Saturday, May 31, 2008

ganesh of the bishop

In the early morning
I chant the Divine Names
And worship the one who is
beyond the reach of thought and speech
and yet by whose grace all speech is possible.

I worship the One whom the Vedas describe as
neti neti––not this! not this!
That One the sages have called God of gods,
the unborn, the unfallen, the source of all.
Ashram Bhajnavali, Gandhi-ji’s translation

The verses above were sent to me by a young Indian friend that I met in Texas. (In Texas?) It’s interesting how I keep running into connections to India all over the place, even here in Florence. It was the connection with Chiara through Shantivanam that introduced me to Stefano and his family, and now Stefano has introduced me to his Indian connections here in Florence. The other night we went to Satyananda Ashram here in Florence, where Stefano has been going for years, an ashram that offers yoga in the tradition of the great teacher Swami Satyananda Saraswati, whose work many of us have read. It was founded and inaugurated by him personally in 1982. Swami’s main disciple Swami Niranjanananda also spent some time here. It is now run by Swami Anusandhana and his wife, Swami Uttarkashi. He was born in Bengal to an Indian father and an Italian mother but has been in Florence now over 35 years. She is an American who was raised in a family that was steeped in Indian culture––her mother practiced yoga already back in the 1930’s––and for some reason moved to Florence when she, Uttarkashi, was only 14. The two of them married in 1976 and had three children before meeting their guru 1981, after which they both took sannyasa from him and took over the ashram. Their aim is to maintain a “sattvic ashram,” a place where there are regular sessions of various yoga practices as well as quite a history of singing mantras and kirtans. As a matter of fact, tonight we are going back to the ashram for kirtan singing and the recitation, 108 times, of the mahamrityunjaya mantra––“OM tryam bakam yam jamahe…”––that takes place every Saturday for il benessere e la pace nel mondo––“well-being and peace in the world.” The music is led by a man named Ganesh Del Vescovo. (I hope someone can appreciate that name: Ganesh, the Hindu elephant god, and Del Vescovo, meaning “of the Bishop.” Ganesh of the Bishop.)

Stefano arranged for us to go a little bit early and Swami Anusandhana spent a half on hour with us telling us all about his history and that of the beginnings of the Bihar School of Yoga. (I thought Radha would have appreciated it.) And the good Swami invited me to come back as often as I wanted during the next week, even after Stefano leaves. I will try to do so. Many of the asanas that he led us through I had never experienced before.

Treating this as a regular road trip, since I have work to do, I also found a gym walking distance from Casa Rossi that offered a weekly membership. Thursday I had gone there with Stefano to look it over and find out the cost. The young woman working there told me 40 Euro for a week, which I thought was a pretty good deal. On my way there the next morning, I was practicing to myself how to say in Italian, “The young woman who was working yesterday told me that it would cost 40 Euro for a week” in case there was a problem. Sure enough when I arrived, the girl who was working behind the desk this time said that it was impossible that it would only cost 40 Euro for a week and told me instead that all she could offer me was 90 Euro for ten days, plus an addition 5 Euro (refundable) for the tassiera–passcard and another 30 Euro supplement for I-still-can’t-figure-out-what. I managed somehow to make it clear that that would be a waste of money for me. After consulting another employee, who also thought it was impossible that it could only be 40 Euro for a week, to whom I also made it clear that I had been told it was so and any more was a waste of money because the American dollar is so weak (which is no problem of theirs, of course), the first lady made a series of phone calls until she finally located someone who told her indeed that during the summer there was a deal for 40 Euro a week. In the meantime, I was the center of attention at the front desk, this American arguing––politely, I hope, but firmly––over the price of a weekly abbonamento. You know, I think Italians just enjoy the conversation.

