While I was in Sanibel, during the first week of my disquiet, Maryann sent me a link to Dan Forrest’s “Requiem for the Living.” She wanted us to know about an upcoming concert of this work, at the National Cathedral in Washington DC: would we want to attend? I listened to it (you can, too, if you click on the title above) while I was preparing dinner one night, gazing out at the darkening sky, and it is a truly gorgeous, soulful composition. Without an understanding of Latin, I could only enjoy the sound of it at that time. In so many ways, I wish I had taken the time right then to dig a little deeper. God was working through and for my friend, once again.
On May 20th, we went to that concert. Sarah’s graduation party would be the next day and we were once again aware of another milestone without Mark; I was struggling to control my emotions that evening. We loved seeing some of her HS classmates who were singing, and visited with other old friends in the crowd before the performance began. When we finally sat down and began to read the composer’s comments (all quotes below are his) on his work in the program, the tears spilled over, and I was lost.
Typically, a Requiem (also known as a Mass for the Dead) follows the same pattern: prayers for the eternal rest of the dead (Requiem); prayers for God’s mercy and Christ’s mercy (Kyrie); praise for God (Sanctus), and then the appeal to Agnus Dei (the Lamb of God, Jesus, who takes away the sins of the world, grant them rest). But Dan had a different need and vision. His Requiem, overall, is “a prayer for rest for the living as much as for the deceased.”
He begins with the Requiem and the Kyrie, “facing grief head-on and grappling with the sorrow that is common to all human existence.” He then moves into the Vanitas Vanitatum, quoting embattled and bewildered Job from the bible story, a man who has lost absolutely everything (family, home, livelihood, wealth, health) practically overnight. “Full of tears, [Job] said, ‘Let the day perish wherein I was born.'” I have felt that way as well, Job.
Dan goes on: “The third movement is the Agnus Dei, out of its traditional order, because at this point…I need to see the Lamb of God.” When we humans are in great pain, when we suffer loss, we seek answers, we seek comfort, we seek to know whether hope can be found. In all my reading, in all my searching, in all my life, I am continually pointed to the one who, in matchless love, died to save us all from this “fallenness — this vanity and pain and sorrow and destruction.” So Dan’s musical reasoning matches my own journey through grief.
He says more: it is “after recognizing the Lamb of God that we can then turn, in this narrative, to the Sanctus. It becomes a response to the Agnus Dei, instead of prelude to it as in the normal liturgical order.” Dan’s Sanctus points to the wonders of our world and universe. “Looking to Job again, God’s answer to the problem of pain is literally, ‘Look at my works of creation – see my transcendent power and majesty…”
This is so powerful to me, because in the final days of Sanibel, I recognized, dimly, that same truth: the written word is very powerful to me, but it is the glory and magnificence of Creation that soothes, heals and renews me. It is the warmth of the sun, the colors – the brilliance of the blue sky, the intensity of the greens, the pop of color from endlessly flowering shrubs, trees and hedges – and the fauna, in all their infinite variety. Slowing myself down and calming my mind (so, so hard) allows me to soak it all in until everything within grows quieter and calmer.
Last Sunday I was worship leader at church. Normally, the church administrator makes sure to print out both of the scriptures I’m supposed to read but this time there was only one provided, so I grabbed the bible from a lower shelf of the lectern in order to find the second passage. Stuck in the bible as a bookmark was a giving envelope from last summer’s “Making our Mark” mission trip.
The page it was marking (ha) was not the passage I was supposed to read from Titus, but Job 42, the last chapter at the end of the book of Job. Job (remember: he’s lost EVERYTHING) has spent most of the preceding chapters demanding God show up and answer his WHY questions. God does finally show up in Chapter 38 and spends the next few chapters outlining all the things He has done [everything in Creation, from forming the universe to creating an ostrich] vs. what Job has done [um…nothing, really, on a cosmic level], so perhaps Job might want to sit down, shut up and get a little perspective..? And Job does just that, then says this in reply:
2 “I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
3 You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.
4 “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.’
5 My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
6 Therefore, I recant and relent, being but dust and ashes.
And he finds the courage, in spite of all he has lost and endured, to love again, to live again…to trust that underneath the chaos that so often disrupts and impacts our lives, we are held.