Lord, Teach us how to Pray Aright

Far be it from us to offer lessons in prayer. Especially at Refreshment Sunday when, if anything, we relax our Lenten discipline. But we’re thinking about how we pray today because of something that came up in the intercessions.

That is, the intercessor began praying for ‘all who are disabled and mentally ill: may they find solace, comfort and consolation.’ We know it was well meant. And we hate mixing our politics with church. But today we have to.

Because here’s the thing: we are partially sighted. We are also choristers, dancers, embroiderers, and voracious readers. And with the best will in the world, we reserve the right to take a wooden spoon to any stranger who tries, unsolicited , to escort us off trains, across the road or down stairs. Does that sound like a life in need of consoling?

We were once asked if, given the chance, we’d take full vision over our hemianopoeia, or restricted field. We were horrified. We can no more imagine life without partial sight than we can imagine not breathing. It’s part of us. We’d no more change it than we would our height or our eye colour. And we devoutly hope no one is praying for our miraculous recovery of something we have never missed.

That is not everyone’s experience. But it is ours. There will always be people who do need that petition for consolation, and no doubt some of them will have disabilities and some will not. We’re as rich and varied a community as any other though. So pray for accessibility, and inclusion, and intelligent discussions about integrating us into everyday community. And pray for anyone who needs consolation as you would pray your ill or grieving. But pray thoughtfully. The assumption that we need all the same thing does everyone a disservice.

Advent III: Gaudete from the Choir Stalls

It was our Nine Lessons and Carols tonight, and we were an exceedingly good former chorister and resisted joining in the descants. Well, all right, we confess to fellow choristers and the body of the church et& et& to joining in on two separate lines to Hark the Herald. The thing is, we don’t know the melody to the third verse of that particular hymn. We’ve only ever sung the descant. So we were effectively sight-reading without the music this evening. And that’s a cruel thing to do to a soprano.

It’s also Gaudete Sunday, which means we can relax our Advent discipline a bit. ours, such as it is, would appear to be the blog, and to that end we’re doing something a bit different. We’re still thinking musically after the Nine Lessons, so we’re cobbling together more than the usual single anthem for you. Not to worry; not only will there not be nine of them, we promise no more earworms in the being of last night’s hornpipe.

We’ll start, because it’s Gaudete Sunday, with Hills of the North. This is far and away our favourite Advent hymn -who wouldn’t like a glad rush towards the Apocalypse? We’re being sincere there too, there are shades of Revelations about this hymn. And we’re giving it an airing because it’s woefully absent from the Anglican Hymnnal of the Church of Canada. We freely admit to grousing more than the average person about hymnals not called New English, but honestly, the selection in this one boggles us. It’s not just Hills of the North, the whole Advent section is weirdly curtailed. It doesn’t even have Lead Kindly Light. But that’s a rant for a different time. Here is Hills of the North -our version. There are two.


You’ll notice it’s slow enough to turn the choir blue. That’s not usual. But our only alternative was Songs of Praise not only with the wrong words but at such a clip as to be still more lunatic.  There is an average between the two -we’ve sung it -but it’s not prerecorded apparently.

To follow it, here’s one we used to air with regularity this time of year. It came with a good deal of gentle ribbing from the choir (all 5 of us) about Stainer’s lack of subtlety, but we love it anyways. Even if it does stick in our head for weeks after the fact of singing it.


You see what our choir meant about the subtlety? Even so, we miss it. But we won’t leave you to the endless musical loop that is that particular anthem. We’ll close with another omission from the Canadian Hymnal.


Nt quite Nine Lessons -more a ramble through music we miss this year. There are others too -we haven’t had any antiphonies – but these are high on our list. We’re listening to them accompanied by caramel shortbread tea. It would be heresy if it didn’t put us in mind of another thing we can’t get over here, Millionaire’s Shortbread. It’s the one aberrations to our rigid shortbread recipe we have time for. And the tea tastes the way we remember Millionaire’s Shortbread, though without the chocolate. It’s another sweet, dessert tea that doesn’t cloy, and it’s a lovely way to cap an evening of music and fellowship.

After all that, we can’t quite break with discipline after all, so here’s an irreverent thing that used to circulate through choir circles we knew whenever performances were coming due. Sing it to the tune of Immortal, Invisible and see if you ever sing the normal words again. We still have to think fractionally too long about it.

Immortal Impossible

 Immoral, impossible, God only knows
how tenors and basses, sopranos, altos
at service on Sunday are rarely the same
as those who on Thursday to choir practice came.

