Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Brahms' Requiem and a New Life in Christ

Ten months have passed since Kathleen transitioned to her new life with God, and I am still trying to learn how to live a single life here on earth that is faithful to her memory, and inspired by her spirit. Mostly I am enjoying my new life, and the freedom I’ve been given to work full-time for peace and justice and the interfaith movement.

I now serve on the board of four local interfaith organizations: the South Coast Interfaith Council, the Parliament of the World’s Religions, Interfaith Communities for Justice and Peace, and the Unity and Diversity Council. I also serve on the board of a national Quaker organization, Quaker Universalist Fellowship (QUF), a group that publishes books and pamphlets. (You'll never guess who their new publication coordinator is!)

Here are some of the upcoming activities I am helping to organize:

• A peace booth at the EarthDay celebration at the Santa Monica promenade (Sat. April 17). This booth is being sponsored by the LA Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament. My contribution was to design a poster for this event, showing a large sunflower with a kid’s face in the center, and the caption: “Smile if you want nuclear disarmament.”
• “Peace Jam,” an intergenerational peace fair at USC, with music, crafts, speakers and a march calling for the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan (Sat. April 24, from noon to 5:00). Our main speakers will be Mike Farrell (the actor from MASH), Jake Diliberto (a former Marine corporal turned peace activist), and Eisha Mason (AFSC assoc. regional director and KPFK commentator).
• An Interfaith Awards Banquet on behalf of the Parliament of the World’s Religions (May 16, 2010). Our keynote speaker will be Rosemary Radford Ruether, professor of Feminist Theology at Claremont and author of Gaia and God: An Eco-feminist Theology of Earth Healing.

You can read details about these events at

I am also making progress on the Brinton book and have contacted major Quaker scholars about taking part in a symposium on the Brinton legacy. The scholars are eager to participate. I now need to convince Pendle Hill to let me write the grant proposal on their behalf.

I continue to clerk the Pastoral Care as well as Peace Committee of my Meeting and am enjoying my new role as a “pastor.” When people have problems or conflicts, I am the go-to person—needless to say, it’s not always easy! One reason I enjoy this role so much is that I feel I am carrying on Kathleen’s mission. For twenty years, she was my teacher and now I am putting what I have learned into practice. Thanks be to God!

Finally, I am looking forward to spending Easter with my dear nephew Edward and my brother and sister-in-law in Palo Alto.

Despite this abundantly full life, I still sorely Kathleen. There is a Kathleen-shaped hole in my life that nothing can fill.

This week I celebrated the 10th month of Kathleen’s passing by going to hear Brahm’s Requiem, performed magnificently by the choir and orchestra at the Westwood Presbyterian Church. Nine months ago I went to hear this same group perform Mozart’s Requiem, just before Kathleen’s memorial service at Santa Monica Friends Meeting. The first time I went with Friends who gave me comfort and support. This time I went alone, though not entirely. My dear friend Ruth (who was also married to a minister) was singing in the choir.

I was deeply moved by Brahm’s Requiem, which conveys a feeling of peace and acceptance that is hard earned. It was written in 1866, not long after the death of his beloved mother, and also of his best friend and colleague, Robert Schumann, who died tragically in a mental institution after a suicide attempt. Braham wrote this Requiem in German, rather than in the more customary Latin, so that it could speak directly to the heart. It begins with the beautiful words from the Beatitudes and Psalm 126:

Blessed are they that mourn
For they shall be comforted….
They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.
They that go forth and weep, bearing precious seed,
Shall come again with rejoicing,
Bringing their sheaves with them.

These comforting words begin a deeply personal reflection on the meaning of life and of death, drawn from passages that Brahms selected himself from his well-worn German Bible. In the haunting second part, we are reminded that “all flesh is as grass” and the works or man are mostly “vain show,” yet the Word of the Lord endures and those that work in the ways of the Lord will find eternal peace.

The climax of the piece is the section entitled “How lovely are thy tabernacles, O Lord…” The choir sings these moving lines with heart-breaking beauty:

My soul longs, yea, even faints
for the courts of the Lord:
my heart and my flesh cries out
for the living God.
Blessed are they that dwell in thy house:
they will always be praising thee. Psalm 84:1,2,4

The Requiem ends with words from the Book of Revelation:

Blessed are the dead, which die in the Lord, from henceforth,
yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors,
and their works follow them.

You can hear the entire Requiem, with commentary, and the text in English and German, at You will be definitely be blessed by listening to it!

Dear friends and family, I feel so grateful to be alive, and to be able to experience the mystery of Jesus’ life and resurrection. Losing Kathleen was like dying, but now I know that those who die in the Lord are blessed, and so are those who live in the Lord. We are all united in one body that will never die.

As Easter approaches, my prayer is that each of you will experience the joy of Christ’s resurrection, feel the power of God’s infinite love, be guided by your Inward Light, and find peace as you work for justice!

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