I was in New York last week to attend a met performance of Der Rosenkavalier with music by Richard Strauss and libretto by Hugo von Hofmanstal. The opera is written from a woman's perspective, and tells the story of a woman in her thirties who gives up her younger lover so that he can marry a woman his own age with whom he has fallen in love. It contains what one commentator called the greatest love song of the millenium, a trio in which the older women relinquishes her right to her lover, and the young man and woman speak their love for each other. Both sacrificial love and erotic love come together here. In fact the whole opera is about love, erotic love that becomes sacrificial love and erotic love that hopefully will mature into something deeper than erotic love. A comic character appears who represents someone who cannt get beyond erotic love alone in his relationships with women. There is also the theme of how we deal with the passage of time and how we let go as time passes. The older woman tells us that there is nothing that we can really hold on to. Religion receives a respecful nod in the libretto.
Sadly with all the wisdom and beauty of the opera, there would be some who would be scandalized by it. The older woman and the younger man begin the opera in bed together (though they are well clothed.) And the young man is played by a woman, a nod to Mozart's operas and a reflection of the first performances of Shakespear's plays. So at the beginning of the opera there are actually two women together in bed and showing affection for each other. I should add here that because women play the three principal roles, the great trio in the last act, the great love song, is a profound and tear-inducing blend of three female voices.
Social conservatives are so focused on their issues that they miss the greater matters of life, and they do not understand love in all its manifestations and possibilities. In the Church, they would ban the place of gay men and lesbian women in Holy Orders even if they are doing no harm, even if they are contributing to the coming of the Kingdom of God, even if they are loving their neighbor. Some misplaced sense of purity for social conservatives outweighs the actual doing of the will of God in this broken and fallen world. And they are so focused on erotic love that they cannot see the mature love that develops in committed gay and lesbian couples and spills over into the community and into ministry. In fact, the ability to love another intimately and fully in both an erotic and sacrificial sense is a great foundation to serving the church and the world. We should not be ashamed if Jesus had a special relationship with Mary Magdalene, and we should rejoice that the Reformation reaffirmed the right of clergy to marry.
During intermission at Der Rosenkavalier I wrote the following verses:
A love that loves but still lets go,
What greater does the Bible know.
Friday, October 2, 2009
During the whole first act of the opera Die Miestersinger von Nurnburg, Hans Sachs simply listens. Only in the second act does he speak/sing. And when he does so, it with understanding, healing, and compassion. Too much of what passes for conversation on the issues of the day, whether they be political or theological, is defensive sloganering. That happens because no one is listening with the intent of understanding the other and respecting the integrity of the other. All people are made in the image of God and that image is amazingly diverse, colorful and creative. We do well to give others a fair hearing so long as they are reasonably sane and thoughtful. Most people are. How happier and peaceful our world would be if we could live together as we are not as someone else wants us to be. It is possible when we realize that is only when we give in to our fallen, self-indulgent nature that prevents us from living and caring as God wills us to do.