Saturday, June 19, 2010

Catholic is Catholic, part 2

As I was driving home from spiritual direction I found myself singing an old tune from my Protestant days, about the Transfiguration. It's to the tune of Agincourt, and our choir director used it to illustrate how polyphony came into use in liturgical music. You know, hundreds of years ago.

I am sketchy on the details, so bear with me. But Liturgical music, according to the story, started out strictly as chant, very smooth and ethereal and without great range. Then a second voice was added as an octave above, sung by the boys. Now you have two layers going. Then someone got very bold and added a third layer, only a fifth above, mirroring the melody precisely. After folks got over the shock of having a true harmony line, polyphony took off. And this happened most easily by hanging onto the melody line, but the second voice just comes in a bit later--like a fugue or a round.

Our choir director, Lucy Hudson Hair of University Presbyterian Church in Baton Rouge, illustrated this little lesson using Agincourt, and what started out as a stately one-voiced melody got slowly transfigured into a beautiful, textured, many-voiced wonder.

And that, my friends, is one more way to make the point that we are fundamentally different in how we understand God and the Universe. Catholic is Catholic. The Triune God is not just our way of talking about the One Universal Consciousness that we ought to want to be absorbed into if we can only just totally empty ourselves of our petty individuality.

You can find this quote here. "When we chant Om, ... we start thinking universally. ...there is no thought. This is the state of trance, where the mind and the intellect are transcended as the individual self merges with the Infinite Self in the pious moment of realization. It is a moment when the petty worldly affairs are lost in the desire for the universal. Such is the immeasurable power of Om."

Could there be anything more different from Om than a good Bach fugue? Could there be anything more different from merging with the Infinite Self than a messy, juicy Trinitarian and Incarnational spirituality? We don't need to transcend the physical world, when our God inhabits the world as flesh and blood Himself. And we certainly don't need to lose our individual selves into the Infinite Self when our God is actually pure relationship, a God of distinct Persons in perfect community. Where is there anything about relationship, otherness, personhood, distinctiveness in a pure spirit of infinite self?

I am not saying Hindus or others are fools or evil for believing as they do. But why, why, why would I ever say "deep down we're all the same, one path is just as good as another"? Catholic is Catholic. We may well find common ground for dialogue in other faiths, but we will never, ever agree that our understandings of God and the Divine are "basically the same." Nope. We are basically different. And we need to claim that truth with pride.