It’s been a long time since I wrote, and I really want to get back to Victor Hugo, but with Advent upon us I thought I should highlight a couple of podcasts I found recently.
The first is “Pray As You Go,” published each weekday by a London-based organization (or organisation) called “Jesuit Media Initiatives.” Each podcast lasts about 10 or 12 minutes. There is generally choral singing at the beginning, followed by a reading of one of the scriptures for the day. Then there is a guided meditation on the reading, with very peaceful instrumental music in the background. The scripture reading is repeated, followed by more meditation. It all ends with a Gloria Patri.
Some experts on prayer make it sound quite difficult, placing a great deal of emphasis on a particular technique or duration or setting or all of the above. I can imagine these people looking askance at any form of prayer that involves an iPod. Nevertheless, if you search for this podcast on iTunes, you will find over two-hundred comments, overwhelmingly positive, from people who say this ten-minute podcast changes their whole day for the better. Certainly people prayed before the invention of the iPod, but people also prayed before they could read their own Bibles, and prayer over a passage of scripture in a good study Bible is now widely practiced and recommended. If the iPod can supplement the scripture reading with thoughtful questions to stimulate reflection, isn’t that a good thing? Subscribe for a week or two and answer for yourself.
The second podcast, “Speaking of Faith” with Krista Tippett, was recommended by my neighbor, who heard the program on WAMU-FM here in Washington. Because it airs quite early here, I looked for the podcast on iTunes and fortunately it’s there. Because the show focuses on religion in general rather than any particular faith, I find some shows more edifying than others. But some of the shows have been real doozies.
My favorite so far has been a May 2006 show (yes, you can even download old shows to your iPod!) in which Ms. Tippett replayed her 2003 interview with religious historian Jaroslav Pelikan. I’ve been a Pelikan fan since law school, and true to form he poured out his insights generously in his interview with Ms. Tippett. The show was called “The Need for Creeds,” so Pelikan was often making sage observations about the tension between individual reflection and community tradition. For example, at the beginning of the show, Ms. Tippett noted that “the very idea of reciting an unchanging creed composed many centuries ago is troublesome for many modern Americans.” She asked “how a fixed creed can be reconciled with an honest intellectual faith which is surely not marked by static certainty.” Pelikan answered:
My faith life, like that of every one else, fluctuates. There are ups and downs and hot spots and cold spots, and boredom and ennui and all the rest can be there. And so I’m not asked on a Sunday morning, “As of 9:20, what do you believe?” And then you sit down with a three-by-five card saying, “Now let’s see. What do I believe today?” No, that’s not what they’re asking me. They’re asking me, “Are you a member of a community which now, for a millennium and a half, has said, ‘We believe in one God.’?”
At another point, Pelikan notes that Christianity (and its most universal creed, the Nicene Creed) has often been spread as a consequence of a dominant culture’s political and military hegemony, particularly during Rome’s imperial phase and Europe’s colonial phase:
Dr. Pelikan: So the religion of the white man, which brought sanitation and a money economy and all the advantages and disadvantages of being modern, also brought the creeds.
Ms. Tippett: Well, this is making me think that we should be banning this from modern worship.
Dr. Pelikan: And substituting another creed for it or no creed. It’s a plausible suggestion, and, indeed, you are in the tradition of a fairly substantial group [including Ralph Waldo Emerson]. . . . He said to the Divinity School students at Harvard in 1838, “You must be yourself a newborn bard of the Holy Spirit and sing it out.” The trouble with that is, you do it and then you do it a little bit more, and pretty soon you have to teach your children something, and so the best you can do is to teach them what you have, and you do that a generation or two, and all of a sudden, there you have . . .
Ms Tippett: . . . a new creed.
Dr. Pelikan: . . . a new creed. . . . [T]he only alternative to tradition is bad tradition.
Well, not every show is that good; I could have done without the show on modern Paganism. But some of them are gems. Check it out for yourself.