Sunday, August 26, 2007

My Drug of Choice.

My first introduction came through youtube. The video begins with a shot of a sound stage, some other cameras and cameramen, and on stage an old man in a cardigan casually playing a few bars of Frére Jacques. He stops playing and offstage you hear someone say, "Alright, stand by. Bach's Chaconne, take one." The old man is motionless for a second, bow poised above the violin and then he starts.
Suddenly the room is filled with music, and I am trapped, bound by simple notes but more than that. Somehow Johann Sebastian Bach managed to put to music the deepest emotions of my soul. D, F, A. Those are the first notes heard but the protective armour of my soul is already breached before the arrival of the next note. It isn't overt virtuosity, but a journey where every note is like the curve of a road that reveals another stunning vista, each more beautiful than the next. The journey continues and then reaches a glorious climax where all the notes climb and build in a whirlwind of sound and emotion rising to heaven, like a prayer of a saint. This moment is sublime, sacrosanct. Any other composer would end there, fully satisfied and justifiably so but Bach isn't half finished.
The music slows, allowing the listener to reflect but before long before thoughts are allowed to wander the music once again takes hold, takes control and reaches deeper still into the soul until there is an unstoppable rush of emotion at the surface with nowhere to go but up in a prayer of thanksgiving. I cannot be an atheist when I listen to this piece.
Why was I up at three am last night. To get my fix. I couldn't go to bed without listening just once more, and then once more again. Multiple listens have not dimmed my enthusiasm. I own three recordings each of which I've listened to dozens of times. At thirteen minutes long I imagine that cumulatively the amount of time I've spent listening to the Chaconne would now be measured in days.
I'm not alone in my opinion of the piece. Johannes Brahms wrote to Clara Shumann with his thoughts,
"On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind."
Even as I now listen to Rachel Podger's version, I am caught fast by the music. How is it that there is so much beauty in this world of ours? How on earth did Bach managed to write this?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Rainy Days and Mondays Always Get Me Down. (Says the Carpenter)

I woke up coughing, and wishing that I had taken more initiative to see a doctor this weekend. I think that the dust in the air at my work has started to really affect me, I've been having what I assume to be asthma attacks which I've never had before. I just wanted to sleep a little longer. Mornings come all too fast and I'd had a little trouble getting to sleep as well.
Last night, the neighbour's cat kept me up for some time, meowing outside the window. The members in my household, Chateau Rockingham, named him Dexter although we later learned that his real name is Nipper and that he's a she. Dexter was aptly named, her real name Nipper, for last night when I was talking on the phone to my Mom she finally bit me. We had started letting her into our house every once in a while for visits although the habit had fallen to the wayside after she started biting people. First she bit Kevin, then later Calvin, then Lisa and then Kevin again. The second time that she bit Kevin he was suitably punctured that he felt it warranted taking advantage of our Canadian Health Care and then a trip to the clinic.
Of course while Dexter went around biting people I went around making highbrow comments about how to correctly handle cats, I hadn't been bitten, had I? It seemed unbelievable that Dexter could bite so many people, he's such an affectionate cat; really, really affectionate. The thing is that right when he is most affectionate is when he bites, so Kevin told me. Calvin and Lisa corroborated.
Dexter suffered a larger fall from grace when Calvin started complaining how he was kept awake by Dexter meowing at his window at night. He finally convinced Dexter of the fact he wasn't welcome around the Chateau anymore.
With Calvin and Kevin on holidays, I felt fine letting the little rotter in. I stilled enjoyed his company. But then he bit me and I changed my mind a tad. And finally last night I understood, the stupid cat sat meowing outside my window for quite some time.
When I woke up coughing I wasn't really thinking of Dexter. I was thinking of how I wasn't ready to get up yet, and how the mornings are sure staying darker later. I worried through an obligation that today brings, I considered my cough and whether I should just call in sick and go into the walk in I coughed some more wondering if, even though I knew I had a bit more time to rest, if I should get up to get a drink to try and soothe my throat. I rolled over and looked at the clock. 1:57 am. I had only been asleep a few hours.
I got up to get a drink, and thought I should take advantage of the hour by calling my sister, nine time zones away. I had tried calling her yesterday but for whatever reason I couldn't get through. I really miss that girl. To employ tremendous understatement, I'm rather lucky to have her as a sister.
I headed up the stairs and then behind me I heard a meow, Dexter was still in the house, having been locked in the basement. I guess he had been meowing outside my door, not my window. I swear if I find any cat sh!t in the house... I opened the door to let him out but he looked hopefully up the stairs. I bodily threw him into the thankless night. Honestly, the gall of that cat.
I phoned my sister, interrupting her in a staff meeting, thereby realizing that there was no silver lining to my waking up four hours prematurely. And now here I am, blogging my woes to you. It's going to be a rough day. I should get some sleep. Sometimes I absolutely loath Mondays.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Rereading Books is Good for the Soul Part II

