Interspirituality on Sunday

Following up on my prior post about the Interspirituality Conference, I wanted to add what happened on Sunday morning.

I attend 7:30 Mass at Our Lady of Good Counsel where we were observing the Fourth Sunday of Easter, which is Good Shepherd Sunday.  Because of the conference, I was especially attuned to the references to Jesus saying that there were other sheep “not of this fold” who also follow the shepherd’s voice, which correlates so well with interspirituality and the core beliefs of religious, philosophical, and humanist traditions toward love, peace, connection, and unity. There were so many other moments during our sung and spoken prayer that spoke of “all” in the universal sense, rather than as all the assembly or all Catholics or all Christians. I am thankful to be here at this time, instead of in the pre-Vatican II days when Catholics regularly condemned those who were not (strongly observant) Catholics. I am also thankful that Pope Francis regularly holds meetings with those of many different spiritual beliefs, as well as those who are atheists, humanists, agnostics, etc., giving public witness to the dignity of each person.

I arrived early at First Congregational for the 10:00 service which was the official conclusion of the Interspirituality conference and was pleased when Jamie came to sit with me. With my daughters no longer at home and my mom dealing with a string of health issues, I most often attend without a companion, so it was nice to have a friend next to me.

The congregation, under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Art Suggs, is very progressive, open, and inclusive. I had not seen such an enthusiastic – and mobile – greeting of one another during the opening of the service since the Ecumenical Christian Church at Smith College when I was a student in the late 1970s-early 1980s.  The hymns and prayers were expansive and filled with light and love. The Scripture passage from chapter 10 of John’s gospel was a continuation of the small section that had been proclaimed at mass and referred back to the good shepherd, which was a beautiful connection for me.  In the passage, Jesus quotes Psalm 82 which says “You are gods.” This passage had come up during the weekend sessions as a millennia-old reference to the indwelling of the Divine in human beings, so it was a natural transition to Kurt Johnson’s sermon, “The Coming Interspiritual Age,” which synopsized the insights shared during the conference and gave hope that many around the world are moving beyond the rigid boundaries separating people from one another and into an emerging Second Tier Consciousness which unifies across religions, philosophies, nationalities, and all else that separates us. I again regret my inability to convey this adequately and hope that people who want to learn more will look for resources such as this website.

I wrote in my prior post about anticipating hearing the organ at First Congregational again. One of the lovely things about the structure of the service is that it incorporated the prelude and postlude within the service itself, so that one can actually listen, avoiding the “accompanied pep rally” experience that especially postludes can become. I appreciated that the postlude registration included some of the reed stops, because I so appreciate the Skinner-style reeds that are full and rich rather than thin and piercing. I managed to only tear up a little as I remembered being at the organ with Searle Wright. Had the repertoire included Franck or Dupré or one of Searle’s compositions I’m sure I would have been sobbing.

In a final Spirit-led moment, at the coffee hour after the service, I joined a conversation that Jamie was having with Heidi, one of the women of the church who had been such a great help to us during the conference. The conversation turned to the organ and I had a chance to share with her some of my experiences with Searle and the instrument. I must have had my poet hat perched invisibly on my head as I was going on about how organs breathe, but, fortunately, Jamie and Heidi were receptive listeners. As it turns out, Heidi’s husband had just been speaking about the need to invest in the upkeep of the organ, so it was particularly meaningful to her to hear me speak about Searle, the instrument, and their place in the history of the church and its ongoing legacy.  I am not sure what work needs to be done, but I am hopeful that the organ will be restored and preserved, not altered, or worse, abandoned. I believe that the Spirit moves and speaks through the organ’s pipes as surely as it does through our human voices and through all of creation.

Interspirituality conference

I’ve spent the last two days immersed in this interspirituality conference.  Kurt Johnson was our main speaker with many members of our local community participating as panelists/presenters.  It is impossible for me to condense two intensive days into a reasonable summary, so I will instead give a series of impressions, connections, and experiences.

