This erudite and insightful piece ran in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago. It provides a thoughtful perspective on the recent selection by the Nobel Peace Prize committee. It is well worth your time.
A FEW years ago, I accepted a Golden Globe award by barking out an expletive.
One imagines President Obama did the same when he heard about his Nobel, and not out of excitement.
Mr. Obama takes the stage at Oslo City Hall this December, he won’t be
the first sitting president to receive the peace prize, but he might be
the most controversial. There’s a sense in some quarters of these
not-so-United States that Norway, Europe and the World haven’t a clue
about the real President Obama; instead, they fixate on a fantasy
version of the president, a projection of what they hope and wish he
is, and what they wish America to be.
Well, I happen to be
European, and I can project with the best of them. So here’s why I
think the virtual Obama is the real Obama, and why I think the man
might deserve the hype. It starts with a quotation from a speech he gave at the United Nations last month:
“We will support the Millennium Development Goals, and approach next year’s summit with a global plan to make them a reality. And we will set our sights on the eradication of extreme poverty in our time.”
They’re not my words, they’re your president’s. If they’re not familiar, it’s because they didn’t make many headlines. But for me, these 36 words are why I believe Mr. Obama could well be a force for peace and prosperity — if the words signal action...
Continue reading HERE.
The first chirps of the waking birds mark the "point vierge"
of the dawn.
under a sky as yet without real light,
a moment of awe and inexpressible innocence,
when the Father in perfect silence opens their eyes.
They speak to Him, not with fluent song,
but with an awakening question
that is their dawn state,
their state at the point vierge.
Their condition asks if it is time for them to "be"?
He answers "Yes."
Then they one by one wake up, and become birds.
They manifest themselves as birds, beginning to sing.
Presently they will be fully themselves, and will even fly.
Meanwhile, the most wonderful moment of the day is that
when creation in its innocence asks permission
to "be" once again,
as it did on the first morning that ever was.
All wisdom seeks to collect and manifest itself
at that blind sweet point.
Man's wisdom does not succeed,
for we have fallen into self mastery and cannot ask
permission of anyone.
We face our mornings as men of undaunted purpose.
We know the time and we dictate the terms.
We know what time it is.
For the birds there is not a time that they tell,
but the virgin point between darkness and light,
Between nonbeing and being.
Here is an unspeakable secret: paradise is all around us
and we do not understand.
It is wide open. The sword is taken away,
but we do not know it:
we are off "one to his farm and another
to his merchandise."
Lights on. Clocks ticking. Thermostats working. Stoves
cooking. Electric shavers filling radios with static.
"Wisdom," cries the dawn deacon, but we do not attend.
October gave a party;
The leaves by hundreds came-
The Chestnuts, Oaks, and Maples,
And leaves of every name.
The Sunshine spread a carpet,
And everything was grand,
Miss Weather led the dancing,
Professor Wind the band.
The Chestnuts came in yellow,
The Oaks in crimson dressed;
The lovely Misses Maple
In scarlet looked their best;
All balanced to their partners,
And gaily fluttered by;
The sight was like a rainbow
New fallen from the sky.
Mike, Joshua and I hiked the gorgeous Ramsey Cascades trail today in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. Recent rains have left the forest quite damp, and the upper elevations were filled with the mist that gives the park it's name. We felt like we were walking in the clouds. I could almost sense the individual little pinpricks of cool water hanging in the air as they pressed against my skin. I was completely enchanted by it. It gave everything a sense of mystery and romance.
At the lower elevations, the canopy was stunning. Against an overcast sky the leaves seemed positively luminous. Chartreuse, lemon, tangerine, and scarlet pulsed with vibrancy, giving light to the darkened wood. As we got higher, the kaleidoscope was at our feet. I couldn't stop taking pictures.
I kept thinking how much fun it must be for God to create such spectacular beauty in so very many shapes and textures and hues. Every day. In thousands of places all over the world. Amazing!!
There are a great many more photographs I would like to share, and probably more words. But, I am typing this on our balcony which is the only place the wireless works. I have been watching my breath form ever more lusty clouds. And now, my fingers are freezing up. Enjoy this little sampling for now.
