Saturday, January 19, 2013

My Grandmother Singing

I Remember Nana Singing

I remember her voice, coming from the back of the house, when Dad started to play--- she floated toward the piano, and her voice was like a large bird--  white wings gliding through a wide blue sky;  a rich mezzo-soprano building a crescendo as it rises toward the sunlight, banking against the high wind;  perfectly descending to a soft landing, with a flutter, to the branch of a sturdy tree.   My grandmother's songs are still breathtaking to me: the emotional vulnerability in them; the strength of the love in them.  "Forgotten", "Love, here is my heart",  "Because", "Sing me to Sleep", "Your song from Paradise".  Dad found the last two, which were from her era, and carried the nostalgia we all felt for missing her voice, her songs in our lives.  Dad could play perfectly for her voice, allowing the needed pauses, so her voice could soar-- and glide through several bars on long notes--- with full-throated ease, like honey in a warm summer sun.   My grandmother's name was Ave Maria-- she renamed herself at age 5, because she loved to sing the song for Mary.  She sang every version of the song, but she especially loved the Bach-Gounod version of it.  
Reading Keats' "Ode to a Nightingale" makes me think of my grandmother singing.  
Looking back now, I can be amazed at the magic of it, the gift of it--  one could say, the miracle of it.
My grandfather died in 1952, when I was two.  They met just before WWI.  My grandmother was born in 1892, (and my son Sebastian was born 99 years later, in 1991).  My grandmother's life spanned the time in California when the bridges and roads and dams were being built, and my grandfather was an engineer and a surveyor.  He contributed to many of the big projects, like the Huntington dam.  I found a copy of Omar Khayams's "The Rubaiyat", which he signed and gave to her on Nov. 1, 1914.  I never knew him, but I felt my grandmother's love for him in the songs she loved to sing best---and I think he must have known himself to be a lucky man, a blessed man, to be loved by a woman who could sing like that.  My aunt Geraldine, their daughter with the perfect memory, told me that they met at the Ventura hotel-- where my grandmother was singing for a benefit just before WWI.  My grandfather was in the audience, and asked to be introduced to the girl with the lovely voice.   An Irishman, one thinks he understood the value of a voice for singing.  They married in 1914, as he was leaving for the war;  and my mother, their first child, was born in 1921.  
I suppose when people ask now, what Love is, and mull about it, and ask "what's love got to do with it", I fall back onto the absolute shimmering recognition of the love my grandmother felt for George FitzGerald, that went into the songs she loved to sing.  No matter the shadows and suffering and pain, the love was a magnificent thing.  I also know that the love between my dad and his mother-in-law was deep and true and coherent because of those songs--- how he played the piano for her, and loved to hear her sing them;  and he loved to give my mother, her daughter, the gift of hearing her sing them.  My mother had no voice for singing, but she also had a deep reverential awe of her mother's voice, and she would stop whatever she was doing, and come to the piano room to listen.  The songs from WWI were influenced by the operatic and complex songs sung by professional singers in France and Germany, songs written by gifted composers.  But they were made to be accessible to the public, with unforgettable lyrics, and relatively easy melodies.  Radio made them move faster through the culture.  
Later, Dad would play her songs, and I would sing them-- but my voice is not as grand or fine as my grandmother's-- not as rich and creamy and sure.  Still, the habit between us was to sing them, often in the late afternoon, as shadows were falling, honoring her memory, recognizing her absence, and carrying the melody for her.  
I went on, learning more songs, singing with Dad-- hoping to be as full-throated and to do as much for presenting beautiful songs, as had she.  Later I thought of all I have learned through music;  everything I know of heaven and love, and truth starts there.  "Love, here is my heart, one rose for your hair; whether you echo the tune, whether you tire of it soon; whether you laugh as you depart, or hear it again; something to listen to yet, or forget, here is my heart".  

