Sunday, August 28, 2011

Working with a White Canvas

Moving into a white space every year I return to school is always an enticing and fun experience for me. There are few things I like better about college than to be able to express myself through my dorm room. The school year is a great time for a fresh start, a clean slate, and so is my living space! This year I am living in an apartment with three other girls, so there is much more white space to fiddle around with, as well as other opinions to consider at least in the public spaces, although this shouldn't be too difficult as we seem to have relatively similar tastes. 
My room is not finished yet -- there are more things I want to do with the walls and the decor, but it is off to a great start, and I think what I have up will do for now until I find a few more works of art and quotes to add to my collection. This year I put up a lot of the postcards and artwork I collected during my studies abroad in Europe and the British Isles. I have found it often is very hard to remember that I even went to Austria -- it is so removed from anything else that I have ever experienced, that it almost feels like another world altogether. I can certainly relate what the Pevensie children in The Chronicles of Narnia felt like when they return from Aslan's magical land to reality. I do not think that this is a bad thing. There is a need to remember that it happened, but there is also a need to look forward, to look ahead to what else God has in store for  you. It was a beautiful experience to study abroad in Austria, but there are more to be had and there is beauty to be found in so many places, persons, and things. The world can be a blank canvas, a white dorm room, but if you see it through the correct lens (with a Catholic perspective, seeing the beauty and light of grace, seeing everything as God sees it), there is so much color, beauty, and light to be seen! 
So here's a quick look at my room and what I'm doing with the place. More photos of the rest of our "bachelorette" pad are forthcoming! 

My desk!

Travel photos and postcards and my nerdy organ calender...

My makeshift closet!

Some of my favorite things in my room... Hopefully they'll help me study!

My funky glitter lamp and my Mozart bust from Vienna.

More Austrian adventure treasures in my holy corner...

Here's my lov-erly wall! So artsy and purdy...

Friday, August 19, 2011

Papa Benedetto "Playing" With His Food!

Stumbled upon this today when I was browsing the web. Can I just say our Holy Father is so cute? I want to give him a piano cake!  And did you know that his favorite composer is Mozart? And here is an excerpt from his address to the professors of Spain during World Youth Day. As a Dominican, I really appreciated it: first off, because it's about truth, and Catholics are all about truth; secondly, because we are all called to be catechists in some way, shape, or form, whether professionally or not. And thirdly, it's Pope Benedict, so you can't go wrong!

"I urge you, then, never to lose that sense of enthusiasm and concern for truth. Always remember that teaching is not just about communicating content, but about forming young people. You need to understand and love them, to awaken their innate thirst for truth and their yearning for transcendence. Be for them a source of encouragement and strength. For this to happen, we need to realize in the first place that the path to the fullness of truth calls for complete commitment: it is a path of understanding and love, of reason and faith. We cannot come to know something unless we are moved by love; or, for that matter, love something which does not strike us as reasonable. “Understanding and love are not in separate compartments: love is rich in understanding and understanding is full of love” (Caritas in Veritate, 30). If truth and goodness go together, so too do knowledge and love. This unity leads to consistency in life and thought, that ability to inspire demanded of every good educator."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Hand of God in Beauty and Learning to Trust

" ... The evening was bathed in a wonderful silence - and there was a sudden rift in the curdled clouds westward, and a lovely, pale, pinky-green lake of sky with a new moon in it.
"Emily stood and looked up at it with clasped hands and her little black head upturned. She must go home and write down a description of it in the yellow account book, where the last thing written had been, 'Mike's Biograffy.' It would hurt her with its beauty until she wrote it down. Then she would read it to Father. She must not forget how the tips of the trees on the hill came out like fine black lace across the edge of the pinky-green sky.
"And then, for one glorious, supreme moment, came 'the flash.'
"Emily called it that, although she felt that the name didn't exactly describe it. It couldn't be described -- not even to Father, who always seemed a little puzzled by it. Emily never spoke of it to any one else.
"It had always seemed to Emily, ever since she could remember, that she was very, very near a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside-- but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered it and then it was as if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond -- only a glimpse -- and heard a note of unearthly music.
"This moment came rarely -- went swiftly, leaving her breathless with the inexpressible delight of it. She could never recall it -- never summon it -- never pretend it; but the wonder of it stayed with her for days. It never came twice with the same thing. Tonight the dark boughs against that far-off sky had given it. It had come with a high, wild note of wind in the night, with a shadow wave over a ripe field, with a greybird lighting on her window-sill in a storm, with the singing of "Holy, holy, holy" in church, with a glimpse of the kitchen fire when she had come home on a dark autumn night, with the spirit-like blue of ice palms on a twilit pane, with a felicitous new word when she was writing down a "description" of something. And always when the flash came to her Emily felt that life was a wonderful, mysterious thing of persistent beauty."   
- L.M. Montgomery, Chapter 1, Emily of New Moon.

