by The Rev. Craig Lemming
From one ancestor God made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and God allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for God and find God—though indeed God is not far from each one of us. For in God we live and move and have our being.” – Acts 17:26-28a
If you could invite five contemporaries from any period in history to dinner, who would they be, and why?
Yesterday afternoon, “holy synchronicity” took place as I was reading an essay by Evelyn Underhill. In it she discusses the same seventeenth-century mystic that Howard Thurman references in a separate devotional reflection I studied earlier that morning. I wondered if Underhill and Thurman had ever met in person, since they obviously shared spiritual wisdom across time, space, race, geography, culture, class, nationality, education, and gender.
Then I found myself on a Spiritual Safari! I imagined Evelyn Underhill and Howard Thurman discussing Christian mysticism at my dining room table, and I deliberated over which of their contemporaries to invite to this dinner party in my mind.
In walked Nikolai Berdyeav – of course – with the American contralto Marian Anderson. I imagined Nikolai philosophizing about the impression Marian made on her Leningrad and Moscow audiences during her 1939 concert tour which roused the religiously-prohibited Russians to yell “Deep River” and “Heaven, Heaven” ecstatically while pounding their fists on the foot of the stage in an adoring frenzy at the end of her performances.
As Maurice Ravel takes his place at the table – always impeccably dressed – I’d ask Evelyn, Howard, Nikolai, and Marian if they agree with me that the “Lever du jour” in Daphnis et Chloé comes closest to expressing the meaning of Resurrection:
With Easter on our minds, we’d recall the legendary anti-racist twist that led to Marian’s open-air concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday 1939 in front of 75,000 people and a radio audience in the millions. Nikolai would remind us that “in the spirit of music there is prophecy of incarnate beauty yet to be.” Maurice would agree, whispering, “Listen; that is sufficient,” and the mystics Evelyn and Howard would smile in silent affirmation. The beauty of Marian’s voice would transfigure the room; bread, wine, and gratitude binding us together across time and space.
So, dear reader, in this Eastertide, if you could invite five contemporaries from any period in history to a dinner party, who would they be, and why?
“Mysticism is the art of union with Reality.” ― Evelyn Underhill