Unready, unable to sight-read the notes,
nor counting, nor blending, they tighten their throats.
The descant so piercing is soaring above
a melody only a mother could love.

They have a director, but no one knows why;
no one in the choir deigns to turn him an eye.
It’s clear by his flailing, he wants them to look,
but each singer stands there with nose in the book.

Despite the offences, the music rings out.
The folks in the pews are enraptured, no doubt.
Their faces are blissful, their thoughts appear deep,
but this is no wonder, for they are asleep.

*We would like to stress that whatever his sins, our conductor never flailed. Seemingly though, Thursday is the universal day for choir rehearsal. Funny the things that are unfailingly the same.

Advent II: Roses, Skis and White Tea

We’ve said before we’ve never met a white tea we disliked. And while all rules allow of an exception, Walnut Orange Scone, today’s calendar tea, is not that aberration. It doesn’t taste of scone, but we weren’t really expecting a tea to do that. Scones are, for lack of a better word, solid-tasting. You feel the effort of eating them. Tea on the other hand, and this white tea in particular, isn’t like that. It’s delicate, and floral, and whoever thought to combine white tea with orange blossom is, in our book, akin to genius. The warmth of the walnut laced through it is a lovely touch, and gives an extra weight to the tea. The company behind the calendar errs in only one particular; they think this is a morning tea. It’s not. It’s a comforting wrap of a tea to be drunk before bed. That would henceforth be our routine, but for the fact that we don’t think you want to read everlastingly about Walnut Orange Scone white tea, though we put ever so many poems next to it.

In liturgical news, it’s Advent II, which means Mary and Joseph have joined the tabletop crib, and here and there people are beginning to attend Nine Lessons and Carols. Ours isn’t until Gaudete Sunday, but over the water in Lang’s Auld Grey Toon of St Andrews, the service has been and gone, held deliberately early so the students can catch it.

This news was passed on to us today by a friend as we chatted on Skype, and it got us thinking about our early memories of the service. We were still nominally Presbyterian then, so knew nothing of what to expect. (Theological quarry; can one be nominally Presbyterian still and be possessed of a rosary?)

We remember very little about that first Nine Lessons bar the crowd, the candlelight and Crown of Roses.  We talked last Sunday of the glad expectation of Advent: Crown of Roses is the flip side to that coin. It’s slow, solemn, and hints at the Crucifixion. It has a weight to it that explains as no priest yet successfully done for us, why Advent is so often folded into talk of the Apocalypse.

In the event that you, like us that first Nine Lessons, don’t know Crown of Roses, it’s an anthem by Tchaikovsky. Normal people hear ‘Tchaikovsky’ this time of year and think Nutcracker. We hear his name and think Crown of Roses. Practically speaking, it’s scarcely done because it calls for a divisi from the basses, and it’s a well-established truth that there are never enough men in a choir. Back in St Andrews, our three-person-choir dared not touch it because our Sometimes Tenor would have inevitably had to carry the baseline alone, and that would have been an unkindness. Speaking seriously though, and not as a tongue-in-cheek chorister, it’s a rare, rich anthem, and the world should know it better.  It’s sung here by the All Saints’ Choir of Northampton.


Advent though, as we’ve said, is a funny, twofold season. Solemn on the one hand, almost giddily ebullient on the other. This was best typified by the Presbyterian minister we grew up with. Faced with a near-empty church in the winter months, he didn’t wail doom and End of Days but urged everyone instead to Get off your skis and onto your knees. This in spite of the fact that no god Presbyterian is in the habit of kneeling. That’s dangerously Romish. (Cf our leap to Scottish Episcopacy by way of Marian devotion if you doubt this.) But in the spirit of his old idiom, here’s a limerick for Advent II.

Winter Weather: Drift Into Church

From The Church Year in Limericks, Christopher M. Brunelle

With skis, on foot or by sleigh,
Your arrive is welcome today,
And your timely behaviour
Improves on our Saviour:
The Christ Child is still on his way!

(N.B. In the course of annotating this poem for posting, we’ve discovered these limericks began as an effort to enliven the beginning of choir rehearsals. We’ve had our share of those, and we love this book of verse all the more for its testament to the wilful ecclesiastical humour of the choir stalls. Not to mention we feel doubly vindicated about pairing these limericks with anthems!)

