Music and Memories


Humor me–listen to the song first.
I’ve spent the last couple of hours indulging in a rare occupation for me–listening to music.  I don’t own an iPod (well, I have an iPhone now but I don’t use it for that).  I usually don’t turn on the car radio.  My CDs, cassettes, and records are all gone.  If I want music, I usually sing.  And not surprisingly I suppose, what I really like to hear is SILENCE.
But I was feeling tired of my usual computer occupations, and it was too cold to go out, and our resident babysitters have their own social lives nowadays so going out on a date was out of the question anyway, so I decided to play with Spotify, which I was totally thrilled with when I first got it but forgot all about after a day or two because I just never think of listening to music.  I discovered Pandora before anyone else I knew and I don’t ever listen to it either.  But I digress.
I created a playlist with songs from my college days.  Now, I have a kick ass memory, at least when it comes to things that happened 20 years or more ago.  My high school friends know to call me if there is anything they want to know about the good old days.  Seriously, I can literally recall my entire high school class schedule, period by period, teacher by teacher, classroom by classroom.  So I don’t NEED music to remember.
But there’s nothing like a special song for taking you back to a particular moment in time.  I hear “St. Elmo’s Fire” and I’m a lonely homesick Freshman listening obsessively to the soundtrack of the last movie my friends and I saw together right before I left for Georgetown.  “How Will I Know?” comes on and I’m singing with my roommate and we are wondering how, with our complete lack of boyfriend experience, we WILL know?  Then it’s “Get into the Groove” and we’re dancing in our friend Tom’s room after saying the prayer to St. Jude, our pre-exam ritual certain to get us all passing grades.    The Georgia Satellites break out with “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” and I’m deep in the throes of first (and only) love, struggling to live up to previously untested ideals.  Love and anger, fear and joy, laughter and tears, hellos and good-byes–I feel them all again when I hear the songs.
I haven’t forgotten what HAPPENED when I was 18, 19, 20 . . . but sometimes I forget how it FELT.  But, as Trisha sings, the song remembers.

Songs of Innocence and of Experience


When I was in college, I opted to pursue an Honors degree in English.  Part of the requirement for this was to write a sort of mini-thesis that incorporated some concept that one could trace through several different works and then defend before two professors and a peer.
In the Liberal Arts Seminar that consumed most of my freshman year, I had been introduced to the pre-Romantic poet William Blake and his Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, books of poetry that he illustrated with his own woodcuts.  The idea that we all start out life innocent (think Adam and Eve in Paradise) but then inevitably have to pass through the fires of experience seemed to keep turning up over and over in the books I read throughout college.  Blake’s vision wasn’t entirely bleak, thankfully, since he implied that if one learned from the experience, “organized innocence” –wisdom–would result.
So in my paper I talked about innocence, experience, and wisdom in Blake’s poetry, in William Wordsworth’s Prelude, in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and in Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield.  I defended it successfully, and I got that Honors degree.  Did I understand what I was writing about?  Probably not.
But most people who have made it to (ahem!) middle age would understand, and they wouldn’t need an Honors degree to do it, either.  Because by now all of us have passed through the inescapable fires of experience, and we hope that we are at least a little wiser.
Last night I attended a production of  The Fantasticks, the longest-running musical EVER, put on by the KCHS Theatre Department.  My son Jake played El Gallo.  Twenty-seven years ago, my husband played Amos Babcock Bellamy.  He admits that he and his friends didn’t really understand the play then, and Jake admits that he and his friends don’t really understand it now.  Our younger kids attended with us last night, and they enjoyed it, but they didn’t comprehend it.
How could they, when it is an extended metaphor about innocence, experience, and wisdom, and when you are in high school you don’t know or believe any of that.  Who doesn’t want to believe that first love will last forever?  Who wants to think that being buffeted and scarred by the world not only confers benefits but is actually necessary to growth?  Who wouldn’t rather stay in the garden forever, with no need for eventual redemption?
I started crying last night as soon as Jake appeared onstage singing  Try to Remember at the opening of the play.  Part of that had to do with parental pride and my feelings about my son, but part of it sprang from the sadness of knowing (as the song says) that “without a hurt the heart is hollow.”  The play has a happy ending of sorts, but still I saw my husband wiping his eyes at the end.  Because even though we both know that innocence comes to an end, that experience is unavoidable, that the wisdom we’ve gained since we were in high school is valuable, irreplaceable–we wish it didn’t have to be that way.


