post missa musings...

Today is down time for some of us who were intimately involved in "Missa Gaia" - and it is a well-deserved rest. My colleague, Carlton, created something unique and beautiful out of Paul Winter's masterwork: a concert that simultaneously offered us an embodied antidote to the hatred that swirls all around us, and, an encounter with music that seamlessly wove musicians of varying abilities into the songs of the earth so that performers, audience, music and prayer become one sacred whole. It was an ecstatic blessing, something one guest described like this:

The Missa Gaia Earth Mass by Paul Winter was an amazing experience for me today. Traveled far to see my friend Carlton Maaia II who put it all together, and the talent he gathered was stunning. The whole thing moved me very much. It's hard to describe, but it's a musical piece that uses whale songs, wolf songs and human and mechanical instruments to celebrate a mass. It's what the world needs now! I closed my eyes and for a moment I saw the earth as one place, without borders or walls. We are all creatures inhabiting a planet. Some other creatures are doing a better job of maintaining the earth than the human creatures. I'm so glad I went!   Gregory Cortelyou

Public experiences like the Missa are one of the things that our small church does well. From time to time insiders fret - and even carp - over the time, money and effort that goes into producing these events. But for those present, at least for a moment in time, we felt in our flesh what God's alternative vision for creation is all about: shalom. For a brief but profound time, the ancient words of Psalm 85 were realized and we knew that there is something better than the brutality of the status quo.Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation. Let me hear what

God the Lord will speak, for God speaks peace to the people, to his faithful, to those

who turn to him in their hearts. Surely healing and hope is at hand for those with awe… (In this) steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.

That is the foundational reason why I insist that we make the effort: we live in a culture and era that has lost a capacity for awe. We are so stressed and busy by work and the events of the world that we are malnourished and blind when it comes to the beauty God sends every day for our mutual encouragement. Another ancient Hebrew poet prophesied:

The time is surely coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it. In that day the beautiful young women and the young men shall faint for thirst.

That, of course, is what the Scriptures really mean when they speak of the "wrath of God." It is an absence of awe, a famine from hope and compassion, the inability to encounter a love greater than ourselves. St. Paul is explicit in Romans 1 that God's essence has been revealed to the whole world since the beginning of time through the first word of the Lord: nature. But we think we are smarter than God. We start to worship work. Or politics. Or money. Or sex. Or drugs and alcohol. And before you know it, we're addicted and in trouble. So like a wise and loving parent, God steps back and says: I hate to do this, but hitting bottom is the only way you are going to change so... experience some of life without me for a spell. I want you to return, but you have to be ready:

The wrath of God is revealed from heaven… For what can be known about God is plain because God has shown it to us. Ever since the creation of the world God’s eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things God has made (nature…) Claiming to be wise, we became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies… because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator who is blessed forever! Amen.

Presenting the beauty of God's creation in a safe and tender place extends an invitation to those who are weary and afraid. And it is worth every cent we spend on musicians, advertising and honoring copyright laws! That's one reason for maintaining the feast. It is our way of embodying God's invitation into grace.

Another reason we persist is that these events celebrate what I have called genre-bending - or artistic desegregation - by bringing classical musicians into un beau melange of jazz, rock and folk performers. Whether it is Spotify, Sunday morning or social clubs, America remains a vastly segregated nation when it comes to culture, race and class. Our music-making in support of local justice ministries not only gives the musicians a chance to create outside our comfort zone, but models authentic diversity and respect for those who gather for these gigs.

My favorite part of Missa Gaia - besides the incredible breadth of music performed - was the inclusion of an 10 year old girl in the chorus. She is a pure light through and through - and she was thrilled to be a part of the mix. But more importantly, we found a place for her within this composition that honored the blessings she brought to the table. Our conductor never patronized her or diminished her participation. And to see her belting out this complicated music standing along side her very talented momma... well, let's just say that was another glimpse of what God's kingdom is all about.

Very few people go to church these days - mostly for good reasons - and I share some of their  indifference and critique. At the same time, I believe we have discovered or reclaimed a unique role for the church in contemporary society and pray we can strengthen it. As another woman said at the conclusion of "Missa Gaia" yesterday evening: "Where do all these incredible musicians come from in this little town? It sounds like Manhattan... and it is Pittsfield? What a delight!" What a blessing, too. And oh yes: abouot 175 people turned out and helped us raise over $2K for BEAT.


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