The house is beginning to fill up. Pamela arrived the night before last, and her parents arrived last night, and some cousins arrive tomorrow. Stefano will be leaving to go stay with one of his best men. I had asked him which one of his three testimoni was the best man, which he found very confusing. I explained to him that in America one of his witnesses is always considered the “best man.” He thought that was odd, since they were all good, and one of them is a woman. So he has now been calling them all “best man.” At the practice last night he said, “That’s Luca, he’s a best man. And there is Francesco; he is also a best man.” I can’t wait to meet Gianna, who I suppose is a “best woman.” There is also no maid of honor, by the way, but as far as I know none of them is male.

We went to meet Don Andrea, who is the very friendly, very funny parish priest with a thick Florentine accent at Santa Maria a Quarto, at Bagno a Ripoli outside of Florence, the place where they are to be married. He is also the one who did their marriage preparation. He treated me like an old friend and went through the ceremony with us bit by bit, trying to figure out what part of it I would do and what part he would do. I have been feeling pretty relieved that he was to be there as well, instead trying to conduct a wedding in a foreign language. At the end of our conversation he said it was all fine, except that he wasn’t going to be there! Well, maybe for the first few minutes, but after that he ahs to go down to the parish church (we are in a little old chapel on the same parish) and celebrate the 11:30 Mass. So I am going to have to do the whole thing on my own. And we are not going to have a practice.

Last night I went over to San Miniato, the Olivetan monastery where Raniero and I stayed when we studied Italian in 2000, my first trip to Italy. First loves always remain the strongest, they say, and San Miniato, Florence, and the view of Florence from San Miniato, will forever be etched in my heart as the place where I spent the happiest days of my life. I returned there a few more times as a guest of monks, happily singing and praying with them. Father Abbot, well up in his late-eighties by now, was always very kind to me and even invited me to stay with them and go on the road from there when I first took my exclaustration. Of course what is odd about that is for an abbot of one monastery to invite an exclaustrated monk from another monastery to live with them. And especially them, because the Italian Olivetans, and those of San Miniato especially, pride themselves in their strict observance: they pray all the hours together, some of them in Latin; they are always in their habit, even when they go out, only they rarely leave the monastery except with permission and never after evening prayers; and so can barely imagine one of their monks going out to do concerts and wander off to India for a few months every year. And yet here was old Fr Abbot inviting me to make San Miniato my residence. I never told my Camaldolese brothers about that, and ultimately decided not to accept his offer, but I was tempted and quite moved.

I remember once having a discussion with one of my elders about the use of Gregorian chant, me wanting to introduce a bit more at New Camaldoli, using the argument that I thought it was up to monks to preserve something of the great traditions of the church. He countered by telling me what he had garnered from Don Benedetto, our infamous progressive prior general of the 1970s, that a “monastery was not a museum!” He had a point, up to a point, and I couldn’t help thinking about that comment last night, because the reason I went to San Miniato was to attend the inauguration of a museum that they have opened on the second floor of the monastery. Bernardo and Ildebrando, both of whom I know quite well, are quite the collectors of artifacts and rarities, even from other monasteries, but especially all the things they found hidden all around San Miniato in various saloni and armadi. And so they have put together a marvelous display in the grand salon upstairs, complete with museum quality display cases and descriptions. They invited a select crowd of friends and benefactors to inaugurate the museum last night after Mass and Vespers. I went early enough to participate in Vespers, all in Latin from the Antiphonale Monasticum, and Mass, all in Latin, though Novus Ordo, except for the readings, which were in Italian.

It all got me thinking again a lot about classical versus progressive. There is something to be said for preserving a sacred tradition instead of re-inventing the wheel every couple of years or generations. The dark side is that it becomes all ex opere operato, formulaic and soul-less, that the power is in the doing and not in the taking part and the transformation of life that is meant to happen in the taking part. On the other hand I have always wound up with the progressives, the best of whom are trying to continue the tradition, to make sure that it is a living tradition––be it musically or in terms of life style. The dark side of the progressive is it can become change for the sake of change, that the baby gets thrown out with the bath water, that we are constantly re-inventing the wheel, and asking ourselves who we are and what we should do.

