The Dissonant Note

This post was made possible through the support of a grant from The BioLogos Foundation’s Evolution and Christian Faith program. The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of BioLogos.

debussyI have a heart arrhythmia that, though benign, is frustrating and feels like death despite its clinical insignificance. It has no cause and no effect; cardiologists call it capricious. It’s meaningless and unreasonable and irregular, and I hate it.

After a night of insomnia and errant heartbeats, I spend a comforting morning on the piano with Claude Debussy’s First Arabesque. Its rhythm is purposefully unpredictable, notes falling all over themselves.

I played the piano all the time when the arrhythmia was first monitored and diagnosed, drifting toward arrhythmic music I hated learning as a child. All those misplaced beats and skittering hands and attempts to hold multiple melodies in my head at the same time. It felt wrong, but my piano teacher knew: This one, she will never befriend the metronome.

The arabesque is a problem that never gets solved, an unanswered question. Playing it is like endlessly falling with nothing to right the body. It is all sky and no ground.

Arrhythmia is distressing in any form. Debussy’s use of arrhythmic structure—bitonality—got his music shunned by the artistic thought leaders of the day. In nineteenth-century Europe, tone was integral to composing music, tone being a steady sound in one key that predicts and guides the composition. Haydn and Bach were the greats, the ones to be emulated: repetition leading to rhythm, a diversionary tactic here to indicate that something is happening, a return to the source soon after. Set the metronome; do not deviate. [Read more...]

Learning to Pray

Go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything. —Abba Moses

The way up and the way down are one and the same. —Heraclitus

 

Trinity IconIt is six o’clock in the morning. I am on an overnight business trip to New York, alone in my hotel room. Weak streams of dawn light leak around the edges of the blackout shades on the window of my room in the Club Quarters Midtown. For the moment, I have silenced the frenetic squawking of local traffic and crime updates on New York One, because I am about to pray, and I am trying to figure out which way is East.

Part of me feels completely ridiculous, but I have committed to this, and though I have brought nary an icon with me, I stand in the middle of the hotel room floor and pray in the direction that seems to be towards Jerusalem: I cross myself and touch my fingertips to the floor, then pray the Trisagion prayers—the most rock-bottom-basic prayer in the Eastern Orthodox prayer book, called such, as the Internet notes, for its “triple invocation of God as holy”:

Glory to Thee, our God, Glory to Thee.
O Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things, the Treasury of good things and Giver of life: Come, and abide in us, and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O Good One.
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal: have mercy on us. (3 times)
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
All-Holy Trinity, have mercy on us. Lord, cleanse us from our sins. Master, pardon our iniquities. Holy God, visit and heal our infirmities for Thy name’s sake.
Lord, have mercy. (3 times)
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Even in prayer, the lay critic in me bubbles up: All those thrice-repeated phrases, how can they not be a subtle Trinitarian dig at the overwhelmingly singular focus of the Shema, the foundational Jewish prayer from Deuteronomy 6: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one…” But of course, I remember, we still believe that one too. [Read more...]

Divine Drudgery

vanTwo weeks after we moved to the Mennonite community in rural Illinois, a baby was born in a teepee in my backyard. My neighbor Angela was a doula and had agreed to let a friend give birth in her own home. I’m not sure even Angela had expected the full-sized teepee to be erected fifty feet from the double sliding glass doors that looked out onto the backyard we shared.

Really, though, we share more than a backyard. Along with five or so families, we live on 180 acres of woods and farmland and dwell in the seven or eight buildings constructed by community members in the seventies and eighties.

That night, the teepee, straight out of the movie Dances with Wolves, was full of smoke, fire, and rain from the fateful thunderstorm whose thrumming rose and fell in pitch with the mother’s vocal contractions.

I stood at the window early the next morning and heard the newborn’s very first cries. And despite the strangeness of it all, I cried too.

Witnessing an unusual birth, living on a farm, rubbing shoulders with hippies, growing and raising our own food: It all sounds so romantic and interesting when I describe it, doesn’t it? [Read more...]

Wanted: God—Dead or Alive?

305880083_7cf2d7bf10_mIf you practice a religion faithfully—faith-fully—, why do you do this? And why is it this particular religion that you practice?

“The embarrassing fact is that most religious people seem to believe in a religion for no better reason than that their parents believed in it.” So states poet and literary critic Adam Kirsch in his review-essay “Is Reason Enough?” in The New York Review of Books (April 23, 2015). [Read more...]

Sunday Morning at Wegmans, Prince George’s County, Maryland

7318387934_a5430df8a7_mIt is the Feast of Pentecost on the Eastern Orthodox calendar, the annual commemoration of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the assembled, expectant, and yet uncomprehending (read: totally clueless) Apostles. It is also the day after B.B. King’s funeral: “The Thrill is Gone” is going yet again, over and over, on the newscasts on the car radio.

And on this festival day, I am feeling once again my status as the Chief of Sinners, slipping out of the house with unwashed hair in a faded, above-the-knee, sleeveless, beach sundress. (So much for all my lurking on frum-clothing websites as of late and our family’s general decision to avoid any commerce on Sunday.) I’ve blown receiving Holy Communion today, having already drunk a lot of coffee in violation of the pre-Communion Fast. I do not feel okay about this, but I have to go to Confession anyway, so this is just another damned thing I can add to the list. [Read more...]


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