11 April 2009

Four reflections for Holy Saturday (2): John Tavener, Lament for Jerusalem

Lament of the Faithful at the Wailing Wall, Jerusalem, a painting by Gustave Bauernfeind (1848-1904).

Patrick Comerford

John Tavener is a modern composer known for his deep-rooted spirituality, and his Lament for Jerusalem is a mystical love song that brings together Jewish, Christian and Islamic texts that are sung in Greek and English.

We have been listening to one track from Tavener’s Lament for Jerusalem, Cosmic Lament V.

The words say:

The beloved is all,
the lover only veils Him,
the lover only veils Him.
But how can I retain my senses,
When my Beloved does not show His face?

The Lament is over the destruction of Jerusalem, based on lament in Psalm 137: “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and we wept when we remembered Sion.”

The lament of the exiles for Jerusalem as they sat by the waters of Babylon is repeated by Jesus as he walks the Via Dolorosa and sees the tears being shed by the women (see Matthew 23).

Tavener’s Lament is rooted in grim tradition. Yet it looks longingly into the future, to a time when the beatific vision is restored.

In the portion we have listened to, there is a quotation from the prologue to the epic poem, Masnavi, by the great 13th century Sufi mystic and spiritual master, Jalaluddin Rumi (1207-1273).

Love is at the heart of Rumi’s mysticism and poetry. One of my favourite images from Rumi is from his poem, The Mouse and the Frog, from which I quote:

A mouse and a frog meet every morning
on the riverbank.
They sit in a nook of the ground and talk.

Each morning, the second they see each other,
they open easily, telling stories and dreams and secrets,
empty of any fear or suspicious holding-back.

To watch and listen to those two
is to understand how, as it’s written,
sometimes when two beings come together,
Christ becomes visible.

In love, the Risen Christ becomes present among us.

As the exiles in Babylon wept over Jerusalem, as the women wept over Christ as he carried his cross, as the women wept over the dead Christ as they placed him the tomb, the grief of separation must have been great.

“… how can I retain my senses,
When my Beloved does not show His face?”

But the Risen Christ shows his face to us … in the Eucharist and in the we show love to one another.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin. This is the second of four reflections at a service of readings, music and prayers for Holy Saturday in Whitechurch Parish, Dublin, on Saturday 11 April 2009.

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