Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Prayer for the Dead and an actual Dilemma

prayer.. (Photo credit: aronki)

Two unexpected things happened today. The first is a prayer request from an unexpected person over at James' blog:
New Friend said... - I know we often disagree but you might, as good Catholics, spare a little thought in your prayers tonight for the dead, those still missing and all affected by the 6.9 earthquake we had here yesterday. It was my first ever and it was pretty scary. We suffered no damage but we are 60 km from the epicentre which is in a remote rural location, where the communication has been cut off, bridges destroyed and landslides block roads. The final death toll will be much higher than currently reported as there are lots of downed buildings yet to be entered.
This is a commenter at James' blog. He lives in the Philippines and writes mostly to opine that Catholics should change their thinking on many issues, in particular because of the problems which result in places like the Philippines. He certainly doesn't seem to believe in Christianity per se, but evidently thinks our prayers are worth asking for at some level. So I'm sure he'd appreciate your prayers as well. Perhaps if I were holier I'd post more prayer requests.

Please pray for them.

It also started me thinking about a topic which I've apparently never got round to blogging about: prayer for the dead. I did blog about the intercession of the saints a few times, but the other way around, no.

Before I became a Catholic, I don't remember having an opinion on the subject, but I think that I believed that little could come of prayer for those who had already died; they had lived their lives, and what became of them depended on how they had lived in the time that they had been given.

Looking at it now, this seems to me like a strangely pessimistic attitude for a people who are called to live in the light of the risen Christ, as well as being strangely cold-hearted; even this man who views our religion with suspicion has an intuition of the propriety of prayer for the men and women who are no longer with us. Do we have nothing to offer beyond an exhortation to "seek the Lord while he may be found"?

It seems, in fact, that Jesus would have prayed for the dead himself. Jews pray for the dead now and seem to have prayed for the dead from the time of the Maccabees; it's reasonable to assume that Jesus too prayed for the dead, though the scriptures clearly don't address the matter directly. Interestingly, a relevant passage in the book of 2 Maccabees (12:40-46) actually justifies prayer for the dead on the basis of their future resurrection.

But apart from that, I don't think we have enough information to reject a natural desire to pray for the dead in any case. Intercessory prayer is a great mystery; who understands the relationship between our prayer and the will of God? Not you, that's for sure. And what does it mean to God, if people have "already" died?
Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the whole world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
A thousand years in your sight
are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night.
 - Psalm 89(90)


With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. - 2 Pet 3:8
God doesn't run according to our schedule: he's eternal, and the creator of time. Perhaps I'm missing something, but it seems to me that, if you bear this in mind, it really makes a nonsense of the thing. It's easy to see that you won't get anywhere by praying for rain yesterday, but there's a whole spiritual reality which we are only somewhat dimly aware of in the past as well - who's to say what God would make of prayer for the conversion/salvation of someone in the past from our perspective?

And that's without bringing purgatory into it. I see I haven't blogged about purgatory either, but I'll leave it for the minute. You could do worse than reading about it at catholic.com if you're interested.

The Intercession of the Saints
The Intercession of the Saints pt. 2
The Intercession of the Saints pt. 3

The second unexpected thing is the arrival of a dilemma. An actual dilemma, as I write in the title, because people tend to use the word quite loosely. I refer especially to moral dilemmas - when you know what the right thing to do is, but you don't want to do it, that's not a dilemma. Just for the record.

So, anyway, my dilemma is a proposal by a work colleague. He works in sales, but writes novels on the side, published novels even. It seems that his last novel at least hasn't been published in English, because he asked me whether I thought I could translate it today. The obvious question is "When?", but it would really be a shame to pass up an opportunity (on a plate) to translate something significantly more interesting than car manuals and potentially have a work in print on my CV.

Decisions, decisions...
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Saturday, 4 February 2012

Woes which have betided and which are currently betiding us

English: Panorama of Offagna, Ancona, Italy It...
Image via Wikipedia
The more astute of you may have noticed that, apart from a brief thought on 21 December, I hadn't blogged since 12 November. Perhaps you assumed that I'd found a way to make more effective use of my time - as if.

The fact is that I'm here on my own in Sassuolo, whereas my wife and daughter are down in Offagna. For a couple of days, that'd be fine, but we've been apart for almost a week now, and it's much too long.

I'll start from Christmas. Christmas itself was great, it was great to see my family, and it had been three years since I was in England, which is pretty weird. Noemi met two uncles that she didn't know she had and two great grandmothers. She even met Will and Rosie, who came up to see us. We had a whale of a time.

It took a sour turn towards the end though, when Noemi got a temperature and started vomiting, emitting snot in copious quantitites and, at the beginning, had loads of gunk in her eyes. We were just in time to get to a GP on Friday to get prescriptions for the requisite antiobiotics and drops. It was the most ill Noemi had ever been; it was good to be with my family, but on the other hand, it was a little bit awkward trying to manage the thing outside of our own house and our own control. Those of you who are parents will know that it's no picnic giving medicine to babies, still less lots of different medicines at regular (regular like having to get up in the middle of the night) intervals. This all started when we needed to think about packing to go back. We were feeling a bit ill ourselves by the time it came to make the journey back.

Well, the journey was very tiring and stressful for obvious reasons, and the less said about that the better. We still had a fair few days of the whole medicine routine ahead of us and then, when we went to our actual paediatrician after the course had finished because Noemi obviously wasn't 100%, she gave us some more. I think it ended up being about another two weeks in all after coming back, so we were pretty exhausted. The one who always suffers the most is Monica; I don't believe I'm exaggerating when I say that she's told me that she's tired every single day since Noemi was born, something which she definitely doesn't need to tell me any more, but which I do certainly appreciate - being a mum is really taking it out of her. It's a tough job.

