Chant, Prayer and Justice

Margaret Rizza, Composer

Margaret Rizza, Composer

Sometimes we wonder about the connection between prayer and doing the work of justice. Scrabbling around on the Internet this morning searching for a prayer resource I came across a reference to Margaret Rizza, the composer of chant and sacred music. Margaret has been involved for many years with spirituality and with different groups seeking a spiritual path at the present time. Indeed, her own spiritual journey has been remarkable. In her own reflection she articulates beautifully and eloquently the relationship between music, prayer and justice. I find it inspiring and motivating. You can read the account in full here.

About 150 participants join together to consider some of these issues at a day on music and prayer organized by the Centre for Spirituality at Westminster Cathedral in March.

Margaret speaks about some of her experiences, we listen to some of her music in silence, and then we sing. She explains carefully her thoughts on each phrase of the well-known prayer for peace, ‘Lead me from death to life, from falsehood to truth said in many places throughout the world at midday. We are then invited to sing her own setting of the prayer over and over, sometimes in unison, sometimes in harmony, one side and then the other, allowing half of us to pray silently as the other half sings. It is a beautiful experience, and Margaret tells us movingly: ‘I’m such a believer in prayer… I feel there are vibrations of goodness and peace coming from our singing, giving healing for those who do not have peace.’

Her need to compose is closely linked with a fundamental yearning to share somehow her faith with others. ‘I need through music to share my prayer life . . . this God who has no name . . . this creative energy within us. . . I need to connect music with everyday life.’

There is the anguish of living as a Christian in a privileged first-world country with such infinite choice, way beyond our needs, and at the same time seeking a way of sharing with those who have absolutely nothing. In our earlier conversation, both of us had talked about how hard we find the sense of helplessness when confronted with the needs of the third world, and how this inevitably brings prayer problems.

For Margaret, music can be a way of bringing comfort, ‘not through me, but the Spirit working in me. Music is a way of saying I care. I need to share in the struggle for peace and justice through music. . . It brings about anguish and frustrations and doubts — a longing and yearning for that which needs to be resolved.’

This desire to be transparent and to open the heart to those who have suffered, who are starved of human affection, those who are terminally ill, perhaps accounts for a certain vulnerable quality in her music. Through her composition, then, Margaret Rizza is not only providing material that is already assisting many Christians to pray and reflect; she is doing something much greater. The deep prayer that shapes her work reaches out to a much larger group of people: not only those who are in general difficulties, but also those who are simply seeking peace. Here is a real model for church composers: a music shaped directly from prayer, but in turn a music that can shape and transform the prayers of others.

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