It’s never easy to spread your arms wide enough hold seemingly different things together, like Ganesh of the Bishop or, better, like Jesus on the cross, “stretching out his hands between heaven and earth.”

Thursday, May 29, 2008

from Firenze

Sound is hidden under words,
and words are hidden under sound.
When one perceives the words,
one does not perceive the sound underneath,
and when one perceives sound,
one does not perceive the words underneath.
When the poet perceives the words,
the musician perceives the sound underneath.
The mystic perceives even in that sound
a Word which was God.
Hazrat Inayat Khan

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

I’ve just arrived in Florence. I am to be here in Italy for the next month, a kind of a complicated trip due to the confluence of different factors. In the middle is the retreat and the tour that I am doing with the choir from the diocese of Monterey, starting on the 16th, which will take us to Camaldoli, Assisi, Florence and Rome, singing Masses and performing concerts. But I have come early first of all to celebrate my friend Stefano’s wedding. He and I met back in 200 through a woman from Florence named Chiara that I had met while at Shantivanam. She had told that she wanted to introduce me to someone when I was to be coming through Florence after India that Fall. And the rest is history. We’ve stayed in more or less good contact over these years and spent some nearly ecstatic times together especially during my last two visits to Italy, sharing a love for India and all its trapping, especially yoga and meditation, he being a devotee and translator of Abhishiktananda. I was quite honored to have been asked to preside and preach at his wedding. Then I have about five days to myself here, to do some work in preparation for what lies head and also hopefully to take a few classes to improve my Italian. Then my family comes and we will spend a week together at a house my Dad rented in a city called Tavernelle. And then comes the time with the choir. In between then I get a few days at the motherhouse, Camaldoli, hopefully to be there on the feast of Saint Romuald. I think it will all go pretty fast considering all the little pieces, but I am glad to have scheduled in solitary time all throughout as well.

We did three fund-raising concerts for the Monterey choir before I left. With the dropping in the value of the dollar against the Euro and the increased cost of gas, the folks are paying a lot of money for their two weeks in Italy. So I am glad we were able to do something to offset the cost a little. And the three concerts at home in California are also going part of the whole experience for them. The first one was at Holy Cross a week and a half ago. It was a great turn out and a very receptive home-town crowd, which is not too big a surprise. But even I was surprised at how well we did together, and how exciting the program is. Sr Barbara kindly offered to do all music I had written and we put a program together that covers a little of everything, including my “difficult period,” except for from my first three collections recorded 25 years ago and now (gratefully) out of print. As it is, we really cover a range of styles. After the dulcet peace of the Gregorian Benedictus Es that we sing at the start of the program, to hear the choir break into four-part harmony on “There Is A Light,” for example, is a powerful moment and a thing of beauty. The second concert, in Paso Robles, went okay but we struggled with the acoustic in that carpeted church, not being able to hear each other, though the crowd was well pleased afterward. Our last stateside one Sunday night at the Carmel Mission was fabulous, a wonderful acoustic and a very responsive full house. Though––I hope someone in the choir is reading this––the choir was a little overexcited and kept rushing the tempi and at times seemed to be shouting rather than singing, all in all we did awfully well and I think the concerts in Italy are going to be tremendous. Certainly given the style of some of the music that we are singing they will be a bit of a surprise to the Italian audiences, my guess is that they will love it as they have enjoyed John and my performances here in the past. They are more discriminating listeners than most American audiences and often have a deeper appreciation both of tradition and new expressions of it.

After the concert on Sunday I had that kind of overwhelming experience again, when folks are so moved by music that you know that they are changed. I was telling a friend the other day that when I say people are “moved by music,” I really mean literally “moved”; at times you can see it in peoples’ faces, full of surprise and gratitude and a kind of incredulity, that they were one place before a concert and are in another place after. With the release of the “greatest hits” album out of Singapore and this retrospective of my chorale music that the choir is doing, I am filled with a sense of gratitude and wonder myself, that somehow in spite of myself something beautiful, some things beautiful, came out of me. As I also have been saying to folks recently, perhaps because of the era from which I come, it is somehow engrained in me that you can change the world with a song, the whole world. I suppose for better or for worse, but I am counting on and committing myself to the “for better.”