The Sassuolo division of the Dobson family on Noemi's actual birthday
One of the high points in this bloody difficult first month of the year was Noemi's birthday. We had intended to go down to Offagna before Christmas, but called it off because Noemi wasn't too well then either. Then we were planning on going down sometime soon after Christmas instead, only she was more dramatically ill. Her grandparents took matters into their own hands and invited themselves down (lovely as it was to see them, I can't help but feel that I should have been consulted, but they are Italian relatives after all...). Anyway, the celebrations were limited, but it was nice.

So what's next after illness? Earthquakes of course. There were a couple of earthquakes in Northern Italy, both near Parma I think. We're a little way from Parma. Apparently the geographical characteristics of our area dampen the effect of earthquakes from up there, so some people didn't even notice the first one; I was at work, and the people who manage the complex where our offices are told us to get out of the building, so we all bundled out in the cold. Bit like a fire drill really. This being Italy, no-one said anything about when to go back in, so people wandered back as seemed best to them.

The second earthquake came a few days later, and this time we definitely felt it. Monica certainly felt it in our flat on the third floor, and was sorely troubled, which is reasonable; I daresay I wouldn't have liked it much myself. I should mention that our building is quite solid though - the main problem with earthquakes in Italy is old/inadequate (illegal) buildings. I remember our landlord talking about the reinforcements when we arrived here back in the day; it means you can't get a good UMTS system.

We decided, when Noemi was taking her afternoon nap on the following Saturday, that the best thing for Monica's piece of mind was a temporary separation - it would play merry hell with Noemi's already quite messed up (from the illness) bedtime routine and be difficult for Monica and for us as a couple, but all things considered better than Monica worrying about when the next earthquake was coming (it never did incidentally, but they were talking about there being possible further earthquakes so it did make sense). We managed to get an awful taxi driver who drove badly to start with, got lost on the way to Modena train station and started driving even worse out of panic. I felt quite nauseous at the end, because I hadn't been feeling quite right for a few days anyway, and it scarcely helped. So we left on Saturday afternoon (4 hour journey) and I came back on the Sunday afternoon, so I didn't have much time to sit down that weekend.

And then came the snow; I had asked for Friday off so I could be back with Monica sooner, but by the time Friday came, there were stories on the news about people being stuck in the fields on trains without all mod cons for 6 hours, so it wasn't really on the cards. I'm stuck here. This was meant to be the weekend that we celebrated Noemi's birthday with Monica's (extended) family, but from what Monica said to me, not even people from Offagna can manage it.

And finally, now Monica's feeling ill and hasn't eaten all day, and in the afternoon Noemi started vomiting - 6 times now apparently. With all the snow, Monica's worried about not being able to get medicines if she needs them.

It's been a bit of a crap start to the year really. My poor wife.

So, yes, I can blog, I can watch Italy vs. France and I can have a cooked breakfast tomorrow, but it's not going to make up for the fact that my wife and daughter are much further away than they should be, and we don't know when we're going to be able to see one another.


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Thursday, 2 February 2012

Psalm Tones for Night Prayer: Psalm 15(16) - Tone I

The Resurrection of Christ (Kinnaird Resurrection)Image via Wikipedia

And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus.

He whom God raised up did not see corruption. - Acts 13
Before getting stuck in to this tone, this might be a good moment to summarise how we're getting on with learning the tones for night prayer:

Tone for 2nd Psalm
Nunc Dimittis

Sunday 1
At last, all-powerful Master...
Sunday 2
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High...
At last...

At last...

At last...
At last...
Preserve me, God, I take refuge in you.
At last...

At last...

All the MP3s are here, and this is a one-page PDF summary of all the tones. I didn't post it earlier to avoid scariness, since it all looks more daunting in a lump like this. Here is the LLPB's Psalm Tone Distribution Table as well.

Here's tone I. There are loads of terminations to choose from, but I have a recording with termination g, which seems relatively straightforward:

This time the mediant has two stresses (but with no preparatory syllables), and the termination only one stress (but two preparatory syllables). Remember that the neume for the stressed syllable in the termination means a lower note followed by a higher note on the one syllable. So here is our text for Psalm 15, marked appropriately:
Preserve me, God, I take refuge in yóu.†
I say to the Lord: 'Yóu are my Gód.*
My happiness lies in you alóne.'

I will bless the Lord who gíves me cóunsel,*
who even at night directs my héart.
I keep the Lord ever ín my síght:*
since he is at my right hand, I shall stand fírm.

And so my heart rejoices, my sóul is glád;*
even my body shall rest in sáfety.
For you will not leave my sóul among the déad,*
nor let your beloved know decáy.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again; I think it's a good idea to read the text through first, paying attention to the stresses. I'd do that before listening to my version. The whole point, as far as I'm concerned, is to have tones which you can use to sing any psalm (or canticle) you care to mention, as an aid to meditative, scriptural prayer. And that means thinking about the words first and foremost in any case.

Well, having said that, here's how I reckon it should sound. First I tried singing the flex by starting with the tenor on "you" then dropping down, but it sounded really lame, so instead I just decided to treat the lower note as the stress - much better. Lots of stressed final syllables in this text, so it ends up being rather melismatic, but that's fine with me.

Now, with two psalm tone posts in a row, I'd better take a little break. I think I'll try and memorise the whole psalm, get the whole deal down...

P.S. It's a bloody nightmare getting a table into a blog entry, and the blockquoting leaves something to be desired too. I guess that's why they did a new interface; guess I'll have to switch.
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