• advent journal: this will be our reply

    by  • December 6, 2015 • advent journal, grief, hope, peace • 6 Comments

    At our church here in Guilford, Ginger is one of two pastors who share the responsibility of ministering to our congregation, and part of what that means is they alternate preaching from week to week. Today it was Sarah’s turn. The introduction of her sermon reminded me of what the conductor had said at the beginning of the High School Choir and Orchestra Concert on Friday night. Before he said much of anything else, he quoted Leonard Bernstein:

    This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.

    Both the conductor and Sarah mentioned Bernstein’s remarks came in response to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I took some time this evening to read this account of that time from Bernstein’s website and learned that he was friends with Kennedy, and found a great supporter of the arts in the President. I also found the paragraph that was the context of the quote:

    We musicians, like everyone else, are numb with sorrow at this murder, and with rage at the senselessness of the crime. But this sorrow and rage will not inflame us to seek retribution; rather they will inflame our art. Our music will never again be quite the same. This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before. And with each note we will honor the spirit of John Kennedy, commemorate his courage, and reaffirm his faith in the Triumph of the Mind.

    I’ve read it through several times this evening and find deep resonance with the first two sentences, even before I get to the quote. The first one has an odd structure, so it took me a minute to realize he is saying “we are numb with sorrow and rage . . . .” At first I wondered how one could be numb with rage (I understand how grief numbs), and then I realized it is exactly what the weight of violence and war has done to us. Yes, we flame up on Facebook and talk about how to respond, yet we are numbed. Perhaps it is less about not feeling anything and more about feeling numb to the possibility that life could be something other than this. Why, for example, spend the energy on contacting our elected officials in Congress (I can’t bring myself to call them leaders) when they have made it clear they aren’t going to do anything? I struggle to feel hope when I think about them.

    Bernstein’s response, however, doesn’t begin with thinking of who else he needed to put into action. He speaks for himself, and for other artists:

    But this sorrow and rage will not inflame us to seek retribution; rather they will inflame our art. Our music will never again be quite the same.

    Then comes the most quoted line:

    This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.

    Whatever he expected of others and their response, he knew what he would do, which was to double down on his calling, to let there be no discards. His words helped me remember the story of Vedran Smajlović whose response to the four-year Siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s was to climb
    wpid-0626_Vedran_Smailovic_plays_in_Sarajevo into the craters left by the bombs and into the shells of the buildings and play his cello. When he was asked why he was doing it he answered,

    You ask me am I crazy for playing the cello?
    Why do you not ask if they are not crazy for shelling Sarajevo?

    What both men are saying involves more than music. Yes, art has transformational power in our lives and we do well to sing back to the night, and there call is also about being true to who we are in the face of violence and fear and grief. The violence may affect us, but it does not get to define us. Our reply will be to do whatever we do more intensely, more beautifully, and more devotedly than ever before.

    And I will let Leonard Cohen sing us out.

    Anthem

    the birds they sang
    at the break of day
    start again
    I heard them say
    don’t dwell on what
    has passed away
    or what is yet to be
    ah the wars they will
    be fought again
    the holy dove
    she will be caught again
    bought and sold
    and bought again
    the dove is never free

    ring the bells that still can ring
    forget your perfect offering
    there is a crack in everything
    that’s how the light gets in

    we asked for signs
    the signs were sent:
    the birth betrayed
    the marriage spent
    yeah the widowhood
    of every government
    signs for all to see

    I can’t run no more
    with that lawless crowd
    while the killers in high places
    say their prayers out loud
    but they’ve summoned
    they’ve summoned up
    a thundercloud
    and they’re going to hear from me

    ring the bells that still can ring
    forget your perfect offering
    there is a crack in everything
    that’s how the light gets in.

    you can add up the parts
    but you won’t have the sum
    you can strike up the march,
    there is no drum
    every heart, every heart
    to love will come
    but like a refugee.

    ring the bells that still can ring
    forget your perfect offering
    there is a crack, a crack in everything
    that’s how the light gets in

    Peace,
    Milton

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    6 Responses to advent journal: this will be our reply

    1. Suzanne Cate
      December 6, 2015 at 11:09 pm

      Milton, you are on fire with your muse!

    2. December 6, 2015 at 11:24 pm

      Thanks, Suzanne.

    3. Paul Cook
      December 7, 2015 at 7:32 am

      Your voice is always music. (and cookies also are healing).

    4. Patty Kogut
      December 7, 2015 at 8:43 am

      Hey Milton!!! Thanks for your thoughts! Can’t wait to catch up with you and Ginger! Soon.
      Blessings, Patty Kogut

    5. Eva Gilarde
      December 7, 2015 at 9:58 pm

      I so appreciate these thoughts, Milton, but will the good figure out a way to defeat this spreading evil?

      • December 7, 2015 at 10:17 pm

        Eva,
        Your question makes me think of the MLK quote, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” And I also think there may be more than one “spreading evil.” If we believe the rhetoric that ISIS is the real evil and we don’t see what is spreading faster is the hatred that folks like Donald Trump are spewing out in huge amounts, then we are we being fooled by the misdirection.

        Peace,
        Milton

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