In the midst of it all I am thinking about and slowly picking thinking away at my two talks for NPM (the National Pastoral Musicians conference) on the way home, and I shall probably share some tidbits from my background reading along the way.

Oh yeah, and I posted some pix of the fire that our friends Dan and Nicole sent out. The Summit Fire, it is called, and apparently the authorities were pretty sure it was going to raze Corralitos, including my cabin and the homes of my friends and neighbors along the way. Before I left a friend called and said that they thought it was contained enough for now, but that it would probably not be fully extinguished until early autumn. It was pretty sobering for us all.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


The cup of blessing that we bless,
is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?
The bread that we break,
is it not a participation in the body of Christ?
1 Cor 10:15-17

There are so many powerful images in the readings the church offers for us on this feast today, the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. Even as I was reading listening to them again as they were read and I was reading them at Mass I was tempted to deviate from what I had panned to preach on. But still I was struck by those lines from St Paul’s letter to Corinthians, and was asking myself, “What does it mean, to ‘participate in the body and blood Christ?’” This feast of course would be a good occasion to speak about the doctrine of the real presence or other traditional doctrines in the church. I’d like to just assume the belief in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist––body, blood, soul and divinity. But what does it mean to participate in that?

I ran into these same two citations twice in the past week, and they convinced me that this is what I wanted to preach about. The first is from the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 4, where it describes the early Christian community thus:
The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed any of their possessions as their own, but they had everything in common… There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses, would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need. (Acts 4:32, 34)
And the other is this phrase from the great third century Christian writer Tertullian who wrote how the unbelievers were struck by the Christians' concern for the needy of every sort, so much so that they said, “See how these Christians love each other!”

If we take the example of the earliest followers of Jesus seriously––and I think we should––, then we learn that there is something that goes with the breaking of the bread: fellowship, friendship, community. Because of the Eucharist, they were like family. Because of the Eucharist, they held all things in common; they sold their possessions and shared the proceeds with everyone so that no one among them had any needs. Because of the Eucharist, they made sure everyone was taken care of, the hungry, the sick, the jobless, the lonely, the sad, the friendless.

The Eucharist is not an individual thing; it’s not just about me and Jesus. It’s about me being a part of us, and us being a part of each other, and about us being a part of Jesus, like one body––a participation. I like to think of this as the “economics of the Eucharist,” a phrase I got from Nathan Mitchell. There is an economics to the Eucharist; there is an entrance fee or at least membership dues of sorts, and it’s not just right doctrine and dogma. The Eucharist, as every sacrament, is a commitment to a way of life––this way of life, family, fellowship, friendship.

There is a reason why we always maintain the tension between the Eucharist as meal and the Eucharist as sacrifice. I asked some second graders last week if they knew what the word sacrifice meant (Mind you, it’s always a dangerous enterprise, asking second graders questions during a homily, but this time it turned out pretty well.), and one bright little man nailed it. He said, “A sacrifice is when you give something away.” Yes, I said, but a little more. Sacrifice also means that we believe that when we give something away it becomes holy.