I learned a lot from an academic/historical perspective about interspirituality. While it uses a different vocabulary, the concepts were familiar to me from studying spiritual teachers such as Joan Chittister and Richard Rohr who transcend the borders between spiritual traditions and emphasize the universal, indwelling presence of the Divine.

One of the unsettling aspects for me that was articulated by some of the women in attendance was that even at the advanced levels of spirituality and consciousness that were being discussed, the lens was still predominantly and historically male.  When there was discussion of the power of small groups and the advantages of people relating as non-hierarchal circles, I and at least several of the other women in the room were thinking, “Well, of course. This is how we have related, created, innovated, passed on wisdom, supported one another, moved forward together for centuries.”  It was a bit disconcerting to realize that the primacy of love, connection, relation, co-creativity, and the holiness of all creation that are felt so deeply in the hearts, minds, and wombs of women are only now again being re-discovered and brought out into the wider academic world and dialogue on how the world is organized.

That I was at the conference at all was due to connections through women and their circles.  My friend Yvonne Lucia, whose amazing artwork you can see here, was a panelist and passed on invitations to me and other members of sacred circles in which we have participated. I, in turn, was blessed to be able to invite and meet in person Jamie of Sophia’s Children, with whom I had recently connected in the blogosphere.  I so appreciated the enriching conversations that we had during breaks and lunches and a lovely walk along the river that Jamie and I shared after the conference ended a bit earlier than anticipated this afternoon.

The conference followed what was termed as a “loosey-goosey” model, which was fine as it led into unexpected areas and revelations. I was, however, disappointed that we did not do much discussion of ecospirituality, which is becoming increasingly important to me at this point in time.  In all my years of writing commentary on fracking, renewable energy, climate change, and environmental topics, I had to make arguments based on science and economics. Because the anti-fracking movement was being characterized as coming only from a place of emotion and NIMBY-ism, I was careful to work from a fact- basis and to not respond to personal attack. What only those close to me knew was that the energy behind all those comments came from my grounding in the values of Catholic social justice doctrine, which includes care of all creation and an extra measure of protection and care for the most vulnerable, whether an endangered ecosystem or a community left vulnerable to pollution, sea level rise, inadequate food and shelter, or other threat. Now, with the impending release of Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment and my involvement in the newly reconstituted Catholic Peace Community of the Southern Tier, I feel that I can integrate my environmental advocacy with my spiritual values in a more public way, hoping to spread the message in our communities about steps we can take to help our damaged climate before the climate talks convene in Paris in December.

One of the gifts of the conference for me was increased clarity of my own spiritual journey as I continue through my 50s. While I am still grounded in the “big C” Catholic church, although as a progressive feminist within it, what I learned there – the elements of social justice, the sacramentality of life and relationship, the indwelling of God in each person and all of creation, God as Love, Peace, Ground of Being – makes me also and increasingly a “small c” catholic, which mean universal. That is how I am thinking about interspirituality at this point, that universal connection in which all people of good will share, whether they arrive there via a faith/spiritual tradition or through humanism, science, or some other path.

One of the other blessings was the presence and sharing of some from the Millennial age cohort. While some think of their tendency to connect with one another electronically to be a detriment, I think it is one of their strengths. While those of us in older generations were brought up largely in localized boxes, the Millennials have grown up being connected instantly to a wide circle of people. From my two 20-something daughters and their friends, I have learned so much about celebrating diversity. It is a great source of hope and comfort to me that they already know and live some of these things that have taken me much longer to discover. To know that we have their generation’s commitment, broad sense of community, energy, and love already engaged is a great source of hope and comfort to me.

I am an introvert and gatherings of people are daunting to me. In the two days of the conference, I didn’t ever rise to ask a question or speak. I also tend to need a lot of processing time – and then go on to write overly long blog posts! But I will close with one more observation that I am mulling.  There were a handful of people at the conference that I knew personally, mostly people that I met through Yvonne. There were others who recognized me as a poet, a part of my life that has been public for such a short time that it still seems like a surprise when someone identifies me that way. There were also people who knew me by sight from my fracktivist activities or by name because of my public commentary. And most of the people in the room who do not know me at all.

