Archive for April, 2012

 Our pilgrimage to the Holy Land was a ‘Transfiguration Time’, in which people – many of us – were taken out of our own personal preoccupations, to be given a glimpse of something else: the beyond, the presence of Love, the support of, and caring of others. Someone who wrote to me last week spelt it out like this: “Like you, the week just glows in my mind, whenever I think back.”  If you read the Transfiguration accounts in the New Testament, you find in Luke (9: 31) that Moses and Elijah spoke of Jesus’ departure from his friends, “… that he would soon fulfil God’s purpose by dying in Jerusalem”. Matthew and Mark explain, straight after their Transfiguration accounts, “… that Jesus would suffer many things and be treated with contempt.” (Mt 17: 12 and Mk 9:12). 

We pilgrims, too, ‘in the footsteps of Jesus’ were surrounded by tensions and sufferings, and these became evident in many different ways.  In Nazareth, there is a mosque right next to the Basilica of the Annunciation, and the mosque carried the following large sign –with its spelling mistake – not to be missed by pilgrims approaching the Basilica.

If Islam was truly lived as it was meant to be, and, similarly, if Christianity was truly lived as it was meant to be, we would all discover, deep in the true spiritual roots of both, not conflict, but solidarity. After all, both religions have the ‘Golden Rule’ within their teachings: “Do unto others, as you would have others do unto you”; it is the same for every major religion in the world. Then such a sign would be perfectly acceptable, as the losers would be those who did not do unto others as they would have others do to them, one of the teachings of the Gospel and the Koran. 

This poster, it would seem, was not displayed with the Golden Rule in mind! Also, it becomes apparent that, wherever there is a Christian Church, the Muslims love to put a mosque on its doorstep, and, from the minaret, comes a very loud call to prayer, just before dawn. It is something one gets used to, but it can be a little disconcerting to be woken up at about 3.30 am, as in both Nazareth and Bethlehem,  or to have Mass interrupted by the very loud speakers, as the Muslim call to prayer is made; this happened in Jericho, where we had Mass at noon, in the Catholic Church.  Once again, the ‘Golden Rule’ comes to mind. Tensions again were apparent on the fourth day of our pilgrimage, as we left Nazareth. We were to stay in Bethlehem which is near Jerusalem. On the way, we had our first stop at the recently opened clearway in the Israeli military zone, as we drove through a minefield, on a road cleared of mines.

When we arrived at the River Jordan, at “Bethany beyond the Jordan” (Jn 1:28), we were at a point on the border between the Kingdom of Jordan, and the State of Israel, the border being marked out by the river. The Jordanian side was ‘empty’ when we visited it; a Christian Church stands on that side of the border. On “our” side, so to speak, two Israeli soldiers scrutinised every person; they carried automatic weapons ready to shoot at any person who might want to cross to the other side.  As for we pilgrims, the hot sun was beating down, and we simply stood in awe, at the great event that had taken place here, and we did something momentous: we renewed our baptismal vows, and it was very meaningful, followed by gestures such as seen in the photo below.

Somebody gave me an empty water bottle, and this we filled with water from the Jordan; it is now being used for baptisms in the Parish. Probably all of us should grow in our appreciation of the gift of Baptism, and, having this ‘Jordan water’ is a good reminder of our insertion into Christ through what happened to most of us as babies – our baptism. The muddy water took a long time to settle and become clear, but now it has – a simple reminder of how long it takes truly to appreciate personal baptism. 

Jericho is an oasis in a surrounding desert area. Close by, are the hills that lead to Jerusalem, and the Dead Sea is nearby. Here we experienced, once again, how the Holy Land is a land flowing with milk and honey, with pomegranates, figs and all manner of good things; in Jericho, we visited a restaurant where one could eat as much as one wanted, of simply delicious food. Also, there was a shop, where, at very good prices, one could buy dates and nuts, fruit and delicacies, as well as shawls, trinkets, and all the usual tourist attractions, at very good prices. No Jew ever enters Jericho; it is a part of the West Bank, where the Palestinians live, and Jews would enter only at the risk of their lives! Here, one could not miss seeing a famous sycamore tree, like the one climbed by Zacchaeus (Lk 19: 4).

