Let’s Have a Catch Up

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I write blog posts in my head. Shoot, I write series of blog posts in my head. (One imaginary series is entitled A Walk to Remember, with photo highlights and musings from different locations and walking partners.) But still, the blog stays silent.

Today, I’m going to interview myself. Maybe if I can clear out my mental debris the ‘flow’ will return.

Who are you? The big project of the last five months is to reinvent myself. {laugh track} When I wake up in the morning, I typically anticipate that day’s reading, be it audio, Kindle, or print. I can plant my bottom and sit; sit through noon, sit until the moon is high in the midnight sky. I also love two-hour phone calls with my siblings (while sitting) or copying quotes into my journal. Or playing the piano (sitting down). Or entering every receipt into Quicken.

It’s all rather boring. Unless you’re me. Then it’s a delight.

But I long to be able to consider myself an outdoor woman without smirking. The kind whose face lights up when someone suggests a hike. A person who thinks there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.  Let’s be kind and say this is a work in progress.

What’s not working? Photography, for one. I’m in an in-between space: shooting raw photos, but not editing them. Meanwhile the backlog grows. Wanting to improve, but not putting the time in or buying the software. Frustrated by my lack of discipline to learn a new skill.

Um, OK. Is anything working?  Yes! There is one hack I’ve discovered. Ditch the snooze alarm. I started walking with some friends in September. My alarm goes off eleven minutes before I leave the house. When the choice to keep sleeping is removed, one gets out of bed. It’s truly been a life changer.

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Anything new?  Yep. The day after I received this wooden sign, a deer ran into my car. Where I live, sadly, it’s so common that people start yawning when you mention it. The deer didn’t stick around, so I don’t know the extent of its injuries.  I am grateful that the only damage sustained by me was to my car. Cars can be fixed.

What surprises you?  When I was a student, science was my least favorite subject. Suddenly, I’m studying science! Neuroplasticity, metabolic issues, hormones, biometrics. Weird.

What are you reading?  Much on nutrition by Jason Fung, Gary Taubes, David Perlmutter, and Nina Teicholz. I always have a C.S. Lewis book going, but found that some of his earlier books are rough sledding. Reading classics along with the Close Reads Podcast is fantastic. Most recently, we read Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory.  And for comfort and joy I’ve been residing in Mitford with Jan Karon and in Thrush Green with Miss Read. My goal is to read through the Bible yearly. This year I chose the Living Bible that my dad gave me when I was 15. (It looks just like the one in the link.) Reading notes my teenaged-self wrote has been interesting and the vernacular in this paraphrase is fresh.

What about music?  So the neatest thing happened. OPB, our public radio station, gave our library heaps of CDs they had culled from their collection. Our library sold them for a quarter each. I brought heaps of them home. I’m listening to all kinds of music. Some go straight to the thrift store. But I’ve found several gems. It’s cheap entertainment!

I thought this was going to be quick.  I get the hint. Later, readers!

 

 

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Barbara Bush’s Funeral

Detailed view of a program during the funeral for former First Lady Barbara Bush at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Houston

There is nothing so satisfying as a fine funeral.

Being a funeral aficionado may be an odd quirk, but that description is part of my personal brand.

Words, music, texts, tears are all the currency of grief. As a writer I lean forward to hear which nouns and adjectives, which phrases describe the deceased. I look for succinct and economical eulogies. As a lifetime church musician I have a broad exposure to a treasury of hymns and anthems. Which songs have been chosen to commemorate this life, this death? An an incurable reader and a Bible-loving Christian, I am familiar with many classic texts for funerals. I wonder if there is a poem or a paragraph that speaks to this moment. Finally, as a sojourner in this world where pain is a daily companion, I want to be moved; this is the time and season for tears.

Here are my thoughts on Barbara Bush’s funeral. You can watch it on YouTube. The funeral program is here.  I call it the high-church version of Billy Graham’s funeral. His was an outside service under a tent. Hers was in St. Martin’s Episcopal church with stained glass and soaring ceilings. I’m a closet Anglican who loves the liturgy.

Prelude: My Country ‘Tis of Thee  I have never imagined this as a funeral anthem, but as arranged by Mack Wilburg and sung by the cathedral choir and accompanied by a bright brass section, and as a nod to Barbara Bush’s legacy of public service it was amazing.

Family Seating
There are all kinds of body language to read in these situations.
George W. pushing his father in a wheelchair.
When W had been seated, he turned to look at his daughters and winked. It wasn’t a creepy wink, just an acknowledgement.
Doro (Barbara’s daughter) sat next to 41, with her arm affectionately around him.

Entrance: Praise to the Lord
I love this hymn. And it can only be properly sung with an organ. Joachim Neander wrote the words. He was such a beloved poet that a valley was named after him: Neanderthal. (thal = valley in German)

My acute disappointment was in the omission of the fourth verse (in my hymnbook) with these words: How oft in grief, hath he not brought thee relief, spreading his wings to o’ershade thee!

