It snowed on Thursday night, blanketing Mount Diablo here in the Bay Area. Somehow, it seemed a good way to begin Lent, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The snow will melt, to be sure, just as our bodies will decompose when we make the great crossing into Heaven.
Thursday night our beloved Archbishop entered Eternity after a long battle with cancer. No wonder the world around our house became frozen and cold. He is no longer with us.
Archbishop Upham was in the right place at the right time for those of us who are part of the Anglican Province of Christ the King. God does this again and again, creating individuals with unique talents that, when offered to him, are key players in the battle of good and evil in our world. I have seen so many instances of this occurring, mostly unnoticed, but as I age I notice more and more. Patterns weave into greater tapestries of meaning and sense.
Our Archbishop was a quiet and thoughtful priest with an inner strength that was almost palpable, characteristics that inspired trust in what he said and did. He became a full time priest after a career in music education and happened to be at the right place and the right time to steer our Anglican ark into calmer waters, having been tossed about in recent storms. He was solid and he was faithful. He listened to God and tried to do God’s will. He understood, as one does if one prays, right from wrong, truth versus lies. He had a vision of how things should be and he wasn’t afraid to witness to that vision.
Archbishop Upham had many talents, but one I loved was his singing voice, a deep melodic sound that, when he visited our university chapel in Berkeley, resounded through the vaulted space, soared above the altar and touched the medieval crucifix suspended above.
It is a curious thing that the afternoon of the day he died I was corresponding with the bishop who was looking after him in Raleigh, North Carolina, about adding a name to our seminary email list, a request that had just come into my mailbox. I ended my email to our bishop/registrar with, please give Archbishop Upham my love. I hope he did. A few hours later John Upham left us, released from his earthly pain and sorrow and struggles. He knows now how we all loved him.
And here, in California, it snowed on the mountain that night, in honor of Archbishop Upham’s life and witness.
Perhaps this is the music of the mountain I am writing about in my novel-in-progress. Perhaps we are the music of the mountain, the voice of love, the deep resonating assurance of God’s love for us. We harmonize together, creating a symphony of sound that could not be sung alone.
What is music? It’s the perfect ratio that brings beauty into our ears, rhythm into our step and beat into our heart. We are musical creatures, you and I, chords joined together to create something larger than any one of us could create.
Our Archbishop knew this, and as he directed his choir of bishops sitting on the Council of Bishops, they saw they could make music too. And so those of us in the pews hear the notes and make them our own. We sing in unison the great and profound words of our musical tradition, telling the story, singing the story of God’s love for us. We face the altar, singing to the Real Presence of Christ, as his Body the Church, and as his Bride.
It seems right that our Archbishop died on the other side of Ash Wednesday. We pick up where he left off, sing the tune he was singing. We join our voices as we travel the road through Lent to the Passion and to Easter. It is a stony road through this season of late winter and early spring, with these lengthening days, and we must learn to avoid the sharp edges, as we sing the words of penance and rebirth.
It is raining now, a steady cold rain greening our hills. As I return to The Music on the Mountain I shall give thanks for the music in my heart, soul, and mind, the harmony of love. For love turns ash into green grass, death into life. It is love that sings to us, calling us to be faithful, to be brave, to witness to who we are and who we are meant to be. It is love that tells us, in the last days, fear not, all is grace.