Category Archives: Beauty

How do you cultivate JOY?

grumpy-15057374_1847734315513758_1077785814882058240_nJoy to the world, the Lord is come! Being a joyless Christian is a contradiction in terms! Yet we all go through drought or letting people and things “rob” our joy.  My short definition of joy is Gladness in God!  Jesus offers a joy that no one can take from us! (John 15:7-11) For the third Sunday in Advent, I preached on how God With Us brings JOY.  You can listen to the sermon here. I explain 5 ways we can cultivate joy – listed below.


Cultivate Joy!

1.  Repent and believe the Good News
Repentance (turning back toward God and putting all trust in Christ) is the starting point for real Joy and Hope.) Luke 15; Psalm 51 (especially vv. 8-12)

2.  “See Christ everywhere;” “Find God in all things”
Kalistos Ware summarized a life of prayer and experiencing God with the first phrase. “Find God in everything” is a central teaching of Ignatian spirituality and the Jesuit tradition. These both remind us that God is constantly speaking and using every experience to transform us and use us to embody the faith in every arena of our lives. There is joy in experiencing God!

3.  Stretch yourself to serve.
“The way out of the dungeon of self, is in service to others.”  Luke 10:17-21

4. Contemplate Beauty and the Life of the World to Come
Hebrews 12:1-3 – Jesus endured suffering because of the joy set before Him.
Psalm 16 – “In Your presence there is fullness of joy!”

5. Fight being “too easily pleased.”
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”  (C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory)

 

Let’s ask the Holy Spirit who produces Love, Joy, Peace… to make us people of JOY!

 

 

Beauty Will Save the World! (An Essay on Discipleship & the Arts)

"Return of the Prodigal Son,' Rembrandt
“Return of the Prodigal Son,’ Rembrandt

This year, the week before Easter was our first Celebration of the Arts at Christ Church. Our building was filled with paintings and other artistic works, a wall and a book of poetry, a cafe night of music and readings, and a forum we called Beauty Will Save the World: Christian Discipleship and the Arts. I now post this opening essay (here greatly expanded and with links to the quotations and sources.) I trust it will be a resource and inspiration for your own journey with “the good, the true, and the beautiful” things of God!


BEAUTY WILL SAVE THE WORLD:
Christian Discipleship and the Arts

Lyle Mook ~ April, 2015

INTRODUCTION

My own “awakening” to the arts has been gradual. I sang in church at six; marching and concert band in school; singing again when I became a Christ follower in highschool. Then came a hiatus for many years, returning mostly out of a calling and a stewardship toward the God who gives gifts for His glory and our enjoyment.

In 1980 I traveled to Europe for the first time as part of an international Christian mission in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. We were five weeks in Prague and other cities of the now Czech Republic, one week in Vienna for briefing and de-briefing, and a week of vacation near Salzburg Austria (during the Mozart Festival, for $8 per night at a beautiful British guesthouse for missionaries!)  Architecture, art museums, classical music, and other beauties left me feeling like a cultural pauper. I started to give more attention to the beauty I was beginning to discover.

Several years later, I experienced Rachmaninov’s Vespers, or the All Night Vigil of Eastern Orthodoxy. I fell in love with the beauty of the music and the worship. An exploration of iconography followed, gazing at the beauty (to borrow from the title of Henry Nouwen’s wonderful little book, Behold the Beauty of the Lord. 

I’ve entered the world of poetry in earnest. Poets like Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver, Scott Cairns, George Herbert, Denise Levertov, Edward Hirsch, Czeslaw Milosz and many others have become increasingly enriching friends. I am also way too late in coming to love the piety and genius of J.S. Bach’s varied music!

And so we come to our audacious title, “Beauty will save the world!”


Beauty will save the world?

My first impression of this enigmatic phrase was one of skepticism, or at least a sense of gross over-optimism! Digging deeper, it has taken on meaning and relevance that continues to accelerate. Andy Cuneo adds some helpful literary context and a vital question.

There are some quotations so arresting, so perfect in simplicity, that they never leave the memory…“Beauty will save the world,” says a prince in Dostoevsky’s unfortunately-titled The Idiot. The prince speaks as one having authority: beauty will save the world. 

