Saturday, January 28, 2006

Piano Recital

Another rainy day! It seems that January is trying to make up for the rain we didn't get in November. Not that I keep up with the numbers, but my recollection of November is that I kept saying, "Wow, I can't believe it hasn't rained more by now...."

Anyway, it wasn't raining this morning when my piano students came for their recital. (And isn't it funny that we use the word recital for music and dance, and the word recite pretty much only for something involving words?) They came in their pretty dresses and one with his basketball uniform in his backpack for the after-the-recital game. They played their music, dropped their music, forgot and remembered parts of their music, bowed or forgot to bow. It was like so many piano recitals. Sweet, sincere, at times funny.

Most of my students are beginners right now. So they aren't playing music that astounds or deeply moves.

And yet every few months, when I organize a recital, I am amazed and moved by the simple truth that these children, however many months or years earlier, could not do what they did on this day. Their fingers would not fit into these positions. The symbols on the page meant nothing to them. They could not clap in time to a metronome and stay with it for anything. Some could not even sit still for a thirty-minute lesson. (Not that all can now all the time!)

And whether they are now playing Bach, or Big Ben, or Boogie Woogie Blues, they remind me that amazing things happen all around us all the time. We just don't see the wonder of them.

The way our minds can learn. The way our bodies heal from wounds. The way plants grow and flowers appear. The way we recognize faces and voices, even when every face and every voice is very similar to all the others. The way the sky turns pink in the evening as the sun sets. The way gravity holds us to the earth and holds the moon out there for us to see.

These are amazing things. None of us can make any of them happen. But they are so much a part of life that we forget how amazing they are.

I'm glad for piano recitals that remind me every now and then.

(The picture above shows students from a few years ago, since I don't have any from today.)

Friday, January 27, 2006

Laughter is good for the soul

Okay, that last post, and those rainy/cloudy days, led the introspective contemplator in me to realize that perhaps my blog tends toward the serious side of life.

Perhaps too much?

I don't know who gets to decide the proper balance between serious and not-so-serious.

But tonight I discovered the online manifestation of a Harding professor, Mark Elrod. He came to Harding just as I was going to the program in Italy and then using my last year to squeeze in every class needed so that I could graduate before my scholarship ran out. So although I admired him from afar, I never got to take him for a class. And consequently never really got to know him terribly well.

So, what a surprise to learn that he has a blog. And I just have to encourage you to read his post for today (Jan 27th.) It is hilarious and thought-provoking. And it will give you a reason to live, since he leaves you hanging until Monday for "the rest of the story."

So, if you want to laugh, copy and paste the following link. (I know so little about how computers work, but I'm thinking this blog is not set up to automatically let you click on links. There's probably something I could do to make that happen. Can anyone coach me?)

Sunday, January 22, 2006

"Looking Down"

There is a mute abandon in the prim
And music in the silence of relief,
There is refreshment in the grey and grim
And peace in the unravelling of grief.
There comes an appetite before a feast
That some would label hunger out of fear,
And laughter, too, sleeps half the day at least,
And trees are gladly leafless half the year.
You ask why poets pick depression's bones
When lilacs beckon to be picked instead;
Why downcast choirs moan of mud and stones
When half the heavens shimmer overhead.
There lives some voice within us that seems made
To praise the sun by singing of its shade.

Daniel Waters, in First Things, October 2005

When I took this photo, I could just hear someone asking, "What are you taking a picture of?!" We were surrounded by leaves in the prime of their fall changing, green fields, and colorful rural countryside.

Why did I take this picture? What was I taking a picture of?

I thought it was beautiful. I was struck by the way the bare limbs were simply there against that plush background of clouds. And the few leaves still hanging on seemed to say something about life. These trees were alive, even though the signs of life were scarce. And because the trees were bare, you could see the play of light in the sky behind them. (As I write that, I realize the sky is not "behind" the trees, except from our perspective.)

And then I found this poem, which I offer as further explanation of why I took this picture.

This morning we woke up to rain, and it has not stopped the whole day long. The whole day was gray. I drove by water standing a foot deep on one street. Part of our driveway is submerged in water. The dogs could not go out to play. We never saw the sun today, night has come again, it's almost 10pm. It's dark and still raining.

