Saturday, April 22, 2017

Earth Day, My Way




I enjoy celebrating Earth Day. In some way, in fact, a celebration of the planet takes place in our home every day. And it happens in spite of the full-on seizure of environmental themes by the radical left - the green movement - that came with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990. Even the unhinged need an anchor but it's sad they selected such a universal idea. In the last generation it's even sadder because new personal media devices often isolate us even more from the outside, making it more difficult to experience, understand, appreciate, and protect our planet.  Five generations ago the Czech composer, Antonin Dvorak, spent his last summer in the United States in the Czech settlement of Spillville, Iowa. In two weeks there immersed in the environment of fields, farms, and families under the open skies of the prairie he composed what has become known as the American Quartet.


   

All of my adult life, I've fought hard to live in nature and experience it with the fervor that Dvorak found. These words, first heard in 1971, were my inspiration, more at revelation:

...we divide our spirit in two parts, what we do and what happens to us. This is the great illusion. There's really no difference as the joyous ones in the heavens know. What happens to you as well as what you do is fundamentally your doing. And when we say it's your doing, it's not the ordinary you that you call your ego or your conscious mind, it's a deeper you than that. It's the you at which you are one with nature for man and nature form a single pattern of activity, one process, just that man is a little bit more complicated than the trees. But he goes with them and the whole thing is one single process. It isn't that nature pushes you around or that you push nature around. If you are awake, if your eyes are wide open and you look at things freshly instead of with your ordinary patterns, ordinary ways in which you have been taught to think, you see that the whole process of life is something that just happens. The Buddhists call it tathata. We translate that "suchness," "just like that."
If you think that the world is going somewhere, that there are certain things that are supposed to happen and there are certain things that are supposed not to happen you never see the way it is like music. Music has no destination. We don' play it in order to get somewhere. If that were the way, the best orchestras would be those who got to the end of the piece the fastest. Music is a pattern which we listen to and enjoy as it unfolds. In the same way, "Where is the water going?" Where do the leaves go? Where are the clouds going? There not going anywhere because nature understands that the point of the whole thing is to be here, to be wide awake to the now that is going on. So when you listen to music you don't try to hold in your memory what is past or to think about what's coming. You listen to the pattern as it unfolds and so watch it as it moves now. It's a dance. And dancing is like music for when you dance you dance just to dance. You don't aim at a particular place on the floor that is your destination of the dance. You listen to the music and you move your body with it [as if] your eyes are following the patterns of the water.
he secret of...life is to spend some time every day in which you don't think but just watch, in which you don't form any ideas about life but look at it, listen to it, smell it, feel it. And when you get rid of all the talk in your head, all the ideas about what I do as distinct from what happen to me or what's the difference between man and nature or between what's mine and what's yours it all goes. and it's just the dancing pattern, what the Chinese call "li," the word that originally meant the markings in jade, the grain in wood, or...the pattern on water. When you let go of the definitions, of the attempt to try to pin down nature, to pin down life in your mind so that you can feel you are completely in control of it, its all based on the idea that you're different from it, that you have to master it. When you don't pin it down anymore, when you don't try to cling to it as if it was something different from you then your whole life has about it the sensation of flowing like water. It always goes away. but it always comes back because away and back are two sides of the same thing. Let it go!

Father Mississippi                                 Walter Inglis Anderson, American, 1963


And here is the foundation upon which that revelation took place:

Psalm 104

 1 Praise the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty. 2 He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent 3 and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters. He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind. 4 He makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants. 5 He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved. 6 You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. 7 But at your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they took to flight; 8 they flowed over the mountains, they went down into the valleys, to the place you assigned for them. 9 You set a boundary they cannot cross; never again will they cover the earth. 10 He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains. 11 They give water to all the beasts of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. 12 The birds of the air nest by the waters; they sing among the branches. 13 He waters the mountains from his upper chambers; the earth is satisfied by the fruit of his work. 14 He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate-- bringing forth food from the earth: 15 wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart. 16 The trees of the LORD are well watered, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted. 17 There the birds make their nests; the stork has its home in the pine trees. 18 The high mountains belong to the wild goats; the crags are a refuge for the coneys. 19 The moon marks off the seasons, and the sun knows when to go down. 20 You bring darkness, it becomes night, and all the beasts of the forest prowl. 21 The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God. 22 The sun rises, and they steal away; they return and lie down in their dens. 23 Then man goes out to his work, to his labor until evening. 24 How many are your works, O LORD! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. 25 There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number-- living things both large and small. 26 There the ships go to and fro, and the leviathan, which you formed to frolic there. 27 These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time. 28 When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. 29 When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. 30 When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth. 31 May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works-- 32 he who looks at the earth, and it trembles, who touches the mountains, and they smoke. 33 I will sing to the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. 34 May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the LORD. 35 But may sinners vanish from the earth and the wicked be no more. Praise the LORD, O my soul. Praise the LORD.



Earth Day 2017 will be ending shortly in our world but these passages where East meets West tell us that every day is an Earth day. For me the celebration indeed flows like water. It is a joy to be immersed in nature. Everyone should experience it and I hope these words move you to that realization.




Sources

Photos and Illustrations:
Anderson painting, porterbriggs.com

Text:
First quotation, Buddhism: Man and Nature, Alan W, Watts, Hartley Films, 1968
The Holy Bible, New International Version, 2011, Psalm 104

Friday, April 21, 2017

John Muir: Dissolving The Boundaries Between Self And Nature




The great American naturalist and conservationist, John Muir (1839-1914) was born on this day in Dunbar, Scotland. Through his efforts and the movements he supported with such fervor - he founded the Sierra Club - we can enjoy the spectacular wildness that is Yosemite National Park. His efforts also help establish the national park movement that today provide us with more than 400 units administered by the National Park Service. In addition, there are more than 6500 state parks and thousands of local parks and preserves to enjoy. Although Muir focused on the preservation of wilderness his work was a model for cultural preservation, a movement begun largely with Civil War commemorations late in the 19th century.


Muir in his beloved Yosemite Valley in 1890

By nature, Muir was a wanderer physically and emotionally building upon his studies in botany and geology as he traveled. In 1868 he saw Yosemite Valley for the first time and soon realized he had found his calling in the world of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This is how he described the revelation in his autobiographical notebook:

There are eight members in our family....All are useful members of society - save me. One is a healer of the sick. Another, a merchant, and a deacon in good standing. The rest school teachers and farmers' wives - all exemplary, stable, anti-revolutionary. Surely then, I thought, one may be spared for so fine an experiment.
... the remnants of compunction - the struggle covering the serious business of settling down -gradually wasted and melted, and at length left me wholly free - born again! I will follow my instincts, be myself for good or ill, and see what will be the upshot...As long as I live, I'll hear the waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I'll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm and the avalanche. I'll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can.

Oh that we should be so lucky to follow our instincts and be ourselves.

For comprehensive information about the life and mission of John Muir,  visit the John Muir Exhibit at the Sierra Club website.  In addition, Yosemite National Park has a fine tribute to Muir at this link.



Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Great San Francisco Earthquake: April 18, 1906


In the early morning hours of April 18, 1906, a devastating earthquake shook the town. On that date earth science was a very young science. The idea that San Francisco sat astride two massive and drifting plates, one of which was moving toward Alaska, would have been laughable. Fifty years later, such thinking was widely accepted in the theory of plate tectonics.

On that morning 109 years ago and in the days that followed, "theory" wasn't on the minds of San Franciscans. They wanted to survive. This is how the opening paragraphs of the National Archives entry describe the event:


....Though the quake lasted less than a minute, its immediate impact was disastrous. The earthquake also ignited several fires around the city that burned for three days and destroyed nearly 500 city blocks.

Despite a quick response from San Francisco's large military population, the city was devastated. The earthquake and fires killed an estimated 3,000 people and left half of the city's 400,000 residents homeless. Aid poured in from around the country and the world, but those who survived faced weeks of difficulty and hardship.


The survivors slept in tents in city parks and the Presidio, stood in long lines for food, and were required to do their cooking in the street to minimize the threat of additional fires. The San Francisco earthquake is considered one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history.


