Recently I was talking with a colleague about the nature of God and how sometimes we lean too exclusively toward the transcendence of God—God is mighty and distant and all powerful, concerned only with judging us.
It’s the second movement of Leonard Bernstein’s choral work, Chichester Psalms. A boy soprano (or a countertenor), in the “role” of the shepherd boy, David, sings in Hebrew the opening verses of Psalm 23. He is accompanied–sparingly, fittingly–by the harp. The first several measures are tender but not tentative; filled with sentiment, but without sentimentality (this per Bernstein’s instructions). When the women’s voices take over the text at גַּם כִּי־אֵלֵךְ בְּגֵיא צַלְמָוֶת . . . (Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death . . .) there’s an ethereal echo-canon effect. This part of the movement, when executed well, is something sublime.
Jean sits down with the rest of the committee members, and the meeting gets started. She's in her familiar light blue cashmere cardigan sweater, her reading glasses hanging from a thin black woven cord around her neck, her gray-streaked hair pulled back into an efficient bun. She is as proper as always. But tonight her face is completely blank, as if she doesn’t dare reveal anything. She says nothing. “What’s up with Jean?” I wonder.