This week, several parishioners and I embarked on a “mini-pilgrimage” to the Cloisters in the City. Though I loved many parts of the Cloisters, I found that I was most drawn to a sound installation by Janet Cardiff of The Forty Part Motet. Cardiff positioned forty high-fidelity speakers on stands in a large oval in the middle of the Fuentidueña Chapel. The motet is a reworking of the forty-part motet Spem in alium (which translates as “In No Other Is My Hope,”) by Thomas Tallis. One part is played in each speaker in the room, and if you stand in the center and close your eyes, you can almost imagine yourself sitting in the chancel of a Cathedral listening to those beautiful voices. And because the speakers are setup in the Chapel, which features the late twelfth-century apse from the church of San Martín at Fuentidueña, near Segovia, Spain, you really can transport yourself into sacred beauty of the music.
Part of what I loved about the installation was the way in which it froze me in my path. No longer was I ready to hustle through the exhibits – instead I was transfixed in one place, just listening. And even more strange was that I was not the only one – the whole room was filled with people just standing and listening to the incredible sound. I was fascinated by the way such beautiful music held us captive, arresting our attention.
As I venture into Advent, I wonder how we might hold on to that sense of arrested attention on God. Advent is a season often co-opted by the world around us. I can count countless secular things that send us into a flurry – buying gifts, decorating houses, hosting and attending parties, and generally running around chaotically. But our sacred worlds can keep us just as busy. I know that in our parish during the month of December we have an Annual Meeting, a Bishop’s Visit, our 50th Anniversary Gala, the decorating our church with greens, and the flurry of Christmas worship services.
Our invitation this week might be to find small ways to commit arrested attention to God. Maybe our way will be simply stopping for a prayer. Maybe our way will be dropping everything we had planned and stopping to visit with an elderly person, with someone who is sick, or with a child. Or maybe it is a more intentional commitment to being fully present wherever you are – putting aside the other forty things that also need to be done immediately, and just giving yourself over to the task or experience at hand fully. If we can isolate our attention, and arrest our harried selves, maybe we can find our way back to the God who loves us and simply wants a bit of our arrested attention too.