Cantor’s Notes: Some Thoughts from Cantor Steven Stoehr
I was listening to an interview with James Taylor while on a flight from New York to Chicago. He was speaking about masterpieces. He identified a few people whose music or artistic creations he deemed masterpieces and the delight he takes in the mere ability to have them available for his enjoyment. His delight was summed up by saying that (and this is not an exact quote), the person was moved by something spiritually and he/she has made that personal and powerful moment into something accessible to share. He found that to be quite selfless and breathtaking to be invited into that private sanctum.
I pondered if what Cantors do on the bimah had any similar parallelism. Not to be egotistical to label it a masterpiece, but the process reverberated in a similar way. We take our place on the bimah, don our tallit, and stand beneath the Ner Tamid, before the Holy Ark of the Torah. In that sacred space, laced with history and the ineffable presence of God, we channel some cosmic truth that is translated into audible word and sensory melody; each person seeking a moment of authenticity. The experience does not happen the same on any given day and cannot be replicated in any other place other than the bimah. The Cantor then allows others in the room to become privy to the private kavannah, ‘intention’ in his/her heart and mind by sharing it aloud. Masterpiece or not, it is authentic and leaves the Cantor quite vulnerable.
I get invited into people’s lives at quite vulnerable times. The honor which I feel being asked to join a family at one’s bedside during their final hours of life, asked to write one’s final narrative of life, during times of marital discord or while questioning one’s faith as well as other such moments is majestic. Once or twice I have been asked by a dear person if life is worth living. Medical or psychological weights seem so insurmountable to them that life seems beyond the value of the struggle. “What should I do”, I may be asked. That question, and the ability to offer a “professional” response is most often well beyond the degrees which hang upon my wall.
If one is considering palliative care and hospice manner of “calling it quits” that is one discussion but when it is someone who is suffering in other ways and threatening to mortally hurt themselves, I have always referred them to professional help. (I have been on both sides of the win-loss column).
In an article by Katy Butler, author of “Knocking on Heaven’s Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death”, she speaks of the desire by some to hurry death (in this case by legal self-administered medications). She writes that the “medieval text Ars Moriendi” (The Art of Dying) calls it “the sin of impatience”.
Life is our own masterpiece. No one looks like another. Even in one’s own “piece of work” in which the individual cannot see its intrinsic beauty, someone else can find its ‘self-professed abstract form’ to be quite inspiring and alluring. To allow another person into your masterpiece by virtue of friendship or transparency of sharing souls is a most treasured gift.
Over the summer work on your masterpiece. Realize that the canvas upon which yours is created is God’s gift to you and you should never stop painting, for the final rendering is never really finished. Like JT suggested above, be generous with yourself and be gracious to another who is sharing his/herself with you. Letting people know you’re there, in the art with them, may actually help to avert the “sin of impatience”.
Here are some of JT’s masterful words to close:
There’s something in the way she moves, or looks my way, or calls my name
That seems to leave this troubled world behind
If I’m feeling down and blue, or troubled by some foolish game
She always seems to make me change my mind
And I feel fine any me she’s around me now
She’s around me now, Almost all the time
And if I’m well you can tell she’s been with me now
She’s been with me now quite a long, long me, And I feel fine
Every now and then the things I lean on lose their meaning
And I find myself careening, In places where I should not let me go
She has the power to go where no one else can find me
Yes and silently remind me, The happiness and the good times that I know….
Cantor Steven Stoehr
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