P. G. Wodehouse: The Mating Season
Compact: A New Post-liberal Magazine

My Heart's One Desire?

There's a worship song (sorry, I don't know its name) used frequently at my parish which has a refrain that concludes:

My heart's one desire
Is to be holy

I cannot honestly sing those words (and I find it difficult to believe that very many people can, but that's none of my business). "one desire"? Hardly.  Usually not even the strongest. For me the truth is closer to "Among many other things, I would like to be holy."

The problem with being holy is that it's very difficult. It requires steady effort and sacrifice, and I do not like either of those things. I like things that are easy and pleasant. I would like to be a really excellent guitarist, too. But here I am, going on sixty years since I first picked up the instrument, and I'm not all that much better than I was when I was twenty. 

About the best I can say for myself with regard to the guitar is that I have never totally or permanently given up on it. Some thirty-five or forty years ago I decided to get a bit more serious about it, and started taking classical guitar lessons at a music shop not too far from where I lived. I made some progress--I could even stumble through an arrangement of Erik Satie's famous Gymnopédie #3 so that it was at least recognizable. I made progress in part because I made myself practice consistently for at least fifteen minutes a day. That's not much, but it was enough to make a difference, and every week or so I could tell that I was a little bit better than I had been the week before.

But then, as usual with me, my resolve collapsed. I started skipping my practice sessions, blaming work and family life, though laziness and inconsistency were at least equally to blame. Eventually I had gone several weeks without practicing and dreaded going to my lesson. The teacher had been a little impatient with my lack of ability to begin with, and I was embarrassed to show up not having practiced, and therefore not having improved, at all. And clearly the lessons were a waste of money if I wasn't going to work consistently, at least, if not all that hard. So I quit them. But I didn't quit playing altogether, and I still do play (not classical music), and I still don't practice regularly, and I'm still not very good.

I'm not doing very well at all with my Lenten observances this year. I set the bar pretty low and still have fallen short of it. About the best I can say for myself, both with regard to Lent and to the pursuit of holiness in general, is that I have never totally or permanently given up.


Apart from the words, I'm not very fond of the kind of music which that song represents. But our choir is really quite talented, they work hard, and they do that sort of thing very well. And sometimes they venture into older and better music. This Lent, for instance, they have been ending Mass with an arrangement of this chant:

They harmonized it for their six or eight voices, and in addition to the basic Latin chant, they added a sort of descant in English, by two (I think) sweet, yearning female voices. It's the last thing we hear at Mass, and is for a moment or two almost unbearably moving.

I'm a little puzzled by their translation, though. The Latin is:

Attende domine
et miserere
quia peccavimus tibi

which is something like "Hear us, Lord, and have mercy, for we have sinned against you." But the choir sings "Burdened with sin, we implore you" (or was it "thee"?) which doesn't seem a close translation of anything in the text. So I'm wondering if this is some traditional English version, possibly something from the Book of Common Prayer or some other Anglican source. But I haven't been able to find it. I like it better than the more literal translation, actually. It's more desperate.


Here's the Gymnopédie, by the way, played by Christopher Parkening. As you can hear, it's not that difficult, and of course very pretty, so a nice thing for a not-very-advanced player to work on.



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My heart's one desire
Is to be holy

Growing up in Pentecostalism we had a lot of those sorts of songs. Looking back on them I guess I'd describe them as "aspirational." I mean, we all sort of knew we weren't really "there," but the songs were designed to prompt us to aspire to get there.

I must say that I think that if I heard something along those lines in the Liturgy nowadays I'd find it a little jarring.

I'm sure that's true, that it's aspirational. But I'm very literal-minded. I don't mean to be picking on this one song, btw. It just happens to be one I hear frequently. I'm sure more or less the same sentiment can be found in other devotional literature and in the writings of saints.

That's how I feel about "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us." If my forgiveness of others is the standard for God's forgiveness of me, I'm literally doomed.

Pope Francis said once that women seem to have a harder time forgiving people than men do. I don't know if there's anything to that or not.

I was doing a sort of examination of conscience a while back and thinking that my ability to forgive has never really been tested, because nobody's ever done anything really bad to me. Then I started remembering a lot of little things that I have remembered and resented for a long time. So apparently I'm already having the test and failing it.

I LOVE Attende Domine. I only discovered it a few years ago and it became my favourite Lenten chant...actually became like a prayer to me. They chant it at the Ash Wednesday Mass at Santa Sabina in Rome. For some reason I think it is mostly used early in Lent??? One of my other favourites is the Litany of Saints, and they chant that as they process to Santa Sabina on Ash Wednesday.
The other one - My heart's one desire is to be holy- reminds me of one other simple song I began to like. It was from a World Youth Day with JP2. They create a song that becomes a theme for that event. This one was "Jesus Christ, You are my life, You are my life, Alleluia..." That's it. It's a bit of a pop tune but it gets to you. Everybody sways back & forth...But it is a kind of a declaration. Makes you think!

At our parish it was used every Sunday in Lent up to (not including) Palm Sunday.

I do like some of the poppy songs that our "youth" (mostly baby boomer :-) ) choir sings. But there are a few I can hardly stand. This one ("my heart's one desire") is somewhere in between.

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