The coming of fall always makes me a little more reflective, a little quieter and more interior. I had been reading a book from the library on Gregorian chant that was a little above my musical head but I was enjoying, nonetheless, its insights into the role of music in the medieval world and how it influenced theology, architecture and the world view.
My interest had been caught by a discussion of a book called Mystical Theology written about 500 AD. French scholar Georges Duby said:
At the core of the treatise was one idea: God is light …. The universe, born of an irradiance, was a downward-spilling burst of luminosity, and the light emanating from the primal Being established every created being in its immutable place. But it united all beings, linking them with love, flooding the entire world, establishing order and coherence within it.
I loved that phrase – a downward-spilling burst of luminosity born of irradiance – an explanation of the Big Bang, perhaps and so apropos and in contrast to the period of the Dark Ages which the writing had preceded.
I listened to my cd of Gregorian chants and in my imagination drifted through rough-walled cloisters lit by candles. Then a few days later I was drawn to attend a service at St. Francis, a Roman Catholic church in the city known for its outreach among the poor and homeless.
St. Francis is like the churches I knew and loved when I was young – tall and color-filled stained glass windows depicting scenes from the Bible, elaborately painted scrolls and flourishes on walls and pillars, high soaring arched ceilings with long chandeliers on chains, aging statues of saints with ethereal expressions and upward searching eyes, dark mysterious corners with flickering red votive candles and beneath it all the scent of incense. The seats of the wooden pews were narrow and hard, designed to encourage praying not sitting.
I had come that evening to attend a Taize service that centers around prayer through chanted music. The songs are often taken from the Psalms and comprised of just one or two phrases repeated over and over again. Taize is not the same as Gregorian chant but has its own simple beauty. For example, one of the most moving to me was “O Lord, hear my prayer.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZ9ycGq1pW4)
I was in quite an elevated state of mind when I returned home, the sound of sacred music helping me to enter that downward spilling vibration sent from the beginning.
The Taize Community is an ecumenical monastic order in France composed of more than 100 brothers from Catholic and Protestant traditions from about 30 countries across the world. It was founded in 1940 by Brother Roger Schutz, a Protestant. The community has become one of the world’s most important sites of pilgrimage for its spirit of kindness, simplicity and reconciliation. http://www.taize.fr/en_article6526.html