“Finding Beauty Amid the Wreckage of the Soul”

reblogged from BrainPickings:

Tchaikovsky on Depression and Finding Beauty Amid the Wreckage of the Soul

“Life is beautiful in spite of everything! … There are many thorns, but the roses are there too.”

“An artist needs a certain amount of turmoil and confusion,” Joni Mitchell once told an interviewer. Indeed, the history of the arts is the history of the complex relationship between creativity and mental illness. But while psychologists have found that a low dose of melancholy enhances creativity, its clinical extreme in depression can be creatively debilitating.

Few artists have walked that fine line with more tenacity and self-awareness than the great Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (May 7, 1840–November 6, 1893). Frequently throughout his correspondence with family and friends, collected in The Life and Letters of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (public library;public domain) — the source of his enduring ideas on work ethic vs. inspiration, the paradox of client work, and why you should never allow interruptions in your creative process — Tchaikovsky notes his cyclical lapses into depression, undergirded by a dogged dedication to looking for beauty and meaning amid the spiritual wreckage. This intimate tango of sadness and radiance is ultimately what gives his music its timeless edge in penetrating the soul.

In a letter from the spring of 1870, shortly after his thirtieth birthday, Tchaikovsky writes:

I am sitting at the open window (at four a.m.) and breathing the lovely air of a spring morning… Life is still good, [and] it is worth living on a May morning… I assert that life is beautiful in spite of everything! This “everything” includes the following items: 1. Illness; I am getting much too stout, and my nerves are all to pieces. 2. The Conservatoire oppresses me to extinction; I am more and more convinced that I am absolutely unfitted to teach the theory of music. 3. My pecuniary situation is very bad. 4. I am very doubtful if Undine will be performed. I have heard that they are likely to throw me over.

In a word, there are many thorns, but the roses are there too.

Even though Tchaikovsky frequently lamented his “wearing, maddening depression,” perhaps most remarkable yet quintessentially human about his disposition was the ability to assure his loved ones of the very things he was unable to internalize himself — for who among us hasn’t found that it is far easier to offer light to our dearest humans in situations that leave our own inner worlds shrouded in impenetrable darkness?

In the fall of 1876, Tchaikovsky consoles his beloved nephew through a period of dejection and melancholy:

Probably you were not quite well, my little dove, when you wrote to me, for a note of real melancholy pervaded your letter. I recognized in it a nature closely akin to my own. I know the feeling only too well. In my life, too, there are days, hours, weeks, aye, and months, in which everything looks black, when I am tormented by the thought that I am forsaken, that no one cares for me. Indeed, my life is of little worth to anyone. Were I to vanish from the face of the earth to-day, it would be no great loss to Russian music, and would certainly cause no one great unhappiness. In short, I live a selfish bachelor’s life. I work for myself alone, and care only for myself. This is certainly very comfortable, although dull, narrow, and lifeless. But that you, who are indispensable to so many whose happiness you make, that you can give way to depression, is more than I can believe. How can you doubt for a moment the love and esteem of those who surround you? How could it be possible not to love you? No, there is no one in the world more dearly loved than you are. As for me, it would be absurd to speak of my love for you. If I care for anyone, it is for you, for your family, for my brothers and our old Dad. I love you all, not because you are my relations, but because you are the best people in the world.

The Life and Letters of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky remains a wonderful and abidingly rewarding read in its entirety. Complement this particular fragment with Charles Dickens’s beautiful missive of consolation to his bereaved sister and E.B. White’sassuring letter to a man who had lost faith in life.

And all must love the human form,/ In heathen, turk or jew.

The Divine Image

To Mercy Pity Peace and Love,
All pray in their distress:
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.

For Mercy Pity Peace and Love,
Is God our father dear:
And Mercy Pity Peace and Love,
Is Man his child and care.

For Mercy has a human heart
Pity, a human face:
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.

Then every man of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine
Love Mercy Pity Peace.

And all must love the human form,
In heathen, turk or jew.
Where Mercy, Love & Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.

“The Divine Image” by William Blake. Public Domain.

A monk and a fish

From the folks at OpenCulture:

The London-based artist hand-painted each frame in ink and watercolor. Like the story, the visual style was inspired by the Far East. “The Japanese in particular, and also the Chinese and Koreans,” said Dudok de Wit, “have a way of using negative space, of not filling the picture, which is very typical of the Far East and very untypical of the West. We can be inspired by it, but it’s profoundly in their culture–in their genes maybe, and not so much in ours. It’s not just about the brush line, it’s also the space around the line that is inspiring.”

