Music for an Intense Lent

Are you a Christian? Are you a Catholic? Stop settling for weak Lents. Make your Lent intense with these choral and chant tracks (or with these movies). Listen with the volume nice and high, and you’ll see what I mean:

This first track is a choral piece I discovered a few years ago, and its ability to creep is unequaled. For the majority of the piece, the choir is only singing one word: crucifixus… crucifixus… crucifixus… (The Crucified… Crucified… Crucified…) and the effect is stunning.

This next track is also a choral piece on the Crucifixion, by Antonio Lotti from the 17th Century. This piece is from his larger work on the Nicene Creed, but it stands alone incredibly well as a meditation on Christ’s crucifixion.

Here is Parce Domine, a chant of longing for God’s mercy, recalling the complete and profound repentance of Nineveh at the [reluctant] preaching of Jonah from the Old Testament. Lyrics, both Latin and English here, and an updated version here that is worth your ears, and don’t miss this polyphonic version!

The Dies Irae is not specifically a Lenten chant, but for funerals and for All Souls’ Day. Yet, it seems mighty appropriate, reminding us that death and judgment is our destiny, but our death can be transformed to eternal life if we surrender our life to Christ. Don’t miss this neat little documentary on this timeless piece, which has appeared in many famed movies to date! The epic lyrics here.

This last piece is the Gregorian chant of the Stabat Mater Dolorosa (The Standing Mother of Sorrows), the scene when Mary suffered and stood before Jesus nailed on the cross. The Latin/English lyrics can be found here, and a video with the proper notation is here, but presented is my favorite chanted rendition:

So there you have them, three of my favorite tracks for contemplating what Lent is meant to be. I hope these help, and maybe become your faves, too.

LML: The Secrets of the Cover Art

[WARNING: what follows is an interview that reveals the details and depths of Little Miss Lucifer: The Legend of the Exorcess. SPOILER ALERT.]LML MiniCard

—You: So last time we wanted to get into the cover art and the book’s design. First question for you Mr. Pham: what’s up with all the black?

—Evan: Actually, if you look closely at the cover, it’s not all black. There’s something in the black – something in the dark. (Click here for the front cover art.)

—You: I’m noticing the swirls, grey swirls and curves.

—Evan: What do the grey swirls and curves look like? Just on the front cover.

—You: Hmm… There! In the bottom right corner! I see… I see her now. All the grey is her hair! Who is she?

—Evan: Tagline time: She is a secret.

—You: And she’s looking at something… a butterfly? There are a few words too – looks like “Dare to see in the dark.”

—Evan: Correct. I dare you. See in the dark. So many times we’re distracted by the bright, the light, that we miss the beauty in the black, the signs in the dark.

—You: What signs, exactly?

—Evan: Signs of more. Even in the most dark and forsaken places and persons, there are signs that there is more to them… signs that they are still beloved. Beloved forever.

—You: Hmm, so who is the girl we see on the cover?

—Evan: I told you, she’s a secret. But I can see you want more, so I’ll let Saint Paul elaborate: “She who was not beloved, I shall call ‘My beloved.’” So the girl was not beloved, and the story is about how she is being called “beloved” again.

—You: A redemption story? A love story?

—Evan: Both.

—You: But the cover…

—Evan: Is full of symbols. You might notice there are things in her hair.

—You: Grey flowers?

—Evan: What kind?

—You: Roses…

—Evan: And they appear in the story. Throughout. What else do you see?

—You: A red heart, it’s pierced.

—Evan: The pierced heart represents compassion, and “compassion” means “to suffer with, to suffer alongside and together with another”. One of the signs of real love is if another is willing to endure the pain with you, to tough it out as a team. It’s one of the reasons why pain, sorrow, mourning and suffering actually give us chances to love, and to mature in that love. And in the Catholic Christian tradition, the pierced heart defines the Blessed Virgin Mary – the Mother of God. The icon of her in sorrow at the death of her Son is called Stabat Mater Dolorosa aka: Our Lady & Mother of Sorrows.

