Saturday, September 16, 2017

I Look From Afar

I often comment on the light motif in Gen 1, but additional to that, there's a sound motif. Not only does Gen 1 narrate light out of darkness, but sound out of silence. The opening scene begins in a state of silence as well as darkness. God breaks the silence by his creative commands and benedictions. 

Sound has a synesthetic quality inasmuch as sound can mimic spacial orientations. Take processional hymns. King's College Chapel recorded "I look from afar". That's an advent hymn. The English lyrics are:

I look from afar: and lo, I see the power of God coming, and a cloud covering the whole earth.

Go ye out to meet him and say: Art thou he that should come to rule thy people Israel?

High and low, rich and poor, one with another: go ye out to meet him and say:

Hear, O thou Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a sheep: art thou he that should come?

Stir up thy strength and come to rule thy people Israel.

All glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. Alleluia.

In the recording, the choir begins at the back of the sanctuary. A soloist sings the first line, then the choir responds. Due to the placement of the choir in the huge reverberant sanctuary, it has the effect of hearing the music at a distance. Then, as the choir moves into the sanctuary, approaching the microphone, it creates a musical analogy for the text. At first the observer sees the power of God coming "from afar", like a cloud on the horizon. The heraldic cloud evokes the Shekinah. The implicit imagery is reminiscent of the theophany in Ezekiel 1. From a distance it appears to be a desert storm, but as it draws nearer, it becomes apparent to the prophet that this is no ordinary cloud. 

Another example is the same choir singing "Come, Thou Redeemer of the Earth." That's another processional advent hymn. Once again, the choir begins at the back of the sanctuary. The boys sing the first line, with their "angelic" voices wafting upwards and outwards. And once again, the effect mimics the lyrics. Hearing the choir at a distance, then hearing the choir draw near, is like the Redeemer leaving his world to enter ours:

Come, Thou Redeemer of the earth,
And manifest Thy virgin birth,

Forth from His chamber goeth He,
That royal home of purity,
A giant in twofold substance one,
Rejoicing now His course to run.

From God the Father He proceeds,
To God the Father back He speeds;
His course He runs to death and hell,
Returning on God’s throne to dwell.

By the same token, the creation account is like a processional hymn that gradually builds to a climax. And in the Prologue to John's Gospel, the Creator of the world enters the world he made to redeem it. 

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