Monday, October 20, 2014

Two Years

Wow, it has been long enough since I posted anything here that for a moment I couldn't remember how to start a new post.

Work, school, travel, and other life events have kept me from coming here for several months. But today I have to break the silence to remember my beloved piano teacher who was so much more than a piano teacher. I've written about her before, here and here.

Today marks the two-year anniversary of her death. Interestingly, at the time of her death, I was taking a class on the book of Revelation. And now I'm taking a class on the Gospel of John. Both books that talk a lot about life and death, and eternal life. And light and dark, too, especially in John. And day and night, especially in Revelation.

The last couple of years off her life, she was working on the Nocturnes of Francis Poulenc. She said I simply must get them and learn to play them. She would play them for me, commenting on the jazz touches that Poulenc added to his impressionistic sound.

So, sometime in the past year, I ordered the music. Making sure it came from the publisher she had recommended, the Parisian edition, not some take-off arrangement. (Some things are worth splurging on.)

A couple of months ago, I was out of town to visit a friend in Colorado and take some time off. I called a nearby college and asked if they might be able to let me use a practice room while I was in town. They said yes. I expected a small room with an old piano in it. But they gave me a huge room with a Steinway in it. A beautiful, nicely kept Steinway. Not old and out of tune, but actually wonderful.

And another time when I was out of town, at the Scarritt-Bennett Center in Nashville for a group retreat, I had access to a wonderful piano, though to be honest, I don't remember what kind it was.

Both times, just hoping I might have a chance to play, I had my music with me. The Nocturnes of Poulenc. The music that will always remind me of her and those last visits we had.

So both times I played my heart out. Not wonderful playing, because I don't have time to practice as is required to play this music wonderfully. But it was a wonderful way to connect with her and remember the many hours we spent at her wonderful piano, and all the wonderful pianos I played on for competitions she coached me through (though I never felt wonderful while doing those!)

And I wept at those wonderful pianos. Wonderful cleansing tears that I so needed to cry, because life has been so full these past two years, I have hardly had proper time to do that, to remember her well and to grieve her loss, though I feel it so often in the midst of various activities. Especially when I wish I could pick up the phone and call her.

The dark and light of a piano keyboard will always be a way of connecting with her. The "night" of the nocturnes will always bring a certain kind of "day" as I connect with her love through them.

And unlike the Steinway in Colorado Springs, which I said goodbye to and then looked at through a locked door, doubting that I'd ever see it again, because of the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation, I do look forward to seeing her again.

And I am thankful. Thankful for her life. Thankful for eternal life. Sad right now, but thankful.

(This was one of the first pieces I ever played as her student. Nice bookends.)

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Infinity in My Lap: Light, Lace, and Laminate

School and life conspired to keep me from posting about music as I'd planned. That post is in progress, but not quite ready.

Meanwhile, I had another brush with infinity. With something as simple as a shirt hanging on a chair.

It wasn't the shirt or the chair, though. It was the light. The light coming through the window that caught my eye and took hold of my heart. I just sometimes cannot believe what a beautiful and mind-boggling thing light is. Coming from Brother Sun so many miles away from us that I cannot really pretend to comprehend the distance . . . and without this light our very existence is impossible.

Of course there are ways of measuring the distance, the light, the heat. But compared to our little lives, the light may as well be infinite. It is certainly beyond us. And it is pure gift.

And such a powerful gift can fall on tiny little human-sized objects and make them beautiful.

So I took some pictures.

The table and chairs belonged to my grandparents; it was the first table they ate at after marrying each other. After some decades, Grandmother had a laminate finish put on the top. At some point it was moved down to the basement room, and I spent many happy hours down there wrapping Christmas gifts for her, the ones she hadn't yet gotten to. I loved wrapping gifts, and I loved how she always said what a good job I did. And I loved the meals she prepared, which my wrapping allowed her to stay focused on!

So the table is part of the moment of infinity, the connection to love that is living now beyond this world, beyond this sun. In even brighter light, I trust.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Inifinity in My Lap: Healing Art

So, I spent the greater part of Thursday in a relatively small room filled with big moments. I had more fun that day than I'd had in I don't know how long. As a child, like most children, I loved to draw, color, paint, cut, paste, whatever. But in high school, we had to choose between chorus and art classes, and I always sang. And visual art, beyond photography, just didn't have much of a chance in my schedule. Then in college, I took one drawing class and fell in love with "making art," as the artists say. (For some reason, I never heard that expression until the past few years, and it still sounds a little odd to me. I tend to think of "doing art," for whatever reason....and look what I just found, piqued by curiosity about that phrasing.)

Our teacher was amazing. She has a real gift for what she does and for teaching it to others. Her warm, compassionate enthusiasm was contagious.

Of course she was teaching/lecturing part of the time, but she also gave us projects to do. And it was so neat, how people got so engrossed in what we were doing. The room just felt different when everyone was focused on their own little creation, music was playing quietly, and no one was talking.

These oil pastels were our friends for the day. I felt like I was back in elementary school. I still remember how exciting it was the first time I had a box of 64 crayons!

We partnered with the person sitting next to us and played "scribble chase." One person leads with a scribble/doodle, and the other follows. A great ice breaker.

I led on this one. My only thought was to do more than go round and round, so I did some other things. It kind of wound up looking like a face, didn't it?

My partner, who became my friend in the course of the day, led on this one. It was more relaxing, just going round and round. And I like how our pinks look together.

The next thing we did was the "inside and outside the square" piece that I described in the previous post.

And for the next one we were instructed to just doodle until she said "stop." It wasn't very long at all. My original doodle was just the curve you see below that forms the main part of the bass clef sign.

Then we were to think of three things we could make from the doodle, and not begin doing anything with it until we had three ideas. (Generating ideas, envisioning possibilities....important stuff in therapy.....)

Once we had three ideas, we were to choose one of our ideas and continue making something from our doodle.

Well, I liked two of my ideas so much that I did both of them, and the next thing I knew, I had the beginning notes of the main theme of Beehoven's Ninth and an angel together on the page, with joy in various languages, and beams of light coming from the heart of the angelic figure.

At some point I thought how strange it was, with the things going on in my life lately, that I would be creating art so full of light and joy and music. Was I in denial? I wondered. But I just kept adding beams of light and then the bass clef-y doodles to frame the piece, and I knew I was not in denial. There are hard things going on, some very hard things, but the light and joy overcome the darkness.

So then I added the "o magnum mysterium" to the mix, because it is rather mysterious how light and dark, joy and sorrow, can be so mixed in one mind and heart. And because I know that for me it is the great mystery of the Incarnation, and all that follows from it, that makes it possible.

When Lisa came around to see what we were doing and talk briefly with us about our work, she asked me, "So how far do the rays of light extend beyond the page?" I looked up at her and after a moment's pause said, "Infinitely. Because even though it looks like an angel, this is the heart of God, and the light is infinite."

And that is why I want to do more art in my therapy. Because I didn't even have that in mind when I was drawing these images. Not consciously. I was just going with the doodle and seeing what I could do. I drew hearts because I am not good at drawing faces, and  it seemed like a good way to not have to draw a face but still represent an angelic figure.

But somehow, making things with our hands has a way of going deep into our minds and heart and pulling things out.

And sometimes when doing that, infinity kind of. . . drops into one's lap.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Infinity in My Lap

"Infinity kind of...drops into one's lap."

That's Stratford Caldecott trying to describe to Ken Myers those moments when we are struck with the infinite nature of the cosmos, and how we are a part of it and are touched by it. How children seem to experience those moments more frequently, and how we as adults can learn to be more open to them.

I was listening to the interview this past Wednesday while driving from Memphis to my home town in Arkansas. This time of year the fields are piercingly green as the early evening light does its magic with their chlorophyll.

