Saturday, November 21, 2015

163. Hymn for the 23rd Sunday after Trinity

I'm getting so close to the end of this "hymns for the Sundays of the Church Year" project that I just can't stop. So here is a second original hymn in one day, written mainly on the Introit for this mass from Jeremiah 29:11-14 and surrounding verses, with a bit of the Epistle from Philippians 3:17-21 and the Gospel from Matthew 22:15-22, where Jesus famously says, "Render unto Caesar," etc. It's pretty much a hymn about Christian vocation. The tune is IMMANUEL by J. P. Löhe, 1869-1952.
Tell this to captive Israel:
Tempt not the Lord, but hear Him well,
Says God, the Lord of hosts.
Dwell where He causes You to dwell;
The work you find to do, do well
In cities, fields or coasts!

Though subjects of His realm above,
The Lord calls you to serve in love
Your neighbor here below,
As Daniel and the three youths throve
Whom into Babylon God drove,
And kept faith even so.

Wherever leads your pilgrim way,
Build, grow, do business, marry, play,
According to your place:
Whatever city, for it pray;
Whatever duty, gladly pay,
And trust your Father’s grace!

Pay neither heed to men’s applause
Nor to false prophets’ dreams and laws,
Which God did not ordain;
But let His gospel be the cause
That calls its ministers, and draws
His people home again!

“I know my own thoughts,” says the Lord;
“Thoughts that not ill but peace afford
To you who call My name:
A future hope, a great reward,
The captive freed, the home restored,
In Me are found and claimed.”

As citizens of heaven walk,
Awaiting Christ, our mighty Rock,
Whose cross is all in all!
Soon will He gather all His flock,
Our transformation to unlock
By His almighty call.

Till then, let all His ransomed tell
These tidings unto Israel,
Who Jesus trusts and lauds:
Whatever duties men compel,
Pay in their coin; but know as well
Your race and realm are God’s.

162. Hymn for the 22nd Sunday after Trinity

The Epistle for this mass is Philippians 1:3-11. The Gospel is Matthew 18:23-35, Jesus' account of the unmerciful slave. The melody is the 19th century Welsh hymn tune DOLGELLY.
God, who forgave our debt,
The misdeeds we regret:
Our nature black as jet
Repair, lest we forget
The liberty to You we owe,
That we forgiving hearts may show!

The pardon that You give
Makes our dead spirits live;
How then can we survive
Unless we too forgive?
Dare we our hearts on vengeance set
Whom You loosed from law’s awful threat?

As we before You grow,
What we reap, let us sow!
The pardon You bestow
On us, through us will flow.
From grace to grace our way will thrive
Till we into Your rest arrive.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Night Circus

The Night Circus
by Erin Morgenstern
Recommended Ages: 13+

When an author's debut novel is as wonderful and successful as this 2011 Locus Award winning fantasy, experience predicts one of two outcomes. Either it will prove but the beginning of an exciting career for book lovers to follow with breathless interest, or it will go down in the records as another outstanding freak of creative brilliance that came as if from nowhere, and remains without any follow-up. I hope the fact its author hasn't published another title in the four years doesn't augur the latter outcome. I would prefer to see more by the creator of this superb and magical book.

The main action happens in a marvelous circus built not under one tent, but in a complex collection of tents. This circus arrives without warning and departs just as suddenly, seeming to materialize out of nowhere and disappear into nowhere again. It opens only at night when the weather is fine, and all its attractions share a stylish palate of blacks, whites and grays. Its entrance is dominated by a continuously transforming clock, its main courtyard by a cauldron full of pure white fire. It features animal acts, a fortune teller, a contortionist, a conjurer, and many other strange and wonderful things, all carried out in virtual silence except for the gasps and cheers of the crowd. Only those who follow the circus around - and there is a growing society of those who do - and those who visit it every few years when it passes through their area are apt to notice that no one in the circus ever seems to age, except the red-haired twins who were born at the moment the circus opened. New attractions open, or perhaps it's just that one never has time to see them all, but the whole show seems suspended in a time out of time, not to mention a world out of this world.

