Tonight is Maundy Thursday- one of the holiest nights of the year for me. This is the night in the Christian tradition that commemorates the Last Supper, and emphasizes the twin themes of love and humility in the simple act of footwashing that will happen in churches across the world. There was something so utterly shocking about this act of Jesus that it horrified his disciples, and it often shocks and repels newcomers to the ceremony as well. Take off my shoes and have a stranger wash my feet? You've got to be kidding. It is so unconventional- so radical. So vulnerable.
Our feet are usually not our prettiest parts-quite the opposite. By midlife, the toes are often twisted and knobby, the skin hard and calloused, the nails cracked and growing yellow with age and they are hardly the part of us that smells the sweetest . I have yet to meet anyone over forty who is really proud of their feet, unless they have spent a lot of time and money with a pedicurist.
But that is exactly the part that Jesus wanted to touch, to wash, to tend to. The dry, cracked, twisted and calloused parts, the place where we connect with the earth, the part of us that moves us through the world, the part of ourselves we are apt to ignore, despise or abuse. What a metaphor.
The word "maundy" comes from "mandatum", mandate, evoking the moment when Christ says to his disciples, " I give you a new commandment- love one another as I have loved you"- and then he blesses them as servants no longer, but friends. Maundy Thursday invites us to step into Jesus' role- to welcome the dry, dirty and unloved parts of one another. To bathe them and cherish them and lavish attention on one another , and by extension, to welcome the forlorn, abused and neglected parts of ourselves to the feast as well.
What a visceral way to demonstrate a love for humanity in all its messiness- and what a profound way to say goodbye to your friends, and to the world.
Last year during the Holy week services here at Bishop's Ranch, my friend Roger Housden read some selections from his book "Ten Poems to Say Goodbye". They are a perfect complement to the pathos of this week. Whether you are grieving the loss of someone dear to you or simply commemorating this sacred season of saying goodbye, I can't recommend the book enough. It might help you hold your own broken pieces with more tenderness and compassion. It might help you befriend the world.
You can follow this link to find out more and see a preview:
<a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0307885992/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0307885992&linkCode=as2&tag=kaylasbo-20"><img border="0"
One of the most haunting works of the 17th century is Allegri's Miserere. This sublime setting of Psalm 51 was written for use by the Sistine Chapel during Holy Week during the Tenebrae service. This striking "Service of Shadows" in which one by one candles are extinguished amidst ever darker readings as prelude to the intensifying pain of Good Friday's Passion.. The aching poignancy of this polyphonic masterpiece imprinted itself upon Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart when he heard it in Italy as a fourteen year old. Smitten by its tragic grandeur, he went home and wrote the entire piece out from memory after one hearing, The text is a call to new life, to forgiveness and mercy. It is a plea to enter into a life of deepening truth and inner wisdom.
Tomorrow, churches across the world will honor Tenebrae, the Service of Shadows. Whatever your own set of beliefs or disbeliefs, I encourage you to light a handful of candles and click on the link to listen to this extraordinary work and meditate upon the beauty, fragility and impermanence of life- and find your own call to ever deepening truth and wisdom.
Icon of the Dancing Christ by Mark Dukes
One of the most intriguing early documents I've read recently is the
"Round Dance of the Cross" which is contained in the Acts of John. In this second century text, Jesus is at the Last Supper with his friends when he says, " Before I am delivered, let us sing a hymn to the Father and so go to meet what lies before us". He then instructs his disciples to form a circle around him and participate in a call and response hymn where he sings out lines and they respond, "Amen".
The hymn is an extraordinary call to wholeness, to an understanding of all the multiple parts we play in our lives, to an acceptance of the whole great magnificent tragedy of being fully human. As we head into Holy Week, my mind is filled with the image of Jesus embracing what is to come, not from a place of resignation and despair, but with the presence of mind to create a lavish festival of love and connection and joy in the face of death.
What an inspiring idea! It reminds me of the Zen parable of the monk who was walking in the forest one day when he came across a tiger. Running as fast as he could, he came to an edge of a cliff and began to climb down a twisted vine. As he held on to the vine with all his might, he looked down, and saw two hungry tigers prowling below. With tigers above and tigers below, he heard a squeaking sound. Directly above him, a mouse stood gnawing at the slender thread that kept him suspended. Just then, his eye caught sight of a clump of red, ripe strawberries. The monk reached over, picked one and let its fragrant juices burst forth in his mouth. It was the best strawberry he had ever tasted.
