THE SILENCE IN BEETHOVEN

When it comes to the fine arts, we love our biographies of tortured genius, and Ludwig van Beethoven serves the storytellers admirably. Baptized December 17, 1770, in Bonn, his tempestuous and tragic life was one of failed love affairs, strained friendships, and especially the deafness that accompanied his greatest musical achievements. And yet many of us find him not only speaking for us but also extending inspiration in the quest for fullness and fidelity.

In part it’s a story of the way Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven reestablish the center of classical music, centering it in the German-speaking world far from its Italian roots and the Renaissance genius of Monteverdi and Palestrina.

As I discussed earlier this year, Beethoven’s popularity rests largely on works that he wrote in the second half of his life, past the age of Mozart’s death, the years that encompass what are known as his Middle (or Heroic) and Late periods. The years accompanied by deafness.

For much of my life, I’ve not been alone in finding that what most appealed to me were the works from the Middle period – the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Ninth symphonies, the violin and “Emperor” piano concertos, the Rasumovsky string quartets – stirring works raging with dramatic struggle and promised victory. With all of their emotional parallels to athletic contests, these have justifiably ensured his enduring public adoration.

More recently, though, they’ve given way in my estimation as the Late period works have risen in preference. Quite simply, these have never been considered all that accessible. Many of them defiantly turn their back on the audience in a pursuit of boldly intricate, often extended, musical puzzles that plumb the depths of human despair, loneliness, resolve, as well as lofty heights. Indeed, for years the assumption has been that these are not for public consumption but are rather reserved for private investigation among the cognoscenti, should they be so honored.

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AND HAVE A GOOD DAY?

In the early days of Friends, they’d often greet each other with the question, “How does Truth prosper among you?” Not “How are you doing?” or even “Good morning.”

Strikes modern ears as puzzling, even problematic, beginning with that verb prosper, which we tend to consider along financial terms rather than thrive or even proliferate. Equally unfamiliar is the idea of Truth being active – alive – rather than static and unchanging.

To further thicken the plot, consider their linkage of Truth and Christ, so the question also asks, “How is Christ alive among you?”

How would you answer that!

~*~

For more along these lines, take a look at Religion Turned Upside Down.

 

ESPRESSO FIT FOR THE GODS

With a holiday touch.
With a holiday touch.

Vittorio’s in the North End is famed for its espresso and pastries. With Mercury as one of the coffee makers, you can see why the neighborhood is also renowned as Little Italy.

Boston is a rich and varied destination – the Hub of New England, or the Universe, as they used to say. Living a little more than an hour to the north, we’re well within its orb.

UNCOVERING THE PLACE OF STRUGGLE

In his Pendle Hill pamphlet last year, Marking the Quaker Path: Seven Key Words Plus One, Robert Griswold opens with the term “condition,” which initially seems familiar enough. Quakers often remark to a comment, “This speaks to my condition,” or even “the Friend speaks my mind,” conveying a sense of unity and affirmation.

Griswold, though, gives the concept a darker twist, noting that a meaningful spiritual journey requires seeing ourselves in our places of failure and weakness rather than a state of “being in charge,” as we so often do. Think of Anne Lamott’s “three essential prayers” — Help, Thanks, and Wow — and admit a long personal list invoking the first.

I would extend that awareness of condition not just to ourselves individually but to our families and circles of faith and then the wider society. I’d say there’s great need everywhere.

This, then, leads to the subsequent steps where we turn to the Holy One and our kindred spirits for direction and growth.

Curiously, condition is not a word I find used widely in either Scripture or early Quaker literature – not directly, that is – but it does fit the situation of many people as they set out in faith as recorded in both.

Could it be that in many of our religious circles, we’ve been running away from this very difficult but essential challenge? We go to worship looking for rest and renewal, not more turmoil and suffering.

O, Lord, give us strength!

~*~

More of my own reflections on alternative Christianity are found at Religion Turned Upside Down.

YET, I’VE NEVER RETURNED

Another factor is that I’ve never even returned to Washington State

Or other situations I’ve loved too much

It’s not that I haven’t had familiar places of return, but rather that they are now rooted in my heart, more than my eye. In how many intense experiences, maybe she, too, confesses of some desire to return to familiar spaces — especially those we shared before parting? Whoever she is anymore. My quest for the spirit or soul leads, indeed, to somewhere in the mud or dust.

~*~

I, who am usually quite restless, now admit, somewhat reluctantly, to having entered a settling. What happened to the desire to travel and explore? Now, come the weekend or a vacation, I prefer to stay close to home. Perhaps some of this can be attributed to the long daily commute, or even to those two years spent largely on the road covering fourteen states as a sales representative. Perhaps some of this also reflects the fact that I’ve had twenty-four addresses in eight states over the course of my life. Once, in the span of a single year, there were four addresses in three states. Maybe I simply want to feel rooted.

Even if I had the time and the money to travel, I feel a greater need to write or to work on projects around the house. Being a homeowner, after so many years of renting, also shifts my focus: a tour around the garden, observing its detailed changes, rather than a trek up a mountain.

I think of places I’ve dwelled in and experienced intensely, though it’s now unlikely I’ll ever return, except in memory. From satellite photos, I finds that many, including the ashram, no longer exist.

Other places I’ve visited intensely, if only once or twice, like the Olympics or cross-country spurts in a rented truck, may be savored a lifetime.

I live in a rich environment, one many consider a travel destination. I reside within a half hour of Maine beaches, sparkling lakes or forest trails, and slightly more than an hour from Boston. Even in my own small city, I sometimes catch a glimpse of the fantasy — a movie on a screen or a postcard. What am I doing driving or even singing in a chorus along the Charles River or the Public Garden of Boston? What am I doing beside a waterfall in the mountains? How is it that I am worshipping in a Colonial-era meetinghouse? To be in places of dreams, then, or the pages of a travel magazine. How seldom do I find a moment to enjoy this or to explore a bit more? Obligations press. Even so, maybe I’ve arrived in my destination.

Time, then, becomes part of the journey. And who can reenter time once it’s passed?

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.

RUNNING ALONG THE WATER

Deep River, Sandy Springs, Holly Springs, Goose Creek, West Branch, Back River, Clearwater. These are a few of the names of Quaker Meetings taken from bodies of water. There’s even Gunpowder, named after a river in Maryland as it runs through a town named Sparks.

For me, Stillwater itself is a special place in the hills of southeast Ohio as well as I river we used to hike along in the western half of the state.

~*~

Stillwater 1

For my reasons and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

QUINCY MARKET IN LIGHTS

Thousands of lights.
Thousands of lights.

Each year the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, commemorates its gratitude for relief Boston extended in the aftermath of a deadly harbor explosion in 1917. The Canadians deliver a large Christmas tree, which is then erected and decorated in the heart of Boston.

The lighting itself is quite an extravaganza, as I learned the first time my choir participated in the event at historic Quincy Market. Imagine seeing yourself on the Jumbotron while you sing.

Boston is a rich and varied destination – the Hub of New England, or the Universe, as they used to say. Living a little more than an hour to the north, we’re well within its orb.

A perfect combination.
A perfect combination.