Sunday, February 21, 2010

Trusting in the Major Keys: On The Unneccesariness Of Being Reminded Of One’s Mortality This Year.

Psalm 130

One of the blessings of growing up a choir kid is that I was able to hear and sing some fine music, growing up. One of my favorite all-time composers is a twentieth century Englishman named John Rutter. Several times, I have had the pleasure of singing his Requiem.

Now when I was younger, I gravitated toward the prettier bits, the bits that sounded like movie themes. Like most callow youth, the music that is not immediately accessible, the stuff in minor keys, is “boring”. Rutter’s main theme, the Requiem theme, is exactly one of those prettier bits. In singing the Requiem in choirs, I always assigned the second movement, called Out of the Depths, into the boring bin. It begins with a pretty intense cello solo, but what I remembered most about that solo was the intensity of the soloist at the concert I sang in.

I am many things, but I am no longer callow. In talking with my colleagues Monday about preaching texts for Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, the phrase “out of the depths I cry to you” came to me, and I’ll choose to credit the Holy Spirit for that. It is the opening line of Psalm 130, and that boring section of Requiem came to mind again.

It is no longer boring.

If music is the speech of emotion, I get that cello solo now. I can see the musician that played it so long ago in the chancel at Newark UMC, working so hard to express the emotion of the music. I get the low voices singing “Out of the Depths”. I’ve been there. When you are in the depths, screaming and crying is sometimes too much to muster, and all you can manage is a low rumble, but one should never mistake a low rumble for a lessening of emotion over a scream. God knows the groans too deep for words.

I listened to this piece while writing this, and where it breaks into major key at verse 5, the text says “in the Lord my soul trusts” (they are using the King James for the text). From then out, it stays major, stays hopeful, stays trusting.

Lent, and especially Ash Wednesday, is usually an exercise in the reminder of one’s mortality. It is the beginning of a six week suite in a minor key. It behooves us to be reminded periodically that we are not the be-all and end-all, that there were people thousands of years ago who experienced the sorrow and angst we feel. As long as there have been clans and tribes, there have been mothers and wives and children who are consumed by anguish at the loss of their loved ones who have gone off to be soldiers. It is only a minor change in that to say that husbands and fathers now feel that angst, too. As long as there have been families and lovers, there has been pain and suffering because of the loss of loved ones because of disease.

Ash Wednesday is usually a prudent reminder that for all of us, the end result is not immortality. It is death. And we are all headed over that waterfall. And for Christians, historically, death does not bring oblivion, but union with Jesus Christ in heaven. But it does mean the end of all that we know and love.

There will be Ash Wednesdays in the future when I will be caught up short by the reminder that I too will die and no longer be present on earth. This wonderful existence of music and food and love will cease to exist. So will this horrible existence of disease and suffering and war and prejudice and hatred. Our lives on earth are mixtures of all of the above, and sometimes the juxtapositions of good and bad give rise to awareness of the absurd.

But this year, I need not be reminded of the shortness of life, the value of real life over counterfeit. Because of Donna’s disease, I value things differently. I’d like to say that I will be changed forever, but I am not that optimistic. I know that I will still be drawn into things that feel important at the time, but ultimately aren’t. I know that I will be unable to escape 3 hour meetings and political arguments and the ethics of steroids in baseball, and I might even find that stuff important. Shame on me, then.

Let Ash Wednesday always be a rebuke. May it always yank my leash back to the truth that love, tangible and demonstrated, is all that matters. We live a life of the senses, our experience of the world is only obtained through our senses.

This Ash Wednesday, 2010, the most important thing in the world, right now, is making sure Donna is comfortable, loved, clean and fed. The most important thing in the world is that Josiah is learning how to be successful in the world-not “rock star” successful, but able to love and take care of himself by himself in the world. Can he cook for himself? Can he clean for himself? Will he have the emotional aptitude to love well and support, emotionally and materially, those whom he loves?

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Let Donna know her worth and value in my life as long as she lives. Let Josiah grow up to be a true man, emotionally grounded, capable and giving.

Let the cello play those groans too deep for words. They need not be ignored, any more than a minor key should be avoided. To live life perpetually in a major key is to live a lie. Stuff happens. But let me always be able to be hopeful and trusting of what comes, trusting in God, even in the face of death, the ultimate unknown.

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