Before the eucharist is the sacrifice of Jesus, it is our sacrifice. What do we give away? We give us away. One of those little often overlooked moments in the Mass is this: it is very important that the gifts––the bread and the wine––be brought up by somebody in the assembly, and not just be here on the altar beforehand. This bread, as we know is made up of individual grains, smashed and molded together, and then changed into something else. And those grains, we hear from ancient tradition, are symbols of our lives. This wine is made of many grapes, smashed and dissolved, changed into something else. Those grapes too are symbols of our lives. Smashed, broken, our borders between each other dissolve and we become one something else. And that is what we offer on the altar, that is our sacrifice––our lives, our loves, our works, our joys, are sufferings, our hopes and dreams, our disappointments and accomplishments. That is what we lift up. I often say that before this is the real presence of Jesus, this bread and this wine are supposed to be the real presence of us. Before Jesus comes into this bread and wine, we need to be in this bread and wine, and really in our hearts put our lives on this altar and allow them to be sacrificed, lifted up and pray that they be accepted by God. And they will be and are. And that is what is changed into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ. Me, you, I, we get changed into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ. And when I receive it back, I am receiving my life back––body, soul and spirit––transformed. That’s what it means to participate in the body and blood of Christ.

Of course, it doesn’t end there either. That bread, that wine, that is Christ and that is me transubstantiated then gets broken, then gets poured out. We can’t just stay on top of the mountain, we can’t just stay in front of the tabernacle, we can’t just sit here in mutual admiration. We then get sent out to be the real presence of Christ in our world. And that too is what it means to participate in the body and blood of Christ. As the Holy Father wrote in his first encyclical Deus Caritatis Es (#22) “love for widows and orphans, prisoners, and the sick and needy of every kind, is as essential” to the Church––corporately and individually––“as the ministry of the sacraments and preaching of the Gospel.” As essential as the ministry of the sacraments and the preaching of the Gospel! “The Church cannot neglect the service of charity,” he says, “any more than she can neglect the Sacraments and the Word.”

So, if we dare to approach this table, if we dare to say Amen, let us remember that we are committing ourselves to a way of life, to be a community of believers of one heart and mind, to fellowship, friendship, and community. Because of the Eucharist we are committing ourselves to be like family, holding all things in common; sharing our wealth in such a way that no one among us has any needs, so that everyone is taken care of, the hungry are fed, the sick have health care, the jobless have jobs, the lonely, the sad and the friendless are comforted. So much so that they would say of us, “See how these Christians love each other.”

That’s what it means to participate in the body and blood of Christ.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

the energies of the trinity

How wonderful the Three-in-One,
Whose energies of dancing light
are undivided, pure and good,
communing love in shared delight.
Brian Wren

Ten years ago I celebrated and preached at my first Mass at New Camaldoli on the feast that we celebrate today, the feast of the Holy Trinity. It happens so rarely that I can count on my hands how many times I have been nervous in front of people, and there weren’t a lot of people there that day, at my first Mass, but I was so nervous my hands were shaking. Not only acting as priest for the first time but preaching on the most sublime mystery of the Christian faith on my first time out of the shoot. A little daunting. It went alright, if I recall, but I did stick pretty closely to the written text.

I am covering for Mark at Holy Cross these week and I was half tempted to dig out that old homily partially to see if I still agreed with myself, and partially to save myself the trouble of writing a new one, since that one was only delivered once. But, though I did still agree with what I wrote back then, there were some new thoughts about the Trinity that have been fascinating me, mainly drawn from Ewert Cousins and Raimundo Pannikar, so I decided to write a whole new one. As it turns out, I didn’t have to preach after all––there was a guest presenter at Holy Cross––so that gives me all the more excuse to post this one for you all.

When dealing with the Trinity, I’ve always started out with the Second Person of the Trinity who we associate mainly, and usually exclusively, with the person of Jesus. But in a sense there is a reality that is behind the person of Jesus. Yes, the fullness of the godhead dwelt in Jesus bodily––that’s my favorite description-definition of Jesus––but Jesus is the Word made flesh. I remember that startling moment in Christology class when I asked a very na├»ve question of my professor, “But who was the second person of the Trinity before Jesus was born?” Up to that point I really had never considered it before. And he glared at me with his fierce Irish eyes and said, “The Word, man! The Word!” That is somehow the reality behind Jesus. The Word!