It is yet more surprising to find Genesis in league with…the above, for in Genesis‘ opening chapter the refrain so quietly insistent, “And God saw that it was good,” contains a Hebrew word (Tov) which may be translated either as good or as beautiful. The feel of the whole chapter changes if one hears God proclaim that the light, the sun, the greenery, the animals are all beautiful, and mankind very beautiful.

Ah, the riddle of beauty and the craft of these writers in phrasing that riddle. Indeed, our prince in The Idiot is asked, immediately after his triumphal statement about beauty, just which beauty will save the world? That is a much harder question, but the Prince affirms in response — who will save the world. In considering “the Good, the True, and the Beautiful”…a temptation arises to forget the Person in view of the principles. Abstract ideas, concepts, and theories can take the place of God who quite physically incarnates those principles…Again, if Beauty will save the world, in Dostoevsky’s view, it will be a person.
(Andrew Cuneo, Beauty will save the world – but What Beauty?  In Pursuit of Truth journal, May 18, 2009; read the whole article here.)


Beauty points to the source of beauty

Beauty points us to the source of what attracts us. This is understandable. To be hungry, infers the reality and accessibility of food that will satisfy and even delight us. Feelings of attraction long for reciprocal affection. When we move into the arena of Christian discipleship, beauty takes an even more central place.

Beauty was the organizing theme of Jonathan Edwards’ understanding of the Christian life — beauty in God, from God, for God. Forget the stereotype of Edwards being obsessed with God’s wrath. 

To become a Christian is to become alive to beauty. This is the contribution of Edwards to Christianity. The beauty of the Christian life (is) first the beauty of God, beauty that comes to tangible expression in Christ, and second the beauty of the Christian, who participates in the the triune life of divine love. Sinners are beautified as they behold the beauty of God in Jesus Christ. That is Edwards’ theology of the Christian life in a single sentence… The Christian life is a life of beauty…Love, joy, gentleness, prayer, obedience — all these …are spokes extending from the hub of a soul alive to beauty…They are what healthy Christians exhale, having inhaled the loveliness of God.
(Dane C. Ortlund, Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God.)

Historian Robert Louis Wilken notes:

“…Early Christian poets created a resonant language to sing the praises of God and celebrate the glorious deeds of Christ. Christian thinkers also attended to other kinds of things, the bones of saints and martyrs, the dirt and stones of holy places, the oil of chrism, water, bread and wine, and, not least, pictures painted on wood and mosaics fixed on a wall. Pictorial art, like poetry, began early in the Church’s history. Because of the Incarnation, Christianity posits an intimate relation between material things and the living God.”
(R.L. Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, p. 240)

Gerard Manley Hopkins in As Kingfishers Catch Fire  uses an expansive phrase, “Christ plays in ten thousand places.” It captures the pervasive presence of God in the midst of all that he has made, including human beings.


On Easter, 1999, the Polish Pope, John Paul II published his famous Letter to ArtistsIt is a must read for all artists. It is a wonderful and practical theology of the arts. Here is an excerpt:

None can sense more deeply than you artists, ingenious creators of beauty that you are, something of the pathos with which God at the dawn of creation looked upon the work of his hands. A glimmer of that feeling has shone so often in your eyes when—like the artists of every age—captivated by the hidden power of sounds and words, colors and shapes, you have admired the work of your inspiration, sensing in it some echo of the mystery of creation with which God, the sole creator of all things, has wished in some way to associate you.

Those who perceive in themselves this kind of divine spark which is the artistic vocation—as poet, writer, sculptor, architect, musician, actor and so on—feel at the same time the obligation not to waste this talent but to develop it, in order to put it at the service of their neighbor and of humanity as a whole.

In Christ, God has reconciled the world to himself. All believers are called to bear witness to this; but it is up to you, men and women who have given your lives to art, to declare with all the wealth of your ingenuity that in Christ the world is redeemed: the human person is redeemed, the human body is redeemed, and the whole creation which, according to Saint Paul, “awaits impatiently the revelation of the children of God” (Rom 8:19), is redeemed!

The artist has a special relationship to beauty. In a very true sense it can be said that beauty is the vocation bestowed on him by the Creator in the gift of “artistic talent”. And, certainly, this too is a talent which ought to be made to bear fruit, in keeping with the sense of the Gospel parable of the talents. (cf. Mt 25:14-30)

Mine is an invitation to rediscover the depth of the spiritual and religious dimension which has been typical of art in its noblest forms in every age. It is with this in mind that I appeal to you, artists of the written and spoken word, of the theatre and music, of the plastic arts and the most recent technologies in the field of communication. I appeal especially to you, Christian artists: I wish to remind each of you that, beyond functional considerations, the close alliance that has always existed between the Gospel and art means that you are invited to use your creative intuition to enter into the heart of the mystery of the Incarnate God and at the same time into the mystery of man.

May the beauty which you pass on to generations still to come be such that it will stir them to wonder! Faced with the sacredness of life and of the human person, and before the marvels of the universe, wonder is the only appropriate attitude.

People of today and tomorrow need this enthusiasm if they are to meet and master the crucial challenges which stand before us. Thanks to this enthusiasm, humanity, every time it loses its way, will be able to lift itself up and set out again on the right path. In this sense it has been said with profound insight that “beauty will save the world”.

Beauty is a key to the mystery and a call to transcendence. It is an invitation to savor life and to dream of the future. That is why the beauty of created things can never fully satisfy. It stirs that hidden nostalgia for God…!”
(Read the whole letter)


The Polish poet and writer, Czeslaw Milosz, experienced the multiple horrors of World Wars and the darkness of Soviet communism as well as other personal sufferings in his 93 years. At the end of his poem, “One Day,” Milosz ascribes to beauty, the saving affect of moral discernment in a world that shuns absolutes:

Nonbeing sprawls, everywhere it turns into ash whole expanses of being,
It masquerades in shapes and colors that imitate existence.
And no one would know it, if they did not know that it was ugly.
And when people cease to believe that there is good and evil.
Only beauty will call to them and save them.
So that they still know how to say: this is true and that is false.
   (Czeslaw Milosz, “One Day,” in Unattainable Earth)


PRACTICAL DISCIPLESHIP AND THE ARTS

I want to suggest six arenas where our engagement with the arts can deeply transform us and contribute to our calling as Christian disciples.

1. Worship
Worship often begins with wonder and awareness of God’s beauty. Over a thousand years ago, Prince Vladimir of Rus went looking for a compelling religion to guide his people and finally sent an envoy to Constantinople. What they reported back to him is now legendary. Describing a majestic Divine Liturgy at Hagia Sophia, they said, “We no longer knew whether we were in heaven or on earth; nor such beauty…we know not how to tell of it.” And Russia embraced Orthodoxy.

In Psalm 27, David embraces the One Thing:
One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.

2. The Discipline of Awareness
This phrase is taken from Ken Gire’s wonderful book, Windows of the Soul: Experiencing God in New Ways.  The arts can be windows that help us pay attention to the God who speaks and shows.

We reach for God in many ways. Through our sculptures and our scriptures. Through our pictures and our prayers. Through our writing and our worship. And through them He reaches for us.

His search begins with something said. Ours begins with something heard. He begins with something shown. Ours, with something seen. Our search for God and His search for us meet at windows in our everyday experience.

These are the windows of the soul. In a sense, it is something like spiritual disciplines for the spiritually undisciplined. In another sense, it is the most rigorous of disciplines—the discipline of awareness. For we must always be looking and listening if we are to see the windows and hear what is being spoken to us through them.

But we must learn to look with more than just our eyes and listen with more than just our ears, for the sounds are sometimes faint and the sights sometimes far away. We must be aware, at all times and in all places, because windows are everywhere, and at any time we may find one.

Or one may find us. Though we hardly know it… Unless we are searching for Him who for so long has been searching for us.

Gire has a chapter on “Windows of Art” where he reiterates the story of Henri Nouwen, who spent hours in front of Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. Nouwen’s own book by the same name details contemplations and insights that are deeply practical and moving.

“The homecoming of the prodigal son stayed with me and continued to take on even greater significance in my spiritual life. The yearning for a lasting home, brought to consciousness by Rembrandt’s painting, grew deeper and stronger, somehow making the painter himself into a faithful companion and guide.”(Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Hmecoming)

3. Apologetics and Explaining the Good News
I had the opportunity to attend the C.S. Lewis Institute in Oxford as a part of a sabbatical. A memorable lecture was by theologian and Lewis biographer, Alister McGrath on the the apologetics of logic, story, and longing in C.S. Lewis. He notes that Lewis not only explained and defended Christianity in his theological and logical works (such as Mere Christianity, Miracles, etc.) but also in fantasy and science fiction stories like The Chronicles of Narnia and the Space Trilogy. A third genre McGrath called the Apologetic of Longing in Surprised by Joy and other writings. (McGrath’s website has resources available including apologetics lectures on Lewis and others.) Lewis points to our longings for the good, the true, and the beautiful. If we pay attention and help others to pay attention – these longings will help lead us to their source and their fulfillment. (Other C.S. Lewis links)

