Psalm 19, 4 March ’18

Psalm 19 is soaring and thoughtful poetry. I’m tempted to say ‘fantastic’:

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
3 They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
4 Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.

People in any era have been fascinated by the mysteries of the universe. Gods, elemental matter, dreaming, creative spirits good and evil, magic and more have been devised in many mythologies to tame, explain or narrate. In more recent years, the Schrödinger wave equation, the little-understood W-boson carrying the weak force, and now gravity waves have equally fascinated as wordless signals “go out to the ends of the world”. But this is not science. Any single interpretation of this soaring imaginative poetry will surely serve to blinker and constrain. Readers dream afresh according to their history, situation and current cognitive settings.

A brief blog post can not do it justice; so stop now and read the psalm for yourself here> (NIV). And for more discussion on this poem and associated music — which ranges blithely from Händel and Hans Hassler and even, sort of, to There’s a bear in there — please see the post on 3.10.2017.

None of the text and music mentioned therein might happen at your meetin’ house this Sabbath; International Women’s Day 2018 — an important day to those who recognise the strong threads of justice and equity in the psalms and in this blog — is nigh. It deserves attention and might displace the psalm.


The inattentive visitor looking up at the vaulted cathedral of Siena might step on this simple but beautiful marble unawares. A wondering Mary?

The near absence of direct reference to the role of women in the Psalter was acknowledged and discussed in a March 2017 post. Psalm 19 is a lovely song but again, quite generic.

If an alternative is sought, songs and chants celebrating women may be found in many traditions:

  • The song of Mary, Magnificat, is an obvious choice:
    • several are offered in PFAS (pages 1018-1022) including one from Taizé
    • And holy is your name sung to the traditional Wild mountain thyme
    • also a tone and refrain chanted setting
    • in NCH a simple tune by a female writer My soul gives glory is at No 119.
  • Hildegard of Bingen was prolific. At South Woden, O frondens and O rubor by Hildegard have been presented, although these are not an easy sing
  • A Shaker song, Simple gifts, might appeal

Admiration of Mary is embedded in much of Christian thinking, although Reformed theology draws the line at an intercessory role for the mother of Jesus. As well as the Magnificat, the Roman and high Anglican traditions, exemplified by Hildegard’s compositions, are replete with Marian songs.  Evensong or compline/vespers liturgies regularly include a Marian hymn or antiphon, such as the one shown below, first line only. The theology of asking Mary to pray for us may not sit comfortably with UCA tastes but those who enjoy plainsong might not object too strenuously:

Hail, Queen of Heaven, Hail mistress of the angels. Hail, holy root, hail holy gate from whom came light to the world. Rejoice, glorious virgin, beautiful above all others. Hail and farewell, most gracious one, plead always with Christ for us.

Then [have I kept the best wine till last?] an excellent set of words by John Bell of the Iona Community has great appeal:

There is a line of women extending back to Eve
whose role in shaping history God only could conceive
And though, through endless ages their witness was repressed,
God valued and encouraged them through whom the world was blessed.

The song goes on to acknowledge many unsung but brave, loving and influential women in the biblical record: Sarah, Tamar, Hannah, Mary, Puah, Rahab, Esther …

Magnificat, 15 Dec 13

The inattentive visitor looking up at the vaulted cathedral of Siena might step on this simple but beautiful marble unawares. A wondering Mary?

The inattentive visitor, looking up at the vaulted ceilings of the cathedral of Siena, might carelessly step unawares on this simple but beautiful marble. A wondering Mary?

The third Sunday in Advent (we are around to Year A again, by the way) brings us to the song of Mary, generally known by its Latin name (from the first line Magnificat anima mea Dominum) as the  Magnificat. The text is in Luke 1: 46-55.

Understandably, settings for this song abound. In our own song book alone, Together in song, there are seven tunes that are either settings of or references to this lovely paean of thankful wonder – or was it wondering thanks?

The text has been identified for centuries as one of the key liturgical canticles. It’s  part of the Marian tradition of course, but is also appropriate during Advent as we rehearse the story of the coming of the baby Jesus.

This Sunday, a group of women will lead us in singing Holy is your name, set to the traditional Irish tune Wild mountain thyme. (Psalms for all seasons, page 1020). One line goes:

I am lowly as a child, but I know from this day forward that my name will be remembered, for all will call me blessed.

What a moment for Mary!

Sculpture V KerylosWe respond to each verse with this antiphon:

And holy is your name through all generations!

Everlasting is your mercy to the people you have chosen

And holy is your name.

Here is one version on youtube >

Ladies, please arrive early on Sunday in preparation.

For those interested in just a few of the other canticle candidates, read on …

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