Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Stepping Stones to |Stillness

I had always hoped that in the evening of life, when the tyranny of hustle and bustle had ceased, I might find time to simply be. Nothing much to do except to love and be loved, to simply let time stand still. I'm thinking on a very human level but thinking too, I hope, on that level where God is at the heights and depths of my being.

I still treasure the beads around which I have travelled so many times, but now as the shadows lengthen, the impatience for getting through and the fever for finishing is no longer an option. I have opted instead for what Pope Paul VI called the lingering pace of prayer. I just want to linger in love with the Lord.

I want to write something about how the round of the beads and the pondering of the mysteries can become stepping stones to silence, to solitude and to stillness. There is healing for soul and body in this search for stillness.

Once as I was about to begin Mass a lady in distress came to see me. There was little I could do in the few moments before walking out on the altar, so I invited her to come round when Mass was over. During the Offertory, the organist played the Sibelius piece to which the verses below have been attached. The splendour of the music moved me deeply and touched something above and beyond. At the end of the service, the lady herself came round to say, that she was fine and needed no further help. The message that sounded from the organ playing supplied all she wanted. "Waves of stillness and splendour swept over me, as the Finlandia music, as it is known, sounded through the church.”
Be still, my soul:
Your God will undertake
To guide the future
As he has the past.
Your hope, your confidence,
Let nothing shake,
All now mysterious
Shall be clear at last.
Be still my soul:
The tempests still obey
His voice, who ruled them
Once in Galilee.
Most of that piece by Sibelius is taken up with rousing and turbulent music, evoking the national struggle of the Finnish people. But towards the end, a calm comes over the orchestra, and the serenely melodic Finlandia hymn is heard. How well suited it is to the Christian words applied to it:

Ever since first hearing it on the organ that evening in Tallaght, the melody haunts and heals me. I recall the many times I have carried the monstrance with the Sacred host among the worshipping people at healing services all over Ireland. Music and song can lead us into the deep and dark nights of prayer. It teaches us that the words on our lips and the thoughts in our minds yield to the song that goes directly to the soul. It is this kind of thing that is leading me to seek out the divine song and music that can give a new dimension to the prayer of the Rosary.

When saying the Divine Office, and coming to those lines of the Psalm that speak of singing to the Lord and playing on the ten-stringed lute, my thoughts stray to the music of the Rosary. Its measured decades and the rhythm of the Paters and Aves echo deeper than words or holy images. The Lord’s Prayer itself is full of harmony, of right order and perfect number:

Father-Thy Name-Thy kingdom-Thy will. Father: Give us-Forgive us-Lead us-Deliver us.

The first three notes have an upward and outward swing, lifting the soul to the glory of God and the coming of his kingdom. As my and me give way to Thee there is a whole new orientation to life,- a fresh set of the soul. The emphasis on Thy eases the pressure on the self. This movement lifts us out of selfish earthbound ways. The second set of four notes brings us down to earth and reaches into the core of human need. As we praise God in the first half, we do so with uplifted hands. Only then can we fittingly, hold out our empty hands and like little children beg for bread or maybe jam and honey.

The Hail Mary has its own rhythm, which again is universal in its ability to commune with heaven and to communicate with others. The Hail Mary occurs one hundred and fifty times throughout the fifteen decades. This is to match the one hundred and fifty melodic Psalms. Like any song, it is repeated over and over again in a rhymed refrain, all for the purpose of delighting the heart and lifting the soul out of the mundane, and providing so many more stepping stones to stillness.

The first part of the Hail Mary is not so much a prayer, that we send up to heaven, as a blessing that comes down from above. The story runs: “In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to announce the good news: The Lord is with you. Do not be afraid.
Mary was our stand-in that day and we now stand where she first stood on our behalf. The Hail Mary, then puts us into Listening-mode. We listen to heaven’s message that the Lord is with us and that we have only to let that healing blessing fall on the barren land of our own being.

No comments: