life in the suture zone...

In the earthquake faults between tectonic plates, the suture zone is the in between place where they meet. I find in that a metaphor for the times in which we live... and invite your conversation in the suture zone.

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Location: Bakersfield, CA, United States

... a struggling, but mostly joyful, apprentice of Jesus.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

phos hilaron...

The Phos Hilaron (literally – hilarious light) is an ancient Christian prayer-song. First recording of it occurs in the 4th century (that’s 301+; one source says 3rd century or even earlier), and sources say it was considered ancient in the worship of the church even then (St. Justin the Martyr quotes a fragment in 150 A.D. in a letter to someone.)

If you’ve ever sung the hymn Hail, Gladdening Light, you have sung some translation of this confession. It is a confession filled with hope. Here is a more modern translation:

O joyful light,
from the pure glory of the eternal heavenly Father,
O holy, blessed Jesus Christ.

As we come to the setting of the sun
and see the evening light,
we give thanks and praise to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit of God.

Worthy are you at all times
to be sung with holy voices,
O Son of God, O giver of life,
and to be glorified through all creation.

The setting, I am told, is for evening prayers (Vespers). It is dark in the room where the worshipers are waiting, as a single candle enters the room as if coming from the empty tomb of Jesus. Worshipers respond by singing or chanting or saying the Phos Hilaron together. Some sources suggest this was the practice for Vespers in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem in the 4th century and was adopted into the Byzantine liturgy.

The symbolism is so thick and rich… you can feel the weight of nearly 2,000 years of faith hanging over it. It is suspected that ancient Christians sang this hymn while worshiping in the catacombs (those are tombs cut out of the rock) during the second century. How long did this jewel lay covered in dust in the ancient world? More importantly, why didn’t I know about it? (It actually became part of the Greek Orthodox liturgy and survives there to this day, though Roman Catholics never knew of or adopted it.)

One thing I do know. Such symbolic things resonate with many post-moderns. They certainly resonate with me. Maybe the setting changes… someone’s living room among friends in a small house church, candle coming from the hallway carried into the room by one of the women or girls (they were the first good news bearers, remember?) as those assembled recite the Phos Hilaron, everyone lighting a handheld candle from that one, softly singing Tim Hughes’ Here I Am to Worship, transitioning into a song that focuses on us being a reflection of that light in the world. You get the idea.

Why does worship change? Because the wine of Jesus is too rich for any one wineskin. How much more powerful for people in the midst of wilderness wandering as we are today than the mindless, easy liturgical order we’ve fallen into?

While worship is not the end all and be all of what it means to be a Christian, having pointed us to the light who is Jesus, it can also then direct us to what is truly important: becoming an apprentice of Jesus in the larger world.

Anyway, perhaps more blathering and of little to concern to those who are reading, and, if so, thanks for your patience. There will be more for you here soon.

Grace and peace,



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