May 16, 2021

THE NEXT DAY

This morning I watched Morning Prayer with the Dean of Canterbury Cathedral on YouTube, which became one of my favorite daily routines during the pandemic.  Today’s Gospel reading was from John 16 and in his homily, the Dean mentioned a lovely aria from Johannes Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem.  He said it was his favorite and he’d just listened to Dame Kiri Te Kanawa’s wonderful rendition of the aria, Ihr habt nun Traurigheit.

And then I remembered something amazing that happened in 1992.  This photo shows a page from a gift someone gave Mother for Christmas in 1991.  She loved scriptures but was no longer able to see well enough to read them herself.  Confined to her improvised room in my home, she was gradually weakening.  And yet she had her own morning liturgy.  Her dear companion weekdays while I was at work was Lessie. She prepared Mother’s daily glass of orange juice, one cup of coffee and often a homemade waffle or sourdough bread toasted. Once she’d gotten her bathed and dressed for the day, she would tear off the previous day’s date from the bedside calendar and read the verse for the new day.  The verses were always from the King James Version, Mother’s favorite translation and often they were verses she’d memorized.

By early August, it was clear that Mother had passed a threshold—and home care no longer was feasible.  She needed attention around the clock. Reluctantly, I found a bed for her at a nursing home near where I worked.  The morning calendar ritual stopped on August 5 when she went to Manor Care.  She died there about 11:45 pm on September 17, 1992.

A few weeks later, I was going through her personal effects at home and the little Bible verse calendar surfaced.  For some reason, I decided to see what the verse would have been for the morning after she died—and this was it—John 16:22.  It felt like she’d sent me a message—and was strangely comforting.  The first few words of the verse were omitted on the calendar—“And ye now therefore have sorrow…”

A short time after that I was listening to a classical program on public radio.  The piece and its German lyrics seemed vaguely familiar.  Suddenly an aria so hauntingly lovely came on—and I literally walked over to the radio and stood there spellbound.  It was Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit (ye now therefore have sorrow) from John 16:22. When I researched the Requiem, I read that Brahms wrote it after being deeply grieved by his mother’s death in 1865.  Also it was distinctive in that unlike the traditional Requiem it did not offer prayers for the souls of the dead but instead focused on comfort for the living.  Brahms also included Isaiah 66:13a in this aria—“As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you.”

The almost random way I heard and responded to this aria seemed to underscore my initial reading of the Bible verse for September 18—the next day.  This juxtaposition of sorrow and joy is so real—and yet I could have missed it!  And today, the Dean of Canterbury Cathedral reminded me once more. Grace.

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