Friday, April 22, 2011

Book Review: 'Echoes from Calvary,' excellent meditation for Good Friday
by Peter Menkin

This was a timely review when I first wrote it in 2005:

I found “Echoes from Calvary” by way of an article in The San Francisco Chronicle by a writer named Peter Steinfels under the label “Beliefs.” It says as headline, “Haydn’s music on Christ’s last words, a transforming journey from concert hall to sacred setting.” The book is a text of meditations and is titled “Echoes from Calvary: Meditations on Franz Joseph Haydn’s The Seven Last Words of Christ.” This lovely book has 2 CDs, the complete performance with the spoken word and one CD with music only. One intriguing part of the book is the first which goes through the musical and spiritual journey of the man who put all this together, a musician named Richard Young.

Now I think this is a heavy kind of reading, for it is a Good Friday text–so why at Easter time. That’s when I read it. I am interested in the resurrection, from a religious viewpoint, and of course the entry way is Holy Week and Good Friday. There you have my reason.

Richard Young’s spiritual journey is very well done and interesting, as a kind of personal statement that has worthwhile reflection. It sounds like it should. As for the Easter part, there is a hopeful dimension to this book, and I am finding it sometimes dark and sometimes light. I find myself reflecting on the words as they are offered in the homily like meditations. The first CD has meditations by Martin Luther King Jr., Martin E. Marty, Raymond E. Brown, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Grover A. Zinn, Andrew M. Greeley, Peter J. Gomes and others.

There is an evident fact of the work. One cannot help but be moved by both the divinity of Christ and the human nature of the man. This is a respectful book, as one might expect and I think it is full of hope. These are meditations of the heart for Good Friday and Holy Week. Through the music and the text of meditations, one follows the Christ and knows something of his spirit. It is also a good exercise or series of examples of meditations by different writers who are clergy, giving one a taste of their own depths with each of the last words.

The words: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” “Surely, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” “Woman, behold your son!” “Behold your mother!” “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” “I thirst.” “It is finished!” “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” And some meditations on “The Earthquake.”

Richard Young carries his theme of words and music even further than one would expect, and happily so for this reader. (I am not well educated when it comes to music, but I found his study understandable and helpful. Even inspiring to a non music person.) At the end of the book, in an educational and instructive way that interacts with listening to Haydn, he writes of the music only, and there is a CD with only the music for his very purposes. I want to recommend this lovely book, with its elegant layout and design, to anyone interested in meditations on the last words of Christ, or wanting to come closer to knowing this man Jesus who is divine–a book for Christians.

This review recently appeared in Church of England Newspaper, London (one week prior to Holy Week 2011).

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