Tuesday, December 27, 2005
While browsing the Bodleian Library's online catalogue of Broadside Ballads for traditional folk carols I also stumbled across a couple of really cool Quaker themed Broadsides that are well worth checking out:
(the links show the original manuscript, and can be enlarged by clicking on the magnifying glass. They can be a little difficult to read in places)
The Quaker's Fear, or wonderful, strange and true news from the famous town of Colchester...
The Quakers Farewel to England, or their Voyage to New Jersey, scituate [sic] on the Continent of Virginia, and bordering upon New England
Sunday, December 25, 2005
"...May your soul calm, console and renew you. May the light of your soul guide you. May the light of your soul bless the work you do with the secret love and warmth of your heart. May the day never burden you. May dawn find you awake, alert, approaching your new day with dreams, possibilities and promises. May you go into the night blessed, sheltered and protected..."
I keep returning to this blessing (I've linked to it in a few places on my blog). It was given by a Benedictine Monk on this TV documentary, called 'The Monastery', which saw 5 'ordinary' people spend 40 days in a Monastery in Sussex. It was a really moving programme. The blessing seems to encapsulate everything I wanted to say today.
Friday, December 23, 2005
The music and words of traditional folk carols often include unusual imagery and inventive re-interpretations of advent and the festive season, and make you re-think your perspective on Christmas. This is something I'm trying to do, particularly in terms of how I relate to Christmas in the light of the quaker heritage towards festivals.
A great collection of midwinter music including both Christian and Pagan carols, humorous and devotional songs as well as dance tunes, is in fact called 'The Carnal and the Crane' by the New Scorpion Band
I also like listening to, and pondering on the message of 'Dives & Lazarus', with its stark imagery and message to care for the poor. It was a very popular traditional tune (made even more popular by Vaughan-Williams) and song that would be sung by carol singers hoping to make a little money during the lean winter times.
Labourers would also try other means to make (beg for) money at Christmas – one of which is Morris Dancing. I shall be helping keep the Christmas Morris Tradition alive in my local area this year by dancing on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day (to end my brilliant first season of morris dancing). There is a quaker connection here folks as I will be dancing on the Iron Bridge, in Ironbridge in Shropshire, constructed in 1779 by the Quaker Abraham Darby III. I'll do a post about it in the New Year.
A couple of weeks ago I found myself in Birmingham City Centre with some free time. It was a good excuse to explore the Frankfurt Christmas Market, but also it coincided with a half-hour lunchtime service at Birmingham Cathedral that I’d previously picked up a leaflet about. It is called ‘Still’ and is described as:
“an opportunity to step out of the fast lane, be quiet and be nourished, taking inspiration from the Taize and Iona Communities, the practice of contemplation and a series of set themes. ‘Still’ involves a time of silence, music and reflection on a wide range of issues”
I was curious to find out what the experience of this would be like, in the light of my expression of spirituality through unprogrammed quakerism.
A few people gathered in the front Cathedral pews. On the floor in between the Chancel and the pews, was a triangle of candles (tealights), with cushions arranged in a semi-circle that you could sit on if you wanted to – 2 of the 3 people who lead the service did so. The theme that day was: ‘In the midst of it all’. The service consisted of a variety of things. 3 tunes were played at different times on a recorder and flute, and a line of verse was then sung, and repeated a number of times. There was a reading. It was 1 Kings 19, relating to Elijah in the desert finishing with:
“A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn’t to be found in the wind; after the wind an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn’t in the fire; and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper. When Elijah heard the quiet voice, he muffled his face with his great cloth, went to the mouth of the cave, and stood there.”
This was read 3 times, spoken by a different person each time. The question: “In what places do you hear the quiet and gentle whisper?” served as a prompt before a 10 minute period of silence and reflection. Just prior to this contemplation time some recorded music was played, including bird song, a spoken voice, some ambient music and some pretty groovy music that can only be described as drum n bass! At the end of the service a small basket was passed around which contained pieces of paper with extracts of the reading for people to take away with them.
How did I respond to this form of worship? How did I relate to the symbolism of the church and the short service? I wasn’t used to worshipping using a variety of external stimuli. The cathedral church was a large space, there were lots of artefacts, there was the echo of voices and footsteps, there was the smell of candles. The experience provoked a different response in me because it was gently structured. This gentle direction served as a catalyst or facilitator for spiritual reflection because no formal analysis or synthesis was offered in the service - it was up to you to give and take as much as you wanted. I was quite comfortable with this, and didn’t feel at all awkward.
Rather than uncritically accepting the reading and the short extracts from the songs, their repetition encouraged me to linger upon them and try to decipher meaning from behind the words. I tried to open myself to the imagery, immersing myself and dwelling upon the feeling of the experience to see which way it would lead me. The 10 minutes of silence were functionally just like unprogrammed quaker worship, but I felt slightly different towards it due to the previous spiritual prompts and where I was sitting. During reflection my eyes opened, I gazed straight ahead and my sight became cast upon the spectacular radiance of the Byrne-Jones stained glass window, the Ascension window:
The way that the passage from 1 Kings 19 was presented really challenged me to be reflexive. I have read very little of the Bible. This was the first Old Testament passage I had encountered for years and years. The same applies to the New Testament – the other week, for the first time for as long as I can remember I read a passage from John. I’ve recently been musing on, and struggling a little with, how I can approach afresh from a quakerly perspective for example, passages from the Bible, or the Lord’s Prayer. What would be the effect if I searched to find Elijah’s gentle and quiet whisper, just like the still small voice of calm of Whittier? It also encouraged me to begin to search for linkages between the early Christianity desert mystics which I’ve been reading a little about and how this relates to quakerism.
Reflecting upon my encounter with this service I think it’s perhaps similar to forms of programmed friends worship. Not everything spoke directly to my condition in ways that I was familiar with, but I happily deferred this aesthetic obstacle. I’m so glad I went along because it makes me challenge my quaker worship, and I can empathise with other expressions of spirituality which engage with external artefacts and symbols. It encourages me to strive to avoid any potential for personal complacency in my quaker meetings – and embrace the immediacy of expectant waiting that a spiritual prompting may come at any time.
“He was a good man. The noblest work of God.”
My final thoughts on the ‘Still’ experience is encapsulated by A. E. Housman in poem XLVIII of 'A Shropshire Lad':
BE still, my soul, be still; the arms you bear are brittle,
Earth and high heaven are fixt of old and founded strong.
Think rather, — call to thought, if now you grieve a little,
The days when we had rest, O soul, for they were long.
Men loved unkindness then, but lightless in the quarry
I slept and saw not; tears fell down, I did not mourn;
Sweat ran and blood sprang out and I was never sorry:
Then it was well with me, in days ere I was born.
Now, and I muse for why and never find the reason,
I pace the earth, and drink the air, and feel the sun.
Be still, be still, my soul; it is but for a season:
Let us endure an hour and see injustice done.
Ay, look: high heaven and earth ail from the prime foundation;
All thoughts to rive the heart are here, and all are vain:
Horror and scorn and hate and fear and indignation—
Oh why did I awake? when shall I sleep again?
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Monday, December 19, 2005
Absolutely amazing to learn that Nizlopi are Number 1 in the UK Charts with the JCB song!
Check out the animation to the JCB Song
"...And I wanna transform into a Tyrannosaurus Rex!
And eat up all the bullies and the
Teachers and their pets
And I'll tell all my mates that my dad's B.A. Baracus
Only with a JCB and Bruce Lee's nunchuckas..."
For full lyrics click here
Go guys! This is brilliant! Many many warm congratulations to Luke and John, and to the discerning members of the public who bought the single! At last this is a real statement of how genuine musical talent, emotion and feeling can overcome musical mediocrity! Truly inspirational!