And what is that Word? The Word is what comes forth from the mouth of God, and not only that, it is, in a sense, all that comes forth from God. ”God spoke and it came be; God commanded, it came into being,” the psalmist tells us. God said, “Let there be light––and there was light!” Just because God said so. And this has been my bridge to see God everywhere. Everything that exists does so because a word was spoken that called it into being. And, especially, wherever there is beauty, truth, goodness––what the philosophers call the Transcendentals––being manifested, that is a manifestation of the Word. Wherever there is beauty––be it in a blooming flower, a poem, a face, a delicious meal; wherever there is truth¬¬––be it in science or philosophy, in the work of therapy or counseling, or the fine tuning of a computer program; wherever there is goodness, especially the goodness of concrete actions––the long suffering of a spouse caring for a life partner through the last stages of Alzheimer’s or cancer, people dedicating their lives to social justice and care of the poor, simple acts of kindness that become the habit of virtue: there is the Word manifesting. And the fullness of that Word, Christians believe, was made flesh in Jesus.

This understanding of the Word has also been my bridge to understanding other religious traditions, and why the Catholic Church can say (in Nostra Aetate) that it “rejects nothing of what is true and holy” in other religions, and why we have such “a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and the doctrines” of these other traditions. Even if they differ in many ways from our own teaching, nevertheless they “often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all people.” In other words, because they too are manifestations of the Word, that ultimately became flesh in Jesus. And whenever anyone has an encounter with the Word, through any means, they are ultimately having an encounter with what leads to the Christ.

But there is something behind the Word too. There is the silence out of which the Word comes. There is an ancient tradition that speaks of the silence of the first person of the Trinity, as we say in Trinitarian language, that/who Jesus calls Abba–Father. The silence does not just mean a lack of noise; this silence is the reality behind all rites, the truth behind all dogma, the womb of creation, the power behind desire. Pope Benedict wrote of this recently in a discourse about an ancient Christian thinker Pseudo-Dionysius who taught what we call “negative theology”––“that God is above every concept”––and “our incapacity to truly express what [God] is.” Sometimes, the Holy Father explains, “It is easier to say what God is not than to express what he really is.” And he, surprisingly, says that he sees in this a bridge “between Christianity and the mystical theologies of Asia,” that are often “marked by the conviction that it is impossible to say who God is,” and that sometimes “only negative expressions can be used to speak of [God], that “God can only be spoken of with ‘no,’ and that it is ultimately only possible to reach God “by entering into this experience of ‘no.’” This is this silence of the Father, and it is what many are rediscovering in this day and age through meditation, and through contemplative prayer.

And last but not least, that which connects those two together is yet another energy in Trinitarian theology, that/who we call the Spirit. There is power inside the Word––that power is the Spirit. There is a love between the Father and the Son––and that love is the Spirit. It is that Spirit, that love, which was the driving force behind Jesus’ life and ministry and ultimately that same Spirit which thrust Jesus out of the grave. It was also that very same Spirit that came to rest on the heads of the apostles like tongues of flame, and, even more, as the Scriptures promise over and over again, that love of God, which is the energy of God, who is the Spirit, is poured into our hearts and is meant to flow from out of our hearts––by the Spirit living in us. In the depths of our own being, in the silent depths of our being, in our silence, that Spirit dwells as our deepest reality, as our real self hidden with Christ in the silence of the Father, as the pray-er behind our prayers, like a groan or a sigh too deep for words, and as power, like a stream of life giving water that is meant to flow from out of our hearts in love and service, in beauty, truth and goodness.

Mind you, I do not want merely to reduce the persons of the Trinity to energies, though it is a helpful tool when speaking to people who are not of our faith tradition, because it takes faith that some may not have to see these energies as persons. But it takes another kind of faith, an adult faith, for us to see the energies behind the persons; and also to realize that these energies are, in a sense, universal aspects of a holistic spirituality, and perhaps untapped aspects of our own spirituality––especially the silence of the Father and the power of the Spirit.

