Moving Hearths

I think we’re buying a new house.

This is a poignant move, as we love our house in Tempe, and we have so many people to thank for all their help with it.

My father, God rest his soul, helped so much, and it is a sort of legacy to him. My last memories of him are working on the living room floor, leveling the deck before laying the flooring. We went out to dinner with him that Saturday evening. He died very early that Monday morning. I can’t look at our floor, our level cabinets and counters, and many other things, without seeing his handiwork (often as not, marred by my own less experienced hands later).

Our dear friends, the Roes, painted and textured and worked innumerable hours beside us as we made our home here. It saddens me that I have not been able to work beside them in their Texas house. Perhaps I now understand my brother’s laments to this effect from many years ago, when his college-aged little bro spent time helping him on projects around the Indianola house. We can only ever give where we are right now. But we always get to give where we are right now, somehow, to someone. And we don’t count the cost.

Friends from Calvin church, notably John and Chris, also gave so generously to help us move into a very pleasant house. And there are many more that I probably ought to mention. Evi was born in the house.

Nevertheless, our family of seven (plus our dear friends and housemates, numbering four going on five) are filling up the 1600 square feet here. I look back and realize that we bought the house with one child ex-utero, one in-utero, and one adoption in process. That was a different time for our family. It was a joyful time, yes, but also a less-full time.

Since then, we have been further filled. We have sorrowed in many ways. We have rejoiced in many ways. We are wearied in many ways. I feel at times estranged from myself (as I suspect that my ten-years-ago or even five-years-ago self would think me now a bit odd), but also know more than ever before that Christ is the only rock and foundation of reality. Indeed, the world as we encounter it daily is estranged in many ways from its true self, which is hidden (like mine) with Christ in God.

This is aufgehoben. The swallowing up of the old good things by the new good things. I love orange blossoms – their fragrance is incomparable. But I also love oranges. The new house has lots of orange trees.

The kids are excited. They are also sad. It is good to see them joy and sorrow. I hope they will learn it better, and younger, than their father. And Lent is coming, where the greatest sorrow and joy are lived again in the Passion, Burial, and glorious Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Christ is Risen! May He bless our new home for His service.

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Alma Deutscher, Classical Composer

Alma Deutscher is a 12 year old girl who is a child prodigy. She wrote an opera Cinderella which is available for free with a free account on medici.tv, and I HIGHLY recommend watching it if you can find the time. Its about two and a half hours, you can break it up. She wrote the libretto as well as the music by herself. It has premiered in Vienna and also in the United States. I’ve seen plenty of “child prodigies” playing Flight of the Bumble Bee on the internet, but this is different.

Her parents, get this, have Ph.D’s from Cambridge, her father in linguistics and her mother in Old English. They live outside of London in the countryside, and they homeschool their kids. Her father ran into a book that kind of straddles the two genres of linguistics and music by Robert Gjerdingen called Music in the Galant Style that gave him the idea of having her learn music in a different way than the standard, test oriented culture of British musical education. Gjerdingen outlines his theory that in the 18th century, music was heard differently, similarly to the way manners were understood differently. There was a system of tropes, or basic formulas, which could be executed with varying degrees of taste, and the listener was to judge the elegance of the compositional execution. What to us all sounds the same was in fact a very refined system of elocutions where one note could make the difference between sound and poor judgment. The way composers learned to write so much music was not that they had superlative amounts of talent, though many of them did, but rather that they were schooled in these tropes with a kind of musical fill-in-the-blank system of pedagogy known as partimento. A partimento might give you some notes to work with, and you had to come up with what notes might sound good with the ones presented. They range from relatively simple to extremely complex, with entire fugues capable of being constructed from just one line of music given in a partimento exercise. The important thing is that there are always several possibilities, and the student learns how to put the fragments and tropes together (the original meaning of composition). So Guy Deutscher got the idea that this way of teaching from Italy in the 18th century sounded like a good way to educate his daughter, who was already very talented from the beginning. And now she writes operas. I think they are on to something. I am currently poring over Gjerdingen’s book, not so that I can write great operas (I’m not that talented) but so that maybe someone I teach someday will be able to.