At certain moments I felt infinity dropping into my lap, perhaps bumping on the steering wheel as it came. It was early evening. The sun was still high enough to not be right in my eyes, but it was dropping, and it shone on the fields and through the trees at an angle that just made them magical. I wanted so much to stop and take pictures! But I knew if I did, I risked letting the sun get to the point that I would not be able to see, because I was driving almost due west the entire trip, and if that evening sun got any lower, I would be blinded.

So I kept driving, marvelling at the beauty. When I came near the White River and saw the red clover growing thickly all along the sides of the road, it was all I could do to just keep driving.

I was going this way partly to visit family, and also because of a professional seminar on "The Secrets to Using Art as a Healing Process," by Lisa Mitchell.  As soon as I saw the brochure about it, I knew I wanted to go.

So you probably won't be surprised at one of my pieces of art done on the following day. The instructions were simply to draw a square. Then to fill it with color, line, and texture. And then to take something from inside the square and move it outside the square. Here's what showed up on my pice of paper. . . .

The words came to me from the recesses of my mind, from a song my chorus sang in high school. If I can get it to work, you can listen to it here:

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Hopkins Still Hovers

I've just come across in my inbox a long, lovely article about Gerard Manley Hopkins, his life, his faith, and his poetry. I haven't even had to time to do more than skim it, but I'm putting the link here in case you want to read it and so that I can come back and read it with no chance of losing the link.

"....Hopkins’s genius is to make a poetic virtue out of the contradiction between dogma and experience. The designs of providence, running athwart appearances (and our wishes), require the orthodox to look again at the world, to see it in new and original ways. When dogma and experience are read into and against each other, they license—they do not foreclose—an idiosyncratic and creative vision."

(I did not take the photo. It came from here, where there are several others, and they are wonderful.)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter: Now the green blade riseth

Now the green blade riseth
from the buried gain,

wheat that in dark earth

many days has lain;

love lives again,
 that with the dead has been:

Love is come again like wheat that springs up green.

In the grave they laid him,

Love whom hate had slain,

thinking that never

he would wake again,

laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen:

Love is come again like wheat that springs up green.

Forth he came in quiet,

like the risen grain,

he that for three days

in the grave had lain,

quick from the dead
 the risen Christ is seen:

Love is come again like wheat that springs up green.

When our hearts are wintry,

grieving, or in pain,

Christ's touch can call us

back to life again,

fields of our hearts 
that dead and bare have been:

Love is come again like wheat that springs up green.

(You can listen to this song here in a lovely medieval-ish rendition.)

“It was no accident, no coincidence, that the seasons came round and round year after year. It was the Lord speaking to us all and showing us over and over again the birth, life, death, and resurrection of his only begotten Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, our Lord. It was like a best-loved story being told day after day with each sunrise and sunset, year after year with the seasons, down through the ages since time began.”

(I don't think I have any pictures of wheat growing, but this is a field I see regularly that is bare and muddy and ugly during the winter and then suddenly bursts into bloom!)

Holy Saturday: Bridegroom and Wedding

I wasn't planning to write anything today, and I won't say much, except that I was so struck by this article by Elizabeth Scalia that I've decided to share it. Struck by the piece itself and by the connection to Donne's poem that I shared a few posts ago.

Scalia begins with words from Pope Benedict,

Dear brothers and sisters, let us look at Christ pierced in the Cross! He is the unsurpassing revelation of God's love, a love in which eros and agape, far from being opposed, enlighten each other.

On the Cross, it is God Himself who begs the love of His creature: He is thirsty for the love of every one of us.

. . . and I will let you read the rest for yourself. It is worth reading.

This image of Christ as Lover and Bridegroom struck me today also as I went into an Orthodox Church nave to meet a friend. I always love being there. The space itself, with its other-wordly icons and candles and silence, is beautiful, and the people I know there are beautiful.

