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It’s a witches’ cauldron: the Pandemic continues, PPE continues, sickness/death continue, numbers continue, experts continue, media continues. Questions thinned to the nub prick the malaise: Is this the new normal? Will life ever be the same? Have we lost it all?

Such an event dwarfs words, leaves unsavory tastes, stockpiles the many faces of grief within the psyche, and crowds everyone into liminal living, if aware of it or not. No amount of distraction can the mask the profound changes, already in place. Such may eventually spawn literary works, dance and musical performances, should there be sensitive artists to compose them.

Yet, history reveals other catastrophes and those who weathered them.

In 587 BCE, the Babylonian general Nebuzaraddan completed the destruction of Jerusalem, raised its Temple, and forced the Jewish elite into exile, leaving only farmers and the old to tend the land. Such devastation, however, caught the religious imagination of the prophet Jeremiah’s disciples who later composed the Book of Lamentations. With great pathos, they describe the mourning of the city and its people. Yet, their wholehearted repentance and unconquerable trust in God shine through the shards left askance atop each other.

Because of the conversion of life depicted in its five parts, Lamentations is a suitable response to any catastrophe: its truth assuages beleaguered spirits and breaks apart strictures that impede life’s development. If properly understood, such produces a new paradigm, far beyond the ordinary.

This is why our hearts are sick; this why our eyes are dim: because Mount Zion is desolate; jackals roam to and fro upon it. But you, Yahweh, you remain forever…Make us come back to you … Lamentations 5:19.

Put together a man with a humble spirit, who for eight years scrapped brilliant compositions until birthing his distinct voice, tintinnabuli (Latin for “little bells”)—and you will thrill with the Estonian genius of Arov Part. I had such an experience.

His Miserere (1992) presents an awesome response to the Coronavirus pandemic, together with a long look at the specter of death in our stunned psyches. Two liturgical hymns comprise this choral work: the Miserere, the great penitential Psalm 51, and the Sequence Dies Irae, found in the Roman Catholic Mass of the Dead. Part’s intimacy with the living Word of God shimmers in each note of the score.

As the piece opens, five soloists implore repeatedly for mercy, accompanied by woodwinds and percussion. Pregnant pauses for reflection follow, slowly building toward thundering drumrolls: Catastrophe has struck—monumental shuddering follows in its wake. With its resolution, the choir ascends to radiant heights over the deep-throated resonance of the organ, tam-tam, and bell. Then it’s over. Earth knows peace.

We open our eyes and blink, then breathe. Mercy’s sweetness enfolds us within humble silence, until the next wave of grief… and the next theophany—the story of our lives.



It was eerie: emptiness discomfited me, gnarled at the crusts of my innards, and scraped barnacles from my imagination while the sun-drenched afternoon toasted new budding on the snowflake viburnum outside my study window.

No parents walking their kids home from the elementary school in the next block, no service trucks plying their trades, no deliveries from UPS or FedEx changing gears on our court, no tools whirring or hammering changes into the power lines or landscape.

As a solitary dog-walker trudged up the hill, her chest heaving, a creeping emptiness knifed my sense of life.

I sat in my wing-back chair, closed my eyes, and waited. I remained uneasy and surrendered. Yet, a new courage emboldened me to listen. Within the emptiness an uncanny sense of the Sacred emerged, a wisdom not found in human discourse or books. This was something else.

It hurt: one of the faces of grief.

Yet, a wise potter once said, “We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds what we want.”

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