by Smuts van Rooyen | 11 July 2020 |
A simpleton once asked a choreographer what her dance meant. She replied, if I could say it in words, I would not have said it with motion. The essence of her rebuke was that there are languages of the heart that surpass mere logic and must not be muddled with words. Art speaks in its own terms.
But I am a foolish man specializing in a foolish art, namely, preaching. I do exactly what I should not do, I meddle with words in matters that are beyond words. So it is with apologies to Camille Saint-Saëns that I verbalize what I felt in his music.
I do not recall when I first heard Saint-Saëns’ 2nd Piano Concerto and began to understand its mystery for myself. Here is what happened. As the pianist played the magnificent work, I had a distinct sense that the composer had given the left hand playing the bass clef the specific task of asking disturbing questions that probed the absurdity of our existence. Under his deft fingers low notes rolled out in confrontation, demanding answers of the right hand. The questions were strong, primal, unanswerable. The treble hand responded with frenetic, yes, frantic movement, seeking to neutralize the powerful undercurrent of inquiry from the left with rapid staccato and virtuoso. The rapid answers, however, were not satisfying, but seemed to me to be no more than futile exclamations of painful anguish.
The pianist’s hands continued to argue back and forth until in mutual agitation they reached a profound crescendo. And here at this magnificent height the argument was suddenly and dramatically broken by a gasping pause, a pause for breath, a pause for sense. And in the weight of that pause the right hand forcefully struck a single G. It was a haunting, golden G, filled with resolution. It was a G I wanted to drink down again. It was a G that for one incredible moment removed the tension of life and gratified my soul. And when the tensile argument resumed its fury I understood that even one entity, one living thing, one single person standing alone against the world for just one brief moment is of stunning significance.
In the Garden
When Mary Magdalene came to the tomb of Jesus the bass clef of her life was already asking urgent questions. Why, God, did you forsake him and let him die? How could you allow the horror of the cross? How could such a superlative life collapse into ashes? Where is the promised hope of Israel? Where were you? And although the treble clef of her soul answered from the fullness of her splendid love, it seemed to be no more than futile pretension. “I will make death better,” she said. “I will rub sweet smelling oil on his leathery dead skin, I will wash his face this one last time, and then remember him as long as I live!”
But even so fragile an expression of love would be denied her, for when she arrived at the tomb to salve his body, he was not there. There was nothing for her love to anoint! Now the painful panic of the broken believer overtook her and she fled into the dew wet of the garden crying, “They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have put him!” In her confusion and loss she ran headlong into the risen Lord but mistook him for the gardener.
“Sir, if you have taken my Lord away, please tell me where you have laid him, and I will go and get him,” she sobbed. And at that desperate moment Jesus looked into her frightened eyes and struck a single golden G. A haunting, beautiful, golden G. “Mary!” he said. One word. One note. Just her name, “Mary!”
And she knew it was Jesus. He was not dead. He was alive! It was he, for he had spoken her name. Spoken it as he had a hundred times before. But now he spoke it from beyond the grave, from the far side of death. Now it was a resurrected name hanging in the silence of the fragrant garden, and, in that pause, the frantic music of her soul resolved to meaning in a single golden G. She had eternal life!
Smuts van Rooyen is a retired pastor living in Central California. He holds an M.Div. and a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from Andrews University. His ministry was divided between teaching undergraduate religion and pastoring. He retired as the pastor of the Glendale City Church. He has been married to Arlene for a long time.