I am listening to someone praying. In the garden of Gethsemane, the Mount of Olives, a soon to be crucified man listens so deeply to the truth of the beyond, the grief of it makes his tears into blood. He utters these words: “Stay here with me, remain here with me, watch; watch and pray.” These are words I never would have regarded as having meaning pertaining to me. Except.
Except, that during the Second World War, the monks of Taizé, a small community in occupied, eastern France as contribution to the Resistance, put these words to song. And who, by some miracle, were a non-denominational fraternity of light-givers with a collective musical genius. Their only agenda was giving full song to the truth. The songs of these brothers now resonate within me soundlessly.
I am far from being Christian. I was abused by the Catholic religion in the manner my parents made use of it. And by 9 years of subjection to off-balance nuns, at least 7 of 9 who had deep mental health issues. Then there was four years of the Machismo pulling yourself up by your jock strap regime of the Christian Brothers on their home turf where their brandy was made; their self-assigned role was to be so full of themselves. I have a lifetime striped with scars inflicted like psychological scourging; scourging they said was so good for me.
No matter what messages are inflicted upon me, everything depends on what part of those messages I listen to. What I make of my stripes, so to speak. The only way back to the unscarred self is to trace my way to my original nature, which has nothing to do with original sin.
Much later, not remembering why or how, I made my way into the darkened incense smoked cavernous church of St Francis, on the square just across from Sutter’s Fort. The Fort, a monument to the militarization of the Gold Rush, the church a monument to the spirit of Assisi. To say this church is always darkened, says too little. The naive is so large as to completely muffle all the sounds of the city around it; one feels that one has gone down, as well as inside, and light admitted grudgingly. A massive, hollowed arch built in attempt to contain worship. A space of transmuted sound and light. Light so refined you want to take out finest the paint brush and draw loving touches along the lines of suffused pastel laser-glintings that stretch from stained glass heavens to the plushily carpeted purple-brown flooring.
There, at evening Taizé in ethereal a cappella voices, or with spare piano-violin accompaniment, arose something I would call a practice. You couldn’t call it a service in the traditional sense: there was no conversation, no sermon, no collection, no formal celebrant or hierarchy represented. Here, was only voice, and the silence in between. In that monstrously large inner space of cathedral, there was only song and the void of breath-taking pause.
Many of the songs, short, repetitive, meditative, were about darkness and light. How one begot the other; how our longings to disentangle the light from dark are met only in the beyond. “Within the darkness night, your love is light a fire that never dies away, never dies away, never dies away….” This refrain had an echo that trailed into silence, just like the light from the edge of the four-story high stained-glass windows trailed into the darkness under which we loosely gathered, each in our own distant prayer space, far prior to this plague.
How many souls have died needlessly in religious conflict? Or have been physically tortured/killed by the very clerics appointed to protect hapless souls? One wants to turn away; ask a different question: How many souls have found succor, meaning, resilience, inspiration through submission to a fate of humility before the divine?
I don’t know which side the ledger favors. Best to ignore such questions and flatten the diaphragm into figurative prostration; to sing to that which gives life and meaning, to rise far above such horrors.
To listen deeply is to revere the truth in all the ways it wants to fully be heard. Each facet of the sonorous
choral jewel reflects fully; each facet of auditory gem in concert reflects to another facet. To listen deeply is to go beyond the surface light. To listen deeply is to hear the echo of the beyond in every voice (no matter how apparently discordant), where dark and light are always gathered. We are asking each other to listen to the song of our voices beyond our words. To stay. To remain. To watch and pray.