Abraham Heschel offers a similar word specifically about art: “A work of art introduces us to emotions which we have never cherished before. Great works produce rather than satisfy needs by giving the world fresh cravings.” (quoted in Gire, Windows of the Soul)

4. Culture Making
The arts are one of the natural bridges to the culture. We are called to a “Christian humanism” that engages the world we find ourselves in. Anyone can resonate with true beauty and appreciate it with wonder. Like ethics, the arts can drive us to search for a reference point that answers the spoken or unspoken question, “Where does this come from?” It is vital for Christians to have the true biblical posture towards “culture.”

“It’s not enough to condemn culture. Nor is it sufficient merely to critique or to copy culture. Most of the time we just consume culture. But the only way to change culture is to create (and conserve) culture.” (Andy Crouch, in Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling)

“It is my conviction that the Christian community, despite its many laudable efforts to preserve traditional morality and the social fabric, has abdicated its stewardship of culture and, more importantly, has frequently chosen ideology rather than imagination when approaching the challenges of the present.” (Gregory Wolfe in Beauty Will Save the World: Recovering the Human in an Ideological Age, a wonderful book of essays by the founder of Image, a vitally important journal for our on-going discussion.)

A note on who our artists are. For all the excesses and criticisms, I believe social media is creating more artists right in front of our eyes. Only one of my four children would, in the traditional sense, be called an artist. But each of them is an Instagram artist! A Facebook poet! They are constantly taking pictures, designing artistic expressions and graphic tableaus to get a point across or draw attention to something they are passionate about or want to pass on to the world.  The arts are more and more central to how we communicate. And Christ-followers should be producing the best art!

5. The Beauty of Holiness

To become more like Christ is not primarily about “sin management.” It is about falling in love. It is about not accepting counterfeits, expertly knowing the real thing! Take chastity – sexual wholeness – as an example:

“So if we are going to …. clear up our confusion about what chastity is, then we have to return…to beauty. We have to fall in love with Christ more deeply.

Struggle aesthetically first and then struggle ethically. Struggle easily to be faithful first of all in your devotion to the one God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – by falling in love with God’s amazing beauty. Then purity will be given to you in large part.”  (Timothy Patitsas, “Chastity and Empathy” in Road To Emmaus#60, Winter 2015)

We will always be in a fight, but it can be The Beautiful Fight! (a title by Gary Thomas)

6. Eternal Beauty

C.S. Lewis ends the Narnia Chronicles with The Last Battle. These words reflect the longing that will be only satisfied in our eternal beautiful home:

And as [Aslan] spoke he no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page; now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read; which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before.

We can infer from the biblical images of beauty that the longing for beauty, together with an ability to recognize and experience it, exists within every human being. It is fair to infer that the experiences of earthly beauty can awaken a longing for a beauty that is more permanent and transcendent than anything this life can give — a longing for the beauty of God!

I’ll give Lewis the last word:

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death… (Mere Christianity)

IN CONCLUSION

I more and more believe that beauty and the arts can make us ponder, arouse our emotions, help us speak Good News, engender our compassion, and motivate us to action for the glory of God and the flourishing of the world. It is by engaging all these arenas as disciples – gazing on the Lord’s beauty – that we can glimpse the extravagant truth that “Beauty will save the world!”

 


 

A PDF version of this essay is available here

A poem that can be read on this blog, Sunset Gospel, was inspired by this theme.


 

Copyright 2015, by Lyle Mook

Not like any other Week!

Rembrandt 2“Holy Week” (Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem through Resurrection Sunday) is so called because it marks the climax of God’s Grand Story of Redemption. It is Holy – “Set apart!”

Here are some ways to engage this week as truly set apart, holy, special:

Come to as many of the services and Arts nights as possible. [Our vision for an Easter Celebration of the Arts is happening in a big way!]

THE SCHEDULE:

Sunday of the Passion / March 29 / “Jesus or Barabbas?”


