Friday, April 6, 2018

Glimpsing Heaven on Earth

Last Sunday night, I watched the television live concert performance of  Jesus Christ Superstar featuring Brandon Victor Dixon, John Legend, Sara Bareilles and many other very talented musicians. I was touched and inspired by the music and hearing the entire musical. Like all of you, I knew the story. I was moved to tears by a song sung by Mary Magdalene (Sara Bareilles) and the Disciple Peter (Jason Tam) called "Could We Start Again Please." It is sung first by Mary and then by Peter, after Jesus has been arrested but before his crucifixion. It is a song about wanting a second chance, a common theme for us human beings. The lyrics are:
Mary:"I've been living to see you
Dying to see you but it shouldn't be like this
This was unexpected
What do I do now
Could we start again please?
I've been hopeful so far
Now for the first time I think we're going wrong
Hurry up and tell me this is just a dream
Oh, could we start again please?"

Peter: "I think you've made your point now
You've even gone a bit too far to get the message home
Before it gets too frightening
We ought to call a halt
So could we start again please?"
 Evidently this number was in the original Broadway play. I must not have been ready to hear its beauty because I don't remember it at all. (And we used the music from Superstar every year for many years as our Palm Sunday message and experience.) On Sunday evening, this performance was definitely a place where I experienced the divine. I heard God. I saw God. The relative and the Absolute were dancing through each other.

When I contemplate how Jesus' disciples must have felt when he was arrested, beaten, tortured and crucified, my heart breaks. Moreover, I think there is a universal sense of wanting a "do-over," when we realize that our relationships, or our circumstances, are heading toward an ending that we didn't anticipate or desire. (I believe this is the genius of lyricists like Tim Rice, who was able transform our opinion about Judas, the synonym for betrayal as well as elicit feelings of empathy for Jesus,  Mary Magdalene and the rest of the disciples.) We know the power of words to transform. The right and perfect music helps deliver the message.

I recently read an interesting article by  Eric Weiner, who introduced me to "Thin Places." He says, "Thin places are locales where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we are able to catch glimpses of the divine, or the transcendent or, as I like to think about it, the Infinite Whatever." He went on to explain that thin places are places in which one would have an experience of non-sequential time. Some people describe it as an intensity, not necessarily tranquil, where the power and the beauty of the Divine are experienced. He writes that in thin places we "are jolted out of old ways of seeing the world."

In his article in the New York Times, Weiner mentions places  like Iona, a small island off  the western coast of Scotland. He also mentions sacred sites like St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, and the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. But he stated that thin places may be something as conventional as an airport. He states that not everybody will feel the sacred in his "thin places." In fact the same place may seem thick to another person. He concludes his article with the idea that perhaps the whole world is thin and that we are too thick to recognize it. He concludes: "Maybe thin places offer glimpses of heaven on earth as it really is, unencumbered. Unmasked."

Last Sunday I glimpsed heaven on earth watching Jesus Christ Superstar. If you saw it, let me know how you felt about it.