30 January 2011

Sunday morning reflections about music

As it happens, I am spending this beautiful morning in a location of studied luxury and comfort.  The room is really heavenly:  views out of three windows comprising mountains and city lights in panorama; exquisitely comfortable bed, unobtrusive yet effective temperature control, a bathroom which is a wonderful retreat in and of itself.  A savory breakfast brought up very early, consumed at leisure whilst perusing the newspapers.  And, through it all, the classical station played on the radio.

This classical station was playing when I checked in yesterday, and made me instantly feel at home.  It would make sense to have classical music in such a place of comfort.

This morning, the station is presenting a series of exquisitely beautiful sacred selections, including, of course, masses.

I note that I, a lapsed RC, am sipping tea and thanking God and meditating on His goodness (and would be doing those latter two, I trust, even if I were in a cardboard box under a freeway), and my thoughts of Him are enhanced and encouraged by the beautiful, beautiful music playing quietly on the radio.

Thousands of RCs more faithful than I - but nowhere near as many as there might be - will be exposed this morning to another kind of music.

I don't think it is unexpected for me to say that, if such music were presented right now on the station on the radio to which I'm listening, in this comfortable room on this lovely morning, I would leap up and turn it off in horror, as if it had suddenly emitted a burst of harsh static garble.

In surroundings of beauty and comfort and, yes, comfortable wealth, this beautiful music is offered on a Sunday morning.

There was a time when church was seen as a place of great beauty and decorum.  The world was, and is, harsh; serenity and peace are epitomized by the quiet reception of beauty in sound, visual arts, words, actions.

To say that the music of chant is not conducive to worship is like the kind of mislogic that labels abortion as "family planning."  White is black, evil is good, down is up.

God is still in control.  Whether or not He's wanted, or trusted, doesn't matter.  It's still His creation.  He exists whether you believe in Him or not.  In my experience, it is easier to humbly acknowledge His power and thank Him from the bottom of your heart, than to try to make your own way without His help and loving support... and I have tried it both ways.

06 January 2011

Bearing fruit

I had a lovely childhood.  No, really.  I was an only child of intelligent, cosmopolitan parents who shared a strong love of home and the simple but good things of life.

Things changed, as things do.  My father achieved a certain level of management which allowed him to feel it was time to move to a larger house.  We went from a comfortable, sweet two-bedroom (plus one for the staff) in the foothills to a four bedroom (plus five for the staff) in a very posh part of town.  That was depressing enough, but more than that was changing.  On the television, for example:  instead of entertainment based on talent, it became based on shock and lewd behavior.  Example:  Ed Sullivan and the Beatles (and others).  Laugh-In.  Etc.

There started to be a brittleness about the way women dressed and behaved, and a kind of poverty in architecture and furnishings as streamlining gave way to a kind of arch simplicity.  Women's brassiere cups were pointed, their hair was teased, and fashionable dresses were sheaths.  Just about everybody smoked, and those who could afford it drank regularly.  It was in that milieu that Hugh Hefner established the Playboy lifestyle.

One of the key drivers of the new louche way of living was the Pill.  Chemical contraception would free women (read:  men) from the fear of pregnancy.  If there was no danger of pregnancy, then why wait to be married before having sex?

It was supposed to be wonderful, a new and free way to live without the burden of the consequences of sex hanging over the proceedings.  Feminism told women to be assertive, independent, attentive to self instead of to others.  Somewhere along the line, the freedom from men's oppression was interpreted to mean that women should be able to be as raunchy and uncontrolled about their sex lives as the worst of men had always been.

So, let's review:  in the 60s, certain women - "feminists" - told themselves and whoever'd listen that men were keeping them as practically concubines, imprisoned in their houses with nothing to do but watch the children and clean, etc., so they "liberated" women to, eventually, become as freewheeling as the unmarried men.

Fast forward to now.  Remember Hugh Hefner?  There was a time in the late 70s when his "bunnies" were looked upon with contempt by feminists, before women decided that it was "liberating" to be sexually "free."

Here is what it's like to live the life of freedom in the Playboy mansion today.

The "freedom" that started all this was the prevention of pregnancy.  How many of those young women would prefer to have a loving husband and a family?  How many of them haven't even thought of it?  After all, the free women are the ones who own their sexuality, right?

I would suggest that true happiness lies in a different direction:  that of knowing what a treasure one's sexuality really is, and using it to forge, and maintain, a lifelong bond with a dear husband.  That means sharing one's sexuality appropriately, both with the husband and with the children, by modeling the feminine role in the way appropriate to each one's place in the family.  I suggest, only.  YMMV.

