Sunday, August 26, 2018

it’s been silent for a long while now

Quietly, imperceptibly, everything which could have been life has become a mechanism behind which my soul has laid itself to rest. Life is so long, and the constant repetition of the same thing causes such lethargy. If you live near a waterfall, after a week you’ll no longer hear the rumble. In the same way, we have forgotten how to listen. The spheres make music, but all we hear any more is ourselves and the clatter of our own existences. More and more cracks are filled in and the stilling of the divine call becomes more and more a matter of course. It is walled up, mortared within the systems of life we’ve invented. Just as during the day we allow the caged bird to sing and at a night we cover him up so from times to time I take a fancy to listen to God’s Word play a tune. [...] Always enjoyed in the context of a comfort which is expensive enough as it is, these solemn moments of life are quite sufficient for any religious needs—which in any event are so muffled that I hardly need to cover the cage any more. Under the weight of my good conscience and under the ample bottom of my great heart, the voice of Truth has been stifled. It’s beeen silent for a long while now.
—Hans Urs vonBalthasar, The Heart of the World

I noticed at the beginning of mass that the altar cloth was decorated with the same pattern of fruit and flowers that decorated my home church growing up. Is this some standard image of ordinary time that a committee thought up? Was this one enterprising young nun’s design that really took off and captured the imagination of church supply vendors everywhere? Whose anonymous design is this that is the now standard fabric of bourgeois worship?

Most of our lives are inherited. Rather than being created ex nihilo, they are simply the most recent iteration of humanity’s contingent history. Our preferences are built out of our early childhood memories, of our parents’ habits, of all the events that were imposed upon us before birth.

There is much grace in receiving who and what we are with gratitude from a world outside of our control. There is much grace is overcoming the limitations and restrictions of the environment placed upon us. But I think there is grace, most of all, in what comes to us from outside the pattern.

As the last hymn ended, and the congregation began to pick themselves up out of the pews, the swell of the organ reverberated through this utterly proper church—a stunning mix of Northern European richly velvet Catholicism and the clear sunlight of a Southern Presbyterian meeting house. The organ sang through the post-mass lull.

As John Dryden boldly claims: the organ is a psalmist who sings hymns no human voice can match, whose song can mend even the defects of the heavenly choirs’ praises. The organ sings the music of the spheres we try to ignore, the song of divine harmony that came roaring into this small church. The organ played that morning the song I have been trying to follow all summer long.

As the strong pipes poured an overwhelming solo symphony of sound into the church, the music offered a vision of how life ought to go. The pounding crescendos of the organ overwhelmed the moan of the vibrating cellphone, the anxieties about past and future, and spun the sunny August Sunday morning into a chorus of divine praise.

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