Dirty Undies

man in blue shirt near assorted color apparels
Photo by Zuarav on Pexels.com

Today’s first Mass reading goes to prove that the Old Testament isn’t some dry historical record. It also shows that God has an ironic sense of humor. Don’t @ me if I take some editorial liberties with the text.

Jeremiah 13: 1-11 opens with God telling Jeremiah to go buy a new pair of underwear, put them on and wear them, but not to wash them.

Okay, God? Um… right. I’m headed there now. Might have to pick up some jock itch spray while I’m at it. But I trust you.

. . .

God? It’s Jeremiah. I’ve been wearing these crusty Underoos for about a month now, and I have to say that the experience hasn’t been pleasant. My friends are avoiding me. The restaurants are making me eat in the far corner of the patio. My next door neighbor has been making veiled threats about throwing a shower party for me. I don’t know what that means, but I don’t want to find out.

Jeremiah? It’s God. Okay, it’s been long enough. Head on down to Pareth. You know that old wall where the chinking is crumbling away from the stones? Change your shorts there and stuff the stinky ones into a crack in the wall.

Thank you, God! Should I put a biohazard sign over the crack?

That won’t be necessary, Jeremiah.

Time went by, Jeremiah had a successful round of appointments with his dermatologist, and everything had gotten back to normal. Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah again.

Jeremiah? It’s God again. Hey, you remember those crusty undies I made you stuff in that crack in the wall down in Pareth? Yeah… I need you to go back and get them for me.

God? Seriously.

Seriously, Jeremiah. It’s important.

So Jeremiah headed back down to Pareth to retrieve the underwear that God had commanded him to stuff in the wall crack there, and Jeremiah was not happy at the reunion. He pulled them out of the crack with a long stick.

Oh, my! God? There isn’t much left of them. They’re falling apart, and they’re… still pretty ripe!

Aha! Just as I suspected.

Is there a moral to this story, God?

Yes! You know what those rotten undies are like? They’re like Judah’s pride! Judah is wicked, and stubborn, and won’t obey me. They worship strange “gods” and adore them in my place. So I’m going to make them like that pair of grundy undies that I made you stuff in the crack in the wall.

God? I feel your pain.

That’s all I wanted, Jeremiah. I wanted to make an impression on your mind. You may find this a bit weird, but Judah and Israel used to cling to me about as closely as a man’s underwear clings to his skin.

That’s… that’s touching, God.

I know. But now? They won’t even listen to me.

This is My Father’s Shire

Have you ever heard a snippet of a song, and it instantly reminds you of a different song, but you’ve forgotten the name of one or the other? That was bothering me this morning at the Communion hymn at Mass.

Mike was up in the loft beginning a hymn on the organ as people began to social distance their way up to the altar, and in my slightly reflective but mostly  bewildered state, I asked myself, “why is he playing that song from the Lord of the Rings movies, you know, the one about the Shire?”

After the first two bars of the hymn, I was in Hobbiton. It’s a wonderful hymn, but the title escaped me. I approached Mike after Mass to ask him what the name of the Communion hymn was that he played, but he said “I don’t remember,” hustled into his car and drove off.

I didn’t think much about it the rest of the day, but when I got a free moment this evening, it popped back into my head and I had to research it. After scrolling my thumb raw through Google page after page, I finally got a hit.

First, the tune from LOTR is Howard Shore’s “Concerning Hobbits.” It recurs throughout all three movies.

But what was the name of the hymn? It eluded me. Then after scrolling through Google search pages until my thumbs were sore, I found out that I wasn’t crazy.

Way back in 2003, a fan on a Lord of the Rings fan forum noticed the same thing I did, and stated up front that only nerds such as himself would even notice the similarity, or care whether there was some backstory connection. My soulmate!

The hymn is an 18th Century English creation named “This is My Father’s World.” It praises the beauty of creation, something Vladymir (from 2003) thought Tolkien might have loved. I’ll bet he at least heard it at some point.

Just to satisfy your curiosity, here are both tunes:

The Howard Shore work from the LOTR movies is an instrumental, but the background of the hymn is interesting. The melody was written by Franklin L. Sheppard and named Terra Beata. He adapted it from a traditional English tune his mother used to hum to him as a child.  Sheppard wrote it specifically to accompany the Maltbie Davenport Babcock poem “This is My Father’s World.” The two were friends.

Babcock was a minister in upstate New York, and the poem was inspired by walks he’d take around Lake Ontario and Niagra Falls. Sadly, he died in his early forties, but his wife had his writings published posthumously, including “This is My Father’s World.” Sheppard wrote terra beata and published it in 1915. It was quickly picked up by hymnal publishers.

