Thursday 29 December 2011

Male-female - the axis of power, the place of good

Kurk Gayle of BLT has asked me:
would you speculate with me, then, where the strict and precise and dogmatic separation of the sexes along the lines of such categories comes from? Isn't it from people who want to maintain categories that allow them more power than the "other"?
Well, yes - I would speculate. What is that knowledge of good and evil that was promised from the eating of that tree?  First to his second question, the one that leads to an answer: is it that categorization represents power and also leads to the abuse of that power?

I was recently at a service of nine lessons and carols. The design of the service includes the idea that the lessons should be read by representatives of the whole community, from the least to the greatest. In this it follows the instruction in Psalm 49:1-3 and it breathes the fullness of the body, high and low, rich and poor, one with another, these words themselves being part of the Advent Responsory  from the traditional service on Advent 1. Category and hierarchy are not evil in themselves. We need every level of growing responsibility in a healthy community. So it is today that laundry and housekeeping are shared in my two-person household as we prepare for the arrival of our adult children (a phrase I understand is now in OED).

There are, however, to get to the first part of the question, many of the male gender who fail to share responsibility or who imagine that the responsibilities are separated by person completely. Perhaps they would not sort their wife's clothes from the dryer, but might deign to sort their own. Or perhaps not at all: the man might say to the woman, I work 6 days a week and I bought you these expensive labour-saving devices, now you do your part! (I overheard these very words in front of one of the first microwaves in Toronto c 1974). It must be important. If I say I was not impressed, but I remembered the conversation for nearly 40 years, it was the male attitude that did not impress me.

The division of labour between the sexes goes back more than 40 years, of course. What I was hearing was a remnant of a prior age. While I used to blame everything on Queen Victoria, I think the tendency to focus blame on one age is misguided. The blame lies in every age, our own not excluded. Youthful zeal will not fix the tension between category of responsibility and abdication. Nor will it fix its opposite: the tendency of the responsibility of one to create incompetence in the other. I seldom cook, though I can and I gave my wife her first lessons in cooking c 1968, but now she is so competent and organized that unless I have to, I confine myself to cleaning up - a task I know how to do. Nor will youthful zeal fix the exploitation of a power imbalance.

Division of labour is a small thing. The dislocation of desire is larger as is the failure to see and respond to honour or even more specifically, the failure to allow the full growth of mutual independence, so that mutual interdependence can be healthy rather than dislocated. While this is a 'spirit' issue, it is clearly mediated by our human mechanisms and we study the failures of these mechanisms in those who are mentally ill or damaged in one way or another. None of this is sin or evil in itself, but it shows the work of God (John 9:3). Some of us are blind or deaf to some things, others deaf or blind in other ways. But the sickness can become the norm in a social order. (The pathetic nature of pride, avarice, and desire is well portrayed in Jane Austen's Persuasion, to give an example in the English tradition.)

This good of sex is so distorted. C.S.Lewis notes (in The Great Divorce, I think) that the greater gift is subject to the greater distortion. So honour sought with respect to sex and marriage, results in murder of daughter or wife if social norms are violated. Pleasure sought results in preference for the male, as if the woman is incapable of pleasure, and results in infanticide and selective abortion of the female. Male seems to prefer the obvious. It will prove to be to his own destruction.

There is no avoiding difference, of which male and female is among the more obvious. Differing gifts and capacities result in a power imbalance. The dependency of the woman during pregnancy and child rearing and her generally weaker frame and musculature has resulted in the male again dominating for pleasure and for property.

Co-operation seems rare. I wonder if some of the laws that seem against the woman are really against the male (the stronger partner), since he is at times so much more in need of correction, and so blind to his own self-absorption.  So, I surmise, the sign of circumcision is in the flesh (בָּשַׂר) of the male. In this sign the Gospel (בָּשַׂר) is prefigured. The Gospel allows the fleshly creature in its mortal body, to know life through the Spirit, and that abundantly. This is a good to be sought that should not lead to dishonour, but it seems to have led there, if the shame of Christendom is to be seen.  But dishonour is not just evident among those going by the name of Christian. However little they seem to have ears, they are no more deaf or blind than any other human group, even if they should know better.

But how does one get to 'know better'.  I have used a word I avoid.  I dislike 'better' for the world was created 'good' and the good is sufficient. So how can one find the good?

