Architecture

The Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Paul in Minnesota, remarkable for its setting on a hill overlooking the city and for its light-filled interior of arches and dome, has inspiring descriptions of its artwork and architecture posted for visitors to read, and I particularly enjoyed this one:

Just as sound is the language of the musician, so here space becomes the language of the architect.  Here we have symphonies of space and proportion producing on the senses and the soul something of the tonic and inspiring effect of Sacred music.  The moment you enter [a grand space] you feel that you have taken flight from the material world and in the majestic composition of space the soul soars heavenward…Truly such a building sings the glory of God.

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We have need in our lives for lots of different kinds of spaces. Homes can provide nurture and tranquility. Public spaces can provide communal engagement or, as with libraries and parks, places of retreat. Whether we notice or not, design and architecture do so much to create these places of tranquility or engagement, of inspiring grandeur or nurturing comfort.

My husband and I made a brief trip to Lourdes when we were in France a few years ago. I wanted to see for myself what I had read about in a book by Dr. Esther Sternberg, titled Healing Places: The Science of Place and Well-Being.  In it she explores the science behind why certain places – places as divergent as Lourdes in France and a well-designed and light-filled nursing home in Connecticut – promote healing.  What she writes about are largely things that people have known intuitively for most of human history.  Natural beauty, sunlight, the comfort of those things which connect with our happy memories, and the stimulation of new experiences – all of these things are healing.

Sternberg saw something more than the kitsch and potential for false promises that many believe Lourdes represents. She saw love, compassion and acceptance at work among the healers and those seeking healing. She saw empathy and generosity among strangers, and the healing of hearts and minds, if not always bodies. She noted that the physical terrain around Lourdes served as a way to enter into another world and at the same time to “step from inside yourself to the world you share with others.”

Dr. Sternberg’s TEDx talk in 2013 has some lessons for places that have long been seen as places of healing – our churches. She tells of meeting an executive from Disney who said their goal was to consider every element of Disneyland in their quest to take someone from a place of anxiety and fear to one of hope and happiness.  Every element.  And she finishes with the story of her father, who found the only possible healing place during his internment at a concentration camp to be in his mind as he recited the 23rd Psalm. To consider every element of the present experience, while giving people the tools of our deepest faith connections, are the best guiding principles for any place of worship.

Those great intangibles of sacred sound and space are the beginning. Our wounded and closed hearts can be liberated by beautifully designed physical spaces and music that complements the architecture, but the healing really only continues with the fruitful relationships we have along the way. That’s when a building can sing the glory of God.

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.

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Generosity

Defining generosity as a process of making space for something might be a back door approach, but it works for me. Our most generous impulses are guided by those spaces we create in our minds, our hearts, and our lives for the needs we see in others. Perhaps genuine generosity begins when we share that which we hold most dear, whether that is our time, our money, or even sometimes our privacy. Generosity in those times becomes risky and makes us vulnerable. It requires that we give up something, and not just give. Perhaps giving up our superiority or our certainty creates the space we need to be  more generous.

Generosity is one of those human traits that seems like a great add-on to an otherwise perfectly good person.  We expect people to be truthful, to not steal or hurt others.  But being generous?  Speaking for myself, that is something I admire in others and hope that perhaps I’ll find a way to cultivate in myself. Someday. When it’s convenient.

My mind focused on the idea of generosity in direct connection to my experience of playing Variation 7. Graceful and dance-like, the ornaments that decorate so many of the notes require just a bit of extra space in the beat and in the shape of the hand in order to play them as fluently as possible.

Goldberg Variations – 7 (Generosity)

I wonder if any pressure we do feel to be more generous stems only from the cultural and historical contexts of religion. Showing hospitality to the stranger is a core tenet of the three Abrahamic faiths, as well as Buddhism and Hinduism, after all, and at the heart of hospitality we discover generosity. But maybe there are actually reasons to be generous beyond religious commandments? Sociological studies tell us, and we probably know from our own experiences, that to give does so often mean that in one form or another we receive in return. Those studies show the ways that a person’s health and happiness improve when a life of generous practices is adopted. Logically, generosity is good for a peaceful society when people take care of themselves in ways that also help to take care of others.

Wherever and however the impulse to be generous inhabits us, we can never be motivated by anything other than a desire to be open to understanding and responding to the needs of others, and then make space in our own lives for the kinds of relationships that just might result when we do.

Peace,
Sonya


I’ve lived with Bach’s Goldberg Variations for a long time now. More than half my lifetime in fact. I would pull them out periodically, feeling that I was revisiting an old friend, but a friend who always has something new to share. I began thinking about Bach and mindfulness last year in a way that meant something to me. Each variation became linked in my mind with a word and that word became something like the “intention” that yoga students are sometimes asked to set for their practice. A word to mediate on and to help draw more from within. For the next 32 weeks I will post one of the variations and write about the word I associated with the music. Sometimes a connection will seem obvious, but more often it will be unexplainable. It became apparent as I worked on this project that I thought about things which I wanted to cultivate in myself, ways of being in the world that were positive. All of the recordings are to be made in my living room, playing the 9 foot Steinway that was gifted to me on January 5, 2016.