Monday, May 9, 2011

Kairos Goes Anglo-Saxon

For some years the choral group Kairos has been "in residence" at the Monastery. Their ongoing project is performing the Bach cantatas, and since they perform here four or more times a year, we are privileged to hear them. Two of our monks sing in the group -- Scott and Andrew.

They are wonderful -- showing up most Saturday mornings for rehearsal in the north end of the Library, where I work. I get to listen to them. So it was a surprise earlier this year when Scott mentioned to me that they were preparing a new piece based on the Anglo-Saxon Riddles from the Exeter Book, and would I be interested in helping. Of course I was. So Scott gave me copies of the music -- lovely to look at but I couldn't tell a thing from the score, except that is certainly wasn't Haydn. But what they wanted was help with pronunciation. So I typed out the texts and did a quick literal, interlinear translation to help them with the sense, and showed up. They were eager to learn. Then Scott suggested I record the texts, which I did and he circulated them.

I heard the music for the first time last night, at St. Andrew's, New Paltz. What a thrill! The composer, John B Hedges, who is a tenor in Kairos, was there singing, and did a lovely introduction, in which he graciously introduced me and the Old English prof at SUNY New Paltz, Dan Kempton.

John set five of the riddles (there are 90 some): shield, bread dough, water, bagpipe and iceberg. Each piece is quite different. I was especially taken with "bread dough", which like several of the riddles can be interpreted in a risqué sense. He presents it as a group of young kitchen maids gossiping in the back corner. So funny!

Thanks to all at Kairos!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Douglas Brown, OHC: In Memoriam

Douglas Brown, OHC, died five years ago today, on May 5, 2006, at the age of 61, in the 22nd year of his life profession.

Douglas was a complex man, as most interesting people are. He was a true monk, in many ways a contemplative. He was a widely known spiritual director, preacher and conference leader. He was influential in the Episcopal Church, particularly in his work with the early stages of the clergy wellness movement, which led to CREDO. On Sept. 11, 2001 he was participating in the taping of a program in company with Rowan Williams and others at Trinity Church, Wall Street and was caught up in the escape through the wreckage of downtown Manhattan that day.

He was also a challenge to the community. Deeply devoted to his work as Prior of West Park, he was also deeply protective of himself in that work.

He was also a good friend. Douglas and I did not know each other well for many years. He joined the community in 1977, after I had moved out to California, and our relations in the next 24 years were formal to cool. I think he regarded me as somewhat alien to his concerns. I probably felt the same. But that had more to do with the positions we held and their unavoidable dynamics than with any personal relationship. That all changed in 2001 when I moved to New York City to become Rector of the Church of St. Edward the Martyr. I came to Douglas with some fear and trembling to ask if I might have a room in the monastery at West Park, since I wanted to become more closely involved with the community there. He was very welcoming, actually quite happy to be asked, and said Yes, Of course. That welcome probably did more than any other single thing to reintegrate me into the West Park community. Many good things followed from it, and one of the best was a growing friendship with Douglas.

When he was at home, Douglas was quite reserved. But when he was "on the road", as he was often, especially in his various ministries in New York City, Douglas was gregarious, outgoing, a lot of fun. His friendship was a new chapter in my monastic life.

Late in life Douglas began to write icons. I don't think he finished many. But I have ended up with two: one of John of Damascus, resplendent in a white turban, and one of the αχειροποίητα, the Not Made By Hands, or Veronica's Veil. They remind me of Douglas's deep and growing love for the Faith, which he shared so skillfully with so many people, myself included.

I was privileged to preach the sermon at his funeral at West Park. The place was packed with people whose lives had been changed by Douglas, and I am glad to say I was one of them. Here's a link to it.