Personally, my own flesh learned the destruction of its desire through the death of Jesus, a circumcision of my self in obedience to that death, a place of good. I expected nothing in return, just relief through death of the destruction that I knew in myself. I was very surprised at the growth that became evident to me.  As I have often written elsewhere, I sensed and knew maturing and healing, sight and hearing, of all sorts.  I have since referred without ceasing all things to the invisible all-hearing Instructor. I especially reveal to the one who gave Torah, every trouble I discover, and every delight - though I am quicker with trouble! Somehow, I muddle through, for even my sight and my maturing is in part.  Still, I have loved the path of learning, especially the intoxicating fullness of the Psalms which I continue to study. In every way they have taught me how to call and how to hear the Heavenly Voice, never far distant from anyone.

This good is sufficient. It is what was called very good in that first Day. Even in my current straits, a treatment via hormone therapy and radiation for cancer, I continue in this good, with all my fears and joys and feelings. One day the chariots of fire will come for me. And in that one day I will live, then and now. It is not different from the first day (Genesis 2:4) as George Herbert noted: there is but one and that one ever (Easter).

So even if there are, to quote Kurk again, 'people who want to maintain categories that allow them more power than the "other"', I trust it is possible not to do this regardless of social custom, for I have learned otherwise. Perhaps I will help a few who might come in contact with me and through me with the one who Teaches.  I cannot 'solve' the presenting problem, nor it seems, will any particular organization of government, on its own.  I remain grateful as I have acknowledged before to those like Kurk and Suzanne who face the issues head on - for they too will help others as they have helped me in my Day.  The direct questioning of culture is important since so much of it is self-serving and self-perpetuating in spite of its destructive aspects, particularly to the female.

Tuesday 27 December 2011

Two or three witnesses to books

Before I received my Christmas present of Bayard's - How to talk about books you haven't read - I had already quoted from it, but even now, I forget the quote. So here is another: (Bayard 2007, p8).
Musil's librarian thus keeps himself from entering into the books under his care, but he is far from indifferent or hostile toward them, as one might suppose. On the contrary, it is his love of books - of all books - that incites him to remain prudently on their periphery, for fear that too pronounced an interest in one of them might cause him to neglect the others.
Of course, as I read this, I immediately applied it to our canonical texts:
... thus keeps himself from entering into the books of the Bible under his care, but he is far from indifferent or hostile toward them, as one might suppose. On the contrary, it is his love of the books of the Bible - of all these books - that incites him to remain prudently on their periphery, for fear that too pronounced an interest in one of them might cause him to neglect the others.
I can certainly appreciate this, but now, having like a bird pecked my way into the ripeness of the Psalter and its strongly fermented liquors, or having wormed my way into the heavy and seductive nectar of its seedy core, I can scarcely read or hear another word without reference to the distilled inebriation of spirit I find myself in.

A friend gave me this book independently of the lovely videos from NYPL shared by BLT.

Saturday 24 December 2011

60 year old train works again

O those childhood years when one built the world from toy engines and plastic signs and buildo or minibrix (lego today) and gas pumps and thread strung on plastic telephone poles. I wondered if I could get our 60+ year old Lionel O-gauge train working again -  and it did for a moment - then all stopped.  Waited a while, worked again - but the couples come apart on the curves, then it stopped again.  Wait. Try the milk-car - unload button doesn't work, car comes off the rails on the special track. Glue applied to loose tracker under the milk car.  No more derail, but train stops again.  Check all connections.  Stumped.  Was it the track - off to wash it with 99% rubbing alcohol and scrubbies - no better.  Must be engine or transformer.

Off to the Railhead train store down the street. Always open when I get there, and testing the engine - tests out well - congratulations given on the emerald eyes still in place after 6 decades. But one of the steps on the front is missing - maybe from years ago... Then we test the transformer - definitely not working. Checked out a substitute - very few available and not quite compatible. While there are some parts inside the transformer that may be toast, it turns out when I removed the 4 screws, there was actually an anomaly inside - a 1/2 cubic centimeter accumulation of oxidized something or other on the circuit breaker.  It looked like an old capacitor but was clearly not supposed to be there, so I chipped it away with a screwdriver and it came off with patience and more alcohol (rubbing type). What fun - the transformer actually worked!

Got it home, set it up and it still works but the old tracks are a bit rickety so there are frequent derailments - must bank the corners. However, we have successfully rounded the bend several times without stopping because of an electrical malfunction.  Train does not uncouple on the curves unless I try and pull all rolling stock at once - too heavy.

Kudos to David Steele at Railhead for being there.  Now he may also be able to fix an identical transformer to mine that he had there with a similar accumulation of stuff on the inside.

