We can feel tenderness for someone in our lives, treating them with gentle care. We can also have a physical or psychological tenderness within ourselves that is quietly painful when probed. In either case our tenderness make us vulnerable to being hurt. Bach’s 13th Goldberg Variation exquisitely communicates both meanings to me.
I am reminded today, Maundy Thursday, about a posting I wrote for a church-sponsored blog in 2009. The ideas I explored then are still things I wonder about today, exposing a vulnerability I’d rather not admit to…which seems like a very good reason to be honest.
Maundy Thursday Musings (revised, first published in 2009)
I am completely devoted to National Public Radio, and have had many so-called “driveway” moments when I was unable to turn off my car radio until I finished listening to a story. One that I will never forget is a story I heard years ago about the Kent State shootings, told from the perspective of several young National Guardsmen who were there that day. As the story spun out, you felt the heat of that May day in 1970, the tension building, the heaviness of the protective gear they were wearing, the taunting of the students, and you began to understand how such an unbelievably horrifying thing could happen. In fact, you began to wonder what you would do in that same situation.
Very possibly I could have been one of the German Christians who didn’t want to see what was going on in 1930’s Germany, but would have simply focused on my family and their needs. Would I have been a silent friend? The kind of person who is worse than an outspoken enemy? I would like to think that I could not sit down to supper with someone and then betray him to a government that was going to kill him, but until I experience everything that led up to that betrayal and lived in that moment, can I really be sure?
Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos, “A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another; as I have loved you.” This is how Jesus explained to his apostles the meaning behind his washing of their feet, and the first word in Latin gives name to this day on the liturgical calendar, Maundy Thursday.
It’s all so simple. So why is it so hard? This Holy Week commemorates four things: Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, the institution of Eucharist at the last supper, Christ’s vigil in the garden of Gethsemane, and his betrayal by Judas to the Roman soldiers. The first three of those events are reenacted throughout the Christian church today. I wonder if we don’t all live into that fourth event on a regular basis in our daily lives.
Thinking this way is the painful kind of tenderness that holds cowardice up to the light. Maybe, just maybe, if we examine our cowardice, we’ll learn to care for others with more of the other kind of tenderness that loves our neighbors as ourselves.
I’ve lived with Bach’s Goldberg Variations for a long time now. More than half my lifetime in fact. I would pull them out periodically, feeling that I was revisiting an old friend, but a friend who always has something new to share. I began thinking about Bach and mindfulness last year in a way that meant something to me. Each variation became linked in my mind with a word and that word became something like the “intention” that yoga students are sometimes asked to set for their practice. A word to mediate on and to help draw more from within. For the next 32 weeks I will post one of the variations and write about the word I associated with the music. Sometimes a connection will seem obvious, but more often it will be unexplainable. It became apparent as I worked on this project that I thought about things which I wanted to cultivate in myself, ways of being in the world that were positive. All of the recordings are to be made in my living room, playing the 9 foot Steinway that was given to me on January 5, 2016.