Wednesday / April 1 / Celebration of Arts Exhibit and events begin
6-8:30 pm Gallery Open
[7-8:30 Cafe Night – Readings / Music / coffee / tea / refreshments]


Thursday / April 2
6-8:30 Gallery Open
[7-8 – Lecture/Forum – Beauty Will Save The World: Christian Discipleship and the Arts – I will be presenting a short lecture / followed by responses from some of our artists / time for Q & A]


Friday / April 3
6-7 Gallery Open
[7 pm Good Friday Service of Worship in the Sanctuary / reading and experiencing Jesus’ Last Hours before his death / Holy Communion ]


Sunday / April 5
7 am Sunrise Service in the church sanctuary
9 & 11 Easter Celebration Services at Cole Middle School
[The Gallery will be open after each service with refreshments in the church Connection Cafe]


Be sure to read and meditate deeply on the Passion story. Read one or more of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ final week leading to the cross:
Matthew ch. 21 ff
Mark ch.11 ff
Luke ch. 19:28 ff
John 12:12 ff



I close with a prayer from Howard Burgoyne, Supt. of the East Coast Conference of our denomination:

My prayers for each of you as we advance into Holy Week where the passion of Jesus blossoms fully is that you too will discover the sustaining grace of God’s word and Spirit in your life, to the extent that the devil departs, angels attend you, and your…ministry relaunches in the power and promise of the Risen Christ.

God’s ‘Epic’ Good News!

wholegospelLOGOwholegospel_WEBHave you wanted to better understand what the Bible is all about?  We are being led this Lent and Easter season into an ambitious teaching series called Whole Gospel: The Bible’s Epic Drama. It comes with several exciting parts to it:

+ Sunday teachings will explore the “Six Act Drama” of the Bible’s really Good News – the whole Gospel for the whole world! I have been using this six act framework for several years in my Biblical Thought course at URI. It is essential for getting a grasp on the Big Picture, that in Christ, God is bringing restoration and reconciliation to His world. He wants us to truly Flourish!

Drama book+ I encourage you to read the The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story, the main text I’ve used in my URI course…it is in Kindle ebook form also. There is a chapter on each of the 6 Acts that you can read following each of the sermons: (Creation, the Fall, Covenants w. Israel, Jesus, Church, and New Creation.)

+ We will provide opportunities for more indepth study: reflections through the days of Lent; podcasts; questions for personal and small group study; Sunday morning class, and more.

+ During Holy Week (Palm Sunday through Easter) we will host a wonderful new experience we’re calling an Easter Celebration of the Arts! Check here for details about the events and how to submit art, poetry, music, photography, etc. Invite your world to come and see!


(My sermon, For the Sake of the Gospel from 2/8/15 gives some helpful background to the importance of better understanding the “Whole Gospel” in today’s culture.)

An Open Letter to Artists

Dear Artists,

This letter has two purposes. The first is a word of gratitude to say how much I appreciate you and value your gifts as artists! There is something I’ve wanted to share for some time now. The late John Paul II, on Easter 1999, wrote a Letter to Artists. Here is an excerpt:

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good(Genesis1:31)

None can sense more deeply than you artists, ingenious creators of beauty that you are, something of the pathos with which God at the dawn of creation looked upon the work of his hands. A glimmer of that feeling has shone so often in your eyes when—like the artists of every age—captivated by the hidden power of sounds and words, colors and shapes, you have admired the work of your inspiration, sensing in it some echo of the mystery of creation with which God, the sole creator of all things, has wished in some way to associate you.

Those who perceive in themselves this kind of divine spark which is the artistic vocation—as poet, writer, sculptor, architect, musician, actor and so on—feel at the same time the obligation not to waste this talent but to develop it, in order to put it at the service of their neighbor and of humanity as a whole.

In Christ, God has reconciled the world to himself. All believers are called to bear witness to this; but it is up to you, men and women who have given your lives to art, to declare with all the wealth of your ingenuity that in Christ the world is redeemed: the human person is redeemed, the human body is redeemed, and the whole creation which, according to Saint Paul, “awaits impatiently the revelation of the children of God” (Rom 8:19), is redeemed!

(You can read the whole letter on line – which I urge you to do sometime – or listen to this short video version.) This letter captures much of the true biblical theme of the sacredness of the material world and what has often been called the “saving” nature of beauty. The Arts MATTER to God and to God’s world!