What even the members of the circus themselves do not suspect is that they are all playthings in a game that has been going on for untold ages, a game between two powerful magicians whose motives remain unclear until the end of this book. The circus has been created mainly as the venue for the latest match in this game, pitting two unsuspecting opponents who have been groomed for a contest of magic since childhood. Celia Bowen is the daughter of a stage illusionist who devotes most of his craft to making feats of actual magic look like exquisite tricks. Marco Alisdair is the orphan apprentice of the elusive Man in the Gray Suit, whose main concern seems to be keeping the knowledge of magic secret. Bound together from their youth by a doom neither understands, Marco and Celia fall desperately in love before they recognize the game will not end until at least one of them is dead.

As the demands of the game wears on Celia's endurance and Marco's willingness to play, strange and disturbing things begin to happen in and around the circus. Death and madness begin to stalk those close to the show. Jealousy and heartbreak throw the circus's magical harmonics out of alignment. The possibility grows to a near certainty that everyone in the circus may be swept away unless something can be done. And just when the circus represents one young man's chance to be truly happy, it all begins to fall apart. Prepare for some lip-biting as the tension builds to a powerful and revealing climax.

Morgenstern says on her website that she started this book as a project for National Novel Writing Month, though it went through a lot of reworking before it reached its final form. Is it possible more people like her are out there with just one great novel hidden inside them, waiting for the right stimulus to push it out? Could it be just the result of a chance meeting between a fertile idea and the right amount of discipline imposed from outside? Or is The Night Circus the opening gambit of a power player in the fantasy lit arena? I hope it's the latter, because I don't want the magic to end. And that's the precise word for the vibrancy of this book's characters, the urgency of its storyline, the scenic lyricism of the Le Cirque des Rêves, and its delicious blend of mystery, romance, suspense, and the bizarre. It's a tragedy that somehow doesn't leave you feeling down at the end; it's a dark and terrible vision of magic that nevertheless remains innocent of occult content; it's an altogether grown-up book that contains hardly anything I would hesitate to share with kids; and it's a story of blockbuster entertaining power that contains the seeds of its own fandom in the form of the red-scarfed Rêveurs who love the Circus of Dreams as much as you soon will.

This book invites comparison with the Harry Potter books in a number of ways, but the most obvious of them is that its U.S. audiobook version is narrated by Jim Dale. His vocal talent brought out a lot of the life in each of the characters and breathed a scent of awe and delight on the passages describing the circus. I don't know that I've heard him read before, but I'm interested now to hear what he did with the magical world of J. K. Rowling.

161. Hymn for the 21st Sunday after Trinity

The Epistle for this mass is Ephesians 6:10-17, on which I have already written a hymn (more or less); the Gospel is the healing of the official's son in John 4:46-54, beginning at the words "And there was a certain royal official." The tune I have in mind is ICH FREU MICH IN DEM HERREN by Bartholomäus Helder, 1648.
O faithless generation!
Will you not yet believe
Without the attestation
Of signs that may deceive?
Adepts of every nation
Great wonders may achieve;
But sinners from damnation
Can Christ alone retrieve.

Christ healed without compunction
Whomever He could find;
His spittle served as unction
To cure the mute and blind.
When faith stood in conjunction,
Its pow’r He called to mind;
But from the first His function
Was to redeem mankind.

A courtier came pleading
His sick son to be spared.
Christ sent Him homeward speeding;
“Your son lives,” He declared.
When he, his servants meeting,
Learned how the child had fared,
Christ’s purpose, death defeating,
Was wonderfully bared.

What word is this! Once spoken
It carries out its ends;
Its truth cannot be broken,
Though reason it transcends.
To chosen means and tokens
Effective pow’r it lends;
By it the dead are woken;
On it all life depends.

Be then not unbelieving
But trust that saving word,
All perfect gifts receiving
Through that which you have heard!
All vice and vileness leaving,
Christ’s armor on you gird
Till you, to His death cleaving,
Be into life transferred!

