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More light, more light

This Saturday evening, as the darkness gathers, I will ignite a small chunk of charcoal, place in it a brass pot attached to a chain, and spoon grains of Somalian frankincense on top.

The fragrant smoke rising from that thurible will be one of the indications that the Great Vigil of Easter has begun. The function of incense, Marion Hatchett wrote, is “honorific, fumigatory, and festive,” and in due course the paschal candle, the Gospel book, the baptismal font, the altar, the altar party, and the congregation will all be censed.*

The twice-a-year people who show up Sunday morning will get the full choir and the brass ensemble, but those who brave the night will get the mystery: the single candle burning in the darkness, the smell of incense, the retelling of the stories of salvation history (storytelling in the dark, like our remote ancestors), the Gospel of the Resurrection, the breaking out of light, the sound of bells, the first Eucharist of Easter.

I impose these ecclesiastical paragraphs on you, readers, including those of you who are not believers, so that I can talk a little about ceremony.

Ceremony, after all, is why a substantial number of Americans will be awake at six o’clock in the morning a week from tomorrow to watch the royal wedding. We took some trouble to extricate ourselves from the Crown, you may remember, and there is not much about the Windsors to inspire affection.** But Britain still knows how to do ceremonial, and Americans gape at the show.

In America, where grown men dress like pubescent boys and Casual Friday is universally observed, people chatter in churches as if they were in hotel lobbies. American weddings, when not conducted in the small hours at chapels in Las Vegas, are usually do-it-yourself improvisations in which the amateurishness of the ceremony is matched only by the vulgarity of the display of money. We elect to high office people unable to string together two coherent English sentences in sequence—we want our leaders to be just folks, just like us.

I think that we sense our national impoverishment—why else all the breathless William-and-Kate coverage?—and long for a dignity that we have forgotten how to achieve.

So, at the hazard of looking comical, I will be at Memorial Episcopal Church in Bolton Hill this Saturday, vested, taking part in a ritual that has persisted since the second century of the common era.

It is worth attempting because, as William Carlos Williams wrote in “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower”:

Medieval pageantry

              is human and we enjoy

                             the rumor of it

 

as in our world we enjoy

              the reading of Chaucer,

                             likewise,

 

a priest’s raiment

               (or that of a savage chieftain).

                             It is all

 

a celebration of the light.

 

 

*I am aware, and need not be reminded, thank you, that many people do not like incense. Some find it physically irritating, and some find it theologically irritating because of its Romish associations. Though the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland is not quite as obsessively Low Church as it was when my wife and I arrived here twenty-five years ago, its clergy are still largely drawn from Virginia Theological Seminary, where incense and ceremonial are looked on as favorably as baptism by total immersion and predispensational millennarianism.

**There hasn’t been an English monarch since Richard III. (Some, I suppose, would say Harold II.) The Tudors were Welsh, the Stuarts were Scottish, and the current house changed its name to Windsor during the Great War to obscure its dreary German lineage.

 

 

Posted by John McIntyre at 10:59 AM | | Comments (26)
        

Comments

Everybody loves Raiment!

Hi. I am Jewish. At work, someone asked me (because I know everything) whether we get the day off for Good Friday. We do not. Someone overhearing our conversation chimed in that many Christians don't believe in Good Friday. This was shocking news to me, as I thought it was one of the holiest days. This guy said that lots of people regard it now as a made-up story (no comment) that they prefer to skip. How can there be an Easter without the Good Friday? I wasn't about to get into it with this person, but I cannot believe he knows what the heck he's talking about. However, as stated, I'm a Jew so what do I know. Can you shed some light?

I don't want for a minute to stand in the way of fermata getting an answer, because I'll be fascinated to read it, but as Honorary Consul for the United Kingdom in this comment column I'll have to deal with the royal stuff.

I realise I'm probably just spritzing the bonobos, but I'll say this once more: yes the Queen is descended from Germans. She is also descended from, among others, the Kings of Scotland, and the Scots, Welsh, Norman and Saxon Kings of England and all the way back to the 6th century Kings of Wessex. That is, sort of, the point of the whole thing, you know?

And this stuff about dreary Germans is a bit whiffy. So Elizabeth Stuart married the Elector Palatine - so what? Are German princes by nature dreary, rather like German poets and playwrights and composers? You must have noticed that, while George III was a bit of a nuisance, Kings of Britain since 1688 have been hired on the basis that they keep their heads down; we have elected politicians to do the non-dreary bits.

