Idle Thoughts on Christian Music

It was a cool October afternoon thirty years ago and we were doing hill workouts. My high school varsity athletic team drove to a nearby neighborhood to sprint up its hilly terrain. It was a loop, where you pump your arms and legs up a steep incline, then walk back down where jogging would be too much like riding your brakes. Several teammates and I formed a small group and our competitiveness drove us to top performance up the hills. I was in a state of runner’s high — a hyper-oxygenated brain awash in natural endorphin — reveling in the functional perfection of my weightless body. I thought: This is an incredible workout for the mind, the body nourishing the brain

But thoughts raced on. Is the brain the end-beneficiary of physical health? No… something whispered. The brain merely regulates everything so that the reproductive organs can do their job. My first encounter with doubt: the body’s purpose is to replicate itself, and the illusion of having a mind or a soul is a byproduct of fluids.

***

The next hill workout was several weeks later. It was late Sunday afternoon and I was alone, catching my breath on the grassy hill overlooking an empty vista of my school’s athletic fields. A teenager’s emotional state is volatile and his mind solipsistic, taking certain things with grave seriousness. As euphoric I was during the previous workout, the rush of oxygen was now fueling thoughts of doom. The air was cold, the western sky was on fire.

Miserable thoughts piled on: Is this the best it’s going to be? The heart pushed jets of bile through my overheated body. Would it be best to die now? What is my purpose?

This is vivid recollection, not poetic license: I looked down from the hilltop and the panorama of athletic fields glowed golden, like the Elysian fields.

***

Ideas that ran in conflicting directions took me, at turns over the course of my twenties, to materialism and then back to knowing of another plane. I’m becoming convinced that keeping your eyes open and thinking without fear, over the course of a long life, will lead you to the foot of the Cross.

What Is Out There?

I can’t convince you of any metaphysical reality because I don’t understand it myself. Rather, it’s a certainty to me that God is more real than the two hands I’m looking at right now. So I’ll just leave you with someone’s comment from a recent thread at Chateau Heartiste:

I always keep coming back to the martyrs of Christianity. From St. Stephen, to St. Paul, to St. Peter, to St. Ignatius of Antioch, to St. Maximilian Kolbe, to the Copts massacred just this last Palm Sunday, and all the known and unknown martyrs in between…

Either:

1. There is absolutely nothing after death. Just the big “Nothing.” Lights out for good. Eternal Oblivion. They’ll never know they were totally wrong. All of them are all the biggest fucking idiots in history, throwing away their lives […] St. Paul himself says as much in 1 Corinthians 15:14.

or…

2. There is something more to all this.

Good and evil. If they are real, than so is God. To get a sense of evil, imagine extremes of depravity, and not necessarily involving violence — just look around you. And to contemplate an expression of good, read John 15-13:

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

Laying down your life for your friends. This next comment is not my original insight but I agree with it: A.B. Breivik volunteered to spend the rest of his life in 23-hour/day solitary confinement to deliver his countrymen from evil.

High Art

It’s not just martyrdom that the Cross inspires. There is also our sublime output. Finally acknowledging the title of this post and starting with high art, there is Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring,” Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria,” and Henryk Górecki’s “Symphony No. 3.” There is also this Eastern Orthodox hymn from Serbia. Speaking of Coptic martyrs, listen to this Assyrian Palm Sunday prayer in Aramaic.

Popular Songs

Stepping away from high art, there are songs that regular people can sing. A famous example is the immortal “Stille Nacht.” It was written in 1818 by a young Austrian priest, with music composed by a schoolmaster from a nearby village.

“Pescador de hombres” was written in 1979 by a Spanish priest. Pope John Paul II famously said that “Pescador” (Polish version: “Barka,” transl. below) is his favorite song:

Lord, you have come to the lake shore
Looking for people who are ready to follow
To capture hearts with the truth of God’s word

REFRAIN:
O Lord, your eyes have looked upon me
Kindly smiling, have spoken my name
Now my boat’s left on the shoreline behind me
By your side I will cast a new net

I don’t have many possessions
My treasure is my two ready hands
To work with you and my pure heart

Today we set out together
To capture hearts on the seas of human souls
With Your truth and the word of life

The calling of a priest is to be a holy man. Since the one true religion, by definition, applies to all of humankind (unless you go with an assumption that not all subsets of mankind have a soul), then such a man’s thinking will be catholic, lower-case. I imagine that such a priest would wish for everyone to aspire to godliness according to their nature, on their own land and among their own people, encountering others solely in friendship.

With that thought, what do you make of the scene a little after 3:45 in the Barka video linked above, showing an African man and his son crying at the Pope’s funeral?

***

The great bass-baritone Bernard Ładysz leads a choir in this arrangement of the traditional evening-song “All Of Our Daily Matters” (“Wszystkie nasze dzienne sprawy”). I like the spontaneous feel of the performance. It sounds like a what you would hear in a church with the parishioners singing.

