Every October my life is marked by the paradox of vitality and fatigue. The school year begins in interminable summer heat which a friend recently described as “Satan’s armpit.” The busyness of the school year careens at a questionable pace. When October begins, the heat relents, and I am reminded that the world is a beautiful place after all. Though pine needles and oak leaves do not change color, the light does—I am captivated all month by the ever-changing golden sunlight. It is when I long to stop time, and, of course, October moves faster than any other month. The fatigue of school beginnings collides with the energy of fall beauty.
Thus, last weekend’s CiRCE Regional Conference title was an apt one: Lift Up Your Hearts. As I hear this phrase, my heart glides into the liturgy, responding, “We lift them up to the Lord.” Then, the priest, singing, summons the body to give thanks. I recently discovered that the Roman Catholic response is slightly different from the one to which I am accustomed: “It is right and just.” It is just to lift up our hearts. It is just to give Him thanks and praise.
In The Republic, Plato speaks of justice as doing one’s business. There are three classes of society—the counselors, auxiliaries, and traders—and each person in each class must do his business for a just society. Likewise, there are three parts of the soul— reason, spirit, and appetite—and when each part of a man’s nature does its work, he will be just. Studying The Merchant of Venice this term, justice has been at the forefront of my mind. At co-op the day that I left for the conference, I read the beginning of Act IV with my 7th-9th grade students. We discussed the pleas that the Duke, Bassanio, and Gratiano made to Shylock to forfeit his right to collect Antionio’s flesh which was, in his mind, just.
This same day, our study of Giotto led us to his painting, Justice. Justice is in Scrovegni Chapel in Padua where an outwardly humble chapel is inwardly resplendent with Giotto’s masterpieces. The arena chapel houses a series of 39 paintings, beginning with Joachin’s Offering Rejected by the High Priest and ending with The Descent of the Holy Spirit. Underneath this arrangement, a series of paintings of the seven virtues face the heavenly side of the great fresco, while their opposing vices face the depiction of hell. Interestingly, Justice is depicted as larger than any of the other virtues. Her large frame rests upon a throne, her face beautiful and serene. In one hand she holds a small figure, Clemency, and in the other, Punishment. The faintest of tracing in the background depicts a scale balancing these two figures. Underneath Lady Justice is a frieze of townspeople, rejoicing. Submitted to justice, each does his business. Submitted to justice, their hearts are lifted up.
For justice, Plato looks not to the courts, but to music. Music is also tripartite, composed of lyrics, melody, and rhythm. Plato teaches that music harmonizes the soul: “rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace…and with a true taste, while he praises and rejoices over and receives into his soul the good, and becomes noble and good, he will justly blame and hate the bad, now in the days of his youth, even before he is able to know the reason why.”
My children spend more time on music than any other area of formal study. They play the violin, study music theory, and participate in orchestra. We do this because I intellectually assent to Plato. But I cannot say that I have consciously experienced the harmonizing effect of music (not music without lyrics, anyway)…until this weekend. If you have not seen John Hodges experience and explain music with his whole being, I assure you that this alone is worth the price of a CiRCE conference ticket. In a plenary session on wonder, he played a portion of the second movement of Brahms’ German Requiem. As I listened, the swelling ¾ time of the march transported me back to my years in Ukraine. In the post-Soviet Transcarpathian region, marriage belonged to the state, but death belonged to God. I remember watching Orthodox funeral processions, bannered and black, down long stretches of rural roads. It seemed meet and right so to do – the way that death ought to die. When my father died two years ago, the South responded with casseroles, not catharsis. Brahms’ Requiem is the sort of funeral we ought to have but do not. No matter. God is not bound by time, His created thing, and in listening to the swelling and release, my soul was beyond time, too. At that moment, as Mr. Hodges explained that movement of the Requiem, my father had the funeral that he ought to have had. At that moment, my soul was harmonized. My heart was lifted up, giving thanks to the Lord, our God. And this is right and just.