Now the stuff about the Windsors not inspiring affection. I'm an agnostic about the whole monarchy business, just not fussed about its continuance, but that statement seems to me wide of the mark. I don't give a fig for how she may be viewed in America, but in Britain, at least, and as far as I know in all the countries where she is head of state, the Queen is held in great respect for the way she has carried out her role, as her father was before her.

And for those of us old enough to remember her from the cinema newsreels as a young woman in mourning stepping off the plane from Kenya, or a year later in the television broadcast from the Abbey, and who have seen her commitment to her duty for nearly sixty years since, I think it is fair to say that some affection has been added to that respect.

Being schooled, Picky, was more than I had dared to hope for. Many thanks. (Though you rather conveniently omitted mention of Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.)

As for Good Friday, fermata, you should know that yes, there are some advanced Christians who do not take the Crucifixion accounts literally, though they don't deny that there was a Jesus from Nazareth who was executed by the Romans. There are many, many more traditional Christians and middling Christians for whom Good Friday is an occasion of solemn observance.

Well, yeah, I was pretending he was Belgian. Although there is more to say of Prince Albert and his missus than that they were dreary: he has some real achievements to his name, and she, the old battleaxe, once you get to know her better, was really rather sweet.

When your vigil is done, may you and yours have a joyful Easter Day.


Thomas,

Very clever w/ your 'punny' "Everybody loves Raiment!" quip. HA!

I loved the long-running sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond', w/ Ray Romano, Peter Boyle & Co.. Actually caught most of the episodes in reruns, not unlike "Seinfeld".

I doubt if our High Consular at large from over the Pond, blogger Picky, has ever seen this popular American sitcom, so sadly your cool pun likely went right over his head. Oh well.

By-the-by, have you seen Ray Romano in the TNT dramatic coming-of-middle-age series, "Men of a Certain Age", w/ Scott Bakula, and Andre Braueur? He co-writes, produces, and acts in the show----a regular triple threat. I was pleasantly surprised at Romano's depth, and breadth of acting talent, where in 'MOCA' his comedic side takes a backseat to a more introspective, serious, sometimes volatile leading character. I believe the series returns to TNT this fall, which would be its fourth season.

@Picky, i loved your use of the term "vigil" in wishing our esteemed blogmeister and his family "a joyful Easter Day".

While we Christian believers wait for yet a Second Coming, blogger fermata and her fellow Chosen People have remained ever vigilant throughout the millennia, firm in THEIR belief that the true Messiah is yet to come. Oh the great mystery of it all.

Fermata, when you say, "what do I know" re/ articles of faith, I suspect you actually know a lot more than you give yourself credit for.

Happy Passover!

ALEX

Thank you, John McIntyre, for your occasional excursions beyond paragraph factory drudgery into other matters, such as cocktails, politics, human nature and, yes, your religion.

Though I happen not to share your brand of spirituality, that is irrelevant. You write with wit and gentle compassion about matters that are universal. Sometimes not so gentle. That works too.

It is already Good Friday here in Sydney. Reading today's post caused me to pause far longer than I had intended, and quietly stare into the distance on a gloriously bright day overlooking Sydney Harbour. This is a Good Thing.

Well said, Stilgherrian.

And I also agree, Stilgherrian.

Update: I asked my non-Jewish boyfriend about this supposed rejection of Good Friday as an important day of observance. He cleared it all up: No gifts, no point. Easter has chocolate, so it stays. Haha.

Happy Passover to you too, Picky, and the rest of the YDS readership.

Alas, it is true that some of us cannot appreciate ceremony as much as others due to unfortunate respiratory disorders. Which gives me the opportunity for a literal use of the phrase: I was incensed to the point of having to leave a lovely Christmas Eve service at the Catonsville convent (which was then Episcoplaian, and has now converted en masse to the RCs)

Might I be permitted a slight segue? This past week I signed up for a two-day eforum about professional matters. All the other eforums and webinars and e-whatsis I have partaken of were American. This one was British, and what struck me forcibly was the civil tone of all the participants. Not one flame or display of rudeness over two days. It was wonderfully refreshing. We could do worse than to emulate this.

