Missa Gaia and sabbatical...

On Sunday, April 19, 2015 we will celebrate and share a unique work of art dedicated to healing the earth:  Missa Gaia - Paul Winter's "Earth Mass." This will be, in essence, the kick-off of a season of sabbatical at First Church, Pittsfield, MA. I will be away for four months resting, practicing upright bass and soaking up music and love with my precious Dianne in Montreal. Our faith community will, in turn, take three months to playfully rest and explore some of the ways the Spirit is calling them to grow in compassion and faith.

MIssa Gaia seems like the perfect way to open the sabbatical: it is a contemporary treatment of the ancient Mass; it blends together the music of humans as well as wolves, whales and other living creatures; it utilizes the 'cathedral-like' ambiance and acoustics of our Sanctuary as an ally for spiritual and social renewal; and it invites those who cherish the arts as well as social justice into a place that has always been "consecrated ground." For over 250 years, our land has been set aside for prayer and service, worship and wonder, community and compassion rather than commerce.  Paul Winter, the key creator of Missa Gaia, wrote about how he came to imagine the first presentation of this ode to creation: it would be a song of devotion treating the whole of creation as a cathedral.  Further, the heart of this music is grounded in:

The Gaia hypothesis of scientists James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis, who propose’that the entire range of living matter on Earth, from whales to viruses,and from oaks to algae, could be regarded as constituting a single living entity, capable of manipulating the Earth’s atmosphere to suit its overall needs and endowed with faculties and power far beyond those of its constituent parts’.

For me as pastor, artist and participant in the life of our small, thriving community sitting on the
Western edge of Massachusetts, our decision to share Missa Gaia represents three inter-related realities that are fundamental to my call to ministry in the 21st century:

+ First, this is a genre-bending and boundary-transcending work of art:  Simultaneously it is prayer, song, silence, celebration, lament, call to action and call to contemplation as well as being a provocative combination of world music, high art song, jazz, folk and traditional chant lifted up as a cohesive whole. It is an audible expression of synergy for a multi-cultural, multi-faith world aching for hope: a genuine sacrifice of praise. We will present this as a call to action in support of BEAT - Berkshire Environmental Action Team - as well as a public fundraiser for them. Missa Gaia deepens our commitment to Dostoevsky's claim that "beauty can save the world" by offering art in the service of the common good.

+ Second, this work takes our small band - and choir and musical friends and cohorts - to the next level of artistry. For the past year we have come to realize that nobody in the area is experimenting with improvisation and classical forms of music as well as jazz, rock and folk song like our band. What's more, no one is playfully exploring the depth and breadth of spiritual music in this area like my colleagues. So, as we consider taking our "show on the road" in the year after our shared sabbatical, MIssa Gaia gives us the chance to strengthen our credibility as artists.  As we work to make Winter's score our own - adding our own reflections to his orchestration as well as bracketing the Mass with our own compositions - we will  have to deepen our commitment to creativity. We will have to work harder as musicians than ever before, too. The challenge of bringing this to birth is invigorating, but also daunting. It is a huge leap of faith.

+ And third, MIssa Gaia offers our small faith community the opportunity to live into its contemporary calling in a powerful way.   For almost 8 years, we have been slowly learning how the creative arts not only open our own hearts to God's grace, but also bring healing and hope to others. My prayer is that this performance will help those sitting on the fence discern that we have been given a unique charism for this moment in time: a collection of wildly talented and committed artists who love to create beauty together. The time is NOW to fully fund and support their creativity because "the Spirit blows where she will" and nothing lasts for ever. Too often the overly cautious nature of some congregations inhibits courageous support for new ministries. My prayer is that Missa Gaia opens some eyes and hearts so that on the other side of this sabbatical, we go for broke!

The musical score for this composition came in the mail today - finally!  The vocal score will arrive next week along with the CD of wolf, whale and other animal music that is woven throughout the fabric of this composition. We will start to pull together the creative artists necessary to make it all come to pass next week - and then begin rehearsals. I am very excited and grateful for my cohorts in creativity. I am particularly excited to work with my colleague, Carlton, on this. It will be tough, beautiful and inspiring - and he is just the right guy at the right time to make it come to pass.


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