Celebration

During this week between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Jewish High Holy Days, it seems appropriate to quote the Rabbi of “radical amazement,” Abraham Joshua Heschel, but the words that are ringing in my ears aren’t ones we necessarily want to hear. On the NPR program, On Being, this past Sunday a Heschel scholar addressed the concern expressed by so many who believe that religion does have something to say for our times, despite so much evidence to the contrary:

“It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. 

Ouch. Yet, how many people would indeed describe church as irrelevant, dull, oppressive and insipid? Perhaps not the people who actually go to church (oh, I hope not), but all too often they are true words for those who don’t go to church, and aren’t those the very people the church wants to reach?

When I was asked by the Rector of St. John’s about my vision for the music, my response was “to never be boring.” I want music in the church to be the opposite of irrelevant, dull, oppressive, and insipid. I think a lot about how to make music a meaningful part of people’s worship. The combination of music, text, liturgy, and all the individual needs, gifts and hopes that people bring to the table is a powerful one. If I think about it, celebration is at the heart of all my musical endeavors. To celebrate this incredible gift of music from God and the musical gifts given to us by great composers and musical traditions of many cultures, to celebrate the talents and new-found skills of those who participate in choirs, as well as the wisdom found in the great poetry of the psalms and hymn texts. To celebrate the beauty of all those things expressed in the impressionistic hymn text Now:

Now the silence  Now the peace  Now the empty hands uplifted  Now the kneeling Now the plea  Now the Father’s arms in welcome  Now the hearing  Now the pow’r Now the vessel brimmed for pouring  Now the body  Now the blood  Now the joyful celebration   (The Hymnal 1982, #333)

Rabbi Heschel had something to say about celebration too:

People of our time are losing the power of celebration. Instead of celebrating we seek to be amused or entertained. Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation. To be entertained is a passive state–it is to receive pleasure afforded by an amusing act or a spectacle…. Celebration is a confrontation, giving attention to the transcendent meaning of one’s actions.

We can celebrate by simply paying attention. Now. How could a celebration like that be anything other than relevant, astonishing, compassionate, and exhilarating?

Peace,
Sonya

Resilience

I wrote last fall about the name of a group, The Carya Ensemble, that I was forming with a colleague to sing in the U.K. this summer – singing this very week, in fact, for services at Lichfield and St. David’s cathedrals. Carya, I had learned, is a botanical genus which includes hickory and pecan trees, and a particular characteristic of this grouping of plant life is resiliency.  To be resilient implies, as it does for trees, a flexibility to adapt to our environment and the ability of our wounds to heal in ways that build on the strength of scar tissue.

Goldberg Variations, 28 (Resilience)

The trills in this variation are relentless, providing an inner energy that fuels sparks of detached eighth notes. Pianist and blogger Jeremy Denk, in his NPR musings on The Goldberg Variations, uses words like “zany” and “manic” to describe this music, and conjures up the image of Mickey Mouse’s endless supply of brooms in Fantasia’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” section. Chaos ensues, but Mickey survives, resilient as always.

I don’t recommend manic behavior as a survival technique, but there’s something to the idea that, as with those trills, we should just keep moving – physically, emotionally, spiritually. Getting unstuck from unhealthy behaviors, grudges, toxic “friends” or dulling places in our lives seems like a good first step on the path towards resilience.

Peace,
Sonya


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.