Friday, January 22, 2016

All Creatures of Our God and King

It snowed here last night. Because I'm recovering from foot surgery, I won't be going out in it, and there really isn't enough to make me want to take pictures through the windows. But it brought me to my blog, nonetheless.

While I don't intend for my blog to be primarily a record of deaths, it seems that in this period of limited time and energy for writing, deaths and anniversaries of deaths are what have brought me here to write more than anything.

Of course that is because the lives of those who have died are so beautiful and are so much a part of my life that it doesn't seem right not to remember and celebrate them.

I haven't written about it yet here, but our sweet dog Paolo died on December 4. We never knew his exact age, but based on what we knew, we think he was nearly 17 years old. He had been with us since October, 2000.

I hope to write more later about him, his life and his death. Especially after thinking so much about St. Francis in order to write the previous post, he who is known for his love of all God's creatures, it would not seem right not to write about the little doggie who has been my companion and friend since before I had even considered having a blog.

For now I share simply that he is buried under the tree in the photo, at the home of some dear friends, where the concrete planters are standing guard over him until spring.

And that Wednesday I received this photo along with the following message:  "Thinking of you. Beautiful blanket of snow over Paolo's resting place. Kids keeping him company today as they sled in this teeny snow."

Everything about this says "Alleluia!" The sweetness of this dog, the loving kindness of these friends, the peaceful beauty of this hillside and its trees, the quiet beauty of snow, the joy of children sledding.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Friendship with Francis

Recently I was invited to write for a series on The Three Prayers, the blog of a friend of mine. She is inviting guest writers to write about saints of the Roman Catholic Church, or about the influence those people have had on the lives of the authors.

My post falls into that second category. It's not so much about the life of Francis as it is about how the life of Francis of Assisi has been a blessing in my own life, and you are welcome to read it over on Janet's blog.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Numbering Our Days

Teach us to number our days,
that we may get a heart of wisdom.

~Psalm 90:12

Today is the birthday of Neva Jane White, the piano teacher I've written about before. It's hard to let it go by without at least a quick sharing of a couple of memories that came to me this morning.

This is a piece I learned in my first year with her.

She was the first teacher, as I recall, that had me write numbers in each measure. It made so much sense, because once I got out of the teaching method books, measure numbers weren't marked in any way. I don't remember if an earlier teacher had marked them herself or if we just referred to "the top line on the secong page, that third measure there....."

I just remember that Mrs. White had me write in the numbers of every new piece I got, and although it took me some time at the begining, it saved a lot of time as we worked on the piece.

Obviously, measure seven here needed a little help with the left-hand fingering.

Thinking about measure numbers today made me think about the verse written above, from the psalms. Some versions actually say "teach us to measure our days," though it seems most say "number." Either way, it connected to the idea of numbering my measures.

And I just love this warning she put on the top of page three (photo below). It comes after two pages of essentially the same rhythms played out in many different harmonic combinations, then a measure of four quintuplets leading up to this completely different section with new rhythm patterns, new harmonies, a new pedaling pattern--essentially, a big change in the piece where new energy comes in and the sound brightens, leading to a climax about halfway down the page.

And here, I had a tendency to rush. Of course! All that newness, so many things to think about, and knowing that even bigger stuff lay just ahead. Adrenalin was probably building in my brain and body, if we could have measured it. I'm sure the measure of quintuplets had a way of distracting me from the original tempo, too.

So, "don't rush." I've found it's excellent advice for just about every new situation in life.

Because whether you rush or not, you are going to get to the end. (I laughed when I saw I had put an exclamation point after that 50--down in the next photo. Maybe this was the first piece she ever had me write measure numbers in?)

Self-control is highly underrated, it seems, in the society I see and hear all around me. One of the many things playing and singing music has done for me, is that is simply taught me self-control. I was a child who always loved to play piano, so I don't have the kinds of stories some would about being forced to sit and practice when they wanted to be out playing football. But even though I loved it, it still took self-control to put it before other things I loved when that was needed. And the focus required to stay on task with a new (harder) piece, rather than just playing anything and everything, took self-control. Everything about it took, and takes, self-control.

In a culture that is all about rushing into the next thing, switching focus from one distraction to another, and "following your passions," I'm thankful for a teacher and an activity that taught me to slow down, to do the same thing over and over, to really think things through (how does this measure fit with the one before it? what tempo can I sustain throughout this entire piece? how will I refrain from my tendency to start this piece too quickly? which of these two fingerings works best for me to get from this section to the next? how do I really want this to sound in the end? etc.)

Mrs. White, in all the years I knew her, never seemed to be in a hurry. Even when she was running behind schedule and putting on her makeup while I was there at her house after a lesson, she was calm and gentle and thoughtful of my presence, not letting her mind rush on to the next thing and allowing the future to take over the present.

I want to live that way. There are wonderful measures like the one below, with fortissimos and sforzandos, and they can be wonderfully passionate and exciting. But they lose their meaning without the careful tempos and fingerings that get you to that point. And if the whole piece is played fast and loud, then this kind of ending is meaningless.

