Sacred Music: Simple Song

I had the opportunity to sing in the chorus for a performance of Leonard Bernstein’s MASS when I was a senior in high school. As a young person I had no idea what a big deal this was–Bernstein’s MASS is hugely controversial and rarely performed because of its enormity. And while this was all lost on me, I found that the music spoke to a part of me that I could not articulate. This piece of music and theater is joyful in its celebration of life and God. But MASS does not shy away from the cognitive dissonance of an ostensibly loving God and the reality human anguish. Indeed, one of the more controversial aspects of MASS is its unapologetic confrontation of God.

As a good Mormon girl, both the music and text were mind blowing to me, I had no idea that you could approach God with such dissonance. But MASS also spoke truth to my soul. Somehow I knew that any god worth worshipping was also vital enough to withstand my questions and sometimes anger.

The piece which I have highlighted here, Simple Song, is at the very beginning of the MASS. It is sung by the celebrant who begins the piece with a simple and pure faith but struggles to maintain his faith as he becomes more aware of the suffering, corruption and evil around him. I feel like my own testimony has taken a similar journey. When I performed the MASS as a young woman my faith was also simple but since that time I have gone through a long dark night of the soul. It has been difficult to reconcile my early faith and spiritual experiences with the perceived absence of God from my life. I have spent years being angry that despite my efforts, God was silent.

I have found recently, however, that my simple faith is returning. I am not blind to the hardships of mortality but I also feel as though my decade long  struggle with God has softened, not scarred, my heart. In that place of rawness a feeling of gratitude has sprouted. I may never have the powerful faith that we as Mormons are expected to have but I am finding joy in lifting up my eyes to the God.

For the Lord is my shade.

All of my days.

Mraynes

Mraynes lives in downtown Denver with her husband and four children. She spends her time lobbying at the Colorado Legislature, managing all the things and preparing Gospel Doctrine lessons.

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3 Responses

  1. Laurel Christensen says:

    Mraynes, I’ve been following your posts for a long time and I’ve always loved them. I’d forgotten how beautiful this piece by Bernstein was and I love your analysis.

    “I am not blind to the hardships of mortality but I also feel as though my decade long struggle with God has softened, not scarred, my heart.” I think, and hope, that this is happening for me as well. Thankful to have smart women like you to share the journey with.

  2. Alison Taylor says:

    I also fell in love with this piece as a young person. I have sung it several times in sacrament meetings over the years.

  3. Patty says:

    Gorgeous piece of music! I love it! Thanks for sharing it and your thoughts.

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