Unity in Diversity: Finding God in Chaconnes

by the Rev’d Craig Lemming

“And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

In Sunday’s sermon I quoted Janet Jackson’s invitation “to learn how to water your spiritual garden.” In the sermon I preached in March, I shared how music often serves as “a sacramental conduit that connects earthly things with heavenly things” – like Monteverdi’s “Zefiro Torna” communicating the new-life-that’s-beyond-anyone’s-control nature of the Holy Spirit. I’ve come to realize that Chaconnes – the baroque dance form that Monteverdi uses for that intoxicatingly beautiful madrigal – have been watering my spiritual garden for years.

By the turn of the 18th century the lusty thrum of the Chaconne’s repeated four-bar harmonic pattern had become one of the most beloved baroque musical forms. The Chaconne’s recurring bass line and catchy chord progression – which originated in late 16th-century Central and South America – allows for variations, decorations, alterations, and fabulously virtuosic melodic riffs. The Chaconne and the Passacaglia eventually became so closely related that they were almost indistinguishable. In the following example, from an album I’ve relished all summer, listen to the garden of flowery delights that burst out of the rich soil the chaconne bassline provides:

In the midst of heartbreak; stressful life-transitions like facing deportation, moving to a new city, grieving the death of a loved one; or just coping with the frustrations of a grueling work day, over the years Chaconnes have somehow always succeeded in reminding me that, “yes, life hurts right now, and you’re going to be alright.”

I’ve compiled a short playlist below of two Chaconnes and a Passacaglia that have been faithful spiritual companions on life’s journey. For me, their reassuring basslines symbolize the changeless and eternal Unity of God, while their florid variations simultaneously symbolize God’s kaleidoscopic, dynamic, and unpredictably creative Diversity. Chaconnes help to connect me with the Triune God in whose sacred image of Unity-in-Diversity we are all created.

With Herman Hesse’s words in mind (thanks, Holly Stoerker!), enjoy the Chaconnes below.

Now and Then by Hermann Hesse

Now and then everything feels wrong and desolate,
and sprawling in pain, weak and exhausted,
every effort reverts to grief,
every joy collapses with broken wings.
And our longing listens for distant summons,
aching to receive news filled with joy.

But we still miss bliss
fortunate fates elude from afar.
Now is the time to listen within,
Tend our inner garden mindfully
until new flowers, new blessings can blossom.

  1. Ciaconna from Trio Sonata in B-flat Major, BuxWV 255 by Dietrich Buxtehude
  2. Chaconne from Act II of Phaëton by Jean-Baptiste Lully
  3. Passacaglia from Concerto Grosso no. 5 in G Major by Georg Muffat


p.s. – Hidden Track! Whether he wrote it as a tombeau when his first wife Maria Barbara died or not, J.S. Bach’s Chaconne from his Partita in D Minor for solo violin – known as the Chaconne – has been described by Joshua Bell as “not just one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, but one of the greatest achievements of any man in history. It’s a spiritually powerful piece, emotionally powerful, structurally perfect.”

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