**Full Photo album HERE.
My mom failed her driving test. Her first one. When she was a teenager. Not because she couldn't drive. Because she couldn't see. She didn't know. Her vision had deteriorated gradually and she had automatically learned to accommodate.
She told me about the first ride home with her glasses...about seeing individual leaves on the trees, instead of kindergarten trees that were just big balls of green. It was like rediscovering the world. Like seeing it for the first time.
I have been blessed with impeccable vision. I got that from my dad. It is a gift, and I am most grateful. But recently I noticed that when I pulled items with small print closer for a better look, they actually became less clear. This was terribly disconcerting. While visiting the eye doctor with my son, I asked him about it. "Does this sound like a problem, or does it just sound like I'm 43?" "Well, we can't know for sure until we take a look. But it's probably that you're 43." "O.K. Thanks." :~/
One eye exam later, I have the following diagnosis: "My eyes are beautiful and healthy. And I am getting old." So...I went to one of my favorite fru fru stores in downtown Franklin, Avec Moi, and bought my first pair of readers. Black and Purple. Really cute. I still forget I have them sometimes. Truth is, I can still usually make out most anything I need to read without them, they just make it a lot easier.
Here is an interesting thing I have observed though. When I take them off and look back at the words I was just reading, I am amazed at how fuzzy and confusing they look by comparison. I have done a lot of thinking about this. I have wondered how many other things...how many truths...how many other people even...I look at and think I see them, when in reality I have only a fuzzy impression.
"For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them." ~Jesus (Matthew 13)
Do you know how federal agents are trained to spot counterfeit money? You might think they would be shown all the tell-tale signs of counterfeiters. But that's not it. They spend a great deal of time with REAL money. They are taught to memorize each detail. Once they know it as well as they know their own faces, they will always be able to spot a bill that is not real.
"Sanctify them by the truth. Your Word is truth." ~Jesus (John 17)
Father, teach me to see. When I embrace illusions and believe them to be truth, shatter my illusions. Teach me to be humble enough to seek help when my vision is blurry...when I am too close to a situation to see it clearly. Sanctify me with truth. Your Word...
"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes." ~Marcel Proust
When I was a little girl there was no such thing as Tivo. There were no VCR's. If you wanted to watch something on t.v., you had to arrange to be home when it played. And it only played at one time slot. No repeats later in the evening. Some movies, however, did recur on an annual basis; movies like The Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan. I always made sure I was home for those.
The Peter Pan to which I refer was the classic Mary Martin Broadway version. It captivated me. I dreamed of flying away with Peter, and I clapped til my hands hurt to save Tinker Bell. The first time I watched this movie as an adult, I made a shocking discovery. All the trees were made of cardboard...or lumber or something. Flat. Just stage props. When I was a little girl they were real trees.
As children, our imaginations are so healthy and free, we have no trouble filling in missing details. All stage producers had to do was suggest "tree" to me and I gave it three dimensions with swaying branches and whispering leaves. Refrigerator boxes became spaceships. Blankets became forts. There was no place I couldn't go and nothing I couldn't do.
As we grow up, we learn a great deal about the mysteries that perplexed us when we were small. We learn that the sun doesn't go to bed after all. Our earth just turns away from her for a bit. The stars that look like diamonds sparkling in the sky are really nasty balls of flaming gas. And bit by bit, we surrender the magic that was once our constant companion.
We come to believe that truth must be quantifiable and verifiable. "Just the facts, ma'am." We even want our stories (and our faith) tied up in neat little bows with simplistic morals and clearly defined good guys and bad guys. But that is not life. And that is not truth. Life and truth are far more complex, and messy, and rich, and wonderful. But they require a good deal of work.
It is the artist, perhaps more than anyone else, who teaches us to do this. Any interaction with truly great art will require something of the viewer. It is a dialogue, an exchange, a wrestling. Just this past week, I encountered this in several forms.
