We are currently working on a stellar project that combines caring for the common good with artistic creativity: the Berkshire premiere of Paul Winter's "Missa Gaia/Earth Mass." It was commissioned for St. John the Divine and has been a part of their St. Francis Feast Day celebration since 1982. It is a unique work that combines jazz and chant, contemporary sounds with ancient pipe organ as well as the organic music of wolves and whales.
As has become our custom, large musical events are never seen as ends unto themselves: they are dedicated to raising funds and consciousness about a key local concern. Sometimes that involves emergency fuel assistance for our brutal winters. At other times we have cast our hearts towards Mother Earth or brothers and sisters who are neighbors in need of food. This show - on Sunday, November 22 @ 3 pm - is in solidarity with BEAT (Berkshire Environmental Action Team.) When I began ministry here, we narrowed our mission/outreach focus to four broad areas: eco-justice, peace, food security and regional justice issues. We also decided to stop re-inventing the wheel and partner with secular groups already doing vital work in the wider community.
In this, we have been able to support BEAT and help them deepen their impact on the
Berkshires as well as welcome church folk into their work as partners. How does the Psalmist put it? "How good and pleasant it is when sisters and brothers dwell in unity?" Our goal - and we have to wrestle with staying focused - is to use our time and resources in wise and effective ways. It is very easy to become distracted by the plethora of needs that are presented to us every day. But if we honor our limits - and this is always challenging - we can remain true to our calling of living into the blessed rest and trust of Christ Jesus.
For "Missa Gaia" there will be a 20 person chorus comprised of many First Church members as well as key soloists and guests from the wider artistic community. There will also be a small jazz ensemble: soprano sax, guitar, upright bass, drums, cello, oboe, pipe organ and piano. And a professional dance troupe will open and close the gig adding visual power and color to the festivities.
It has become my conviction that whenever we create a work of beauty dedicated to the common good everyone benefits. And while beauty is, indeed, its own reward - one of the truths that can heal and save the world - it helps church people if such creative work is also linked to one of our mission commitments. All too often, religious peple are woefully utilitarian. Richard Rohr and Parker Palmer label this "functional atheism" wherein we act like everything in creation depends upon our endeavors rather than God's presence in and through creation. By linking our mission work with acts of beauty, hope and joy, my hope is that we slowly help others see how important the arts are in strengthening embodied spiritual integrity. I may be deluding myself as you can never please all the people all of the time, but I suspect that we are building bridges concerning the ways acts of creative beauty are socially, spiritually and even politically transformative.
Here is a congregation in Worcester, MA performing the Kyrie from "Missa Gaia" complete with wolf song, improvisation and choral reply. Our performance will be equally stunning so if you are in the area, please join us..
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