Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Adventures in Hymnwriting, Again

I wrote most of this back on the 5th, couldn't figure out the last verse, and lost the tune. This morning I figured out one and found the other. Based on the psalm and the other sheep/shepherd references, of course.

Strayed Like Sheep
Lyrics and Music: Maureen O'Brien, 1/8/03

We have all strayed like sheep,
But the Lord will keep
Looking for us till we are found.
He will bring us to rest
In the grass that's best;
He knows where the cool water's found.
A protecting rod
In the hands of God
Is a comforting sight to see,
And we won't be afraid
Of death's icy shade
When we walk through its dark valley.

Hear Him call. Know His voice.
We must make our choice:
To trust Him or the wolves and night.
He knows each sparrow's fall.
He will count and call;
He will seek us with all his might.
He will hold us near;
He will calm our fear;
We have only to turn around.
We have all strayed like sheep,
But the Lord will keep
Looking for us till we are found.

Why I Got Out of Linguistics

Amaravati explains it all. Through U.S.S. Clueless.

I've Put Up Some Pictures

I want to look festive! Now that this blog is one and a half years old, it's time for something new and exciting to happen.... Stay tuned!

The picture on top is St. Virgil/Virgilius of Salzburg, originally named Fergal. (Irish monks, like others throughout the world, often changed their name when entering religious life. The poet Virgil was regarded as practically Christian, He was apparently one of the O'Neills, and became abbot of the Benedictine Irish monastery of Achadh Bo (Aghaboe). He was learned in history, math, philosophy and theology, and knew so much geography that the monks called him "the Geometer". But it seems that Virgil also had itchy feet and a tendency to get into disputes. After one of these, apparently over missionary work, Virgil got fed up and headed out with a party of like-minded monks in 742 or so. Some say he planned to go to the Holy Land. Where he ended up was at the Frankish king Pepin's court; he stayed there for 2 years or so. Pepin then sent him to the defeated Duke Odilo of Bavaria. Virgil advised the duke for a while, then got sent to Salzburg in 746 or 747, since the bishop had died. Virgil moved into St. Peter's Monastery on the Monchsberg (founded by St. Rupert) and became abbot. As in Ireland, he as abbot ran the diocese, with his companion Dub Da Chrich as his bishop subordinate.

Before that happened, though, Virgil managed to get into a little bit of trouble. The pope had a legate in Bavaria -- the Saxon St. Boniface. Apparently, personalities and worldviews clashed, and both thought the other gravely in error. There was the whole "abbot bossing the bishop around" thing. Then there was the poorly educated local priest who'd been baptizing people in the name of the Patria, Filia et Spiritus Sanctus -- the Fatherland, the Daughter, and the Holy Spirit! St. Boniface wanted them all rebaptized. St. Virgil said there was no need. Boniface wrote Pope Zachary. The Pope agreed with Virgil. Then Boniface heard Virgil teach something that shocked him. The Latin is apparently a bit ambiguous, but it was something about there being "other men" in other lands "under the earth", whom Boniface understood to be men who weren't descended from Adam. Humans not descended from Adam would be a big no-no, of Pope Zachary demanded that Virgil explain himself.

Virgil returned triumphant to Salzburg (though he did agree to become a bishop in 749 and do his bossing from that position). So whatever he said, it wasn't what St. Boniface wrote. Probably he was talking about people in the Antipodes; the Irish still knew, by way of the Greeks and Romans, that the Earth was round. But others have speculated that these other lands were other worlds, and that St. Virgil was talking about aliens. Still others believe that he was talking about the Otherworld of Irish legend, and the Fair Folk -- which Irish legend identified either with the neutral angels or the Nephilim.

Salzburg prospered under St. Virgil, and he set up a school for priests. He then sent missionaries out into the surrounding lands of Carinthia and Slovenia. Under him the first cathedral in Salzburg was built (from 767-773), which people called a wonder. In 774 he held a Bavarian church council which resulted in the establishment of schools throughout Bavaria. He encouraged the production of books and probably wrote a few. (Some say the "Libellus Virgilii" and the first Life of St. Rupert, the first bishop of Salzburg; the travelogue of Aethicus Ister has also been attributed to him.) He also had relics of St. Brigid and St. Samthann of Clonbroney brought to Salzburg. He died on November 27, 784.

