It was a simple melody in a major key and it reminded me of rolling green hills, the smell of earth, grass, growing things, the moment taken to smell a rose. The words as well were simple and direct, but carried a more serious plea, for they asked God’s help in giving us a conscience quick to feel.
I was also reminded of the Quaker song, written by Elder Joseph Brackett Jr. in 1848:
‘Tis the gift to be simple,
’tis the gift to be free,
’tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
It will be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed.
To turn, turn will be our delight,
‘Til by turning, turning we come round right.
It is this simplicity I find in Hymn 499, sung to “St. Petersburg” with simple dignity as the note reads at the top of the page. And the words, like those above, call for a turning: Let the fierce fires which burn and try, Our inmost spirits purify: Consume the ill; purge out the shame; O god, be with us in the flame; A newborn people may we rise, More pure, more true, more nobly wise.
It’s simple stuff, but unpopular today, this talk of sin. Such talk lowers self-esteem, doesn’t it? Such talk might make me love myself less? How can I be assertive, empowered, a true modern woman? Yet I find it is the admission of wrong turns that places me back on the right path. It is confession of sin and absolution that produces assertiveness, empowerment. When true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed. To grow and change in the right way means to bow and to bend, to come down where we ought to be.
I find in the Mass that I have left the furious and frenetic world behind and entered a simpler and truer reality. I pass through the narthex into the nave, walking toward the sanctuary, the tabernacle, the throne of God. The journey is more than my feet padding on the red-carpeted aisle and more than taking a seat in the shiny oak pew, more than kneeling on the padded kneelers. It is a journey of preparation, both in time and in eternity, with songs sung, prayers petitioned, consciences cleared of the detritus of the week. I travel through the liturgy, both a simple participant and simple recipient in glory itself, receiving the lessons and sermon into my mind and heart. With my fellow worshipers I sing Holy Holy Holy, Lord God Almighty and we offer ourselves to God. Soon, the priest, in the name of Christ, pronounces absolution of our sins. Now we are ready. We are ready to enter the Canon of the Mass, the holiest part of the Sacred Liturgy, and we pray Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus… , Lord God of Hosts….. The bread and wine are consecrated and we join one another to unite today with the past and future, with the saints and angels, with the living and the dead, to become one with God in the Eucharist.
And what is most fascinating to me as a sacramental Christian, is that God cleanses and feeds me, then turns me around once again to go back outside to the furious and frenetic world that he has, after all, created but has indeed made some wrong turns. But I have been changed. I am a new creature, reborn, and re-sent, re-turned. I am far more simple. I have been touched by God.