West Papua Dinner and Entertainment – Saturday 4th November 5.45-9pm

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Come celebrate West Papuan culture and raise funds to help raise West Papua’s voice to the United Nations. Cost $30 waged, $15 unwaged. Guest Speaker: Rev Peter Woods, Missionary, artist, activist ” Where is God in the West Papuan struggle?” Tickets can be booked online for waged, or unwaged, or by contacting the office of the Federal Republic of West Papua on 0420 250 389.

Blessing of the animals and Preschool service – Sunday 22nd October 9.30am

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They say ‘never work with children or animals’, but at St Luke’s we’re breaking all the rules and celebrating our Preschool and Blessing our Animals on the same day! On Sunday the 22nd of October  at 9.30 am, there’s bound to be fun for all ages as we connect with children’s spirituality and bless the animals who bless our lives. Preschool families are particularly invited to join us this day, as all the groups are learning songs to share with the congregation, and it is an opportunity for the children to see inside the Church building and find out some of what happens there. This year we’re glad to welcome Michele Phillips from the South Oakleigh Wildlife Service to speak to the children about caring for local wildlife. Members of the community who would like to share in this celebration are welcome, and everyone is encouraged to bring an animal (or a photo if bringing your animal isn’t practical).

Happy Birthday UCA!

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40 years ago today, Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational Churches came together to bring a new and uniquely Australian denomination to birth – The Uniting Church in Australia. St Luke’s Uniting Church is proud to celebrate the ongoing contribution of Uniting Church Congregations, Agencies and Schools to the life of our nation.

The Lord’s my shepherd I

Katrina DowlingMusic2 Comments

Peter and lamb

Once a month at St Luke’s we have ‘Music Sunday School’,[1] in which the class is taken by a music educator and music-making is the way we engage with the text of the day. It ranges from experimental sound-making to instrumental music to karaoke! At the moment we are tapping into our musical heritage by exploring “The Lord’s my Shepherd” from the Scottish Psalter and singing it to CRIMOND.

Because it’s Ascension time, we note that the Shepherd-King is an important part of the Jewish and Christian faiths. In Sunday School, the kids were faced with a puzzle –do we know of anyone who is both a shepherd and a monarch? They were able to call to mind both Jesus and David. David was a shepherd-king and wrote the song we know as Psalm 23 using imagery that shows how sheep trust their protector. Jesus identified himself with the shepherd role, and at Ascension his kingship is affirmed.

Brian Tabb sums up the implications of Ascension for our living:

  1. Remember that Jesus is presently reigning as king and remains active and engaged in our world and our lives.
  2. Therefore live boldly, confidently, and strategically as servants of the exalted king of heaven. Know that your labors in the Lord Jesus are not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).
  3. Sufferers, take heart that Jesus is not indifferent to your struggle. He has endured great suffering and is thus the most merciful and sympathetic counselor and mediator. Take your cares to your ascended Lord who hears your prayers and can respond with all heaven’s authority.
  4. Finally hope in a glorious future. The ascended Lord will return as judge and king. He will abolish injustice, end suffering, and destroy death and set up his kingdom of truth, righteousness and love. Best of all, we will be with our king forever.[2]

If you look at Tabb’s points above in the context of Psalm 23, you can see a very strong sympathy between God’s nature revealed as shepherd and God’s nature revealed as king.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.

As we sang through the psalm and opened out the imagery verse by verse, the children discovered these insights as well. They learned of the rod and staff used for protecting and guiding, and were stirred by the thought of the shepherd “bonking lions on the head.” But at the same time they realised that if the psalmist is comforted by the presence of the rod and staff, it reveals that this shepherd is not the kind to use his staff for smacking the sheep! And when we came to the final verse, considering how the line “surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” speaks to us, one response was “what it means to me is that even if I’d been naughty, the shepherd would never say, ‘That’s it – now you’re out with the lions and bears.’”

