Last weekend, I began to read John Eliot Gardiner’s book on Bach, Music in the Castle of Heaven. Bach was born in the aftermath of the Thirty Years’ War. Even a generation later, the land and the people bore the scars of devastation: destruction of towns and villages, hunger, and plague had reduced the life expectancy to thirty years. In the churches, a contemporary organist remarked, “nothing but weeping and wailing is to be heard.”*
The truth is that such weeping and wailing, while deeply human and necessary for our healing, are only the first response for people of faith. For us, the church (or synagogue or other house of worship) is to be a beacon of hope. A castle, if you will, where our strength is renewed, an outpost of heaven in here amid the struggle of our days.
Imagine, if you will, a blackened landscape. Imagine that it is crossed by a chain of churches, glowing in the night in town after town. Imagine that within those churches, people are singing, singing from their hearts. If you come close, you can hear songs of lament and songs of praise, songs of endurance that strengthen people for the demands of their troubled time. Look in the church windows! Can you see them standing taller? Can you see see them shaking off the dust and greyness from their souls?
Then shift the scene, and imagine your land. Imagine Washington, DC, or Oregon or Australia or wherever you happen to live. I suspect that your land is darkened, too, that your life is not without its struggles. Then imagine those churches, the ones full of singing people. What would you hope to find there, to ease your burdens and lift your heart? What would it take to renew your courage, to allow you to send your roots deep down through the soil of sorrow into the deep, rich earth of joy?
Almighty and most merciful God, drive far from us all weakness of body, mind, and spirit; that, being restored by your grace, we may with free hearts become what you intend us to be and accomplish what you want us to do; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.**
*Johann Vierdanck, in Geistliche Concierten (1643), cited in Gardiner, p.30.
** Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men, collect for Thursday in the Fourth Week of Lent.