On Friday night, my family and I went to see "Where the Wild Things Are". It was one of my favorite books as a child and I have passed that love on to my own children. Visually, the film is spectacular. From a storytelling standpoint, some have said it is weak. I concur that there is not a cohesive theme--"A character who wants something and endures conflict to get it."--to borrow from Don Miller. But, there are a number of smaller stories compellingly presented, if one is willing to search for them. Rich truths about friendship and family and choices.
Saturday I attended a teacher workshop at The Frist Center. As Anne Taylor was introducing us to the Thomas Hart Benton illustrations for "Tom Sawyer", she described his style as "reductionist". "He merely hints at an eye or some other feature and expects you to fill in the rest." Having already viewed the exhibit twice and perceived his drawings as quite detailed, I was surprised to hear her say this. But, upon closer inspection, I found she was right.
One of my favorite pieces in the modernist exhibit at the Frist is "Carnival of Autumn" by Marsden Hartley. Though you can certainly pick out trees and clouds and land forms, his work is quite abstract. And yet, when my eyes first fell on it I was overwhelmed with the exuberance and fury of autumn. I could smell the leaves and hear them rustle. Anne shared a comment from one of the critics who viewed it at the first opening in 1909. Here it is in part: "The...hardiness and vigor of representation...sincerity of sentiment and use of color produced a strictly physical sensation. It irritated the retina and exhausted it. After leaving the gallery, Fifth Avenue looked more gray than usual."
I am currently re-reading Homer's Odyssey with my World History Students. It is a book filled with deep truths, but one has to work to get at them. Homer never preaches. He simply tells the story and trusts his reader to imbibe the truths within.
Jesus did the same thing. Why did he respond to questions with questions? Why did he tell stories? Because he knew the truest things in life must be discovered...through wrestling...through blood and sweat and tears. Sometimes the sweat is our own. But every now and again, we get to learn through the blood of Odysseus, or the tears of a boy named Max.
I understand that sometimes we use movies or books to escape. We want something simple. A place to rest. But I encourage you to sometimes choose art that challenges you...art that can take you places you can't get to by yourself. Read Dostoevsky or Chesterton. Listen to Rachmaninoff or Philip Glass. Watch Crash, or Big Fish, or anything by Wes Anderson. Stand in front of art created in the last hundred years. Discover the poetry of Rilke, Berry, or Merton. Bring your dreams and your imagination with you. And wrestle.
"All art is at once surface and symbol.
Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.
Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.
It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors."
"O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am Painfully conscious of my need of further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God...I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, so that I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, 'Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.' Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long. In Jesus' name, Amen."
Aiden W. Tozer
My kids and I have been counting down the days. I have my "Where the Wild Things Are" shirt washed and ready. Tonight, we go to see what Spike Jonze has done with one of our all time favorite stories. This review from the New York Times has just dramatically heightened my anticipation:
Some of His Best Friends Are Beasts
Most of the snuffling, growling beasts that roam and often stomp through “Where the Wild Things Are,” Spike Jonze’s alternately perfect and imperfect if always beautiful adaptation of the Maurice Sendak children’s book, come covered in fur. Some have horns; most have twitchy tails and vicious-looking teeth. The beasts snarl and howl and sometimes sniffle. One has a runny nose. Yet another has pale, smooth skin and the kind of large, wondering eyes that usually grow smaller and less curious with age. This beast is Max, the boy in the wolf costume who one night slips into the kind of dream the movies were made for.
Max, played by the newcomer Max Records, is the pivotal character in this intensely original and haunting movie, though by far the most important figure here proves to be Mr. Jonze. After years in the news, the project and its improbability — a live-action movie based on a slender, illustrated children’s book that runs fewer than 40 pages, some without any words at all — are no longer a surprise. Even so, it startles and charms and delights largely because Mr. Jonze’s filmmaking exceeds anything he’s done in either of his inventive previous features, “Being John Malkovich” (1999) and “Adaptation” (2002). With “Where the Wild Things Are” he has made a work of art that stands up to its source and, in some instances, surpasses it.
