Two Podcasts of Note

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.

2 Responses to “Two Podcasts of Note”

  1. jim walsh Says:

    Whether helped by an iPod or not, prayer is not something to be taken for granted. Let me quote Simon Tugwell, O.P., in his “Prayer in Practice”:

    “One very basic piece of doctrine about prayer is given us by St Paul: we do not know how to do it [and Tugwell quotes Rom 8:26f].”

    “It is very important for us to realise that we do not know how to pray. If we think of prayer as something that we can — or worse, that we should — master and become proficient at, we are in danger of seriously falsifying our relationship with God.

    “This elusiveness of prayer, the systematic impossibility of our really knowing how to do it, is an integral part of the scriptural view of prayer as something that God retains under his own control, subject to his administration. . . .

    “Prayer is rather like going to sleep. It is something that we certainly need, but it is not within our power to take it by storm. . . . As a priestly people we are authorised to perform acts of prayer, ranging from simple gestures like making the sign of the cross and simple recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, to participation in elaborate liturgies. But the intimacy and freedom of prayer, the more prophetic element, we must be content to receive as and when it comes.”

    Templegate Publishers. I recommend especially Tugwell’s book “Ways of Imperfection.”

  2. David Fitzgerald Says:

    Now that we are making a concerted effort to get the boys to Mass every Sunday, the Creed has become one of my favorite, as they would say here, “bits”. I notice my elder son listening to me when I say it and even making attempts to recite parts of it. It causes me to think of my own father, who “religiously” stood up and said the Creed every Sunday of my childhood.

    My father is not the kind of guy you have theological conversations with until 2:00 am. I’m not even sure my father holds any “theological positions” at all. However, whatever his thoughts, I am quite certain that he believes every line of the Creed. I think he knows it to be true, even though, in his humility, he wouldn’t presume to assume that he understands it or could explain it in any but the most simple fashion. It is his conviction and his commitment, probably, in his own mind, like his marriage vows, to which he will stay faithful no matter what he “thinks” or “feels” about it at any particular moment. In short, they are first principles which shape his life, rather than propositions that are the subject of debate.

    To conform one’s will to something that millenia have shown to be noble, good and true is both humble and wise. I find the quote from Ms. Tippett in Mark’s post telling, “the very idea of reciting an unchanging creed composed many centuries ago is troublesome for many modern Americans.” Yes, it probably is troublesome, particulalry among those Americans who should know better. Note the return of none other than Donald Rumsfeld to today’s opinion page in the Washington Post, Pay, if you will, particular attention to the following quote:

    “But with the passage of more than half a century, the end of the Cold War, the attacks of 9/11 and the rise of an Islamic extremist movement that hopes to use terrorism and weapons of mass destruction to alter the course of humankind, it has become obvious that the national security institutions of the industrial age urgently need to be adapted to meet the challenges of this century and the information age.

    At home, the entrenched bureaucracies and diffuse legislative processes of the U.S. government make it hard to creatively, swiftly and proactively handle security threats. Turf-conscious subcommittees in Congress inhibit the country’s ability to mobilize government agencies to tackle new challenges. For example, U.S. efforts to build up the police and military capacity of partner nations such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan to fight al-Qaeda and other extremists have been thwarted over the past six-plus years by compartmentalized budgets, outdated restrictions and budget cycles that force a nation at war to spend three years to develop, approve and execute a program.”

    Yes, I would imagine that a man like Mr. Rumsfeld would find “legislative processes” and “bureacracies” (is there any other kind of bureacracy than one that is “entrenched”?) inconvenient indeed. The point is that wiser people than him, with far more intellectual authority, have found these procedures and structures useful to preserving a particular way of governing. Simply because they are inexpedient at the moment is no just cause for abandoning them.

    This absence of humility creeps up so often in so many aspects of our lives; our worship, our government, our families, that it almost is cliche. I’m sure I’ve written it before in this space, only the devil knows exactly where he is going.

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