Archive for December, 2010

Wishing everyone a Happy New Year!

Give a listen to a song to rejoice your heart: Sting’s Soul Cake.

May your 2011 be full of surprises.

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Last night, I was going to a Christmas Eve service at Naperville Presbyterian Church. I drove with two friends and their baby son. They sang a song to him, and this was it:

Who knows how long I’ve loved you?
You know I love you still.
Will I wait a lonely lifetime?
If you want me to, I will. 

For if I ever saw you,
I didn’t catch your name.
But it never really mattered–
I will always feel the same.

Love you forever and forever,
love you with all my heart–
love you whenever we’re together,
love you when we’re apart.

And when at last I find you,
your song will fill the air!
Sing it loud so I can hear you,
make it easy to be near you,
for the things you do endear you to me–
oh, you know I will.
I will.

The Beatles
The White Album (1968)

To listen to a beautiful cover version of this song by a girl named Jasmine, click: “I Will.

Merry Christmas to all.

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“My God, my Father, and my Savior, as Thou now sendest Thy sun upon the earth to give corporeal light to Thy creatures, vouchsafe also to illumine my heart and understanding by the heavenly light of Thy Holy Spirit, that I neither think nor say nor do anything unless to serve and please Thee. During this whole day may my principal purpose be to walk in Thy fear, to serve Thee and honor Thee, expecting all luck and prosperity from Thy blessing alone. As for my body and my soul, mayst Thou be my Protector, strengthening me against all temptations of the devil and of the flesh, preserving me from the encroachments and conspiracies of all my enemies, their accomplices and adherents. And, good God, inasmuch as there is nothing well begun if one does not persevere, may it please Thee not only to receive me under Thy guidance and protection for this day, but for the whole course of  my life, continuing and increasing from day to day the gifts and graces of Thy Holy Spirit in me until I, being united and conjoined with Thy only Son my Savior, may enjoy that blessed life which Thou hast promised to all Thy elect through Thy same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, amen.”

Queen Elizabeth I
Elizabeth I: Collected Works
ed. by Marcus, Mueller & Rose (University of Chicago, 2000), 144.


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I discovered the Dune series, the most popular and influential ecological science-fiction books ever written, before I was eleven. I read them all, and even as a child, I wanted to meet Frank Herbert. He died in 1986, but I didn’t know until I was a teenager. Meanwhile, I went on admiring the personal psychology of his extraordinary characters — men and women in his invented universe — where memory was pivotal to being not only for invidivuals, but for cultures, for Herbert believed in the Jungian collective unconscious at the cellular level: a powerful idea!

Not only did I read Herbert’s books, I re-read them, literally dozens of times. Whenever I was sick, I would pick them up and read them again. Again and again.

I memorized the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear, and I would recite it to myself (as many of Herbert’s readers have done): I will not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over and through me. When it has gone, I will turn the inner eye to its path. Where it has been, there will be nothing. Only I will remain. When I was afraid, I would recite these words along with scriptures from the Bible: Do not be afraid because I am with you and He has not given us a spirit of fear but of love and of power and of a sound mind and The Spirt of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him.

In addition to the Litany, Herbert’s universe had other songs and poems in it, too, intriguing ones. I was recently experiencing a relapse of tendonitis, and so, feeling unwell, wanted to re-read the Dune books. When I got to the third book, Children of Dune, I read this poem with a new interest:

Nature’s beauteous form

contains a lovely essence

called by some — decay.

By this lovely presence

new life finds its way.

Tears shed silently

are but water of the soul:

they bring new life

to the pain of being —

a separation from that seeing

which makes death whole.

I wondered why the word “death” in the final line couldn’t be the word “life.” But another poet, Herbert, wrote those words … The young Leto plays this poem as a song for his sister Ghanima on a baliset when they are overlooking the Dune desert when night is falling.

This poem got me thinking about Frank Herbert as a poet as well as a science-fiction writer. I went on GoogleBooks and read the first 150 pages of Frank Herbert’s biography, written by his son, Brian: Dreamer of Dune. I found other poems in those pages that I admired. One was a protest poem that Frank Herbert wrote when murals painted by his friend, Bernard Zakheim, were removed from the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco.

What folly to think there

is no place to receive this.

No empty place for this

painting to be.

Driven into the heart of the thing itself —

we have a relationship, this

artist and myself.

This hand and my eye have just met.

The simple phrases of this poem made me think of my own relationship to Frank Herbert as an artist. For some reason, in this season of my life, I wanted to understand his life better and how his life produced his stories — his extraordinary stories — and his meditations on the way memory works for his characters. Every time I re-read Herbert’s works, it is as if his “hand and my eye have just met.”