And don't let them tell you that you just struck lucky, Dahlink. You know from visiting this sceptred isle that all the British not only have the accent of David Niven, but also are blessed with the manners of Walter Raleigh. Otherwise how would they suffer those cold, damp bedclothes?


Picky,

Old lad, I gather Sir Walter, in his prime, was a mannerly bloke to a fault, a bit of a high society dandy, and something of a jack-of-all-trades, and for a time one of Elizabeth I's favored members of her esteemed inner circle.

Sadly he had that unfortunate military fiasco w/ the Spanish fleet, and to basically save diplomatic face, the British powers-that-be (now answering to King James I) deemed that commander Raleigh's lack of sound judgement, and overkill in the messy maritime affair warranted his ultimately sacrificing his noggin......... in those 'beheady' times, the unkindest cut of all. (THWACK!....PLOP! Ugh!)

I found it rather odd, and slightly maudlin that Sir Walter's lopped-off-head was almost immediately embalmed, and subsequently retained by his then grieving widow for some 29 years, up until her death. (That must have been quite the conversation piece above the Raleigh livingroom hearth. "Oh, he does look so lifelike, don't he." Ugh!)

History tells us that after his wife's demise, (from natural causes, sudden dispatch, or lingering illness, I presume), her spouse's long-preserved head was officially reunited w/ the rest of her hubby's now moldering mortal remains in his internment plot at St. Margaret's, Westminster. Reunited, and it feels so good.

Curiously, the dashing, and mannerly Sir Walter had a bit of a literary bent, gaining some modest notoriety as a fairly competent published pastoral-style poet, tending toward the melancholic. Wonder if he happened to have penned an ode to the whacky tabaky? (Rumor has it that the late John Denver's mega-hit, "Mountain High", was inspired by old Sir Walt. Just sayin'.)

Picky, indeed, the late British actor David Niven did appear to personify the very essence of the refined, civil, debonair Englishman of some considerable means and social graces. His smooth, yet slightly clipped Brit accent was truly one for the ages.

We should all come off so suave, and charming, eh, old chappy? HA!

ALEX


Oops!

That should have been John Denver's, "Rocky Mountain High" ............. the "Rocky" seemed to have momentarily eluded me. Oh well.

ALEX

Thank you dj.weatherford and Laura Lee.

What I forgot to include in my comment was a line saying something like: "Mr McIntyre, don't feel the need to describe your religious writing as an imposition, and don't apologise. The only people who object to a man writing about his religion are the intolerant."

Re royal wedding, we all know that America is a nation of closet monarchists.

Exhibit one is the love of ceremony, which seems to be merely relegated to different domains, such as sport. (My fellow Australians are notoriously fond of sport, but of the thing itself, not of ceremonial trappings.)

Exhibit two is the fact that American political vocabulary includes a title for the wife of the President. Only a culture that craves royalty (whether it admits it or not) would have any use for a title for the spouse of the head of state.

Exhibit three is the widely-reported American enthusiasm for British royalty. Back when the debate over an Ausralian republic was in full swing, public proponents sometimes pointed out that British royalty receive a more enthusiastic reception in America than in any other country (though I'm not quite sure what their point was).

Probably best if you all just admit it.

Adrian, thank you for an outsider's explanation of what Americans think and revere. It's an interesting take, and well worth understanding from my point of view, but off the mark.

1) As for loving ceremony, if that is a sign of a monarchist then there are a lot of republics that are full of such people. It's more a sign that a lot of people love ceremony, and will attach it to whatever they can: sports, monarchies, highway dedications, whatever.

2) First Lady is an appellation originally used by President Zachary Taylor when eulogizing Dolly Madison. Her efforts during the War of 1812 - independent of her marriage to James Madison - show the justice of the epithet. It was used as a courtesy for a sitting President's wife later, when we were so far removed from British rule that there was no danger of anyone confusing this with a return to monarchical rule.

3) And for enthusiasm for British royalty in America, we are probably guilty of enjoying the spectacle but I doubt that can be taken as evidence of a desire to join the Commonwealth. It's precisely because we can do this from a distance (and the very comfortable distance of not being part of the kingdom), that we can engage in it much more freely than those of you who are her subjects but might like not to be.

Do many Americans like to play around with it? Sure. But to jump to the conclusion that it makes them monarchists is too much of a stretch.