There was, however, a special personal connection that I had within the church in which we met.  When I was in my twenties, it was my privilege to study organ with Searle Wright. First Congregational was his home church and my lessons often took place there. I took a moment after lunch today to go visit the Aeolian Skinner organ, to sit on the bench for a moment, to remember the wonders of Searle playing it, and to recall the time when I was still able to play myself.

I managed not to cry, although I don’t know if I will tomorrow morning when I attend the Sunday service which will be the official closing of the conference.

Update:  I’m happy to share the link to Jamie’s initial blog post on the conference:  It gives you a much better sense of what interspirituality means and you can follow her blog for more of her insights as they come our way.

theater organ

I just saw a piece on the Today Show about the only remaining theater organ in Seattle, which in the 1920s had fifty in silent film and stage theaters. The organ in the piece was a Wurlitzer, which was one of the most common manufacturers of the day.

It reminded me of the Roberson Museum in Binghamton, New York, which housed a Link theater organ, built by the firm of a local family. Edwin Link went on to found Link Flight Simulation, which used the technology of the organ business to craft the first mass-produced flight simulators, the Blue Boxes that trained many pilots in World War II.

When we moved here in the 1980s, I studied organ with M. Searle Wright, who was an enormously talented classical organist, teacher, and composer, and, at an age when most people are retired, then the Link Organ Professor at the State University of New York-Binghamton. He also was one of the few remaining masters of theater organ, able to sit at the console and accompany silent films, bringing to life the sounds of the world and the moods of the characters.  It was an amazing experience to hear him accompany a film!  Talented younger organists would travel up from New York CIty to study theater organ techniques from him.

We more often heard Searle’s theater organ talents when he played a 45 minute prelude of classic American songbook and Broadway tunes before each Binghamton Pops concert on the Morton theater organ at the Forum. On the music stand, he would have only a list of the pieces (perhaps with the key structure, he planned to include that day and would weave those songs together, showing off the fun aspects of theater organs, the literal bells and whistles.

A magical art, which is, thankfully, still being kept alive by those to whom an older generation of organist like Searle Wright passed on to them.

Bach fugue

Early this morning, I was driving to 7:30 Mass at a church that was a bit further afield than usual, so I put the car radio on and caught the cadence of an organ prelude. I immediately thought it was J.S. Bach, although I did then think, perhaps it would be prudent to withhold a conclusion until I had more than two measures to go on.

As soon as the fugue began, though, I knew it was Bach – and one of the preludes and fugues I had learned while I was at Smith. (For the other organ geeks out there, it was a Prelude and Fugue in G major, although I am not sure of the BWV.) Next, they spoke about how composers often borrowed themes from their own work or others’ work and played a choral movement that used the fugue theme, transformed into a minor key. (Maybe the US court system needs to hear a bit more about this long-time compositional practice.)

It was odd for me to think about my playing Bach on the organ. There is even a bit of wonder that I ever could. It’s been almost ten years since I have played on even a limited basis and even longer since I played such complex repertoire. Long-standing tendon problems in my right elbow led to years of physical therapy and finally surgery which we had hoped would fix the problem. However, I developed calcifications that caused the symptoms to recur, so I could only play for short amounts of time, not nearly enough to practice Bach fugues.

I had been still doing some accompanying for the choirs at our church, but almost ten years ago, we lost our church home, and I have barely so much as touched an organ since.