But today it was even more beautiful, with rose petals and other flowers carpeting the floor, and flower garlands on the doorways and other places. Just as it was when I went there for a wedding a few years ago.

My friends are there now, as I write, nearly midnight. The church is about to be completely dark, except for one candle. And then light will spread and grow, and joyous music will begin, and Alleluia's will be cried out after long weeks of none. And the people will later feast as if for a wedding, celebrating a marriage unlike any other.

The Cross began in Love and leads to Love.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday: The Cross

I thought I would just see how many cross pictures I have since getting this computer in October . . .

The cross from Father Stevens, made from Jerusalem olive tree wood.

Visitation Monastery gateway, Mobile, Alabama.

On the spine of one of my Bibles.

Spring Hill College, Mobile.

Chapel at Spring Hill College.

Spring Hill College.

My window at home.

First little one I saw this year.

Dogwood blossom, with its own cross legend.

We sang this last night.


Love can make beauty possible from the most terrible things.

Like the cross.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Maundy Thursday: Turning

(Caveat lector: I started writing this on the 26th day of Lent and had to leave off. Spring is now even further along than what I describe here......Just to keep it honest.)

Where we live, winter is finally turning into spring. The woods in this area have turned into a glorious celebration of new life. Grass is turning green in some places. People are turning their soil and planting things.

My jars and cups are turning into temporary vases as I bring daffodils into the house from time to time. Which turns walking through the common areas into a scent-uous delight.

I'm turning back to my routine of walking most mornings before anything else, though today we went for a walk together in the afternoon and saw the lovely magnolia pictured below.

And a huge field covered in these precious little purple wildflowers, whose name I still do not know, even though they have been a part of my life since as early as I can remember. (A quick search for "purple wildflowers that bloom in spring" tells me they are quite certainly a nettle, some type of Lamium. It's amazing how you can find things on the Internet....)

But the "turning" that has been on my mind when I'm not caught up in the glory of spring coming, is from another section of the book we've been reading most evenings during Lent, that I've quoted from in recent posts.

Following are excerpts from a sermon by Henry Drummond, of whom I know nothing beyond what the book tells me, that he was a British revivalist and preacher in the last half of the nineteenth century. He writes about the story of Peter and his betrayal of Jesus.

Tonight as I write, it is actually even more appropriate to write of this, rather than on the twenty-sixth day, as this is remembered as the night the betrayal happened. Having just returned home from a Maundy Thursday service, with the washing of feet, the sharing of bread and wine, and the almost surprisingly heartbreaking stripping of the altar--or altars, in the case of the church I was in--the story is even more poignant.

Having one's feet washed by anyone is a humbling and touching experience. Having one's feet washed by Jesus . . . I cannot imagine what it was like for Peter, for any of them. It seems to have evoked deep emotion in the disciples and especially in Peter, a deep sense of belonging, of desire to "have part in" rather than "have no part in me," as Jesus put it.

And yet . . . and yet . . . hours later, he denied knowing him.

Drummond writes,

Those of us who know the heart's deceit would surely find it difficult to judge this man--this man who had lived so long in the inner circle of fellowship with Christ, whose eyes were used to seeing miracles, who witnessed the glory of the transfiguration; this man whose ears were yet full of the most solemn words the world had ever heard, whose heart was warm still with Communion-table thoughts. We understand how he could have turned his back upon his Lord, and, almost ere the sacramental wine was dry upon his lips, curse him to his face. Such things, alas, are not strange to those of us who know the appalling tragedy of sin.

But there is something in Peter's life that is much greater than his sin. It is his repentance. We all to easily relate to Peter in his sin, but few of us grasp the wonder of his repentance. . . The real lesson in Peter's life is one of repentance. His fall is a lesson in sin that requires no teacher, but his repentance is a great lesson in salvation. And it is this great lesson that contains the only true spiritual meaning to those who have personally made Peter's discovery--that they have betrayed our God.

