“It’s the fifteenth Sunday after Trinity,” I say to Lady, brilliancing by her absence (sorry, gotta be Puerto Rican to get that), and however stupid it may be to say it, does it matter? She loves me, she’s one of three sisters I’ve picked up along the way, and anyway she’s not here, so it doesn’t really matter.
“Of course I’m here, and what’s the deal with the fifteenth Sunday after Trinity?
“I’m still trying to figure that out, since I wasn’t raised Catholic or Lutheran but a sort of Presbyterian, except that it was the Midwestern version, which meant that the hearty, slightly sour rye bread and beer got tamed down to Wonder Bread and milk.”
“Oh you know, John Knox, who cooked up the whole thing, was a merry Scottish soul who decided that we had no free will, couldn’t do a damn thing on our own, that it had all been written down for us, every last action we take. So bingo, we’re just chess pieces being moved by the celestial hand. Oh, and get ready, because about 99% of us are foreordained to go to Hell, and there’s nothing we can do about it, since instead of having life coaches, we have life tracks, which we can’t get off of.”
“Hah! I was going to have a Perrier, but now I’m going to have a beer. See! I fixed that!”
“An excellent idea, especially since it’s the fifteenth Sunday after Trinity, though still before noon, but sorry, God ordained that you would change your mind about that too.”
“So now I’ll have the Perrier!”
“That too was written.”
“Dammit, Marc, somehow this feels like all those arguments with my brothers, when I was a kid, that deteriorated down to ‘did not / did too, did not / did too.’ Really, what sort of a God would do this? Put us all on the conveyor belt for seventy years and then throw us into Hell for all time? That’s crazy!”
“Is it any crazier than saying that God loves us all, and that Hell is merely the absence of God’s presence in our lives here on earth, and that we’ll all go to Heaven after death? At least, I presume we will, because we’ve abolished Hell, and nobody is certain about purgatory or limbo, or whatever we’re now not calling it. So that means I’ll be stuck up there with Hitler out there mowing his cloud every Saturday morning as I’m nursing my hangover, the next cloud over. Won’t that be nice?”
“Hitler is not in Heaven, Marc!”
“So where is he?”
“I don’t know, but not in Heaven,” said Lady, shifting to poetic certainty from Aristotelian logic. “Anyway, why are you cooking up this religion, and what’s the fifteenth Sunday after whatever-it-was got to do with it?”
“Trinity, and I don’t know why I’m concocting a new religion. Although I have to say, with few exceptions, none of the religions I’ve bumped into have been particularly likeable. But I’m drawn to religion, even as I am repelled by it. It fascinates me. And maybe it was reading about ISIS that made me want to start my own religion….”
“Those people are evil,” said Lady, with the same certainty she had about Hitler.
“And the Crusaders who invaded the Holy Land? Were they evil too?”
“Well, they didn’t think so, nor do the ISIS people, who have now come to believe that some guy named Baghdadi has just become the eighth Caliph, and that completely changes the game, because now we have a caliphate, which is a territory ruled by a theology, and there are absolutely no nations, no borders. So throw out that idea that ruled Western civilization for half a millennium or more! Oh, and since we now have a caliphate, the rules get changed, and we gotta play hard by the Koran and go right back to all the really nasty stuff, which is why gay people are getting thrown off roofs, and anybody not believing in the Caliph—including the Shiites, of whom there are maybe 200 million or so in the world—has to be slaughtered. OK—except for the women; they get to be sex slaves.”
“But aren’t the Shiites Muslim, too?”
“Wrong kind. Bam—gotta go!”
“But fascinating. There are people who are highly educated, deeply intelligent, and they will tell you that they are absolutely certain that the little sliver of bread they ate and the slug of cheap wine they drank became the actual flesh and blood of Christ. Nope—not a metaphor, but the real flesh and blood of a guy who died 2000 years ago, which if true, would definitely call for a inspection from the USDA….”
Lady’s poetic mind freezes at the idea.
“So shouldn’t we just try to lead good lives, and hope for the best?”
“Who could dispute that? But there’s so much good that religion gives us…”
Well, consider the man who wrote the cantata Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz? Yup, J. S. Bach, and if he didn’t sail into heaven, I’m gonna have some serious stuff to say to St. Peter.”
“So what does warum digms tnqwo whatever-it-was mean?
“Let’s listen, and you’ll see.”
And so we do, following along with the text, as you can too….
1. CORO E RECITATIVO ALTO
Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz?
Why are you sorrowed, my heart?
Bekümmerst dich und trägest Schmerz
Do you worry and bear pain
nur um das zeitliche Gut?
only because of worldly goods?
Ach, ich bin arm,
Alas, I am poor,
mich drücken schwere Sorgen.
heavy sorrows weigh upon me.