If you watch or read any interviews with Alma, a theme will always reappear: she reads copiously and her parents keep her as far from screens as possible. She has her own imaginary world which reminds me very much of C.S. Lewis’s that he describes in Surprised by Joy. She listens to the melodies which the characters in that world create, and then she picks the ones she likes to put into her music. I think that no matter how talented a child is in music or anything else, they should all be allowed to have an imagination. If we can keep screens out of their way for long enough, this birthright will be theirs.

https://www.medici.tv/en/operas/cinderella-alma-deutscher-american-premiere/

Maybe you shouldn’t show your kids the opera because its on a screen. You can decide on that one.

G.K. Chesterton on the New Year

“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective. Unless a man starts on the strange assumption that he has never existed before, it is quite certain that he will never exist afterwards. Unless a man be born again, he shall by no means enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.”

From Wit and Wisdom of G.K. Chesterton

Classical Radio

I decided I am into the radio. Now it is not very important to me whether it be sent by electromagnetic waves or the internet, but the way that it works has some very strong points in its favor. You don’t get to control when it starts or stops. The programming just runs, whether you catch it or not. The world does not revolve around us. You also do not get to pick what is on it. Of course you can choose the station, but not the content. This is bowing to someone else’s decision about what is important for you to hear (assuming they are not merely trying to manipulate you, which is likely). Once upon a time there was such a thing as a local radio station rather than a syndicated behemoth, but I am not sure whether such things any longer exist. If they do, I think that is a good thing too, because not every place in the whole world should be the same. Currently, I am into KMFA, Austin’s classical music radio station. There is sadly no classical radio station in Houston, so this will have to serve as local enough. I have little experience with different classical radio stations but so far this one is good. Its a good mix, very little non-music time, and most importantly of all they do not just play an endless stream of justly forgotten Baroque music. It may be bizarre and strangely surreal to hear in the 21st century Telemann’s cousin’s 234th oboe concerto performed by a pick-up group of musicians called the Academy of Prehistoric Music, but it is not very satisfying as a steady diet. Phoenix, sadly, I am looking at you.

Having to pick one’s own music to listen to can be tiring. For me, every decision I have to make in a day contributes to how exhausted I feel at the end of it. There are things that I would never pick but which I probably should hear and its good to have it mixed in with other stuff I would have picked if I had known about it. But it takes someone smart to do this, and right now KMFA Austin is doing a good job.

Stoking coals

This essay by Scott Atran at Aeon was very interesting. I commend it, though I also question its theory of available options (since it seems limited, secular).

This blog is named after the communal hearth of a Greek polis, the place that kept the home fire burning for everyone, linking each home in the city together – after all, every fire came from it. It was a kind of sacrament, an action that linked the souls of the citizens. And the purpose of the blog is largely to explore those themes in our families – what links us? What is community? How can we contribute to it, enjoy it without destroying it, and pass it on to our children? Is it something distinct from “us and our children” – part of the target of the gospel, which also includes “all those who are afar off”.

Atran’s article follows along with a good bit of my trauma reading, which is in many ways occupied with “community” – how can the traumatized re-enter community? How can communities accept them in healthy ways? When the traumatized form trauma-selected communities, are these healthy? (I was passed by a “AZ COMBAT VETS” motorcycle gang/group member on my way home from the hospital this morning, and it made me wonder about this. Too, the closely-knit “special-needs-family” community has both good and bad things…)

This piece was very much worth reading, too, as it uniquely weaves together battlefield trauma, just war, and the Liturgy…

Following the above, the Church figures very high in my thinking about community. The idea of trauma as a “dark liturgy” in the Emmaus piece is very intriguing – a fully-embodied experience with a lie/evil at its core. That seems to be a pretty all-encompassing definition of trauma. And it points to the only healthy solution – true liturgy – true communion – comes only in the offering-up on behalf of all and for all. And if we wish to be like Christ, to take his Cross up and follow him, we also must be willing to lay down our life for our friends.

This all seems nice until we, with the lawyer, receive the answer to the question “and who is my friend?”.

In the piercing words of St Silouan, “My brother is my life.”

So let us stir one another up to love and good works, stoking the coals of love into flame.