Thank you to Palo for the beautiful featured image.

Thoughts of Spring

Back in the dreadful heat of summer I promised that I would never complain about cold this winter.  And mostly I haven’t.  I have enjoyed being cold!  I love the snow and I hope we get some more.  I am in no way ready for winter to end.
However, I do hate grey, depressing days like this one.  It’s hard for me to concentrate or really to get anything accomplished at all when the view from my office window is so bleak.  So I felt like indulging in a little springtime fantasy and sharing my very favorite poem with you:

“The Daffodils”

by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

I have so many pleasurable associations with this particular poem, which I am sure is very familiar to my readers.  In my freshman year at Georgetown University, I participated in a class called the Liberal Arts Seminar, a team-taught, multi-disciplinary, life-absorbing experience that met for nine hours a week for both semesters.  Our English professor was Dr. Paul F. Betz, a pre-eminent Wordsworth scholar.  His enthusiasm for Wordsworth and William Blake was contagious.  Daffodils have always been my favorite flower and I quickly memorized this poem.  One day I called home and started quoting the poem to my eight-year-old sister–only to have her join in, as she had just memorized it too!
As part of her Beautification Campaign, Lady Bird Johnson caused thousands of daffodils to be planted in our nation’s capital.  These delighted me on the long walks to the monuments that my roommate and I used to take every springtime.  Today, a framed photograph of the Lincoln Memorial with daffodils in the foreground hangs on my dining room wall next to a picture of Georgetown. [edit: not anymore. sigh.]
When I had my first house I determined to make my own daffodil field.  I planted more and more each year with the plan of eventually covering the whole hillside.  We moved, but the daffodils are still there.  Oftentimes, in the Smokies, patches of daffodils are the only remaining indications of homesites.  The cabins are long gone, but the bulbs continue to thrive, mute reminders of the women who once tended house and garden there.

Poetry Blogging: Equipment

I’m sharing the following poetry excerpt today which I borrowed from my friend Ikisha’s Facebook.  She says an elementary teacher had her class memorize it years ago.  Entitled “Equipment,” and composed by Edgar A. Guest, it was George Washington Carver’s favorite poem and if you ever visit his museum you can hear him reading it aloud.  I like this one because it is simple and short enough to memorize, yet profound and inspirational too!

Figure it out for yourself, my lad,
You’ve all that the greatest of men have had;
Two arms, two hands, two legs, two eyes,
And a brain to use if you would be wise,
With this equipment they all began–
…So start from the top and say, I CAN.

 

I’ve known Ikisha, by the way, since she was seven years old and I was a freshman at Georgetown involved in a tutoring program where we would travel to our kids’ homes each week to help with homework or more often just play with them.  I tutored Ikisha and her sister, Shamica, for four years, and have stayed in touch with them–mostly through Ikisha’s efforts–ever since.  Ikisha has two [edit: three now!] handsome–and bright–young sons and is an incredibly impressive woman who inspires me every day with her wisdom and positivity (is that even a word?).

Liturgical Music III – The 80s and after

Continuing with my post about the development of my own perspective on liturgical music brings me to what seemed like an exciting time to me music-wise:  the beginning of the Glory and Praise years.  For us at St. Joseph this actually began, I’m guessing, around 1978, when a group of UT students began coming to our morning Masses to lead the music with guitars and harmonizing vocals.  The opening hymn was Blest Be the Lord; the Communion hymn was Earthen Vessels; the closing hymn was Though the Mountains May Fall.  Always.  Every single day.  For weeks.  We did not care.  We loved this new music, performed well by people who were enthusiastic about it.
Although I did not know it at the time, all three of those songs were St. Louis Jesuit compositions.  And by the 8th grade we were singing more of their songs; I remember especially our enthusiastic renditions of Lord of Glory and And the Father Will Dance.  Then at our Masses at Knoxville Catholic High School we had On Eagle’s Wings, Be Not Afraid, You Are Near–if you are Catholic and you were around then, I don’t need to list them for you.  We loved them.  I still love most of them, better than the current popular Catholic hymns because they mostly paraphrased the Bible so how could they go wrong with that?
At Georgetown, which boasted seven or more masses each Sunday, I joined the 7 p.m. Mass choir.  We had a whole book devoted the the St. Louis Jesuits and I learned more of their songs like City of God, Only in God, This Alone, Take Lord, Receive.  But our choir director did what I think we should be doing–she did not limit us to one type of music.  We almost always closed with a traditional hymn–singing ALL FOUR VERSES, a revelation to me (more on that later).  And we did chant, and sang in Latin, and incorporated some choral music from Protestants as well.
After graduating, getting married, moving back to Knoxville, and having a baby, we settled back into Immaculate Conception which was about a decade behind and just embracing the Glory and Praise songbooks (which contained three bird pictures I found useful in entertaining baby Emily).  It doesn’t seem to me like it has been that long since we finally retired those hymnals, but many of the songs are now so mainstream that they have found their way into the regular hymnals right alongside Stabat Mater and O Sacred Head Surrounded.  Which is, I think, as it should be.
My review of a lifetime of attending Mass and listening to church music suggests to me that the 70s and 80s were a period of experimentation in different kinds of “new” music and that now 40 years later we have reached some sort of synthesis.  Contemporary Catholic music is no longer written just for guitars.  Nothing against guitars, but variety is good.  However, I find myself preferring the St. Louis Jesuit songs from the 80s to many of the hymns we are singing today.  Although they are fun to sing and sound pretty, those that stray too far from the Bible often have lyrics that are nonsense, heresy, or just bad.
To be continued . . .