You can read the rest of the article and view scores of historic photographs and documents related to the event here. The National Park Service has a fine resource newsletter on the quake. Below are several stereoscope cards from the family archives showing the scene following the earthquake and fire.









If you want to see remnants of the earthquake first hand and learn a bit more about it, plate tectonics, and continental drift there's no better place in my opinion than the Earthquake Trail at Point Reyes National Seashore. [Point Reyes is a spectacular resource in the National Park Service. Plan two or three days minimum to explore all of it.] The Seashore is accessible from Highway 1 at Olema about eighteen miles north of the Golden Gate. The trail - an easy half-mile - is at the Bear Valley Visitor Center. The trail's focal point is the famous old fence displaced eighteen feet by the quake.




In Alaska in 2000 I experienced one serious earthquake - 5.5+ on the Richter Scale - that scared me. It lasted lasted less than a minute and was strong enough to keep me and several visitors at Chugach National Forest's Begich, Boggs Visitor Center swaying in our seats in a dark theater.  When it was safe to stand and walk we emerged from the building to the sound of thunder and several small rock slides tumbling down the mountain across the Portage River next to the center. Our guides told us not to worry because earthquakes happened all the time at the site. Later in the day they acknowledged that we experienced "a good one." 
Easy for them to say! 

 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter 2017


Christ is Risen!

He is Risen indeed!



Christ As The Redeemer Of Man                      William Blake

As we approach the close of the Festival of the Resurrection of our Lord here are some sights, sounds, and words to help us recall the joy of the day and keep its meaning alive in us in days to come.







Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son;

endless is the victory, thou o'er death hast won;

angels in bright raiment rolled the stone away,
kept the folded grave clothes where thy body lay.


Refrain:
Thine be the glory, risen conquering Son,
Endless is the vict'ry, thou o'er death hast won.


Lo! Jesus meets us, risen from the tomb;
Lovingly he greets us, scatters fear and gloom;
let the Church with gladness, hymns of triumph sing;
for her Lord now liveth, death hath lost its sting.


No more we doubt thee, glorious Prince of life;
life is naught without thee; aid us in our strife;
make us more than conquerors, through thy deathless love:
bring us safe through Jordan to thy home above.


Easter Changes Everything!


The Angel Rolling Away The Stone From The Sepulchre            William Blake, 1805





For we have here no continuing city,

but we seek the future.

Behold, I show you a mystery:
We shall not all sleep,
but we all shall be changed
and suddenly, in a moment,
at the sound of the last trombone.
For the trombone shall sound,
and the dead shall be raised incorruptible,
and we shall be changed.
Then shall be fulfilled
The word that is written:
Death is swallowed up in victory.
O Death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Lord, Thou art worthy to receive all
praise, honor, and glory,
for Thou hast created all things,
and through Thy will
they have been and are created



Rise Heart, The Lord Is Risen!






Rise heart; thy Lord is risen.
Sing his praise without delayes,
Who takes thee by the hand,
that thou likewise with him may'st rise;
That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more, just.

Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part with all thy art.
The cross taught all wood to resound his name, who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is the best to celebrate this most high day.

Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song pleasant and long;
Or since all musick is but three parts vied and multiplied.
O let thy blessed Spirit bear a part,
And make up our defects with his sweet art.



Image result for salvador dali the ascension of christ
The Ascension of Christ                                                    Salvador Dali, 1958


Christ is Risen!

He is Risen indeed!





Sources


Photo and Illustrations:
Blake image, collections.vam.ac.uk, Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Dali image, wikiart.org

Text:
Brahms Requiem text, www. classical-music.com



Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday 2017


Christ Nailed to the Cross: The Third Hour                William Blake, 1803-06





O man, bewail your great sin;
For this, Christ from his Father's bosom
Went forth and came to earth.
Of a virgin pure and gentle
He was born here for our sake,
He was willing to mediate.
To the dead he gave life
And conquered all sickness
Until the time came
That he should be sacrificed for us,
To carry the heavy burden of our sins
Upon the cross itself.

