“This Terrible Progress”

As a general rule I avoid long sentences but there‛s been something seemingly so unending in the air for days now that I feel compelled to emulate the flow.  Here goes.

Apropos very little or perhaps apropos a great deal, I don‛t know which, I have been intrigued by the enormous amount of secular so-called news that has been absorbing the airwaves these days emanating from the Vatican and its environs, which said environs are of vast geographical reach and are even to be found in abundance in the philosophical, professorial and prophetical craniums of pundits, journalists, proselytizers, critics, and crystal ball gazers from many regions who have told us what has been, what is, what may be, what should be, what won‛t be, and what never was, and since my last blog had to do with religious freedom it all moves me to recall another and very different invasion of the airwaves that was propelled by Protestant fervour, the memory of which may or may not be relevant but certainly involved the exercise of a religious freedom.  (Okay, breathe.)

In explanation, I rewind my personal memory back to 1978.

I had been on a research trip that had taken me to Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, Brunei, Sarawak and the Gaza Strip.  In many places the air itself had been redolent with the sounds of religion – temple gongs, chanting of monks, street processions, fire crackers – all intriguingly exotic and mysteriously enchanting.

It was the Gaza experience, however, that had made a particular impression.  At sunrise every morning the melodic Muslim call to prayer from a nearby minaret awakened all slumberers and was repeated several times during the day.  But I was disturbed in more ways than one to learn that the muezzin‛s call was electronically amplified and, horrors, sometimes actually recorded and broadcast while, occasionally, the muezzin himself slept on.  I interviewed a Muslim doctor who referred to it sadly as “this terrible progress”.

Imagine my feeling when I returned home, somewhat exhausted, to be awakened on a weekday at 8 a.m. by the highly amplified  sound of recorded bells not only striking the hour but then playing a hymn.  Apparently a local congregation had decided to honour a departed pastor by installing an electronic system in the church tower.  The hymnal honour was repeated at 12 noon and at afternoon‛s end.  As far as I know, it still is.

At that time I was moved to write a little ditty and the current saturation of the broadcasting airwaves brings it back to mind.

Hymns at noon

Hymns at noon and hymns at five,
Bells to tell us God’s alive,
Bells to kindle Gospel fire
Via hi-fi amplifier.
Let us hear with holy zeal
But let us not forget to feel
Compassion for the less devout
Who shun the amplifiers shout —
Who feel concern that chiming bells
Are set to strike the hour as well —
Who, softly sleeping sick abed,
Are jarred by gongs would wake the dead —
Who, working shifts or working late,
Don’t want the sound of bells at eight —
Who, roused on Saturdays from rest
And feeling not exactly blest,
Ask questions that are apt to try us;
Questions for the over-pious:
“Is this the reason Jesus died?
To have a P.A .sanctified?”  ♣

And then, to blow off any remaining steam, with tongue firmly in cheek  (and silent apologies to my own ancestors) I wrote —

Song of the Elders

The Elders of the Kirk are we,
Devout and Christian folk
Who spend our lives with saintly wives
And bear the Martyrs’ yoke.

We lead our flocks along life’s walks,
The narrow and the straight,
And have our steeple wired for sound
To  prod  them  up  at  eight.

We pray for those, both friends and foes,
Who have not seen the light,
And have our P.A. broadcast hymns
To lead their feet aright.

Though we’re abed on Sunday morn
Our message speeds its way —
Our bells bang out their joyous shout
To help the Catholics pray.

While “Aves”and “In Nomines”
Rise upwards like a fount
Our bells enhance those papist chants
With songs of Calv’ry’s mount.

A hope that’s real propels our zeal —
Though Lost Ones far may roam,
If decibels are high enough
One Sinner might come Home!

Our altruistic, godly life
Is such a load to bear
That when we can we, to a man,
Go live it up elsewhere,

But if you wish to test our love
We offer this one clue —
We go away on holiday
But leave the bells for you!  ♣

I have no idea where, eventually, all  “this terrible progress” will take us.  So far there is no Muslim minaret in my area with a wired muezzin‛s call, nor is there a Buddhist temple with amplified gongs and chants.  But why not?  Surely this and the current saturation of the airwaves with instant “news” from Rome is all an expression of religious freedom?

Stay tuned.  Somewhere, some time, in the interests of equal access, it’s all going to be very interesting — and noisy and, possibly, ever more invasive.


   ♣  Hymns at Noon and   Song of the Elders

Copyright © Munroe Scott 1978


About Munroe Scott

Munroe Scott is a veteran of the freelance writing world.
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4 Responses to “This Terrible Progress”

  1. Munroe. Nice paradox this, the need to amplify praise to God in a world too noisy and nasty for Him to be heard. Here’s another paradox: is Francis I named after the gentle and indigent Assisi or the gallivanting, spear-point of Spanish colonialism, Xavier? My bet is both, given the ‘terrible progress’ of the Vatican.

  2. Edward Smith says:

    Your thoughts are “apropos a great deal” I regret to say. The “technological imperative” drives everything today. Perhaps some organized religions fear being perceived as out if touch if they do not remind us of their existence as often as technology enables.

    As to the pervasiveness of endless “talking heads” today, is this not the more poignant with the passing of Max Ferguson who shared such harmonious noise, in such manageable doses, and with such charm, in what now seems a neverland of yesterdays.

  3. Earle Gray says:

    If silence is golden, it’s a lost treasure. Far better to hear the sounds that come to the mind’s ear by reading prose and verse as good as this.

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