Big Catholic Families

I’m posting this column reprint as a followup to my “Why Stop at Two” post of a few weeks ago.  In that post, I talked about why we’ve chosen to have a big family; this post focuses on the Catholic Church’s teachings on family size.  This was too long for the East Tennessee Catholic in this form; it was condensed and split into two columns which appeared, I believe, in early 2009.
“God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth’”(Genesis 1:28).
You know He said it, but what did He mean?
A few months ago I told you why we have chosen to have a “big Catholic family.” Today I am making good on my promise to write on what the Church says about family size.
To be honest, though, I am humbled by the task I’ve set myself. It’s already been done, you see, much better than I could ever do it and by scholars with much more authority than I. But you’ve probably never read Gaudium et Spes, have you? Or Familaris Consortio? How about Humanae Vitae or Evangelium Vitae? If you’re in a Renew group, you’ve at least read some of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but we haven’t gotten to this part yet.
I’m not criticizing you, although I think it’s a shame, and I hope that Catholic educators today are doing a better job of getting some of this material into the hands of high school students. Even though I minored in Theology at a Catholic university it was only by accident that I ended up in a Christian Marriage class where some of this material was required. I’ve been fortunate since that my work with the Diocesan Respect Life Committee and with this column have led me to delve deeper into the writings that explain the doctrines Catholics profess to believe. I hope after reading just the small sampling I provide here that you might be tempted to go further, to be inspired as I have been by the Church’s vision of marriage and family–it’s so much more than the secular version.
Here’s the crucial point for most of you: The Catholic Church does not require or even suggest that you forgo all forms of birth spacing or regulation in order to bear as many children as physically possible throughout your reproductive years. Surprisingly, that’s actually an Evangelical Protestant idea–a minority idea–called the “Quiverfull Movement.”
This movement springs from Psalm 127:3-5: “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; They will not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate.” Its adherents, mostly U.S. conservatives, believe in receiving as many children as possible as blessings from God, rejecting even Natural Family Planning.
Now the Catechism of the Catholic Church does say that “Sacred Scripture and the Church’s traditional practice see in large families a sign of God’s blessing and the parents’ generosity” (2373). But it also says, “For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children” (2368). In Gaudium et Spes we read that “certain modern conditions often keep couples from arranging their married lives harmoniously, and . . . they find themselves in circumstances where at least temporarily the size of their families should not be increased”(51). This is further clarified in Humanae Vitae: “Responsible parenthood is exercised, either by the deliberate and generous decision to raise a numerous family, or by the decision, made for grave motives and with due respect for the moral law, to avoid for the time being, or even for an indeterminate period, a new birth”(10).
The problem is that many people hop on the “It’s okay to limit births,” part of the message without paying attention to the “grave motives” and “moral law” part. This is NOT okay: “In the task of transmitting life . . . they are not free to proceed completely at will, as if they could determine in a wholly autonomous way the honest path to follow; but they must conform their activity to the creative intention of God, expressed in the very nature of marriage and of its acts, and manifested by the constant teaching of the Church . . . If, then, there are serious motives to space out births, which derive from the physical or psychological conditions of husband and wife, or from external conditions, the Church teaches that it is then licit to take into account the natural rhythms immanent in the generative functions, for the use of marriage in the infecund periods only, and in this way to regulate birth without offending the moral principles which have been recalled earlier” (HV 15-16). “It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood” (CCC 2368).
So, to simplify: Catholic couples are called to cooperate with God in the transmission of life, being as generous as their particular circumstances allow, limiting births only by the use of natural methods and for suitably serious reasons.
This casts it all in such a negative light, though! Listen to what some of these documents have to say about the meaning and the function of marriage and family in God’s plan: “Called to give life, spouses share in the creative power and fatherhood of God” (CCC 2367). “Spouses, as parents, cooperate with God the Creator in conceiving and giving birth to a new human being . . . God himself is present in human fatherhood and motherhood . . . In procreation, therefore, through the communication of life from parents to child, God’s own image and likeness is transmitted, thanks to the creation of the immortal soul. . . . in their role as co-workers with God . . . we see the greatness of couples who are ready ‘to cooperate with the love of the Creator and the Saviour, who through them will enlarge and enrich his own family day by day’ . . . Thus, a man and woman joined in matrimony become partners in a divine undertaking: through the act of procreation, God’s gift is accepted and a new life opens to the future” (Evangelium Vitae 43).
“Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute very substantially to the welfare of their parents . . . All should be persuaded that human life and the task of transmitting it are not realities bound up with this world alone. Hence they cannot be measured or perceived only in terms of it, but always have a bearing on the eternal destiny of men”(GS 50-51). “Conjugal love . . . does not end with the couple, because it makes them capable of the greatest possible gift, the gift by which they become cooperators with God for giving life to a new human person. . . .Their parental love is called to become for the children the visible sign of the very love of God . . .Christian marriage and the Christian family build up the Church: for in the family the human person is not only brought into being and progressively introduced by means of education into the human community, but by means of the rebirth of baptism and education in the faith the child is also introduced into God’s family, which is the Church. . . . The commandment to grow and multiply, given to man and woman in the beginning, in this way reaches its whole truth and full realization” (Familiaris Consortio 14-15).
If you were married in a Catholic ceremony you answered “yes” to the following question: “Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?” Chances are when you promised that you did not really understand any more than I did what it really meant. Now that you have read just a little of the teachings that inspired the question, I hope you might prayerfully consider whether that longing you’ve sometimes felt for “just one more” might be the voice of God.
 

