First New York Hub Meeting,
Oct, 4, 2021
Five musicians attended our first meeting of Crescendo-New York City. It was held in my home. Prior to the evening I informed the musicians that we would be exploring the component of Lament in worship. I began the evening by reading excerpts from an interview with Emmanuel Katongole, professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame and author of the book Born from Lament The Theology and Politics of Hope in Africa.
“Lament, which leads to hope, is not a light and easy transformation of suffering, [Emmanuel Katongole] (he) said. 'Lament is work. Lament is that deeper engagement with God, when things are not going right,' he said. 'These people [in Africa] never lose their hope in God. They argue and fight and wrestle with God about what is going on, about the need to do something.'
"You’ve got to learn to look in the right place. If you are going to give an account of hope, one thing we need to do is to be trained to see hope, trained to see in the right way. Otherwise, it is very easy to give up on hope and say, 'All that is out there is darkness.'
"So the first place to look is in you, within your communities. Look for signs that exemplify the pattern of Christ’s death and resurrection, so that even in the midst of suffering, you can see a sense of joy and radiance.”
“In the book, I cite Douglas Hall, a Canadian philosopher and theologian, who makes this very powerful argument about the loss of lament in the West. He says that we in the West are an optimistic society. From early on, we are taught to be optimistic and to believe that all problems can be solved with the right knowledge, engineering, technology.”
“People in the West grow up with that expectation. And because the society is optimistic, we do not want to look at any negative experience. We don’t know what to do with it. We try to get rid of it completely. Hall argues that the Christianity that should have opened our eyes to see and embrace darkness and pain has largely been co-opted into sunny optimism. It has now become, in his words, “the official religion of the officially optimistic society.”
“Other theologians have also made a similar point about the loss of lament. We try to hide ourselves away from negative experiences. With the rise of psychology, we as individuals will seek to treat them. But as a culture, there’s almost no platform, no avenue to express grief.”
“Walter Brueggemann and other theologians have said that as a result, our expression of Christianity has become an avenue only for praise. In our worship, we like praise songs, but you never hear any songs of lament. It’s as if we don’t have any negative experiences.”
“The argument that many theologians make -- and which I pick up in the book -- is that to the extent that we don’t know how to embrace these negative experiences, we don’t live in hope. Which is true if we agree with Peter that the very character of hope is the pattern of Christ’s death and resurrection. In the midst of death, new life.”
Next I read Psalm 137:1-3, paused for a few minutes of silent meditation, and then read the scripture passage again.
1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
2 There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
3 for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
After the second reading, the first performer stood up and played an arrangement of Deep River that she had composed for solo violin.
Next I read Psalm 12, again pausing for silent reflection or meditation, and then reread the Psalm.
1 Help, Lord, for no one is faithful anymore;
those who are loyal have vanished from the human race.
2 Everyone lies to their neighbor;
they flatter with their lips
but harbor deception in their hearts.
3 May the Lord silence all flattering lips
and every boastful tongue—
4 those who say,
“By our tongues we will prevail;
our own lips will defend us—who is lord over us?”
5 “Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan,
I will now arise,” says the Lord.
“I will protect them from those who malign them.”
6 And the words of the Lord are flawless,
like silver purified in a crucible,
like gold[c] refined seven times.
7 You, Lord, will keep the needy safe
and will protect us forever from the wicked,
8 who freely strut about
when what is vile is honored by the human race.
After the second reading, the second performer, a violist who had been part of the Chamber Music Project, played Trauermusik by Hindemith. He was accompanied by pianist who was also had been part of the Crescendo Chamber Music Project. He spoke about the piece and about Hindemith before playing.
After he finished I read Psalm 13 with the same time of silence and second reading.
1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.
After the second reading, the third performer played a movement of Bach solo Sonata in d minor. Finally, I read the first four verses of Matthew 5 and talked about how coming to the Lord with poverty or with mourning is a condition where our hands are empty and we know they are empty and this is our state to meet with God.
1 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them. He said:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted."
After reading these Beatitudes I played the “Recitativo” from Kreisler’s Recitativo and Scherzo. Then we went to the table for a meal of vegetarian chili with toppings of cheese and avocado and red onions, corn bread, and pumpkin pie with vanilla ice cream, all homemade in my kitchen. We sat around the dining room table to eat and had a wonderful time talking.
My plan for the next meeting is to continue exploring aspects of worship, i.e. communion, praise, adoration, prayer, thanksgiving, etc. Eventually I would like to cover all the components that make up worship using music that is reflective to the performer of these components.
Heather Bixler, New York Hub Leader