Sometimes I am completely overwhelmed by the extraordinary people God brings into my life. Ariane Trifunovic-Montemuro is one of those people. We met almost a year ago in our Tuesday morning Bible study group, and now worship together at St. Ignatius. Ariane is a beautiful soul who sees deeply, who asks provocative questions, who loves generously...and...she is an artist.
Educated at the New York School of Visual Arts, Ariane has impeccable credentials and immense skill. But that is not what sets her paintings apart. It is her vision, her faith, and the prayers with which she saturates her work that make it so compelling. It is significant art with layers of meaning, sometimes surprising the artist, as well as the subject, with its insight.
"Ariane was always curious about connections to spiritual realms. Growing up, she was surrounded by icons--which are unique to her Eastern Orthodox Christian faith. These icons, or sacred depictions, are used as a bridge to create a connection between oneself and God. Icon is a Greek-derived word from 'eikon', which means likeness, image or representation. Orthodoxy holds that these images are mystically connected to that which they depict. They also celebrate through lines and colors, holiness, 'dwelling of God within men' (Revelation 21:3)...
*Featured in the post: "Christ Child and the Ever Virgin Mary of Tennessee" and "Angel of Joy"
I opened Frederick Buechner's Wishful Thinking this evening to find a passage I wished to share with a friend. While there, I browsed back through some of my underlines and turned-down pages. (I tend to be a rather interactive reader. Reading a book is a dialogue, to my way of thinking.) The book is subtitled "A Seeker's ABC". It is a primer of sorts, introducing a good deal of religious jargon, but with refreshing perspectives.
The passage I had been looking for was Buechner's sapient and perceptive entry on wine which you can read here. But, as I read back over his entry on grace, I was overwhelmed by the many ways grace has invaded my life on this day alone. With gratitude in my heart, I invite you to browse his words and see if they open your eyes to graces as yet unseen...
"After centuries of handling and mishandling, most religious words have become so shopworn nobody's much interested anymore. Not so with grace, for some reason. Mysteriously, even derivatives like gracious and graceful still have some of the bloom left.
"Grace is something you can never get but can only be given. There's no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about any more than you can deserve the taste of raspberries and cream or bring about your own birth.
"A good sleep is grace and so are good dreams. Most tears are grace. The smell of rain is grace. Somebody loving you is grace. Loving somebody is grace. Have you ever tried to love somebody?
"A crucial eccentricity of the Christian faith is the assertion that people are saved by grace. There's nothing you have to do. There's nothing you have to do. There's nothing you have to do.
"The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn't have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It's for you I created the universe. I love you...."
There have been men and women throughout the course of history who have known God with an intense intimacy that somehow eludes most of us. Some of them found their path to be a solitary one. They lived in deserts, or prisons, or caves. Some of them sought out contemplative communities that seemed to provide them with a structure that would lead them to God. Some were mothers, fathers, husbands, wives. Some had visions. Some knew long periods when God seemed silent. Some were tortured and gave their lives for their faith. I am so intrigued by them. I look at them and wonder what it is that they understood but I do not. I wonder if knowing them can help me better know God...
Thomas Merton briefly describes himself as a man who "lived a worldly life until the age of 26 when he entered a Trappist Monastery". But that does not begin to plumb the depths of this exceptional mystic poet or his story. Merton writes about his early years compellingly, and with extraordinary detail, in The Seven Story Mountain. It is one of the most significant books I have ever read.
I filled pages of my journal with his words. He had an ability to see deeper than most of us, yet write about it in a way that you and I can see it too. I have painstakingly chosen only a few passages to share here...for now. But I implore you to experience this treasure for yourself.
On Sanctifying the Ordinary... "...they inspired real reverence, and I think, in a way, they were certainly saints. And they were saints in that most effective and telling way: sanctified by leading ordinary lives in a completely supernatural manner, sanctified by obscurity, by used skills, by common tasks, by routine, but skills, tasks, routine which received a supernatural form from grace within, and from the habitual union of their souls with God in deep faith and charity."