Monday, November 16, 2015

160. Hymn for the 20th Sunday after Trinity

The Epistle for this mass is Ephesians 5:15-21, and the Gospel is Matthew 22:1-14, Jesus' parable of the royal marriage feast. I realized only after writing this hymn that my book of "useful hymns" already contains two other hymns on the same parable. One is "O kingly Love" by Martin Franzmann, set to an original tune by yours truly, and it is the one I had to consciously avoid plagiarizing as I wrote the hymn below. The other is one of those "scratched and dented" hymns that I wrote, words and music, only to forget about it until after I had gone to all this trouble. Oh, well. At least in this instance I won't have to write another original tune. I'm recommending either of two tunes titled MEINEN JESUM LASS ICH NICHT, the first one from the 1699 Neuverfertigtes Gesangbuch of Darmstadt, or the second by Johann Ulich, 1674.
Darmstadt, above; Ulich, below.
King of heaven, who by grace
To Your Son’s high feast invite us,
Counting none too bad or base,
Drawing us to Him despite us:
Number us with Your elect,
Lest Your summons we reject!

God forbid that we should lose
By indifferent hearts that calling,
Or Your messengers abuse,
In yet deeper judgment falling!
Rather, with the worst and least,
Drag and drive us to Your feast!

Clothe us in the wedding garb
Of Christ’s righteousness unfailing,
Lest we feel hell’s stinging barb
And despair with shame and wailing!
Waken faith, our pride subdue;
Count us with Your chosen few!

Help us walk as do the wise,
These last evil days redeeming,
Clean at heart and clear at eyes,
Knowing truth from empty seeming;
Meantime from our heart to sing
Thankful anthems to our King!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

159. Hymn for the Circumcision and Name of Jesus

That is the historic name for the mass celebrated Jan. 1, also known as New Years Day, or the eve thereof. Its Epistle is Galatians 3:23-29; its Gospel is the one-verse account of Jesus' circumcision and naming in Luke 2:21. The original tune is titled EIGHTH DAY.
Today we bless the holy name
Of Him who from God’s bosom came:
His name is our salvation.
Before His mother felt the stir
Of that which was conceived in her,
Such office did the Lord confer
Through angel visitation.

Today we praise His infant blood
The eighth day shed, now understood
To bode a new creation.
Here God Himself was placed beneath
A testament requiring death,
That light and life He might bequeath
To His unworthy nation.

Today shows forth all children’s hope,
If eight days brought in Jesus’ scope
A name and circumcision.
Already branded with the mark
Of Abram’s seed, this living ark
Commenced a lonely course and dark
To bring us full provision.

Today the Law asserts a claim
On Him who bore salvation’s name,
On God an obligation;
Now we with eyes of faith may see
How as His heirs we were set free
When, clothed in Him baptismally,
We reaped emancipation.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

158. Hymn for the 19th Sunday after Trinity

The Epistle for this Mass is Ephesians 4:22-28. The Gospel is Matthew 9:1-8, Jesus healing a paralytic. The tune, titled PARRESIA, is one that I wrote today for a very fine baptism hymn by a friend of mine named David. Loath to use a good thing only once...
Jesus, strength of all the living,
By the perishing despised,
Your bold word, our sins forgiving,
Is the gift of all things prized,
Stirring us to show thanksgiving
Who in sin were paralyzed.

Vainly, vainly had we striven
Were we not in You by grace,
Helplessly led on and driven,
Doomed to find no resting place.
Now Your word calls us forgiven,
Children of a favored race.

Lord, lest men deny Your pardon
Is indeed to us applied -
Lest against You they should harden
Even hearts for which You died -
Grow in us, as in a garden,
All the graces You provide!

Raise us, that our mind's renewing
May befit Your holy flock;
That our homeward way pursuing,
We in truth and love might walk;
Thus, at peace with all men, hewing
Unto You, our living Rock!