_______________

My second reason for writing is to share the vision for a very exciting Holy Week event at Christ Church. 

galleryeastertitle

HERE IS THE VISION

We are inviting painters and poets, photographers and sculptors, fiber arts and song-writers,  calligraphers and drawers – to submit their work to transform our church building into a Center for sharing the Good News through the Arts during the week leading up to Easter! One of the results of our recent Flourish Learning Forums was the desire to provide a way for our artists to share with the broader community. Our prayer is that this event will deeply enhance the Easter Week experience for all who contribute artistic gifts and for all who participate by attending. 

We are considering, in addition to the “Exhibit,” gatherings such as seminars, demonstrations, a cafe music and poetry night, etc.
Download the Calling All Artists letter  here for all the details! And Pass the word!

Calling all Artists

Let yourself be moved!

Advent Lessons and Carols @ Community of Jesus
Advent Lessons and Carols @ Community of Jesus

Advent ushers us into a feast for the senses that CAN lead to “spiritual ecstasy,”  (instead of  just sensory overload!)

I’ve been working through a wonderful book of poems by Luci Shaw called Scape. I came back today to this one called Ec-stasis. It’s from a Greek word from which we get the word “ecstasy” or literally being “beside oneself.”

Read the poem over more than once and let it sink in. I’m struck with how all our senses are conduits that God built in: to “move” us; to displace us from our ruts; to transform us. In Shaw’s words, we are “engineered for transformation!

from Ec-stasis

The music…
is described by the announcer as
moving, touching, powerful. As if
even as we listen, we’ll get shoved
around, displaced, our senses
turning us to another orientation.

So, maybe this is what is meant for us –
to be ready to be unsteady, unhinged,
beside ourselves, constrained by magic
to know the world new, to be
transposed, dislodged, ready for
realignment, reintegration.

Bring whatever it takes – for sight,
for hearing, touch, taste, sense
of smell, spirited imagination, any of
the ways we’re engineered
for transformation.


I hope that if you are local, you will join with us at Christ Church this Advent and Christmas. We are exploring the tensions of living where God has brought – and brings – A Light in the Darkness.

Here are the details for All Things Christmas.

Is Jesus ‘Enough?’ – Listen to Bach

enough-titlePrinceton mathematician, Bernard Chazelle runs out of superlatives for J.S. Bach. He calls Bach the most human of all composers who “gets to your soul through your body.”
Here is a gem of an article with embedded excerpts of music that will make you an instant Bach fan. (You can also listen to a fascinating On Being interview by Krista Tippett.)

Speaking of Bach, I was preparing a sermon on coveting and contentment. I’d decided to title it, Enough” (available for listening here). The next day, I’m listening online to a weekly radio program, called The Bach Hour. Each week, it plays one of Bach’s cantatas with translation. This day it was No. 82. based on Jesus’ presentation as a baby in the temple and Simeon’s response, “Let your servant now depart in peace!” (Luke 2:22-35)

Bach’s first line title: “I Have Enough!”

1. I have enough,
I have taken the Savior, the hope of the righteous,
into my eager arms;
I have enough!
  I have beheld Him,
  my faith has pressed Jesus to my heart;
  now I wish, even today with joy
  to depart from here.
2. I have enough.
My comfort is this alone,
that Jesus might be mine and I His own.
In faith I hold Him,
there I see, along with Simeon,
already the joy of the other life.
Let us go with this man!
Ah! if only the Lord might rescue me
from the chains of my body;
Ah! were only my departure here,
with joy I would say, world, to you:
I have enough.
3. Fall asleep, you weary eyes,
close softly and pleasantly!
  World, I will not remain here any longer,
  I own no part of you
  that could matter to my soul.
  Here I must build up misery,
  but there, there I will see
  sweet peace, quiet rest.
4. My God! When will the lovely ‘now!’ come,
when I will journey into peace
and into the cool soil of earth,
and there, near You, rest in Your lap?
My farewells are made,
world, good night!
5. I delight in my death,
ah, if it were only present already!
  Then I will emerge from all the suffering
  that still binds me to the world.

(p.s. Ten of Bach’s children and his wife died in his lifetime.)

A few days later, I visited a dear sister in Christ in our church, who was near death after a long fight with cancer. I shared Bach’s words with her husband. He asked me to read it at her Memorial Service.
I will…
Bach was right.

How do I love Thee, O my God?