A sunset in Assisi, March 2011
L.M. Montgomery's Emily of New Moon Trilogy is one of my favorite pieces of literature. I was smitten with the series' heroine by the first chapter when I read this passage. I found in Emily a kindred spirit in the wonder she holds towards beauty or what she calls "the flash." I don't know if this is simply an artist's quirk, or the blessing of being a seeker of beauty, but I definitely understood what she was trying to communicate in this little passage! I experienced it so many times in Europe: experiencing a Novus Ordo Mass said "ad orientum" in Latin in the Chapel of Our Lady of Czestochowa complete with Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony; enjoying a sunset by a castle wall in Assisi; going to Vespers at the London Oratory; visiting the Basilica of St. Cecilia in Rome. But rather than calling it "the flash," I would call it "the hand of God." To me, the flash is when the curtain between this world and the Beatific Vision is lifted just enough that we get a glimpse of what heaven might be like.
One of the more recent times when I felt this thrill of beauty was when I first listened to the third movement of Dr. Paul M. Weber's composition, "Wilt Thou Forgive." Based on John Donne's poem of the same name, the piece beautifully depicts through music the emotions of a troubled soul as it poses questions to God about whether or not God will forgive him of his sins even though he continues to fall into them. The first and second movement are plagued by dissonance and unrest. The third movement, the text of the last stanza of Donne's poem, begins dark and foreboding, imitating the chant-like melody of the first movement in the cello's opening line as the author expresses the unrest of his soul, "I have a sin of fear that when I have spun my last thread, I shall perish on the shore..." But then the piece takes on a decidedly different feeling. These dark, fearful thoughts begin to disappear when the oboe comes in, like the first golden touches of sunrise chasing the night shadows away. The tension builds until the sun bursts onto the horizon with the basses, "But swear by thyself, that at they death thy Son shall shine as He shines now and heretofor..." The soul begins to soar, caught up for a moment in a gust of beauty, and almost touchs heaven! 
However, the piece concludes on an interesting note (no pun intended). The poem ends with the words, "And having done that, Thou hast done: I fear no more." This can be interpreted in a number of ways, depending on the reader, the speaker (if the poem is recited), or in this case, the music. It could be confident, hesitant, or doubtful. In Weber's musical interpretation of the poem, I feel there is a hint of hesitancy, like a small child placing his hand in the hand of a relative he is still learning to trust. There is neither a perfect nor an imperfect authentic cadence to conclude the piece. Rather, the piece ends on a G major chord in a plagal cadence after a series of suspensions.  The speaker has asked God to swear by Himself to save his soul, but he doesn't know that his soul is saved. The salvation of his soul depends on his choice, not God's. And the choice to save one's soul is a constant battle within the human self to forsake our will for the will of God.  God is merciful and forgiving, but we have to make the decision to turn back from our sinful ways and take up our cross. We have to remember that God the Father, like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, will come running the rest of the way to embrace us, and He will sustain us throughout our trials. "My yoke is easy and my burden light." In the words of Fulton Sheen, "The whole cross is easier to carry than a part." Perhaps this is what is being said through the final chords of this movement. We, the small children, have so many times dropped our heavenly Father's hand for some fleeting earthly pleasure. Realizing our error, we have come running back to His mercy in the sacrament of confession. Now we must take our heavenly Father's hand once again and let Him guide us, renouncing our will for His. We are still learning to trust, we haven't made it back to that major I chord yet, but we are learning. "Unless you become like a little child, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven."

(I had no idea I was going to end up on this subject when I began this post, but I'm kinda glad it came out that way. I've been wanting to gush about this piece for a while. I hope you won't be bored by the nerdy commentary. But definitely give the thrid movement a listen; it's a stunningly beautiful piece! Please... pretty please.... with a cherry on top?)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Summer Finds

Hello all! Just got back from vacation at Catholic Familyland! They had some cool new stuff at the bookstore this year, including this lovely holy water font I purchased for the apartment I'm sharing with three other girls this year. You can see a close up of it in the second photo! This is a painting by Bouguereau, I believe, who is known for both his religious and secular art, both of which are wondrously beautiful, but his religious art is absolutely exquisite! I hope it appeals to both my music major roommate and my Dominican roommates with its inclusion of our beloved Mother of the Church and the Infant First Truth.
I also included in the first photo a recent purchase from Amazon: *drum roll, please* The Simple English Propers by Adam Bartlett! This is the music of the Mass, the text of the Mass set to simple chants in English for Catholic parishes all over the English-speaking world! These chants have long been absent from the Mass in many English parishes due to the option in the GIRM for "another suitable song" to take its place - although fortunately the new translation of the GIRM (only recently released) correctly states "another suitable chant" may be substituted. THis is definitely a step in the right direction. But the Propers themselves have a special place in the liturgy, for they are the text of the Mass, integral to the liturgy itself. Thus there is a deep loss when they are omitted. Singing these texts are part of what it means to "Sing THE Mass" vs. "Sing AT Mass." I am hoping that the arrival of this beautiful book will help particularly in this circumstance. Okay, I'll stop preaching now. I am hoping to incorporate these into my 4 pm Sunday Mass Choir this coming semester. I love the cover of this book, though, they did a very nice job with it and the binding. It will look lovely both on and off of my music shelf.

I'll add a couple more photos tomorrow of another lovely find...