Thursday, January 5, 2012

It is Well With My Soul: Reflections on the Feast of Theophany and American Culture

Yesterday an old friend from high school posted this YouTube video on Facebook: “It is Well With My Soul.” When Guy Penrod and David Phelps did their solos, I found myself in tears, watching these two beautiful men pour out their souls and their art and their humanity in such a heartfelt way.

I remembered the history of this hymn from years ago when we used to sing it in the early days of “the church that met in our home” in Jackson, Mississippi. But somehow those songs that are such a part of our culture got lost as we entered the Orthodox faith with its Byzantine and Slavonic music. I was talking with a friend on the phone this morning—she is also a convert to Orthodoxy—and we were discussing the disconnect between our American culture (and European roots) with this Eastern religion we embraced many years ago. (I addressed some aspects of this struggle in this post back in November.) I still don’t know how to reconcile this, but I know that I miss many aspects of the culture of “my people,” especially as I grow older. I yearn for the songs of my youth, and for sitting around bonfires at night strumming guitars and singing.

In contrast, I went to Vespers at my (Orthodox) parish last night, and yes, it was beautiful and prayerful, with two men doing the Byzantine chanting and the priest quietly coming in and out of the altar to lead us in prayer. The nave was lit mostly with candles, which is one thing I love about the Wednesday night Vespers. But I found myself wanting to pour out my soul the way Guy Penrod and David Phelps did in the YouTube video. I think it’s just how I’m wired, and part of why I write, in order for my voice to be heard, if only by God and me, but hopefully by others as well.

Today is the Forefeast of Theophany, the feast we will celebrate in the Orthodox Church tomorrow. It’s also the last of the 12 Days of Christmas. I wrote about this in my post last year, “The Appearance of God and Twelve Drummers Drumming.”

I’m looking forward to the Divine Liturgy tomorrow morning at the Feast of Theophany, and to bringing home bottles of holy water with which my husband will bless our new home after we move on January 16. You can listen to a sample of the Byzantine hymns of Theopany here. And here’s an interesting audio about the first Orthodox celebration of Theophany, in New York. I love this Coptic icon of the feast.

I look forward to having holy water sprinkled on me during the service, and to drinking a little of the holy water at the end of the feast. But I won’t be surprised to hear myself humming (I do that a lot) “It is Well With My Soul” on my way home from church.

1 comment:

David T said...

I feel ya re the music.

Sometimes, I yearn for the years I spent singing in a choir in a large, older mainline church. It was the church I attended as a boy and then returned to after college when I was trying to consciously be/live as a Christian for the first time. I really loved the texts of the anthems and choral pieces we sang--some dating to medieval times or before--and they really moved my spirit and my mind profoundly. Although that church has a reputation for being quite liberal (or "progressive") theologically, I never really noticed for my fist several months there because just about all of the hymns and other pieces we sang were quite "orthodox" in their theology.

The singing of (good ol') Christmas carols and hymns at the Skete on December 26th did, however, provide some catharsis.

Happy Feast to you!