Friday 23 December 2011

Greetings to all readers

Since, best Beloved, I would not want you to have an unhappy Christmas, let my blessing of a Happy Christmas be upon you and a thriving New Year after the manner of that Tree of Psalm 1 whose leaves are good medicine.

The Post at Poetry of Christ will be (wait for it), Psalm 112 - on Christmas Day. (111 is here) (112 translation is here)

As far as 'the project' is concerned, I continue to work on scene 3 of the opera (Psalms 11-25).  Psalm 16 is pentatonic and in largely 5/4 rhythm. An accompanist could play all the notes at once and there would be no discord.

Psalm 17 will be a meditation on the melismas of Compline. Verse 8, the middle verse, forms part of this ancient service.

The music provides an amazing test of the viability of the translation.

I am also reading bits of Robert Alter's translation. I find myself disagreeing with some of the notes. As for his translations, I am not convinced by the indentation, a diagramming technique I used at the beginning of my journey.  It is not adequate to the task and particularly it is not adequate in a book.  Also I find arranging cola by parallels either obvious or subjective. So I have concentrated, for my learning, on the words and the more objective pattern recognition that comes from observing recurrence.  Re the meaning, I like it when he says that anyone who translates this verse is guessing (16:3). He often complains that the Hebrew is 'crabbed' but for me that ancient Hebrew is all I can see, so I sometimes don't notice that it's difficult.  The difficulty with his volume is that his notes often require that one see the whole Hebrew line to appreciate his problem (and he does not include the Hebrew except bits and pieces in transliteration).  But I do appreciate many of his notes though I will only reference a few (just to show that I have read a bit of his work and can talk about a book I have not read.)

Tuesday 20 December 2011

The year in review

The MacDonald 2011 Christmas letter is posted. All the Christmas files have had to be moved - should now be accessible here.

To Remember

BLT via JKGayle explores tender territory. I was going to leave a comment - but it morphed into too many random thoughts.

I am glad to see another blogger show the connection between Psalm 6 and Mt 7.23. (Leave me, all workers of mischief) I was surprised last January at the allusion. For me it re-frames the NT story:

1. Jesus identifies unambiguously with the psalmist in trouble - "do not rebuke me in your anger" (6.1),
2. "depart from me" never has to be the last word to anyone - restoration is still possible even after the shame of exile.

Psalm 6 is formative as a psalm of correction - the very correction Job longs for - the referee. It is vital for those 'kinglets' who have known "a hint of his anger" (Psalm 2 כִּי יִבְעַר כִּמְעַט אַפּוֹ "for he kindles with a hint of his anger"). It also begins the Psalter's theme of memory (6.6. "there is not in death remembrance of you").

Memory - remembrance is frequent in the Psalter but there are strong verbal links from Psalm 6 to Psalm 38, inscribed 'to remember' and 38.2 אַל בְּקֶצְפְּךָ תוֹכִיחֵנִי "do not in your rage correct me or in heat chasten me" immediately recalling 6:1. Psalm 70 like 38 is inscribed with 'to remember' and recalls Psalm 40 - implicitly recalling the entr'acte (38-41) between Books 1 and 2, and finally Psalm 137 a multi-voiced psalm of remembering closing the circle of the exile begun explicitly in Psalm 42.  Memory is central to worship - so Psalm 22

All the ends of the earth will remember and will turn to יְהוָה
All the families of the nations will worship in your presence

a necessary healing I think, however we are drawn in to the Beloved.

Sunday 18 December 2011

Psalm 14 music and more links

I am partway into scene 3 of act 1 of The Psalter. I have drafted Psalms 11 to 14 - Psalm 53 will also share Psalm 14's music I expect. It was really strange and appeared to me in a combination of 9/8, 5/4 alternating time signatures.

Tonight I think I must go hear a 9 Lessons at my old haunt of 10 years ago where my wife is singing. Also must write 'the Christmas letter'. It will be a hidden acrostic.  There is so much that cannot be said. And we are so poor at reading. - Do note this post on Barnstone and this one on Brettler and Levine and this one with a lovely greeting card from Doug at re-fractions

The Season - 5's and 6's, 10's and 110

I have meandered quite seriously on Psalm 110 at the Poetry of Christ today - preparing for the celebration of Christmas with the two acrostics to follow.

Now aren't you impressed with my discipline? I have exactly 10 posts per month at PoC - for the last 12 months - a fulfillment of my New Year's 2011 resolution.  As a result, all my notes for my translations on structural things are drafted together with a few more random comments on theological issues.