The images in this post are kindly shared by photographer Carlene Hardt.[3] In a later post I’ll also have the privilege of sharing a poem by Peter, the shepherd in the photos! But I’ll make you wait until July, when our next ‘Music Sunday School’ session will see a return to Psalm 23 and the children will be invited to compose their own shepherd songs in response to the poetry they’ve encountered so far.

Peter and lamb

[1] Music Sunday School is on the fourth Sunday of the month during school term times.

[2] Brian Tabb, “More Than an Afterthought: Six Reasons Jesus’s Ascension Matters,” desiringGod.org, April 13, 2013, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/more-than-an-afterthought-six-reasons-jesus-s-ascension-matters.

[3] Thanks to Carlene, to Peter and to Elaine Hardt of encouragingu.blogspot.com.au for their generous correspondence.

If ye love me

Katrina DowlingMusic1 Comment

In our composer-focussed service on 14 May, one of our musicians shared this thought about polyphonic music (that is, music with more than one interdependent vocal line):

What I love about singing a cappella [unaccompanied] is the feeling of being part of a polyphonic instrument. Everybody else involved is coming from a slightly different angle; they’re on their own unique path, but the journey is the same: the song.

Put this thought alongside the lovely part-song by Thomas Tallis (1505-1585), “If ye love me,” a four-voice setting of part of the text for the coming week:

If ye love me,
keep my commandments,
and I will pray the Father,
and he shall give you another comforter,
that he may ’bide with you forever;
e’en the Spirit of truth.[1]

Between them, this song and Clare’s insight suggest to me that the experience of polyphonic singing can reveal something significant about the text of this song – that it is in listening to the many parts and in participating in the one journey that we keep the commandments and receive the abiding spirit spoken of in this passage.

Listening to the diversity of the parts

What if the way we “keep my commandments” consists in communal listening to the moving of God in our midst, just like the singers’ communal listening to the moving of the parts?

Pentecost is first of all an experience of prayerful, communal listening. Pentecost teaches the disciples to listen for the spirit of God moving in their lives. Only after listening do they know what to teach.[2]

Enacting the equality of the parts

What if we experience “he may abide with you forever” in our mindful, understanding, and loving relationships to each other, just like the singers’ enacting of the equality between the parts?

For a community to be a real place of practice or worship, its members have to cultivate mindfulness, understanding, and love. A church where people are unkind to each other or suppress each other is not a true church. The Holy Spirit is not there. If you want to renew your church, bring the energy of the Holy Spirit into it.[3]

In the Harmony-Quartet’s rendition of “If ye love me” at their 2008 Freiburg concert, it’s easy both to follow an individual vocal part and to listen to the whole. Try listening twice through: first time, choose one singer and follow his line with attention. Second time, listen to the ‘polyphonic instrument’ as a whole, but with an awareness of all the unique paths that are being traced within this one journey. See how much of each line you can hear at the same time as being able to hear the whole!

Thomas Tallis, “If ye love me,” Bass part, The Wanley Partbooks, Bodl. Mus. Sch. MSS e420-422, fol.55r (detail).

Edit – update from the 21 May intergenerational service:

We listened to this quartet in our music session in the Sunday service, and afterwards a few people shared these thoughts about how being part of music-making relates to being part of the Church (my paraphrases):

  • It’s significant that there is something holding the music together. The independent parts do not go flying apart, because they are made to be part of a harmonious whole.
  • The voices in “If ye love me” enter at different times, not all at once. We can allow people to enter at the time that is right for them, not expect everyone to be at the same place simultaneously in their faith.
  • At first you can only concentrate on following one voice part at a time, and then when you listen again, you become able to hear more of the other parts as well as the whole. That the Holy Spirit is in us means that we listen to the Spirit and because of that we are able to listen to each other.

Feel free to add your own comments in the field below!

If you’re interested in seeing more of the Harmony-Quartet, you can visit their web page and buy a DVD of the entire 2008 concert.

[1] John 14:15-17 (KJV)

[2] John Dear, Living Peace: A Spirituality of Contemplation and Action (New York: Doubleday, 2001), 34.

[3] Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ (London: Random House, 1996), 67.

