Saturday, November 18, 2017

Saturday Haiku: Distant Songs

sometimes a ruin
calls to that place of turning
to hear distant songs


Photo: Ruins of Whitby Abby
Source: Earth Spotter

The 12th century abbey was built on the site of the 7th century monastery where Hilda was abbess when she encouraged Caedmon, the first English poet. The feast day for St. Hilda of Whitby is November 18.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Windows of St. David's Church

(Logo for St.David's Episcopal Church
Denton, Texas)
Many years ago, I happened upon a photocopy of an article from The Living Church. “A Literary Succession,” by Edward Rutland told about a unique set of four windows at the St. David of Wales Episcopal Church in Denton, Texas. The windows “honor four saintly persons who contributed in different ways to English literature.” The saintly persons celebrated are Hilda of Whitby, The Venerable Bede, John Donne, and C.S. Lewis.

Having majored in English Literature in college, and since I was involved in social services at an Episcopal Church at the time, the article caught my interest. One thing that amazed me was in learning about Hilda of Whitby and her encouragement of Caedmon, the first English poet. In my English Lit studies, I had felt a connection with Caedmon since high school days. The fact that he was a shy person who loved music and became inspired to write songs of beauty gave me hope. I read in Rutland's article how Hilda had been the encourager of Caedmon. The astounding part, after being drawn in to learn about Hilda of Whitby, was to discover that her feast day is on my birthday! I had just found a new patron saint.

Searching for the Windows

Last year, I began searching for photos of the windows at St. David’s Church. I was only able to find one of them online, but I wanted to view them all and I didn’t have any plans to travel to Texas. I sent an email to the church when I found their website and asked if any photos of the church windows were available. The rector, Canon H.W. Herrmann, graciously emailed me four beautiful photos of the windows.

I am sharing those photos here, along with text from the article* by Edward Rutland in which he gives a brief sketch of each life depicted in the windows.  As the article states, “Four companion windows in St. David's Church, Denton, Texas, indicate the history and variety of literature and learning in Anglicanism.”

St. Hilda of Whitby

St. Hilda of Whitby (614-680) is included because she was both a woman in the decision-making processes of the early church (important in the city which includes the main campus of Texas Woman's University) and because she is a person of literary significance not to be forgotten. She is shown with the pastoral staff of her abbotship and holding a small church, representing her simple monastic settlement and its successful school.

She is noted for her Celtic sympathies but cooperative spirit at the Synod of Whitby (664). And she is appreciated for the literary and spiritual sensitivity with which she sponsored a rustic farmhand named Caedmon. Her encouragement helped him produce for his own Anglo-Saxon people vernacular poetry on Christian themes. Though his poems, done in bardic manner, were mostly lost in antiquity, they place him at the head of the long line of English poets. Honored as a saint according to early Celtic custom, her day in the Christian calendar is Nov. 18.

The Venerable Bede

The Venerable Bede (c. 673-735) said “study, teaching, and writing have always been my delight.” Indeed, his writings are wide ranging in subject matter, and vast in number, including 25 words of scriptural commentary, translations, treatises on grammar, poetics and calendar reform, plus biographies and more. He is said to have been the first known writer of English prose, though his vernacular prose texts have been lost.

A hint of his piety may be found in two of his poems set to music in the Episcopal Church's Hymnal 1982. But it is as “the first English historian” that he is generally known. His Ecclesiastical History of the English People, written in Latin, often translated, is still valued by scholars for being authoritative historiography according to 20th century criteria.

His attire identifies him as a “monk of Jarrow,” as he is often called, for it was there that he did his life's work. But in the 11th century his remains were moved to Durham, and in 1370 were relocated to their present location, now a lovely shrine, in that cathedral. The day of his commemoration has been changed several times; since 1969 it has been May 25.

John Donne

John Donne (c. 1572-1631) “No man is an island” - with such nautical analogies Donne spoke to the sea-faring people of England when he was dean of St. Paul's Cathedral, London. His writings are daunting if he is not identified at the outset as a multifaceted personality of genuine Renaissance proportions. (In the window he is shown in the garb of period, except that the dean's cassock is of a later date.)

Much is known of him through Izaak Walton's Life, through Ben Johnson's observations, through the erudite and often poetic correspondence which he exchanged with others, through their memorializations of him, but most notably through the autobiographical character of his writings.

To those who through his writings know him and perhaps love him, he is fascinating, exasperating and inspiring. He is a mixture of the sensuous, secular and worldly, and the intellectual, pensive and devotional.

Though in early adulthood a spendthrift who lived in respectable poverty, he was widely traveled and a man of immense learning. In both poetry and prose his language is in the style of the times: figurative, evocative and metaphorical - often in the extreme. His friend Ben Johnson reckoned that, as a result, his writings would perish. Happily T.S. Eliot regarded him as being in the direct current of English poetry. In his polemics he was careful to place himself in the theological mid-road of Anglicanism.

John Donne, priest, is one of the "worthies" added in recent years to the calendar of the prayer book in this country: March 31.

C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis - Seven days short of the 65th birthday, and in failing health, C.S. Lewis died quietly at home Nov. 22, 1963. Since his home parish, Holy Trinity, Huntington Quarry, is on the outskirts of Oxford, he often went to confession and communion at the Church of St. Mary Magdalen, a high church parish in the heart of the university city that was the center of Lewis's life. Now, nearly a third of a century afterward, the world knows him better, and loves him more, than in 1963.

He was one of a remarkable group of 20th-century lay people - G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, T. S. Eliot and W. H. Auden, to name a few. In an age of unfaith, cynicism, moral disorder and strange spiritual searchings, Lewis is read and admired by all sorts and conditions of people - the young, the old, from sacramentalists to fundamentalists, and beyond!

Born an Anglican, Lewis lost his faith during his teen years. In his maturity he knew the other side, the side of unfaith, its viewpoints and arguments. That perspective adds richness to his writings, and charm saving him from pedantry.

Because he popularized serious concepts, Time called him an “amateur theologian.” Chad Walsh, in the New York Times Book Review, said Lewis had “the ability to make Christian orthodoxy exciting and fit for the brave rebel.” His creed was stated in Mere Christianity: “the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.”

That he was sharply aware of humankind's sinfulness is seen in such works as The Great Divorce. In The Screwtape Letters, he deployed humor to disclose the wiles of the Devil. He wrote straightforward apologetics in The Problem of Pain, a luminous book to be read alongside Letters to Malcolm. And he did a very readable "word study" of biblical terms in The Four Loves.


Photos of the windows at St. David's Church were sent by the Reverend Canon H.W. Herrmann, SSC, rector of St. David of Wales Episcopal Church, Denton,TX

*"A Literary Succession" by Edward C. Rutland, The Living Church, May 14, 1995, vol. 210, no.20, p. 12-13. (archived at 


Monday, November 13, 2017

Monday Music: Ghost Riders in the Sky

Today's music selection features four takes on one song. My earliest recollection of 'Ghost Riders in the Sky" is the performance by the Sons of the Pioneers. As a kid, I enjoyed that close harmony that they achieved. If I was lucky, on a Saturday morning the TV station would air a movie western featuring Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers.

The song was first recorded, however, by Burl Ives. His rendition offers a most impressive ability to hit those high notes with such a beautiful clarity. Vaughn Monroe then made the song an even bigger hit with his smooth baritone voice. Many years later, Johnny Cash turned it into a hit once again on the radio. Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson bring a raw edge to the song in a live performance which really compliments the music puts the song on another level.

So take your pick, or listen to each one.

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