Evensong (with Dragons)

Quite an exhilarating Choral Evensong last night.

Three ribbons to give out to young choristers to indicate their achievements and then straight into an exciting musical service.

The psalm was 148, which is one of my favourites, particularly in the setting that they sing here. In common with very many choral churches, we usually sing from the Coverdale translation of the psalms. It is a glimpse back to a time when the scriptures were first being translated into English and sometimes you can catch how exciting that must have been.

Apart from the fact that the following couplet appears to contain the perfect Glasgow weather forecast, who can’t enjoy singing about dragons and all deeps praising the Lord?

Praise the Lord upon earth ye dragons, and all deeps;
Fire and hail, snow and vapours  wind and storm, fulfilling his word;

If even the dragons can be part of the world’s great symphony of praise, there must be hope for us all.

The language of the Coverdale psalms, tricky, anachronistic, out of date and bizarre is also paradoxically wonderful for talking about faith with children.

After the psalm and an highly chromatic office hymn that was new to me, we were swooping along into the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis by Dyson in D. (Dicing with Death, the choir call it). Magical moments, particularly at the end of the Mag. However, the choir managed to save something special for the anthem, I saw the Lord by Stainer. High point of the day was reached at the k in the phrase, “and the temple of the Lord was filled with smoKe”

And yes, if you were paying attention, I did, in the intercessions, ask the Holy and Blessed Trinity to protect us from religion that is dull or humourless.

Let all the people say,


Which psalms to sing (Andrew's Question from earlier)

I’m indebted to Andrew for making this comment on another post. I’ve moved it here because I think it is worth discussing in its own right, rather than in the comments for something only tangentially related.

Andrew says:

Would it be possible to have a channel on which to write comments not specifically connected with the topic under discussion?
To give a concrete example, why do we sing psalms like the one we sang on Sunday morning? It speaks of spurning the company of “the wicked” and washing our hands of their affairs. This is emphatically not what Jesus did. Plenty of other psalms are less anti-Christian in their outlook.

I can’t remember precisely which psalm this was referring to, but I can say why we sing the psalms we do.

The psalms for the Sunday morning service are chosen as part of the Lectionary that we use. A Lectionary is a collection of suggested Bible Readings. The one we use is in wide use across the world. Generally on a Sunday, our neighbours in the Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic Church will be reading similar readings to us. (Often they are exactly the same). The psalms which the Lectionary suggests are designed to be a response to the first reading. They are not set in order to make us feel good, but rather to allow us an insight into the emotions and characters of the first readings. Thus, if the first reading is about something terrible happening to someone (Joseph being thrown into a pit by his betraying brothers for example) then the Psalm can be expected to lean towards lamentation rather than praise.

Sometimes it can be just this kind of thing which touches people the most. Lots of people who come to church on a Sunday have their own troubles which can be mirrored in exactly this kind of psalm. Generally speaking, the hymnody that we use at St Mary’s tends towards the upbeat. I’m pleased about that, but also pleased that sometimes we weave into that strain of praise other expressions of the human condition.