After his death, there was a coup and a new line of rulers came into power over Bavaria. St. Virgil was largely forgotten. Then in the 1100's, a fire destroyed part of his cathedral. The bishop then in power really wanted to build a new cathedral instead of fixing the old one and sent his men to wreck the surviving bits of building. The people of Salzburg were outraged by the destruction. But as the rubble was cleared for new construction, they discovered the long forgotten tomb of St. Virgil, with the inscription "Virgilium templo construxit scemate pulchro" - Virgil constructed this temple in its beautiful shape. Salzburg already had St. Rupert, his cousin St. Ermentrudis, and St. Vitalis...but they did some historical investigation, and in 1233 St. Virgil of Salzburg became one of the few officially canonized Irish saints. (Most were canonized by public acclaim long before the canonization process existed.)

St. Virgil has two feast days -- one with St. Rupert on September 24 (celebrated in Austria), and one by himself on November 27 (celebrated in Salzburg). He is a patron saint of children, and of birthing problems. He is usually shown in bishop's garb with a model of Salzburg Cathedral at his feet; sometimes he carries a globe, or a dish of money (recalling how he personally paid the cathedral workers their wages). Often he is pictured together with St. Rupert, since both are patron saints of Salzburg.

St. Virgil in art:
Wall art on St. Rupert in Gaden
A statue in the Pfarrkirche at Oberalm.
Another, by the same artist, on the High Altar of the Filialkirche in Wallersee.
A wooden statue on the Graz-Seckau diocesan webpage
Holy cards of Ss. Virgilius, Rupert, and Vitalis, among others.

Meanwhile, St. Virgil is remembered throughout the world in churches, schools, and halls dedicated to art. At Salzburg Cathedral, The Salzburger Virgilschola choir is dedicated to preserving the Salzburg Liturgy and singing other medieval music.

He's a good saint for a science fiction fan to know.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Messing About While Sick

I made a terrible mess yesterday. I spilled the top portion of a cup of hot chocolate all over a pile of books! Probably the only really valuable thing I damaged was my took-me-ages-to-find copy of Paula Volsky's The Luck of Relian Kru. However, a number of cheaper books are now much browner and stickier along the edges than before. Sigh.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Adventures in Hymnwriting

I am stuck at home with some kind of creeping drippage and achy bones. I do not have the flu, pneumonia, laryngitis, or anything else which will prevent me from recording my album in good voice. I refuse to have it. However, I am sleeping, taking medicine, and wondering where my extra box of Kleenex got to.

I have been brooding over said album, of course. I really need to work on it, but obviously practicing is not on the agenda today. I will just have to listen to my scratchtracks again. And again. And again.

ANyway, before I got caught up in the Endless Translation below, I wrote a song adaptation of Psalm 72 today, to the fine old tune of "Brian Boru's March". (There's a beautiful MIDI of it available at the latest incarnation of Taylor's Traditional Tunebook. Do download and enjoy.) I've said before that the old slow airs and marches are probably the most appropriate Irish tunes to use as hymn settings, and I think this proves my point.

I used as much of Psalm 72 as I thought I could get away with, but had to leave out a line here or there to make the verses work out. The verses and choruses are doubled, because traditionally Irish nstrumentalists play the verse twice, then the chorus twice, etc., and I thought I'd go along with that. I was interested to see how much the translation was changed and how much was left out between the daily readings and the actual Bible verses...I guess enemies licking the dust aren't really the thing for church, though!

Psalm 72
Lyrics: Maureen S. O'Brien, 1/6/04, after the NAB online.
Music: "Brian Boru's March", Irish trad.

O God, give your judgment/ to-o the king,
And gi-ive your justice/ to the king's son.
With ju-ustice he/ will govern your people,
With judgment your/ affli-icted ones.

