"Now That's Really Living"
by Paul Chaffee
Nearly 200 singers and musicians filled more than half the sanctuary of Bangkok’s International Church for a rehearsal of Haydn’s Creation, a magnificent oratorio. I was 14, recently a boy soprano, now for the first time delighted to be singing with the basses.
“The heavens are telling the glory of God” came near the end of the rehearsal. Tough passages got particular attention, then parts together, and then tutti, the full orchestra and choir. Finally we sang it through, the strings dancing around the choir, the trumpets a high a cappella, together reaching a crescendo that had the rafters shaking. Afterwards, standing in the courtyard, speaking with several of my elders, I volunteered – “Now that’s really living!” They chuckled at my childish joy, a joy I feel to this day.
Some 40 years later I observed to my mother, who had been the conductor that night, that it was truly an interfaith event. She stared at me blankly. That had not been the intention. But musicians in Bangkok had all been invited, and many came – Protestants, Catholics, Buddhists, Western ex-pats, the faithful from many traditions and the unchurched. My parents were missionaries, but the Bangkok Combined Choir was not a Christian organization; it was an interreligious musical organization. Most of the orchestra that night was Buddhist, musicians happy to support a performance of Haydn’s choral masterpiece. Reflecting on our interfaith diversity that night half a century ago makes a happy memory even better.
All of us, I suspect, have had powerful, breakthrough experiences not only with music but with storytelling, poetry, dance, theater, film, art, and crafts. If it’s been a long time since that has happened to you, check out the five-minute video on your right. It's a performance by thousands of Jews and Muslims in Haifa, Israel, after one hour of rehearsal. They sing the song “One Day,” all about joy for what can be.
Then when the imagination, disciplined in one or several expressions, really goes after social justice and explores spirituality and nurtures our deepest relationships, we pay attention. The experience is physiological and emotional and spiritual as well as intellectual, providing a deeper understanding. I was startled but not really surprised to learn, several years ago, that choirs, within five or ten minutes of singing together, assume the same heartbeat rate. The special gifts from the arts are what TIO is about this month. Enjoy.
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Dedicating this Issue to Carlos Rodriquez
Carlos Rodriquez, a quantum physicist, mystic, businessman, and pioneering interfaith leader in Mexico and Latin America, died earlier this month. Carlos was president and co-founder of the Carpe Diem Interfaith Foundation in Guadalajara. Though few in Canada and the United States realize it, Latin America is rich in interfaith activities, and Carpe Diem has been one of its interfaith leaders. When, after nearly 30 years, the North American Interfaith Network ventured into Mexico for the 2016 NAINConnect, it succeeded largely on the programming, hospitality, and the hard work of Carlos, his colleague Gabriela Franco, and their team. It was the first fully bilingual interfaith conference in North America, a major achievement. Carpe Diem’s interfaith programs over the past decade have drawn more people than any others in North America save the Parliament of the World’s Religions, which has been a Carpe Diem partner in Mexico.
The NAIN event two years ago in Guadalajara was like many other large, successful interfaith conventions, but so much more. It was a symphony for the senses and spirit with more music, more dancing, more color and ritual, and plenty to think about. Plus much more emphasis on indigenous traditions and their troubled relationships with institutional traditions, particularly Roman Catholicism. For all of this we can thank Carlos and the colleagues he inspired.
He was a gentle, modest man, a visionary with a fabulous sense of humor, who brought vibrancy and life to interfaith relationships. This issue of The Interfaith Observer, focusing on how the arts can communicate and promote interfaith culture, is dedicated to our friend and exemplar, Carlos Rodriquez, who knew so much about the matter.
Header Photo: Vasile Hurghis, C.c. 2.0 nc