Profundity where there is none? Maybe

Today I think I figured something out. I think I know what Spring is for.

Yes, new life. Yes, starting over - beginnings - new hope, new warmth, fresh life upspringing again for another year. But today I think there is another meaning in the lesson of the new cycle of growth and harvest. Maybe it's not so much what Spring is for as it is the connection between Spring and Fall.

Yesterday we met a man. We met him because our eldest child and only daughter brought him with her for the holiday. On purpose. To meet the family. And be the future what it may, this beginning is a good one. It's obvious. It's also unanimous.

So, today, of course, because I'm me and I'm also the Mom, I got to thinking.

You know that parable where the sower sows the seeds, and some fall on rocky soil, and some on the hard path, and some among the thorns, and some on good ground where they give back to the sower an hundred fold? That's meant to be a parable about the Word of God. Jesus. God's own message. And the word - the message - the words. Nothing to do but sow and rejoice in the harvest. The sower can't make it rain or be sunny, and the sower can't make the summer shorter or longer, and the sower can't know for sure that his work will be for anything at all if disaster strikes. The sower is realistic - and he's careful about his sowing patterns - he's wise to the ways of nature. Some of that seed just won't bring back anything, and that's the way it is. Okay, I understand that.

But it's true all over the place. Not just in a field and not just with the Message and not just in the Bible. It's true with kids.

We've sown seed like crazy people. For more than two decades now. We've tried to time our scatterings and choose the things most likely to take root and the things good for the soil. We've tried to factor in weather patterns and pH balance and rainfall. And we've known all along that in the end, we have nearly nothing to say about outcome. All any parent can do is sow and try to hit the field with most of the seeds.

But one of the days in an upcoming season, the harvest is revealed. Then we know what we have done. Spring was meant for sowing. In this autumn of this year, on Thanksgiving Day, we could kneel at the edge of our field and thank God for the harvest. Our girl knows how to choose.

Belated and effusive praise

For a few weeks now, in every possible stolen moment, and to the thundering neglect of housework, exercise, and sometimes even of sleep, with a decades old irritation now expertly squelched at the interruptions of my reading, I have been reading the ubiquitous Harry Potter books. All seven have been published. There's now no wait between volumes for the reader, you see. I piled up all the candies into one pile, and I'm eating them all at one go.

And now I am nearly done with book seven, and I can't help myself. I must say it. Ms. Rowling, modern, living now, has taken the centuries of all the folklore and heroism and danger and ideals of loyalty and love and honor of all the tribes and peoples of the heathenish and Christianized British isles, and she has told the old story to us. The characters are real in the best sense of the word. The settings are visual and visceral and emotional. The chain of events and the explanations of the old magic and the connections between eras and peoples and fortunes - it all rings true. She's done it! Ms. Rowling has done it.

Did you think the days of the Story were gone for good and for aye? Did you think we could put the generations of listeners and bards behind us forever and use them as movie sets, huddled around fires in the wilderness? It's not true. God bless J. K. Rowling - and whoever the fortunate person was who must've read to her as a child.

From Beowulf to C. S. Lewis and his Inkling friend the great Tolkein, and from Picts and Scots to St. Joseph of Armithea and Simon Stock, the Story has survived. It lives. Harry Potter's story is the Story. And no one could be more surprised than I am to find it out.


Solo Madness

"Coming home from very lonely places, all of us go a little mad: whether from great personal success, or just an all-night drive, we are the sole survivors of a world no one else has ever seen." John Le Carré

I think this is why humans tell stories. Every story comes from a world we've never seen - and yet the worlds are all our own worlds too.



"Art is only a means to life, to the life more abundant. It is not in
itself the life more abundant. It merely points the way, something
which is overlooked not only by the public, but very often by the
artist himself. In becoming an end, it defeats itself."

Henry Miller

In traditional religion, an icon is a picture. And the picture is a window. The window opens onto the Reality that is more real than the reality we see. We only see the picture, but through the picture, we can see the thing that is the most Real.

See this ring on my left hand? What is it? It is a wedding ring, joined to an engagement ring. What does it mean? It means I am a married woman. Is the ring my marriage? Is it a wedding? Is the ring Love? No. But the ring means all those things, and it speaks in a language that does not have words. It is a symbol. It is an icon. It is a window, and the window opens into the reality.

The music with the drums in steady rhythm and the sound of brass and wind and marching ... is it an army? Is it a war? Is it triumph or resolution or sacrifice or noble aims or brutality or bravery? No. It is music. And it speaks without words. Its language is melody and the beat of a legion of marching feet. It means something.