And then what I find especially beautiful--

What then can we learn from Peter's turning around? First, it was not Peter who turned. It was the Lord who turned and looked at Peter. When the cock crew, that might have kept Peter from falling further. But he was just in the very act of sin. And when a person is in the thick of his sin his last thought is to throw down his arms and repent. So Peter never thought of turning, but the Lord turned. And when Peter would rather have looked anywhere else than at the Lord, the Lord looked at Peter. This scarce-noticed fact is the only sermon needed to anyone who sins--that the Lord turns first.

Then he notes that it was not with a loud voice Jesus turned to him, not even with a sound at all.

A look, and that was all. . . God did not threaten . . .We misunderstand God altogether if we think he deals coarsely with our souls. If we consider what has really influenced our lives, we will find that it lies in a few silent voices that have preached to us, the winds which have passed across our soul so gently that we scarce could tell when they were come or gone. [He tells the story of Elijah and the still small voice from I Kings 19:11-12.]

When God speaks he speaks so softly that no one hears the whisper but yourself . . . Stay right where you are. Don't return into the hustle and bustle of life until the Lord has also turned and looked on you again, as he looked at the thief upon the cross, and until you have beheld the "glory of the love of God in the face of Jesus."

As winter turns to spring and hearts turn toward death and resurrection, and even flowers turn toward the sun, I am thankful for this reminder that God, through Christ, turns toward us even before we turn toward Him.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Poetry in Unexpected Places

We went to the Spring Art Walk on Broad Avenue last night. I used to work on Broad Avenue, and at that time my friends would say on hearing about my new counseling job, "Are you sure you want to work there? Aren't you scared? Are you sure it's safe?"

After a horribly tragic shooting that killed several members of a family not far from our building, my boss forbade my usual habit of walking the two blocks down the street between our place and the clinic we were associated with. If I had to go, I had to drive. Just to be safe.

That was over five years ago. In the meantime, a lot has been happening in that part of town. Good stuff happening. Good people making things happen. Things are changing.

Last night we went with friends to that very same Broad Avenue, a little further down the street. We visited art galleries, a just-opening bakery, a paint-your-own-furniture store. We talked with artists, ministers, a man who helps folks in the city learn how to keep their chickens to have fresh eggs. We heard live music. We saw smiles and heard laughter. Nothing felt unsafe.

A young man was sitting in a chair on the sidewalk with a typewriter in his lap. A sign held up by a friend said, "Personal Poem Written Just for You." It intrigued me, so we stopped and asked. He said, You tell me about yourself, and I write a poem. I asked about the cost. He said, Whatever you decide. After you read it, you can pay me what you want.

So we gave him about two minutes' worth of information (or less) about us, and in a few minutes, here is what he gave us. It fits so well with this that I have to share it:

We stood there and read it in the streetlight. I was impressed. We paid him.

I asked what kind of typerwriter he had. An Underwood! I said, "I'm an Underwood myself!" (It's my maiden name.)

I asked him about himself. You can learn some of what he told us here. I said I might have to write a poem about him.

He asked if we'd be willing to take a picture of the poem later and email it to him. He's working on a book. I said we would.

I said to my man, as we walked down the street as the sun began to set, "I never thought I'd be walking down this street for fun."

And I'm saying to myself right now, "I never thought I'd find poetry on Broad Street."

And then I'm thinking of all the people who sat on the couch in my office, and I said, "Tell me about yourself." And they did. I heard stories I could not hear anywhere else. Hard stories, stories of suffering and pain and courage and endurance. Stories I can never publish but never forget.

They would ask about the cost, and within a certain range I was able to say, "You pay what you can." And we didn't write poetry, though I did take notes. And I heard stories and met people and learned about lives that could make a book. I learned about the battlefields of many lives, and I give thanks for all those days, and all those years. They left a living poetry in my heart.

And I'm happy to see light and joy on Broad Avenue.