This spring and summer will be the tenth anniversary of a string of really painful life events, the aftermath of each still present in my life and the life of my loved ones in different ways. I have the feeling that these upcoming tenth anniversaries will be as complicated as a Bach fugue, but not nearly so organized.

poetry day

Quick post on an odd day. I couldn’t get to sleep last night. I got up at 12:45 to write down a poem that I had composed and edited several times in my head, then, stayed up until about 3:00 trying to get tired to the point of falling asleep. I think I may have finally fallen asleep at about 4:00. I was awake before my mom called at 8:10, talked a while, ate breakfast, showered, dressed, and wrote down another new poem that had started to formulate in the shower.  I tackled my “homework” for Binghamton Poetry Project, which turned into a rather major edit of the poem I drafted from a prompt in class last week – with research using google and my journal from the Smith College Alumnae Chorus tour of Sicily in 2011. I had had plans for practical things like shopping and cooking, but decided that I needed an afternoon nap instead because I have to get through BInghamton Poetry Project class at 5:30, where I need to be able to write a poem in fifteen minutes from a prompt, followed by University Chorus rehearsal at 7:30, where I need to use brain power to not mess up our new wording in the Mendelssohn.  While not being the day I thought I would have, what transpired is probably the most productive poetry day of my life. I’m hoping I can have more similarly productive poetry days, but with more hours of sleep involved.

SoCS: putting in “put”

My Saturday is going to be busy, so I am writing this Friday night – late after everyone else is in bed.

Ironically, I spent a lot of time today with the word “put.” The Binghamton University Chorus, in which I have sung for 33 seasons, is preparing Mendelssohn’s Lobgesang for our concert in May, but we are singing it in English rather than the original German.

In movement seven, our scores used the following text, “let us gird on the armour of light,” over and over and over. Unfortunately, the word “gird” is very difficult to sing prettily, especially when the notes are high in our ranges, as they are in this movement. So the hunt was on for a different translation that used less difficult sounds.

After comparing several Biblical translations, our director chose to change “let us gird on” to “and put on us” which is easier to sing and to understand from the audience’s perspective.  So, I spent a bunch of time today writing the text change into my score.

I admit that I only wrote it in for the soprano part, which is the part I sing. Fingers crossed that the other parts write their own changes!

The tricky part comes on Monday – when my mind needs to forget the weeks of singing “gird” and put “put” in there instead.

This is part of Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Join us!  Find the prompt and the rules here:


Paul Goldstaub tribute concert

On January 31st, the Music Department of Binghamton (NY) University presented a concert of Professor Emeritus Paul Goldstaub’s music on the first anniversary of his death. It was wonderful to hear such an eclectic mix of Paul’s music, much of it performed by the musicians who had premiered it.

I found my mind going back to my own studies of theory and composition at Smith. At that time, we began our theory course sequence in a contemporary setting with the study of rhythm, timbre, and melody, before progressing in later semesters to common practice period harmony, counterpoint, and chromatic harmony. The concert opened with a fugue for 3 snare drums, which included some air drumming and left us wishing that we could have seen the score to see how Paul had notated it. The second half of the concert opened with Pastorale II for flute and digital delay, played by Georgetta Maiolo. I loved how it wedded wonderful melodic writing with contemporary technology, with the digital delay taking the place of what would probably have been done by tape in my student days.

I also appreciated that Paul wrote for so many different instruments and combinations. In the concert, there was a piece for trombone and piano and one for marimba and piano. Hindemith came to mind. The concert program included a full list of Goldstaub’s composition, arranged chronologically, which allowed us to appreciate the full scope of his range as a composer.

Paul’s inventiveness as a composer was on fullest display in the excerpts from Every Evening for baritone, a chorus of three sopranos, piano, and percussion duo. Before each movement was sung, the poem was read by Professor Emeritus Martin Bidney, who had translated them from Russian, into which they had been translated from the Spanish folk tradition. The settings that followed had an incredible richness of soundscape, including some pitched speech reminiscent of Sprechstimme, close harmony from the three sopranos, and dialogue between the baritone and varied combinations of the sopranos.

As a member of a chamber chorus drawn from the Binghamton University Chorus, it was my privilege to participate in the final piece on the program, the first movement of Shakespeare Mix, which Paul had written for us in 2002. Accompanied by two pianos and percussion, we sang from Twelfth Night, “If music be the food of love, play on.” As we finished, a photograph of Paul was projected on a screen beside the stage. As the ovation went on, it was good to know that we had all joined together that evening to make sure that Paul Goldstaub’s music does “play on.”

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