The other memory that came to me this morning was when my chorus had begun working on Lauridsen's "Lux Aeterna." I took a recording of it to her house, along with the score. Just before I hit "play" on her CD player, I said, "I really think you're going to love this."

And in that first very long measure, as a single note began by the strings in octaves so far apart, barely, barely hear-able, just going on and on, she said,  very quietly and gently, "I already do."

She knew how to number measures, how to make and hear beautiful music, and she taught me how to number my days. I hope to grow into the heart of wisdom she possessed.

May light eternal shine upon her.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Light of the Incarnation

When I first saw this painting a few years ago at the Brooks Museum,
I thought it was amazingly beautiful.
It's huge (over 6.5 x 9.5 feet) and splendid, so you can't walk by without stopping to look.

(It is so large, it is hard to find a full copy of it on the Internet. The first I've posted, which comes from this lovely blog, has the whole painting; the second has better lighting but not the whole thing.)

And when I stopped and looked, I saw the title was "Light of the Incarnation."
Only then was I able to see that (almost) all the angels are looking down, way down,
to the source of light in the left-hand lower corner.
And then the painting began to say more and more, beyond
"There's a bunch of beautiful angelic figures in lovely lighting."

It brought to mind the words from Luke's gospel, after one angel had appeared to the shepherds,
announcing the birth of a baby who was a Savior.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavnly host
praising God and saying,

"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!"

It brought to mind from John's gospel, "The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not comprehended it."

And that fascinating passage in I Peter,
"It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves, but you,
in the things which have now been announced to you by those
who preached the good news to you through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven,
things into which angels long to look."

And then, looking longer at the painting, I saw that
a crown of thorns is held out by one angel, symbolizing the crucifixion;
and a golden crown, symbolizing victory.

and lilies are held by another, symbolizing the resurrection;

and incense by another, symbolizing prayers and the holiness of the event.
(At least I think that's what it is....)

These symbols are powerful, representing the whole story to come,
set in motion long before the moment captured by the painting.

But I think the most powerful part for me when I've seen it is simply that you can't
look anywhere without seeing angelic forms. They fade in and out as you stand and look.
(Take time to enlarge the photo and look at it closely so you can see them.)

Granted, they are more representative of beautiful women with wings than they are of
the angels described in scripture, in those few places where they are described.
But even in this romanticized form, they serve an important purpose.

We so easily fall into thinking that only what we can see or hear or taste or touch is real, 
which our own scientific approach should warn us about, since before the magnifying glass,
many things that were not known by the senses were very much real, both making life possible (oxygen) and killing people (bacteria, germs, etc.)

The fact that we did eventually develop magnifying glasses, telescopes,
and all kinds of technologies that have expanded our ability to know things through our senses,
doesn't assure that we will be able to do that for every reality that exists.

And when I read things written by those who lived before all these technologies--
those who had access to all kinds of spiritual and philosophical writing,
but not to what we today consider scientific writing--
I often think that they saw and understood more than we do today.
They knew so much about life and love, humanity and hope, purpose and peace.
Some today may laugh at them for believing in angels.
But we really don't know who will have the last laugh, do we?
I only hope it will be laughter of joyful goodness, not the cynical laughter of "See, I was right."

The very word "Incarnation,"
signifying that something that was not made of flesh is being made into flesh,
assumes that there are realities beyond what we can experience in a purely fleshly way,
through those five senses we are taught to identify and name in elementary school.
It assumes a realm that is more than flesh, or beyond flesh,
a realm that can inhabit flesh at will but is not limited to it.

The new quotation under the title of my blog comes from a man who writes often about the realness of the realm that we cannot see with our eyes in the way we think we'd like to.

And here another author shares the story of a man who seems to have had the ability to see angels. The story of his life seems to indicate that perhaps we have lost the ability to see some things
by the way we have focused so intensely on seeing certain things in certain ways,
and creating strong rules about what is possible and what is not possible.
I urge you to take the time to read it.

We trust our eyes, our sight, so much. Perhaps too much?
Today I heard a car pull into our driveway. My husband said, "Oh, here comes your friend."
Because of the circumstances, I was thinking only of friends of a particular group, and when I looked out the window and saw this woman walking towards our door,
I actually had no idea who she was. I didn't recognize her.
I didn't see her. I saw a stranger.
Once she got to the door and came in, and I heard her voice,
I knew exactly who it was, and when I saw her face, I saw her, not my ideas about her.
(She is a dear friend but not part of the group I had in mind, not what I expected.)

And so this painting, this Light of the Incarnation, has become a favorite of mine
because it is a reminder that I cannot see everything, know everything,
understand everything, explain everything.
A reminder that forces are at work that I will never know about.
That my life is part of a huge painting that I could never paint on my own.
And it is a beautiful, light-filled painting.

Painted by Carl Gutherz, a man who was born in Switzerland and lived part of his life in Memphis.
About the painting, he wrote,
"Up to the moment of the birth of Christ, the light of God came from heaven to earth--
but, God here, the light glows back from earth to heaven,
increasing in glory throughout the ages.
Beholding this, the heavenly host unite in rejoicing over the world redeemed."

(from Carl Gutherz: Poetic Vision and Academic Ideals, ed. Masler and Macini.)

Joy to the World!