I am not a believer in the notion of God “showing up.” Sometimes, when things go extraordinarily well, one can be tempted to attribute success to the attendance of the Almighty. Annie Dillard says, “Beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” I believe not only that beauty and grace are OF God, but that God is ever-present and it is our responsibility to show up. I don’t consider myself to be gifted in that regard, and the details of life, no matter how small, often eclipse my ability to recognize God’s presence. Miraculously, in the music, art and friendship of Howard Goodall, my all-too-often tendency for distraction didn’t stand in the way.
Most of you are now familiar with the story of Howard’s “Eternal Light: A Requiem,” and its American premiere here at St. Luke’s. That composition fit like a puzzle piece into the hearts and minds of the Chancel Choir in 2009 and several times since, allowing us to feel as though we knew the composer in a very personal way. Since that time, we have also performed Howard’s oratorio, “Every Purpose Under the Heaven,” furthering our connection. But it was spending time with him in New York in the fall of 2016 that was the genesis of what you will hear today. The question was asked, and exactly one year and three days from the proposal of a commission, I was holding “Invictus” in my hand – an unheard of timeline in the music world.
“Invictus” is many things. It is primarily composed of texts written by female poets, giving a unique woman’s perspective on the passion of Christ. It is a work examining doubt and faith. It is about the ability to choose God, frightening as that may be, and it celebrates the strength of human spirit in the face of tragedy – an amazing gift from God. On a personal note, I’ve never been part of anything like this in 38 years of music ministry, and I am humbled by everything that is going on around me. This choir and Friends of Music community are rare and wonderful things – anything is possible because of them, and I am deeply, deeply grateful. I should blush to include a quote from Robert Shaw, but it is so appropriate. “These hands make no sound.” But if we are truly made in God’s image, then we too, are meant to create. What finer worship could there be?