It was last Sunday, an afternoon of frothy flowering: nubby red-buds interfacing with cobalt skies; branches of apple trees thick-sleeved with blossoms; crab-apples, resembling cones of raspberry sherbet; weeping cherries bowed in supplication; tulips parading their colors like drum majorettes; and creeping moss carpeting rock gardens with lavenders and pinks. Such richness evidenced the synchronicity of warmth, moisture, and rich soil.

The same afternoon also held another kind of frothy flowering, one offered by the Missouri Women’s Chorus under the direction of Scott Schoonover. The rose marble sanctuary of St. Gabriel Catholic Church in St. Louis, Missouri, afforded the singers a protective womb from which to joyfully proclaim the revelations of six mystics: Mary, Mother of Jesus; Cecilia; Margaret Queen of Scotland; Hildegard of Bingen; Julian of Norwich; and Teresa of Avila.

Like the synchronicity occurring outdoors, we experienced the fruit of the Chorus’s four-part harmony; it illumined the sacred texts with ecstasy and opened them to wordless communion with the Sacred—No matter the obvious limits of the notes and words to encompass the Ineffable.

Such robust flowering in spring’s coloration and in the voices of the Missouri Women’s Chorus evidenced a power in our midst that effaces smudges from our “unclean hearts.” Humbled, we rejoiced with the fourteenth-century-mystic Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

 

 

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“Will you be my friend?” asked Raphael Simi who was confined to the psychiatric hospital at Saint-Jean-les-Deux-Jumeaux in Trosly, a southern suburb of Paris. Next to him stood Philippe Seux, both intellectually disabled and living in deplorable conditions. It was 1964.

A tall strapping professor of ethics listened. Already moved by visits to other institutions warehousing “idiots” and the unseemly, the question changed the direction of his life. Mindful of Jesus’s practical care for the poor, he bought a small house at the edge of a nearby forest and with his new friends set up housekeeping—a messy undertaking but one persevered in.

Daily, often humdrum, interacting dissolved barriers of fear and the customary manner of doing things, opened new inroads into the comic that they shared, and actualized the bedrock of their graced humanness: joy, love, tears, and freedom. From this experience evolved L’Arche (French word for The Ark—like Noah’s), and a quiet revolution was born.

After five decades, such radical care for the unlovely still inflames the psyche of its founder, Jean Vanier, now eight-eight years old. Others of like mind have entered into this movement and following prayerful discernment, developed other group homes in France and around the world. Today, L’Arche has over five thousand members who live in one hundred and fifty-one communities that are spread over five continents. Three of these communities are in St. Louis, Missouri.

This moving story has been captured in Randall Wright’s documentary, Summer in the Forest (2018) and can be seen at the Tivoli Theater in St. Louis, Missouri—another must see.

 

“The only thing I can’t … teach is whether a musician can get through to his guts. They have to find that themselves, and some of them never do.” So says the seventy-two year-old-world-renowned violinist, Itzhak Perlman, the subject of Chernick Alison’s documentary (2018). Such discoveries usually occur in the wake of intense suffering.

I suggest that Itzhak’s came to him during his formative years. His Polish parents fled their country in advance of Hitler’s ghettoization. Their purchase of a toy violin at a Tel Aviv thrift shop for their three-and-a-half-year only son, too small to hold a real one, evidenced their hardscrabble existence. And six months later, their shock as they dealt with Itzhak’s polio-ravaged body.

Multi-faceted interventions followed: medications and special diets to restore what was left of Itzhak’s health, passive range of motion exercises for his paralyzed legs, constant adjustment of his shoes and the heavy leg braces and crutches to accommodate his growth. When thirteen, his prodigious talent brought him and his parents to Manhattan where he began his studies at the Julliard School of Music—again, leaving behind everything familiar.

More studies solidified Itzhak’s violin playing with his gut, the sacred core of his being. Always listening, he still approaches each note with reverence, as if taking direction as to when to enter it, how long to stay, and when to leave it behind. His facial expression reflects this passionate embrace. Such playing informs Itzhak’s uniqueness and still crowds concert halls around the world.

Alison’s short documentary, Itzhak, offers clues to Itzhak’s genius—A must see.

 

 

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