I went to St. Louis Cathedral here in New Orleans Wednesday night to hear some music.
During the Christmas season, the Cathedral hosts a series of free musical events, always at 6pm. The music is wide-ranging and includes jazz, Cajun, gospel and classical. The Cathedral is always full for these concerts. As I say, they are free.
This Cathedral, located in Jackson Square in the French Quarter, is a vast warm place. I like small churches, was raised going to one in Eastern Virginia, but there are exceptions, and this is one. For one thing, the Cathedral is brightly lit inside, and the colors are warm–mostly soft sandy yellows. There are Michelangelo-like paintings of Biblical scenes on the ceiling that have a subtle life to them. They seem like they were painted a few days ago by someone with a paintbrush dipped in the light of Provence.
All of which is to say that I like going there. There is a surprising intimacy in such a big place. And you don’t feel overwhelmed by dogma. You can commune.
The music was a trio, led by Davell Crawford on piano. He played Christmas songs in his own joyful, idiosyncratic arrangements, with power and grace, allowing everyone to both recognize these melodies and to have them refreshed.
When you listen to music in a large cathedral, your mind wanders from time to time as do your eyes. I think this is one of the purposes of being there. I looked to the ceiling, to the altar behind which there is a large mural of St. Louis departing for the the Seventh Crusade from Aigues-Mortes in the South of France. I looked over the crowd of listeners, let my mind wander, felt the warmth of the Cathedral and, gradually, lost my ego to something far bigger and grander. Was it the music? The place itself? The idea of finding the peace which passeth all understanding? The sense that I am just one among many? All of it? The release of this self-importance, of this aura of I, to something large, mysterious and beautiful is, I guess, what people come to church for. With the eyes looking up to the painted ceiling, with the sense of history, with the diminishment of self came thoughts of childhood and a sense of what we all felt then at certain times but hardly ever do now, at least not with that unbridled intensity, and which we so miss: