Wednesday, October 14, 2015

for the lamb who was slain

Sometimes, I feel an acute sense of guilt for wanting to be an artist (for being an artist? Am I an artist? What allows you to call yourself an artist? Am I just a lazy could-be teacher that selfishly wants to be an artist? Welcome to my brain on an existential crisis/guilt trip/waiting for the GRE)

But, then, at Mass on Sunday, the choir sang Hillert's Festival Canticle for the Alleluia instead of a predictable Hallelujah mass part. I didn't know that was even allowed. The rules of liturgical music seem so rigid, until you find them suddenly malleable. Instead of the familiar tones of a Gospel Acclamation, the organ took up the triumphant chords of Hillert's magnificent canticle.

The music reminded me of an image of Christ I hadn't seen in a while.


As I was sitting in a dim, dully-lit office lobby, waiting for the GRE-proctors to tell me that the internet in the room where I was to take the GRE was working, and I could take the test, I stared out at all the people walking down 3rd avenue, underneath the windows. I didn't have a book or a journal, or anything besides the key to my locker and my driver's license, so I was presented with the dilemma of what to do with myself while waiting with nothing to occupy me. I am not good at this. I am not good at doing nothing.

My mind reacted to the stress and the inertia by racing ahead at a million miles a minute: what does it say about you that you paid an exorbitant fee to go take a test that is fairly pointless, that will allow you to pursue a degree that is, in essence, a luxury?

I hate sitting in a glass box, above the street, observing all the restless activity and struggle of humans. Being there feels like removing myself; it feels like running away; or escaping. It feels like being a coward. Am I being a coward? Am I simply refusing to do the work of struggling?

My mind is racing, from nervousness and inertia.

Is something wrong, I wonder. Is something unhinged in there--inside my mind--is something rattling around that should be bolted down. The thoughts come so fast, I can barely register them. And I wonder what it feels like to be mentally unstable. I wonder if I am mentally unstable. I wonder if once that idea enters your head, once you entertain the idea of being mentally unwell (an idea fueled by one too many listens to the Next to Normal soundtrack, you can never recross the threshold back to being mentally well.

My mind is racing. You think too much, I think to myself. I wonder what it is like to not think at all, to never be thinking about what you are seeing. It sounds foreign.

Our minds are so strange--and so weak. So susceptible to nervousness and inertia.

The woman announced I could take the GRE now. So I stood up out of my chair, away from the window, away from the street where people were running, trying to survive, and I took my key and my driver's license, and I moved again, forward. I broke the nervousness.

And then it was Hillert's Festival Canticle that broke the inertia. As I listened to the organ burst with sounds that hum and shake, I was reminded of a simpler faith of simpler times, of singing in blue robes, surrounded by flames and friends. I was reminded of the clear, gladdening light of Easter morning, that fills the nave like a baptism of sunbeams. I was reminded of a vision of Christ that is very simple and clear, lamb-like in His simplicity. His love pellucid and tender, effervescent and everywhere.

It was the notes that brought that vision to me; it was the simple words, ornately arranged in music that brought back images of beauty to me, that lifted a veil from the world. Something that had been shrouded was made clear to me once again, a Joy that had been stifled bloomed like my tomato plants. They are so hopeful for an Indian Summer, they don't seem to realize it is October. November is not far away. It is not time for tomato plants to be blooming, but rather time for bearing fruit.

And it was the music that brought that to me. And perhaps that alone makes it worthy of the struggle. There are people who latch on to Justice or Truth or Peace, and they fight for these causes. All of these, of course, are simply one primal cause, one center of the rose that is slowly unfolding, eternally. But they are such different lenses of stained glass through which to filter the light. Together, they fracture the beam into a swath of many colors, and they piece it back together into one strong beam of light. 

Perhaps that music--that beauty--is quite enough. Perhaps in the midst of all the desperate calamities of the world, beauty is still enough. Perhaps, because it lifts the veil, it is not only worthy of the struggle, it is a deep and worthy struggle for a human to undertake.

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