The Comfort of Bach

dsc_6856

Q. 1. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. 1. That I belong — body and soul, in life and in death —
not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ,
who at the cost of his own blood has fully paid for all my sins
and has completely freed me from the dominion of the devil;
that he protects me so well
that without the will of my Father in heaven
not a hair can fall from my head;
indeed, that everything
must fit his purpose
for my salvation.
Therefore, by His Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life,
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
— The opening of the Heidelberg Catechism


When I ordered My Only Comfort on 1.1.16 I had no idea that my sister would die two weeks later. All I knew was that this book scratched two of my favorite itches: the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and the Heidelberg Catechism. Margo’s death and my grief are inextricably knit into my response. A Bachophile, she listened nightly to a ‘Bach’s Variations’ CD as she fell asleep.

There was no way I could simply read this book. I was compelled to listen multiple times to Bach’s chorales, cantatas, and arias while Stapert explained the structure and form, exposed the chiasms, and pointed, whispering See what he did there? I switched from being a reader to becoming a student, immersing — bathing in Bach. I discovered a whole realm of YouTube videos that opened up a kingdom of sublime, profoundly sad, and intensely joyful music.

“Over and over we hear the dissonance of pain resolve into the consonance of joy.”

“The heaven-haunted music I hear in Bach can be found in any of his instrumental genres — suites, sonatas, concertos, fugues — as well as in his church music. But, of course, in his church music, words can lead us to places where there is likely to have been a special intention to try to capture something of what ‘ear has not heard’ and make it audible.”

My current favorite aria is from St. Matthew’s Passion.

The translation for Enbarme dich —
Have mercy, my God, for the sake of my tears!
See here, before you heart and eyes weep bitterly.
Have mercy, my God.

Reading, studying through this book was one of the most profoundly comforting experiences of my life. Bach’s glorious music pierced me, the beauty often leveling me to sobs. But after the leveling was a lifting: it refreshed my spirit.

Hence, I have resolved two things:

1. To read the other four books Calvin Stapert has written. (Haydn, Bach bio, The Messiah and Early Church Music await me.)

2. To systematically listen through Bach’s canon. I’m not sure how I will sort this, but there are too many wonderful pieces I have never heard. Simply working through the cantatas might be a starting point. I don’t care about BMW‘s; it’s BMVs (Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis — a number assigned to each known composition of Bach’s) for me! Do you have any ideas?

I could easily begin again at the beginning of My Only Comfort for a second harvest. I probably won’t right away, but the book will remain on my shelves (the highest compliment I can give these days).

27 Summer Benedictions

DSC_0244

My summer has included grief, groans, and groping in the dark.
Same as you.
So this is not intended to be an episode of ‘my beautiful life’.
It is my retrospect of benedictions as I press onward.

DSC_0290

:: Farmer grandson in line to show his sheep at Stock Show ::

DSC_0772

 :: experimental gardening  growing Brussells Sprouts ::

DSC_0380

:: captivating clematis ::

DSC_0695

:: Mint, juice of one lime, Truvia, ice, and water ::

DSC_0359

:: her hair reminds me of a Fibonacci spiral ::

DSC_0368

:: halfway through The Pat Conroy Cookbook – a good book for foodies ::

DSC_0384

:: garlic scapes and wood rounds ::

DSC_1849

:: the moments before Susan from Munich arrived ::

DSC_2251

:: anniversary camping trip, Curt reading Shop Class as Soulcraft ::

DSC_2418

:: Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge ::

DSC_2555

:: reminds me of Hank, the Cowdog ::

DSC_2663

:: glory, glory, glory!! a surprise sibling reunion! ::

DSC_2741

:: Chris & Jessie’s table set for an extended family dinner ::

DSC_2766

:: Who knew 80 could look so glamorous? ::

DSC_0438

:: this girl, our youngest grand, lives life with zest ::

DSC_0440

:: moving up the ladder ::

DSC_0470

:: breakfast with Jack & Stacia, who mentored Curt in his teen years in Los Angeles ::

DSC_0596

:: harvest golden tones ::

DSC_0561.JPG

::   Papa cheesing it up with our Seattle grandsons ::

DSC_0675

:: Fair is where you take the hogs in August ::

DSC_0781

:: my ongoing magnet project — thank you, Shutterfly! ::

DSC_0716

:: last year I saved zinnia seeds. My frugal self is exultant. ::

DSC_0744

:: squash blossoms, garlic and cilantro from the garden; the makings of quesadillas ::

DSC_0768

:: teddy bear doubling as a pillow ::

DSC_0803

::  day is done (pinching myself that we live here)  ::

DSC_0828

:: chipmunk visiting during my day of silence and solitude ::

Shop Class as Soulcraft

DSC_2251

Ken Myers at Mars Hill Audio Journal introduced me to Matthew Crawford, calling Shop Class as Soulcraft a hymn to the virtues of what he [Crawford] called manual competence and a lament for the decline of honor accorded to work with one’s hands.

My husband, a former high school shop teacher, captivated from the first page — bemoaning the disappearance of shop classes from our common education — kept interrupting my reading of another book to share a paragraph of this book. Thus, he convinced me to read it myself.

Crawford has a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago, but when he’s not writing he makes a living as a motorcycle mechanic. (While this is a rare combination, I know several carpenters who are conversant with Kierkegaard and Heidegger. My husband can weld an axle and ask compelling questions.)

DSC_8666.JPG

Crawford’s book is part social history, part philosophy, and part memoir. The altitude of some of the metaphysical  musings were beyond my reach but within stretching distance. The history of transition from craftsmanship to assembly line and the degradation of blue collar work was absorbing. His personal ‘education of a gearhead’ was fun and fascinating reading.

Crawford laughs at the cubicle culture with teambuilding activities and speech codes. He urges learning a trade even if you go to college. Reading this book inspires me to pick up a shovel and dig in my garden.

If thinking is bound up with action, then the task of getting an adequate grasp on the world, intellectually, depends on our doing stuff in it. And in fact this is the case: to really know shoelaces, you have to tie shoes.

 

 

 

This Is How We Roll

DSC_0747

In March my husband installed new flooring in our kitchen, covering up the 1993 white vinyl which remains the worst consumer purchase of my life. Silly me, I thought laminate was indestructible. I think not, Finknottle!

Curt started murmuring something about a plastic floor protector mat. No offense to you in the floor mat family, but they are, in my opinion, uglier than the underside of my kitchen vent hood.

We compromised with a low, backless shop stool that had safe-to-the-floor wheels. Since March, I’ve been hunching over!

I had no knowledge of the office wheel world, that there was even a difference between bad wheels and good wheels. I guess the hospital where he works is choosing these wheels for their chairs. He got rollerblade style rubber wheels and I have never been so happy with an office chair in my life! Smooooth ride! My grandsons love to get in the chair and scoot around. I’m thinking rollerblade wheels just may be the key to happiness!

It’s the little things…

The Little Things

DSC_0695

It’s the little things, right?

One autumn a friend closed her café and gave me a restaurant-sized bag of Big Train Chai to thank me for my help. That winter I had a delicious, steaming, comforting cup of chai every night. Without changing any other eating habits, I gained eight pounds in two or three months. One little thing.

I’m done with diets.* It’s easy to believe I can take off twenty – thirty pounds if I focus hard on a plan—pick one, any one— and execute it. But I know that as soon as I go “off” the ‘plan’ that weight huffs and puffs, red-faced and straining, and catches up with me.

So I’m looking for little changes that over the long haul will add up to loss. This summer my daily drink is Mint Lime Water. I clip some mint and put that at the bottom of my 32 oz. cup. I squeeze a half a lime into it. (Or, pull a snack bag with the juice of one lime out of the freezer.) I add one package of Truvia. (I know, I know, it’s not healthy, but I’m going to finish my supply before I give it up.) Fill the cup with ice and then water. Suddenly, it’s easier to drink my water. And I’ve taken a leave of absence from caffeine.

Curt’s cousin encouraged me to try a sprig of rosemary in my water. I like it!

What is your little thing? I’d seriously like to glean some other ideas that friends/readers have found helpful.

Do you have a fun substitution or a new twist on something? Does anyone out there use a standing desk? My friend at work does squats while she blow-dries her hair. I’d love to do that, but I’m not willing to give up reading a book and I don’t think I could manage both!

I’ll wait for your comments. Thanks!

* Until the next new one seduces me.