When I watched the Passion of the Christ, I wasn’t as moved by the scenes of Jesus being tortured, mutilated, mocked and murdered as others were. Throughout the film, I knew He was all right. He’s God after all. He can take it!

But the scenes when they show Mary – His Mother… I broke down with her when I saw how hurt she was. In a way, she was suffering even more than Jesus! For any mother, any parent for that matter, to see their beloved child being abused and slaughtered… and being helpless to stop it… now if that’s not compassion, I don’t know what is.

Then it gets real theological when you realize that Mary could have told her Son to stop it all. Jesus is the perfect Son in every way, obedient to the Law, there to fulfill it all, including the law of honoring one’s parents. And since He is the God-Man, He really could have snapped His holy fingers and ended all the violence. All.

But He doesn’t. And she never tells Him to do so. Even though He did do the miracle of making wine from wash-water… at her request! But this time, there is no request… there is only compassion.

—You: Wow… all that meaning from a little broken heart on the cover?

—Evan: I had a lot of time to think about it! And the fact that this particular heart is in the butterfly means even more!

—You: Now, I noticed that the antennae on the butterfly look funny. They look more like horns.

—Evan: They are horns. For obvious thematic effect.

—You: Of course. But tell me about how the butterfly image looks. The little white dots…

—Evan: Now that I reminisce, it was about twenty years ago that my second grade teacher taught me how to do that. For a Christmas project, she passed out pages from a coloring book, and the images where Christmas scenes like reindeer and a sleigh, presents under a tree, etc. What we did was put a sheet of black construction paper under the coloring book pages, and instead of using crayons, she gave us pins and cardboard. The board went under the black paper, and we poked holes along the black lines of the coloring book pages, tracing by pinprick. When we were done, we peeled the sheets apart, held the black paper to a window and I never forgot how dazzled I was. The little points of light looked like stars, constellations in a night sky.

So I did that for the butterfly design. I actually call it the Flutterfly. The name makes more sense, since I’m not too sure they taste like “butter” anyway…

—You: Haha, yeah that does make more sense!

—Evan: Thanks for laughing. It builds my confidence.

—You: No problem, please… continue. I feel there’s more to the Flutterfly than merely it being pretty.

—Evan: How about you tell me… what do you think?

—You: Well… aren’t angels usually symbolized by stars? Like, the name “Lucifer” itself means “Morning Star”. So that makes me think of that third of angels that the devil swept down along with him when he fell from Heaven. One-third of the stars were shot down. Right?

—Evan: Right! Revelation, Chapter 12 recounts that. When Saint Michael the Archangel routs Satan and the other demons out of Heaven. I call it Dragon Fall.Like Lightning

—You: Like lightning. That’s what Jesus said right? He saw the Devil fall like lightning from Heaven.

—Evan: Looks like someone knows their Sacred Scripture!

—You: I try… but I don’t know any Chinese, or is it Japanese? What’s the characters on the cover?

—Evan: It’s Chinese, and it translates the title basically. The first three characters say “Lucifer” and the last two say “Miss” or “Little Miss”.

—You: Why Chinese?

—Evan: Because the story is set in China in the near future, rural Southern China specifically.

—You: What a perfect segue to the back cover… Chinese characters galore!

—Evan: And they all mean something. I’m not one to use a character just because it’s nifty lookin’.

—You: Right… like the majority of Chinese tattoos on people who don’t know any Chinese.

—Evan: Yep. And you see those seven reddened characters? In the back cover’s background? Those are key words. If it’s all too busy to tell what they are, the full text is on the last black page of the book. On that page, the reddened ideographs are white and all others remain grey.

—You: You aren’t going to tell me what it all means… are you…?

—Evan: Of course not… not in English at least! In Latin, the big clue awaits in Salvage: Chapter 5. The “Gregorian Chant and Latin Glossary” in the back also helps. Not to mention the online Chinese dictionary mentioned in the “Chinese Glossary” in the back also!