Of course, being tourists as well as pilgrims, we did all the ‘touristy’ things, like visiting Qumran, of the famous ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’, and swimming in the Dead Sea; those who wished, could have themselves covered with the therapeutic mud of that Sea, which just happens to be the lowest point of the earth.

Next on our agenda, we drove up into the mountains, stopping in the desert for an unforgettable 20 minutes, at which point it was easy to contemplate the conditions – the kind of terrain – in which Jesus spent those 40 days and 40 nights. It was so cold, so unforgivingly barren, that it was really good to take a short stroll away, into this environment, and let the reality of it sink in. It says in the New Testament – after his baptism – that: “The Spirit immediately drove Jesus into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts” (Mk 1:12-13).

Eventually, we arrived in Bethlehem; translated, the name means ‘house of bread’.  We did not have to negotiate our way through the (in)famous ‘wall’ as our route took us through back streets, up and down some hills and dales, with busy narrow Palestinian streets, full of life and friendly people. However, as this account is making reference to the difficulties of life, in the Holy Land, as a ‘back drop’ to the ‘Transfiguration’ experience that our pilgrimage undoubtedly was, it is good to have a picture of this famous Israeli construction, a ‘snip’ at 470 miles in length.

It would be rather unfair to say that the Palestinians ‘live in a prison’, but it is true to say, that the majority cannot leave the West Bank, and come back again; they cannot visit Jerusalem, just next door to their town. They cannot enjoy the excellent medical facilities available to those who live in Jerusalem. Palestinians, in the West Bank, behind check points at the wall, and internal check points in their territory, feel oppressed and humiliated, by the treatment that they receive. Furthermore, they have few chances to develop their own potential, within their territories; many are unemployed, even those with excellent qualifications, like the architect, we met, who is without work. He had his offices destroyed, in the second ‘Infatada’. Particularly badly hit’ are the Palestinian Christians’ who are leaving the Holy Land’ and the whole Middle East’ because of the political and social conditions surrounding them. 

At the same time, there are almost no bombs in Jerusalem since the wall was built, and the Israelis do not feel oppressed; rather they feel uneasy and afraid. They know that world opinion is against them, and they know that the Muslim world, in general, is very hostile towards them. On the whole, the Israeli Jew has no contact with the Palestinians, and of course, extremists, on both sides, take up positions that are simply incompatible with dialogue. 

It was a great joy for all of us, one cold night, to visit a Palestinian family, in Bethlehem, and have our evening meal with them. Not only did we eat very well, kebabs and all the Palestinian trimmings, but we also shared with them a little of what life was like. They strive to live the Gospel to the full, and one of the precepts of Jesus, that is hard for everyone, is found in Matthew 5:

“You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; … Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. (Mt. 5:38-44).

They declared quite openly that “loving their enemy” is one of the hardest things they have to do. They gave examples; one was that, at Christmas and Easter time, they apply for visas to visit Jerusalem, see their relatives and friends there, and visit the Christian sites. Usually, and randomly, they will receive a visa for Mum or Dad, and often the children, but not both adults together. So nobody goes at all, as they cannot leave the children with one parent.  It is very hard, but this is what they do “loving those who impose such rules”, as Jesus taught. They also have very little security, just like all their fellow Palestinians.

In truth, it was an eye-opener to see the joy and peace in these good peoples’ eyes and hearts.  As somebody wrote: 

“We met a Christian Palestinian family and were moved by their story of life in Bethlehem. It put my troubles into perspective. My suffering was not influenced and made worse by someone else – there would be an end to my grieving process. They lived every day not knowing when their suffering would end, but they lived in hope and with the love of God in their lives.” 

Here we see the Palestinian father and mother who were an inspiration.