All of our daily matters
Accept mercifully, righteous God
And when we fall asleep
May our dreams praise You

Your eyes turned
Day and night in our direction
Where the frailty of man
Your rescue awaits

Turn away the nightly perils
From all harm protect us
Have us always in Your care
Guardian and Judge of man

And when we ascend to Heaven
We will sing to You together
God in Trinity unfathomed
Holy, forever and ever Holy

From 966 A.D. onward, men have sang hymns in that language in preparation for putting foreign invaders to the sword.

Christian Rock?

In the live performance below, the eye is on the ghoulish guitarist until the vocalist lets out the pathos in a lung-defying howl.

He looks tormented, maybe possessed. This isn’t a comment about the band members. I don’t know Thom Yorke. Yet even if that dramatic performance is all-artifice, the fact that it expresses the inner state of listeners points to their hunger for something.

Did we just watch an artistic interpretation of a station toward the foot of the Cross?

Orban Calls for the End of the Liberal Era

And proposes a new, democratic era. As Hungary’s prime minister makes it clear in his speech, the prevailing liberal order is globalization with a patina of Enlightenment universalism masking its authoritarian impulses. The democratic era, as Orban envisions it in the European context, would be guided by the Christian spirit and national identity of sovereign nations.

Reader Ensuite forwarded the 31-minute video at the bottom of this post. It is an abridged version of Viktor Orbán’s nearly 60-minute long speech at the Fidesz party convention in December 2015. The video is subtitled in English and in this post I’m citing its select parts. The following passage is Orban’s call to the leaders of the European Union:

We suggest a return to democratic Europe. Instead of today’s Europe of weak leaders, to a Europe of strong people. The next European era will either be an era of democracy, or it will cease to exist. The time has come. We are living in a different world. Twenty eight nations cannot work according to the same rules that six countries were able to work with.

Ethnically homogeneous states are more likely to work on behalf of their people because they do not preside over a mix of ethnic groups with irreconcilable conflicts of interest. Viktor Orban touches on the difference between having a national government, versus living under an imperial arrangement as either a lord or a vassal nation:

We do not want to be the ruler nor the subject, nor the caretaker nor the dependent, of other peoples.

Imagine, having a country of your own. Hungarians don’t have to imagine, they already have a country. One key condition for having one’s own country is a government that in word and deed strives to secure a future for its people:

Just think about the immigration issue…. Our politics are exclusively Hungary- friendly politics. Our major goal is the support of Hungarian families… For us, families and to-be-born children mean the future of Hungary and Europe.

He then connects Hungary’s fate to Europe’s:

We cannot effectively speak of our homeland’s situation without speaking of Europe’s situation… Europe is under an invasion. In the depths, a parallel world is being built, which slowly but surely, step by step, according to the laws of nature, will push back and squeeze our world into a minority, and together with that ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren too. If this continues, we will lose Europe… what is happening is not an accident. It is not an unintended chain of events, but a planned and controlled process.

Although I am not including that particular line, he calls out George Soros in all ways but by name in the above passage. He then closes in on the attribute of Europe’s malaise:

The true, fatal disease endangering Europe is … of a spiritual nature… Europe does not acknowledge itself.

The European spirit, and her people believe in superficial and secondary things. Human rights, progress, openness, new sorts of families, tolerance. Those are nice things, but in reality they are secondary because they are only derivatives. Yes, today Europe believes in secondary things, but it does not believe in the things from which these originate. It does not believe in Christianity. It does not believe in common sense. It does not believe in military strength. And it does not believe in national pride. It does not believe in what created it, and what it once was. It does not believe in it, it won’t stand up for itself, it won’t debate, it won’t fight, and it ultimately won’t make sacrifices for it.

It does not want to think or speak about who it really is. And after not acknowledging itself, it does not acknowledge any differentiation, either. And by not differentiating itself from others, it will consequentially lose itself. But it’s clearer than the sun that Europe is ancient Hellas, not Persia. Rome, not Carthage. Christianity, not the Caliphate.

And finally, the speech builds toward its coup de grâce, Orban’s call to close the era of liberalism; I only provide short excerpts below. Be sure to listen the whole speech and note the large soul and the generous spirit in which Orban makes his proposal:

The past 25 years of our lives was a major liberal era in Europe. It had nice periods, good results. It had major moments, and momentous figures. We can rejoice to have personally known them. Today, however liberal politics has lost its power of attraction. It piles failures upon failures. It has tired out and become exhausted. … it’s unable to protect people from external and internal dangers. Not from immigration, terrorism, nor crime.

It has stiffened and become monomaniacal. It senses enemies everywhere. It’s angry if its belief system is questioned. It’s exasperated when it hears new ideas, and it’s aggressive when one references the will of the people against it. It has lost its connection with reality. Instead of debates, it wants to censor public speech. And so it has developed the stop signs and regulations of political correctness.

All I am saying is that we have reached a point where today politics has turned against freedom. It has turned against freedom of thought, speech, and media. Consequently, it has turned against people and democracy…

I belong to those who want to live the next 1,000 years as Hungarians in a Christian Europe. In the interest of this — no matter how painful it is to certain politicians in Brussels — we must close down this era! In a political and in a spiritual sense as well. I believe that we, all of us, think that our lives are only meaningful, only have weight when we serve something greater and more important than our own lives. For example, our family, our homeland, or perhaps God’s country. Maybe all three at once.