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Beauty Break: Music For Your Ears, Part I

National Poetry Month Poster 2013April is National Poetry Month and to celebrate the beauty of the written word spoken well, I’m sharing an audio series of three of my favorite poetry readings. Each is a YouTube video of one of my favorite actors reciting a poetic selection and, perhaps with the exception of today’s post, watching the video is completely unnecessary to enjoying to depth of music, emotion, and linguistic precision in these pieces. In fact, it is best to close your eyes and simply LISTEN and resist the temptation to be distracted by the visual images on the screen. With perhaps the exception of Hamlet, the images lend nothing to the experience of the poem itself, for the experience is dependent upon well-chosen language spoken beautifully. I chose these pieces not only because of the beauty of the written works themselves, but because they seem to me to come particularly alive delivered through these select “voices.”

Today, the “To be or not to be” soliloquy from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, performed by Kenneth Branagh in his gorgeous film production of the play.

For more information about National Poetry Month or for ideas on how to plant the seed that will grow a poetry garden in your own daily life, visit The Poetry Foundation and the Academy of American Poets.

Authentic Feminism

Mary Magdalene Giving News of the Resurrected Jesus to the Disciples, by Philip Hermogenes Calderon (1833-1898)

Mary Magdalene Giving News of the Resurrected Jesus to the Disciples, by Philip Hermogenes Calderon (1833-1898)

At his audience on Wednesday, April 3, Pope Francis spoke at length of the beautiful privilege women have been given to proclaim the Gospel and to witness to the Truth and Beauty of the Resurrected Jesus in the world. This vocation is real, necessary and of vital importance.  It is a vocation that can be answered only by women and in a uniquely special way, because it is a role they were made to fulfill. True, authentic feminism embraces and cherishes this vocation, does not seek to pervert it into something it is not, and strives to fulfill it with all the gifts and graces at its disposal.

“But how was the truth of faith in Christ’s Resurrection transmitted? There are two kinds of witness in the New Testament: some are in the form of the profession of the faith, namely, synthetic formulas that indicate the center of the faith. Instead, others are in the form of an account of the event of the Resurrection and the facts connected to it. The form of the profession of faith, for example, is what we have just heard, or that of the Letter to the Romans where Paul writes: ” for, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved “(10.9). From the earliest days of the Church, faith in the Mystery of Death and Resurrection of Jesus is steadfast and clear.

Today, however, I would like to dwell the second, on testimony in the form of the accounts that we find in the Gospels. First, we note that the first witnesses to this event were the women. At dawn, they go to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus, and find the first sign: the empty tomb (Mk 16:1). This is followed by an encounter with a Messenger of God who proclaims: Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified One, he is not here, he is risen (cf. vv. 5-6). The women are driven by love and know how to accept this proclamation with faith: they believe, and immediately transmit it, they do not keep it for themselves. They cannot contain the joy of knowing that Jesus is alive, the hope that fills their heart. This should also be the same in our lives. Let us feel the joy of being Christian! We believe in the Risen One who has conquered evil and death! Let us also have the courage to “go out” to bring this joy and light to all the places of our lives! The Resurrection of Christ is our greatest certainty, it is our most precious treasure! How can we not share this treasure, this beautiful certainty with others! It’s not just for us it’s to be transmitted, shared with others this is our testimony!

