Friday, May 25, 2012

Heaven and Earth, in little space

I could attach a video clip, but I will not.
I could attach a sound file, but it would be useless.
Let me explain what I mean.

For years, on our Irish pilgrimages, the choir has traveled to the sacred monastic ruins of Glendalough. Glendalough, from the Irish gleann dá loch, "the valley of the two lakes". In my mind, it's rather like stepping into a Christian time machine.

In America, we think of things being old when we visit Colonial Williamsburg. That would be, the 17th century.

But Glendalough is in an entirely different league. It is the foundation of St. Kevin, founded in the sixth century.

Over the years, we'd bring the ensemble here and do the less expensive route, skipping the guided tour. But this time we actually participated in the tour, and in doing so were brought into a tiny little chapel, no bigger than a pair of living rooms, a stone fortress of a building that had been weathering the ravages of humanity for more than a thousand years.

"We should sing something," came the whisper from the back of the choir. And so we did: it was that beautiful text, set to music by our Trappist mentor, Father Chrysogonus Waddell:
There is no rose of such virtue,
As is the rose that bare Jésu: Alleluia!
For in that Rose containéd was,
Heaven and earth, in little space: Res miranda!

So we sang. My eyes were closed, and though I was conducting, we barely needed it, standing in the near-darkness of that bastion of early faith. But as we moved through the song, measure by measure, I swear to God I heard ancient voices gathering around us, and I felt the granite sinews and stoney bones of that tiny chapel flex themselves in rapt attention.

Even as I tap out this chronicle on an iPad, I am acutely aware of the fact that there are some things mere machines cannot embrace; this was one of those moments. I wouldn't even dare to try capturing the sanctity of this experience with a mechanical recording. I must do my best with that most ancient of gifts, the gift of language.

Heaven and earth, indeed, were caught up in that little space. And if ever I wonder why we do this, why we expend all this time and energy and resources on such a pilgrimage, I was dealt the swift blow of an answer standing in that dark space, surrounded by the sopranos, altos, tenors and basses of the Notre Dame Folk Choir. When we finished, it was as if the whole valley paused, intent and hushed, listening to this little song about the Virgin.

Later, I ran into the tour guide, a scrappy young man, swift of wit and sharp of tongue. "I shan't forget that," he said, with the Irish dripping from his accent.
"Then," I said, "we have sung well today."

Sometimes heaven and earth are crowded into the womb of a woman; sometimes, they nestle in an ancient church, long devoid of the musical praises of God. And sometimes, heaven and earth can even reach out to us in unsuspecting ways — like the heartfelt appreciation of a man of history. And when that happens, we'd best be listening closely, lest, in our modern haste, we pass over the miracle of a quiet valley.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Glendalough, County Wicklow, Ireland

1 comment:

  1. I love the idea that you all brought music back into a place whose ancient bricks yearned for it! Thank you for sharing this experience!