Modernism Monday: “Overcome,” Laura Mvula, ft. Nile Rodgers

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I’ve been thinking a lot about identity recently: who do I want to be?  What are the facets of myself?  Woman, American, tall, professional…what else?  And which on that long list of identifiers has been chosen for me?  And which do I actually want to keep as my own?

A friend of mine in high school made me a pin, that I still have to this day, that says “Self-described and self-defined.”  What perfect freedom there is in that; and, also, risk of isolation.  The bravest people I know are those who actively, consciously, deliberately sculpt out their own lives.  People who listen to themselves and select (or create) a path forward, who hew closely to their own truth.  Those are my heroes.

“Doubt not, O poet, but persist. Say ‘It is in me, and shall out.’ Stand there, balked and dumb, stuttering and stammering, hissed and hooted, stand and strive, until at last rage draw out of thee that dream-power which every night shows thee is thine own; a power transcending all limit and privacy, and by virtue of which a man is the conductor of the whole river of electricity.”  — Ralph Waldo Emerson

____

When your heart is broken down
And your head don’t reach the sky
Take your broken wings and fly

When your head is heavy, low
And the tears they keep falling
Take your broken feet and run

With the world upon your shoulders
Nowhere left to hide
Keep your head up carry on

It ain’t no time to die
Even though we suffer
Come together we pray

Round the mountain all God’s children run
Round the mountain all God’s children run
Round the mountain all God’s children run
Round the mountain all God’s children
All God’s children run round the mountain run
Round the mountain all God’s children
All God’s children run round the mountain run
Round the mountain all God’s children run

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Sacred Sunday: “As One Who Has Slept,” John Tavener

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Today, in the Christian tradition, is one of the last significant days in the liturgical calendar before Ash Wednesday: Transfiguration Sunday.  This day marks the occasion that Jesus transfigured, or metamorphosed, before his disciples – upon summiting the top of a mountain, Jesus’s face and clothes shone with a white light.  While emanating this heavenly brilliance, Jesus is seen to speak with the prophets Elijah and Moses, both long since dead, about the upcoming final months of his life.  Peter asks whether he and the others should prepare three shelters for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses.  But before he finishes, the voice of God declares, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him”.  Elijah and Moses disappear.

This story is important for a few reasons.  First, it identifies Jesus as the proxy of God on earth – the people’s judge, savior, and direct link with the divine.  Second, it previews the resurrection – of Jesus himself, and of all who believe in him.  But I love this story for another reason: I love it because of the achingly human motivation behind Peter’s question.  He acts as anyone who has experienced something transformative would act: they want to freeze time.  Sailing right past the fact that Elijah and Moses are very, very dead, Peter wants to set up camp for them (They’re here now, aren’t they?).  He wants to keep them there.  This is, of course, impossible.  But, God love him for trying.

We take two-dimensional pictures of landscapes, of people, to capture their three-dimensional physicality, and the multi-dimensional feelings we felt upon seeing them.  We tattoo our skin to immortalize a meaningful time in our lives.  Even though we know, as Peter must have rationally known, it isn’t possible to suspend time and trap a moment, or a person, or a ghost, still we can’t help ourselves from trying.  The promise of Jesus is that he will connect us to the eternal.  One day, we will be able to relive these moments.  One day, we will be able to never be without someone again.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent, which leads to the retelling of the crucifixion narrative, and then onward to glorious, redemptive Easter.  I am approaching this season of Lent with more dread than in other years because I know that, this year, I have more of Peter in me than I’ve had before.  I lost a very close friend and mentor to cancer last year – my choir director.  His death comprehensively hollowed out church and sacred music, and though I have continued singing, nevertheless, that hole is still there.  And so, half of me expects his resurrection at Easter.  It’s a bafflingly irrational feeling but I can’t help myself from envisioning him conducting the timpani and brass quartet ornamenting “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today” as we all process in, and completely accepting that he’s there.  “Oh, hey – Ben’s not dead!” would be as easy to say as “Oh, hey – Ben made it back from vacation in time for the service!”  The other half of me – the sane half – knows that Easter will bring back so many happy memories, now bittersweet, that it will feel like Ben is, in fact, there in spirit.  I will want to freeze that feeling.

That, of course, will be impossible.  But, God will love me for trying.

Tavener’s piece comes from the Liturgy for Great and Holy Saturday: “As one who has slept, the Lord has risen; and rising, he has saved us.  Alleluia.”

