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COLUMN: ‘Everybody has an agenda’

A statue of Joan of Arc in the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
A statue of Joan of Arc in the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

DRAWING ON THE ARTS by Magdalena Randal

This afternoon, here in Paris, I was yearning for a priestess from Pictou. Vivi Chediac moves between the churches of Nova Scotia with the kind of grace and ease that many of the young Jesuits I am studying theology with aspire to. She shares her vision of our sacred reality through her way with music.

I know this from having attended some of the concerts the Carillon Singers have presented under her direction. (Sometimes she also came to my local parish to tune up our choir!)

Like so many musicians I know, she has a religious devotion to her art. And here in Paris she came to mind while I was attending a panel discussion on art at an old church that has been converted into a cultural centre. There, up on the stage were four people: one painter, one video artist, a writer and a musician. They had been invited to speak about how faith informs their work.

The painter talked a lot about how hard it is to sell enough pictures. The writer said it was pointless to write anything unless a lot of people read it. The video artist talked so much I can’t remember what she said.

So I was yearning for Vivi’s way of expressing her gift by just doing it: singing and helping others sing. I was craving her reassuring presence. She has a way of offering her attention like many great teachers: she listens more than she speaks. So her words really resonate.

“Everybody has an agenda” she once reminded me when I was concerned over a misunderstanding… then she quickly turned me back to the music we were focused on together. She was giving me an impromptu singing lesson that I am still learning from.

My craving and yearning here in Paris were eventually satisfied by the actions of the musician on the panel. When it was his turn to discuss his “way” he simply thanked everyone for being present then excused himself saying, "I must go make music for a concert."

In turn, I thank you for reading this little reflection. Now I must tend to the vision that people like Vivi have helped me come to, an agenda of sorts: Here in Paris, at the Notre Dame Cathedral there is a statue of Joan of Arc nestled in a corner by one of the entrances near the altar. Seeing her in her armour, bathed in gold light always gives me hope. It also frustrates me. Her statue begs the rest of her story… imagine that statue coming to life.

Join me in imagining the great vaulted space where so many men have stood to tell us why and how to pray. Witness Joan moving from her corner to head for the lectern. I can see her vividly. She takes off her helmet. She begins singing. A stream of other priestesses arrive through the door she has stood sentinel by for so long.

What might the men in charge do? Perhaps someday soon we will find out. And when that day comes I’ll let you know.

For now, here is the song I hear Joan singing. It is a universal prayer written by another humble human being, our Canadian prophet, Leonard Cohen. Thanks to the cathedral of the internet you can hear the music here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHMxKgNbATo

or perhaps you’ll find your own tune for this prayer…

 

Don't really have the courage

To stand where I must stand.

Don't really have the temperament

To lend a helping hand.

 

Don't really know who sent me

To raise my voice and say:

May the lights in The Land of Plenty

Shine on the truth some day.

 

I don't know why I come here,

Knowing as I do,

What you really think of me,

What I really think of you.

 

For the millions in a prison,

That wealth has set apart –

For the Christ who has not risen,

From the caverns of the heart –

 

For the innermost decision,

That we cannot but obey –

For what's left of our religion,

I lift my voice and pray:

May the lights in The Land of Plenty

Shine on the truth some day…."

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