Sunday, May 23, 2010


the first time i heard gustav mahler's 5th symphony performed, before even reading the program notes, i cried through the story i heard from stage; one of tragedy and triumph. it moved me so much, in fact, that i am using the movements as a structure to write a book in honor of my mentor. born in kalischt, bohemia (now kalist, czech republic) in 1860, he is known for composing around themes of struggle, death and victory.

listening to his symphony no. 1 in D major "titan", i was even more convinced of his genius, although audiences and critics of his time had strong reactions against it and he was even avoided by some friends after it's debut. this time i heard a hero's tale, akin to great classic literary works. his ability to juxtapose ironic and complex themes is unparalleled in the musical world. according to mahler, "the hero is exposed to the most fearful combats and to all the sorrows of the is the most spontaneous and daringly composed of my works. only when the character has triumphed over death and when all the glorious memories of youth have returned with themes from the first movement...there is a great victorious chorale!"

he was primarily a conductor, only having time to compose during the summers. i wonder if his role in conducting influenced the richness of passing themes around the symphony sections? and, while he follows classic composition structures, to me his work speaks in narrative much more than other more formulaic musicians of his time period. "composing is like playing with building blocks, " he said to a friend, "where new buildings are created again and again, using the same blocks."

i hope mahler, who died may 18, 1911 in vienna at age 50, could hear last night's standing ovation.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

dear art, i love you

this week i watched a documentary recommended by a friend entitled "a man called pearl". it is about a 68-year old african american man who transforms 5 acres of his south carolina yard into a topiary paradise. self-taught, his creations baffle the most professional horticulturalists. his passion drives him to work sometimes until midnight by flashlight. the dvd is powerful on several levels. when he and his wife first moved into the area, for example, he was not welcomed because people thought someone of his race "wouldn't take care of their yard". not only did pearl win "yard of the month" but now draws visitors from around the nation, boosting their small town's economy. he is an artist and works with the energy of God, sharing his faith through art.

i love an ad torn from a magazine years ago showing a jamaican man playing the saxophone. it says, "do what you love, the rest comes". and i've found this to be true. when we are living and working from our inmost passion, we somehow know things we weren't even aware of. we are "in the zone" where our greatest desire meets with God's and others are naturally drawn to this.

i had a grandpa come up to me at our school art show and say, "are you the art teacher? don't tell anyone, but i secretly love to draw". he had taken a postcard written by a kindergartener that said "i love drawing". and a mom who is an artist but had lost the joy? she chose the card "dear art, i love you".

bypass the inner critic. refuse to compare yourself or worry about a lack of knowlege, that only paralyzes creativity. i'm fortunate in that i love my vocation which also happens to be my job. but we can all find something that we love and be artists at life.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

leaning back

this week i needed change and refreshment so i drove a different way to work only to gasp in surprise at one of my favorite sights: a sprawling red clover field. the message to me was "lean back, create space to appreciate beauty." any teacher knows the months before the end of school get more than a little wonky, making everyone want to grasp at everything frantically. the posture of leaning back at this time of year is counter-intuitive to say the least.

i didn't have time NOT to create space, though. so i "leaned back". i wanted to help my art students do this too, so i took my high school class outside to teach them the Greek word for God's workmanship, going on to say that they are each this "work of art". listening to their stresses and concerns made me want to tell them about the clover field and have them share what they thought was beautiful. answers ranged from clouds to jazz music and warm rain to the color blue.
the next day we returned to our projects. we got much more done for having taken time together the day before. i noticed my shoulders were relaxed and that everyone was smiling while they worked.

isn't beauty the best posture afterall?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

this is a test

Q: if Jesus owned a timeshare, would he take his brothers and sisters with him on vacation?
A: that depends on who he considered his brothers and sisters.

holidays and hallmark remind us all that there's nothing like family.
really, there's nothing quite like it (emphasis yours).

my friend reminded me this week that there are many kinds of family. namely spiritual family.
from venting to celebrations, our very construction comes from blood relations, yes, but also from those we choose and are chosen by: companions for life's journey.

