Joy

Where do you find joy, when so much right now seems joyless? The news, and the traffic, and stresses of modern life, together with all of our fears about global warming and warring factions and humanity’s willful cruelties conspire to rob us of joy. We could turn off the news and stick our heads in the sand, but ignorance doesn’t bring joy. We could shut down conversations and proclaim that the other side is wrong, but disconnecting from relationships doesn’t bring joy. We could sweep unpleasantness under the rug and hope no one notices the lumps, but evading truth doesn’t bring joy. So where do we find joy?

A few years ago I came across a story about a 110 year old Holocaust survivor and pianist, Alice Herz-Sommer, who died in 2014, just a few days before a short film about her, The Lady in No. 6, won an Academy Award.  In accepting the Oscar, the film’s director, Malcolm Clarke, said that he was struck by Herz-Sommer’s “extraordinary capacity for joy” and “amazing capacity for forgiveness.”

In the midst of an insanity that would cause most of us to lose hope – a family torn apart, a husband sent to Dachau, she and her son to Theresienstadt – she found joy in music.  “Beethoven is my religion” she said.  “He gives me faith to live and to say to me: Life is wonderful and worthwhile, even when it is difficult.”  She credited Chopin with keeping her alive in the camp, as she pulled upon the reserve of strength which Chopin’s etudes had built within her.

Alice had every reason to lose hope, and instead found every reason to hold onto it.  If her choice to find beauty and joy in a harsh world seems naïve, does feeling damaged, angry or vengeful seem like a better choice?

“It is up to us whether we look at the good or the bad. When you are nice to others, they are nice to you. When you give, you receive.” Simple words from a Jewish Holocaust survivor, so very reminiscent of another Jew, as recorded in the Gospel according to Mark.

“Music is God,” Alice tells us in the film. What is beautiful is of God. She believed in the power of music, and believed that being joyful is a choice which any of us can make. At her darkest hour, she chose to look for beauty, and in finding it where she could, hope was possible.

Where there is hope there can be joy. Leonard Cohen reminded us that “there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” I doubt that Alice was blind to the horror around her, and if we are living in times which seem to encourage ignorance, disconnectedness, and evasion of responsibility and truth, look for those cracks where the light gets in and just maybe that is where your joy can be found.

Peace,
Sonya

2014 Oscar winning short documentary

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This blog represents my attempt to put thoughts together on various things that seem to connect – in my mind anyway. More often than not new ideas first involve reaching back to what was and I can only hope that the prehistoric San cave painting at the top of this page inspires all kinds of new connections between old and new.

Feel free to pass this message along to anyone who might be interested. You can simply subscribe (look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the post) to get a reminder of new posts, or you can register with a user name and password in order to comment. If a community conversation comes out of this, all the better. We have so much to share and so much for which we can be grateful.

 

Barley

Barley is probably my favorite grain – and not because it’s a key ingredient in beer and whiskey, neither of which I like at all. I frequently use this ancient grain in soups and stews, but even so, I was very surprised to have the word “barley” stare me in the face not once, but twice one afternoon recently. What are the chances that the word “barley” comes into your life twice in the same day, in ways completely unrelated to the actual food?

While reading an article about the hymns of Richard Wayne Dirksen before writing my post last week, I learned the story behind Dirksen’s hymn tune BARLEY.  It’s not found in The Hymnal 1982 unfortunately, but I had come across the tune in a choral hymn setting titled Praise the Spirit in Creation several years ago, and I find the tune as hearty and satisfying as its grain namesake. Dirksen named it, I learned, after Mr. Barley, the Great Cat. The Dirksens had adopted a bedraggled foundling one rainy evening, and several years later when the composer was pondering a name for a new tune he had written for the American Guild of Organist’s 1992 convention, he came back to his computer to find that Barley had stood on the keyboard as he crossed to the window for some squirrel-watching.  No, the cat hadn’t typed the word “barley.”  You didn’t really think that, did you? But Mr. Dirksen saw a feline equivalent in the six “k’s” that he found on his computer screen and promptly named his new tune with six other letters – BARLEY.  You can hear the choirs of Washington National Cathedral singing it here.

Barley made a second appearance when a neighbor emailed to share that she was completely taken with a new album, one by an artist I probably would not have heard about otherwise, Lizz Wright. Hers is an earthy, honest voice, more than worthy of the earthy, honest grain she sings about in the song “Barley,” found on her new album, Grace.  It’s a text that speaks of resilience, strength, and moving forward.