When the Harry Potter books first burst onto the scene of homeschooling families, there were those who decried (again - again and again) the use of the genre for story telling with children. We must not pretend. We must tell our children the "truth" and not give them the impression that there is any such thing as a witch. (Or a talking animal - or anything fantastical.) The "truth," these people - these adamant, shrill, hyper-vigilant, eternally worried people - is confined to our five senses combined with our "reason."

Susan Pevensie: Are you saying we should believe her story?
Professor Kirke: Why not?
Susan Pevensie: Well, it can't be real, logically.
Professor Kirke: Logic? What are they teaching at schools these days?
Susan Pevensie: Lucy thinks she's found a magical land...
Professor Kirke: Hmmm.
Susan Pevensie: In the upstairs wardrobe.
Professor Kirke: [eyes widening, he rushes to the children] What? What did you say?
Peter Pevensie: Our sister... she thinks she's found a wood...
Professor Kirke: What was it like?
Susan Pevensie: Like talking to a lunatic...
Professor Kirke: No, no, not her, the wood!
Susan Pevensie: [stares] You don't mean you believe her?
Professor Kirke: And you don't?

"Faith, our outward sense befriending,
Makes our inward vision clear."


It matters

“Everything is like an ocean, all is flowing and blending; a touch in one place sets up movement at the other end of the earth.”

Father Zossima, in The Brothers Karamazov
by Dostoevsky

But there is beauty

Last night the Oregon Chorale did a benefit concert at our parish. The all a cappella selection of music was exquisite, and exquisitely done, but I was not a regular member of the audience for this. I was in the narthex, listening through the barrier of the windows and doors. I could hear it, but I could not hear all the infinitesimally small nuances of that very acoustically live space. There was a damper between me and the sound. I sat in its shadow to listen.

And so, instead of immersion, there was a distance. And in that distance there was awareness of all that was not the music.

Outside the building, people walked by, skateboarded by, and drove by in the street. I could hear snippets of conversation and the noise of the bus at the stop.

And then, from inside myself, in the distance between my thoughts and the music, came the words from the end of "prayers before Mass" - unbidden came the thought, "heal the anguish of the world."

Anguish? In the midst of that achingly beautiful music, the word "anguish" bubbles up from inside?

Perhaps it is my age - or the season of unseen warfare - or the fact that our children are not children and are beginning their adult lives in earnest now, and the Mom Reflex is at full alert. Whatever it is, the anguish of the world does not hide from me right now. Darfour, and Pakistan, and beatings and brutality and anguish - those things are in this world, and they are still there, even when I do not think about them in my safe and comfortable life.

But there is music too.

That's what came into my thoughts last night. The choir's closely articulated harmony soaked into the bricks of the walls and pillars, and reverberated off the frescoes and stained glass. This thing of auditory glory is in the same world with pain and hatred.

There are willfully stupid people who listen only to their own reactions - who never get a broader perspective because they energetically refuse all perspectives but their own. Racism and greed and dominations in the name of self - these things are ever with us.

But so is song.

Usually we rich, fat, safe, swaggering Americans say this the other way round. We must feel a bit guilty or we are unable to just say "thank you" for all the blessings of this life. Whatever the cause, we say "yes, there is this good thing, but think about the people who have less than we do." All of us talk like this. It seems to make us feel better to end with the thing that is not the blessing.

So my thoughts feel a bit subversive. But I can't ignore them. During the music last night, in the dark and chill of a November evening, with the music soaring into the clerestory and the careless laughter and honking horns on the doorstep, the order was reversed. The presence of the eternal Good kept finishing the sentence.

Heal the anguish of the world; there is music.

Somewhere right now, some unspeakable act of cruelty is happening. It's true. I know it's true. But there is beauty. Somewhere right now there is a choir with voices raised in song. Yes, somewhere there is a nasty argument over a petty bit of transient power. But there is also a child practicing the violin. There is a dance. There is an embrace.

Yes, two and three is five; but it is also true that three and two is five. The world holds both at once. Not later. Not eventually. Not when all is weighed in the balance and Good ultimately overcomes. Here. Now. There is beauty.

Love is all around, but hatred is still with us.

Anguish breaks the world, but there is beauty.

This is the thought the choir brought me. Heal the anguish of the world; there is beauty. Beauty is here. Right now. Listen.