Another poem Frank Herbert wrote, and his son Brian published in the biography, meditates on the meaning of a life in a way powerfully relevant to this questing / questioning I’ve been feeling about the author and the man, Frank Herbert:

What is the meaning of your life?
If you live close to nature, is it hidden in—
a towering tree,
busy worker bees,
a flower bloom,
the sun piercing morning’s gloom?

Or do you live in civilization?
Does fancy people your imagination with thoughts of —
laborers, soot and grime,
youths leading lives of crime,
long hours and payday
nightlife in its heyday?

Are you but chaff from the Great Miller’s gleaning?
Or wherever you live does your life have meaning?

It’s an intense sort of metaphor to imagine God as a Great Miller and to wonder if we, ourselves, are chaff or grain in his gleaning. In this metaphor, the poem alludes to Jesus’ Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matthew 13). Perhaps, in its questioning, it reflects Frank Herbert’s ambivalent relationship with the Roman Catholicism of his family of origin. It’s concern with place certainly reflects the poet’s ecological concerns. But that drive, to make meaning, is the storyteller’s, the poet’s, and everyman’s motivation.

The problem is that sometimes our bodies can’t keep up with our minds. They fail, but our souls continue. Herbert’s meditations on life, death and memory in his books engages this reality.

Personally, though, I am thinking of my tendons (and the tendonitis, another kind of failure of the imperfect body, stressed by overuse) — as I type this post when I should be resting them — and I recall another of Herbert’s poems, a haiku in honor of his typewriter:

typewriter clacking

in my night-encircled room –

metal insect song

The typewriter! The keyboard! Brian Herbert calls it his father’s mistress. Well, it is at the very least an extremely valuable tool, and it’s interesting to think of it singing “a metal insect song.”

Brian Herbert has published more of his father’s Dune poems in a collection called, Songs of Maud’dib, and I recommend it to those interested.

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Last night, I went with my dear friend Michelle to the Wheaton College Christmas Festival, featuring the Women’s Chorale, the Men’s Glee Club, the Concert Choir, Symphonic Band, and soloist Denise Gamez. Michelle is looking so beautiful and expecting her first baby, a Christmas baby, very soon. (I always think it is a very special thing when mothers, like Mary, are awaiting the arrival of a baby at Christmastime.) The music, like my friend, was beautiful, too!

Among my favorite songs performed was “There is No Rose of Such Virtue,” a Christmas Carol written in the very late Middle Ages, c. 1420, and set to music by contemporary composer Melinda Bargreen. It’s a macaronic song, meaning it’s written in two languages: Middle English and Latin.

There Is No Rose Of Such Virtue

There is no rose of such vertu
As is the rose that bare Jesu;

For in this rose contained was
Heaven and earth in lytle space;
Res miranda.

By that rose we may well see
That he is God in persons three,
Pari forma.

The angels sungen the shepherds to:
Gloria in excelsis deo:

Leave we all this wearldly mirth,
And follow we this joyful birth;

Alleluia, res miranda,
Pares forma, gaudeamus,

I love how the song meditates on the “little space” of Mary’s womb, where heaven and earth meet, and how it interweaves the Latin of the Church with the English of the common people — as if interweaving spiritual and secular themes, symbolically, through the use of two languages. The last stanza could be translated like this: “Hallelujah! We must praise God for this wondrous marvel, [for the three persons of the Holy Trinity are] equal in nature … yes, we rejoice! Let us go!” Gloria in excelsis Deo!

My favorite famous singer in the world, Sting (aka Gordon Sumner), has sung this song, too. To listen to his version, check out: “There is No Rose of Such Virtue.” I love the use of percussion in Sting’s rendition!

Last night, I heard another beautiful poem set to music — this one modern, rather than medieval: e.e. cummings “little tree.” Eric Whitacre created the arrangement performed so lyrically by the Concert Choir under the direction of Paul Wiens. Here it is performed in New York, “Little Tree.”

Other songs from last night that I particularly enjoyed include: Riu, Riu, Chiu (so lively!), O Come, O Come Emmanuel (arranged by Kathleen Kastner for a percussion ensemble, but last night, performed with the addition of a beautiful oboe), and the Men’s Glee Club’s rendition of Healey Willan’s “Magnificat” (so wonderful to hear men singing Mary’s song! For it is a song for all souls).

I hope you enjoy these songs and carols, too.

Merry Christmas!

p.s. To listen to more beautiful music, check out the Wheaton College WETN Conservatory Archive, which features past concerts and performances!

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