But there is beauty

Last night the Oregon Chorale did a benefit concert at our parish. The all a cappella selection of music was exquisite, and exquisitely done, but I was not a regular member of the audience for this. I was in the narthex, listening through the barrier of the windows and doors. I could hear it, but I could not hear all the infinitesimally small nuances of that very acoustically live space. There was a damper between me and the sound. I sat in its shadow to listen.

And so, instead of immersion, there was a distance. And in that distance there was awareness of all that was not the music.

Outside the building, people walked by, skateboarded by, and drove by in the street. I could hear snippets of conversation and the noise of the bus at the stop.

And then, from inside myself, in the distance between my thoughts and the music, came the words from the end of "prayers before Mass" - unbidden came the thought, "heal the anguish of the world."

Anguish? In the midst of that achingly beautiful music, the word "anguish" bubbles up from inside?

Perhaps it is my age - or the season of unseen warfare - or the fact that our children are not children and are beginning their adult lives in earnest now, and the Mom Reflex is at full alert. Whatever it is, the anguish of the world does not hide from me right now. Darfour, and Pakistan, and beatings and brutality and anguish - those things are in this world, and they are still there, even when I do not think about them in my safe and comfortable life.

But there is music too.

That's what came into my thoughts last night. The choir's closely articulated harmony soaked into the bricks of the walls and pillars, and reverberated off the frescoes and stained glass. This thing of auditory glory is in the same world with pain and hatred.

There are willfully stupid people who listen only to their own reactions - who never get a broader perspective because they energetically refuse all perspectives but their own. Racism and greed and dominations in the name of self - these things are ever with us.

But so is song.

Usually we rich, fat, safe, swaggering Americans say this the other way round. We must feel a bit guilty or we are unable to just say "thank you" for all the blessings of this life. Whatever the cause, we say "yes, there is this good thing, but think about the people who have less than we do." All of us talk like this. It seems to make us feel better to end with the thing that is not the blessing.

So my thoughts feel a bit subversive. But I can't ignore them. During the music last night, in the dark and chill of a November evening, with the music soaring into the clerestory and the careless laughter and honking horns on the doorstep, the order was reversed. The presence of the eternal Good kept finishing the sentence.

Heal the anguish of the world; there is music.

Somewhere right now, some unspeakable act of cruelty is happening. It's true. I know it's true. But there is beauty. Somewhere right now there is a choir with voices raised in song. Yes, somewhere there is a nasty argument over a petty bit of transient power. But there is also a child practicing the violin. There is a dance. There is an embrace.

Yes, two and three is five; but it is also true that three and two is five. The world holds both at once. Not later. Not eventually. Not when all is weighed in the balance and Good ultimately overcomes. Here. Now. There is beauty.

Love is all around, but hatred is still with us.

Anguish breaks the world, but there is beauty.

This is the thought the choir brought me. Heal the anguish of the world; there is beauty. Beauty is here. Right now. Listen.

1 comment:

Douglas Bienert said...

As you were talking about being in that space between music and the noise of the world I thought of the great loss humanity has suffered due to Postmodernism. The claim that there is no real difference between the sound inside the church and the sound outside the church is frankly daemonic. I find it odd how the original temptation was to be like God knowing the difference between good and evil. Now, humanity has been tempted to believe that there is no difference between good and evil, beauty and the grotesque. Even the 80's new wave band Depeche Mode noted that it was up to them to transform sound. When synthesizers first came around they would sample noises and transform them to use in their music. I remember vaguely one of the members saying something to the effect that through his synthesizer a voice could be made grotesque and a (as I remember reading it) moose fart could be synthesized to sound like a beautiful instrument. Even in the midst of the darkness that their music encounters, they still understand that transformation is a key element in music. They are looking for light in sound. When I think of the roll of music and art (regardless if the artist recognizes The Artist) I recall the blessing over the water at Mass. "Almighty God who didst wonderfully create yet more wonderfully restore the dignity and nature of man..." It's all about redemption. Unfortunately, that word has been reduced and lumped in with "the sinners prayer" as well. Art taps into redemption. It takes things that are often of themselves of very little value and gives them purpose, meaning, and taps into transcendence.

Interesting article about Depche Mode in Christianity Today: