from Among trees
I walk into the breathy gatherings of trees,
their games with light, their unease with sound;
unsettled instruments, they are voices perhaps,
unseen or missing, and in their tensed flesh
is their restlessness, shaped into strained sinews
over loud, troubled bones…
from 3 Trials by Water
The opera is set over the course of several months in a part flooded coastal city in the near future. The Opera is in three acts; the duration of each act is 40 minutes.
Orchestral Prelude – fleeing.
(The curtain rises on the CHORUS OF THE DISPOSSESSED, milling around the stage in confusion and terror. The scene is a bleak hillside, where they’ve clearly only just arrived, and on which they are encamped as refugees. There are tents, blue tarpaulin, cooking fires; they are a lost, disorientated people. Suddenly, they raise their voices in shock and agony).
Not to us!
Not to our lives!
Not to our people!
Not the waters that came suddenly
like a violent army we had wronged,
vengeful, angry, full of our guilt,
sweeping us from our houses
up into these hills, where they pursue us
in terrible storms, rains that burn our backs,
falling like acid, making the ground boil.
It was a night a week ago
that became more and more restless,
more terrifying, more unknown:
the sea, for years, pressing on the land
as if to claim it, the ground slowly liquefying,
the air becoming an unnatural fire
of fierce rain and shimmering drought,
then that night the sun set
in strange, misshapen colours,
a distorted, inverted rainbow,
as if for the last time. Then, at midnight,
the sound of a great roaring,
as if a crowd was baying for us
and would not stop until we were caught.
No chance, no change:
we were outside
and it caught up with us,
sweeping us away until we died
or woke on the sea’s new shore.
The water will not leave us.
It declares us guilty…
from Hymn for Royal Wootton Bassett.
Tune: Abbot’s Leigh or Blaenwern
8 7.8 7. D.
We are God’s great shout of glory,
we are Christ’s fierce cry renewed,
we, the Spirit’s passionate mercy,
we are hope made real, made true.
God has made us royal in our calling,
royal in fullest humanity,
there with Christ in all His suffering,
this is our true royalty.
Truly, as the Hercules landed
bringing them from suffering,
so we stood in silence, grounded
in the Christ, the wounded king,
saying wordlessly, they mattered,
every name for us is known,
though by pain the heart is shattered,
yet the Cross is Christ’s true throne…
from ORDINARY TIME LITURGY
Acclamation of Christ
Why have we come here?
Because you, Lord Jesus,
have drawn us here in love.
Why have we come to pray?
you draw us,
sinful and longing,
Why have we come to worship?
Because, Lord Jesus,
we proclaim we are your brothers and sisters,
that your elect are those
who know themselves poor and broken
and in need of you.
So we have come, so we are here.
So we long to know you, holy Lord.
Prayers of the people, ending with:
Creator God, who made humanity to be holy,
Holy Spirit, who lives in us,
Christ, who died for us
may your name be honoured and adored.
May your New Realm come,
for your Elect are not who we expected.
May your will be done,
and may we come to know and love your will,
in the daily acts of truth and love
that are the heart of God, and draw us to God.
Feed us with the bread of life and living springs,
for we are hungry and thirsty.
Forgive us our wrongdoings,
may we be willing to forgive.
Lead us away from temptation,
and deliver us from the evil that haunts us.
For yours is everything, all majesty,
honour, holiness, delight and power,
for ever and ever. Amen.
As we cry out for love, so God again calls us to the table of Her Son, Jesus Christ.
The meal of love is simple, mere bread and wine on a wooden table.
We are here in the presence of God, people who seek God’s love.
Love quietly calls to our whole being. Jesus, affectionate, tender and intimate yet blazing with holiness and grief for His suffering people, sits down to eat with us, even us.
The Creator of the universe, in all God’s glory, was hungry and thirsty, and as Jesus asked the outcast Samaritan woman for a drink of water so long ago, so now He asks us to eat and drink with Him.
And so, Lord, here we remember the time of your suffering,
that You, Jesus, in the same night that you were betrayed,
knowing you were to be betrayed
but persistent and vulnerable in your love,
took bread and gave the Creator thanks;
you broke it and gave it to your disciples, saying…
do not draw back
do not count yourselves unworthy to dine with Christ,
but receive Love with love,
for here Jesus says to you:
Peace be with you.
from Praying with Music (Bach Passions)
As the whole experience of the Gospels gathers around these opening choruses, so our reading on this Waymark is not directly from the Passion texts but from the long engagement that Bach and his librettist would have had with the whole Christian story as it unfolded in their own inner lives. These two creative artists would have spent their lives listening deeply for the unspoken words and lives of the distressed, angry and sometimes joyful and hopeful crowds that people the gospels and their city (a city wounded by the persecution of its Jewish community in the 1930s, shattered by the 1940s bombings, and since then on a journey of healing, which included the eruption of hope in 1989 which ended the Communist regime).
Jesus had spent much of his life surrounded by crowds of those who longed to know him, be healed by him, be understood by him, be taught by him, if his teaching could reach into the parts of their lives and personalities that they didn’t like, didn’t understand and had never stopped being at war with. A people without God who died for them, or a people who, given the struggling reality of their lives, cannot bring themselves yet to believe in God’s mercy and healing, a people engaged in a permanent civil war with themselves, are the characters who make up the swirling crowds whose voices burst out at the opening of the two surviving Bach Passions.
At the opening of the St. Matthew Passion, Bach portrays us all on our long pilgrimage to our encounter with God at the Cross. The air is alive with our prayers, uncertainties, anxieties and questions…
Quiet Day (Holy Cross Day)
from Waymark 1
The story of the crucifixion seems to be that of the fabric of love, the love intended for us, being slowly, frighteningly distorted, twisted, then broken. Christ’s loving heart freely reaches out to Judas, but is answered by a bought betrayal. The protective, purgative, healing process of the law is twisted into the brutal, ugly story of Pilate’s political weakness and forced compromise against the instincts of his heart, where truth is blocked from deciding the outcome because the potential political and personal cost of that truth is unbearable to Christ’s judges. The tenderness of the body being washed, the feet, with its delicate nerve endings, handled by Jesus with such gentleness, becomes the skin-tearing scourge with its bone fragments in a leather strap and the nails and raw outcry and anger and spat mockery of the cross. It is the story of human evil and brokenness gradually unfolding, of terrible processes with deep roots in the human heart unfolding to their chosen consequences, and then the silence of the tomb’s shock and disbelief.
The strong, strange, awesome weakness of God, the holy oddness of His unexpected Spirit, means that a day that starts like this, a day that seems that it will only leave a deep scarring of guilt and grief on the disciples’ hearts, becomes by the sheer holy force of the Spirit a journey to renewal and hope, and not the slow, inevitable spiral of destructive guilt, with its physical and emotional consequences, that could have been the result of the disciples’ deep failure. Instead, the ruin of the Cross becomes for all who participate in its redemptive force, then and now, a journey that is still unfolding for us, a journey that will perhaps take a new turn for us today.
The Cross, that hideous, ugly symbol of criminality punished in a terrible way, is a place of strangeness and contradictions, and yet it is this kind of inner life that makes it the source of our spiritual energy…