Missa Mirabilis: Doubt as an Act of Worship

Missa Mirabilis: Doubt as an Act of Worship April 7, 2012

Tonight (actually, yesterday by the time I am posting this) I went to hear a concert at the Hilbert Circle Theater featuring the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir. The centerpiece of the concert was the world premiere of Stephen Hough’s mass, “Missa Mirabilis,” as arranged for choir and orchestra. The composer was present, and in fact was the soloist on the final piece of the concert, Mendelssohn’s G minor piano concerto, which he performed phenomenally. Also on the program were Haydn’s Symphony No. 30 in C Major “Alleluja” and Brahms’ Gesang der Parzen, op.89.

The music represented interesting pairings for a Good Friday concert: a symphony with motifs derived from Easter music, a mass exploring not only faith but doubt, and the “Song of the Fates” reflecting Greek religious views mediated via Goethe.

I had read some of the composer’s notes about the Missa Mirabilis, and so was expecting it to be at the very least interesting and engaging, particularly the Credo section, which Hough describes as reflecting interaction between faith and doubt.

But I did not only find it musically or conceptually or even theologically interesting and provocative.

I found it to be a spiritual experience.

The different voices go back and forth between a lower male intonation of the Latin text of the Nicene Creed (in what at times seemed a genuine ritual tone, at others a parody there) and female voices responding – at times almost shouting – “credo” – i.e. “I believe.”

It struck me that doubt, far from being irreverent, can itself be an act of worship. The very act of asking what meaning there is to existence, of hesitating to affirm traditional “sacred truths, of doubting and questioning, can reflect a genuine puzzlement about and thus taking profoundly seriously of the big questions in life.

If one intones the words of the creed unthinkingly, with mindless acceptance, that is a far less profound, far less serious, far less spiritual response to the mysterious, puzzling, deep character of reality and of our place in the universe.

I doubt, therefore I am. And as I doubt, thereby I worship.

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