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Classics in whatever genre—words, notes, pigment, marble, metal—require the artist to dig for inspiration into his/her psyche, realm of the Sacred. Facilitating the process is a servant heart, a willingness to change direction, and a letting go of the work—it never being finished. Indeed, the artist is co-creating with the Creator of the universe and learning a new way of being-inside-and-outside of the world.  Fortunately for us, there have always been such individuals who embraced this sacrifice of arduous becoming.

Aaron Copland is one of these artists whose music invariably opens me to the Beautiful where interludes of stillness speak. Appalachian Spring (1944), commissioned for the dancer Martha Graham and company and interwoven between the 1848 tune, Shaker Gifts, evokes such gentle hushes. Its war-weary audiences flocked to performances, their psyches uplifted by this new vision-in-sound that was awarded the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for Music. 

War-weary myself this afternoon, I turned away from the news and listened to Appalachian Spring, scored for a chamber orchestra of thirteen instruments; its barely audible opening notes excised my scrambled psyche of turmoil and pried open my imagination. Immediately, I was in another world, deeply soothed, until twenty-five minutes later, again muted notes brought closure to the piece, and with it, an aching within me.

But the memory remains…

Only the whir of the potter wheel licked the stained walls of the studio as an apron-clad artist cupped a mound of clay slip with wet hands. Next to the wheel laid scalpel-like knives, sponges of various sizes and textures, wires strung to handles, other cutters, twigs, and leaves. But the potter’s sensitive hands, sinewy and dripping wet, caught my attention: She seemed to know when to pause, slow the wheel, add more clay, etch designs upon the lip, indent patterns, and so much more. With others, I looked on, hushed by the emerging bowl taking shape on the wheel.

 After the potter slip-wired the bowl from the wheel and set it aside to dry, she focused upon her students and smiled. “You can do this too. It just takes practice—That’s why I’m here.”

Then, as well as now, this experience mirrors Potter God’s ongoing intimacy in bringing forth new life, within limits of time and space. Like the hollow in the earthenware bowl, my body of eighty-four years has held a treasure—no matter chronic pain’s tenuous hold on my life. Light always emerged and I did find my way, albeit with new direction and resolve.

 However, my ILD with Rheumatoid Arthritis is unique: There’s no getting better, only imperceptible decline and with it, moments of terror until countered by CPA’s Step I and those following. In some future moment, Potter God will slip-wire my body from the wheel of life and set me free from my present diminishments. Until then, I wait and pray… and ask you to do the same. I’m grateful.

 

 

 

It is bone silent, mysterious. Outside my opened window, night’s residue meanders among the branches of the fresh-leaved redbud tree.

A solitary chirp nudges the stillness like a symphony conductor tapping his baton upon the music stand seeking the performers’ attention. It is beginning. Like the first morning of creation, more chirps swell the darkness, intermingled with a piercing trill; then warbles; then whistles; then pipes; then chucks; then full-throated songs color the tracings of light in the sky. The chorus becomes unbearable until it subsides into isolated sighs. Then, stillness returns like a brooding mother.

Unfortunately, our calloused culture has lost the spiritual sense of birds, reflected in centuries-old myths, legends, and folklore of numerous cultures. For example, indigenous peoples living along the Pacific Northwest Coast revered the Raven as bearer of light to humans, lost in impenetrable darkness. Closer to our time, the Brothers Grimm’s discovery of two folk tales, “The Raven,” and “The Seven Ravens,” nuance the storytellers’ imaginative handling of this image as it evolved through time.

In other parts of the world, birds possessed supernatural powers as co-creators and messengers of the gods.

A deeper study of the seasonal presence of birds in our backyards, especially at dawn, suggests a Divine order at work, now as well as in past epochs. Their display of color-sounds still occurs each morning. We have only to be still and listen and  swell with hope.

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