Thank you, Adam, for the poetry.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Lent, Day Twenty-Seven: Confluence

Over the weekend, while driving here and there running errands in my car, I listened to an interview by Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio with Gerald McDermott on a recent book he cowrote on The Theology of Jonathan Edwards.  One theme that McDermott emphasized in Edwards' work is the beauty of God. Because most people's familiarity with Edwards is limited to one less-than-beautiful sermon, Edwards is not generally thought of someone who was deeply in love with God and considered God's beauty to be the primary quality of God that draws people to belief.

At one point, either McDermott or Myers said something like, "So for him, it wasn't about being driven by duty, but drawn by beauty." Which easily sticks in the mind. And it did.

Separately, yesterday at some point the thought came to me, "You can't reason people out of something they weren't reasoned into." (Turns out that comes from Jonathan Swift, but I don't know where I heard it. Probably by way of my high school English teacher, as it seems like the sort of quotation he would have on his chalkboard.)

And I was thinking about how hard it is to reason oneself out of behaviors or even ideas that did not come about primarily through reason but through "the affections," as Jonathan Edwards referred to the deeper part of the human being, what the Hebrew scriptures refer to as "the heart," though it is much more than what Americans usually mean by "heart," which they separate completely from reason. If I understood correctly about Edwards, he wasn't separating feeling and thinking and calling "the affections" the emotional part of a person. Instead, he meant the deep part of a person that influences both their thinking and their feeling. It has to do with the heart's desire for meaning and beauty and love.

And so if the heart's desire for meaning, beauty, and/or love has led someone to a particular belief, or practice, or relationship, or whatever, even if that belief, practice, or relationship turns out not to be a true or sufficient object of desire, purely reasoning about it is not likely to help a person see that or change their ways. We see this all the time with the obvious addictions. People really and truly want and need love, or peace, or happiness, and they find something that temporarily gives some semblance of that in a substance or relationship. But the drug, or drink, or relationship ends up causing more trouble than the seeming good it brings. Simply pointing this out and reasoning doesn't generally help people, even when they want to make changes. They usually have to have something greater to motivate them. Something that offers greater love, peace, or happiness.

And we can all relate to this, I think, when it comes to something as simple as food. We need food to live. It's normal to enjoy good food. Good food is a great blessing. And yet we can overeat and make ourselves unhealthy in all kinds of ways by it. But I don't know many people who succeed in changing their eating habits simply by reasoning themselves away from that luscious piece of chocolate cake on the table before them. We need a better motivation than "that just isn't logical."

So, with these things going on in my mind the past couple of days, I sat down this morning and saw on my "Ordo Kalendar" that today is the day of John Donne. One of my favorites. I decided I should read something by him to honor the day and got out our "Top 500 Poems" anthology. The first poem they had in the 25 pages on Donne was one I remember learning from my high school English teacher, who was a gifted actor and excellent reader-aloud of poetry:

Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov'd fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,

Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

"Reason . . . proves weak  or untrue." Being driven by duty just isn't enough. But being drawn by beauty/love has great power, even the power to cause Donne to wish to be enthralled (which can mean both to be enchanted or captivated, and also to be enslaved) by God.

This is a rather rambling post, but I was fascinated this morning to find this poem before me and to see how it fit with the things I had been thinking about.

Oh, yes, and also that the psalm for today was Psalm 89, which begins, "I will sing of thy steadfast love, O Lord, for ever," and has several themes that connect with Edwards' themes.

And it all relates to Lent, at least in my mind (which I think can find connections between anything and anything else sometimes), because it has do with fasting and discipline in general, and with the beauty of Easter/resurrection that is the very reason for Lent in the first place.

But more on that later. And perhaps it will be less rambling. But only perhaps.

A few days later, April 8, I just found this article on "John Donne in Lent." I had no idea just how appropriate it was that these thoughts came together when they did. And I don't believe I have ever written such a hyperlinked blog post....