So may it be with us. Whatever big or little death and suffering you may face this week, may you find the presence of mind to savor the strawberries- and to dance your way to the cross, holding hands with those you love - celebrating the moments of beauty, truth and connection that surround us always if only we have eyes to see and ears to hear.
The Hymn of Jesues (from the Acts of John)
Now whereas we give thanks, I say:
I would be saved, and I would save.
I would be loosed, and I would loose.
I would be wounded, and I would wound.
I would be born, and I would bear.
I would eat, and I would be eaten.
I would hear, and I would be heard.
I would be thought, being wholly thought.
I would be washed, and I would wash.
Grace danceth. I would pipe; dance ye all.
I would mourn: lament ye all.
The Whole on high hath part in our dancing.
Whoso danceth not, knoweth not what cometh to pass.
I would flee, and I would stay.
I would adorn, and I would be adorned.
I would be united, and I would unite.
A house I have not, and I have houses.
A place I have not, and I have places.
A temple I have not, and I have temples.
A lamp am I to thee that beholdest me.
A mirror am I to thee that perceivest me.
A door am I to thee that knockest at me.
A way am I to thee a wayfarer. .
Here is the link to my presentation on pilgrimage for the Assisi Institute's teleseminar series on Searching for a Life of Soul and Spirit- it interweaves stories of Chartres Cathedral, Santiago Compostela and the labyrinth with the music of the Cantigas de Santa Maria, the poetry of David Whyte and TS Eliot.
Be sure to click on the button on the left in order to see the images that accompany the talk. The series continues in the next three weeks with talks by Dr. Michael Conforti and Dr. Jim Hollis, both of whom are notable Jungian analysts, renowned authors and insightful speakers.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
How do we step in to the largest life that is calling to us and transform our vision to see the deeper possibilities that surround us? This will be the topic I will be addressing on Monday at 5 pm PST/8pm EST for the Assisi Institute of Depth Psychology, as I weave together the threads of midlife transformation with stories of Dante, Charucer and the troubadour king of Castile -y-Leon, Alfonso X.
In the Middle Ages, individuals posed at the threshold of transformation would often journey on pilgrimage . As an act of mourning or contrition, as a petition or plea for understanding or grace, or as a way to discover their calling for the second half of life, seekers would travel to Chartres Cathedral in France or on the Camino to Santiago Compostella in Spain. During the 13th century, extraordinary collections of art and music developed in connection with these pilgrimages. Commissioned and partially created by King Alfonso (nicknamed "El Sabio" , or, "The Wise"), they are works that call us to a place of wonder and beauty. The image above depicts Alfonso sending out his scribes to collect stories of transformation and healing and then turning them into "Cantigas"-pilgrim songs.
The wonderful musical group KITKA has recorded some of these . You can sample one of my favorites, Cantiga 10, Rosa das Rosas, by following this link:
If you'd like to hear more about pilgrimage, including the story of the and wonderful King Alfonso, you can enroll in the free teleseminar by going to https://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/eventReg?oeidk=a07e75qrr1kae1ca6a4&oseq=&c=&ch=.
Every once in awhile, you have the great pleasure of finding something to be much better than you expected. With a title like, "Secrets of Mary Magdalene", I was expecting the worst. To my surprise, I discovered a thoughtful and diverse array of essays, including notable contributions by the eminent scholars Elaine Pagels, Karen King, Bart Ehrman and Susan Haskins. The biggest surprise of all within its covers was the revelation that one of my daughter's favorite singers, Tori Amos, has been deeply influenced by the myths of Mary Magdalene. Tori , a classically trained musician (who with her long wavy red hair looks much like the romantic ideal of the Magdalene herself) has extensively studied the Magdalene's French legends and symbols as well as the Gnostic texts of Nag Hammadi. Her song "Marys of the Sea" was inspired by the myth of the Magdalene arriving on the shores of Provence to teach and preach. Tori's essay is a personal testament to her own intense spiritual struggles- for her, music became the bridge that held the tensions of the profane and the sacred, with one hand on her Bosendorfer representing the Virgin Mary's celestial realms and the other giving voice to earthy sensuality that has been ascribed to the Magdalene.
