] I think it is helpful to read the “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union” issued by the Convention of South Carolina in December 24, 1860. After arguing that the national government created by the Constitution was no longer serving its original aims, as stated in its Preamble, the Convention stated that originally:

“The right of property in slaves was recognized by giving to free persons distinct political rights, by giving them the right to represent, and burthening them with direct taxes for three-fifths of their slaves; by authorizing the importation of slaves for twenty years; and by stipulating for the rendition of fugitives from labor.

“We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assumed the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of Slavery; they have permitted the open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.”

The Convention statement, which is easily accessible via internet search, spends the rest of its argument precisely on the defense of slavery. All other reasons for secession flow from it. While there are many factors that contributed to this horrendous conflict, the defense of slavery was at its core, as the South Carolinians plainly stated. The wounds of this war, like the near genocide of the native peoples in this land, still constitute the greatest challenge to our healing and progress as a people. The search for a full truth about our past, as your writer argued, is essential to that reconciliation. I hope reading the actual documents of secession will be a part of it.

I received numerous personal thanks for actually looking up an historic document to deal with our present consciousness. In a time of hasty accusations, flim flam, lies, and obfuscations, the patient work of the archivist, historian, scientist and researcher needs a prestige and encouragement that can reorient our lives around stubborn truth and insistent memory. Like St. Paul’s dreaded curse of the Law, the Real history and nature in which we live can condemn us to depression, anxiety, and denial, or it can open us up to a conversation, even an argument, in which we might be able to build a better future. It’s still a possibility.

If you do read the whole Declaration, I hope it can provide a moment of contemplation about our own present blindness. Take a look. It might be emancipating.

 

 

Posted in Ethics, Public Life, Restorative Justice | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Some Side Tables

I just shipped off two side tables to one of my daughters and her family. They’re made of ash and walnut. The ash is in laminated strips, bent to a curve. The tops have a center portion from a walnut log that was rescued from a landfill some years ago. They’re joined between two other less-figured pieces. They are 26 inches high and 15 by 20 inches on the top.

I secured the pieces with round head screws and cap nuts that reveal the structural aspects of the tables. They were designed to serve as dinner trays for watching TV while munching or simply to hold stuff that can be easily moved around in the living room. Getting it right was a challenge. I was pleased with the result, so I thought I’d share it with you.

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