God of Power and Might…

A central part of the sanctus we sing on most Sundays is that 5-word phrase of acclamation to our great “God of Power and Might.”

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.

Most of the time, I manage to say or sing it with great zest, acknowledging this higher Power above all powers, so much mightier than even my silly stubbornness.

There are some days though, where this acknowledgment leaves me not just a bit uneasy, but resentful.

After all, if God is so all-fired powerful and mighty, how is it that this Good Lord so often seems to “choose to refuse” the use of that Power and Might?  Doesn’t God have a little more of that “P&M” to spare, to bring about maybe a little more healing in this world of suffering and hurt, both of individuals, and of nations?

Was Salieri mocked by God?

Was Salieri mocked by God?  (Are we?)

This nagging question first whacked me over the head in law school, courtesy of a movie that’s been rocking my spiritual boat for all the decades since.

In the 1984 Oscar-winning movie Amadeus, the popular and favored composer of 18th Century Austria was Antonio Salieri, not Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Salieri was the one invited to all the best dinners and parties. His operas had the biggest crowds. He was regularly given lavish praise and high recognition, and clearly was the “top dog” in the Emperor’s royal court of musicians.

This popular and likable Italian was grateful for such favor, and regularly and earnestly thanked God for his lofty position. He prayed, fervently and often, for even more good compositions to come from his hands to praise the Almighty (and yes, maybe to earn a little praise for himself, too).

The young and silly Wolfgang Mozart, on the other hand, was a sniveling immature brat who had undeniable and clear musical talent, but partied way too much and regularly offended folks with his crude behavior. He was best known for various “little trained monkey” tricks, begun as a small child while touring Europe with his over-bearing father. His musical compositions, to most folks of the Vienna in-crowd, were secondary to such things as playing the harpsichord blindfolded and backwards while hanging upside down.

Ah, but Salieri was not “most folks.”  The cruel irony of Amadeus, both in Peter Shaffer’s movie screenplay and his 1979 play, was that Salieri was “blessed” by God with just enough talent to know that — compared to Mozart — he had no talent at all. Salieri was the one person in all of Vienna who understood that it was Mozart’s music, not his, that contained the voice of God.

The most important “character” in Amadeus was the title character. “Amadeus” is Mozart’s middle name, yes, but it also Latin for “Loving God” and that title character was never seen or heard on screen or stage, but sure seemed to work behind the scenes.

Salieri could not comprehend why or how a “God of love” would choose such a babbling and ill-mannered flake over him to be the vessel through whom the most timeless music ever created would flow.  Not only was Salieri perplexed by God’s strange selection, he felt mocked by it. For less sophisticated ears, the rich complexity of Mozart’s brilliance was lost, but for Salieri (and only Salieri), young Mozart’s works were evidence of heaven itself. And because of that, he was in hell.

I am Salieri. And, I think, most Christians if they are truly honest, are as well, at least on some days.

Oh yes, I do sing praises to our “God of Power and Might” exclaiming that “Heaven and Earth are full of Your glory.” But at times those words come from my lips less with awe and praise than with bewilderment and bitterness, confusion and (at the worst times) contempt.

When the job offer goes to someone else less needy or less qualified, or the diagnosis comes back even worse than first feared, or a dear love is taken away, God’s “power” can seem either wholly impotent, or worse, cruelly apathetic. God’s choice to refrain from using “Power and Might” to change a clear injustice is something we can neither understand nor accept.

These are times when I have felt that my trust in God seems woefully misplaced and futile, if not downright stupid.

We all know of folks on the opposite end from Mozart, beloved creatures of the Divine who have been saddled — often from birth — with pitiful yokes of physical, mental and emotional handicaps. Why indeed does our great God endow some of His children with extraordinary gifts some of the time, while sadly shortchanging others so often? How do I, how can I, reconcile such knowledge with a faith in a Loving Creator?

We Salieri’s of this world must decide for ourselves whether this world’s unfairnesses are indications of divine mockery or Divine Love. Is it enough to answer that we may somehow learn to love more fully, through the presence of the suffering and incompleteness of others?

Even when (maybe especially when) I do not understand God’s choices, I am nonetheless led to conclude somehow that while there is at times unspeakable Evil and suffering in our lives, there is also inexplicable and undeserved Good as well. Even in the worst of situations, there is (Praise be to God, YES, there IS!!!) mercy and forgiveness and healing and selfless sacrifice in this world.  And all of it bound together, it seems to me, by a mysterious and relentless Love, that seeks us out and refuses to let us go.

I believe our God is a god of power and might.
I believe our God is a good god, full of Perfect Love.
I believe our God forgives me for my moments of rage and despair when I cannot reconcile those two things.

…bring us to that heavenly country

In the fullness of time, put all things in subjection under your Christ, and bring us to that heavenly country where, with all your saints, we may enter the everlasting heritage of your sons and daughters...

I’d like to think that the writers of the 1979 Prayer Book had Chapel Hill, N.C. specifically in mind as they labored over this part of Eucharistic Prayer B. That’s where I went to law school at the University of North Carolina in my late twenties, and where this “love for the liturgy” probably began. Like so many others who have come and gone, I hold Chapel Hill sacred. For me, just like my undergraduate alma mater of Davidson College, it is indeed “heavenly country.” And besides, Chapel Hill DOES have the nickname “Blue Heaven.” And it IS a well-documented theological fact that God is a Tar Heel…the sky being Carolina Blue and all.

But other than Chapel Hill or Davidson, what did the prayer writers intend — what to WE intend –when we pray about “that heavenly country”? What’s it like? Is it in fact an actual physical place in this universe? (When our entire galaxy is literally like a bread crumb in the Dean Dome, who can say what mysteries are held in its Vastness?) Or is “that heavenly country” more of a spiritual place? A sublime higher state of mind? All of the above?

…All questions of course way beyond my understanding — this side of Paradise.

What I DO know, without any hesitation or doubt or angst, is that I WANT there to be such a place. Its form and location matter little, so long as the promise is true. For if it is — IF it is — then nothing else really matters.