The Beginning
I love prayers from the Book of Common Prayer. “Nourish them with patience, comfort them with a sense of your goodness.”

Job’s words are the BEST:
I know that my Redeemer liveth,
and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth;
and though this body be destroyed, yet shall I see God;
whom I shall see for myself and mine eyes shall behold, and not as a stranger.

Not a Fan
In the Garden – but this is the song BPB’s generation loved
The Holy City – just not my favorite, but well sung

Yes, Yes, Yes
Barbara Bush’s granddaughters reading Proverbs 31
Three eulogies: an author, a friend, a son. All well done.
The homily and prayers.

Would That Every Christian Funeral Included
The Apostle’s Creed
The Lord’s Prayer

Shakespeare
Her daughter read five lines from Romeo & Juliet

Joyful Funeral?
The processional was Beethoven’s Hymn to Joy.
“Giver of immortal gladness fill us with the light of day.”

I learned more about Barbara Bush from her choices for her service than I had previously known. Everything was in proportion. There was grief, but it was shot through with hope and peace.

 

Blogs I’ve written about other funerals

 

 

Reading Evening

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It was a weekend of colossal snowflakes. Twirling, swirling, pirouetting, waving-to-the-audience snowflakes. So cute, you can’t stop staring snowflakes. Snow that puts the world on mute. Snow that drapes over every horizontal surface and beautifies barbed wire. Snow that provokes stillness. We stoked the fire and settled into a reading evening.

We submerged into our book(s) and sat in companionable silence. We forgot all screens and beeps malfunctioning computers. After an hour of pure silence, I put on a CD (remember those?). This set of four CDs has been one of the soundtracks of my life for the last twenty years. (A great score!)

Furiously reading Martin Gilbert’s Churchill, A Life, trying to finish the 1K book before the inter-library loan ends (this is how I do marathons), the mounting crisis of Hitler’s threatened evasion of Czechoslovakia was creating inner tension.

Slowly I became aware that the music playing was such a befitting accompaniment to the words I was reading. Minor key, evocative, simply sad music. Naturally, it was Chopin. Recorded by the Slovak National Orchestra.

 

To Serve Music

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Q. What is it that drives you at this point?

A. The experience of making music — really, the joy of making music is what I was put here for, I believe.

And I kind of knew — I knew right away once I’d started to kind of get it right, in my teens — once I’d started to experience the joy of getting a result from practice — that this was my destiny, I suppose.

And I always thank God [I] intuitively knew that music was the most important part of it. It wasn’t what I could get from music, it was what I could give to it.

When you asked me the question ‘What is it like?’ — well, I wish people could experience what it’s like to be really focused on doing something musical and have it work and be in tune and harmony.  And that can only come, I believe, if I am serving music, rather than trying to manipulate it to my ends, you know.

Eric Clapton
August 14, 2004
Transcribed from the DVD “Sessions for Robert J”

Sailing Alone Around the Room

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In my ideal life, I would keep poetry on my nightstand. In my perfect life, I would read it regularly. Sailing Alone Around the Room  had been ensconced there nine weeks;* when I ran out of renewals I started reading.

Humor, the deep-from-within-the-DNA-funny, permeates this poetry.

The first poem places a neighbor’s dog in a Beethoven symphony,
while the other musicians listen in respectful 
silence to the famous barking dog solo, 
that endless coda that first established
Beethoven as an innovative genius.

The poems centered around music (and their abundance) delighted me.

I swooned reading Sunday Morning with the Sensational Nightingales that spoke of the power of gospel music on the radio to create a minor ascension. I’ve been in the car, I’ve been transported. I could hear the overtones; I became a church lady with a floppy hat and matching pumps calling out, “Yes!”

I was pleased to learn a new form of poetry (I won’t mention the name); I did a search to read more. Then I roared with laughter. The joke’s on me — this is a parody! It was a small consolation that book reviewers and other poets also missed the satire.

Another tickle, this in a title:
Reading an Anthology of Chinese Poems of the Sung Dynasty,
I Pause to Admire the Length and Clarity of Their Titles

Collins always surprises me. He twists words, insisting I see life from a changed perspective.

* How it got there: reading Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility  made me curious to see Walker Evan’s photography. In my library’s poetry section was Something Permanent, Evan’s photography paired with Cynthia Rylant’s poems. While my fingers trailed the bindings, I saw Billy Collins. Like ice cream, there’s always room for Billy Collins.

The title reminds me that I still have Joshua Slocum’s 1900 book, Sailing Alone Around the World, on my To Be Read shelf. And also William F. Buckley’s sailing books. Also unread.

The Comfort of Bach

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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).