—You: I guess I’ll just have to investigate those later…

—Evan: And you’d guess right. You’re very patient.

—You: Do I have to guess about the origami too?

—Evan: Well, I tried to make them speak for themselves. What do you see?

—You: Turtle… flutterflies… and…

—Evan: Good! But before you guess the big purple origami, you should know that only half the time do people recognize it at first. Let me help you get it right: it’s swimming, and swimming to the right. Its tale is to the left. Its song is eerie, and the color of its origami snout is part of its name. That’s all I’m gonna say.

—You: Haha hmm… blue snout. I can see why it’s difficult for some to guess, because it’s not an animal we normally see in origami. Is it a blue whale? Swimming along the origami letters… and along the waves of her hair!BlueWhale

—Evan: Brrravo. The girl’s hair from the front cover becomes part of the back cover’s design, and see what it does by the sea turtle?

—You: Looks like claws, reaching for something… something beyond the cover’s borders.

—Evan: Reaching, yes. Reaching for…

—You: More. Yes?

—Evan: Yes. And let me add that the origami patterns are from actual origami paper originating from Japanese artists. I looked through hundreds to find the ones I decided to use. Let’s just say that I now have great admiration for the talents of those anonymous artists.

—You: Origami paper can get expensive…

—Evan: You’re tellin’ me! I saw some that were going for almost three dollars for a 5-inch square! But that paper was not ordinary. It even felt expensive to touch. Lots of layers, weaving, and detailing.

—You: But why origami?

—Evan: You’ll have to discover that when you see what the girl does with scrap paper… For now, you’ll have to be content with two words: Origami Army.OrigamiGirl

—You: Interesting! And the red exclamation point at the cover’s bottom left is screaming for attention: Attention: This book contains content forbidden in ≥ 50 nations (Hell included). What’s that about?

—Evan: There are at least 50 nations, territories, political states in the world where Christian tradition and belief are banned. Sacred Scripture is contraband in those places, and devout Christians are persecuted. It’s sort of like ancient Rome before Constantine: Christianity was outlawed, and we were hunted down and killed. So this book too would qualify as contraband, and perhaps nowhere as much as in Hell.

—You: What do you mean? That the Devil forbids this book?

—Evan: Exactly. You see, if the Nazis, or Communists, or Terrorists, or Satanists, etc., are okay with me, if those groups are comfortable around me, then I have a big problem. I don’t want people like that to see me as one of them, or to be acceptable to them.

—You: Because that would mean you’re like them… right?

—Evan: Exactly right. And I’m opposed to them! If evil likes me, then I’m evil! But if evil despises me, vilifies me… then I know I’m on the right side.

—You: And this book attacks them?

—Evan: It attacks Satan himself. But not with hate, not with curses or violence… but with beauty, mercy, grace and blessings. With Motherhood, with Fatherhood, with Childhood. With Love. With God. And those are more potent than any voodoo.

—You: Wow… wow… I guess that’s a great way to end this for now, with a bang. I mean, the other things on the cover seem self-explanatory enough.

Stigmata Hand—Evan: Except you forgot the book’s spine. If you look there, you’ll notice the logo for my publishing entity (Banned Books Press), the red handprint at the bottom. It’s also the same logo I use for the HolySmack.com blog. The red handprint represents the blood of the Christian martyrs who died of love for the crucified and resurrected Christ, symbolized by the cross on the palm – not unlike the phenomena of the stigmata.

—You: Stigmata?

—Evan: Tradition has it that some of the Church’s great saints have been granted the stigmata as a way for them to literally know first-hand how Jesus felt, by suffering the same wounds as their beloved Jesus. Their hands, feet and even side had unexplained open wounds, bleeding but never bleeding out, festering but never infected, gaping but never decaying. Sometimes the wounds would heal completely without a scar, and then return, then disappear again. It’s really mysterious. Off the top of my head, I remember Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Catherine of Siena, and Saint Padre Pio all had the stigmata.

—You: Looks like I have a lot of research to look up until next time!

—Evan: Happy discovering!