Adrian Morgan & Tim,

I appreciate your engaging and most civil exchange re/ America's seeming fascination w/ all things "royal" (British "royal", that is), particularly the pomp and ceremony swirling around the royal nuptials. I would argue that both you gents made some strong, and valid points.

As an expat Canadian having lived in the U;S. for the past 31 years here in L.A., I must admit I still haven't totally lost my admiration, and respect for her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who despite all the ofttimes embarrassing shenanigans perpetrated by younger members of her extended royal family over the years, has remained ever resolute in her duties, retaining her personal dignity, and in more recent years, post-Princess Diana's sad passing, seems to have fully regained the wide affection of her forgiving British subjects. At 85, she's quite the amazing old gal, and doesn't appear to be slowing down, a whit.

Adrian, I'm sure you Aussies , particularly the Great Depression/ World War II era folk, still have an enduring affection, high regard and curiosity for the British monarchy, although i would guess that the younger, 'NOW generation', could likely care less. I might be wrong on that score.

Tim, It's almost become an U.S. cultural cliched notion that many Americans had deemed the New England Kennedy clan, (w/ the charismatic brothers Jack, Robert and Teddy as the new Camelot's ill-fated knights-in-shining-armor), as the U.S.'s closest 'thing' to British royalty. For decades this tragedy-plagued family was at the forefront of mass media hype and scrutiny, w/ the late former First Lady, Jacquline Kennedy, her son John, and later the indefatigable Senate workhorse, Senator Teddy Kennedy, keeping the Camelot mythic flame alive. Of that elder generation, Caroline Kennedy remains, along w/ Robert's widow, Ethel, and her litany of children, as the Camelot flame yet flickers precariously, going forward.

Tim, I agree that the average American (if there is such a creature), loves ritual, pomp, and ceremony, and sports, in all its myriad forms, often provides a fitting outlet for its expression.

Annual sporting events like the exciting Triple Crown stakes races, particularly the upcoming Kentucky Derby, exude shared ritual and seasoned tradition. The Indy 500, the annual Masters golf tourney, U.S. Open tennis, and the gala Rose Parade in Pasadena, CA, early New Year's Day, are just a handful of 'can't-miss', revered events. As a New Year's Day prelude to the prestigious Rose Bowl clash, this literal kick-off to the new year hardly lacks pomp, or ceremony.

The annual Super Bowl extravaganza in early February is probably the biggest, most covered sport media event of the year here in the U.S., now w/ global interest, and has become a widely shared communal 'happening' for millions of avid football aficionados, w/ even non-gridiron folk joining in the festivities, just to be a part of the collective party experience.

In an increasingly secularized America, sports, particularly of the team variety, appears to have become the new American religion. Fanaticism has many guises.

Well, I sense I'm starting to ramble, so i'll call this a wrap.

Thanks guys for your thoughtful back-and-forth.

Guday, mates!

ALEX

I'd say the typical Australian attitude to the monarchy is that it is mostly harmless. The great majority of us would probably support an ideal republic (not that there's any consensus on what that means), but all that's ever been proposed is a less-than-ideal republic, which most of us aren't passionate enough to settle for. Our ties to the monarchy are both symbolic and remote, so only people who fret over remote symbols are really bothered by it.

My earlier comments were, of course, not meant to be taken too seriously, though they are not without serious points (e.g. that the term "first lady" seems very strange to outsiders).

Yes, First Lady is really weird.  And, Alex, from half a world away I'm sure Adrian is right.  In my youth, Britain and Australia (and NZ - Canada had some special factors of course) were as close as sisters. We felt we had something like a common nationality, so having a common head of state seemed quite natural.

In the years since, like sisters, we have pursued our own different interests, and although we are still culturally and politically very close it no longer seems obvious that we should share head of state. I understand many Australian republicans feel they should not change current arrangements while the Queen is still alive, and that seems to me an honourable stance. But I think when we have lost her it would be very odd if Australia did not move, with dignity, one expects, towards a republic.

As to Sir Walter, I dare say it was all that talk of the South, as well as his famously OTT courtesy to QE1, that brought him to mind.  His poetry, by the way, seems to me more than "fairly competent".  His voice has such clarity that those who think poetry has to proceed by ambiguity are not going to take to him, but I like him.  What does Laura Lee think?

