Monday Morning Confessions

When I was studying organ at Notre Dame, there was one semester when I’d consistently run into a few of my fellow organists while getting coffee on Monday morning. We’d sit and decompress about the previous day a bit. It became a pattern that whichever of us got there first would get a table and, as the remaining two or three arrived, would ask “Anything to confess?” I’m not sure how it got started, but as you can imagine, it quickly became a Monday morning ritual, including an “absolution” at the end, along with the admonition to go and sin no more.

Most of my Monday morning confessions nowadays are relatively trifling: accidentally hitting a key during a scripture reading, starting the anthem at too slow a tempo, a bit of a time lag at a ritual cue—the worst might be the rare occasion that I use the transposer, and then forget to re-set it. Venial infractions.

However, something a bit more substantive happened with the hymn “O Sing a Song of Bethlehem.” (Text by Louis Benson, usually sung to FOREST GREEN or KINGSFOLD.) For those who aren’t familiar with the hymn, its four stanzas trace the life of Jesus Christ through Bethlehem, Nazareth, Galilee, and Calvary. Over the course of years, I’ve developed small musical ways at the organ to “illustrate” one or another of the stanzas (NEVER all four—that would be a mortal infraction). I’ll sometimes imitate a shepherd’s flute over a bagpipe drone in the intro to the first/Bethlehem stanza, or put a “growing” figure in the left hand accompaniment for Nazareth, a walking bass line underneath Galilee. This time around, I decided I’d switch up the accompaniment for the fourth, Calvary/Cross stanza. My usual custom has been to play some sort of tone cluster on the lowest pedals (kind of an earthquake effect) and/or make the accompanying harmonies very dissonant and turgid. ALWAYS with strong support for the congregation’s melody in place, of course!

But this time, as I was playing the third/Galilee stanza, the Holy Thursday entrance antiphon text “We should glory in the cross” (based on Galatians 6:14), popped into my head. (Sometimes the Paraclete’s timing could be better.) So I ejected my planned earthquake/dissonance approach and instead broadened to a regal tempo, with a few trumpet fanfares interspersed for good measure. (And sometimes the Paraclete sweeps in to resuscitate dormant skills.)

Later that day, during my self-guided musical mystagogy about the moment, it occurred to me that my usual musical approach to the Cross that morning would have been something of a sonic pentimento (a trace of an earlier painting beneath a layer or layers of paint on a canvas). What showed through was my default understanding of the Cross as only an object of discord and dissonance. As often as I’d rehearsed/played/sung the Holy Thursday “glory in the cross” text in various musical settings, my spirituality—and, therefore, my ministry—was still shaped much more by, and somewhat stuck in, Good Friday. (Though I do realize that the Good Friday liturgy has its own glorification language about the Cross.)

It’s been something of a comfort to realize that even with as many ministerial miles as I have in the rear-view mirror, there’s still much progress to be made. I’ve re-tuned my self-awareness to be on the lookout for these sorts of bleed-throughs in my ministry, and I plan to take some Lenten time to focus on incorporating a broader, healthier, more integrated spirituality of the Cross of Christ into my life.

So, what’s your Monday morning confession?

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