The early days of November are some of my favorites of the entire year. In our church life we observe the feasts of All Saints’ and All Souls’ and look toward the end times when Christ will come again and reveal the kingdom of God in its fullness. In nature (even in North Texas!) we are treated to the splendor of God’s creation and receive a glimpse of glory in the changing color of the leaves before they end their lifecycle and fall to the ground. And, personally, my birthday on November 6 gives me a reason to pause and remember all the blessings in my own life and those “saints” who have made me who I am.
As I write this, my head is still full of the Requiem chants set by Maurice Duruflé which were sung so beautifully last night by the Transfiguration Choir at our All Souls’ service. This weekend we turn from that solemn remembrance of All Faithful Departed to the joyous celebration of All Saints, replete with First Informed Communion, Baptisms, sermons by the Rev. Erin Warde, and the premiere of a new anthem commissioned in memory of Betsey Hardman by her friends at Transfiguration. You will not want to miss worship this weekend! Plus, Sunday churchgoers get an extra hour of sleep with the end of Daylight Saving Time – you have no excuse not to be here!
Sunday’s offertory anthem “Take Me to Thee in Paradise”, set for 4-part (SATB) choir and organ, is based on a text by the Anglican poet Christina Georgina Rossetti, 1830-1894. Laurel Brewster met with me early in the year on behalf of five friends of Betsey Hardman who wanted to honor her memory with something lasting for the Transfiguration community. Laurel and her husband Bob were the winners of the auction to commission a new setting of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis for our first choir tour in 2013, so she was familiar with the idea and process. Having set more Rossetti texts than any other poet, I knew that I wanted to start searching her corpus of works for an appropriate text for Betsey and All Saints’ Sunday before looking elsewhere. I emailed nine of her poems to Laurel and Barbara DeLizza in September and they chose the following:
“That where I am, there ye may be also.”
How know I that it looms lovely that land I have never seen,
With morning-glories and heartsease and unexampled green,
With neither heat nor cold in the balm-redolent air?
Some of this, not all, I know; but this is so;
Christ is there.
How know I that blessedness befalls who dwell in Paradise,
The outwearied hearts refreshing, rekindling the worn-out eyes,
All souls singing, seeing, rejoicing everywhere?
Nay, much more than this I know; for this is so;
Christ is there.
O Lord Christ, Whom having not seen I love and desire to love,
O Lord Christ, Who lookest on me uncomely yet still Thy dove,
Take me to Thee in Paradise, Thine own made fair;
For whatever else I know, this thing is so;
Thou are there.
One of the themes that resonated with us was the idea that we do not know what goes on in heaven, but that our faith tells us that we will be with God and Christ, which is all we really need to know. The final two lines of each stanza – a refrain of sorts – grow more certain as the poem progresses. I knew that this portion of the text would need to receive special treatment.
Knowing of Betsey’s struggle with cancer and having seen my father battle with this terrible disease, as well, I felt that the line “The outwearied hearts refreshing, rekindling the worn-out eyes,” bore musical repetition as a metaphor for the time that needs to pass until there is “singing, seeing, rejoicing everywhere.” I believe that those of us who lived through our loved one’s illness and death need that “refreshing” and “rekindling” more than they who are now with Jesus in Paradise before we can remember them with “singing” and “rejoicing”.
I am thankful that my work at the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration has enabled and allowed me to create new music for the church, sung by such a fine group of musicians who are open to new music, be it congregation or choir. I am specifically grateful to all those women throughout our parish who contributed to the commissioning of this anthem in memory of Betsey. I hope that you enjoy hearing the anthem this Sunday and that it enriches your observance of this great day.
See you this weekend!