To show how their joy spread to us all, here are some pictures of one or two of our pilgrims on that evening:


Hope springs eternal, and there is usually a way ‘round’ obstacles, to give at least peace of mind! This saying was reinforced by meeting, two or three days later, with a young Israeli girl, in Jerusalem, who spent 22 years of her life in London, but has immigrated, with her family, to Israel.  She told us how hard it was to engage in inter-faith dialogue, in Israel, compared with London – objections coming most often from fellow Jews – and how she was dedicated to the cause of promoting unity, as a strong, and devout Jewish believer.  She had found that it was often her own fellow Jews, in Israel, not just the Palestinians, who found a ‘blockage’ relating to her, in her activities, and in her very presence. She told us about days of dialogue with Jews, Christians and Muslims, together, that are developing in the spirit of unity of the Focolare. It was very hard at the beginning, but friendship and mutual understanding, are growing. She was a lovely breath of ‘fresh air’ for us all, and we were all impressed by her testimony, her joyful freshness and her point of view, describing  what it is really like to live in the Holy Land, as a believing, caring young Jewish girl.

All these things make me want to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and, God willing, that will be the theme of next week’s reflection.

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Unexpected Thoughts in the Holy Land:

(Continuing the reflections and story of the pilgrimage to the Holy Land, it should be clear that what is written is something personal and may not be shared by other pilgrims in the same way. Also, if you come upon this blog for the first time, it may be wise to look at the introduction in last week’s blog, explaining why, for me, this pilgrimage, “In the Footsteps of Jesus”, 15-22 March 2012, was so special.)

When one is actually there, in the Holy Land, it is easy to start musing on the ‘Word’ who became ‘Flesh’ in Jesus, in unexpected ways. For example, what did Jesus look like? The question becomes much more pressing when in his homeland.  On our pilgrimage, we were mostly pale-faced Anglo Saxons, and rather than our western European image, Jesus must have resembled the native Palestinians, in facial appearance. The image that many have of Jesus, me included, comes from the face on the Holy Shroud. There are Semitic people, whose faces look a little like the face on the Shroud, as one sees them, ‘up close’ in the Holy Land; however, I must say that the face on the Holy Shroud also has a familiar ‘European look’, to my eyes.

The Face on the Holy Shroud

On the other hand, here is a picture of a young Palestinian lad whom we met, and perhaps, Jesus looked more like him? I can imagine Matthew, the tax collector, looking like this young man.  The question, however, is never very far from the surface of one’s mind, haunting away, and as you see the faces of more and more of the people, still the question remains: “Did Jesus look like one of these people?”

(1)    The Young Palestinion Lad

(2)    The Two Palestinian Girls from the Focolare 

Similarly, one might ask what Mary’s appearance was like, as well. Above are two Palestinian girls, both from Haifa, and who are involved with the Focolare in the Holy Land. Do they give one an idea? Maybe this is an image of one of the other women in the gospels, if not Mary?  Then, again, St. Joseph might have looked like the picture of this Palestinian craftsman working in his shop.

 Palestinian craftsman in his workshop

Jesus spoke much, and performed many miracles, especially in a triangle of land around Capernaum – all in very close proximity. On our third day, our group went first to the Mount of the Beatitudes, where we celebrated Mass. The area is cared for by Franciscan Sisters, and when Laszlo, our young Hungarian guide, (see last week’s blog), and I, went to the sacristy, this loving, bustling, rather squat English speaking nun, spoke to us in Italian, and said: “No, your pilgrimage has been cancelled”, and sure enough, for the “Shepherd’s Tours”, there was a line through the booking. “Never mind”, she continued, “I will find a beautiful place for you”, and she was as good as her word. She led us to an altar in the open air, (as they all are, in that spot), where, despite the other pilgrims, we felt quite secluded, and there, in that ‘special’ place, we could meditate on the meaning of the ‘Beatitudes’.