And so the mountains/ bounty will yield,
And so the hills/ give much to the people,
And he will defend/ those who are oppressed,
Sa-ve the poor/ and crush their oppressors.

CH: (2x)
Lord, every nation, nation, nation,
Lord, every nation, nation, nation,
Lord, every nation, nation, nation
On the earth will/ ado-o-re you.

Ma-ay he live/ as long as the sun,
Li-ike the moon,/ through generations.
Ma-ay he be/ like rain on the fields,
That plenty will flourish/ till the moon is no more.

Ma-ay he rule/ from se-ea to sea,
fro-om the river/ to the earth's ends.
Ma-ay his foes/ all knee-eel before him,
Ma-ay his en-/ -emies lick the dust.

CH: (2x)
Lord, every nation, nation, nation,
Lord, every nation, nation, nation,
Lord, every nation, nation, nation
On the earth will/ ado-o-re you.

Ma-ay the kings/ of Tarshish bring tribute,
Kings of Arabia/ and Seba bring gifts.
Ma-ay all kings/ bow down before him,
Ma-ay all nations/ come to serve him.

For he rescues the poor/ whenever they cry,
He helps the oppressed/ with noone to help,
Pities the needy,/ saves the poor's lives,
Frees them because/ he counts their blood precious.

CH: (2x)
Lord, every nation, nation, nation,
Lord, every nation, nation, nation,
Lord, every nation, nation, nation
On the earth _will_ ado-o-re you.

So long may he live,/ with Arabian gold,
Prayed for without pause,/ blessed day after day.
May plenty wheat grow,/ right up to the heights,
Fruit trees like Leb'non,/ grain grown like weeds.

May his name be blessed/ long as the sun lasts.
May all the Earth's tribes/ bless things in his name.
May all of the lands/ regard him as favored.
Blest be God, who/ alone does such wonders.

CH: (2x)
Lord, every nation, nation, nation,
Lord, every nation, nation, nation,
Lord, every nation, nation, nation
On the earth will/ ado-o-re you.

Bunessan/"Leanabh an Eigh"

I was Googling around for a question about "Morning Is Broken" that came up in the comments section at Confessions of a Recovering Choir Director and ended up doing more research than I intended. And none of it posted, for some reason. (Sigh.) So I'm posting it here.

The lyrics of "Morning Is Broken" (which, by the way, I like -- you don't have to sing the song syrupy, you know!) are of course by Eleanor Farjeon, a very gifted minor mid-century American poet. She was also the author of some very good fantasy books, mostly for children. I don't know whether or not Farjeon was Catholic, but our parochial school library certainly included both her books and poems.

The music to which the lyrics are set is a 19th century Highland tune. Its composer is unknown, but it was used as the setting for "Leanabh an Aigh" (Child of Wonder), a Gaelic Christmas carol written by a poet from the island of Mull, Mary Macdonald, or to give her her full Gaelic name, "Mairi Dhughallach NicLucais, bean Neil Dhomhnullaich ann an Ard Tunna". Which means, Mairi Dhughallach (Dhugallach's her nickname, distinguishing her from all the other Marys), daughter of Lucas, wife of Neil Dhomhnullaich, from Ard Tunna. She would have been one of the clan of the MacDonalds, but she wouldn't use that as a last name. (And not much point, really, given that practically everybody else thereabouts was a MacDonald, too!) The tune is called "Bunessan" (or Bun Easain for the Gaelic-ly correct) after a nearby village on Mull.

"Leanabh an Aigh" is apparently found in English hymnbooks in a translation called "Child in a Manger" and done by Lachlan MacBean (for his 1888 book Songs and Hymns of the Scottish Highlands) . This is apparently where Cat Stevens heard the tune.