For the music, Dudok de Wit chose a classic from the Western canon, “La Folia,” a traditional theme that was often adapted or quoted by composers like Bach, Vivaldi, Corelli, Handel and Liszt. The filmmaker selected a few of his favorite variations–mainly from Corelli and Vivaldi–and asked composer Serge Besset to listen to them and create a new version to fit the film.

Attribution(s): All artwork, publicity images, and stills are the property of Michaël Dudok De Wit. This short is made available via aCreative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) license.

We have to bring back wonder

reblogged from The Wardrobe Door

RECAPTURING WONDER:
LATEST RESEARCH SHOWS CHRISTIANITY’S WAY FORWARD

wonder pew research Christianity stars universe

While the new Pew Research data shows the very religious in America are as devout as ever, the nation is become more secular. Many are drifting away from their childhood faith.

So what is the way forward for Christians? Is our only hope one of mere survival in the midst of an entrenched battle for the soul of the nation? Is it more culture wars and moral battles? Not necessarily.

One question in the research points to a new way forward. But if we think about it, it’s not so new after all. It’s recapturing what we’ve lost as Christians and communicating it to a culture that’s longing for it. We have to bring back wonder.

Forty-six percent of Americans say they “feel a sense of wonder about the universe” at least once a week. That’s up seven points in the last seven years.

But the more interesting part is that the rate for unaffiliated or nones rose even higher—from 39% to 47%. Fewer than a quarter (24%) of nones say they seldom or never feel wonder about the universe.

mountain sunrise wonder millennial Pew Research

For years, the materialistic mindset has downplayed and dismissed wonder. C.S. Lewis wrote about it in 1945 as part of his important essay, “Meditation in a Toolshed” (reprinted in God in the Dock, a collection of his essays).

He spoke of the differences between looking at something—analyzing it scientifically from an outside perspective—and looking along something—experiencing it from a personal perspective. Lewis maintained that societal pressure dismissed the possibility of gaining knowledge from looking along something and only valued looking at it. Wonder would be part of looking along something.

Lewis gives the illustration of looking at a beam of light or looking along it to see numerous parts of creation through it. The former can give valuable information, but the latter often evokes a sense of wonder, a sense of longing.

C.S. Lewis meditations in a toolshed light Pew research wonder

Look at young adults. Millennials grew up in a society consumed with looking at life, but more of them than any other generation want to look along. More than half (51%) of unaffiliated 18-29 year olds say they experience a sense of wonder at least once a week. That’s higher than any other age group.

If we want to reach those who are disengaged from church and Christianity in the postmodern age, we must touch their sense of wonder. Show them they are part of a larger adventure, a grand narrative. Reveal that wonder has a source and a satisfaction.

As part of his sermon The Weight of Glory (published in a sermon collection of the same name), Lewis delves into why he feel wonder and how we’ve attempted to satisfy those longings it elicits.

We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. That is why we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and goddesses and nymphs and elves—that, though we cannot, yet these projections can, enjoy in themselves that beauty grace, and power of which Nature is the image. That is why the poets tell us such lovely falsehoods. They talk as if the west wind could really sweep into a human soul; but it can’t. They tell us that “beauty born of murmuring sound” will pass into a human face; but it won’t. Or not yet. For if we take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause us to put on the splendor of the sun, then we may surmise that both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth as prophecy. At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendors we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.

wonder Pew Research lake clouds mountains

If the church wants to reach millennials and others in this postmodern world, wonder must permeate our conversations and our lives. But we must show and tell them that wonder is not the destination, it’s a direction.

Wonder is the ultimate signpost beyond ourselves. It wafts through the air enticing us to come nearer, floats past our ears imploring us to listen more closely to the melody, sparkles in the distance urging us to push on to discovery.

It is a heart desire that can only be satisfied by the wonderful Savior. Wonder is the path for the church to help others discover the end of their wanderings.

Aaron Earls

Yet One Rich Smile

Barnstorming

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Yet one smile more, departing, distant sun!
One mellow smile through the soft vapory air,
Ere, o’er the frozen earth, the loud winds run,
Or snows are sifted o’er the meadows bare.
One smile on the brown hills and naked trees,
And the dark rocks whose summer wreaths are cast,
And the blue gentian flower, that, in the breeze,
Nods lonely, of her beauteous race the last.
Yet a few sunny days, in which the bee
Shall murmur by the hedge that skirts the way,
The cricket chirp upon the russet lea,
And man delight to linger in thy ray.
Yet one rich smile, and we will try to bear
The piercing winter frost, and winds, and darkened air.
~William Cullen Bryant “November”

The window of richness is brief these November mornings,
enough time to feed and water animals,
watch the geese fly overhead,
capture the light and fog in

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