Book Study: Letters to Marc About Jesus - Week 4

I was rereading Nouwen’s fourth chapter, Jesus: the Descending God, on the train from New Canaan to New York City yesterday in preparation for this reflection. Little did I know that the stimulating image that Nouwen offers in the very first paragraph would come to reality just a short time later.

“It is a work of art made by human beings. But unless God’s sun shines through it we see nothing.” (Referring to the rose window in the Cathedral in Strasbourg)

I had the good fortune to attend the dress rehearsal of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 as played by Danil Trifonov and members of the New York Philharmonic. This piece has the reputation as one of the most technically daunting of all the standard piano concertos in the repertory. In the program notes for the concert, readers were reminded that pianists have often called this concerto the “Everest” they feel they must conquer, no matter what effort is required of them.

The composer apparently had no difficulty in accomplishing the task. While most of us who can play the piano can easily reach an octave, Rachmaninoff had hands that could play an interval of a 13th!

What makes this concerto stand out from all of the rest is the cadenza near the end of the first movement. Rachmaninoff composed two versions of an extensive cadenza, reflecting alternative ways of getting into and back out of a myriad of notes and ideas. Most interpreters use the second version which is slightly less challenging. But, yesterday, the young Trifonov, following the example of Van Cliburn and other musical legends, played the longer version to magnificent effect.

The piano concerto and its dazzling cadenza are only notes on a page (“art made by human beings”). It takes a spirited individual, blessed with talents given by the Creator of all things, to be able to “shine through” and open for all the listeners at the rehearsal an opportunity to be transcended. This is indeed what happened.

As I travelled back to New Canaan to spend time with my sister and her family, I reflected and gave thanks for all of those many moments in my life where God’s spirit had shined through a person, a work of art, lines of a poem, a thought provoking sermon, the lyrics of a song, the musical motif of an opera by Verdi, the rose window at Chartres Cathedral (the star leading the three Magi), and on and on and on. They were all works of art made by human hands but transcended by the power of God.

Where and when have you experienced these moments of the divine?

One more thought about Nouwen’s letter. His words on prayer, beginning at the bottom of page 47, with the opening phrase, “For me this weeding out….” is one of the most straight forward and powerful statements about the process and power of prayer. It needs no commentary except the encouragement for each of us to read that paragraph over and over and over again.

I look forward to reflecting on what you experienced in this chapter.

Be well.


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