the price of beauty

Yesterday afternoon we went to evensong at Washington National Cathedral.  I have mixed feelings when I spend an hour this way.

  1. As a long-time church employee I have spent enough hours in services to cover nine lifetimes.
  2. But we wanted to hear our nephew in the choir!

By any standards, a service at Washington National Cathedral is awe-inspiring.  The vaulted ceiling soars 102 feet above the gathered faithful.  Jewel-toned light shines from 231 stained glass windows, including a modern one with imbedded moon rock.  Hundreds of hand-carved limestone angels watch as acolytes, clergy, verger, and choristers vested in  purple process through an intricately carved screen to the high altar.   The organist improvizes in grand french style on the massive instrument, which reverberates for seven seconds down the length of two football fields.

The choir sings magnificently.  The tuning is perfect.  Diction and phrasing are beautiful.  All aspects of the cathedral’s functions are finely honed.  But there is a price for all of this beauty.  After the service the director gathers the youngsters.  “You were late on my down beats.  This is not acceptable.  You are going to have to do better in the future.” 

I had no expectations from the homilist, except that she was sure to speak longer than I wanted to listen.

However, my piano-teacher ears perked up when Rev. Campbell told a story of her childhood music lessons. It was the oft-heard accounting of a flubbed piano recital.  A memory slip.  A piece played round and round, the ending place lost.  Eventually the child claimed a random midway chord and ended with a humiliated flourish.

At the homily’s end, Rev. Campbell told another story, describing a well-known spiritual director’s retreat practice of sleeping under the stars – of waking in the night’s beauty and knowing that she was not lost.  Of knowing exactly who she was and where she was, and saying,

 “Oh.  My God.”


About diane heath

Beauty as a 40 Day Spiritual Discipline. The rest of the year, visit me at The Sacred Ordinary (and the ordinary ordinary).
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