Now that's easier said than done, in these crazy, sad, strange days, so unlike what we've known before. It's hard to find a center when so much is off kilter, and when there is so much chaos and suffering - affecting us either directly or indirectly, but impossible to look away from for long.
But last week, Emmanuel Music released a streaming recording of a cantata whose title "Ärgre dich, O Seele, nicht" begs us to find a way to do just that. And it makes me think.
Like all the cantatas Emmanuel is streaming during this time (one per week - you can sign up here), it represents a not-too-distant moment in the past when the orchestra got together, in real time, yes, all those bodies playing and singing in a single room. (Amazing how quickly that image has become taboo!) This cantata is from this past winter, directed by Michael Beattie, who has some beautiful things to say in a video message before the recording begins.
Apart from the quiet, melancholy grace of this cantata, there are two things that really stick with me as I revisit it again, in this new time. As Michael says, "Ärgre dich, O Seele, nicht" in the Emmanuel translation reads "Do not be confounded, O Soul" - and that "confounded" could also read as "upset" or "disturbed" or any number of other close relatives. In the text of the cantata, it speaks to a time when the disciples are trying to determine if Jesus is truly the Messiah. "Don't get tripped up, O Soul." Keep the faith.
I am certainly begging my soul these days not to get tripped up. Not to get disturbed. Not to get upset. Not to be confounded. I feel like this is Rule #1 in the time of coronavirus. Take the time to figure out what's real, what's important. Focus on that, and that alone.
(And, when I inevitably fail, try again.)
The music of that opening chorus is subtly spectacular. Flowing forward at a patient rate. Neither too despairing or too eager.
The second thing that comes to mind is an aria for tenor and viola, that I play in this recording with the fantastic Matt Anderson. It's liquid and elegantly playful. The text reads: "Messias lässt sich merken / In seinen Gnadenwerken." Messiah lets himself be known in his works of mercy - or grace.
Rule #2 in the time of coronavirus feels like it must be close by. If there were ever a time for good works, this is it. And I love this sentiment: that divinity, that goodness, manifests itself specifically through action.
(If staying at home feels like inaction, don't worry: it is most certainly action!)
(And if there's yet more that can be done, then that's wonderful.)
Another patient aria: a slow groove with terrific figuration dancing gravely on top. I don't know which part represents the divinity and which the good works. Perhaps that doesn't matter much.
We're all learning new things in this unprecedented time, about ourselves and our relationships to each other. One thing that I am trying to keep in mind is that even though this is a time when we're all impacted, nothing that we are experiencing is really new. Suffering is a constant, but it's much more common for each of us to suffer alone than it is to experience it communally. Of course even now there are gigantic, glaring, unthinkable disparities that we can't shy away from. But still - somehow we're able to be in it together.
And we're all doing what we can. Emmanuel, for example, is releasing a cantata every week, which is just awesome. (This one will likely only still be up till some point today - then another one will go up in its place that will, I'm sure, have its own lessons embedded in it to help us through this crazy time.)
There's nothing like a series of Bach cantatas to remind us that the truth of our experience is indeed pretty constant over time. The things we struggle with, the things we strive for, the things we yearn for - they're both our future and our legacy.
I wonder what comes next.
Hoping that you're all well, safe, sane...