During an earlier time in my life, I loved Hermann Hesse’s novel, Narcissus and Goldmund. I loved the way Goldmund worked for years in the corner of the empty cathedral carving a single statue of St. John the Evangelist that would become part of a balustrade. I identified with the peace he found in his work.
According to the National Council for Behavioral Health, as much as 70% of the United Stated population has experienced some kind of trauma in their lives. One of the effects trauma can have is to create its own signifying system. It gives meaning to our lives in a destructive way by forming a kind of hieroglyphic of our surroundings that interprets everything as the story of our trauma. Goldmund, who in his early childhood had been deserted by his mother, learned to turn away from his own punitive preoccupations and occupy himself with the beautiful images in the church.
To a trauma survivor, Lent, with its rituals of fasting and self-abnegation can offer more temptation than salvation. It can threaten to pull us yet farther into the harmful space our spiritual health requires us to stay out of. I am grateful for Leonard Bernstein’s advice. This, he says, will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.
Our Episcopal faith, with its beautiful prayer book and the extraordinary iconography, of its church interiors offers us a space so rich in beauty as to lure us away from our traumatic space. Whatever ritual sacrifices I may make in my personal life, Lent is most beneficial to me if I make it a time to redouble my quest for beauty in the music composed for the church’s season of sorrow and suffering.
This year, I am concentrating on such tortured new repertoire as Marpurg’s Ich habe misgehandeldt and Walther’s Erbarm dich, O mein Herre to offer for our worship at All Saints’. Already I am delighted by the way these composers phrase and ornament their way out of the penitent’s torment and into the way of beauty and healing. I look forward to sharing my delight with All Saints’ church during this Lenten season.