Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Choose life

"Life is either a darling adventure, or it is nothing."
-- Helen Keller

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

How to Handle Tough Times: Learning to Master Life

This essay by Norman Vincent Peale appeared in Guideposts magazine.

Every person has a unique problem, and it’s a rather tough one. The problem is life. If you don’t know what you’re going to do with life, life will do something to you.

Either you master life or life masters you. It’s just that simple.

Whatever problems you may be facing, you can solve them if you trust yourself and believe in your abilities. If you don’t have the know-how, you can get it. If you lack the insight, you can find it. If you don’t have the wisdom, you can obtain it. As long as you are alive, you can do something about your problems.

Dr. Norman Vincent Peale once told the story about the day that crowds on the streets of an English cathedral town were going about their daily business when suddenly someone spotted a young woman standing on a narrow ledge high above, on one of the towers of the cathedral. A great crowd gathered below, hushed and horrified.

Policemen climbed the tower and attempted to bring her down. A minister came and talked with her. But, after some 30 minutes, she flung herself from the tower down to the street. No one ever found out what problems had driven her to that desperate act. But there is one thing she either didn't know, or couldn't comprehend, and that is the powerful truth that, for every problem, there is an answer.

"That's great," you may say, "but how do you get it?" Here are three positive action steps you can take to tackle tough problems.

1. Think deep thoughts.
How long has it been since you've really thought deeply? Deep thinking is one of the most painful exertions known to man. We shrink from it. We like to be relieved of it so we think off the top of our heads.

But the trouble with those thoughts is that they remain superficial. John Burroughs, one of our great naturalists, once said that there were just two classes of people. He wasn’t referring to men and women, young and old or rich and poor. The two classes he saw were the "quick" and the "dead."

By the "quick," he meant people who look at the world and see it; people who listen to the world and hear it. The quick are people who are sensitized to the world around them; they get the meaning of the world. They are alive, alert and vibrant.

As for the "dead, while they aren't dead physically, they are insensitive. They never grapple with ideas or try new ways of doing things. They are dead in the spirit, living only superficially.

Thus, one step towards learning to solve your problems is to take the time to think about it, contemplate it and “feel out” various possible solutions.

2. Clear your mind.
Dr. Norman Vincent Peale once related a story that happened during the Korean War. An American destroyer lay at anchor in Wonsan Harbor, Korea, on a still, moonlit night. The tide was ebbing and it was around midnight.

The quartermaster was making his routine rounds of the ship, when he suddenly noticed a cylindrical black object in the water. He immediately realized that it was a live contact mine that must have broken loose from a mine field. And it was slowly drifting toward midship. The quartermaster seized the intercom and called the duty officer, who came dashing to the scene with the captain.

A general alarm was sounded, and the whole ship burst into action. The officers and men viewed the mine that was approaching ever closer. Quickly, they considered what could be done. Could they pull up anchor? No, they didn't have time. Could they start the engines and swing the ship around? No, because the propeller wash would only suck the mine in faster. Could they explode it by gunfire? No, that would not work because of the proximity to the ship's magazine. Could they launch a boat and push it away? That was ruled out, for it was a contact mine. Seemingly, there was nothing to do but to alert the officers and men to brace themselves for a catastrophe.

However, among the men on deck was an ordinary seaman who outthought all his superiors. "Get the fire hoses!" he cried. What a simple, practical idea. They played a stream of water between the ship and the mine so that it created a current that moved the mine out a safe distance, where they then could destroy it with gunfire.

So what did that seaman have that none of the others had? First, it was clarity of mind. Nothing was confusing his thought processes. No tension or inner conflict inhibited his mental powers. As a result, he was able to think in a crisis, and he produced a creative solution to a tough problem.

The human mind is so constituted that if you focus your attention on a problem, keeping yourself calm and your mind unruffled, and if you maintain faith in God and firmly believe that you’re going to get an answer, the answer will appear.

3. Use creative silence.
The eminent industrialist Robert G. LeTourneau, manufacturer of earthmoving machinery, once received a wartime order from the government for a very complicated large machine to lift airplanes. No machine of the kind had ever been designed.

LeTourneau and his engineers went to work on the problem, but it stumped them. They worked at it for several days, but weren't getting anywhere. They became tense and nervous. Finally, as Wednesday night came around LeTourneau said, "Well, boys, I'm knocking off. I'm going to a prayer meeting."

"You can't do that, boss,” his workers said. ”We've got a deadline to meet."

"But," he said, "I've got a deadline with God."

He went to the prayer meeting, dropping the problem into the deep well of his unconscious mind. He sang hymns and prayed. He got himself into harmony with God. What happened after the meeting? LeTourneau reported that as he was walking along the street, there in his mind, in complete detail, was the design of the machine. It had been there all the while, of course, he just needed creative silence to bring it forth.

If your problem is related to your health, your business, your children—it makes no difference what it is—don’t get agitated or depressed. Don’t try so hard. Don’t panic. Whatever your problem, when you lift your spirits, clear your mind, believe in your potential, take the worry and fear out of your thoughts, and have faith in God, you can do the impossible. You surely can.

Positive Affirmation
As long as I am alive, I can do something about my problems.

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Child's Christmas in Wales

I first encountered A Child’s Christmas in Wales as a sixth grader at Shrine of the Sacred Heart elementary school in Baltimore. Our teacher, Miss Casey, in her first year of teaching, decided we would recite it as our contribution to the annual school Christmas show. My best friend, Terry, and I were rather flighty, so Miss Casey gave us each only one line to memorize, which was fine with us. I’ve never forgotten mine -- “And once I had a little crocheted nosebag from an aunt, now alas, no longer whinnying with us” -- or Terry’s -- “Our has got a black knocker.”

That was it for us, but brainier, more serious students like Leslie Morrow got long sections, including the famous six days and six nights when I was 12 or 12 days and 12 nights when I was 6 passage. While some of it seemed a bit antiquated to me, I was enchanted by other parts, such as the uncles who loosen their buttons, having eaten too much, napping by the fire and startling awake when the boys burst balloons in the room; or the children in the yard with their snowballs waiting to target the cats, who were smart enough not to appear, and then making use of the snowballs when a fire broken out in Mrs. Prothero’s house -- they hurled them into the smoke while waiting for the fire brigade to come. I also had loved that term -- fire brigade. It sounded so much more exciting than fire engines or fire trucks.

All of this and much more came back to me Saturday afternoon as I watched the Irish Rep’s charming production of Dylan Thomas’s classic. Director Charlotte Moore has the cast sing nearly 20 traditional and original carols, effectively interspersing the music between the storytelling.

The mood is established even before the show begins with Moore’s tasteful and cozy set -- four trees with nothing on them but white lights, a fireplace with a gas fire and a mantle covered with greens and candles. Five chairs for the singer/storytellers, an upright piano and an Oriental rug complete the scene. It’s a perfect way to unfold the magical memories of Thomas’s Welsh childhood, from his early morning waking to his falling asleep after an adventure-packed day of eating, entertaining relatives and playing in the snow with the other children.

“One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep,…” From those opening words through the final carol, Victoria Mallory, Jon Fletcher, Edwin Cahill, Ashley Robinson and Kerry Conte hit just the right notes, vocally as well as narratively. Music director Mark Hartman accompanies them on piano and harp. (All shown in photo, left to right.)

Costume designer David Toser adds to the simple elegance of the set by clothing the women in velvet dresses -- one green, the other a burgundy red -- and giving the men festive touches such as red socks or cummerbund. Michael Gottlieb’s lighting is just right for evoking the nostalgic tapestry of the tale. All together, it is a wonderful gift of a show.

A Child’s Christmas in Wales runs at the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 W. 22nd St., through Sunday. Tickets, which are $60, $55 and a special 16 and under price of $20, can be purchased by calling 212.727.2737 or at the box office prior to the show. Visit for more information.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Be Vigilant Only for God and His Kingdom

“Remember, however, that what the Holy Spirit rejects the ego accepts. This is because they are in fundamental disagreement about everything, being in fundamental disagreement about what you are. The ego’s beliefs on this crucial issue vary, and that is why it promotes different moods. The Holy Spirit never varies on this point, and so the one mood He engenders is joy. He protects it by rejecting everything that does not foster joy, and so He alone can keep you wholly joyous. . .

“Choosing through the Holy Spirit will lead you to the Kingdom. You create by your true being, but what you are you must learn to remember. . . Your vigilance is the sign you want Him to guide you.”

--A Course in Miracles, Foundation for Inner Peace

Friday, December 26, 2008

James Barbour

James Barbour has impressed me once again. He wowed me this fall with his powerful performance as Sydney Carton in the exciting, but unfortunately short-lived, Broadway musical of A Tale of Two Cities. On Tuesday night I was charmed in a different way by the warmth and intimacy of his holiday concert at the cabaret at Sardi’s.

With music director Jeremy Roberts on piano, Barbour sang classics like “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and “White Christmas” and shared stories of his life in a way that made me feel I was with a close friend enjoying the holiday at his home. He spoke frequently about his mother, with whom he had been close until her death in 2005, his wife and child, and the need of “always living in a sense of hope.” The spirit of his in-laws also was present as he told how his father-in-law, a retired Marine Corp officer in Hawaii, and mother-in-law invite all service people who were away from family to their home each Christmas. Barbour and Sardi’s were continuing that tradition by inviting any military people in New York to attend the Christmas Eve matinee for free and have drinks and food on the house. I was really touched by that.

Joining Barbour at each concert will be a special guest artist. The night we were there it was Natalie Toro who played Madame DeFarge in Two Cities. I have to admit I wasn’t thrilled about hearing her because I hadn’t cared for her performance in the musical. She has one of those Broadway shouting voices that are so popular, but that’s just not a style of singing I like. At Sardi’s, however, she offered a pleasant surprise.

“Since a lot of you know how I usually sing, I’m going to do something a little different,” she said before offering an “Ave Maria” that was heartfelt and reverent, operatic but not shouting. It was a blessing.

The evening held an additional surprise. Michael Hayward-Jones, who played Jarvis Lorry in Two Cities, was a unscheduled visitor who sang a lovely “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” adding to the warmth of the evening.

Other scheduled guests are Jodi Graham, tonight; Deborah Gibson tomorrow; Marla Schaffel on Dec. 30; Marc Kudisch on Jan. 2; Toro again, with Kevin Earley, on Jan. 3 and Jack Noseworthy on Jan. 4. Derek Keeling and Kate Shindle were set for the Christmas Eve show.

In addition to the carols, Barbour sang Broadway songs, which would certainly be expected from a veteran of the Great White Way. Beside Two Cities (see my Sept. 27 review), Barbour has appeared in Assassins, Urinetown, Jane Eyre, Beauty and the Beast, Carousel and Cyrano — The Musical. He included “great Broadway songs you’ve never heard,” one of which, “The Measure of a Man,” I especially liked. It’s by Frank Wildhorn from a show I had never heard of called Rudolph: The Last Kiss.

Barbour concluded with a moving “O Holy Night” before an encore of “I Can’t Recall” from Two Cities. The 90 minutes flew by and I left feeling uplifted and full of holiday glow. It was a highlight of my Christmas season. I strongly urge you to get there if you can.

Tickets are $25, $45, and $60; there is also a $25 food-drink minimum per person. Sardi's is located in Manhattan at 234 W. 44th St. For reservations call (212) 868-4444 or visit

Sunday, December 21, 2008


“You must give up pain, anger, resentment and fear in order to experience goodness, joy, peace and love. . . Offering another the forgiveness they need strengthens the spiritual nature in you. . . When you withhold forgiveness or love from anyone, for any reason, it diminishes your awareness of the abundance of good in life. You are stuck in so much old stuff, new stuff has no way of getting to you. In essence, the good that you withhold from others will be withheld from you.

“Sometimes, we make the mistake of thinking that other people have the power to control or alter our destiny. It is our beliefs, mistaken or otherwise, that ultimately determine what we will do or be in life, not another person. . . We believe our experiences make us who we are in life, and then we blame the players in our experiences. The biggest mistake we all make is believing that other people can hurt us. . . Forgive yourself for believing that anyone who occupies the flesh form as a human being could in any way alter the truth of your being.”

from One Day My Soul Just Opened Up by Iyanla Vanzant

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Shrek: The Musical

I’ve heard the movie is cute. The musical is not. In fact, it’s so dreadful it makes bombs like Tarzan, Young Frankenstein and The Little Mermaid look good by comparison.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The essential storyteller

"Achilles exists only through Homer. Take away the art of writing from this world and you will probably take away its glory."  
--F. René de Chateaubriand (1768-1848), French writer

"Words are sacred. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little." —Tom Stoppard, playwright

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Fredric Fastow Compositions II

Following the success of his CD “Compositions I,” Fredric Fastow has released its sequel, “Compositions II,” 30 selections of original classical guitar music. How nice to get more of a good thing!

Fastow, a lawyer and architect, has been playing the guitar for nearly 50 years. He has a comfortable style and creates songs that lift the soul, may with Jewish themes, like “Abraham’s Hospitality” and “Rosh Hashanah Reverie.” Like the first “Compositions,” this one is available by writing to

Either CD would make a great Hanukkah or Christmas gift. Any music lover would be grateful.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Gypsy revival cast recording

Nominations for the 51st Annual Grammy Awards were announced last week. The Best Musical Show Album category is always of interest to me. This year’s nominees are Gypsy, In the Heights, The Little Mermaid, South Pacific and Young Frankenstein: The Musical.

The only one I have now is Gypsy, which I love. I received Heights and Young Frank as a Drama Desk voter when those shows were nominated, but I gave them away -- Heights to the Performing Arts library and Young Frank to a friend’s son who had liked the show. No one is getting Gypsy from me, though!

The Gypsy revival CD is produced by Robert Sher, with Jule Styne’s music and Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics and was recorded with the 2008 Broadway cast starring Patti LuPone, Boyd Gaines and Laura Benanti, all of whom won Tonys for their powerful performances. (See my review posted April 5, 2008).

I still listen to my vinyl copy of the original cast recording, which starred Ethel Merman, but this new recording is more comprehensive, offering dialogue and additional lyrics. It also features seven bonus tracks that were cut from the original production. Besides giving us LuPone’s intense rendering of songs like “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and “Rose’s Turn,” this recording blesses us with Gaines as Herbie. He has it all over Jack Klugman musically because, let’s face it, Klugman was no singer. Like the original, it’s got that fabulous overture, which has got to be one of the best in musical theatre history.

The Grammy Awards will be held Feb. 8 at Staples Center in Los Angeles. CBS will broadcast the event live from 8 to 11:30 p.m. ET. For a complete list of Grammy nominees, visit

Monday, December 8, 2008

The 1959 Broadway Songbook

Oh, I want to go back in time, to be a theatre critic in the Golden Age of Broadway. What a year, and what a show is “The 1959 Broadway Songbook.” To paraphrase one of the songs from this revue, I could have listened all night, and still have begged for more.

In just over an hour, cabaret and recording artist Jeff Harnar (in photo), along with singers Klea Blackhurst and Anna Bergman and David Gaines on piano and back-up vocals bring to life a musical season that included the original productions of Gypsy, The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, West Side Story, Bells Are Ringing, The Music Man, Flower Drum Song and more.

The mood is set even before this fantastic show begins, as projections of Playbills and original cast albums click by, one after the other. I found myself marveling that all those great shows opened in one year. Harnar later informs the audience at 59E59 Theaters that 21 new musicals opened on Broadway in 1959, bringing with them close to 600 songs. The price for an orchestra seat ticket was $9.20. (Now it’s more than $110.)

These four dynamic entertainers don’t perform all 600 songs, but they cover a lot of territory, either singing entire numbers or neatly pairing selections, such as combining parts of “Get Me to the Church on Time” from My Fair Lady with “Don’t Marry Me” from Flower Drum Song and “Tonight” from West Side Story with “Goodnight My Someone” from The Music Man. The latter is a cleaver device that must have taken much time to put together, but judging from the impassioned rendering it was a labor of love.

The theatre has been transformed into a club setting, with tiny cabaret tables crunched together to form an intimate setting. While this brought the audience together physically, the performers brought us together with their singing and with Harnar’s historical accounts and backstage stories. They cemented the bond even more at the end with a sing-along of “Just in Time” from Bells Are Ringing. The words were projected, but I don’t think any of us needed them. What an absolutely wonderful way to spend an afternoon or evening.

"The 1959 Broadway Songbook" is directed by Sara Louise Lazarus, with musical supervision and arrangements by Alex Rybeck. It plays a limited engagement, through Dec. 12, at 59E59 Theaters, between Madison and Park Avenues. Tickets are $25 ($17.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to For more information, visit  

Liza's at the Palace. . .

  I never experienced Liza Minnelli’s other comebacks, but the one she presented to a sold-out house Wednesday for the opening of Liza's at the Palace. . . proved she has been, to quote from another offering this season, recalled to life. Like the veteran show business legend she is, she proved she still knows how to give ‘em that old razzle-dazzle.

And she looks great, as wide-eyed and sparkly as ever, even though after operations to replace a knee and both hips she can’t dance. About as close to Bob Fosse as she gets is her opening and closing pose -- legs spread, one hand on her hip and the other raised in the air -- but she gamely struts about the stage with plenty of energy, sporting bright ensembles designed by Halston and emoting love to the highest balcony.

What’s even more important, she sounds great. She can still belt out the big numbers, even if her voice warbles just a bit at times and the effort leaves her winded for her chats with the audience.

Right off the bat she lets them know that no matter what has transpired in her life, she’s still the quintessential entertainer and she wants to please, expressing this in the lovely ballad written for the show, "I Would Never Leave You." She sings standards like “Teach Me Tonight” and “He’s Funny that Way” and offers something completely new, a spirited second-act tribute to her godmother and mentor, Kay Thompson, who in the late 1940s was a successful nightclub singer and a groundbreaking vocal arranger and musical director/vocal coach at MGM Studios, but who in our day is better known as the author of the Eloise books and for her role as the sophisticated fashion editor in the 1957 movie “Funny Face” (“Think Pink”).

What I liked best, though, was when she sang out all those songs with attitude like "Cabaret," "Maybe This Time" and one of my all-time favorites, one that never fails to stir my soul, “New York, New York.”

In between she weaves stories of her famous family -- mother, actress Judy Garland, father, film director Vincente Minnelli and godfather, Ira Gershwin -- and her amazing career. She concluded with a moving performance of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” a song made famous by her mom in the film “Meet Me in St. Louis” (directed by her father).

The two-and-a-half-hour show is directed and choreographed by Ron Lewis and features a fabulous onstage 12-piece orchestra, music supervisor Billy Stritch on piano and backup vocals, conductor/drummer Michael Berkowitz and four talented singer/dancers, Johnny Rodgers, Cortes Alexander, Jim Caruso and Tiger Martina.

Ms. Minnelli’s career has had its share of bumps, her well-reported addictions being the cause of most, but she was and is an extremely gifted performer. She received her first Tony Award at 19 for her Broadway debut in Flora, the Red Menace, becoming the youngest artist to win Best Actress in a Musical, a record she holds to this day. She went on to win two more Tonys, for her engagement at the Winter Garden in 1978 and for The Act. In 1972 she won an Oscar for her role in the film version of "Cabaret." In fact, Ms. Minnelli and her parents are the only family in Hollywood history to have all received an Academy Award.

Tickets for Liza’s at the Palace. . ., at the Palace Theatre, located on Broadway at 47th Street, are $25-$125. Call (212) 307-4100 or (800) 755-4000. For more information visit

The production was originally scheduled to run until Dec. 14, but ticket demand extended it through Dec. 28. I pray she can keep that opening night exuberant magic going because Liza’s at the Palace. . . is a passionately rendered show. I hope Ms. Minnelli will bring us many more in years to come.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Irving Berlin's White Christmas

Well, at least the music is good. Too bad the rest of the production doesn’t live up to it. Tony Award-winner Walter Bobbie directs this lackluster new musical based on the classic 1954 film. With a cute, if corny, story and some of the best songs ever written, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas should be great entertainment, but it plays more like an amateur work than a Broadway show.

Like the movie “White Christmas,” the musical, with a book by David Ives and Paul Blake, tells the story of two showbiz buddies and World War II veterans (Stephen Bogardus and Jeffrey Denman) who put on a show in a picturesque Vermont inn owned by their former General (Charles Dean) to help save his financially struggling establishment. That concept transfers all right to stage, but the romances of the two men and the singers (Kerry O’Malley and Meredith Patterson) they are fated to court have no sparkle or life. Despite lots of singing and dancing together, they never seem more than passing acquaintances.

Another big sinker is Randy Skinner’s unimaginative choreography, which is crippled by a few dancers who appear to need more rehearsal time -- lots more.

The third major problem for me is the hammy dialogue, typical of old-time movies, and the reason I never cared much for them. When Betty (O’Malley) tries to brush off Bob (Bogardus), she says, “Sometimes the twain don’t meet,” and he replies, “And sometimes the train doesn’t get out of the station.” That kind of talk gets tiresome real fast.

O’Malley is at her best when she is man-less. She’s dynamite making her solo nightclub debut at the Regency Room and belting out “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me.” Anna Louizos’ set is dazzling, with its cocktail tables, grand piano and spectacular backdrop of the Manhattan skyline. All of her sets are good, but city-slicker that I am, this one is my favorite.

Unfortunately in the same scene Bogardus misses all the soulfulness of one of my favorite songs of that era, “How Deep is the Ocean?” Sitting alone at a table longing for Betty, he sounds like someone who has taken a sleeping pill and then is asked to go on and sing. No passion.

A few of the supporting roles are engaging. Dean as the General is good, as is Susan Mansur as Martha Watson, his longtime, wisecracking assistant, and 10-year-old Melody Hollis in her Broadway debut as the scene-stealing, precocious Susan Waverly, the General’s granddaughter.

Carrie Robbins’ costumes are also nice, and you will definitely know what season it is in the final scene with the women’s RED gowns.

But, as I said, it’s the songs that save this show. Besides “How Deep is the Ocean?” and the Oscar-winning title song that is the best-selling single in history, selections include “Happy Holidays,” “Let Yourself Go,” “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep,” “Blue Skies” and “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm.”

Irving Berlin’s White Christmas continues at the Marquis Theatre, Broadway between 45th and 46th Streets, through Jan. 4. Tickets are available by visiting or through

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Rededication of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine

The trumpets shall sound. We hear that line each year at this time in The Messiah, but Sunday the trumpets did sound, as did the Great Organ, a brass ensemble, Paul Winter’s wonderful soprano sax, the drums of The Forces of Nature and close to 5,000 voices as my beloved Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine celebrated a majestic and emotional Mass of rededication.

Seven years ago a six-alarm fire left the Cathedral seriously damaged, but not defeated. Throughout the following years of cleaning and restoration we worshiped in one partitioned area or another of that great space, longing to gaze at the full, gorgeous expanse once more. That day finally came, and now we have a Cathedral as shimmering as it must have been for its original dedication on Nov. 30, 1941. All 601 feet of it -- room for two football fields, plus room for the football, as we say, the world’s largest Gothic cathedral.

In his sermon, our Dean, the Very Rev. Dr. James A. Kowalski, talked about our long advent, an appropriate metaphor for the first Sunday of Advent, the liturgical season that prepares for and anticipates the birth of our Savior. He talked about the Cathedral’s place in our city and in the world, that it is not only the mother church for the Episcopal Diocese of New York, but that it is a center for the arts, for discourse and community events. Chartered as a “house of prayer for all people,” it also has always fought for justice through wars, the Civil Rights Movement, on issues for the environment and human sexuality. The Dean called on all of us present to continue to take that fight and that light far beyond the limestone walls of that great place.

He called it “the people’s Cathedral,” a name it obviously deserves judging by the multitude and variety of those gathered to celebrate, people from all walks of life, and economic, social, age and racial groups. Every free pass had been given out more than an hour before the nearly three-hour service began, this on a rainy, raw day that would have been a natural for staying home.

Others graced the pulpit to give praise to the work of the Cathedral, including our senior senator, Charles Schumer. One, though, was given a super star’s welcome. In his introduction, the Dean slyly said, “Well, is she still our senator, you want to know?” and then Hillary Rodham Clinton made her way to the microphone, accompanied by a rousing standing ovation.

It was a dynamic moment in a service full of them, but it wasn’t the most dynamic. That went to the response to the Dean’s expression of gratitude to the firefighters who fought the blaze, nearly a dozen of whom walked in full dress uniform in the procession and sat in a place of honor in the Great Choir. The Dean commented that seven years was a long time to put up with inconvenience and repair work, but that it would have been a lot longer if it hadn’t been for the members of the New York Fire Department who risked their lives to save our sanctuary. At that the entire audience rose to its feet and applauded and applauded and applauded. It was so moving that it brings tears to my eyes now just thinking of it.

Sunday was that kind of day. It’s hard to describe the joy of hearing our Great Organ again for the first time since December of 2001. All 8,500 pipes had had to be sent to the midwest for cleaning and repair, and then brought back and reassembled and retuned in the Cathedral. My heart leapt when I heard the first notes and then as organists Timothy Brumfield and Bruce Neswick alternated playing hymns that soared into the heights. I looked around me at people with their eyes closed, shaking their heads in joyful recognition, completely in the moment.

We also were blessed with a new hymn, “The New Jerusalem,” written for the occasion by our vicar, the Rev. Canon Victoria R. Sirota (lyrics), and her husband, Robert (music), who is the president of the Manhattan School of Music. I wish I could play the music for you here, but I can give you the words, which offered comfort and a commissioning call to share God’s love:

I, John, your beloved brother,
Who shares in Christ’s ministry,
Heard a voice on the Isle of Patmos,
“Go, write in a book what you see.”
And then I saw the new Jerusalem,
Holy City adorned as a bride,
And then I heard a voice thunder down from the throne,
“Tell the world that you are God’s own!”

No mourning or pain or crying,
For death shall have lost its might,
and there will be no more darkness,
For the Lord God will be your light.
And we will see the new Jerusalem,
Holy City adorned as a bride,
And then we’ll hear a voice thunder down from the throne,
“Praise the Lord, for you are God’s own!”

When hunger and war shall vanish,
When hope shall replace all fear,
When people shall work together,
When love shall dry every tear,
Then we will be the New Jerusalem,
Holy City adorned as a bride,
And we will sing with the saints and martyrs at the throne,
“Hallelujah! We are God’s own!”

What a beautiful hymn. I hope we sing it often through the years. It’s scriptural, and it so represents the work of the Cathedral. The Dean said the Cathedral changes people and that is true. My faith has grown and deepened greatly in my decades there. How blessed I am to be woven into the spiritual fabric of such a magnificent, incarnational place.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Paul Newman

Thanks to actor and friend Dudley Stone for sending the following:

Some wise words from Paul Newman, included in his NY Times obituary, quoted by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katherine Jefferts Schori, in her 2008 Hobart Lecture.

"We are such spendthrifts with our lives. The trick of living is to slip on and off the planet with the least fuss you can muster. I'm not running for sainthood. I just happen to think that in life we need to be a little like the farmer, who puts back into the soil what he takes out."

This great actor put so much back and we all benefited. RIP.

You're right, Dudley. He was an example to us all. He did give back in a large way, but I've learned through the years that actors are extremely giving people, at least the ones who do theatre and who are the ones I mostly know. They are regularly asked to perform for free to help some group. I don't know of any other profession than the performing arts where people are approached by total strangers to come and use their gifts for free.