But I do know this:  for too long it has been thought "daring" and "brave" to jump into bed with someone you don't really know and with whom you have no intention of having a lifelong relationship.  It isn't daring.  Daring is getting to know a man really well before exchanging vows, and exchanging vows before going to bed with him.  That's really brave.  If you want to be downright reckless, be open to new life from the very first night.  The interesting thing is, those encounters between two people, who took the time and care to get to know and love one another well enough that they were ready to marry beforehand, can be inexpressibly sweet and fun and relaxed, in a way that a "free" relationship can never be.

01 January 2011

Fr. Z meditates on the meaning of Epiphany

I often want to write effectively on how today's love of ugliness and noise is preventing us from seeing God, Truth, but I guess I'm too close to it.  My scribbles always devolve into incoherent growls.

Fr. Z has provided an excellent meditation on the topic.  ("We need beauty now as well.")  I strongly recommend you drop over there and read the whole thing.

The Catholic Church used to be (and often still is, fortunately) famous for the exquisite art in her churches. However, there is the home environment to consider, as well.

My mother had a strong sense of art and design, and she was partial to Mission Renaissance kinds of things.  When she and my father bought the house in which I was to grow up, she got a wholesale license, and went prowling around estate sales and warehouses, looking for the kinds of things that would express her vision of a well-appointed house behind the white plaster walls and under the red tile roof.

As a result, I grew up around big pieces of elaborately carved furniture:  Savonarola chairs, side tables adorned with designs and figures, and a striking piece constructed of two white Carrera marble pillars which were busts of jaguars, I guess - beautiful, and exactly alike - on which rested a massive plinth of marble, deep emerald green and heavily, well, marbled.  On one top shelf was a lovely head-and-shoulders bust of a young noblewoman.  I know of one other which was advertised by an auction; that one was clothed in a blue dress, but ours was red and gold.  I can't readily find an image like it, but this painting is similar.

Over the fireplace was hung a large oil painting of our Lord, sitting with a scarlet red cloak arranged around him, a rod held loosely in his hand, a red gash in his side (but not bleeding), and his brown hair parted in the middle and falling down to his shoulders in gentle waves.  The expression on his beautiful face was solemn, sad, and yet gentle.  Completely Italian.  It looked like a holy card, but it was probably three feet high and almost three feet across when you counted the extremely ornate gilt frame.  It wasn't rare, or particularly good, and the canvas was - is (my sister has it now) thin enough to see through in spots.

Of course as a child I was told that it was Jesus, but there wasn't a lot of explanation that went along with that.  It wasn't until I was a convert that I was able to look at it knowingly and appreciatively as an image showing a deep respect and affection for our Lord.  Never mind that it confused the incidents of Jesus' Passion - he was dressed in the cloak by Herod's soldiers after the scourging, and the gash in his side came from the soldier's lance after He was crucified.  That didn't matter.  It was our Lord, and the expression on His face seemed to be of Him meditating on the souls who needed His self-sacrifice, even if they didn't know it.

That image of Jesus watched over every Christmas celebration, cocktail party, and piano lesson that happened in that living room.  It is now stored in my sister's house.  I couldn't bring it with me to my new home, a two-bedroom apartment with limited wall space.  But it stays in my mind, of course.

At Christmas, the wood of the elaborately carved furniture glowed with polish.  The little creche with its figures and real straw was on the octagonal table on the carved base (which I did bring with me, and which is in the corner across from me as I type).  I was allowed to play carefully with the papier-mache, hand-painted figures, which included Joseph and Mary, three wise men which included the most exotic looking Ethiopian figure, a couple of sheep, a cow, and an angel hanging above.  Mary's cloak and the angel's dress were of the same pale teal-grey blue.  The faces of Joseph, Mary and the Child on his bed of straw were all beautifully painted, and conveyed the appropriate care and love (Mary and Joseph) and intelligent look of knowing, in spite of being just a bambino (Jesus).  I spent hours with those figurines at Christmastime.  I suppose I meditated for the first time, learning as I did about the Holy Family through carols and stories.  The only time I went to church was at Easter, when we went to Mass at a nearby Mission; it was Latin, incense, lots of people, and paintings that looked a lot like the one hanging on the wall at home.

The living room was devoid of any artificial noise or entertainment except for music, which was supplied from a high-fidelity set secreted in a closet behind the piano.  As an only child, when I was by myself, it was almost always in silence.  I wasn't aware of that.  My head was full of stories, thoughts, or music.  I never felt alone in the time I spent in that room.  Over the mantel was a picture of One whose love was obvious from the expression on His face, God's Son.  I didn't know much about theology.  I just knew I wasn't alone.

Without much overt teaching, my soul was prepared to be Roman Catholic.  In time, I realized the truth of the Church and learned about her history.  I was enlightened.  It was, in truth, epiphany.