Gregory Wolfe, Ed. Image Journal
Gregory Wolfe, Ed. Image Journal

Augustine wrote passionately about everything, including his love for his God! I read this quote today that reminds me powerfully of both the sacramental nature of earthly love and the boundlessness of the eternal.

But when I love you, what do I love? It is not physical beauty nor temporal glory nor the brightness of light dear to earthly eyes, nor the sweet melodies of all kinds of songs, nor the gentle odor of flowers and ointments and perfumes, nor manna or honey, nor limbs welcoming the embraces of the flesh; it is not these I love when I love my God.

Yet there is a light I love, and a food, and a kind of embrace when I love my God —  a light, voice, odor, food, embrace of my inner man, where my soul is floodlit by light which space cannot contain, where there is sound that time cannot seize, where there is a perfume which no breeze disperses, where there is a taste for food no amount of eating can lessen, and where there is a bond of union that no satiety can part. That is what I love when I love my God.

_Augustine (354-430 BC), quoted by Grefory Wolfe, Image #82

Read the whole marvelous essay by Wolfe: “Augustine’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective Writers.” 

What’s the use!

cslewisWhen the world seems to be coming unglued, it’s easy to lean toward despair or acedia or worse.

On October 22, 1939, Lewis preached at the University Church of St. Mary in Oxford. I had the privilege of hearing an English orator re-enact the sermon at this church when I attended a conference in Oxford a few years ago. This sermon was later published in various editions as The Weight of Glory with other wonderful essays.

The occasion of Lewis’ sermon was this. Less than two months earlier Hitler had invaded Poland. (We forget that 500,000 Poles were killed or deported at the beginning of the war!) England was about to face the horrible onslaught of the Nazi attack known as the Battle of Britain. This is what C.S. Lewis told assembled students on that day:

It may seem odd for us to carry on classes, to go about our academic routine in the midst of a great war. What is the use of beginning when there is so little chance of finishing? How can we study Latin, geography, algebra in a time like this? Aren’t we just fiddling while Rome burns?

This impending war has taught us some important things. Life is short. The world is fragile. All of us are vulnerable, but we are here because this is our calling. Our lives are rooted not only in time, but also in eternity, and the life of learning, humbly offered to God, is its own reward. It is one of the appointed approaches to the divine reality and the divine beauty, which we shall hereafter enjoy in heaven, and which we are called to display even now amidst the brokenness all around us.

Will we continue to flourish as fragile people in a broken world – putting God’s truth and beauty on display no matter what the cost!

Beauty and the Beast

In an earlier post, “Beauty will save the World,”  I highlighted the last section of the poem by Czeslaw Milosz called One More Day. Milosz lived through the horrors of attrocities in 20th cent. Europe. He draws attention to the reality of moral absolutes built in by God. In light of the current raw evils that seem to  flood over us, I find the whole poem timely and poignant.

One More Day

Comprehension of good and evil is given in the running of the blood.
In a child’s nestling close to its mother, she is security and warmth,
In night fears when we are small, in dread of the beast’s fangs and in the terror of dark rooms,
In youthful infatuations where childhood delight find completion.
 
And should we discredit the idea for its modest origins?
Or should we say plainly that good is on the side of the living
And evil on the side of a doom that lurks to devour us?
Yes, good is an ally of being and the mirror of evil is nothing,
Good is brightness, evil darkness, good high, evil low,
According to the nature of our bodies, of our language.
 
The same could be said of beauty. It should not exist.
There is not only no reason for it, but an argument against.
Yet undoubtedly it is, and is different from ugliness.
 
The voices of birds outside the window when they greet the morning
And iridescent stripes of light blazing on the floor,
Or the horizon with a wavy line where the peach-colored sky and the dark-blue mountain meet.
Or the architecture of a tree, the slimness of a column crowned with green.
 
All that, hasn’t it been invoked for centuries
As mystery which, in one instant, will be suddenly revealed?
And the old artist thinks that all his life he has only trained his hand.
One more day and he will enter the core as one enters a flower.
 
And though the good is weak, beauty is very strong.
Nonbeing sprawls, everywhere it turns into ash whole expanses of being,
It masquerades in shapes and colors that imitate existence
And no one would know it, if they did not know that it was ugly.
 
And when people cease to believe that there is good and evil
Only beauty will call to them and save them
So that they will still know how to say: this is true and that is false.

(from  Unattainable Earth, and also New and Collected Poems 1931-2001)