My last blog was supposed to be merely an introduction for this, the main theme that I wanted to write, but I felt that it would be too long so I separated them into two. I didn't really like the last blog all that much, but I think I will like this one even less, though for a different reason.
I remember the day after I wrote my blog about parallel parking I was somewhat concerned with something that I wrote. I wrote that I only brag about two things, my blog and my parallel parking. To be absolutely truthful, I brag about a lot of things. However, I always justified it by telling myself that I was doing it as a joke, I'd make a joke about how much faster I bike than Lance Armstrong and the next second I'd make a self deprecating joke and assume that it canceled everything out. Maybe it did, maybe it didn't.
I remember several months ago Brian wrote a comment on my myspace profile. He wrote, "You put the 'Ed' in 'needy.'" I'm not sure if he was just making a joke, or if he was actually making a really perceptive observation, I do desperately need affirmative statements from my friends and family. Mark Twain once said, "I can live two months on a good compliment." I can't. A good compliment serves me for about a day or two and then I start needing another. It's not that I've got a low self esteem, the blog is about my problem with pride; I think I'm great. (There's a perfect example of the sort of bragging jokes that I like to make.)
I remember the first time I heard someone talk about the "five love languages": words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. It took me about half a second to realize that I'm speak the language of words of affirmation.
Once I heard this I assumed that my "neediness" was merely symptomatic of my "love language." After rereading Searching for God Knows What I'm not so sure. Don Miller speculates that humans have a void that should be filled by God but is now empty. A rough analogy would be like Woody from the original Toy Story. At the beginning he is confident of his place in the world. He has Andy's love and so none of his imperfections matter. His pistol is missing, his voice box is a little outdated but it doesn't matter because he's Andy's precious toy. After Buzz comes along he feels the separation of Andy's affection and all of a sudden his world is turned upside down. Now he is self conscious of his inferiority. He has to compare himself to the other toys. He doubt his value.
Like Woody, I know all too well my shortcomings. Unfortunately I can't feel the love of God well enough to get my value from Him. I need to compare myself to others. Perhaps if I'm faster, smarter, funnier, richer, then I can feel as though I have worth. But really it's empty comparisons. I'm not the fastest, smartest, funniest, richest person so I'll never feel fulfilled. What Don's book made me realize is that perhaps I'm dealing with a spiritual problem.
Last weekend I made some comments that I regret. I may have made a few more egotistical "jokes" than normal, fished for compliments a little harder, in other words desperately sought affirmation, not out of low self esteem, but out of pride. For that I am sorry.
I don't mean that I think people who desire words of affirmation are all spiritually bankrupt, just that in my case I became a little bit extreme in my need to hear affirmation and I don't know that it's a coincidence that it happened during a time of summer slacking. My Bible's been gathering dust and my prayers are all too rare, usually a request for forgiveness.
I don't feel that I've expressed myself too well, Don does a better job of explaining the theory. But I won't try and waste anymore words. This isn't the best way to end a blog, so I'll close with a totally unrelated thought. Chopin's nocturnes are sure amazing. I'm listening to a recording right now and I can't think of any better music to play before bed.

Rereading Books is Good for the Soul

I'm currently rereading two books, Philip Yancey's Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference, and Don Miller's Searching for God Knows What. I don't know how many people bother to reread books but I do it fairly regularly; I'm really glad that I did because there's more than a few things that I had forgotten since the first read, and some things that I never even picked up on the first time round.
In Yancey's book on prayer he relates the following story about a tourist observing a Jew praying at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.
The Jew rocks back and forth with closed eyes, beating his breast, sometimes raising his hands. When he finishes, the tourist asks, "What do you pray for?"
The Jew responds, "I pray for righteousness. I pray for the health of my family. I pray for peace in the world, especially in Jerusalem.
"Are the prayers effective?" the tourist asks.
"It's like praying to a wall.

I think that one of the best qualities of Yancey's writing is his honesty in spiritual matters. Anyone who's prayed somewhat regularly to God must understand Jew, and the oftentimes futile feelings that accompany prayer.
In Don Millers book I had forgotten a really cool part where he describes a meeting he had with a man named Ron Post.
"Ron was about to retire from a ministry he had started twenty years before called Northwest Medical Teams. Northwest Medical Teams is an aid organization that sends doctors to volatile regions of the world to help the sick and dying. We met at a coffee shop across town, and I asked Ron... what was the key to his success. To answer the... question, Ron pulled from his pocket a tattered envelope filled with pictures.
For the rest of the meeting the man laid down pictures of people he had met, the first of which was a young Cambodian woman who, at the age of thirteen, was being used a a sex slave to the Khmer Rouge. He told me they had rescued her from captivity and given her a new life filled with the knowledge and love of Christ. As he showed me picture after picture of blind people who, because of a simple surgery, could now see, crippled people who could walk, the starving who had been fe, he told me their names. He knew their names, every one of them. I had asked the man what the key to his successful ministry was, and he told me through his stories the key to his multimillion-dollar ministry was a love of people. Ad I believe nowand will always believe that if we are willing to love people, God will pour out His resources to bless our lives and our efforts.
I think of this meeting with Ron when I consider Christ, who, like Ron, must have a proverbial envelope in His pocket, laying down picture after picture, knowing our names, knowing the number of hairs that grow on our heads, knowing tour stories nd fears and desires. He looks at each of us and feels in His heart the kind of love that would make Him want to come to earth and die so we could be healed, so we could feel the love that is going to make us whole..."
I like that picture of Jesus a lot.