Nobody

Periodically I  revisit posts that I particularly like from the more than ten years of writing that I’ve done.  Yikes!  That means I’ve written something like 500 of these things. There is no particular rhyme or reason for why certain pieces rise up in my memory, though there is often a seasonal connection. Such is the case today.

 
I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – Too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!
 

How dreary  – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!
 

Three Nobodies usually appear on the liturgical calendar for January 27 – Lydia, Dorcas (aka Tabitha) and Phoebe. In 2019 this was a Sunday so the nobodies were skipped over, more insignificant than ever, but I remembered them. These three women receive a mention or two in the New Testament, and seem to have shared the capacity to be helpful to others – early Christian leaders and the poor around them – because of their presumed prosperity and independence. Their stories are lost to time, but are hardly unique. We are surrounded by such people who fail to advertise their deeds to an admiring Bog!  Even in Washington D.C., a place where humility is not overly abundant.

There’s also one big Somebody on a different calendar for this same day. That would be Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, celebrating a 263rd birthday.

In Emily Dickinson’s poem above, two Nobodies seem to have found each other, creating something we might call a community of nobodies.  A comfortable place to be, it would seem. A place where companionship is valued.  What we know of Mozart’s life is that he was the embodiment of Somebody. Famous his entire life, his accomplishments croaked to an admiring Bog at every turn, his fame well-deserved.  He undoubtedly found the demands made by his fame, the travel, and treatment by his patrons to be dreary at times, but aren’t we very glad that this particular Somebody was born with his head full of music bursting to come out.

Let’s be honest, though, most of us are Nobodies and our value is found when we fulfill the “grace of daily obligations,” as author Gail Godwin puts it. Little things, mostly unnoticed, and finding ourselves in a community of Nobodies perhaps there is the joy of companionship, and certainly there is the potential for doing good.

Undoubtedly the world is a more complete place because there are both Somebodies and Nobodies in it – but it worries me when the goal is to be a Somebody. Fame for fame’s sake – that’s often behind the evil of mass shootings and attention-seeking, chaos-creating tricksters. People are happiest when, no matter how consequential their contributions to the world, they are comfortable with their nobodiness. When they don’t take themselves too seriously… (belated happy birthday, Wolfgang)

Peace,

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This blog represents my attempt to put thoughts together on various things that seem to connect – in my mind anyway. More often than not new ideas first involve reaching back to what was and I can only hope that the prehistoric San cave painting at the top of this page inspires all kinds of connections between old and new.

Feel free to pass this message along to anyone who might be interested. You can simply subscribe (look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the post) to get a reminder of new posts, or you can register with a user name and password in order to comment. If a community conversation comes out of this, all the better. We have so much to share and so much for which we can be grateful.

 

Thumbing Your Nose

Easter fell on April Fools Day this year, and one of my musical colleagues handed out bulletins to the choir that had Christmas carols listed for the hymns. I’m guessing that chaos and consternation ensued! There were surely plenty of unfortunate jokes told as part of sermons all over the world as well, and so it doesn’t feel quite as unseemly as it might to suggest that we were celebrating Jesus thumbing his nose at death on Easter.

Thumbing his nose? Where on earth did that kooky expression originate? No one really knows, but possibly in 18th century Britain, and really, could it be anything except British? It’s a phrase which implies contempt, but with a good dose of humor, not anger. Someone who does the actual thumbing is expressing a measure of confidence, of resilience, of freedom. To do it literally is childish and disrespectful, I suppose, but metaphorically it can be empowering.

No composer thumbed his nose at authority more beautifully than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, whether at the dominance of his father over his career and life decisions, or at the Archbishop of Salzburg who employed him and demanded simplicity and brevity above all from the young composer’s works for the church. Mozart did attempt to comply in the several Missa brevis settings he wrote for Salzburg Cathedral, but you can’t shake off the feeling that he chafed at these restrictions on his creativity.  The Missa brevis, K. 194 that will be sung at St. John’s this Sunday (accompanied by The Artaria Quartet) is short, it’s true, and he sets the long texts of the Gloria and Credo with great economy, simple textures, and spare instrumentation, as the Archbishop demanded, but the drama of opera is lurking just below the surface of those liturgical texts. It is like a barely-contained gremlin bumping against the walls of its sacred box.

When one person protests she is often called a troublemaker or crazy, or, very rarely, a prophet. In Mozart’s case, history calls his protests genius. When many people protest oppression, however, it becomes a movement. Personally, I’d like to avoid being labeled as crazy, and “genius” or “prophet” aren’t attributes I can claim, which leaves being part of a movement for me. The goal for any protest is justice, and that’s the only movement that really matters. What are the goals of justice, after all, except those of truth and love, often defined as the cause of freedom? Maybe Mozart’s music will plant a little seed of protest in your own heart against small-mindedness and the control of conformity.

Perhaps you will find the exuberance in Mozart’s sacred music inappropriate to the words of a usually somber Kyrie eleison or Agnus dei, but I hear an authentic expression of joy in these and all parts of the sung Eucharistic celebration – Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei. Joy is as close to freedom as I can imagine. Thumb your nose at injustice then, because true joy cannot be born out of oppression.

Peace,
Sonya

* * * * *

This blog represents my attempt to put thoughts together on various things that seem to connect – in my mind anyway. More often than not new ideas first involve reaching back to what was and I can only hope that the prehistoric San cave painting at the top of this page inspires all kinds of connections between old and new.

Feel free to pass this message along to anyone who might be interested. You can simply subscribe (look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the post) to get a reminder of new posts, or you can register with a user name and password in order to comment. If a community conversation comes out of this, all the better. We have so much to share and so much for which we can be grateful.