The Little Black Boy

Most of my classes my first year at Georgetown were part of the Liberal Arts Seminar, an interdisciplinary course taught by renowned professors of English, Theology, Philosophy, and History.  Our English professor, Wordsworth scholar Paul F. Betz, introduced us to pre-Romantic poet William Blake and his Songs of Innocence and of Experience.  When I read yesterday about little African-American children showing signs of white bias, I thought of his poem “The Little Black Boy,” and I wanted to share it with you.  The pictures at the beginning and end of this post are Blake’s own original illustrations.

 THE LITTLE BLACK BOY
by: William Blake (1757-1827)
Y mother bore me in the southern wild,
And I am black, but O, my soul is white!
White as an angel is the English child,
But I am black, as if bereaved of light.
My mother taught me underneath a tree,
And, sitting down before the heat of day,
She took me on her lap and kissèd me,
And, pointing to the East, began to say:
‘Look at the rising sun: there God does live,
And gives His light, and gives His heat away,
And flowers and trees and beasts and men receive
Comfort in morning, joy in the noonday.
‘And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love;
And these black bodies and this sunburnt face
Are but a cloud, and like a shady grove.
‘For when our souls have learn’d the heat to bear,
The cloud will vanish, we shall hear His voice,
Saying, “Come out from the grove, my love and care,
And round my golden tent like lambs rejoice.”‘
Thus did my mother say, and kissèd me,
And thus I say to little English boy.
When I from black and he from white cloud free,
And round the tent of God like lambs we joy,
I’ll shade him from the heat till he can bear
To lean in joy upon our Father’s knee;
And then I’ll stand and stroke his silver hair,
And be like him, and he will then love me.

