I traveled recently to the year 1662. And 1789. But I’ve spent a lot of time in 2012 too.
There is great beauty to be found in the connections we’re able to feel between our past and present as members of the body of faithful people who worship in traditional ways and carry those traditions of music and liturgy into the 21st century. This has again come to my mind after returning from the annual conference of the Association of Anglican Musicians, held this year in Philadelphia, a city where the past and present are intertwined on every corner. The conference’s theme of “Honoring our Past and Imagining our Future” was brought to life in various worship services – one based on the 1789 Book of Common Prayer – as well as in concerts and discussions, and no one who attended could have thought that the Episcopal church is anything but alive and poised to lead the next generation into lives of faith and action. But that energy clearly comes from being rooted in the past – rooted in sound theology, and in liturgy and music that soar and take us along to a more glorious understanding of God.
My time in 1662 has been spent preparing psalms from the 1662 Book of Common Prayerfor the choir’s upcoming trip to England. I feel that I’ve pulled back the curtain and glimpsed an era when the beauty of language held sway. Compare these phrases, and perhaps you’ll agree that the lilting first phrase wins out over the harsh edges of the second.
Psalm 47:1 “O sing unto God with the voice of melody” (1662)
Psalm 47:1 “Shout to God with a cry of joy” (1982)
On the other hand:
Psalm 53:4 “Corrupt are they and become abominable in their wickedness; there is none that doeth good” (1662)
Psalm 53:4 “God looks down from heaven upon us all; to see if there is any who is wise, if there is one who seeks after God.” (1982)
It’s very good to have roots in the past, but I’m happy that an evolution of our understanding of God has brought us from a state of being abominable in wickedness to a people who seek after God. May we continue to send searching tendrils into the future.