Friday, June 6, 2008

Finally, enough cowbell!

Idolatry is the worship of the part as if it's the whole.
–Rabbi Harold Schulweis

Strap yourselves in, folks. This is a big one. (As the medieval poem says, I'm going to stuff "heavene and earth in littel space.")

I posted on Tuesday about community, and about how we all hold pieces of truth. In that post, I referred to a story of Truth as represented by a shattered mirror. As it happens, I've discovered that it's actually a combination of two stories, both heard on my favorite-in-the-whole-world radio program, Public Radio's Speaking of Faith. I'm about to break those stories apart, so that you might have a more accurate sense of their origins, and then bring them back together, so that you might have a sense of the extraordinary thing that happened to me tonight.

SOF is regularly wonderful and thought-provoking; if you haven't heard it before, it's available for podcasting and for streaming here. The archive is a treasure chest. Seriously.

My favorite program was entitled Religion and Our World In Crisis. It was a conversation between Muslim scholar Dr. Khaled Abu el-Fadl and Jewish scholar Dr. Harold Schulweis. They both find a strong relationship between truth and beauty, as well as numerous reasons in their respective holy books for people of all faiths to listen to one another. Their conversation is both fascinating and full of hope.

In humankind, God has created you, male and female,
and made you into diverse nations and tribes
so that you may come to know each other.

–the Koran

To know is to love, and to love is to know.
–Rabbi Schulweis

So...the first half of the composite story in my head came from Rabbi Schulweis:

There is a most remarkable parable illustration that's used in the Talmud. The question is: how could it possibly be that 600,000 Israelites were at the bottom of the mountain when revelation took place, and God spoke with one voice to the entire group, but everyone was convinced that God addressed him or her individually? How could that be?

The answer that a Rabbi Levy gives is: because God appears like a mirror, and everyone looks into that mirror...and, inevitably, a portion of his own self is reflected. But you have to understand that there are multiple visions and that there is no Immaculate Perception.

Everybody sees according to his particular history, according to his narrative. So what should be done? What should be done is that we should find out from each other: what did you see? When we gather together and form a collective kind of image, then we have a clearer picture as to what God is.

So. Pretty great.

Story Number Two came from Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, who (a cancer patient herself) has an unusual way of interacting with her patients: she listens to them. (Not slamming doctors here, but if you listen to the SOF program Listening Generously, you'll know what I mean.) Dr. Remen's grandfather was a mystic; he told her a story for her fourth birthday that stuck with me...about the concept of tikkun olam, the repair of the world (which Schulweis and el-Fadl also talked about):

Ms. Tippett: You recount this idea of the Kabbalah, which I had known, but — I don't know, I think maybe because you're a storyteller, it was very vivid for me. That — this idea that at the beginning of the creation, the holy was broken up, right?

Dr. Remen: Oh, the story of the birthday of the world, yes.

Ms. Tippett: Is that how he told it to you?

Dr. Remen: Yes, exactly. Actually, Krista, this was my fourth birthday present, this story. In the beginning there was only the holy darkness, the Ein Sof, the source of life. And then, in the course of history, at a moment in time, this world, the world of a thousand thousand things, emerged from the heart of the holy darkness as a great ray of light. And then, perhaps because this is a Jewish story, there was an accident, and the vessels containing the light of the world, the wholeness of the world, broke. And the wholeness of the world, the light of the world was scattered into a thousand thousand fragments of light, and they fell into all events and all people, where they remain deeply hidden until this very day.

Now, according to my grandfather, the whole human race is a response to this accident. We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people, to lift it up and make it visible once again and thereby to restore the innate wholeness of the world. It's a very important story for our times. And this task is called tikkun olam in Hebrew. It's the restoration of the world.

Ms. Tippett: Right.

Dr. Remen: And this is, of course, a collective task. It involves all people who have ever been born, all people presently alive, all people yet to be born. We are all healers of the world. And that story opens a sense of possibility. It's not about healing the world by making a huge difference. It's about healing the world that touches you, that's around you.

Ms. Tippett: The world into which you have proximity.

Dr. Remen: That's where our power is, yeah. Yeah.

