You'd think that hearing Bach's Mass in B Minor at Jordan Hall last night would have catapulted me churchward today. Instead I found myself in the woods, still ravished by the experience, but strangely unable to face the same words stripped of their glorious incarnation: their double incarnation, actually -- in Bach's music and through the bodies -- breath, larynx, fingers -- of the musicians. In and through, from the anguished Kyrie, the peregrinations of the Gloria, the meticulously enfleshed Creed, the breathtaking Sanctus and heartbreaking Agnus Dei, to the ultimate prayer of the collective human soul breaking into a cry compounded of despair and joy: dona nobis pacem.
It was the Mass laid bare, flayed open, set on fire -- it seemed the prayer of the world and the prayer of heaven conjoined: vox humana and vox angelica in a love duet.
It was the body and blood taken by the ear.
I couldn't face the ordinary divinity of the Sunday Mass: the exuberant children, the endless aisle-thronged Peace, pedestrian announcements truncating the liturgy like a cell-phone ring-tone, even Hymn 693 with its annoying thirds -- so I fled to the woods.
The natural year was unspooling on its track parallel to the liturgical year. The ant and I whispered our brief, Carthusian-like offices in our neighboring cells.
There was music: birds, and the solitary, untaut plucked string of a bullfrog.
It was a worldess music -- a worldess anamnesis, rejoicing, dread, desire.
The rubrics are green and red and so deeply inscribed that even the boldest and most anarchic liturgist could not take liberties.
Ah, the inhumanity, mon semblable, my carbon-based sister.
And it was restorative.
And even if I can't always rise to the saint's all manner of things shall be well, I can certainly can invoke her pessimistic sister's as well as can be expected, no ?
And always I can return to the woods, to take refuge in looking --
-- a sacrament of the eye, as last night's music was a sacrament of the ear --
(it's all one enormous, dreadful sanctus anyway
however you say it or sing it or even see and hear it)
and to the ordinary Sunday Mass, infused now
with last night's wordless teachings in B minor --
and this morning's heavenly-earthly trumpets
and fiery, Whitsunward-looking grasses.