Levity from the Choir

Six o’clock this evening found us drinking Sleigh Ride tea with our academic daughter on the eve of her departure as it were, and talking Christmas traditions. We have family coming soon, and that means shortbread and thumbprint cookies. It being the fourth Sunday in Advent also means that the angels get added to the Nativity unfolding on the coffee table. If that sounds illogical, it probably is. We’ve cribbed the pattern of building the scene from a former minister and have done our best to replicate it, and can’t remember what he did except that everything seemed to end up at the crib by Christmas Eve bar Christ and the Kings. But we’re mostly Anglican, and it’s a tradition, and that naturally means it’s set in stone for the next thousand years at least. On which note by the by, as the annual tradition of the candlelit service looms ever nearer, we feel the need to issue the following friendly reminder;


The Benevolent Choirs Act, issued alongside the 1970 liturgy, means that we in the choir stalls don’t have this problem, being gifted instead with tall candles in glass casing. There is no flimsy cardboard or spindly half-spent candles; these sit stolidly on shelves that make balancing one’s music awkward. Also, because there is no Music Folders Protection Act, the folders are still prone to melt if held too close to the candles by preoccupied choristers.

We’re dwelling on candles this evening because  bizarrely it was revealed this morning that today’s Advent candle was being lit for Mary. Having never realised that the symbolism of the candles changed with the church year this was a surprise; we’ve always supposed the Gaudete Sunday candle is pink as much because it’s a Marian colour as because it’s nodding towards it’s mirror Sunday in Lent, Rose Sunday. Mind you, the calendar also says today is Laetare Sunday, so called because one sings the introit ‘Rejoice O Jerusalem,’ whereas in fact we sang the Advent Prose, which is gorgeous but sounds more like the wail of people anticipating the Apocalypse than a shout of jubilation, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Good Presbyterians of the kind we grew up with, of course, have none of these problems because good Presbyterians don’t give the days Romish names like Gaudete Sunday and they let the candles stand for nice things like peace, hope and joy. They’ve probably never heard of the Advent Prose (the ones we grew up with certainly hadn’t) either. We are not good Presbyterians. We gave up sometime after acquiring our first rosary. Great-Grandmother Grace is spinning in her grave, and the fact that we’ve since allied ourselves with the Scottish Episcopacy probably hasn’t slowed her down all that much.

We should, here, give you a Marian poem in the name of thematic relevance, but we’re afraid to look for one as the vast majority are almost certainly doomed to be soppy. Instead have  a bit of ecclesiastical levity. Mine might be spiky people who give Latinate names to Sundays and look dangerously over the precipice at Rome all too often, but we do know better than to take ourselves too seriously.

Hilarity, or Hymnody

(Unknown) -to be sung to ‘Aurelia’

Our church is mighty spikey
with smells and bells and chants,
And Palestrina masses
that vex the Protestants.
O happy ones and holy
who fall upon their knees
For solemn Benediction
And mid-week Rosaries.

Though with a scornful wonder
men see our clergy, dressed
In rich brocaded vestments
as slowly they process;
Yet saints their watch are keeping
lest souls be set alight
Not by the Holy Ghost, but
by incense taking flight.

Now we on earth have union
with Lambeth, not with Rome,
Although the wags and cynics
may question our true home;
But folk masses and bingo
can’t possibly depose
The works of Byrd and Tallis,
or Cranmer’s stately prose.

(Here shall the organist modulate)

So let the organ thunder,
sound fanfares “en chamade;”
Rejoice! For we are treading
where many saints have trod;
Let peals ring from the spire,
sing descants to high C,
Just don’t let your elation
Disrupt the liturgy.

Why the Flood Came

Today we revisited the coffee cake tea of two days ago. But at some point in the afternoon we paused in our writing -some of it creative, much of it for UCAS -and made a pot of what the Calendar calls ‘nutty and spice.’ It seems to be equal parts nuts and spices, and emerging from that semi-somnolent place writing induces, it was just what we needed. It tastes of crisp autumn weather, never a bad thing this time of year because often by the time we make afternoon tea the sun has set and it’s easy to forget that so lately as November the sun set in the afternoon.

We’re cheating a bit this evening, because UCAS exhausted our creative energy sometime around the third pot of tea. As we approach that terrifying rush for Christmas, here’s a piece of liturgical humour from the Advent church newsletter that we thoroughly appreciated on reading;

Why the Flood Came 

Originally from the parish magazine of All Saints’, Worlingham

And the Lord said unto Noah; ‘where is the Ark which I have commanded thee to build?’

