Special Music this Sunday

Last month, on a Valentine’s visit to see Joy in Paris, we set out on foot from Joy’s apartment in the Marais. Traveling South, we crossed the Seine on the Pont Notre-Dame and climbed a hill towards the Panthèon, where located next door is the church of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont. It was here that composer, organist, and teacher Maurice Duruflé served as organist from 1929 until his death in 1986. Across the street from the church we rang a bell and entered an apartment building, climbing to the seventh floor. A charming man named Frédéric Blanc welcomed us and we stepped into the apartment where Duruflé and his wife, the brilliant organist Marie-Madeleine lived for 60 years. Since the apartment is on a hill, the large terrace has what must be one of the best views of the entire city.

If I had to be stranded on a desert island with just composer’s organ works, it would be Duruflé’s. His compositions are easily among the most beautiful and emotionally moving in the repertoire. Yet as beautiful as they are, he was extremely self-critical, publishing only a handful of works. Among his choral works, the Requiem, Opus 9 is the best known, but there is an underperformed gem, called the Messe “Cum Jubilo” scored for unison men’s chorus that Duruflé composed in 1966. In it, he combines his unique and colorful impressionistic compositional style with the ancient Gregorian plainchant melodies he was so familiar with as an organist accompanying the liturgy. The melodies, already beautiful, become soaring and aspirational, lifting the listener towards the ethereal.

I think I’ve observed this before in these paragraphs, but one of the things I love about being a church musician is the opportunity to interact intimately with great works of art. A painting in a museum is beautiful, but you can’t touch it (without going to jail) and you have to leave it where it is. In every worship service at GPC, we’re interacting with musical art, whether a great hymn tune that has come down to us through centuries of singing, a stirring choral anthem, or this composition by Maurice Duruflé that will be threaded throughout our service this week. I look forward to experiencing it together.



A Lenten Journey

When you start to climb a mountain, you fill your pack with as much water and food as you can carry, you add a few essentials and set off on your adventure. As the hike progresses you go through different phases—excitement, curiosity, determination, regret, despair, hopefulness, exhaustion, resolve, and finally exuberance. When you complete your hike your pack is almost empty and notably lighter than at the beginning of the day.  Lent is like this kind of journey, winding and long and the road ahead is not always clear. But when you go through it and stick with it—all your confessions, prayers, sacrifices, and acts of service mean that you will arrive at Easter morning with a much lighter pack than when you started.  Less guilt ridden, less burdened by worries, less doubtful about your faith, and ready for surprise, ready for joy, ready for God. This is the goal for the Christian progressing from Ash Wednesday to Easter morning. 

Blessings to you on your Lenten journey.


A Lenten Prayer

A Lenten Prayer

Excuse our poor prayers Lord, for our throats are dry.
Our lives are a mix of sin and righteousness.
We follow you, but our hearts are broken–distracted by the cares of the world.
We hear your good news, and rejoice for a moment, but your promises seem so far away.
And yet, despite the seeming distance, we wait. We wait on the coming of our Lord.
May it be so.


“You are dust, and to dust you shall return…” – Genesis 3:19

On Ash Wednesday, GPC pastors gave “Ashes to Go” outside the church, with a simple sign, and a bowl of ashes. When people came by to receive ashes, we simply made the ashen sign on their foreheads, and reminded them that they ‘came from dust, and to dust they will return.’
For us pastors, to tell friend and stranger alike about their mortality and sin; and for people to go out of their way (even stopping their cars on the side of the road) to be told a message that few want to tell—that we are broken, and we are mortal, seems like an odd business to be in and an odd thing to want to receive.

Perhaps, though, there is a freedom in proclaiming our limits and failures, and wearing it as a badge on our heads. A freedom from the false notion that if we’re just a little more perfect, we’ll be happy and worthy. Instead, we find in the ashes of Lent our need to receive God’s grace over and over again, and the freedom to cease striving to be perfect, and instead strive to be faithful. And that is a gift that’s worth going out of your way for on a cold Wednesday in early March.


The Start of Lent

T.S. Eliot’s poem Ash Wednesday begins:

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn

Eliot wrestles with the process of conversion – turning towards God. He wrestles with what that turning means and entails and requires. Such are the annual wrestling’s of Lent – the season of conversion in preparation for the coming season of growth and resurrection. We have but a few short days before Lent begins and then the forty days are upon us. Like our musings ahead of the new year, now is our time to prepare for the turning. On Wednesday, you will be invited to begin Lent soberly and prayerfully. One of my favorite lines from Eliot’s poem: “Teach us to care and not to care.”  Maybe Lent is a time when we can try to care about matters of meaning and faith and compassion.  Maybe Lent is a time when we can strive to not care about matters of vanity and selfishness and folly. Let us begin now to prepare – prepare for the season – prepare for the turning – and prepare for the hope, which eventually will come.

Blessings to you and those you love,