It's a day of "looking down." Of silence, grey and grim. Of leafless trees and the moan of mud.

And yet it is Sunday, and a voice within praises the sun.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

A gift that keeps giving

At least 14 years ago, my grandmother gave me a little daily calendar, the kind that stands up on a table and has a thought for each day, and you flip it over each day. For years I have had it in my kitchen, whether I lived in Zagreb or Cakovec, Croatia, or in two different apartments and now a house in Memphis.

(Actually, one year, I remember my sister and I traded calendars, just for a change. So it was a part of her kitchen for that year, but it came back to me.)

The sayings aren't always profound or pithy, though now and then one will just hit me as just the thing I needed to hear. Or perhaps I'll read it in a way I had not before.

Three years ago today, the words on the calendar took on special meaning. It was the day of Grandmother's funeral, and the calendar she gave me said for this day, "The truest end of life is to know that life never ends." And then the biblical quotation, "Now this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent."

Coincidence? Synchronicity? Providence? Who knows?

Certainly a gift, one that Grandmother could not have known she was giving me 14 years earlier.

I didn't turn the page for many, many weeks after that. In fact, I was talking to a friend one day about the calendar and how I couldn't bring myself to turn the page, because this was such a connection to my grandmother, her faith, her generosity. I don't know that it was "unhealthy" grief, but I was having a hard time going on.

That very day, that calendar fell down off its shelf onto the floor, flipping its own pages! Forcing me to pick it up and go on. It had never fallen before and has not since.

Coincidence? Synchronicity? Providence? I certainly don't know.

But, then, figuring out such mysteries is not the truest end of life, is it?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Unceasing Prayer

Our minds are always active. We analyze, reflect, daydream, or dream. There is not a moment during the day or night when we are not thinking. You might say our thinking is "unceasing." Sometimes we wish that we could stop thinking for a while; that would save us from many worries, guilt feelings, and fears. Our ability to think is our greatest gift, but it is also the source of our greatest pain. Do we have to become victims of our unceasing thoughts? No, we can convert our unceasing thinking into unceasing prayer by making our inner monologue into a continuing dialogue with our God, who is the source of all love.

Let's break out of our isolation and realize that Someone who dwells in the center of our beings wants to listen with love to all that occupies and preoccupies our minds.

--Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey

I love this picture of the church near our home in Cakovec, Croatia. The contrast between the light and dark fascinates me. Nouwen's words remind me of the difference bewteen light and dark in my own mind and heart. I'm very good at worrying and fearing. Sometimes that seems to be my default setting. And it always takes me to the dark side. Today was a reminder for me that consciously letting that Someone be a part of it makes all the difference.

I much prefer the light.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Sweetheart Roses

This time of the year I think about my grandmother, Mildred Christmas, even more than usual. I spent Christmas Day nearly every year of my life in her home, so of course the holidays bring back many memories of her. I also remember in elementary school, friends used to think I was making up her last name.

Grandmother was so interesting, and such a beautiful person, there was no need to make up anything about her. She was larger than life, and the longer I knew her, the more she amazed me.

The roses in this photo grow in my front yard from a planting my parents gave me from a bush in her yard. She called them sweetheart roses, and hers grew in a bed outside her back door. Every summer they bloom, a gift from her that lives on. When I smell them, memories of her become more vivid, and something of her soul is in that scent.

Three years ago on this day, Grandmother was struggling for air. She had been in the hospital with congestive heart failure and various complications. I wasn't able to be with her, because I myself was in bed struggling for air, with a flu or something that had filled my chest and made me cough. I couldn't risk making her sicker by visiting her, even if I'd felt up to it.

The last time I saw her, she had come from her home in Brownsville to Memphis to attend the Christmas concert my chorus performed. She loved music, and had always encouraged my own music. She was exhausted that day, didn't even make it to church that morning. But she came for my concert.

If I'd had any idea that day that it was the last time I would see her, who knows what else I might have said to her?

We never know when people we love will leave.

We never know when we will leave this life, either. We have no control over that.

But these roses remind me that we all have a lot to do with what we will leave behind for those we love, when our time comes.

And how much we have to be thankful for, from those who have left us precious gifts.

Sweetheart roses are a perfect symbol for my grandmother, who had both a sweet heart and the tough endurance of a rosebush that comes back year after year.

Three years ago today, her breaths were limited. But today her inspiration lives on.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Hot Potatoes

This is a part of my daddy's garden earlier this year. I was always amazed at what my dad could do with vegetables.

Today I amazed myself with what I could do with vegetables.

I put sweet potatoes in the oven when I left for work, set it to 350, calculated the hours, and left.

Had a good morning at work. At lunchtime, was able to attend a luncheon with Lauren Winner as guest speaker. (She is as much fun to see and listen to as she is to read.) Bought Mudhouse Sabbath, had her sign it, and walked out into torrential rain. Picked my way carefully across about a quarter mile of parking lot, avoiding the creeks that had formed in the unintended asphalt creekbeds, and got into my car, bringing a lot of water with me. I think the new book was the only thing that stayed dry.

Drove back to work, had a good afternoon.

Around 5:40, I was getting ready to leave work and go teach a piano lesson, when I realized with not just a gasp, but an, "Oh, no!" heard by my co-worker in the next office--that I had not gone home after lunch to turn off the oven.

Postponed piano lesson, drove home. The house had not burned down, but the sweet potatoes were literally burnt to a crisp. I've heard blackened catfish is good, but blackened sweet potatoes are another matter.

So much for the ready-to-eat supper plan.

After teaching piano, leaving my student's house, and having to return to retrieve the purse I'd left there, I started contemplating dying my hair back to its original blonde. Just to have an excuse for this sort of thing.

Oh, and this morning I found my glasses after a week of looking for them. I had called my dentist's office twice, the grocery store once, talked to more than one piano student, started budgeting for a new pair. They were in my car the whole time, right next to my seat.

Does it have something to do with the paint fumes that have been in our house since the day after Christmas?

Or maybe I should have eaten more of some memory-related vegetable from my dad's garden all those years growing up?

Anybody ever have a day like this?

Friday, January 06, 2006

O Nata Lux

O born Light of light,
Jesus, redeemer of the world,
mercifully deem worthy and accept
the praises and prayers of your supplicants.
Thou who once deigned to be clothed in flesh
for the sake of the lost,
grant us to be made members
of your holy body.

Today is the day of Epiphany, if you follow the Christian calendar. The twelve days of Christmas are over, and I will take down my decorations today.

Today (or probably this coming Sunday), some Christians celebrate the realization that the child born in the manger is the Light of the world. It has to do with the star that led the wise men from the east to Bethlehem. My calendar calls it "the Manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ to the Gentiles," and the service on Sunday is replete with scriptures and songs that use the image of light.

The song above is one of my favorites. If you are looking for beautiful music, get a copy of Morten Loridsen's "Lux Aeterna," which is the context in which I learned this piece. (The very first night my chorus sightread through the music, I cried from the beauty of it.)

Be sure to get a translation of the texts. If you can't, I'll send you one.

The photo is from St. Columba retreat center, a few years ago. That wooden sculpture has since succombed to weather and woodpeckers. The sun won't last forever. Today the Christmas decorations will come down. And someday nothing of our own lives will remain on the earth. But the real "lux aeterna" is, well, eternal light, and I'm thankful.

Grant us to be made members of your holy body.

May we also be wise and follow the light!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

"Vulnerable, Like a Bird"

Life is precious. Not because it is unchange- able, like a diamond, but because it is vulnerable, like a little bird. To love life means to love its vulnerability, asking for care, attention, guidance, and support. Life and death are connected by vulnerability. The newborn child and the dying elder both remind us of the preciousness of our lives. Let's not forget the preciousness and vulnerability of life during the times we are powerful, successful, and popular.

Henri J. M. Nouwen, Bread for the Journey

(Photo from Subiaco Abbey, Subiaco, Arkansas)

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year!

If you look closely (you can click to enlarge), you can see the green of daffodils breaking through the cold snow near these very old tombstones. I took this picture shortly after losing three people very dear to me. Those little daffodils spoke so quietly and powerfully to the reality of new life, new beginnings, new hope.

And he who sat upon the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." --Revelation 21:5

May the beginning of this New Year bring you life and hope.