And now you can see this warming up, right?

So...Beloved and I went to the orchestra tonight. On the program was a percussion concerto on the tune Veni, Veni Emmanuel (that's right, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," the one you know!) by Scottish composer James MacMillan. MacMillan is a devout lay Dominican who often employs religious themes in his work.

It was extraordinary, performed by the excellent Minnesota Orchestra and the virtuosic percussionist Colin Currie. (Soloist part includes 6 temple blocks, 2 wood blocks, 2 bongos, bass tubular bells, 2 cowbells, 2 congas, large cymbal, sizzle cymbal, bass drum w/pedal, 6 gongs, 5-octave marimba, 2 tam-tams, 2 timbales, 6 tom-toms and vibraphone.) Whew! VERY exciting music.

This clip is the last two of five continuous sections, described thus by the composer:

The climax of the work presents the plainsong as a chorale followed by the opening fanfares, providing a backdrop for an energetic drum cadenza. In the final coda the all-pervasive heartbeats are emphatically pounded out on drums and timpani as the music reaches an unexpected conclusion...

At the very end of the piece the music takes a liturgical detour from Advent to Easter—right into the Gloria of the Easter Vigil in fact—as the proclamation of liberation finds embodiment in the Risen Christ.

About five minutes into the clip (which is not the MN Orchestra), you'll notice a tinkling sound. Listen for it.

That sound is the rest of the orchestra playing little bits of broken mirror, tapping them with small metal rods.

Theologically speaking, that is a home run for me. Not in the sense that "Yea, Christianity wins!" Yech—far too simplistic. Instead, it seems to me that Christ—who came to repair the world—is represented as a beautiful expression of the Kabbalistic broken light...of the Muslim connectedness of truth and beauty...of the Talmudic coming together of many points of view.

I think old Abraham must be grinning right now; the three Abrahamic faiths shared a lovely dance tonight.

What if that depth of beauty underlies everything in our world, which waits for us to know and love one another, and to heal what's broken? And all we have to do is find that hidden light?

But that's a whole separate post.

Shalom, y'all.

P.S. It's Saturday morning now, and my friend Ruth also has some loveliness to share on this topic. Check it out!

P.P.S. And now it's Tuesday, and you've GOT to read Shalom's sermon using these ideas. Wow.


FranIAm said...

You have rendered me speechless and with such great love.

Thank you Choralgirl!

(i am a big big SOF fan as well.)

Magdalene6127 said...

Oh, my. So, so gorgeous... and something which may well make it into my sermon this week (or some other week...!).

Peace, friend. Thank you.

And how is Beloved's wrist?

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

OMG, I am hyperventilating.

First, very cool about the mirrors during the music. I love it when something external happens to confirm an insight.

Second, many years ago, God gave me an image of how we are all tiny facets of the total image of Christ. I wrote about it here Facets of the Image of Christ (I'm posting the link just so I don't have to explain so much.

I've never really heard or read this concept anywhere else. So these stories are just blowing me away. Thanks so much for sharing them.

Choralgirl said...

Hi, all--thanks for your kind attention! Extraordinary evening.

Mags--it's better enough that she's going for her TaeKwonDo belt test today (eyeroll, grin). She's unstoppable. Thanks for asking.

Ruth--would LOVE to read your post, but the link didn't work. Help? Couldn't find it at your blog; went looking. (My e-mail is listed on my profile, if that's easier...)

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

I'm not very good at the linking code. I put an extra back slash in, I think.

Try this. I tested it and it seems to work:

Facets of the Image of Christ

don't eat alone said...

Absolutely lovely. Thanks for listening well to all of it.


Shalom said...

I can't believe I was away from my computer this weekend of ALL weekends, and so totally missed this great discussion! AARGH! I posted my sermon from last Sunday, which has a lot of echoes of your wonderful comments - I'd love to hear what you think.

Have you ever heard, or heard of, the Genesis Suite? I just went to a performance of it a few weeks ago and it's a bit of a long story, but it's a musical setting of seven moments from Genesis, and there are some more touchpoints in that music with what you've so wonderfully described.

So glad I found your blog.