Grassroots music

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On Sunday 7 May we celebrate ‘Land’ Sunday in Season of Creation, so let’s consider grassroots music in church – you might also think of ‘grassroots music’ as folk music.

The soundtrack of the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? is pervaded with grassroots music of Northern America – you can listen to an interview with T-Bone Burnett, on NPR’s all songs considered, and play some of the songs from the 10th anniversary recording.

In the movie, there is a touching scene in which grassroots music both encapsulates and stirs the men’s impulse towards faith and freedom: the ‘down in the river to pray’ scene. This is a style of music that speaks to many at St Luke’s as well, and we’ve enjoyed singing it in our own harmonisations. Alison Krauss’ version in O Brother, Where Art Thou? is beautiful. Can you think of a better musical setting for this scene?

Tell out, my soul

Katrina DowlingMusic2 Comments

Franz Anton Maulbertsch: Visitation (detail), c.1771-1777

This week we’re singing Timothy Dudley-Smith’s metrical setting of the Magnificat, “Tell out, my soul.” The text of the Magnificat, from Luke’s Gospel, is usually read in Advent, and, although in many traditions it’s part of daily prayers, at St Luke’s we don’t normally have it in corporate worship at this time of the year. Yet here it is on the day we celebrate Holy Humour – both our laugh-out-loud joy at God’s victory and our laugh-at-ourselves appreciation of the way that God’s sovereignty turns our pretensions and power structures upside down (“the humble have been lifted high”).

When I look at the Magnificat, I enjoy reading from just before the song, to hear how Elizabeth’s words of recognition and blessing call forth Mary’s song of praise in turn. It’s an amazing spectacle of affirmation. This is the episode, in the translation that inspired Dudley-Smith’s hymn:

About this time Mary set out and went straight to a town in the uplands of Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby stirred in her womb. Then Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and cried aloud, ‘God’s blessing is on you above all women, and his blessing is on the fruit of your womb. Who am I, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? I tell you, when your greeting sounded in my ears, the baby in my womb leapt for joy. How happy is she who has had faith that the Lord’s promise would be fulfilled!’

And Mary said:

‘Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord,
rejoice, rejoice, my spirit, in God my saviour;
so tenderly has he looked upon his servant,
humble as she is.
For, from this day forth,
all generations will count me blessed,
so wonderfully has he dealt with me,
the Lord, the Mighty One.
His name is Holy;
his mercy sure from generation to generation
toward those who fear him;
the deeds his own right arm has done disclose his might:
the arrogant of heart and mind he has put to rout,
he has brought down monarchs from their thrones,
but the humble have been lifted high.
The hungry he has satisfied with good things,
the rich sent empty away.

He has ranged himself at the side of Israel his servant;
firm in his promise to our forefathers,
he has not forgotten to show mercy to Abraham
and his children’s children, for ever.’[1]

Elizabeth and Mary are telling out praise to each other, in a way that reminds me of the poetic image in Psalm 19 of all creation pouring out praise, every moment reciprocating and in turn evoking a new part of the song:

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.[2]

Leonie Stocks, Autumn equinox, Melbourne 2017

And, to return to Holy Humour, there’s something about the profound truth in which, in the act of praising, we come to rest, that allows us to contemplate our ridiculous smallness with delight, as an element in the whole relationship between God and creation. John O’Donohue observes that:

the act of praising draws you way outside the frontiers of your smallness. To praise awakens the more generous side of your heart. It draws out the nobility, the Úaisleacht, in you. When the soul praises, the life enlarges.[3]

It’s ironic that if you measure yourself in the context of human society, it tends to foster a sense of need and anxiety and serious self-regard, but when you see your smallness in the vast greatness of God, it tends to lead to self-forgetting and trust and gladness!

These two Scripture texts and the hymn could furnish a lifetime of experience. In your recent enjoyment of the Magnificat and “Tell out, my soul,” what has been speaking to you? Back-and-forth telling out of praise across distance and generations? Subverting human power structures? Or something different?

