'As an Anchoress Julian was allowed to keep a cat for pest control, particularly to keep down the mice. Julian is often portrayed with her cat nearby, no doubt it was a great source of comfort to her.'That notice is displayed in the Anchoress' cell in St Julian's Church in Norwich and I photographed the Marseille street cat seen below when I was on the road with a Sufi saint recently. On my iPod in Marseille was Aïcha Redouane singing her own settings of the Sufi poems of Rabi`a Al-`Adawiyya. Those two remarkable women, Julian of Norwich and Rabi`a Al-`Adawiyya, are linked by their fervour for mystical devotion. Julian and her cat are portrayed by Brother Robert Lentz OFM, a gay American Franciscan friar who controversially incorporates contemporary social themes into his icons. The link between Christian and Islamic mysticism fascinated another American monk Thomas Merton, who venerated both Julian of Norwich and the Algerian Sufi saint Shaykh Ahmad ibn 'Ajiba. The importance of mystical devotion was also recognised by the Catholic philosopher Teilhard de Chardin who said "humankind is being brought to a moment where it will have to decide between suicide and adoration". Suicide has powerful advocates but those fighting the corner of adoration include Edmund Rubbra with a homage to Teilhard de Chardin in the form of his revelatory Eighth Symphony together with the feline linked Jonathan Harvey whose How could the soul not take flight sets the verse of Sufi poet Jalal Al-Din Rumi. Also on the side of adoration is Hildegard authority June Boyce-Tillman who captures Julian's mystical devotions in Enfolded in Love, a musical pageant for young musicians. With maritime tragedies in the news June Boyce-Tillman has a topical performance in Southampton on Feb 4: her new work for choir and orchestra The Myth of the Titanic retells the story of the sinking of the Titanic as a myth about human hubris and arrogance - classical music cannot be more relevant than that. The Myth of the Titanic, which in an echo of Tippett's A Child of Our Time uses a song from the black community in the US to protest against colonialism and racial subjugation, is confirmation that engagement is alive and well if you look beyond the Mahler symphonies. Isabelle Eberhardt, who campaigned against colonialism and was a frequent maritime traveller, had drawn me to Marseille and Missy Mazzoli's refreshingly engaged opera Song from the Uproar: the Lives and Deaths of Isabelle Eberhardt premieres at The Kitchen, NYC on Feb 24. Funds are being raised for a recording of the opera on Kickstarter, which was how Ochion Jewell funded the CD of his First Suite for Jazz Quartet - is a new anti-business model emerging for recording? Alas no recording of June Boyce-Tillman's mystical musical celebration of Julian of Norwich, but read about it in Meetings with remarkable women.
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