Worldly Wednesday: “Traveller,” Baaba Maal

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Oh man – when the song fully kicks in at 1:55, I just can’t help myself.  I wish I knew Pulaar so I could sing along.  Maal, who is a genius musician and composer from Senegal, writes some of my favorite west African music of all time.  This is one of my favorite tracks of his.  This is guaranteed to turn any day into a good one.

Maal worked on this album with Winston Marshall, of Mumford & Sons, and Johan Hugo, of The Very Best.  Appropriately, this is what Maal said is the main message of the album:  “Life is travel. You are born, you come to the world, and you are traveling until the end. You never know what you’re going to get. When you travel you see that the world is quite interesting—all the different faces, all the different cultures, all the different food, all the different types of music. But it’s all human beings, and it’s all connected.”

A sentiment to remember, surely.

Modernism Monday: “Rise,” David Guetta feat. Skylar Grey

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So, most of last week was spent in what we call “an exercise.” It simulated an invasion scenario and my job was to monitor how the Blue team (aka “the good guys”) defended their country against the Red team (aka “those rat bastards”) – and then see whether there were ways to make it more interesting. It was about as much fun as you can ever get paid to have, and it was absolutely exhilarating, exhausting fun. The stress of the whole week, though, was also oddly exhilarating, and it served to remind me that, unfortunately, I am often the best captain of my ship in a gale.

Back when I worked on a boat for a summer, the single-most valuable thing I learned was that the only way to safely steer through rough water is to point the prow of the ship directly into the oncoming waves and hold steady. It turned out that, for some reason, of all the people working on that ship, I was the most skilled at this. We sailed through three major storms and I was at the helm for each. During one such time, the waves were so high that, as we crested them, the schooner’s wooden underbelly rose out of the water before gravity and momentum tipped the shrieking vessel downwards to meet the oncoming surge. The memory of the force with which that little 88′ schooner slammed into the waves remains in my bones. So, too, does the astonishment that we didn’t become a mass of floating splinters.

I don’t know if I’m necessarily a person of extremes, and I don’t think I actively look for rough waters. But as my spiritual advisor, Dorothy Parker, put is, “They sicken of the calm, who knew the storm.” Fare forward, voyager.

Salubrious Saturday: “There Will Come A Time,” Noah and the Whale

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One day things will turn out as planned
You’ll have her in the palm of your hand
But it’s not tonight, no not tonight

One day she’ll look at you and say
I never thought I could feel this way
But it’s not tonight, no not tonight

There will come a time
Where you will need your friends tonight
There will come a time
Where you will need someone tonight

One day she’ll hang on to your arm
Chasing the night all the way ’til the dawn
But it’s not tonight, no not tonight

One day soon you’ll find a way
To learn to lie and what you’re thinking you say
But it’s not tonight, no not tonight

There will come a time
Where you will need your friends tonight
And there will come a time
Where you will need someone tonight

And when it feels like everyone’s turning their backs on you
And when it feels like everyone’s turning their backs on you
Oh well the sun’s not out but you know you got to see it through
Oh well the sun’s not out but you know you got to see it through

There will come a time
Where you will need your friends tonight
There will come a time
Where you will need someone tonight

There will come a time
Where you will need your friends tonight
There will come a time
Where you will need someone tonight

There will come a time
Where you will need your friends tonight
There will come a time
Where you will need someone tonight

 

Worldly Wednesday: “The Bust-Out Brigade,” The Go! Team

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Have you ever had any of the following thoughts?
* Get me out of here.
* Nope nope nope nope nope nnnnnope.
* Oh please, sweet mercy, shut up.
* Is death imminent, and if not, how soon can it get here?
* Perhaps I should practice my breathing techni–oh f%&* my breathing technique.
* I wonder whether the Department of Transportation is hiring. I like being outdoors and standing around with shovels. Why didn’t I ever pursue my dream of being on a road crew?
* What objects currently within reach could I use to break the window and shimmy down the side of this building to freedom?
* If I sold all of my possessions and liquidated my assets, I could buy a shiny Airstream Trailer and drive around the country. Maybe I’d make puppets. I like puppets. Why didn’t I ever pursue my dream of being a nomadic puppeter…puppetist…puppet-mast–no that’s the horror movie…puppeteer?
* How many holidays do I have to spend with her family before I convince her I like them fine and I never have to see them again?
* Her brother, though. Jesus.
* I wonder if I can out-swim a shark.

None?

Oh okay. Well you can wait until Thursday. Peace out.

Worldly Wednesday: “Dancing Song,” Little Comets

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Today, humans landed a spacecraft on a comet.  On a COMET.  I am overwhelmed with how incredibly awesome this is.  Naturally, the only song to play is “Dancing Song” by the amazing and delightful U.K. band, Little Comets.

Watch this.