29 July 2017

Cambridge, 27 July 2017

The Chorus and Individual Voices

The image to the right shows two examples of death portraits from Roman Egypt at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. It depicts two individuals who had passed from this life, and depicts them at their prime - the best image possible of them for remembrance and for eternity. As I look at these individuals, I realize that to look to the past is not to look at an abstract or even an absent thing, but rather to look at ourselves as one with human beings in a different circumstance and context.

When you walk by the cathedral at Ely you notice a huge amount of destruction, and a humble add-on between the bays of the cathedral.  It is an important lesson about life. The influence and pain of damage may be dealt with, but its presence is always there. Here, I think, is a celebration in noting what had happened at the hand of Cromwell's troops and others - celebration and reflection on what had been in the past and still evident in the present. As they say these days, "It is what it is." And so it is allowed to stand and be evidence of our total story.

Before I left on this pilgrimage with the choir I had days and weeks of wondering and pondering whether or not this is what I needed to do as a pastor. Those questions pursued me well beyond my boarding the plane at SFO. Would my presence be only gratuitous or would it have substance? I hoped for the latter. The portrait above is of a Sicilian Peasant by John Singer Sargent. I found it quite moving, because it added to my thinking all of this through. He is handsome, yes, but what is behind those eyes. Is it sorrow or just a day of hard work? What were his joys and delights? Only conversation and interaction at the time might reveal what the real story is. 

Jacob Epstein - Third Portrait of Oriel Ross

That is the real beauty of art, of sculpture, painting, and song. It is the human element that is only discernible through listening, seeing, and perhaps touching. Jacob Epstein's sculpture, again at the Fitzwilliam Museum, draws us in to ponder what the mind of this woman was as she faced the artist, really as she faced the person who would allow her presence and remembrance beyond her time. 

In my time here I have been blessed with a continuum of story and remembrance from many members of the choir, and those accompanying them. As rector of Saint Mark's I attempt to know as much as I can from the various people who come there for liturgy, prayer, and succor. However it is in eating, walking, playing, and singing with the people of the choir that I have seen and heard a deeper and more compelling song. 

To my clergy colleagues, take advantage of your retreats, or accompany your people when they go off together to sing and discover. You will be uplifted by your experience of them in a new and different context.

Matisse - Woman Seated in an Armchair

Has there been relaxation? Yes, but more than that there has been refreshment in the exhilaration of getting to know people anew in a different context. It is a real gift from God. I am reminded as I continue my tour with the choir, and continue in my efforts to listen and regard - I am reminded of this prayer.

O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

All of this gives me, and anyone, the ability to glimpse the glory of God reflected in our lives and appearing above and in the structure of our living.

Image of Christ the King, Peterborough Cathedral

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