Vom Abend bis zum Morgen
From evening unto morning
währt meine liebe Not.
persist my precious needs.
Daß Gott erbarm!
That God might have mercy!
Wer wird mich noch erlösen
Who else can redeem me
vom Leibe dieser bösen und argen Welt?
from the body of this evil and arrant world?
Wie elend ist's um mich bestellt!
How sordid is what is placed around me!
Ach! wär ich doch nur tot!
Alas! were I but simply dead!
Vertrau du deinem Herren Gott,
Trust in your Lord God
der alle Ding erschaffen hat.
who has created all things.
2. RECITATIVO BASSO
Ich bin veracht',
I am despised,
der Herr hat mich zum Leiden
am Tage seines Zorns gemacht;
the Lord has made me to suffer
on the day of his wrath;
der Vorrat, hauszuhalten,
the researves, to maintain a house
ist ziemlich klein;
are rather slim;
man schenkt mir vor den Wein der Freuden
instead of the wine of joy, one pours me
den bittern Kelch der Tränen ein.
the bitter chalice of tears.
Wie kann ich nun mein Amt mit Ruh verwalten,
How can I now manage my charge in peace
wenn Seufzer meine Speise und Tränen das Getränke sein?
when sighing is my food and tears my drink?
3. CORO E RECITATIVO SOPRANO ED ALTO
Er kann und will dich lassen nicht.
He cannot and will not leave you.
Er weiß gar wohl, was dir gebricht,
He knows quite well, what you lack,
Himmel und Erd ist sein!
Heaven and earth are his!
Gott sorget freilich vor das Vieh,
God cares of course for the cattle,
er gibt den Vögeln seine Speise,
he provides the bird its food,
er sättiget die jungen Raben,
he satiates the young ravens,
nur ich, ich weiß nicht, auf was Weise
only I, I know not, by what means
ich armes Kind
I, a mere child,
mein bißchen Brot soll haben;
shall have my bite of bread;
wo ist jemand, der sich zu meiner Rettung findt?
where is there anyone to be found to save me?
Dein Vater und dein Herre Gott,
Your Father and your Lord God
der dir beisteht in aller Not.
who stands by you in every need.
Ich bin verlassen,
I am forsaken,
als wollte mich auch Gott bei meiner Armut hassen,
as though even God will despise me in my poverty,
da er's doch immer gut mit mir gemeint.
while he did always mean good for me.
werdet ihr denn alle Morgen
und alle Tage wieder neu?
are you to be renewed then
every morning and every day?
So klag ich immerfort;
So I lament constantly;
ach! Armut, hartes Wort,
Alas! poverty, harsh word,
wer steht mir denn in meinem Kummer bei?
who then stands beside me in my distress?
Dein Vater und dein Herre Gott,
Your Father and your Lord God
der steht dir bei in aller Not.
who stands by you in every need.
4. RECITATIVO TENORE
Ach süßer Trost! Wenn Gott mich nicht verlassen
Oh sweet comfort! If God does not forsake me
und nicht versäumen will,
nor will not neglect,
so kann ich in der Still
then I can, in quiet
und in Geduld mich fassen.
and in patience compose myself.
Die Welt mag immerhin mich hassen,
The world may continue to hate me,
so werf ich meine Sorgen
so I cast my worries
mit Freuden auf den Herrn,
with joy upon the Lord,
und hilft er heute nicht,
and if he not help today
so hilft er mir doch morgen.
then he will help me still tomorrow.
Nun leg ich herzlich gern
Now I, with earnest gladness, lay
die Sorgen unters Kissen
these worries under the pillow
und mag nichts mehr als dies
zu meinem Troste wissen:
and want nothing more than
to recognize this as my solace:
5. ARIA BASSO
Auf Gott steht meine Zuversicht,
On God is placed my confidence
mein Glaube läßt ihn walten.
my faith lets him prevail.
Nun kann mich keine Sorge nagen,
Now no worries can gnaw at me,
nun kann mich auch kein Armut plagen.
now no poverty can plague me.
Auch mitten in dem größten Leide
Even midst the greatest suffering
bleibt er mein Vater, meine Freude,
he remains my Father, my joy,
er will mich wunderlich erhalten.
he will wondrously preserve me.
6. RECITATIVO ALTO
So will ich auch recht sanfte ruhn.
So will I also right gently rest.
Euch, Sorgen, sei der Scheidebrief gegeben!
You, worries, are issued the severance papers!
Nun kann ich wie im Himmel leben.
Now can I live as in heaven.
Weil du mein Gott und Vater bist,
Since you are my God and Father
dein Kind wirst du verlassen nicht,
you will not abandon your child,
du väterliches Herz!
you fatherly heart!
Ich bin ein armer Erdenkloß,
I am a mere clod of dirt
auf Erden weiß ich keinen Trost.
on earth I know no solace.