The wind that shakes the barley will not shake me
The fire that takes the kindling will not take me
And the rain that floods the valley will not drown me
The hawk that stoops the sparrow will not strike me
The dark before the dawn breaks will not bind me
The wind that shakes the barley will not shake me
Like my mama told me, this I know when I see.

The musical layers of barley. Who knew?

Peace,
Sonya

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This blog represents my attempt to put thoughts together on various things that seem to connect – in my mind anyway. More often than not new ideas first involve reaching back to what was and I can only hope that the prehistoric San cave painting at the top of this page inspires all kinds of new connections between old and new.

Feel free to pass this message along to anyone who might be interested. You can simply subscribe (look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the post) to get a reminder of new posts, or you can register with a user name and password in order to comment. If a community conversation comes out of this, all the better. We have so much to share and so much for which we can be grateful.

Enthusiasm

Addressing the French Academy of Sciences in 1882, Louis Pasteur quoted an unnamed philosopher who had written: “I have thought for a long time that the person who has only clear and precise ideas must assuredly be a fool. For the most precious notions harbored by human intelligence are deeply behind-the-scene and in semi-daylight, and it is around these confused ideas, whose interrelations escape us, that the clear ideas gravitate, extending, developing, and germinating themselves.”  Pasteur then continued: “If we were cut off from this background, the exact sciences would lose the greatness which they draw from the secret rapport they hold with those infinite truths whose existence we can only suspect.”

A secret rapport between infinite truth and exact science…that sounds like the perfect religion to me. Writing in 2002 about his process for composing hymns, Richard Wayne Dirksen further quoted Pasteur:

The Greeks understood the hidden power of things infinite.  They bequeathed to us one of the most beautiful words in our language – the word “enthusiasm” – en theos – a God within.  The grandeur of human actions is measured by the inspiration from which they spring.  Happy is [the one] who bears a god within and who obeys it.  The ideals of art, of science, are lighted by reflections from the infinite.

Knowing that the word enthusiasm has its roots in the Greek for God, theos, completely changes the meaning for me. It was a word which had vaguely reminded me of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland determined to put on a show against all odds. Enthusiasm seemed to require multiple exclamation points!! My obvious joy in music-making for the church has often been described as enthusiastic, and I will now wear the mantle of enthusiasm with some pride. I see that it is a word which describes a divinely inspired joy. Exclamation points optional.

Dirksen continued: “My succinct perspective is this: when people sing together, that enthusiasm within each engenders a community-wide awareness of those reflections from the infinite. The sharing of a God within through making music puts us in unison touch with the infinite God, and intensifies our knowledge of and enthusiasm for [God]. Collectively, do we therefore embody and live our theology.”

Accessing the hidden power of things infinite by singing hymns…I believe in that. Great hymn writers, like Dirksen, know that a great hymn begins with the text. The words guide the tune’s creation and give the hymn its character. Writing online for National Public Radio, critic Juan Vidal examined his own surprising encounter with traditional hymnody as a young man:

It would do us good to revisit some of the poetry of a time so different than our own. These old texts merit our attention; for me they carry the same resonance as Shakespeare. Not only are they rich in history, they also draw us to appreciate the wonder of words. Instead of viewing the vocabulary as archaic, I’ve come to see hymns as the language of prayer, and as a way of connecting with those that have come before me.

Could anything be more important right now than connecting with others? Connecting with people next to us and those who came before? When we sing a great hymn – one with evocative imagery and bold ideas, one with a tune that moves us and perhaps surprises us too – we probably aren’t aware that we may be surrounded  in that moment by people who look different from us, or belong to a different political party, or believe in things which we find uncomfortable. During a time of shared singing we are given an opportunity to simply expose our enthusiasm as a place where our best selves can germinate.  Happy new year.(!)

Peace,
Sonya

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This blog represents my attempt to put thoughts together on various things that seem to connect – in my mind anyway. More often than not new ideas first involve reaching back to what was and I can only hope that the prehistoric San cave painting at the top of this page inspires all kinds of new connections between old and new.

Feel free to pass this message along to anyone who might be interested. You can simply subscribe (look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the post) to get a reminder of new posts, or you can register with a user name and password in order to comment. If a community conversation comes out of this, all the better. We have so much to share and so much for which we can be grateful.