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...]

What Cannot Be Fixed

Fixed1I remember the time when “entropy” was all the rage. It must have been in the late twentieth century, that dark era when the world seemed in inexorable decline.

Everyone was talking about “entropy,” how everything was inevitably caught in a process of deterioration, disorder, decay. There was sound physics behind the concept—in the theory of thermodynamics. But as popularly used, “entropy” was not a technical term but a loose vision of the crumbling of culture, of the unavoidable disintegration of our lives and of all meaning. [Read more...]

I Belong to Jesus

Today we are happy to welcome back former Good Letters blogger Sara Zarr as a regular contributor once again.

3768063540_5c7235b957_z In the church of my childhood and adolescence, we had a tradition at church retreats and evening services of forming a circle, joining hands, and singing, “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love.” (It was the seventies, okay?)

These retreats were held in relatively remote areas, at centers with names like Mt. Hermon and The Lord’s Land, where believers would gather in A-frame buildings to learn and share.

Though my memories of being surrounded by cool adults wearing bellbottom jeans and sporting macramé guitar straps are special for me, I eventually felt a need to put distance between those days and who I am now. [Read more...]

This Dark World is Precious to Me: 14 Songs for 2014

4842505983_b76ddf0307_mGuest post by Joel Heng Hartse

This is my seventh yearly playlist for Good Letters. I’ve been racking my brains to come up with a theme for this one, but to be honest, I think the theme of these playlists is almost always the same: basically, the human condition—joy and sorrow, faith and doubt, triumph and tragedy, and all that.

These songs are roughly arranged in two parts, with the first half being more sad and angry, and the latter half more hopeful and upbeat. Really, though these are just fourteen songs I heard this year felt warm, human, and true. You can listen to them on a playlist here. I hope you like them. [Read more...]

When the Matches Go Out

When Marie-Henri Beyle visited Florence, that city named for its place among waters, he thought the art he came across might kill him. Visiting the Basilica Santa Croce in 1817, he wrote that he “was seized with a fierce palpitation of the heart…the wellspring of life was dried up within me. I walked in constant fear of falling to the ground.”

When I first heard of what is now called Stendhal’s syndrome (Beyle’s penname was Stendhal), I was overcome myself, with envy. I was studying English literature and art history in college, but I had never been so undone by my subjects.

The summer after learning about Stendhal’s syndrome, I bought a collegiate Eurail pass, starting my travels in Italy. I went to Rome and Florence. I saw the Sistine Chapel, and I thought it was beautiful, but other than slight nausea from the summer heat and dehydration, I had no physical reaction. I considered my failure to experience this ecstasy a deficiency; a true art lover, surely, could have brought herself to such a place with the appropriate knowledge and awe.

I left my art history on the sun-soaked campus in North Carolina when I joined the Army. The art I carried with me was music, from one choir to the next in North Carolina, Bosnia, Korea, Texas, and finally Seattle.

[Read more...]


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