In Christ,

Mark

Thanksgiving

Below is the last homily ever given by Fr. Alexander Schmemann, on Thanksgiving Day 1983, two weeks before his repose. Cited from OCA.org

Everyone capable of thanksgiving is capable of salvation and eternal joy.

Thank You, O Lord, for having accepted this Eucharist, which we offered to the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and which filled our hearts with the joy, peace and righteousness of the Holy Spirit.

Thank You, O Lord, for having revealed Yourself unto us and given us the foretaste of Your Kingdom.

Thank You, O Lord, for having united us to one another in serving You and Your Holy Church.

Thank You, O Lord, for having helped us to overcome all difficulties, tensions, passions, temptations and restored peace, mutual love and joy in sharing the communion of the Holy Spirit.

Thank You, O Lord, for the sufferings You bestowed upon us, for they are purifying us from selfishness and reminding us of the “one thing needed;” Your eternal Kingdom.

Thank You, O Lord, for having given us this country where we are free to worship You.

Thank You, O Lord, for this school, where the name of God is proclaimed.

Thank You, O Lord, for our families: husbands, wives and, especially, children who teach us how to celebrate Your holy Name in joy, movement and holy noise.

Thank You, O Lord, for everyone and everything.

Great are You, O Lord, and marvelous are Your deeds, and no word is sufficient to celebrate Your miracles.

Lord, it is good to be here! Amen.

~~

I am very thankful that our church celebrates a Thanksgiving Day liturgy. It seems fitting, since, after all, eucharist means thanksgiving.

A belated Happy Thanksgiving to you, dear reader.

MJM

The Res Publica

I will bear the shame of admitting before my co-authors and readers that I have never read Plato’s Republic. But I am correcting that defect now.  I’m presently in part seven, book six, 505-506,  where Socrates is discussing the knowledge of the good, and it strikes me how he so often carefully distinguishes between reality and appearance, noting that many are satisfied with appearance only, but the philosopher must pursue the reality, the true form of the good.

And then I thought about the sacraments. In the Liturgy, the priest holds up the bread and wine , making a cross with his arms, and declares: “On behalf of all, and for all.”

The sacraments are a true res publica, a public matter of the people of God. They unite the church as a Body even as they unite the individual to Christ. They are chief means of grace, available in God’s house (though not every individual partakes of every sacrament, this is not seen as a problem in Orthodoxy – the one body has many members of varying function, and on some more honor is bestowed). And again I think of the demand for the reality – the true truth, not simply the appearance of the truth.

The Docetists were a Gnostic group ca. the 2nd and 3rd centuries, denying the physical reality of Christ’s advent, life, death, resurrection, ascension, etc., affirming only that Jesus had appeared to do these things (dokein, appear or seem to be). As an aside, the Koran (Sura 4:157-158) affirms a docetist view of the crucifixion, which is interesting, especially as there is a beautiful troparion explicitly countering this, (Resurrection, Tone 5):

Let us the faithful, praise and worship the Word Who is co-unorignate with the Father and the Spirit, and Who was born of the Virgin for our salvation; for He was pleased to ascend the Cross in the flesh, to endure death, and to raise the dead by His glorious Resurrection.

But to the point here, the public matter of the sacrament of the Eucharist is explicitly real in the Church. It is not an appearance of Christ, for that would be docetism. When Jesus Christ visits his worshipping people, He Himself – the Person Jesus, who is the true and perfect Human with a glorious and mysterious physical body and immaculate soul – is there. The Bridegroom comes, not a phantom or specter or dream, not even a token or symbol of the Bridegroom (though those are by no means insignificant – and it may be noted that Calvin’s view of the Lord’s Supper is reasonably close to an Orthodox view of icons – a window into heavenly reality through a token or symbol although not the reality itself, or at any rate, a reality apprehended spiritually through material means), but Christ Himself comes to His bride, visits her, feasts her, encourages her to persevere until the end and after she has suffered a little while, join Him in glory.

This is the true good, which the philosopher must seek. It is the “truly just man” described in part one, book two, 361-362, who endures scorn, mocking, and crucifixion, all to show that the dikaios is truly happier than the adikaios. That justice/righteousness is to be chosen at all costs. This is the person of Jesus Christ. And He calls all to join Him at table.

In Christ,

MJM