Today’s Gospel presents the faithful with a challenge to renounce sin and any part of us that may cause us to sin, or else we may be thrown into the “unquenchable fire”. Jesus suggests that it would be better to cut off the hand, foot, or pluck out the eye if it causes us to sin rather than enter Gehenna with two hands, feet, or eyes. To avoid having to consider any of these options, we pray that God may be with us and in every part of us to prevent us from sinning in the first place. “God Be In My Head” is that prayer set to music by Andrew Carter (b. 1939):
God be in my head and in my understanding,
God be in mine eyes and in my looking,
God be in my mouth and in my speaking,
God be in my heart and in my thinking,
God be at mine end, and at my departing.
This text comes from the 1514 Book of Hours from Salisbury, England, and has been a universal prayer used by many throughout the world. Carter is himself English and has traveled all over the world as a composer and choir director, especially in the United States. He was asked to compose a mass setting for the tercentenary celebration of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. (We heard music by a former choirmaster and organist of St. Paul’s Cathedral, John Goss, last week.)
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence,
And take not thy Holy Spirit from me.
Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation,
And uphold me with thy free spirit.
Then will I teach transgressors they ways;
And sinners shall be converted unto thee.
Although this text comes from Psalm 51, it has a lot in common with Psalm 19, which we hear in today’s liturgy. “Cleanse me from my unknown faults!” “Then shall I be blameless and innocent of serious sin.” “The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart.” We can find distinct parallels to these lines from today’s excerpt of Psalm 19 in those from Psalm 51 used in our communion anthem, “Create in Me a Clean Heart, O God,” composed by Carl F. Mueller (1892-1982). We also hear today of the Spirit coming upon Israelites and strangers among the disciples to prophesy and cast out demons. Some grumble about this gift of the Spirit given to others who were not with them or not “one of them,” both Moses and Jesus echo one another: “Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all!” “There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me… [he] will surely not lose his reward.”
Carl F. Mueller was born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and later moved to New Jersey, where he studied at the Westminster Choir College of Princeton. He was the organist and choir director at two different Presbyterian Churches in New Jersey at different times. Of more than 500 compositions of his that have been published, “Create in Me a Clean Heart O God” was the most popular by far, selling over 2 million copies.
-- Lorraine Joy Welling
Director, Gloria Dei Choir