The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Fable of the Fair Cloth

Today, the Episcopal Diocese of New York celebrated the ministry of our retiring bishop Mark Sisk. The celebration took the form of a festal Eucharist with choir and musical offerings by two of the artists in residence at the Cathedral of St. John of the Divine.the inimitable Judy Collins, and Paul Winter (of whom I'd often heard, but had never heard until today).

A minor note, but important for me: as a postulant, this was the first time I have ever processed with the clergy of the diocese, among the seminarians, in cassock and surplice. It was a wonderful experience, chatting with the seminarians and my fellow diaconal postulants, seeing my friends among the clergy, and being welcomed to the fold.

Bishop Sisk's sermon was a combination of gentle thanks for all who had contributed to his episcopacy, and personal reflections, gathered around two anecdotes. One of them, especially, resonated with me. As the Bishop told the story, one day, as he stood at the High Altar in the Cathedral, he noticed that the fair cloth had a gash in it, which had been painstakingly, delicately stitched back together. Curious, the Bishop made inquiries, and found out that some years before, a mentally disturbed man had come into the Cathedral, and had hacked at the altar, through the fair cloth. The Bishop compared the Church to the fair cloth--torn, but still beautiful, rent, but still performing its function.

A little later, Judy Collins stood during the passing of the peace, and walked to the same pulpit where the bishop had spoken. In her remarks, she said that the bishop's story about the fair cloth had reminded her of Leonard Cohen's song Anthem, and its lyric, "There's a crack in everything/that's how the light gets in." She sang the 1860s hymn (as reworked by Pete Seeger, and, apparently, two of his neighbors whose names have been forgotten), "How can I Keep From Singing." Then, "because we need it, in these times," led us in singing "Amazing Grace." She sang it a cappella, in the supernally clear, melodious voice that has occupied a place in my heart since I was a child, and we sang it with her.

You can get something of the flavor of the moment here; though the video is nearly 40 years old, the singer sounds very much the same (although she knew her audience--no effort to get us to do harmony!)

Paul Winter sent us out after the Eucharist and the last hymn with his "Sun Singer," which he performed in conjunction with the Cathedral organist. The piece was well chosen, I think; with the organ accompaniment, it had just the right valedictory feel to mark the celebration of what has been, in the breathing space between that and what is to come.

Taken all in all, a good day.

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