Here are the words:

This is my Father’s world,
And to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings
The music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world:
I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
His hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father’s world,
The birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white,
Declare their maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world,
He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass;
He speaks to me everywhere.

This is my Father’s world.
O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world:
why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King; let the heavens ring!
God reigns; let the earth be glad

So in the end, my friends, the sustaining line throughout Peter Jackson’s LOTR trilogy, the one that keeps coming back around and sustaining the story line, is but a riff on terra beata, which has its roots in traditional English music. It was probably a well known pub song, as many English hymns were based on such well known and loved songs.

I think Tolkien would have liked that.


Rethinking Priorities

I’m dabbling once again in John Senior’s modern classic “The Restoration of Christian Culture.” Not even to the first chapter, this reflection on Our Lord’s Parable of the Sower sunk deep into me:

…the work of music in the wide sense, including as well [the] tunes that are sung, art, literature, games, architecture–all so many instruments in the orchestra which plays day and night the music of lovers […] if it is disordered, then the love of Christ will not grow.

I disagree in part. Allow me. I’ve reflected on this book for years…

I would that he might have said, “then it is much more difficult for the love of Christ to grow.” More difficult because we’re always busy, busy, busy. Much of the time needlessly so, I think. We’re distracted. Divided. Disoriented. We’re dreadfully afraid to be alone with our thoughts, or the possibility we might be confronted with an I/Thou encounter that might break us out of our spiritual timidity. And so we are unable to approach anything that resembles peace. At least not the peace which passes all understanding. We’re stuck in the amber of a diabolically conceived dictatorship of noise. We can’t hear our own hearts beating, let along the stars singing.

John said we must rethink priorities. Throughout the book, he gives numerous examples of the priorities we might rethink. At the center of them all is silence, but a pregnant silence, a burgeoning silence. A silence that is present.

Andrew Senior, John’s son, says in the foreword to the 2007 edition, that “silence and prayer will do more to restore Christian culture than noise and action.” He’s feeding us a tidbit of the thought that his father fleshes out in the first chapter, from which this blog takes its name. It is the core of my apostolate called Cellarium. Here is the quote, in full, with my dull ramblings interspersed:

The Blessed Virgin said of her Bridegroom at the instant of the Incarnation, ‘He brought me into the cellar of wine.’ The saints who comment on this passage tell us that each of our souls, like hers, must descend with him into that cellar where he will say, ‘Eat, O my friends, and drink, and be inebriated, my dearly beloved.’

Wine is usually taken at the table, not in the cellar. Eat, O my friends, and drink, and be inebriated. Not in the common room. Not even in moderation. Inebriated. This is the language of desirous love. Of courtship, if you will. The bride and bridegroom imagery which is but a taste of the spiritual reality of the Beloved’s desire for souls. For your soul. For mine. He feels that way about us all of the time, but do we reciprocate? How many minutes per day do we spend with Him, inebriated in the wine cellar?

The saints refer to this as a definite, necessary stage in the spiritual life. Without it, there is no progress toward the Kingdom of Heaven, which is the only goal of the Catholic life, whose only language is music–the etymological root of which means ‘silence,’ as in ‘mute’ and ‘mystery.’

We can’t think of this as simply a duty to be performed. It’s a disposition of the heart. I’d go so far as to say that when we speak of practicing or placing ourselves in the presence of God, it shouldn’t be a simple acknowledgment of fact. Be inebriated. Like lovers are inebriated by each other’s presence.

Music is the voice of silence, and so it follows that to enter with Our Beloved Lord into that prayer of quiet and to pray to Our Blessed Lady that He might lead us there, we must learn to speak that language, too. That is, we must know music and especially the music of words which is poetry. No matter what our expertise, no matter what we are by vocation or trade, we are all lovers. Everyone must be a poet in the ordinary way of salvation.

I can’t make you a poet, or even to understand the importance of the goodness, truth and beauty of the language of love. I can tell you, but you probably already know from experience, that falling in love woke something deep within you that sang, that searched for words to give life to that which is inexpressible. That is music. That is silence. That is poetry.

If you’d like to delve deeper into this line of thinking, I can recommend Anthony Esolen’s brilliant forty page introduction to his recent work, “The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord.” And then, the songs themselves.

Until then, dear friends, remember the Beloved’s desire for you, and sneak off to the cellar of wine to wait for Him there. He won’t tarry long.