Last week, composer/Lyricist Stephen Sondheim died. He was 91 years old. He wrote an incredible number of shows for Broadway. You may be familiar with some of them: A Little Night Music, Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park with George, and Sondheim worked with Leonard Bernstein on the score for West Side Story. About ten years ago, a two volume set of Sondheim’s lyrics was published. In those books, along with the lyrics, Sondheim writes comments and insights from his life experiences and the intention behind the songs in his shows. There’s one citation about his own life that made me pause because it offers us something to think about as we continue our journey through Advent. Here’s what he wrote:
Unexpected significant moments, moments which happen entirely by chance, keep life surprising and sometimes change its direction permanently—not events, mere moments. My parents’ divorce, for example, was an event: it led to my meeting Oscar Hammerstein II and finding a channel into the work I was meant to do. Studying Latin at George School with an inspiring teacher named Lucille Pollock opened me up to the fascinating intricacies of the English language; taking an elective music course at Williams College taught by an ascetic, eccentric professor…introduced me to the logic of music and focused my interest for the next sixty-some-odd years—those were events. Running into Arthur Laurents at the opening-night party of a play I hadn’t even attended, a fortunate happenstance that brought me the opportunity to write lyrics for West Side Story—that was a lucky moment.
We hear in Sacred Scripture: “For God has commanded that every lofty mountain be made low, and that the age-old depths and gorges be filled to level ground, that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God…for God is leading Israel in joy.” In other words, God smoothes out the path for us. But we have to be willing to open our hearts to the Lord; and the best way to do that is to do what St. John the Baptist asks of us: repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And John also says in a clearer way what Baruch had said; John the Baptist says, “Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth…”
“Unexpected significant moments, moments which happen entirely by chance, keep life surprising and sometimes change its direction permanently.” God works through these unexpected moments. Very often while its happening we don’t understand what God is up to. For Sondheim the experience of his parents divorce must have been devastating, yet something came from that which had a profound effect on the courser and work of his life. So, when we are standing before a mountain wondering how we are going to get to the other side, Jesus can provide a way for us which might be going straight through because only he can make the mountains and hills low and fill in the valleys.
One of the “mountains” of life might be our past sins. Allow the Lord to free you from them through the sacrament of Reconciliation—let the path be cleared so that you can more forward and experience the joys that Christ has in store for you.