On Contemplation and Art... "After all, from my very childhood, I had understood that the artistic experience, at its highest, was actually a natural analogue of the mystical experience. It produced a kind of intuitive perception of reality through a sort of affective identification with the object contemplated...I had always understood that art was contemplation."
On GRACE... "It is only when we have lost all love of ourselves for our own sakes that our past sins cease to give us any cause for suffering or for the anguish of shame. For the saints, when they remember their sins, do not remember the sins but the mercy of God, and therefore even past evil is turned by them into a present cause of joy and serves to glorify God." Praise be to God!
On Freedom... "I was free. I had recovered my liberty. I belonged to God, not to myself: and to belong to Him is to be free, free of all the anxieties and worries and sorrows that belong to this earth, and the love of the things that are in it."
On Transforming Union... "...contemplata tradere... is the vocation to transforming union, to the height of the mystical life and of mystical experience, to the very transformation into Christ, that Christ living in us and directing all our actions might Himself draw all men to desire and seek that same exalted union because of the joy and sanctity and the supernatural vitality radiated by our example--or rather because of the secret influence of Christ living within us in complete possession of our souls." May it be so!
Imagine you had an important story to tell. Imagine that you had less than a minute to tell it. And imagine that you could not use words. Could you do it?
This film short has been making the rounds on e-mail, my-space, etc... Perhaps you have seen it. Purportedly it is a Cannes Film Festival winner. I honestly could not confirm that, but it really doesn't matter. It is an artistically conveyed story that merits your consideration. Thank you to Rita who shared it with me.
It began with a murmur. Then a swell of applause quickly wrapped around the arena. We rose to our feet as one body; hearts pounding, chests heaving, and eyes straining for the first glimpse. One minute passed, then five, and the applause did not stop. Then it happened. Four shadowy figures emerged from the tunnel into the darkened arena. Figures of legend, with the certain, easy stride of those who are living out their calling. The arena erupted. A deafening roar. I thought it couldn't get louder. I was wrong. As the first Achilles climbed the ramp to emerge center stage, we found a deeper place.
We were still roaring when the drums began to pound. Guitars sawed, then exploded into the opening of "Breathe" and a grand adventure began. The four legends owned the stage and we willingly surrendered ourselves to them, inviting them to take us where they willed. We were in very good hands.
Though I have long been a U2 fan and have even had the joy of playing their music in church (!), this was my first time to see them live. I have never experienced anything like it. Lighting, set design, and graphics were artistic and audacious. The message, as expected, was one of love and peace and responsibility to care for "the least of these". The music was flawlessly executed, and exhilarating or tender by turns. But, here's the thing you can never fully appreciate til you breathe the same air as these guys--til you stand in the room where they are weaving a great tapestry of music and brotherhood and energy and grace--these are consummate performers! Their showmanship is dazzling, as is their ability to make you feel at times like they are performing just for you.
Each song was carefully crafted to take us somewhere we had not yet been. Moving from one to another was like opening a series of packages. There were a few stellar moments for me--little pieces of the evening I know I'll never forget...
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For: the sing along We all knew it. Part way through, Bono stepped away from the microphone to listen as we sang. I was overwhelmed by the power of that moment. All those voices crying out our universal complaint, that longing is our constant companion. We try to satisfy it. We may even try to kill it. But in truth, it is a gift. It will lead us to transcendence and Truth...if we let it.
Stuck in a Moment: Acoustic Just Bono, The Edge, and an acoustic guitar. Clean, simple, and poignant. A nice break from the energetic frenzy for just a bit. And just a bit was just enough.
Magnificent is the song that was playing in my head when I woke up this morning. The melody and the words haunt me.
Only love, only love can leave such a mark
But only love, only love can heal such a scar
Justified, till we die you and I will magnify,
I loved that the live performance of "Get on Your Boots", which is on my running playlist, completely rocked the house. Kelsey, Jake and I loved it when Larry Mullen, Jr. brought the congo out to the catwalk on "I'll Go Crazy if I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" and pummeled it. I loved the tenderness of "Moment of Surrender". And I especially loved looking over at my teenagers and watching their lips moving to the songs and seeing their eyes filled with wonder. It was a MAGICAL evening.