[1] Luke 1:39-55 (NEB)

[2] Ps. 19:1-4 (NRSV)

[3] John O’Donohue, Eternal echoes: Exploring our hunger to belong (London: Bantam Press, 1998), 299.

Breaking through structure

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We’re heading towards Easter and the celebration of good news and transformation. In our Lenten study we’re up to the later chapters of Matthew’s telling of the Good News, and we have entered the portion in which the very structure of religion is disrupted.

Transformation – whether you seek it or it overtakes you – means a familiar existence gives way to a new way of being. It’s literal or metaphorical death. Perhaps the most famous image is the seed that dies to its existence as a seed, splits open and discovers its hidden nature as a new sprouting plant:

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life will lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. [John 12:24-25]

When I think of transformation, I think of the music of Gustav Mahler. He is the master of thematic transformation, and because of this he is able to break open the symphonic structure as it was understood at the end of the 19th century, not destroying the symphony, but allowing it to transcend its old boundaries and achieve a different kind of completion.

Mahler’s music embraces many real-world sounds – dance music, military signals, birds, cow bells, running water and much more – but, rather than primarily illustrative, his music is more like parables: everyday things telling a story symbolically. In his thematic transformation Mahler incorporates but goes beyond the Classical symphonic techniques of working with themes as abstract musical material; he incorporates but goes beyond the Romantic techniques of depicting scenes, moods or narratives; in fact, by working the musical material at the level of symbolic significance, he synthesizes abstract and illustrative musical functions into what we might refer to as music that can philosophise.

In our limited space here it’s hard to do justice to examples, but let’s touch on one of the most significant elements in Symphony No.1. The interval of a falling fourth appears throughout the symphony, undergoing transformations that sometimes progress so organically that you might not always consciously recognise that the same germ is there in many guises, unifying the symphony. But it’s good to begin with one of the most obvious thematic connections. In the opening of the first movement you hear the falling fourth emerging from a sustained A and building into a short theme:

In the final movement it is an answer to the problems posed by the symphony:

But we can only make a relatively crude comparison here. If you go with Mahler through the course of the symphony then the transformations take on meaning. Try listening to the whole symphony and ‘buy into’ the world it offers you at the beginning, and by the end of the symphony you’ll get a small sense of leaving that world behind in order for it to be born anew.

Invocation

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Let’s hear the song “Khumbaya,” but not the song as you might know it from Guides and Scouts and campfire singing. In fact, I’ll suggest that it can be a model of liturgical prayer. The familiar campfire song, in the experience of many people, has been exploited to arouse shallow-rooted feelings of happiness and harmony. As a consequence, “kumbaya” is a synonym for “the warm fuzzies”: unrealistic or cheaply-generated good feelings.

In comparison to songs like “Imagine” and “We are the world,” which are, arguably, intrinsically patronising or emotionally manipulative, the common campfire version of “Kumbaya” suffers only from being reminiscent of a schoolyard chant in its repetitive words and sing-song tune. Its taint comes only from the practice of using the song to induce an evanescent feel-good mood. But the Soweto Gospel Choir’s version of “Khumbaya” is distinct enough to allow us to shake off old associations with the campfire rendition and hear the words as a simple invocation and expression of trust. The refrain “khumbaya” throughout is dialect for “come by here,” i.e. “be with us”:

Somebody’s crying Lord. Khumbaya
Somebody’s praying Lord Khumbaya

Oh Lord, hear my prayer Khumbaya
As I lift my voice and say Khumbaya
I need you Lord today Khumbaya
I need you right away Khumbaya

Somebody’s in despair Khumbaya
Somebody feels like no one cares Khumbaya
I know you make a way Khumbaya
Yes! Lord you make a way Khumbaya

 When I listen to this version in particular it reminds me that liturgy means the work of the people, that is, the church’s public prayer, and that I don’t need to be in a given situation in order to join in making the public prayer for those who are experiencing it. I don’t even need to know them personally – I just need to know that “somebody’s in despair” as we lift our voices to carry that prayer together.