As with most folk hymns, there are at least two slightly different versions of the Gaelic lyrics to "Leanabh an Aigh". This one is online at Let's Sing and is more complete, but also more "grammatically correct". Which way Mairi actually sang it is anybody's guess. There's a shorter version online at this Esperanto site, believe it or not! The English translation is not by me and is not the same as "Child in a Manger". I found two online translations called "Infant of Wonder". One is by Hilda Leslie and was done in 1978. The other I found in the church history of Cambuslang Baptist Church. It was done by a former minister of the church, the Rev. D. Gunn Sutherland, back in the late 19th century. (Unfortunately, the church transcription left out the last line of the song!) Anyway, I'm doing a baaaad thing and combining the translations to better fit the Gaelic verses we have here, as well as making picky little changes which I've asterisked.

(‘S e) Leanabh an aigh an leanabh bh’aig Mairi,
(A) Rugadh ‘san stabull, Righ nan Dul,
Thainig do’n fhasach dh’fhulang ‘nar n-aite,
Is sona do’n aireamh bhiteas dha dluth.

Infant of wonder, infant of Mary,
Born in a stable, Lord* over all,
Came from on high to hear our transgressions,
Happy are those who may on Him call.

Is ann an Iudea chualas an sgeulachd
As binne r’a eisdeachd na teudan ciuil,
Armailt na Flaitheis is ainglean Neimh
Ag ard-mholadh Dhe ‘s a’seinn a chliu.

Town in Judea* echoes the tidings,
Sweeter than music's trembling chords;
Armies of angels, hosts of the Highest,
Loudly are lauding God, the Lord.

Iriosal, striochdach thainig an Ti so,
‘S deacair dhomh innseadh meud a chliu;
Prionnsa na sithe a rugadh mar chiochran
Ann an staid iosal is gun mhuirn.

L: Lowly and humble He came to save us,
Boundless His power and mighty His name,
Prince* of peace, He was born of a virgin
In lowly estate without pomp or acclaim.

Eisdubh an fhuaim le sgeula nam buadh
A dh’aithris na buchaillean o thus:
“Gheibh sibh an t-Uan ‘s a’phrasaich ‘na shuain,
‘S e shaoras a shluagh le buaidh is le cliu.”

L: List to the sound and the tale of His glory
That to the shepherds there was told:*
“The Lamb will be found asleep in a manger,
He who will save us from Satan’s fold.”

‘S e teachgdaire ‘n aigh a thainig o’n airde
A dh’innis le gradh na bha ‘na run:
“Geibh sibh ‘san stabull ‘m fochar a mhathar
Naoidhean thug barr air cach gach uair.”

L: The herald of tidings wondrous and joyful
Came from on high his good news to bear:
“There in the stable next to his mother,
Your mighty savior, beyond compare.”*

“Seallaibh ged tha e ‘m prasaich ‘san stabull,
An armailt ro-laidir air a chul:
Ainglean o’n airde a’frithealadh dha-san,
Cumhachd is gras is gradh ‘na ghnuis.”

L: “Behold though you find Him asleep in a stable,*
Mighty His army stands in its place,*
Angels from heaven haste to attend Him,
Power and grace and love in his face.”*

Ged a bhiodh leanaban aig righribh na talmhainn
Le greadhnachas garbh ‘s le anabarr muirn,
‘S gearr gus am falbh iad ‘s fasaidh muirn,
An ailleachd ‘s an deabh a’searg ‘s an uir.

S: Scions of kings, though greeted with grandeur,
Festal rejoicing's vain display --*
Swift ebbs their life's stream, strength quickly waning*,
Beauty and form in dust decay.

‘S iomadh fear treubhach, gaisgealach, gleusda
Chaisg air an steud ‘s nach eirich dhiubh
A chaoidh gus an seidear trompaid Mhic Dhe
Ag ar-mholadh Dhe ‘s a’seinn a chliu.

L: Brave men of valour, powerful and mighty,
Go forth to war in carnage to die,
They shall arise at God's son's own trumpet,*
Praising our Lord, our Saviour on high.

Cha b’ionnan ‘s an t-Uan a thainig g’ar fuasgladh,
Iriosal, stuama ghluais e an tus,
E naomh gun truailleachd, cruithear an t-sluaigh
A dh’eirich a suas le buaidh o’n uir.