Thank you, Bono, Edge, Larry, and Adam, for years of wonderful music, for using your platform well to inspire and help others, for creativity unbound (both musical and visual), and for an unforgettable evening with my family. Thank you Mike for surprising us with the tickets. It was a blast!
*Note: Please understand that all photos were taken with my iPhone so the quality is less than stellar. Please also understand that even if I had taken them with the best camera, they would be woefully inadequate. With that said, there are more photographs HERE if you are interested.
Two very important exhibits open today at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville. The member preview last night was packed and throbbing with excitement. I offer here a brief introduction, and a look at some of my favorites.
Georgia O'Keeffe and Her Times celebrates the American voice in twentieth century art. Though influenced, to be sure, by artistic movements in Europe, these artists gave their own unique interpretation to abstraction and expressionism. "Deer's Skull With Pedernal" (O'Keeffe) is an effective introduction to the collection. If you have ever been to the southwestern U.S., you will recognize that abstraction can be much more effective than realism at conveying the essence of this harsh but extraordinarily beautiful landscape. O'Keeffe amused me with her "Red Tree, Yellow Sky". The "red tree" is actually a piece of dead wood perched on O'Keeffe's windowsill. Ever the master in creative proportion.
One of the happier surprises for me is the inclusion of three photographs by Ansel Adams. His beautifully artistry with light is evident in both the soft glow of "Early Morning, Merced River Canyon" and the dramatic contrasts of "The Tetons and Snake River".
Marsden Hartley's furious brushstrokes and flurry of vibrant hues wonderfully capture the exuberance of fall in "Carnival of Autumn". Max Weber uses muted, sophisticated colors and sensuous lines in his elegant "Red Poppies" (top of post). We see another side of Weber with his whimsical "Three Literary Gentlemen" (above). This painting smacks of a kinder, gentler Picasso.
There are several works by Hans Hoffman. I like the composition and contrasts of "Green Bottle", but my favorite is "Composition Number IV". I smiled as a gentlemen tried to pick out a figure in this abstract expressionist painting. There is no figure. But I could lose myself for days inside the sweeps and swirls, the dips and dives of pulsating color in this work. I would go again just to see it. I could not find an image of the work, but perhaps it is just as well. You need to stand before it and breathe it...to emerge yourself in it and ride the scoops and swells.
Thomas Hart Benton in Story and Song features drawings and watercolors the artist created for three books by Mark Twain, as well as paintings inspired by American Folk Music. Benton was a part of the Regionalist movement that saw beauty in the ordinary men and women who populate ordinary towns and do ordinary things.
The exhibition highlights Benton's versatility. Each of the books was illustrated in a slightly different medium. For The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, the artist used pen and ink to create clean, sharp, black and white images that snap with the same vitality the rascally Tom was known for. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, however, received a sepia wash "to evoke the muddy Mississippi River and the somber undertones of the book". Finally, Twain's memoir, Life on the Mississippi, is rendered in eloquently subdued watercolors.
One of the most intriguing elements of this exhibit for me is a serious of studies for Thomas Hart Benton's last work; a large scale painting commissioned by the Country Music Hall of Fame here in Nashville, called "The Sources of Country Music" (above). Sketches of individual characters followed by composition studies reveal the mind of the artist as he worked and reworked; positioned and repositioned. Fascinating!
While you are there, be sure to step upstairs and check out the Twilight Visions exhibit. I confess I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with this one. Some of the surrealist works are a little too disturbing for me. But, there are some devastatingly gorgeous photographs of my beloved Paris at twilight. Kelsey and I especially liked the works of Brassai (below).
J. R. R. Tolkien: The Hobbit: or, There and Back Again
*re-read with Joshua
Paulo Coelho: The Alchemist
C. S. Lewis: The Last Battle (The Chronicles of Narnia, Book 7)
*re-read with Joshua
C. S. Lewis: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Movie Tie-in Edition (rack) (Narnia)
*re-read with Joshua