Friday, January 4, 2013

New Year's Eve: Inter-faith prayer service for peace

New Year's Eve in Santa Cruz is a special event.  I did not know about the Holy Cross inter-faith prayer for peace service until the day before, or I would have widely shared and invited people to it!   Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, a Benedictine monk from the Assumption Monastery on Big Sur, has been celebrating this event for 8 years.  He has been doing cross-cultural and inter-faith worship services for 20 years, and is a very gifted musician;  both his guitar-playing and singing are shimmeringly wonderful.  He has studied the work of  Fr. Bede Griffiths, who worked in India for 50 years in cross-cultural faith-sharing; and is able to sing and chant from the Vedas, in Hindi.   I always feel so grateful and blessed and uplifted to hear him play and sing!  So this event was held at the Holy Cross church hall, in downtown Santa Cruz, from 8 pm to midnight, followed by Midnight mass to welcome the new year.  There were so many religious traditions represented:  a Sufi singing pastor, Zen Buddhists chanting in Japanese, Hindi followers of Krishna, an Islamic teacher and a gorgeous chant from Indonesian Muslims, a Bahai elder, a Jewish rabbi, and the Shaker hymn, "how can I keep from Singing?"   A Native American named Mountain Eagle called us all family, and urged us to let the natural leaders come forth, as the old millenia of the Mayan calendar is ended and we start a new era.
Fr. Cyprian's format was to have a pastor or group do a chant or prayer, then we would be called into meditation for about 10-15 minutes with the gong-bowl, and everyone in the room was so respectful and willing to participate, and to meditate silently together!   It was the most meaningful and true prayer service for inter-faith witness I have ever had the privilege of attending.  No one was trying to convert anyone else, just sharing the best of their own tradition and faith, and the fervent desire for peace for all people.
It was warm and inviting, and sensitive, and moving.  The hall was well-lit with small white Christmas lights, and candles.  The chairs were comfortable.  The depth of attentive listening and prayerful joining into the chants was lovely.  Many of the people there have been attending a meditation group there for several years.
I loved one of the chants we sang, which had the words "It glows, it shines, it blazes up;  So lovingkindness, when it comes, will bring its freedom to the heart".
I thought of so many of the wonderful physicians I know from different faith traditions, who would probably have loved to attend and be part of this.  One of my favorite young doctors has just returned from doing the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca with his aging parents.  A new parent himself, he is a tender and dear man, and gave his parents this wonderful gift of accompanying them on the pilgrimage of a lifetime.  My own parish, Resurrection in Aptos, has been participating in an interfaith Passover/ Easter Vigil service with our Jewish temple folks for several years.  I cry every year, when we finish the Haggadah, and say "next year in Jerusalem!" to each other--- it is truly a glimpse of heaven, to be able to see ourselves in faith as God's children, overcoming our quarrelsome nature and getting along at the feast we share!   It is so meaningful to me, after the 5 years I spent at Maimonides hospital in Brooklyn, to have a prayer time with my Jewish bretheren.  It always reinforces my understanding of Christianity's roots in Judaism, and how much love I feel for the Jewish rabbinical tradition.  This prayer service carried that feeling even deeper and farther--- as we were embracing so many traditions, with respect and generous listening;  and the ongoing prayer for peace-- the kind that passes all understanding.  I thought about Thomas Merton, and how he would have loved this!
One of the printed things which was passed out was the Assisi Decalogue for Peace-- which I am glad to get a new copy of-- mine is ragged-- from 2002, when Pope John Paul, and many religious leaders met in the home town of St. Francis of Assisi, to pray together for world peace.  Each of the points in the Decalogue are important to the respectful relationship between people of different religions.  At the meeting in Assisi, each of the points was read by a pastor from a different faith tradition, trying to meet together without attempting to convert or coerce anyone, and trying to pray for peace and deeper mutual understanding.
Although I had to leave early to go to the labor room, because I was on-call,  I was so happy to experience most of the joyful event.  I hope more people will come next year-- it is a powerful thing to experience!  And, may God's peace be to all people of good will!