Mass at the Mount of the Beatitudes

Whilst there, we had the first of a number of shared sermons, and what people said was designed to ‘fit’ the place. In a kind of reflection, I found myself writing about this event: 

This time the mood of the moment hit me more strongly: yes, somewhere near here Jesus had spoken those amazing and revolutionary words; that people who are poor, meek, humble, those who weep, hunger and thirst for justice, or are persecuted, those who are suffering, in other words, are blessed. I wonder if that includes sinners. Sometimes I feel a bit of a failure, or a sinner, and indeed I am. Also, when others criticise me, or I criticise myself, either for failing to do what I should, or for acting in a way that Jesus would not, I also feel guilt. Blessed are those who mourn, they shall be comforted. 

I love the fact, that the one who lived the Beatitudes best of all, was Mary, Mother of Jesus, the perfect disciple. The small Church is octagonal, and is quite beautiful; each side, around the altar, corresponds to a beatitude, and they are written in the windows above each octagonal wall. It is a spot with a wonderful view of the lake, and a place of peace, despite the bustling crowds of people, who eagerly go there, to see for themselves, and catch the spirit of it.”

The Sea of Galilee, from the Mount of the Beatitudes

Inside the Church of the Beatitudes 

The ‘ordinary’ moments of life also contributed much to the whole trip. After the Beatitudes, we went to Tabgha, where, traditionally, the site of the ‘Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes’ took place – the feeding of the ‘Five Thousand’. I wanted to visit there, because I had not seen it, on my previous pilgrimage, and also because it is under the care of Benedictine monks – an offshoot of the monastery of the Dormition, in Jerusalem. However, by mistake, I had left our new (and costly) English Missal, back in the sacristy where we had celebrated Mass. To retrieve it, our driver, Sama, and I drove back, just the two of us, in our big coach, while the others visited Tabgha. It was ‘a happy mistake’ to have made, because Sama and I, had a good personal chat, and I began to understand the spirit of this good Moslem, who was so supportive of his Christian pilgrims. He was also so obliging, and friendly, ready to help any one of us, at any time. He told me he had not had much work that winter, but this should improve now that the ‘season’ was starting. Without tourism he would have no income, and nor would many others. Tourism, for him, means mainly Christian pilgrims. This was evident, especially in Bethlehem, and in many other places, too. When we drove through the part of Jerusalem where Sama lived, so many people waved, or greeted him, in his massive coach that negotiated the seemingly impossible, narrowest of gaps. He had to maintain a wife and family, and was so grateful for the work that came his way.

Our driver, Sama 

Luckily, there was just time for a ‘whistle stop’ tour of the Church at Tabgha, where one can see the quite beautiful mosaics illustrating the story of the ‘loaves and fishes’:

Mosaic at Tabgha 

I had bought tiles of that mosaic, framed in wood, as presents for those who work in the Priory House. I was struck by how Jesus, was able to save an impossible situation – the feeding of the multitude, with only two fish, and five loaves of bread. How often each one of us finds oneself in an impossible situation, and yet, somehow we manage to get through it, if we let time pass, let good-will prevail and trust in God. It is a link to the miracle of the multiplication of the fish and the bread; for God nothing is impossible.

Another very inspiring story, from the gospels, is when Jesus – after his Resurrection – met the disciples, by the Lake of Galilee, very near to these two sites. Here, I found myself sitting by the water’s edge, listening to the lapping of water on pebbles, and eventually taking a few photos with my ‘ipad’, as people took in the scene, or paddled in the shallows.

(1)    Fellow pilgrims paddle in the Lake of Galilee

(2)    Fellow Pilgrims at the Lake shore  

It was here that Jesus affirmed Peter; Jesus had asked Peter three times: “Do you love me?” and Peter had assured his Master that he did. Peter was struck dumb by the goodness of Jesus, and the trust Jesus placed in him, despite Peter’s behaviour when he betrayed him three times at his arrest. This is the spot where it happened; it was also here that Jesus brought about the miraculous catch of fish, and there, he ate breakfast with the Apostles – a meal that He, himself, had cooked. 

We all enjoyed a delicious lunch – delicious, as was all the food we ate – and at this, one can readily understand why the Jews had been told, that their land was a land flowing with milk and honey. After our meal, we went out on one of the famous “Jesus” boats, as they are called on the lake.

