Sunday, November 29, 2009

Uncanny Coughs and Messiah Moments

There's one thing I'm sure of. As soon as the auditorium hushes, the first fiddle has sounded the note to which to tune, the conductor is applauded, and the music is about to start.....the air conditioning guy releases COUGH-inducing particles into the vents and lets 'er rip!

How else can the horrible and sudden need to cough (and cough violently) always happen (and ONLY happen) right when one is most supposed to be silent? It's uncanny.

There were actually quite a few uncanny moments at last night's Handel's Messiah. It started off with arriving at the auditorium and discovering it is part of a Mormon sect headquarters and right next to their huge temple, which is shaped like a giant slide from the steeple right down to the base--apparently Jesus is supposed to reign from there when He returns to Earth. Right there in Independence, MO. Who knew?

So we contemplated this lit-up oddity in the dark, with the full shining moon hanging up there, and prayed for the true God to bring light to these people stuck in such darkness.

The oddities didn't end there...

Two separate ushers looked at our tickets and "ushed" us, but it wasn't until we met the third, at the back row of seats, that we were told we were on the wrong level. When we did settle into our seats, and the lights were blinking and the doors were on the verge of being closed, a woman in a row in front of us ungraciously tells a group who want to get past her to their seats that they have to go back up, out the doors, and around to the other aisle, as she is not moving. Luckily, they were able to do it all before the doors actually were closed. I tried to dismiss her ungraciousness from my mind, along with my shock, and settle in to enjoy the evening. Not so fast...

Our group organizer and her daughter were a few moments late, and the doors shut them out. One of my seatmates saw them looking through the little window and, not acquainted with the etiquette of such productions, became very agitated, believing the door itself was locked and had to be opened from the inside. She figited and wiggled and wanted to get past me to the aisle to go open it for them, while I tried to explain in the nicest way possible (and the lowest possible whisper) that the ushers would let them in during a moment of applause, and that the door was not locked - she didn't need to go open it. It was a few very uncomfortable moments for me as I wondered how long I could hold her off. Meanwhile, in the background, the tenor is singing "Comfort ye my people." She is to be commended for her heartfelt concern for them, and so is the usher who - praise the Lord! - ended up bringing them in before the song was over. Whew!

So, I settle in again for a peaceful evening. Wait. Not only are the ushers bringing in random late-comers, a whole group is tenderly lowering a handicapped and blind man step by step to his seat in the 3rd row of the balcony. I watch, holding my breath as they go down each stair rise in the darkened balcony, until finally he is settled safely into his seat. This whole oratorio is about the coming of Christ, and I begin praying fervently that Jesus would soveriegnly heal this man's eyes as he listens to the scriptures ... "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; and they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined (Isaiah 9:2)." I start looking around the auditorium from our bird's eye view and realizing how many of these people do not know Jesus. Just as I begin praying for them all to see the Light, and a pause comes in the music so that all the auditorium is in a hushed silence, screaming cries pierce the cavernous room!

Two aisles to our left, right on level with us, repeated crys come - paniced, angry, and odd. The conductor froze. A half-dozen or so people jumped from their seats. Though I was looking right at the spot, I could not see who was in such horrible distress. Wendy, doctor-extraordinaire at my side, sat tensely, half out of her seat. But in a moment a woman came up for air, clutching her drink to her bosom. What sounded like a very verbal heart-attack turned out to be a fall down a step - and the victim had in the process somehow managed to keep her drink from spilling. Holding it close, and crying aloud "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," she walked uninjured to her seat in the front row of the balcony, apparently (according to the good doctor) inebriated. That's a more hopeful conclusion than my own, which was that she might be psychotically unbalanced. I think you'd have to be either one or the other in order to repeatedly scream like that, over an extended number of seconds, while several thousand people gaped.

Satisfied that the scene was over, the conductor started things up again. But before long, another just as surprising - though not as disruptive - oddity graced the evening. The soprano. Oh, in the words of the man in the row ahead, she "hit it right on!" Not only that, but her whole body moved in sympathy with the words of scripture she sang, as she swayed and waved and jerked. Finally, as she ended with "And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heav'nly Host praising God and saying," she threw her head back, inviting...and the huge choir mounted behind her broke into, "Glory to God in the highest." I could see her physically rejoice in the power of the noise of them praising God. She rejoiced as it swept against her back, in response to her song, and flowed out over the audience. She rejoiced as she stood there for a moment, swiming in the noise of the glory. She rejoiced as she took her seat and threw her head back again, like Eric Liddle as he ran, to listen to the multitude of voices praising God. It was stunning and particularly surprising in such a trained performer - especially compared to the carefully contained, stoic stance of the alto and the tenor.

That woman was a joy to watch the rest of the evening. But it broke my heart.

Her next air was spent entreating us to "rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion...behold, thy King cometh unto thee." How many times did she with great beauty and great fervency - of both body and voice - plead with these several thousand of us to "Rejoice!" Everything she had was put into this plea, this command, this entreaty. And we, oh we!, sat silently and deadened in our seats. When she had done and her last note had faded in the empty space, polite applause greeted her.

I began to imagine this song being sung on the New Earth. As she entreated, the saints would have risen to their feet - a wave of joy and dance would have spiraled among the thousands - a roar in unison would have greeted her last note... I hope she gets to sing it there, and to enjoy leading a company in the high worship of God!

I'm not even half through the evening, and as you can imagine the serendipitous events kept coming...but being more than half through this particular night, I will leave them to your imagination. If, though, you do decide to imagine, put in a cd of Handel's Messiah and imagine this -- what he wrote about, actually happening; the dear Messiah, actually returning; the trumpet sounding, the King reigning, the dead rising, and in your flesh-and-blood ... seeing HIM!

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