Songs of the Idiots

Posted by: Richenda at Monday March 5, 2007 in

I admit to feeling amused! My latest reading is Robert Taft’s The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West, and I came across a term I hadn’t heard before: Psalmoi Idiotikoi. Or, in English, ‘songs of the idiots,’ with the word ‘idiots’ being the Greek word for ‘common man.’

Apparently, by the fourth century CE, the song-singing enthusiasm of the “common” Christian layperson had reached such a cringeworthy state at evensong and morning praises that it had fully outstripped the collective patience of the better educated clerics. As a result, in 360 CE the Council of Laodicea banned the Psalmoi Idiotikoi all together.


(Ahem! Note to self: Point that finger right back at yourself and quit giggling at human folly.)

I wonder…What is it about “the people” that causes so much derisive snorting? It’s as if regular folks were all dolts. Think of how the word for “regular people” has morphed into insult: the Latin plebian, the French pedestrian, the Greek idiot, and the British common. None of these words was intended to imply stupidity, slowness, or inferiority, but all imply it just the same.

The same with the American word folksy. I prefer to use the word ‘folk’ myself, because I think of the word as unpretentious and egalitarian. Yet there is no escaping the negative and/or stereotypical ‘yokel’ connotations with the word. ‘Folk’ are cute, quaint, backward, naïve, slow to stand up, slow to sit down, slow
to grasp, and, to put it nicely, down to earth (does that mean stooped, perhaps?).


But….I guess I can identify with those cringing clerics, too. I’ve had a few of my own teeth set on edge by particularly awful phrases. And song lyrics as the culprit do spring to mind…such as a recent choir selection where the words tell us that a stream plants a tree. (How does that work, exactly?) Or another song where a pun on ‘host’ suggested the worst sort of cannibalism.

(Note to composers: Let the writers write the lyrics!)

But, while I might have the right to mention or suggest, I’m not sure I have the right to be derisive or poke fun. Or worse, to silence. Especially not when such expression stems from the enthusiasm of the spirit. Besides, think of it. If we were to judge by the standards set by the Council of Laodicea, then the Liturgy sung in Churches today must be considered almost exclusively idiotic!

(Question: I wonder what the council would have thought of Godspell)

I will close with a statement of sympathy for the ‘commons’ of our world. I quote from Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a word from Mrs. Bennet to the haughty Mr. Darcy: “…and those of us who think themselves so high above their company, quite mistake the matter.”

Abbey Pages Up!

Posted by: Richenda at Wednesday February 28, 2007 in

I’ve got the first Ruined Abbeys page and pictures up, you can get to my abbey pages here

It’s going too slowly and I am finding I am way too distracted with all the goodies at Library of Congress. This gem for instance:

But, well, there it is. I figure I will be able to fill out the pages over time. At this point, all my work is for my own pleasure, anyway. And my five mysterious visitors. Hello!

When I am done with the Abbey Pages I envision they will have little notes and tidbits added to give information about each abbey, as well as a link to somewhere helpful, such as the British National Museum or someplace or other.

I am also hoping to eventually add a page for ‘castles’, especially as I have some fabulous pictures of those—including a couple of photographs of the ruins of Tintagel, King Arthur’s fortress.

Social Faith

Posted by: Richenda at Monday February 26, 2007 in

I was thinking about meaning…

(Question: What is it about staying up all night that makes people ponder the meaning of life?)

…about the meaning of life, actually. As in, what’s it all about?

And so I thought perhaps ‘Life’ is all about the end goal, about the final transformation and ascension. But, then, what about the ‘here and now’? As in, what is the purpose of our _lives_—the breathing, walking, sweating, loving, virus-seeping part of it. The Coptic Hermits believed the sole purpose of life was to live as if they were already dead and so remain pure, their eyes constantly on the next place. That was a long time ago, but there are still contemplative orders today.

And all power to them! A life spent in readiness for what’s next makes sense. Especially considering the great capacity human beings have for evil. Humility and quietude keeps us focused on the good, and mindfully recognizes that Earth is not some profane, free-for-all playground where we can just indulge our every pulsing wish. But…

(Note to self: There’s always a ‘but….’)

But…if we’re asking ‘what is the meaning of life‘ then I think we can’t just cast our eyes heavenward and squat prayerfully in the dirt. If we want to understand life then at some point we have to deal with the part where we are alive.

I read a Duke University study that said that Americans have fewer friends than ever, only two friends each. How did we all get so lonely? Even the Coptic Hermits had disciples and followers and even other hermits in the next cave over. And recluses and anchorites, who might wall themselves up in a brutal form of solitude, in fact relied heavily on a hefty number of people to help care for them. The rich simply retired to a back room with servants to buffer them from the world. The
poor sealed themselves into little compartments near the church or some holy place and essentially threw themselves on the mercy of their communities. They needed other people to think of them, to feed and clothe them, to remember them on wet, icy mornings, and to pass bread and water through the grate.

A hermit, then, in ‘retiring from the world’ may have made the ultimate gesture of spiritual faith, but, in becoming a hermit, they made the ultimate act of social faith,
as well. For the hermit trusted their very survival to those around them, hoping others would invest in their care and maintenance.

Social faith. It’s a foreign concept in 2007.

Where is our social faith today? I wonder—what actions do we take while we are alive that are meaningful in the moment those acts are performed? To whom does it matter that we existed; to whom does it matter that we spent a moment of life with them. You have to leave the bank book and the SUV and the new cherry cabinets behind. But, I think, what you can take with you are the
moments you have lived in such a way that others have lived, too.

Personal courage is required, I think. You have to be willing to be vulnerable. We have to reach out.

Question is…how do we do that? Me and my two friends don’t really know.


Posted by: Richenda at Friday February 23, 2007 in

I’ve been gorging myself on .tif files. My first sin of Lent. :(

Trouble is I was like my cat Snowflake near a newly opened box. I just had to get in, I just couldn’t help myself. And it was such a lovely nest of Photochrom prints, including many photographs of castles and abbeys. The best thing about these photographs is that they were taken between 1890-1900, and so there are no cars, no crowds, and no modern shopping malls or skyscrapers to mar the historical context of the photo.

I’m thinking I’ll have to put together some pages for historyfish featuring the best of the bunch. In the meantime, I’m going to share a few tonight before I go to sleep!

The Northumbrian Whitby Abbey:

There’s great information about Whitby on the English Heritage site

The Irish Muckross Abbey:

For more information, see the Killarney National Park

The Scottish Lincluden Abbey:

More information on the UK’s Future Museum Project

Cool Photo!

Posted by: Richenda at Friday February 23, 2007 in

I love old pictures…the charm or grandeur of the grainy black and white. When I came across this photograph of Melrose Abbey. (Scotland, founded in 660 CE by St. Aidan, destroyed by Richard II in 1385, and rebuilt.)

It is interesting to note that Melrose Abbey is the resting place of Robert the Bruce’s heart. Seems his comrades in arms brought the Bruce’s heart back from the Crusades and buried it under the abbey floor.

Gotta love Abbeys.

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