And Noah said unto the Lord; ‘Verily I have had three carpenters off ill. The gopher wood supplier hath let me down -yea even though the gopher wood hath been on order for nigh twelve months. The damp course specialist hath not turned up. What can I do, O Lord? ‘

And the Lord said unto Noah; ‘I want that ark finished after seen days and seven nights.’ And the Lord said unto Noah; ‘it will be so.’

And it was no so.

And the Lord said unto Noah, ‘What seemeth to be the trouble this time?’

And Noah said unto the Lord; ‘ Mine subcontractor hath gone bankrupt. The pitch which Thou commandest me to put on the outside and the inside of the ark hath not arrived. The plumber hath gone on strike.’

Nora rent his garments and said; ‘The glazier departeth on holiday to Majorca -yea even though I offered him double time. Shem, my son who helpeth me on the ark side of the business, hath formed a pop group with his brothers Ham and Japheth. Lord, I am undone. The gopher wood is definitely in the warehouse. Verily and the gopher wood supplier waiteth only upon his servant to find the invoices before he delivereth the gopher wood to me.

And the Lord grew angry and said unto Noah; ‘what about the animals? Of the fowls after thier kind, and every creeping thing of the earth after his kind, two of every sort have I ordered to come to thee to keep alive. Where, for example, are the giraffes? And where are the clean beasts, the male and female, to keep their seed alive upon the face of the earth?’

And Noah said; ‘the van cometh on Tuesday and yea, it will be so.’

And the Lord said to Noah,;  ‘How about the unicorns?’

And Noah wrung his hands and wept, saying; ‘Lord, they are a discontinued line. Thou canst not get unicorns for love nor money.’

And God said; ‘Where are the monkeys and the bears and the hippopotami and the elephants, and the zebras and the hartebeests, two of each kind, and of the fowls of the air by sevens and the male and female?’

And Noah said unto the Lord; ‘They have been delivered to the wrong address but should arrive on Friday, all save the fowls of the air by sevens, for it hath just been told unto me that fowls of the air are sold only in half dozens.

And Noah kissed the earth and said; ‘Lord, Thou knowest in Thy wisdom what it is like with delivery dates.’

And the Lord in his wisdom said; ‘Noah, my son, I knowest -why else dost tho think that I have caused a flood to descend upon the earth?’

Kneel with the Listening Earth

We’re drinking something called Genmaicha tonight, and it’s evidence of a flavoured tea that works. It’s flavoured with popped rice, and if that sounds odd, it doesn’t taste it. It offers a subtle, almost nutty taste to the tea, which means it bears up well against mince pies.

We defend the mince pies, by the by, on the basis that tonight was the Nine Lessons and Carols service. In the days that we were still in the choir, we were always offered them in the reception afterwards as a thank-you, and accordingly it came to mark the point at which mince pies became acceptable Advent fare. Clearly the habit has stuck. Also, we had guests this evening and wanted to offer them a suitable sweet.

We’re still humming the music from the Nine Lessons and thinking of Advent this evening, so we thought we’d cheat a bit and borrow a poem we’ve posted before that anticipates the season.

After Trinity 

John Mead Faulkner

We have done with dogma and divinity,
Easter and Whitsun past,
The long, long Sundays after Trinity
Are here with us at last;
The passionless Sundays after Trinity,
Neither feast-day nor fast.

Christmas comes with plenty,
Lent spreads out its pall,
But these are five and twenty,
The longest Sundays of all;
The placid Sundays after Trinity,
Wheat-harvest, fruit-harvest, Fall.

Spring with its burst is over,
Summer has had its day,
The scented grasses and clover
Are cut, and dried into hay;
The singing-birds are silent,
And the swallows flown away.

Post pugnam pausa fiet;
Lord, we have made our choice;
In the stillness of autumn quiet,
We have heard the still, small voice.
We have sung Oh where shall Wisdom?
Thick paper, folio, Boyce.

Let it not all be sadness,
Nor omnia vanitas,
Stir up a little gladness
To lighten the Tibi cras;
Send us that little summer,
That comes with Martinmas.

When still the cloudlet dapples
The windless cobalt blue,
And the scent of gathered apples
Fills all the store-rooms through,
The gossamer silvers the bramble,
The lawns are gemmed with dew.

An end of tombstone Latinity,
Stir up sober mirth,
Twenty-fifth after Trinity,
Kneel with the listening earth
Behind the Advent trumpets
They are singing Emmanuel’s birth.