S: Not thus the Lamb who came to redeem us,
L: Humble and meek but mighty to save,
S: Spotless and holy, his hosts' Creator*,
L: Ever victorious over the grave.

Seallaibh cia ard E nis ann am Parras
Ag ullacgadh aite d’a chairdean ruin;
O’n cheannaich a bhas dhaibh sonas do-aireamh,
A ghealladh gu brath cha teid air chul.

L: Now far on high in Paradise waiting,
Welcome prepared for all of His own;

S: Those by death purchased, them he has promised
Ne'er to forsake or leave alone.*

Athair nan gras, neartaich ar cail
Chum moladh gu brath thoirt dha le cliu,
Do’n Ti as ro-airde a dh’ullaich dhuinn Slanighear
A dh’fhuiling am bas ‘nar n-aite ‘s nar rum.

L: Father of grace, O strengthen our purpose
To praise Him forever, great is His name;
God from on high who sent our Redeemer
To die on the cross, from heaven He came.

Teagaisg a Righ dhuinn slighe na sithe,
‘Nad cheumaibh direach cum sinn dluth;
Thusa bha dileas dhuinne bho shiorruiddheachd,
Urras ro-chinnteach air an cul.

L: Lead us, O Lord, on life’s peaceful pathways;
Thee we would follow, close by Thy side.
Prize for the faithful, life everlasting,
Through life’s dark shadows be Thou our guide.

Neartaich ar dochas, meudaich ar n-eolas,
Cum sinn ‘nad roidean direach, dluth,
Le ola ‘nar lochrain mar ris na h-oighibh
A’seinn ann an gloir an orain uir.

L: Hope will sustain us, knowledge will guide us,
Staunch in Thy footsteps we follow Thee,
Singing Thy praises on highways to glory,
Happy and joyful, Lord, we shall be.

So leanbh an aigh mar dh’aithris na faidhean
‘S na h-ainglean arda b’e miann as sul,
‘S e as airidh air gradh ‘s air urram thiort dha,
Is sona do’n aireamh bhitheas dha dluth.

S: Infant of wonder, theme of the prophets,
Angels adore, eyes full of longing,*
Worthy of love is He and of honour,

L: Happy those who may call on the King.*

*King: Leslie has "Lord". Well, yeah, there were a lot of kings loose in the Irish and Scottish countryside, so, yeah, you could translate it "Lord". Except there are other words for that. "Righ" means king. Sigh. I'll leave it be.

*That town in Judea: Sutherland has "Bethlehem's city", Leslie has just "Bethlehem", and both of them obviously have some dislike for kennings. Bah. I stand with Mairi on this poetic issue.

*Prince: Mairi has "prionnsa" and Leslie goes with "Symbol"?! Oh, pleeeeease. Singing translations are one thing; nonsense is quite another.

*Leslie has this line as "Told to the shepherds there in the fold". But once you've used "List", why hold back and introduce repetitiousness?

*Leslie has "“There in the stable lies your sweet saviour,/Peerless and mighty, beyond compare.”, which completely leaves out the reference to his mom.

*Leslie has "manger", but you can see Mairi repeated "stable" again. Again, I stand with Mairi.

*Leslie has "Mighty His army, wondrous His power;" and "Love and compassion both are His dower.”. I changed the former to make the latter closer to the original.

*Sutherland had "Festal rejoicings -vain display;". I changed the punctuation a bit, that's all. I also changed "waneth" to "waning" so as to fit in with the rest of the song. I feel depressed about that.

*Leslie had "when sounds the last trumpet". Which actually sounds better in English, but yes, I'm picky about translations, darn it!

*Sutherland had "spotless and holy" in his second line. Neither Sutherland nor Leslie translates Mairi's "Creator of the troops/hosts" straight, so I helped 'em.

*Sutherland: "Whom he hath purchased, them He hath promised" is really nice, but it left out "by death".
Sorry about the mutilation.

