Wednesday, August 5, 2009
words to live by
About four years ago I encountered an organization that I'd never heard of before. At the end of the day on the Feast of Sts Peter and Paul I was in the Trastevere district of Rome to attend the Evening Prayer service of the Community of Sant'Egidio, which you can read more about HERE. It was an amazing evening for a great many reasons, and I've checked into the Community website from time to time since then.
Last winter sometime I found a wonderful phrase cited as the slogan for one of the Community projects (I think it was an art show): "Abbasso il grigio!" Or, anglice, "Down with gray!"
It has stuck with me.
Not just in terms of my own feeling about the colours of cars, as I was mumbling about yesterday, but about a great many other things.
And one of those other things is liturgy.
The topic comes bubbling up in this locality, generally, when we have had a particularly ornate diocesan service such as an ordination. "Too fancy, too long, too elaborate, (occasionally, too much smoke), too much music, too many vestments..."
It's hard not to hear, in these complaints, "too beautiful" -- "not gray enough."
I recall vesting in close proximity to a colleague who expressed intense bitterness, sotto voce, at the splendour of some of the vestments. I think it was the Canons' and Archdeacons' copes that set him off specifically.
"I just hate all this fanciness and dressing up," he said, "because after all I'm just a Humble Pastor, myself."
I couldn't think of a single civil reply. What I'd have said if I could, would have been, "And what's the point of all that humility, eh, Reverend Heep, if NOBODY SEES AND ADMIRES IT???
But that might have been construed as unkind. Because it would have been.
The usual somewhat diffident defence for "fancy and beautiful" in our celebrations goes something like this, "well at least I suppose it shows people that we think the things we are doing are important." And then the special celebrations are compared, not always to their advantage, with the "humdrum everyday" realities of parish ministry -- including, I think, parish worship. In other words, "il grigio."
And I think this is a profound error. I would argue that "fancy and beautiful and complicated and impressive" is not a misrepresentation of the reality of what we do in ministry but a reminder of the reality of what we do in ministry and of what we ARE in ministry. Or of what we will be (which does not yet, as we are told, appear). Because those realities truly perceived are all splendour.
And that if I am prone to being struck dumb with awe at the sight of Archdeacon Stoopnagel's Sunday-best cope, or at the sound of the cathedral choir giving Wm. Byrd a run for his money, then that is a happy foretaste of how the good Archdeacon will look to everyone, and the cathedral choir will sound, sub specie aeternitatis. I say "Fie" (I do, too) on a professed humility which is no more than carnal envy and spiritual pride and probably acedia as well, all in sneaking and slinking mode.
So let's dial up the "hue" of what we do.
"Abbasso il grigio!" You -- possibly! -- heard it here first.