“Do you know what eternity is?” asks a central character in one of my favorite books. “I mean, d'you KNOW what eternity is?” He’s asking in jest—but not really, and the question sticks with me and swirls around this devastating and exquisite cantata. Coming to terms with the infinite is at the limits of what we can manage—that twinge of knowing intimately that you can’t completely understand.
I feel the same way about that wrenching first phrase of the final chorale “It Is Enough.” We hear the words, but the music pulsing through the opening says the opposite to me, Instead of a simple affirmation, it feels like a tearing, devastating question. “I’m supposed to understand this, to feel it—but I don’t.”
How we come to have a relationship with eternity, how we come to a place of acceptance, these are the huge questions. I love Bach for being willing to tackle them head on in all their discomfort. His honesty is somehow exactly what I need.