*Sutherland: "Angels adoring, see the king", but Mairi had something more like "with longing in their eyes"
and no King. I didn't change Lord into King in that one verse, so I had an extra one hanging around. Unfortunately, this means the ending line of the last stanza isn't the same as the first. But it was that or "Angels adore with longing eyeball", and I don't think we wanted that.

Monday, January 05, 2004

I Would My True Love Did So Chance

Man with Black Hat told us the true Christmas story of "The Tablecloth" a couple days back. I just found it. Bet you tear up!

Also, here's the old English Christmas carol "Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day" from

Tomorrow shall be my dancing day;
I would my true love did so chance
To see the legend of my play,
To call my true love to my dance;

Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love.

Then was I born of a virgin pure,
Of her I took fleshly substance
Thus was I knit to man's nature
To call my true love to my dance. Chorus

In a manger laid, and wrapped I was
So very poor, this was my chance
Betwixt an ox and a silly poor ass
To call my true love to my dance. Chorus

Then afterwards baptized I was;
The Holy Ghost on me did glance,
My Father’s voice heard from above,
To call my true love to my dance. Chorus

Into the desert I was led,
Where I fasted without substance;
The Devil bade me make stones my bread,
To have me break my true love's dance. Chorus

For thirty pence Judas me sold,
His covetousness for to advance:
"Mark whom I kiss, the same do hold!
The same is he shall lead the dance." Chorus

Before Pilate the Jews me brought,
Where Barabbas had deliverance;
They scourged me and set me at nought,
Judged me to die to lead the dance. Chorus

Then on the cross hanged I was,
Where a spear my heart did glance;
There issued forth both water and blood,
To call my true love to my dance. Chorus

Then down to hell I took my way
For my true love's deliverance,
And rose again on the third day,
Up to my true love and the dance. Chorus

Then up to heaven I did ascend,
Where now I dwell in sure substance
On the right hand of God, that man
May come unto the general dance. Chorus

Tomorrow shall be my dancing day;
I would my true love did so chance
To see the legend of my play,
To call my true love to my dance;

Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Obviously, I must start reading Flannery O'Connor

Via Mark Shea, Paul Greenberg wrote a column about a letter from Flannery O'Connor. It's a decent column. But the interesting bit for me was that I'd never before seen the context for O'Connor's famous comment on the Eucharist, "If it's just a symbol, to hell with it."

She was writing a friend of hers about a soiree she'd attended as a student at the University of Iowa's writers' workshop:

"I was once, five or six years ago, taken by some friends to have dinner with Mary McCarthy and her husband, Mr. Broadwater. (She just wrote that book, "A Charmed Life.") She departed the Church at the age of 15 and is a Big Intellectual. We went at eight and at one, I hadn't opened my mouth once, there being nothing for me in such company to say. . . . Having me there was like having a dog present who had been trained to say a few words but overcome with inadequacy had forgotten them.

"Well, toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. Mrs. Broadwater said when she was a child and received the host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the most portable person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it.

"That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable."

I can't tell you how much I identify with the situation. (Including the mindboggling feat, from an otherwise well-educated person, of identifying the Body and Blood of the 2nd Person of the Trinity with the 3rd. Though happily I didn't run into that one in person.) There are times when people say things to you that just boggle the mind with how totally they contradict your deepest beliefs and knowledge of the truth. In some ways, the depth of your own knowledge and belief can become a handicap at such moments, because it all rushes up and blocks you from thinking clearly. I don't know whether O'Connor's Irish temper rose, too, (though the language she used seems indicative!) but I know mine would've. It makes me feel better to know that I'm not the first person to have this problem. And it moves me to see how God has used this sort of horrible muddy moment that O'Connor was just trying to get off her chest, to become a really important statement about the Real Presence.

I feel the need for a "Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it." T-shirt.

It runs two ways, though. If I'm going to complain about other folks talking trash or silliness about my religion, I've got to be respectful of other people when I talk about their religions. I ought to think before I speak, and not talk out of my unknowledgeable butt. I'm allowed to be certain, but not smug. I do have a bad tendency toward smug.

Speaking of smug, Mark Shea also linked to this interesting comment comparing the kindliness of priests to the scrupulosity and holy-go-piousness of amateur online theologians. Sometimes I may resemble that remark....

(Is it me, or is it becoming increasingly obvious that I'm sorry to have missed Confession on Saturday? Boy, I hope I won't keep subconsciously examining my conscience all frackin' week. Not a pretty process, especially for an easily depressed person like myself.)

Ooh, ooh! Early Christian Practices!

This paper, The Structure and Worship of the Early Church is from the Greek Orthodox viewpoint, but I think people of all Christian denominations will find it interesting. Via Matt and Jeff Diverge, which I found via Mark Shea.

Following Yonder Star

Happy Epiphany, everybody! (Well, okay, everybody but the Orthodox folks, who have a couple more weeks to go on that....)

I went to church last night. There'd been a little mixup on who should cantor when, so I ended up singing with the kids. It was fun, but pretty cramped; the nativity scene is over to the side of the altar...on the same side where the piano is. Nine people jammed into the space between a piano and the Christmas trees around the stable. Plus music stands. Plus microphones. I was craning my neck and straining my eyes to read off the hymnals in front of me, because there literally wasn't enough room to hold up my own book. If I add that I didn't get to go to Confession because of being slowed by the rain, and that my (fortunately black) pants were still not completely dry from being drenched with rain on the way to church (despite my trenchcoat)...I bet you'll think I was miserable.

Actually, though, it was the best thing to happen all day. I've been oscillating between depression and just plain unhappiness for most of the last few weeks. I keep having trouble sleeping, and the furnace in my building had my apartment at 80 degrees. (Which still beats having the radiator out!) The singing was great. The Mass was great. I figured a few things out while sloshing my way through the cold rain, and Confession will still be there next week. If I have to feel like a drowned rat while leaning against pine needles, this is still better than being depressed. And I didn't have to get up and go to Mass this morning. This is a plus, as it's much colder today.

Anyway, Father Martin had another short but pithy homily. He talked about seeing a star and following it. This was especially poignant since everybody knows he joined the priesthood after having a pretty full secular life and a darned good job. But he talked about how all the stars are equally difficult to follow, but that the first steps are the hardest. After that, you know that it is your star, and you love whatever you have to do to follow it.

This meant a lot to me. I mean, here I am, 33 years old and not settled on a career yet.... The problem is that none of those stars look especially bright to me. I can get enthusiastic about something for a while, but beyond that...well, I guess I've never taken that first step toward any career or dream, really. I'm not a naturally hopeful person, and I find it hard to believe that I'm much of an asset anywhere. I have a lot of talents and knowledge, but none of them seem to be much stronger than the others. But I suppose the actual problem is that I'm afraid to feel an inclination toward anything, because then I'd have to do something about it. But thinking about myself, or my own future, is so depressing. (Literally. Notice how I've gone from peppy to dirgelike within paragraphs?)

The whole situation is summed up, perhaps, in the fact that I haven't done anything yet about applying to grad school again this year; and I have to start working on my album again on the weekend of Martin Luther King Day, and after that it's convention time. I hate this. I always procrastinate, and if I don't, I get socked with something that makes me put things off. If I don't do either, I just plain forget. Time passes, and suddenly I'm 33. I am such a loser.

But unfortunately, I'm what God has to work with. So I can't give up.

At any rate, my album is one thing I know is a good thing. I don't know if it'll quite qualify as light in darkness, but I hope to make it at least a pinch of salt. This is an exciting time for filk, and for music, period.

I feel a little better about the situation after running into these links via the Corner. John Piper talks about Christians acting inside mainstream culture with "Brokenhearted Joy". Winning (openly, here and now) is not the point; doing God's will and loving our fellow humans is. There's also some interesting stuff in this David B. Hart book review for First Things. (If you can wade through the horrible mishmosh coding of the punctuation, that is. Hopefully this won't show on most people's browsers, but it sure did on mine.)