Last night was the world premiere of the staged version of John Adams' The Gospel of the Other Mary, dramatically performed by the LA Philharmonic and conducted by the passionately precise Gustavo Dudamel. John Adams' oratorio could not be more different in tone, style and characterization from Mark Adamo's upcoming opera The Gospel of Mary Magdalene. Mark's Mary Magdalene is rooted in a deep engagement with the Gospel of John and the Gnostic texts Pistis Sophia, Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Philip, Dialogue of the Savior as well as the Gospel of Mary Magdalene. His vision is of a wealthy, beautiful, passionate, spiritual leader who embodies the archetypal energies of both Eros and Wisdom, Adams' Mary, on the other hand, is a troubled, tormented and emotionally disturbed activist in the libretto by Peter Sellars. While she is named in the script "Mary Magdalene", her character is more a composite of Mary of Bethany and the demoniac from the Synoptic gospels. She draws inspiration as well from farmworkers in Salinas under Cesar Chavez and modern political movements like Occupy. The focus of the story is very much on the relationships between the siblings, Mary, Martha and Lazarus. This Mary is dressed like someone you might meet in today's world at the Farmer's Market in Berkeley, prone to acts of self-mutilation.and living with the poorest and most marginalized in society. Her relationship with Jesus has the feeling of communal solidarity and sisterly loyalty rather than romantic intimacy. Her eros is directed to a mysterious female double with whom she dances, embraces and kisses. Self love or lesbian affair? Real or hallucinatory? This is but one of the many inexplicable (and for me, confusing) aspects of The Gospel of the Other Mary.
Despite being the title character, Mary is not the most interesting or memorable figure onstage in Adams' work. That distinction belongs to her brother. Sung by the magnificent tenor Russell Thomas and simultaneously embodied by Anani Sanouvi, a Togo born dancer currently residing in Amsterdam, Lazarus emerges as the heart of this two hour work. Sanouvi is a dancer dedicated to the preservation of traditional indigenous customs, and he can communicate volumes with every gesture. Through him , Lazarus' slow death and renewal were haunting and unearthly. His dance during the Last Supper was the high point of the evening. As the chorus shouted "Spiritus Sanctus" from the balcony ( with text by Hildegard of Bingen, but set by Adams to music that evoked the fierceness of, "O Fortuna" from Carl Orff's Carmina Burana), Sanouvi created a riveting scene of a man truly being taken over by a transcendent force and animated beyond his control. The only parallel I have ever seen is documentary footage of Haitians "mounted" by Loa spirits during Voudoun rituals. It was a mesmerizing scene.
Lazarus' resuscitation prefigures Christ's resurrection, an important thematic link. which has been observed by many a Biblical scholar. The parallel has never been brought forth so vividly as here, where the staging decision to have Russell Thomas (Lazarus in Act I) sing the part of Jesus dying on the cross emphasized the mirrored weight and poignancy of the two stories.
I suspect, after reading Mark Adamo's libretto, that the most affecting scenes of his opera will be the ones of greatest intimacy, the tender duets between Magdalene and Yeshua (Jesus) and between Magdalene and Miriam (Mother Mary) where ache, longing, wistfulness, regret, forgiveness and love form the subtle palette of emotions. In contrast, John Adams' work opens with a flood of blood red light, and indeed, it is most effective in the choral scenes where it expresses raw rage, ferocious power and brutal urgency. While The Gospel According to the Other Mary deviates substantially from the Biblical sources and tradition , it is true to one thing: it emphasizes sheer immediacy.
Both the San Francisco Opera and the Los Angeles Philharmonic have dedicated considerable resources this season to bringing these utterly different Mary Magdalenes to the stage. This is a testament to how powerful and inspiring an archetypal force she is for our time and underscores the notion that Mary Magdalene is Everywoman, a screen on which we can each project our deepest hopes and longings. I suspect for Mr. Adamo, she is the hope for the healing of the sacred and secular; for Mr. Adams ( a self professed secular liberal humanist), she is a prophet who calls for a community of social justice.
Who is Mary Magdalene for you?
I am catching my breath today in the midst of a whirlwind. In the past two weeks, I have closed escrow on my home in Petaluma, flown to New York where I met with Mark Adamo, the composer of The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, and moved from one place of splendor (Bishop's Ranch, the bucolic retreat center in the wine country of Sonoma) to another ( a floating houseboat in Sausalito with a view of the San Francisco Bay from the rooftop garden). Tomorrow, I fly off again, this time to Los Angeles to see the premiere of John Adams' oratorio, The Gospel According to the Other Mary, and to spend time with my beloved daughter who is a first year student at UCLA,
It is a threshold of beginnings, and as I settle into a new life, I do indeed have the sense that David Whyte conveys so beautifully in this poem- that everything, if we only have the eyes to see it, is a doorway to awakening, wonder and belonging.
EVERYTHING IS WAITING FOR YOU
Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.
~ David Whyte ~