On this feast of the Trinity, I suggest that this feast inspire us to try to understand fully the Second Person of the Trinity, made manifest in Jesus: and see God manifested everywhere there is beauty, truth and goodness. But also challenge ourselves to discover the silent depths of God, of the Father, that we might have the humility (and perhaps the humor) necessary to recognize that God is beyond our paltry attempts at definition and description. This realization can open us up to real awe and a sense of mystery. Remarkably, the way to discover this silent depths of God is by discovering our own silent depths, into which the love of God––who is the Holy Spirit––is poured as our invitation into the relationship––as branches on the vine, and, even further, as our participation in the divine nature, our sharing in the divinity of Christ who came to share in our humanity, and thus our power to manifest beauty, truth and goodness in our world, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

It seems appropriate to share this adaptation of the final blessing from the Indian rite:
May God beyond all name and form share with you glory beyond measure...
May God who became manifest in Jesus Christ enlighten your mind, strengthen your will and fill your heart with love...
May God the indweller in the cave of the heart animate you with life...

Thursday, May 1, 2008

echoes of old truth

The spoils of war is our knowledge of the world,
so large it fits in a handshake,
so hard it cold be described in a smile,
and as strange as the echoes of old truths in a prayer.
Wislawa Szymborska

I seem to have forgotten that I had a blog, until someone in Phoenix reminded me last week, saying, “I read your blog all the time.” But I am here in Durango again, at the very coffeehouse (The Steaming Bean”) where I launched the thing last summer and bound a determined to add a little something before I go. (You will note that I posted some new pix on the picasa website of one event this past month: )

I am here in Durango with my long-time collaborator John Pennington. This is the ninth year in a row we have played here as part of the Animas Music Festival, a small eclectic festival for which John actually took over the directorship a few years back. It was here that we premiered the oratorio “The Song of Luke” in 2002, as well as another large piece for orchestra, dancers and choir in 2004, our statement about the war entitled "Echoes of Old Truth." Particularly that latter piece seems oddly apropos this year again and even specifically today, the fifth anniversary of the infamous “Mission Accomplished” event on board the aircraft carrier. We’ll be revisiting two pieces from “Echoes” again tomorrow at our concert.

John has entitled this year's concert “Peace Pieces,” drawing from all our material concerning peace (there’s a lot!) with the addition of a few new pieces, an Jewish song called "Sheshalom, " and a choral number based on a Celtic prayer called “Deep Peace.” (We are, incidentally, performing also with the choir of St Mark’s Episcopalian Church, the venue of the concert.) We’re also going to be singing George Harrison’s “Give Me Love,” with our own arrangement. This morning we performed, for the second time, at a juvenile detention center here in Durango, the Neirs Center, that runs a program called Rites of Passage. We opened up with “Give Me Love,” and it went well, and was also pretty moving for me. George Harrison, along with Bob Marley, is someone from whom I would be proud to say I have picked up the mantle.

Anyway, I wanted to revisit that song cycle, “Echoes of Old Truth,” for you here, since it was pre-blog. It was written in a large part as my response to the outbreak of war in 2003. On the evening of March 19––the feast of St Joseph––of that year I was listening to the radio news when I heard that we had begun to unleash our campaign of “shock and awe” on Baghdad. My response was immediate viscerally deep sadness, and the theme of one of the dances, “War: St Joseph’s Day,” suggested itself to me almost immediately. I still often play that piece solo on the guitar, though in the larger piece it is scored for marimba, harp, flute, violin and cello.

