Gustav Mahler was a composer during the very late romantic period of classical music. Some of the characteristics of his music would include very large, dramatic ensembles, thick, complex chord progressions, and emotionally-packed subject matter.
My very favorite piece of his is his Symphony No. 2 (namely its last movement and finale), the "Resurrection" Symphony. The last movement rivals Beethoven's 9th in its depth and wellspring of hope that it conveys. The words alone are moving, but set to the stunning orchestrations of Mahler, the impact it has on the listener is beyond human.
Arise, yes, you will arise from the dead,
My dust, after a short rest!
Will be given you by Him who called you.
To bloom again are you sown.
The lord of the harvest goes
And gathers the sheaves,
Us who have died.
-- Friedrich Klopstock
There is worship in our bones, and it goes even deeper than that. God has created us to long for Him with every fiber of our being, whether we want to or not. We can run and hide from him, or dive into sin so deeply that we believe that God either cannot or wouldn't want to find us there. We can hide in the garden and sew fig leaves to cover our nakedness. We can be vomited onto a shoreline after spending a few days in the belly of a whale. We can weep after hearing the rooster crow after we've denied knowing Him a few times. Yet we are utterly, doggedly pursued. And there is something in us that reaches out in return despite all these experiences of hiding or running away or denying.
Ezekiel was asked by God, "Can these bones live?" and Ezekiel responded, "Lord, only You know!" Because once we enter the space where God asks us questions, we often don't know if He means them rhetorically or literally. All we know is that He knows the answer anyway. He is only asking us because He is kindling wonder in us so what He's about to do doesn't get missed. Jesus spoke in parables most of the time, knowing that a lot of people weren't going to get what He was trying to say. Why?! Why can't God be plainspoken?! Because He is kindling that part of us that wants to reach out in return, even if we don't really want to or choose not to for whatever reason.
Jesus told the pharisees when they complained to Him about His disciples singing and worshiping so loudly, "I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out."
So it is with our stony hearts. The rock-hard hearts that run from God and refuse to know Him will still cry out in worship whether we will it or not. In the next verse, Jesus approached Jerusalem and wept over it, longing to gather its children to Him as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings in a fire. She may be charred, but her chicks would live. He follows with these grievous words: "But you would not." And then a couple days later He proceeds to be betrayed, abandoned, and tortured, dying for the love of them anyway.
Gustav Mahler was a self-professed atheist. But he wrote these heartbreakingly longing words for the finale of his Resurrection Symphony to be sung by the chorus:
O believe, my heart, oh believe,
Nothing will be lost to you!
Everything is yours that you have desired,
Yours, what you have loved, what you have struggled for.
You were not born in vain,
Have not lived in vain, suffered in vain!
What was created must perish,
What has perished must rise again.
Tremble no more!
Prepare yourself to live!
O Sorrow, all-penetrating!
I have been wrested away from you!
O Death, all-conquering!
Now you are conquered!
With wings that I won
In the passionate strivings of love
I shall mount
To the light to which no sight has penetrated.
I shall die, so as to live!
Arise, yes, you will arise from the dead,
My heart, in an instant!
What you have conquered
Will bear you to God.
Those are the words of a man whose heart may be self-professed to be a stone: unbelieving, unyielding. Yet the words and music cry out -- reaching outstretched arms to worship.
We are all made for eternal life. That's why death and goodbyes (even some temporary ones) are so hard for us to accept; we aren't made for them. We are made for eternity. We are made to be unified in love together forever, all of us. And we are made to long for the One Who made us that way, all tucked under His wings together.
The first question asked in the Old Testament is God asking, "Where are you?" to Adam and Eve after they have sinned for the first time. God knew everything that had happened and where they were. His questions are always deeper in meaning than they appear. This question was not meant as a request for location. It was, "After all this, are you still longing for me, too?" And He continues to ask that question throughout scripture.
The first question asked in the New Testament was the magi asking, "Where is He?" They weren't Jews. They were alchemists, scientists, astronomers, men of the world, men of discovery and intellectual adventure. They let spirit of their work be lifted up into the wind and waves of wonder until their souls could answer the first question of the Old Testament with the first question of the New.
No one is beyond hope. The stones still cry out. Our hand, though more limply than God's, still reaches out in return even when we are too hard-hearted or distracted or numb or lost to know or notice. And the One Who created those hearts and those stones defeated death by opening the womb of eternal life by His own death and resurrection.
So as I listen to the last movement of the Resurrection Symphony, I hear both the rock of Mahler's heart crying out for more than he understood, and I also hear the story of Christ's tenderness and power in defeating His own death so that ours can be defeated as well.
When we partake of such wonder-full beauty, we cannot help but enter into true worship either. Leonard Bernstein was not a very religious person, at least by observance of his life. But if you watch him conduct the last few minutes of the Resurrection Symphony, you cannot be but convinced of his entering into that worship. With sweat, tears, outstretched arms, and screaming out the words begging for hope of eternal life and praise of the One Who made it possible, he is simply doing what all of us were created to do.