A ‘Jesus’ Boat 

The crew were a jolly group, who played music for our entertainment; we even had our National Anthem – ‘God Save the Queen’ – and the ‘Union Jack’ on the boat.

An African young girl, Mary in our group, with the Union Jack 

Given the solidarity and feeling of unity that existed already amongst us, someone suggested we joined in an Israeli dance, which almost all of us duly did, gathering in a circle, and doing the simple steps, as we linked hands, and danced around.

 Learning the simple dance steps on the boat

However, the best of all came with the cutting of the engine, then simply sitting in the boat, the quiet sea all around us.  So many thoughts came to mind, as one surveyed the hills, the landscape, picturing for oneself what Jesus, and the Apostles, must have seen. It was as if the two thousand years, between, had just disappeared into thin air. For many pilgrims, the Sea of Galilee is what they like most; truly, it is the most authentic place of all, where the scenery is unchanging – unchanged from the time of Jesus – preserved for us, today. 

At this point, I feel that, for the moment, this is sufficient for this week’s blog. There is much more to share from the experiences of those memorable eight days in the Holy Land, and, relying on your continuing interest, I hope to be able to describe for you the rest of my story….

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My Holy Land Transfiguration Experience:

Two people have said to me they hoped to have a blog about the visit a few of us made to the Holy Land from 15-22 March. It has been on my mind not only to write about it but also to contact again the 30 others who were part of the pilgrimage.

Some of our group at Qumran, The Dead Sea in the background. Fourth day together.

Only 24 of us journeyed from Britain, but an integral part of our Pilgrimage was our unique guide, the young Hungarian, Laszlo, who resides in Jerusalem; also, were those looking after us, a bit like ‘guardian angels’, especially Annie Brechet– a Belgian – who also lives in Jerusalem. She makes all the arrangements for these visits on behalf of the ‘Focolare’ Movement, and does so superbly. Then, there are her companions from the ‘Focolare’ community in Jerusalem, including Gerard, a Frenchman who lives there, as well as the Palestinians and Jews we met, who are involved in working for unity, like Jessica, Nadal and Rima.

The living stones: Palestinians and others who live in the Holy Land at Nazareth, mainly young people: Laszlo our guide on the left on the second day.

How does one write about something, when simple words are not equal to the task in hand? That has been the challenge. One of our most notable visits was to Mount Tabor, the traditional site of the Transfiguration, and it was here that the Apostles were struck dumb by what they had seen and witnessed and Peter mumbled: “Lord it is good for us to be here….”  I would say the same about our experience. We did not see the Lord with his clothes as white as light, (Mt. 17:6), yet our hearts were burning within us, (Lk24;32), for our eyes had been opened in a way that went beyond expectations. It was good to have been there. 

From the start, Laszlo spoke about our visit being an experience of the ‘fifth gospel’ as the Holy Land is called, (i.e. the fifth way in which the good news (Gospel) comes to people); the fifth way to explain, or experience, what happened, and what is continuously happening as the Word becomes Flesh, spanning across human time and space.

A view of the hills of Galilee from Mount Tabor.

Once here, visiting these special places, one is struck, forcibly by the fields, sky, hills, the distances (very close, sometimes, as at the crucifixion and burial / resurrection sites), by the water, the desert, the River Jordan, and the tension among the people because of the politics; then there is the food, the fruit, the sun, the Sea of Galilee, the sites where monumental things happened.  One cannot help but be moved by the ‘living stones’ of the people who live there, and are trying to live ‘Love’, exemplified in the welcome from the community of Nazareth sisters and helpers in Galilee, the welcome from those running the Franciscan hostel in Bethlehem, and much more besides – all these contribute to that unmistakable sense of Jesus’ presence – i.e. the presence of something ‘beyond’, of God, and of his Spirit, who is ‘Love’. We had another ingredient, however, and that ingredient was the one that, for me, is absolutely necessary for a successful visit to the Holy Land. I have in mind the desire, of many of our group of pilgrims, to live always, wherever they are, with the presence of Jesus among them – all day long in their daily living, for “… where two or three are gathered in my name there am I in the midst of them” (Mt.18:20). And so, with that ingredient, mingled with the ‘fifth gospel’, it was no wonder the experience went beyond words. 

The start was a good omen. We arrived from England, on three different flights into Tel Aviv airport and this, itself, was joyful moment; once the company was all assembled, we set off for Nazareth in our coach, and the services of our friendly, expert driver, and a wonderful welcoming reception. Not only were the local people very friendly, but in each room, every person found a small present specially arranged for them:

First night in our rooms

We were all well aware that the local people, who gave us these presents, were not ‘well off’, but they went out of their way to ‘surround’ us with their love. Those who waited on us, at table, were very welcoming and friendly. On arrival, it was bitterly cold, much colder than the England we had left, yet each person’s room was equipped with a superb heater, which actually made the rooms almost too hot. We visitors really enjoyed our stay in Nazareth, the house situated just some 50 yards from the Basilica of the Annunciation. 

I think it is true to say that all of us were tired on arrival, as the journey from Britain had been a long one and most of us had had early starts, and so forth.  The very next day, we were due to go to Cana, the sit of the famous wedding where Jesus had turned the water into wine. The coach, we were told, was due to leave at 9.00 am.  One of our party, who was unable to hurry, could not make it for that time, yet this did not worry us at all. When this happened I thought, to myself, ‘goodness, how will we manage, if this is what will happen,’ as I had been to the Holy Land before, and knew the importance of being on time? In fact, although it might be difficult for some people to keep to the times of departure, throughout the whole seven days, we managed to do everything on schedule; the fact that a person, not having the same ability as another  to be on time, made no difference. 

Cana was special, in its own way, because of course, the story of the Gospel incident is used at many a wedding.  Somebody suggested that those who wished might renew their marriage vows, at this place. This we did, very simply; in fact all those, in vows, did the same. This was a good solid way to begin our time together, as it was spontaneous and ‘out of the blue’, but people much appreciated that moment.  In a way, it was just as much an experience, as of the water changing into wine.

Cana water jars – water into wine in seven of these!

Most of the group outside the Church of Cana in Galilee on the second day

We had more delights that day, with many more to follow on the remaining days of our pilgrimage. These, I hope to be able to describe later, God willing. Already, on this first day of our experiences, we felt a very united group. By the end, we really did feel that we had belonged to each other, in a close way, after having shared so much. One of our final photos was at Haifa, on the day we all caught our three respective planes back to England.

The eighth and last day at Haifa

I thank my readers for their expressed desire to read about in my most recent exploits in the Holy Land.  Truly, it has meant a great deal to me.  There is much still to recount, and relying on your continuing interest, I hope to be able to complete the story in the near future, perhaps in more than one instalment.

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The Resurrection:

During the Easter Season, Christian communities, everywhere, rejoice in the knowledge that Our Lord, Jesus Christ, overcame death and rose again to glory on Easter Sunday morning. Having been arrested after the Last Supper, an innocent man, he was tried and condemned to death; on Good Friday, he was led out to Calvary and crucified.  Later, when quite dead, he was taken down from the cross and his body placed in a tomb.  I began by using the word ‘rejoice’, and after the great sorrows of the previous days, there is no other word to describe the wonderful feelings of happiness as Jesus, manifest in the ‘Resurrection’, comes back to us alive and well.  Moreover, his Death and Resurrection give us – all of us who believe – that promise of life everlasting, that promise which takes us beyond the grave, beyond corruption, to our own resurrection to eternal life – a life of supreme happiness in heaven.  In my own simple view of life, this is something the whole human race is continually searching for, for without that promise of supernatural life, then the question must be raised as to, what is this life of ours, on earth, all about?

Many very learned, and famous people, have spent their lives asking, and seeking answers, to that very same question.  Among them, most certainly, was the composer Gustav Mahler.