J.S. Bach - St. Matthew Passion:
35. 'O man, bewail your great sin'




Two pages from the St Matthew's Passion in Bach's hand



Sunday, April 9, 2017

Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday 2017




The Bible pictured above served my family well beginning in the 1890's. As one of my earliest memories I recall my parents carrying it every Sunday to Mount Calvary Lutheran Church a few blocks from our home. It's too fragile for use these days and now occupies an honored place in our family archive. The book becomes special to me on Palm Sundays. Among the near eighty years of memorabilia inside are a dozen or so treasured palm crosses from my childhood.

Today is Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday, the last Sunday of Lent, and the beginning of Holy Week. On this day, Christians around the world commemorate the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. It is also a time to remember the Passion history as preparation for the Holy Week experience. Readings for the day recall the anointing of Jesus, the institution of the Lord's Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus's trials before Caiaphas and Pilate, the crucifixion of Jesus, and His burial.






All glory, laud, and honor to you Redeemer King,
To whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring.

You are the king of Israel and David's royal Son,
Now in the Lord's name coming, our King and Blessed One.

The company of angels are praising you on high;
Creation and all mortals in chorus make reply.

The multitude of pilgrims with palms before you went,
Our praise and prayer and anthems before you we present.

To you, before your Passion, they sang their hymns of praise.
To you, now high exalted, our melody we raise.

Their praises you accepted; accept the prayers we bring,
Great author of all goodness, all good and gracious King.

All glory, laud and honor to you, Redeemer King,
To whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring.



Theodulf of Orleans, 750/760-821




On the Sunday following this Passion Week we celebrate a 2000 year-old event that changes everything.



Sources

Photos and Illustrations:
early 20th century postcards from OTR family archives

Friday, March 31, 2017

J.S.Bach: Music To God's Glory And The Soul's Refreshment


J.S. Bach                                      E.G. Haussman, Germany, 1746

I was introduced to the music of J.S. Bach as an infant at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in my little hometown in the mountains of Maryland. The church already had been baptizing members of my father's family for over seventy years. We were a large family within the larger church family. One aunt was the principal organist while several aunts, uncles, and cousins held various position in church administration and in the choir. In the summer of my ninth year our family moved leaving behind not only familiar places but also family linkages to Mount Calvary Lutheran Church. I left with a strong faith reinforced in part by Bach's profound music. Although faith faced some challenges in my revolutionary days the awe and appreciation for Bach never waned.

Today marks the birthday (in 1685, and for Old Style calendar sticklers, it's March 21) of one of the great three "B's" in classical music, Johann Sebastian Bach, He gave us some of the most sublime music in western culture and it would be an oversight, especially as a Lutheran, not to honor this master of the Baroque and pillar of Lutheranism. His music was largely forgotten for almost a century following his death, but had been restored by the first quarter of the 19th century. The new-found popularity of Bach was due largely to the composer-performers, Felix Mendelssohn and Ludwig van Beethoven, and the publication of many of Bach's works.

In this commemorative post Bach's music is his biography. No need for names, dates, places, and details. Let the music speak for him.

The Canadian pianist, Glenn Gould, was the most technically perfect interpreter of Bach's keyboard music in our lifetime. His approach - he was well-known for singing along while he performed - was unique and not to every one's preference but no one could deny that Gould was a magician at the keyboard. Here he is playing several of Bach's Goldberg Variations, BWV 988. The first two minutes are slow and quiet followed by ten minutes of fast, bright, and brilliant music on the part of the composer and the performer.






From the St. Matthew Passion, here is the final recitative and chorus, a lullaby to Jesus as he lies in his tomb:







Here is a familiar piece attributed to Bach, Toccata & Fugue in D minor, BWV 565, performed by young Dutch organist, Gert van Hoef:







Last we hear the Gigue Fuge. This composition is proof that not all Lutherans are stuffy.







Bach's music has been a part of me for so long that I couldn't begin to tell you when I first heard it other than to say it had to be in church at a very early age. The preludes. fugues, harmonies, the shear wonder of his work, it's all in my blood. And I can't play a single note of it. Wouldn't have it any other way. I simply listen and let it flow.

Music’s ultimate end or final goal…should be for the honor of God and the recreation of the soul.
                                                           Johann Sebastian Bach - Leipzig, 1738



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