30 April 2008

Rogation Days

The Rogation Days are the three days preceding Ascension Day. They seem to have fallen off the church’s calendar a generation or so ago. The word “rogation” is from the Latin verb, rogo, “I ask.” They come at this point in the year because they are a time of special prayer that God may bless us in this season of planting. I suspect they were dropped from the calendar because they have an antiquated air to them, hearkening back to the days when society was more agrarian. Yet in these days of mass starvation in many parts of the world I believe they have a peculiarly contemporary ring. Here is an excerpt from the Exhortation following the Homily for the Rogation Days, written more than four hundred years ago. For ease of reading I have taken the liberty of modernizing some spellings and updating a few words.

If now therefore you will have your prayers heard before Almighty God, for the increase of your corn and cattle, and for the defense thereof from unseasonable mists and blasts, from hail and other such tempests, [pursue] love, equity, and righteousness, mercy and charity, which God most requires at our hands. Which Almighty God respecting chiefly, in making his civil laws for his people the Israelites, in charging the owners not to gather up their corn too nigh at harvest season, nor the grapes and olives in gathering time, but to leave behind some ears of corn for the poor gleaners (Leviticus 19.9-10, Deuteronomy 24.19-21). By this he meant to induce them to pity the poor, to relieve the needy, to show mercy and kindness. It cannot be lost, which for his sake is distributed to the poor (1 Corinthians 9.9-10). For he who ministers seed to the sower, and bread to the hungry, who sends downs the early and latter rain upon your fields, so to fill up the barns with corn, and the wine presses with wine and oil (Joel 2.23-24), he, I say, who recompenses all kinds of benefits in the resurrection of the just, he will assuredly recompense all merciful deeds shown to the needy, however unable the poor is, upon whom it is bestowed. “O,” says Solomon, “let not mercy and truth forsake you. Bind them about your neck,” says he, “and write them on the tablet of your heart, so shall you find favor at God’s hand” (Proverbs 3.3-4).

Thus honor thou the Lord with your riches, and with the first fruits of your increase: So shall your barns be filled with abundance, and your presses in all burst with new wine. Nay, God has promised to open the windows of heaven, upon the generous righteous man, that he shall want nothing. He will repress the devouring caterpillar, which should devour your fruits. He will give you peace and quiet to gather in your provision, that you may sit every man under his own vine quietly, without fear of foreign enemies to invade you. He will give you not only food to feed on, but stomachs and good appetites to take comfort of your fruits, whereby in all things you may have sufficiency. Finally, he will bless you with all manner [of] abundance in this transitory life,and endue you with all manner of benediction in the next world, in the kingdom of heaven, through the merits of our Lord and Savior, to whom with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, be all honor everlasting. Amen.

The full text of the homily may be found here.

10 April 2008

The Case for Civility


Christian author and social critic Os Guinness spoke earlier today at the Town Hall Forum at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis. You can hear his 25-minute lecture, and the half-hour question period that followed it, by clicking here.

01 April 2008

Researchers Play Tune Recorded Before Edison

I found this a fascinating discovery when it appeared in the newspapers a few days ago.



For more than a century, since he captured the spoken words “Mary had a little lamb” on a sheet of tinfoil, Thomas Edison has been considered the father of recorded sound. But researchers say they have unearthed a recording of the human voice, made by a little-known Frenchman, that predates Edison’s invention of the phonograph by nearly two decades.

The 19th-century phonautograph, which captured sounds visually but did not play them back, has yielded a discovery with help from modern technology. The 10-second recording of a singer crooning the folk song “Au Clair de la Lune” was discovered earlier this month in an archive in Paris by a group of American audio historians. It was made, the researchers say, on April 9, 1860, on a phonautograph, a machine designed to record sounds visually, not to play them back. But the phonautograph recording, or phonautogram, was made playable — converted from squiggles on paper to sound — by scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif.

“This is a historic find, the earliest known recording of sound,” said Samuel Brylawski, the former head of the recorded-sound division of the Library of Congress, who is not affiliated with the research group but who was familiar with its findings. The audio excavation could give a new primacy to the phonautograph, once considered a curio, and its inventor, Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, a Parisian typesetter and tinkerer who went to his grave convinced that credit for his breakthroughs had been improperly bestowed on Edison.

Scott’s device had a barrel-shaped horn attached to a stylus, which etched sound waves onto sheets of paper blackened by smoke from an oil lamp. The recordings were not intended for listening; the idea of audio playback had not been conceived. Rather, Scott sought to create a paper record of human speech that could later be deciphered.

But the Lawrence Berkeley scientists used optical imaging and a “virtual stylus” on high-resolution scans of the phonautogram, deploying modern technology to extract sound from patterns inscribed on the soot-blackened paper almost a century and a half ago. The scientists belong to an informal collaborative called First Sounds that also includes audio historians and sound engineers.

The rest of this article from the New York Times is here. You can hear the actual phonautograph recording here.

Resurrection


I am looking down from the airplane window on a beautiful (but still snowy) day in Minnesota. Karen and I are on our way to Vancouver, still exulting in yesterday morning’s glorious Easter celebration. We were still humming choruses of “I will ra-aise them up, I will ra-aise them up, I will ra-aise them up, on the la-ast day,” as we slowly advanced towards the security check in the airport.

The words, of course, are those of Jesus, spoken after he had fed a large crowd of more than five thousand people with a young lad’s lunch of a few fish and some small loaves of bread. “Do not toil for food that decays,” he said to them, “but for food that lasts to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” Then he pointed to himself as that food, the one who gives eternal life.

What Jesus was talking about was not some form of ongoing existence as a disembodied spirit. He promised to those who relied on him for life that he would raise them up at the last day. This may not have been as difficult a concept to grasp for his first hearers as it is for us today. They would have been exposed to the teachings of the Pharisees, who, consistent with broad sweep of biblical teaching, held to a firm faith in the resurrection of the dead.

It is a term we repeat week by week in our affirmation of the creed: “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” What do we mean by this? Certainly not some crude reconstruction of our current bodies (for which many of us may be relieved!). It is something considerably more complex than that. The apostle Paul spoke of it as a “mystery”, by which “… we will all be changed …”

He used the metaphor of a seed being sown into the ground. As the plant that arises from it differs in so many ways from the seed, so the resurrection life will be distinct from all that we experience in the here and now. In many ways it is difficult even to compare the two. Yet at the same time there are correspondences. We can recognize, for example, the plant that comes from a kernel of corn, or an acorn, or a nasturtium seed.

We see this in the resurrection of Jesus in the gospels. At times the disciples found it difficult to recognize him. He was able to walk through a locked door as it were only a shadow. He could apparently be in Jerusalem at one moment and in Galilee the next. The limitations of time and space seemed to mean nothing to him. Yet he was the same Jesus they had known before the crucifixion, right down to the nail marks in his hands.

Much to our frustration, the Bible does not offer a detailed description of what the resurrection of the dead will be like. The one thing we can be sure of, though, is that it will be glorious. Glorious enough that all the sorrows, all the pain, all the tragedies and injustices of this life, will pale by comparison. Yet somehow I cannot but believe that even they will have significance—though, like everything else, unimaginably transformed.

As I complete these remarks, we are now in Vancouver, with our daughter and son-in-law and our new granddaughter, Maddie. Although there are still remnants of snow on mountain peaks, the forsythia and the cherry trees are in full blossom—all a marvelous annual foretaste of the true and final resurrection that is yet to come.