In grief, he is our consolation.
Right after September 11, 2001, theologian Calvin Seerveld told singer-songwriter Michael Card: “The church has no such songs (of lament) to sing.” Our contemporary praise music does not seem to account for such a national tragedy as 9/11 or even for funerals, no dirge or lamentation appropriate to express loss beyond words.
As a survivor of 9/11—my family lived three blocks away from the World Trade Center and I was trapped in a subway stop underneath the collapsing towers—I can testify to this lack. Today, we may similarly pause to ask, “Do we have songs to sing during a pandemic?”
There was one piece of music that was played over and over during the period after 9/11 on classical music radio stations. It was Lux Aeterna by Morten Lauridsen. In this choral piece, the overwhelming cascade of voices coalesces and moves deeply into our lament, yet the music rises above the nadir of our common despair and somehow reframes our hopes.
Several years after 9/11, I had an opportunity to reflect on Lauridsen’s composition and honor him. I was appointed to the National Council on the Arts by president George W. Bush and worked on the nominations for the 2007 National Medal of the Arts. The council selected Lauridsen as one of the award recipients. I was the table host designated to welcome him to the list of great artists and arts advocates including the likes of Andrew Wyeth and Henry Steinway. Lauridsen’s legacy will be known with other great composers who’ve received this high honor, such as Aaron Copeland and John Williams.
As Lauridsen looked around the room, he said, “What am I doing here?” I responded: “Sir, millions of people sing your songs; I think you …