On 6 August last year, I settled down in the evening, to listen to one of the Promenade Concerts, a Television broadcast by the BBC, from the Royal Albert Hall, in London.  This one, I thought would be something special, as there was just one work to be performed, Symphony No. 2 (The Resurrection) by Gustav Mahler. The work was to be performed by the Simon Bolivar Orchestra, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, with the National Youth Choir of Great Britain, and with two soloists, Miah Persson, (soprano) and Anna Larsson (mezzo-soprano).  In the event, I was not to be disappointed. 

I was no stranger to the work, which lasts for something like 100 minutes – a monumental piece of composing, involving a large symphony orchestra, two singers and a massive choir – as I have several recordings on CD, and have listened to these, over the years, whenever my mood was receptive to such great music.  The symphony was composed by Mahler in spasms of activity over a period of six years, mostly when he was able to relax and concentrate, in peace and tranquillity, at his summer retreat composing hut on the shores of Lake Attersee, at Steinbach am Attersee, Austria.

The Komponierhäuschen (composition hut) in Steinbach am Attersee

The symphony is in five movements, and in the last two, (movements four and five), Mahler combines the artistry of the human voice, (soloists and choir), with the symphony orchestra, in what can only be described as the composer’s search for the meanings that underlie life, death and the hereafter, (Auferstehung, meaning Resurrection). But, the value of listening to such a monumental piece, lies not only in the music created in the mind of the composer, but also in the words that are used by the soloists and choir, singing the verses in parts 4 and 5. 

The words used by the mezzo-soprano in the fourth movement are taken from an old German folk song and poem, ‘Des Knaben Wunderhorn: translated into English, they read: 

O red rose!

Man lies in greatest need!

Man lies in greatest pain!

How I would rather be in heaven.

There came I upon a broad path

when came a little angel and wanted to turn me away.

Ah no! I would not let myself be turned away!

I am from God and shall return to God!

The loving God will grant me a little light,

Which will light me into that eternal blissful life! 

Approximately half way through the fifth movement, the choir chorus enters quietly, and from then on, there is that glorious combination of choir, soloists and orchestra, taking the listener to heights he can only ever dream of – heights beyond this world – and into that of supernatural grace.  The words used here come in the first instance (the first few lines) from the poem, ‘Die Auferstehung’ by Friedrich Gottlieb, but the major part of what follows, beginning with the words, ‘O believe, my heart, O believe:’ were written by Mahler, himself.  Sung by the choir and the two soloists, I think they speak for themselves: 

Rise again, yes, rise again,

Will you My dust,

After a brief rest!

Immortal life! Immortal life

Will He who called you, give you.

To bloom again were you sown!

The Lord of the harvest goes

And gathers in, like sheaves,

Us together, who died.

O believe, my heart, O believe:

Nothing to you is lost!

Yours is, yes yours, is what you desired

Yours, what you have loved

What you have fought for!

O believe,

You were not born for nothing!

Have not for nothing, lived, suffered!

What was created

Must perish,

What perished, rise again!

Cease from trembling!

Prepare yourself to live!

O Pain, You piercer of all things,

From you, I have been wrested!

O Death, You masterer of all things,

Now, are you conquered!

With wings which I have won for myself,

In love’s fierce striving,

I shall soar upwards

To the light which no eye has penetrated!

Its wing that I won is expanded,

and I fly up.

Die shall I in order to live.

Rise again, yes, rise again,

Will you, my heart, in an instant!

That for which you suffered,

To God will it lead you!

Should you ever get the chance – and the right inclination – then take my advice and sit down, quieten yourself, turn up the volume and lose yourself in any great recording of this masterpiece; it will transport you out of this world, cross bridges, to heights only the mind and heart can comprehend. 

But, to return to my opening theme, Easter, the greatest feast of the Church’s year, gives each one of us the greatest promise and joy.  It says, clearly, to each and every one of us: “You can be sure of God’s great love – you can trust his word; God sent his Son to us, to suffer and to die for our sins, and to rise again, and bring us with him into life everlasting.”  That is God’s lasting promise – and he is always true to his word. 

Small wonder then, that great artists have displayed their greatest talents in endeavouring to represent what the Resurrection means to the human race. In this, I think, Gustav Mahler was no exception.


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