The anthologies of my youth all carried his Nymph's reply to Marvell's Shepherd, if I remember, as well as those familiar (and I think satisfying) lines supposedly written on the eve of his execution:

Even such is Time, that takes in trust
Our youth, our joys, our all we have,
And pays us but with earth and dust;
Who in the dark and silent grave,
When we have wander'd all our ways,
Shuts up the story of our days;
But from this earth, this grave, this dust,
My God shall raise me up, I trust.

B*gger! Kit Marlowe, of course, not Andrew Marvell.


Picky,

Old lad, once again you have shed additional instructive/ informative light on a host of subjects. So thanks for that.

We 'Commonwealians'------Canadians, Aussies, and such----though perhaps considered a slightly anachronistic lot, (not unlike those pagan Druids HA!), as we careen into the 2nd decade of the new century, do still tenuously share a common allegiance to, and history with a British monarchy that has essentially become (as Oz blogger Adrian earlier pointed out), more of a symbol of a bygone era, and today, hardly the imperialistic, power-wielding, global dominating juggernaut of old.

Sorry Picky, just telling it like it is. Still regard QEII as a pretty cool, super gal.

Picky, I much appreciate that little Sir Walter piece of straight-forward, spare, yet elegant poesy, as well as your giving him his rightful literary due. Who knew?

This particular stanza seems so very timely, as Christians-all absorb the true import and meaning of the Easter celebration, hopefully still stirring in their hearts and minds from a mere two days past.

"But from this earth, this grave, this dust,
My God shall raise me up, I trust."

IMHO, no one has expressed the hope of personal resurrection much better, in such an economy of words.

As a little post-Easter 2011 gift, of sorts, to my fellow bloggers---believers, and non-believers alike---- I'm attaching a video link to a most inspired, and inspiring vocal rendition of the popular hymn, "How Great thou Art", sung w/ both power, conviction, and grace by the beautiful and most talented country singer, Carrie Underwood. (Oh, blue-grass star, Vince Gill, accompanies her on guitar, w/ occasional tenor harmonies.) --------ENJOY!


http://www.yahoo.com/_ylt=AurqAxL.4LQJZoqaSlpc4rCbvZx4;_ylc=X3oDMTkzZWQ2dDYxBF9TAzIwMjM1MzgwNzUEYQMxMTA0MjUgbXVzaWMgdW5kZXJ3b29kIHNvbmcgYnYEY3BvcwMzBGQDc3QEZwNpZC04NjQwNgRpbnRsA3VzBGl0YwMwBGx0eHQDVW5kZXJ3b29kc29uZ2JlY29tZXNhdmlyYWxzZW5zYXRpb24EcGtndgMxMwRwb3MDMgRzZWMDdGQtZmVhdARzbGsDdGl0bGUEdGFyA2h0dHA6Ly9uZXcubXVzaWMueWFob28uY29tL2Jsb2dzL291cmNvdW50cnkvOTQzMTcvY2FycmllLXVuZGVyd29vZHMtaG93LWdyZWF0LXRob3UtYXJ0LW1vdmVzLXRoZS1tYXNzZXMvBHRlc3QDNzAxBHdvZQMxMjc5NTk3MQ--/SIG=13s11mbtm/EXP=1303924025/**http%3A//new.music.yahoo.com/blogs/ourcountry/94317/carrie-underwoods-how-great-thou-art-moves-the-masses/

(Yikes! That's some humongous algorithm. Oh well.)

Picky, I trust this one will leave our sweet Laura Lee w/ a tear, or two. It did me. I'm a real softy at heart. HA! Enough said.

Picky, enjoy the rest of your 'royal' week., and do avoid the inevitable London 'crush' on Friday.

Ta! Ta!

ALEX

Alex: not quite my style, but she's very very good. So's her mate.

The cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter brought up the question back in the 80s of who the First Lady of Britain might be, and after considering and rejecting the claims of the Queen and the PM, settled on the theory that it was Denis Thatcher. (I hasten to add that he was making a serious point about the uses and limitations of analogical reasoning.)

To this I'll add that though the Queen is, qua head of state of the Channel Islands, the Duke of Normandy, that does not make Prince Philip the Duchess.

And those cargo-cultists from Vanuatu who think Philip a god probably don't think his wife a goddess.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at john.mcintyre@baltsun.com.
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