Another element. In the professions of faith of the New Testament, only men are remembered as witnesses of the Resurrection, the Apostles, but not the women. This is because, according to the Jewish Law of the time, women and children were not considered reliable, credible witnesses. In the Gospels, however, women have a primary, fundamental role. Here we can see an argument in favor of the historicity of the Resurrection: if it were a invented, in the context of that time it would not have been linked to the testimony of women. Instead, the evangelists simply narrate what happened: the women were the first witnesses. This tells us that God does not choose according to human criteria: the first witnesses of the birth of Jesus are the shepherds, simple and humble people, the first witnesses of the Resurrection are women. This is beautiful, and this is the mission of women, of mothers and women, to give witness to their children and grandchildren that Christ is Risen! Mothers go forward with this witness! What matters to God is our heart, if we are open to Him, if we are like trusting children. But this also leads us to reflect on how in the Church and in the journey of faith, women have had and still have a special role in opening doors to the Lord, in following him and communicating his face, because the eyes of faith always need the simple and profound look of love. The Apostles and disciples find it harder to believe in the Risen Christ, not the women however! Peter runs to the tomb, but stops before the empty tomb; Thomas has to touch the wounds of the body of Jesus with his hands. In our journey of faith it is important to know and feel that God loves us, do not be afraid to love: faith is professed with the mouth and heart, with the word and love.” — Excerpt from the text of the Pope’s General Audience, April 3, 2013

August 4: The Birthday of Percy Bysshe Shelley

Nothing is more human than for man to desire naturally things impossible to his nature. It is, indeed, the property of a nature which is not closed up in matter like the nature of physical things, but which is intellectual or infinitized by the spirit. It is the property of a metaphysical nature. Such desires reach for the infinite, because the intellect thirsts for being and being is infinite.
JACQUES MARITAIN, Approaches to God

Years ago, a friend took a writing sabbatical in England and sent me an image of Percy Shelley‘s Memorial on a postcard. I thought then that it was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. The sculpture is a fitting memorial to a man who searched for truth by exploring Beauty through poetry. The memorial always reminds me of Shelley’s own poem “Adonais,” which he wrote as an elegy to John Keats, whose untimely death at the age of 26 from tuberculosis greatly saddened Shelley. But Shelley himself died young, drowning in a storm while sailing before he turned 30, the event so poignantly called to mind in the composition of the memorial. One might even find “Adonais” to be hauntingly prophetic of Shelley’s own early demise.

 
I
I weep for Adonais – he is dead!
Oh weep for Adonais! Tho’ our tears
Thaw not the frost which binds so dear a head!
And thou, sad Hour, selected from all years
To mourn our loss, rouse thy obscure compeers,
And teach them thine own sorrow! Say: “With me
Died Adonais; till the future dares
Forget the Past, his fate and fame shall be
An echo and a light unto eternity!”
 
**********
 
LIV
That Light whose smile kindles the Universe,
That Beauty in which all things work and move,
That Benediction which the eclipsing Curse
Of birth can quench not, that sustaining Love
Which thro’ the web of being blindly wove
By man and beast and earth and air and sea,
Burns bright or dim, as each are mirrors of
The fire for which all thirst; now beams on me,
Consuming the last clouds of cold mortality. 
 
LV
The breath whose might I have invoked in song
Descends on me; my spirit’s bark is driven,
Far from the shore, far from the trebling throng
Whose sails were never to the tempest given;
The massy earth and sphered skies are riven!
I am bourne darkly, fearfully, afar;
Whilst burning thro’ the inmost veil of Heaven,
The soul of Adonais, like a star,
Beacons from the abode where the Eternal are.
 

It might be argued that Shelley’s atheism precludes reading his work as a testament to the existence of God.  I disagree. There are many paths and tributaries that feed in to the one Way to God and the artist can come close to God, can know God, through his art. Without doubt, Shelley sought truth and he sought it through Beauty. It would not be wrong to suggest that Beauty, in all its forms, was Shelley’s god. But God himself is the author of Beauty. He IS Beauty. As Keats so aptly wrote, “Beauty is Truth, and Truth Beauty.” Shelley’s quest for the infinite placed him squarely in the presence of all Truth, however unconscious of it he might have been.  To paraphrase (badly) Flannery O’Connor, whether or not we understand it, know it, or believe it, it’s true just the same.

Shelley’s poetry certainly raises the heart, mind, and soul to God. It is infused with a beautiful sense of the spiritual, the eternal, and a grasping sense of truth that necessarily points from inside to somewhere outside of man and — as “Adonais” makes clear — an awareness that man is himself made for eternal life. Man is not all there is, Beauty is not an “accident,” and the gift of the ability to create beauty, harmony, and order is one proof that God exists. Art itself can prove the lie of atheism.

One can imagine Shelley being literally awakened by the kiss of Beauty, even at the moment of death.   Remembering today with gratitude the gift of a beautiful poet, whose work points to God’s work in what surely must be a beautiful soul.

The Awakening of Adonis, by John William Waterhouse

 

Take Back Your Time

The Head of Nimue, by Edward Burne-Jones

“In terms of taking back our time, the first essential tool is saying no. No to our own greed and self-importance. No to the extra work we carry home. No to hearing without listening, looking without seeing; no, above all, to the insistent voice of advertising, which thrives on our restlessness and dissatisfaction, and does everything it can to exacerbate them. A Brobdingnagian NO to all those things makes space for an even more gigantic YES.

My private code for this is to refuse and choose.

We . . . can refuse to participate in the ‘mad race of time.’ We can choose to talk face to face with our friends instead of via email or on the telephone; we can play with our children, now, this very afternoon; we can go off for long walks across the hills. We can turn off the television once and for all. In short, we can rejoice in being one of the elite who actually does have the privilege of choice instead of complaining endlessly about our lack of time.

The Red Studio, by Henri Matisse

Of course it can feel difficult to drop out of the rat race: to stand at the side of the road while our friends and colleagues race on across the horizon. But that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible. In Matisse’s painting, “The Red Studio,” the clock has no hands. We need to find a ‘red studio’ of our own, the studio of our own insistent heart, perhaps, in which to set up an easel or a writing desk, or pull a dreaming daybed towards a broad, wide-open window. It sounds so simple — almost too simple to be worth saying — but slowing down can be a tremendous source of joy.” (Excerpted from World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down, by Christian McEwan, pp.30-31)

What would you do if you had more time? Find one thing, and then find the time and make it happen.

St. Teresa of Jesus (Avila)

Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. Teresa of Jesus, also known as St. Teresa of Avila. She has long been a favorite of mine and is the namesake of my dearest sister, St. Therese of Lisieux. They share a refreshing sense of humor, down-to-earth practicality, and great confidence in God and love for Jesus, all of which I need to deepen in my own life. And apart from that, St. Teresa is the patroness of headache sufferers, which I experience chronically.

In case you don’t know much about this beautiful sister in faith, Benjamin Mann wrote this well-researched and lively article in recognition of her feast for the National Catholic Register. Its definitely worth the few minutes it will take to read and you might just find a new friend in heaven to walk the journey with you in the process.

Words to live by………….

Let nothing trouble you, let nothing make you afraid. All things pass away. God never changes. Patience obtains everything. God alone is enough. Dream that the more you struggle, the more you prove the love that you bear your God, and the more you will rejoice one day with your Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end. . . Hope, O my soul, hope. You can know neither the day nor the hour. Watch carefully, for everything passes away quickly, even though your impatience makes doubtful what is certain and turns a very short time into a long one. — St. Teresa of Avila

Beauty, Grace, the Big Screen — a follow-up….

After reading this post, my friend, Rose, reminded me about Holy Wood Acting Studio, here in Culver City, CA. Its a new acting studio, dedicated to helping actors fulfill their mission to be true artists and servants of Truth and Beauty in the world. If you know anyone who is interested in acting, or if you are at all interested in the power of film as an art form, the studio is worth looking in to. Be sure and watch the introductory video that comes on before you click on the link to enter the site. Its only about a minute and a half and it is very inspiring.

The mission of the studio was recently written about on the National Catholic Register website by Joseph Pronchen, which he followed up in print with a longer article.  The article gives a clear idea of the goals of the studio and articulates the important role of film in accomplishing the goal of all art, which our late holy father, Blessed John Paul II, said “is nothing less than the upliftment of the human spirit.”

Hoping and praying many good film projects, and good people, will be coming out of this studio in the future….

“Remember that you, artists, are the custodians of Beauty in the world.” — Blessed John Paul II, Letter to Artists