Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Medicine of Brokenness

I've made a bedtime CD for my son that includes the great Lorraine Hunt Lieberson singing "Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen" from Bach's Cantata BWV 82, "Ich habe genug," whose opening text is a gloss on Nunc dimittis, the words uttered by Simeon upon beholding the Christ.  

I have enough,
I have taken the Savior, the hope of the righteous,
into my eager arms;
I have enough! 

I have beheld Him, 
my faith has pressed Jesus to my heart; 
now I wish, even today with joy 
to depart from here.


Fall asleep, you weary eyes,
close softly and pleasantly! 

World, I will not remain here any longer, 
I own no part of you 
that could matter to my soul. 
Here I must build up misery, 
but there, there I will see 
sweet peace, quiet rest.

The shimmering, controlled intensity of LHL's remarkable performance -- especially the way that she crescendoes and then diminuendoes every syllable of every word of every phrase -- not only give the listener a sense of the singer's profound intimacy with this music and these words, but also convey the sense that she was going beyond interpretation, anticipating her own untimely death with equanimity and even hope.

As he's going to sleep, my son always asks when "Lorraine" is going to sing.  He asks about the times I saw her perform, and wants to know what she wore and what her hair was like (in her legendary performance of this piece, she wore a hospital gown, and her hair was scant and straggling).  He asked me tonight if he came with me to see her when he was a baby, and if Lorraine held him, which made me think of her in the role of Simeon himself.  We always pray that she is in heaven with God.

Tonight I thought of her, and the gift of healing and profound compassion that she poured forth in her singing.  It occurred to me that some of the same behaviors I recently wrote about critically here were also behaviors that my heroine had herself engaged in -- the breaking up, for instance, of a marriage, not to mention the embracing of strange gods.  I cannot rationalize the suffering she participated in and perpetrated, in spite of my great admiration for her (and I have participated in and perpetrated suffering enough myself).  I can only pray for her, as my son and I do together each night.  I have found it to be true that one's own great brokenness can be distilled into a medicine for others, and I believe that Lorraine allowed herself to be this medicine.  I pray for her healing then and now, and for the healing of all of us here too, towards which music can go such a long way.

2 comments:

grunting weenie man said...

lovely - i hadn't heard of her -
a problem many of us have is that we won't accept our brokeness
- artists do have a rough time of it sometimes - but i wonder, which is more sacred, more true to the grace in us, to accept what we are told by the Church with a bland indifference, or without doubt, or to open to other ways of being?

winter reminds me of mahler's kindertotenlieder, which can be moving sung by the right soprano

it gets kind of lullaby by the end too

Pentimento said...

I think that being open to other ways of being, as you put it, Grunting Weenie Man, is not usually a worthy goal *per se*. It all depends on what those other ways of being are. If there are casualties along the way, I can't see how this openness can be justified. As someone wise once said, you don't have to go to hell to know it's hot; how I wish I had followed that sage advice myself. On the other hand, I'm not arguing for bland indifference; those are not the only two alternatives. One has to work out one's own salvation with fear and trembling, but the key there is that it's salvation one is working towards.