(P.S. normal blog posting in the conventional style of 'under the green hill' will resume shortly!)
Thursday, December 15, 2005
The small duo Nizlopi have been making great music for a long time. But through word of mouth and a great animation to a moving song, they have released a single in the UK. Nizlopi means 'straight from the heart' in Hungarian. And they do exactly what it says on the tin! The JCB song is a frail and magical story of childhood experience, where an unhappy child who was bullied at school would be picked up by his father in his big yellow JCB digger and be driven home, lifting his spirits - and is an autobiographical take by the singer Luke. The lyrics are tender. moving, honest and expose a vulnerability amidst conjuring great imagery. The music - guitar, double bass and human beat-box are really funky and groovy. Check out the absolutely amazing animated video, produced by Ali Smith, at the spectacular JCB Song website. There are similar motifs here with another great video - Glosoli by Sigur Ros, but in a different context and genre. I'm not just jumping on the bandwagon here. As it turns out I first saw Nizlopi at the end of September at a concert in a field behind a village pub in Herefordshire. The concert was called 'under the green hill', and was the inspiration for the title of my blog! For me Nizlopi, together with Benji Kirkpatrick, were the highlight of the concert. To read a little more about the concert check out my previous blog post. It would be great if these guys gave the commercial, mainstream, commodified, mediocrity and talentless void of the charts a real run for there money this Christmas! This stuff is a breath of fresh air. Check out the Healthy Concerts page - which organises small-scale acoustic music concerts in people's gardens and living rooms. Nizlopi were part of this, and I hope they continue to do it! My only appeal to Nizlopi is - don't sell out guys, and stick to what is true - making great music!
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
A number of Quaker agencies, including Canadian Quaker International Affairs Programme (QIAP), Quaker United Nations Office, Geneva (QUNO Geneva) and Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW) from Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM) are in Hong Kong, working at these talks to support developing country negotiators and promote a fairer negotiation process. Daily updates can be found at:
http://qpsw.blogspot.com/ (but its a shame you can't post any comments on it)
The September edition of QPSW’s newsletter Better World Economics gives an outline of the issues being faced in Hong Kong. Further information can be found at QPSW's briefing pages.
Let's hope the quaker light shines through the frustrations of the protracted, convoluted and bureaucratic system, and help point towards finding radical, inventive ad exciting ways of removing the obstacles that deny the developing world fairness and justice in terms of trade, debt, aid and human rights.
An interesting book that deals with these issues is called 'Just World: the G8 and Beyond', written by the Globalisation Group of the Fabian Society, and published by Zed Books ('books that matter'), whose really brilliant publications are well worth a browse.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
This is particularly the case during times of no reply. The expectant waiting to hear of the plight of the Iraq hostages continues.
The Independent newspaper marked the 1000th day of war in Iraq with some really thoughtful features.
How can we work practically and peacefully to foster the positive and lasting transformation we would like to see in the world? (a big question I know, I'm just thinking out loud here - answers on a postcard!)
With the festive season upon us, one step, a first rung on the ladder, could be through sending genuine and much needed messages of hope to some of the people who really need it. An example could be through Amnesty International's Greetings Card Campaign.
Friday, December 09, 2005
For the hostages in Iraq
For embodying so completely the testimony of peace
For bringing their witness to heal pain, fear, anger and hatred
We wait in expectancy that all will be well
May everyone who finds themselves a hostage of mind or body dwell in the still healing light
Other posts see Quaker Blog Watch
Saturday, December 03, 2005
for if people did once see we love them
we should soon find they would not harm us.
Force may subdue, but love gains.
William Penn, 1693
Our purpose is, and our practices have
always been, to seek peace, and ensue it ...
and doing that which tends to the peace of all
Declaration to Charles II, 1660
There is no way to peace...
...Peace is the way.
from Catherine Whitmire, Plain Living