I went to see Handel’s Messiah at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, Ontario last night. Fifty members of the Pro Musica Choir were joined by about twenty string musicians from the former Orchestra London. Four soloists (soprano, alto, tenor and baritone) shared their passion with us. The ceiling was lofty, the stained glass was exquisite, and we filled the church.
Maybe fifteen years ago, I sang The Messiah with the members of the Knox Presbyterian Church choir in St. Thomas, Ontario. It was a precious event for me … just like yesterday.
I didn’t time things too well and walked into the church only ten minutes before showtime. The place was packed. I walked to the front, saw an empty seat in the second row on the aisle and asked the woman sitting beside it if the space was occupied. No, it wasn’t. I sat down, marvelling at how blessed I am in this life.
The context of The Messiah is Christian and the “He” being referred to in song is of course Jesus. As I listened to the short interlocking pieces, though, I saw another way of holding the words. Here are some reflections, some fostered by the Buddha, and some just entering my head unbidden:
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed
And all flesh shall see it together
What is to be revealed? Perhaps the animation of daily life, where each moment can be breathed into (“animus” in Latin), and a dimension of spirit accessed within the flow of the daily round. Even within our difficult times, we can hold the world with new eyes. And to be among a group of people who consciously walk this path, such as during the meditation retreat I just experienced, is lovely.
But who may abide the day of his coming?
And who shall stand when he appeareth?
To abide. To stand. No forward movement. No becoming something new. Rather being in place and allowing the essence of being to escape through the pores.
Nowhere to go
Nothing to do
Nothing to know
No one to be
In the conventional world, such phrases may appear to be nonsense. But I think not …
And he shall purify the sons of Levi
That they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness
It seems that there’s a natural force of purification that seeps into folks who embrace a spiritual practice. Often the need to accumulate diminishes, as well as the need to protect ourselves. Fear lessens. The heart opens. And what was so important last year just isn’t so anymore. Such as being right, being strong, being assertive. What’s left is appropriate behaviour that often touches others.
Lift up thy voice with strength. Lift it up. Be not afraid
Arise. Shine. For thy light is come
As fear of what others think drops away, we speak wisely, with head held high. We speak without demand, without needing to convince, without dominating. We speak what is welling up inside us. And people notice.
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light
There is the story of Plato’s cave. Chained human beings face the back wall, observing shadows that they believe are real. Such as “I need more, better and different.” When unchained, they turn around, walk to the mouth of the cave, and behold the sun. Perhaps terrifying. Too bright. But home nonetheless.
Unto us a son is given
And the government shall be upon his shoulder
Something is born in us. Some mysterious energy. And we feel the responsibility to do good in this world, to love unconditionally, to be kind.
Glory to God in the highest
And peace on earth. Goodwill toward men
We are peace. And the inside becomes the outside. Simply “being with” people is a joy.
His yoke is easy and his burthen is light
Suffering still happens but something is different. Fear, anger and sadness are held tenderly, embraced as part of life. They still hurt but somehow there’s a sweetness within the pain.
Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world
I look at the ways I’ve hurt people and I feel remorse. Still, self-compassion washes over me and I see the fragile, imperfect human being that I am. Some energy is holding me up.
Hmm. I’m tired, and I’m only halfway through The Messiah. But I’m having fun. I think I’ll tackle the second half tomorrow. Goodnight.