In a church bedecked with extraordinary sculptural arrangements of palms (a devotional Quebec tradition) we sang, lamented, and participated in a modern-day passion play: a re-enactment of the last hours of Jesus' life. Because I was singing in the baptistry, one of the two spaces on either side of the main chancel of the church, I couldn't see the litugical dancers or the action of the play. But as Jesus was symbolically crucified, I helped make eerie music, rubbing a wet finger around the rim of one of ten water glasses; this was folowed by "thunder" from the organ and a piano being played inside, on the strings, as darkness came over the land, and the "curtain of the temple was rent asunder."
Liturgy, drama, music, art: the sermon quoted Pablo Picasso: “Art is a lie that makes us realize truth.” What is the truth of Holy Week, of this two-millenium-old story? Maybe nothing, for a great mjority of people today. But I'm fortunate to belong to a denomination that doesn't focus on literal "truth" but instead encourages each person to think, to grow, to use this time for reflection on death, on suffering, on doubt, on fear, on power and politics, on the role of hate and love in each of our lives, on our avoidance of truth and the deals we make.
Before the morning service the whole congregation processed outside, in the cold, around the cathedral, carrying our palms, singing hymns accompanied by a brass choir. Tourists gawked and took pictures of us; from the department shop windows, photographs of impossibly gorgeous models for perfume, men's underwear, and make-up watched too.
In-between the services I walked out of the choir room, in the cathedral's undercroft, into the underground city. I had put my palm fronds into my backpack, and they waved behind my head, the strappy green leaves slapping against each other in time with my footsteps. In the mall, life went on as usual. People were buying, eating, being tempted by advertisements and shop windows, strutting their new spring fashions - short skirts, lace tights, platform shoes. I ate some lunch, checked my email on my phone, looked at pretty bras and linen jackets. And that was just as it is, and has always been: the world is the world, and human beings are human beings. Me too. I saw nary another palm frond, but where I once would have been embarrassed, I rather liked having them with me.
All this will pass away one day, just as the palms will be burnt and become ashes to be placed on our foreheads, on my forehead, which will one day be lifeless too, before being burnt or buried. That doesn't bother me, today; what concerns me is being here, really here, in this particular moment, with the noise and bustle of the mall, the smells of hamburgers and frites, the colors of bright jeans and arrays of eyeshadow, and the passage of all this beautiful, broken humanity of which I am one intrinsic part.