This morning, we had a pageant at St Barnabas with delightful dancing angels. 5 years ago there were about 5 children - today there were approaching 5 dozen. The theme was: time as strange and the human impossibility of seeing the transcendent. And time is strange. And the Christ that was always and is with us and is to come was seen in a child. The preacher was the Rev. Dr. Brokenleg - he gave a superb homily on the number 5 in Matthew and the fulfillment of the promise to David.

I also sang with a flautist, my Psalm 5 setting  (a test drive in rehearsal mode)- I was not so disciplined here. So I modified the music to include the instruction - in strict rhythm.  The words go by so quickly with the flute accompaniment that one has to manage the 6 pages of music with almost Gilbert and Sullivan gusto.  Why is this one for flute?  Rhythmic accompaniment changes the expression of the words in strange ways.

Thursday 15 December 2011

Things I noted this month

Here's a lovely performance of Psalm 95 by David Koysis+
Henry's got a combo article on Virgin Births and Whale's Bellies

I have put many of my starred posts (where I leave comments) into the shared items list. (See the right hand panel or link here). That's the quickest way to do this kind of thing.  I have another cold so I need to bury myself in something. (Definitely can't sing to Audacity - sooo wobbly.)  Maybe I will go back to Esther as some posts have pushed me or Ecclesiastes - no, too much work. I think I will do some mechanical stuff like formatting the monster Word document that will eventually contain all my psalm notes - whew!  Or I will write some more music for scene 3 - the road from Psalm 11 to 25. Long scene.

Wednesday 14 December 2011

The curious case of the foreign pulse

It surprises me that I have spent the last two to three weeks composing. Anyway, in my usual preoccupied (I have been occupied for a while) way, I began Psalm 11 by singing the Hebrew to myself and then I imposed the Hebrew pulse on the English. Psalm 11 is about the mockers - waver off to your mountain, bird. So it has a particular saucy lilt. After I got the first three musical phrases, I imposed them in an a-a-b-a-b pattern on the structure of the text.  The result is a curious incarnation of sound with the b section imitating the a section but not distant as if heaven were far away.

The music suggested parallels in the text I had not considered...  Consider here silently.

(I tried recording the first acrostic yesterday - but it is too long for my one-breath technique. I must find some better recording features where I can stop for a drink at one of the many bars!)

[I just downloaded Audacity - a suitable name for recording software]

Tuesday 13 December 2011


A link to some pictures we took while 'shopping'

Act 1 Scenes 1 and 2 drafted

I have sketched the whole of act 1 scenes 1 and 2 of the Opera known as the Psalter. My most recent delight was adding a flute part to Psalm 5 - rather fun I think - MP3 here (vocals alone here, sheet music here).  We'll see if it's playable - maybe try it out on Thursday.

The outline I suggested last month is holding out at the detail level.  As I worked through the scansion for the music, I changed a few details in the text.  A dozen or so.  I think I won't meditate too much on this first part but forge ahead into the remaining music - rather a lot of fun - and no manuscripts to fuss with.

Saturday 3 December 2011

Music exposes the meaningless

I was brought to a musical standstill - a muting of all instruments, by Psalm 7:8.  There is no way to compose an opera of recitation when you don't know who is speaking and about what. What appeal is being made in this verse on whose behalf?

My current experimental thesis is that the psalms are collected in the shadow of the exile. Does that help to supply a character to the tribes? I searched my available texts and found an article that reconstructs a new text: The textual problems of Psalm 7, Jacob Leveen, Cambridge.  He suggests, among many emendations, reading אֱלֹהִים gods for לְאֻמִּים tribes. I don't think that will help the music much. The help to the assembly of the tribes seems more immediate in any age whether of David or of post-exile or even of today with our current tribal conflicts.

OK - so back to the imagining of a leit-motif for the tribes...

Thursday 1 December 2011

Recitation in Hebrew

The music I have written can also be sung in Hebrew. I will not immediately underlay Hebrew text to the whole recitation - but it is feasible as I have demonstrated here for the first phrase or two of Psalm 1. (PDF is a little more complete. In the image below I have not spelled it out in full - e.g. the resh with shwa would be unemphasized and r-sha-im therefore 3 syllables rather than two as illustrated). All that is required is a judicious omitting of some reciting notes, and the selection of up beat and on the beat syllables according to the requirement of the language. (If I record it in Hebrew, I will post the link on the right panel).

The reason this is possible is that the music is written by small groups of words with attention to their structural relationships.  The image below also gives due acknowledgement of MuseScore whose software I am using. It is quick to learn but avoid complex copy and paste. And be very careful when you are in note input mode, you may be overwriting what you have written. This is a nice feature when you become aware of it.