The Way of the Cross: A Passion Pilgrimage Through Song – Memory and Mourning: The Passion in Our Lenten and Easter Journey
- J.J. Wright, Director, Notre Dame Folk Choir, University of Notre Dame
The sixth virtual event in the Notre Dame Folk Choir’s The Way of the Cross series explored how emotions fit into the liturgy, music, and our lives. This event was moderated by J.J. Wright, and featured Kim Belcher, Meg Beuter, and Tristan Cooley. The guests reflected on the emotions they have experienced during the Passion project and how those emotions might evolve as they travel to the Holy Land for the project’s climax. The main discussion was followed by an opportunity for questions and answers from viewers.
Wright began the event by reminding the audience that the liturgical calendar does not always align with the rhythms of our emotions and life experiences; for example, sometimes our suffering leads us to process grief during joyful seasons in the Church like Christmas. While this may be an uncomfortable reality for some, Wright clarified that we do not have to holistically enter into a dark emotional state to understand the gravity of Christ’s crucifixion. However, on a spiritual level, leaning into all the emotional elements — grief, regret, anger, relief, consolation — can be incredibly effective in understanding Scripture.
The three guests spoke of their own emotional status at the time, as they prepared for the Folk Choir’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land, not only physically and logistically, but also spiritually and emotionally. Cooley wrote several devotional pieces — prayers, litanies, processions — to accompany certain activities and places on their pilgrimage, aiming to bestow worthy devotions on the scenery that has inspired the Choir while creating the Passion project over the past couple of years. Beuter was preparing to be an observer in the Holy Land, instead of a writer or performer as she was in the Folk Choir’s Passion. This preparation included reflecting on the reverent places soon to be visited and understanding that, while less majestic that she may have been imagining them, they have hosted such monumental events in Scripture and Church history. Finally, Belcher brought their emotions into perspective and reminded the audience that our lack of a time machine to transport back to the time and space in which Jesus lived is not a disadvantage. The Jews and Christians who have lived in the Holy Land between Christ’s lifetime and now have enhanced the prayerful, spiritual experiences that can be had by visitors to the Holy Land, and visiting the land in the twenty-first century as Christians knowing of Christ’s salvation, makes the journey more meaningful. As an interlude to the event, Wright summarized the Choir’s itinerary for their trip which included visits to the Sea of Galilee, Capernau, Magdala, Mount Tabor, Bethany, and Jerusalem’s Old City.
To conclude the event, the guests spoke more on how emotions fit into the liturgy, during which we are called to experience a complex range of emotions, both personally and collectively. Wright and Belcher identified a parallel between music and worship: The best music occurs when it is “completely expressive” and everyone is unified together in song. The same is true with worship, for when we strive to enter into others’ suffering in some way, we both offer comfort to the ones suffering and also prepare ourselves for future suffering we may feel ourselves. Liturgy has space for any and all emotions, and opens an opportunity to experience, receive, or work through suffering or joy that one may feel. Finally, the guests reflected on their Passion project as it came to an end, noting that it is meant to be something into which new people can be invited into, even as members of the Folk Choir graduate from Notre Dame. Belcher explained that it is a sacramental experience to let go of some things and embrace new openings. This, she said, represents the importance of listening, bearing witness to new perspectives and opinions, and continuing to challenge ourselves to accept newness and the unknown. Trusting God and one another is the key to letting go. While it doesn’t necessarily alleviate the suffering, it eases that process and helps us move forward.
- Understanding Scripture and suffering can be done without entering in to a dark, emotional state of mind, but rather through reflection and immersion into all emotions and multiple perspectives, 11:01.
- There is a gift in being a Christian alive today because, despite not being able to exist in the space and time of Christ’s original Passion, we understand it in a richer way because we have the ability to recognize the risen Lord and find communion in the Church, 25:41.
- The liturgy provides an opportunity to enter into others’ joy and suffering as both solace or camaraderie with others as well as preparations for the emotions we will one day feel ourselves, 38:29.
- Just like music, prayer and worship is strongest when conducted in a unified way during which emotions are revealed and shared, 37:32.
- Trusting one another, trusting God, and leaning into newness is the best way to grow and come to terms with letting go, 54:57.
- “The liturgy is always going to ask something more of us. You can enter into the liturgy with an optimistic attitude and be totally positive and still, the liturgy is going to ask more of you.” — J.J. Wright, 6:54
- “The ability to recognize the risen Christ is a gift that the Church has given us through the centuries.” — Kim Belcher, 26:05
- “What I’m really doing is I’m being invited by the Church to enter into solidarity with people who are suffering and to prepare myself for the knowledge that I will also experience suffering [even in the times where I am emotionally well].” — Kim Belcher, 38:29
- “I think that’s one of the reasons why liturgical music is so important to people: it really offers, in a very holistic fashion, that invitation that the Scriptures give us to enter into the feelings of other people.” — Kim Belcher, 39:37
- “Cast me into the deep past, the seal that breaks the stagnant air of want and rushes in delivered light this way. The earth is the Lord’s and all it holds the world and those who dwell therein. And my dwelling now a crack and quiet my role, a rolling through of the doorway darkened by the boat. He founded it on the seas, established it on the rivers, the Earth is the Lord and all it holds the world and those who dwell therein.” — Tristan Cooley, 43:10
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