Q: given the lack of historical information about Jesus' earthly family, why was his dying wish for one of his disciples to "be there for mom"?

A: because it was the first mother's day.

continuing education

sitting at george fox's commencement ceremony last weekend watching my former students receive their diplomas, i couldn't help but think that more and more of my own professors had graduated to heaven. while the band tuned, i imagined colleen there in a celestial lecture hall sharing profundities with gerard manley hopkins, chaucer and william blake (shakespeare too, should you believe he's there!) susan delessert would be singing psalm 139 in french with multitudes of others; her head thrown back in joy with those unruly tresses flying.

and, yesterday, i learned that john aka "doc" bowman is now with them as well. he will be in the choir loft next to bach, beethoven and handel by now taking notes on polyphony. his last moment? standing with his wife waiting for a train in germany (also one of the countries he took us students to back in 1995). no one could conduct our choir and orchestra's messiah through the years quite like doc. he learned fast, moved fast, talked fast...and was just starting to enjoy retirement years by fixing up rental homes and traveling. knowing him, once outside of time and space, he's probably already composed several original heaven scores.

thank you, graduates, for your lives devoted to people by way of literature, french, and music. not only are you continuing to learn, i'm sure, but are very much alive in us, our lives and classrooms. we miss you. and congratulations.

who was one of your favorite teachers/professors and why?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

fireside thoughts on immediacy

sitting out by the bonfire this week, this thought occurred to me for some reason as i drifted off to sleep under the stars, "what did my great grandmother do without the ability to tell everyone what she just did?"

imagine what her social networking site would have looked like, "nettie is...putting homemade butter on fresh bread. nettie is...feeding the chickens. nettie is...excited that her sunflowers just bloomed."

i suppose she might have told my great grandfather. maybe a neighbor. or, the bulk of the time , she likely just did wednesday's laundry and kept it to herself.

sometimes sharing is an investment; a joy doubled.
and other times it grows better kept inside; simply done for what it is.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


walk together
remind me again
how clouds move
between our feet and spring
and that blackbirds
know to sing
just after

Sunday, May 2, 2010

the pace of love

my 83-year-old friend had to have a medical procedure this week called a "cardio version" that stopped his heart and restarted it at a slower pace. he is resting at command of his doctor and i save his emails reminding me that we are all being renewed inwardly day by day. my hand went to my own chest several times this week over the pace of love. sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly but always mysteriously; how we can feel the effects of agape, philos or eros in our own literal heart muscle. being on both the giving and receiving sides of pure, spontaneous and heart-felt "i love you's" this week was sheer gift. (including, but not limited to a massive dog-pile of 6th graders!)

love in community is both puzzle and puzzle piece. it's a word we use a lot today for everything from small groups to housing developments. i am reminded of the classic "life together" by dietrich bonhoeffer in which he writes of the importance of time alone and time with others. vanier also outlines these concepts poignantly in his book about the subject. "perfect love" or teleios, being the goal.

alone. i initiate a lot so it took me, for example, a while to recognize that three slow and unexpected days alone at the coast last weekend was actually an invitation to let myself be loved. my spiritual director framed it this way, "faith is overcoming our trained inability to perceive God's presence when it is right in front of us" (walter wink) especially, she added, when it's not our own idea. love--*genuine, unselfish, others-focused, sacrificial love--when it comes to us always produces more. (*the gospel of john is a mirror that most severely challenges in this regard.)

with others. like breathing, this exhale of time alone created room for more air; a series of inhales in the form of observations and reciprocity that brought healing, connection and renewal. i noticed the week finished with exactly three days of celebrating with others. from seeing travel slides through the himalayas and being invited to a white linen graduation feast to receiving beautiful ceramic art and attending amazing aerial theater (which just happened to be called "love always") the rhythm was fast. so many forms of love, both new and nostalgic. when i wasn't driving all over the city, for some reason it all made me want to dig out old love letters. i read them while wearing grandpa's suede hat. and even called my mother.

whether puzzle or piece, this is one heart that wants to operate more and more at the pace of Love.