On Saturday evening I met someone who had heard the Yorkminster Park Choir at the Sharon Temple the night before and described it as a deeply spiritual experience. They weren't alone. It was hard not to think of it that way.
Now no one would plan to hold a concert in a hall that offers little insulation from the outside environment at a time when there would be a thunder storm, but less than half an hour before we were to begin the downpour began. Though one might have planned differently, I am not sure it could have turned out any better. Suddenly the choir's rehearsal was interrupted by the primitive rhythms of raindrops dancing on the roof with heavy boots, lightning attacking on all sides and thunder offering an ovation to its partners. The choir was all but silenced and so we waited.
At ten minutes before the appointed hour the sound technicians realized the power was out. There are no lights and even if there were, they'd have been kept off as The Illumination is based on a 19th century candlelight service of the Children of Peace which was offered on the first Friday of September every year in thanksgiving for the early harvest and in anticipation of work yet to be accomplished. The candles in the windows were lit as planned and the oldest functioning organ in Canada, which to this day is still pumped by hand, started up with the pumper seeming offering a beat to compliment the organ. William delighted in playing the old pump organ, which with the power out was more functional than the great Casavant and Freres he is used to playing at Yorkminster Park.
As 8 o'clock arrived the storm took a back seat and fell all but silent and at last the music took centre stage. Prior to building the Temple in Sharon, the Children of Peace, as former members of the Newmarket Quaker Meeting House, would not have been in the practice of including music in worship. Yet from day one it is clear music was to play an enormous role in the life of the temple. It is hard to know however if The Illumination event was ever punctuated by the music of a storm in the days of David Wilson, but the museum curator, John McIntyre, was quick to point out that with the power out, the event was suddenly more authentic than ever. It was as if we were right back in the 1830's or 40's.
The choir sang music fitting to an illumination such as Stainer's 'Hail Gladdening Light,' Soweby's 'Eternal Light,' and 'Holy is the True Light' by William H. Harris, but it was when the choir was singing an old hymn of Charles Wesley, whose hymns the Children of Peace often sang, 'Christ whose glory fills the skies,' that the heavens seemed to noticeably answer back with almost constant flashes of lightning far enough away that the thunder did not disturb, but close enough to make sure we didn't miss the point, that indeed Christ's glory does fill the skies. As long as I live I don't think I will ever forget the light show from above as the heavens harmonized with the choir to emphasize and reinforce the truth of it all.
Neither will we soon forget three women from the choir, Dawn, Margaret, and Jessica who ascended and descended what is known at the Temple as Jacob's ladder, an unusually narrow and steep staircase that is indeed more like a ladder and the only way up to the musicians gallery above. One of the women commented that it was easier going up in the dark during the Illumination than in the light at rehearsal. In the dark there were no distractions looking down and she had to trust. Like the women who were first to the tomb in the darkness of the first Easter, these three brought us to the light with their angelic voices.
Between the offerings of music William Maddox had explained the acoustic and Corey Keeble, Curator Emeritus of the ROM had helped bring it to life as he wandered about without anyone missing a word as he spoke on the history and architecture of the space. With the music, the mysteries in the sky above and all that had been said there was little need for a homily so I spoke but briefly on the tradition of silence the Children of Peace had carried with them from the Quaker Meeting House and for a brief moment we kept that silence and reflected on things too deep for words.
Several commented afterwards that we must go back to the Sharon Temple and perhaps one day we will, but the experience of illumination from above with music all around was as distinctive as the building itself and indeed, deeply spiritual.
The Lord is in his holy temple, let all the earth keep silence...
Grace and Peace,
To read of our previous visit to the Sharon Temple go to