At the time I had been exploring texts from a variety of European poets, and for “Echoes” I settled on three Nobel laureates, Wislawa Szymborska, Eugenio Montale, Czeslaw Milosz. What those poets shared in common is that they all had had experience of war first-hand, and that experience is in some way reflected in their art. What the particular poems I chose had in common was that all three of them were in the third person plural, that is, in “we” language. (Because of this “we” I chose to leave the choir often singing in unison.) Milosz himself wrote about this “we”––as a matter of fact in a foreword to a collection of Szymborska's poetry––that this “we”
... denotes all of us living on the planet now, joined by a common consciousness, a 'post-consciousness,' post-Copernican, post-Newtonian, post-two-world-wars, post-crimes-and-inventions-of-the-twentieth-century. It is a serious enterprise to venture a diagnosis, that is, to try to say who we are, what we believe in, and what we think.
This is echoed by the Italian poet Eugenio Montale, who was deeply offended by the hard-line polarizing social divisions in postwar society of his day, and for whom there existed only those sentient few who were able "to perceive the inauthenticity of their surroundings and resist it in the core of their beings." Thus his poem ends: Questo solo possiamo dirti: / cio che non siamo / cio che non volgiamo––“This, today, is all the we can tell you: / what we are not , what we do not want.”

The piece begins with a rather naive and tonal dance, an innocent Consecration, (which I also often still play combined with the Malayalam “Aarathi”) leading to Szymborska's mature reflection on growing up surrounded by social conflict.
We knew the world backwards and forwards––
so small it fit in a handshake,
so easy it could be described in a smile,
as plain as the echoes of old truths in a prayer.

History did not greet us with triumphant fanfare––
it flung dirty sand in our eyes.
Ahead of us were distant roads leading nowhere,
poisoned wells, bitter bread.

The spoils of war is our knowledge of the world––
so large it fits in a handshake,
so hard it could be described in a smile,
as strange as the echoes of old truths in a prayer.
I chose to leave Montale's poem "Non Chiederci" in the original Italian to further emphasize the apophatic nature of his poetry with its "thrust toward an unavoidable and yet unreachable transcendence." But here’s the English:
Don’t ask us for the word to square
our shapeless spirits on all sides,
and proclaim it in letters of fire, to shine
like a lost crocus in a dusty field.

Ah, those who walk secure,
a friend to self and others,
uncaring that high summer prints
their shadow on a peeling wall!

Don't ask us for the phrase that can open worlds,
just a few garbled syllables, dry like a branch.
This, today, is all that we can tell you:
what we are not, what we do not want.
There is quite a chaos of mixed meters as the choir solemnly proclaims those last lines of Montale in polyphony, leading to a frustrated outburst of the marimba, finally answered by the flute solo playing a piece called “St Bruno’s Day,” bringing us into the cleansing solitude of St Bruno, the founder of the strictest order of Christian hermit monks. My idea was to tie in with the Muslim tradition, in which the Prophet (peace be upon him!) teaches that the lesser jihad gives way to the Greater Jihad, jihad al nafs, the “struggle against the self.” Truly successful is the one who purifies the soul. (Qur'an 91:9) And out of that cleansing solitude hopefully comes an experience like that of Milosz’ friend and correspondent Thomas Merton who was
overwhelmed by the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. … There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun. … There are no strangers!
And so the piece ends with Milosz’ benediction “Rays of Dazzling Light”:
Light off metal shaken,
Lucid dew of heaven,
Bless each and every one
To whom the earth is given.

Its essence was always hidden
Behind a distant curtain.
We chased it all our lives
Bidden and unbidden.

Knowing the hunt would end,
That then what had been rent
Would be at last made whole:
Poor body and soul.
From the beginning of this period in my life, the desire to be out on the road singing has been prompted by a desire in me to do something (!) about the situation in the world. I remember telling the audience at my first public event in 2003 in Washington DC how I had asked permission to be out of the monastery for a couple of years because, “The world is little crazy right now, the church is a little crazy right now, and I’m a little crazy right now, and the only thing that makes sense to me is being here with you singing this song...”

The Dalai Lama and Eckhart Tolle agree with these words of Fr Bede Griffiths that
. . . the whole human race has now come to the moment when everything is at stake, when a vast shift of consciousness will have to take place on a massive scale in all societies and religions in order for the world to survive.
I hope our music and work can lead toward that shift in consciousness, not only to love our enemies, but to realize that we have no enemies. Everything is at stake.