Coffee: A Love Story


It all began in the summer of 1986.  I was home after my first year at Georgetown, working as a waitress at Cracker Barrel, a thankless job if ever there was one.  Each evening, around 9:30, my exhausted fellow waitresses would retreat to a smoky cubicle equipped with a table and two chairs for their “coffee break.”  I didn’t care for coffee, so I abstained.  I’d tried it, of course.  A couple of times when I was a pre-teen my mother and I stayed up all night for a treat, and she made me a weak mixture that was mostly sugar and milk.  My little sister had always loved coffee, was always trying to steal sips of Mima’s instant.  At Granny’s house, people drank pots and pots, always black.  It was a mystery to me, this stuff the grownups seemed to love so much that tasted so bad.
But that summer, I was serving it constantly, despite the heat, and I felt I was excluded from some big secret that I just couldn’t comprehend.  When I wasn’t running from table to kitchen and back, I stood by the coffee station keeping an eye on my customers, and when I would get in the car at the end of the day my mother would breathe in the coffee aroma that clung to my hair and my uniform and exclaim about how wonderful I smelled.  Finally, wanting to try again to understand what it was that I was missing, and wanting to join in on some level with the camaraderie amongst the mostly much-older and somewhat streetwise staff, I poured myself a cup with a lot of cream and sugar, and I was lost.
Throughout the rest of my college career, I was a morning and sometimes (if a paper was due) evening visitor to Wisemiller’s, the local convenience store/deli within a short walk of most of the places I lived.  I consumed countless medium styrofoam cups of coffee with double cream double sugar–the Wisemillers’ girls stopped asking me how I wanted it before long.
After college, coffee was a required morning stop at the 7-11 on my way to work, even if it made me late!  Back in Knoxville and expecting baby #1, there were of course no 7-11s–but it didn’t matter as at that point I gave up caffeine for the duration of my pregnancy, a feat I have never even attempted again.  But post-baby I looked forward to my afternoon coffee break, reading Time magazine or watching Bob Ross and relaxing while she napped.  Later, with three kids under five, Weigel’s cappuccino became an evening treat for my husband and me.
I was in graduate school when the coffee shops started popping up.  I grew to love The Golden Roast on campus, and went there for my regular Monday Mommy’s Night Out for years, learning to love the more exotic varieties like Ethiopian Yirgacheffe and Blue Nile.  I also enjoy the Mexican roast at Java on the rare occasions I go there.
I have been informed that the coffee at Starbucks is an acquired taste, and I can’t seem to acquire it.  Nor do I have any interest in learning to love frou frou coffee drinks like lattes and frappuccinos and whatever else.  When I have no alternative to Starbucks, I cannot even bring myself to ask for a Venti or a Grande.  I just say, “Whatever you call medium around here.”
These days my go-to coffee hangout is the Panera Bread in Fountain City, and honestly I don’t like their coffee. Except the hazelnut.  I know exactly how much cream and sugar I need per cup, and I was annoyed when they got new cups and I had to figure the whole thing out again.  So you see, I am not a coffee snob.  I enjoy the coffee at Shoney’s more than just about anywhere else, and for home drinking a prefer JFG Bonus Blend, or perhaps JFG Special Coffee.  Because for me, it really is “The best part of the meal.” 
jfg
Update:  Coffee is still the best part of any meal (best part of the DAY, if you ask me!), but these days I take it with plenty of cream but no sugar at all.

What's in a Name?

The following is a reprint of a column that ran in The East Tennessee Catholic newspaper on August 11, 2002.  It explains the name of my former column, which is now the name of this blog.
Names are important.
Think of the time we spend choosing the names we give our children, the hours poring over baby-name books, making lists, asking opinions, only to be told years later by an unappreciative adolescent, “I hate my name!”
Now, any writer or artist will tell you that his creative product is something like “offspring” to him.  So when it was time–past time–to name this column, I agonized over the choice for days.  Then, coming up blank, I followed my usual procedure for titling my work:  I stole.
Image result for bartlett's familiar quotations
Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations with its handy index is an old friend that has proved its worth to me many times.  I looked up life in the back of the book, and voila, the works of far better writers than I were at my disposal.
The phrase “life in every limb” sounded perfect at first reading, and once I investigated the source became even more so.
First, the author:  William Wordsworth, famed English poet of the Romantic Period, and as it happens, an old favorite of mine.  My first college English professor, later my advisor, is a preeminent Wordsworth scholar who spends summers at Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage in the Lake District.  By virtue of his enthusiasm almost as much as Wordsworth’s talent, he taught us to love Wordsworth too.  This seemed like an omen.
Image result for wordsworth
Next the poem whence the line came: We Are Seven. The poem’s narrator encounters a “little maid,” who in answer to questions about her family asserts again and again that there are seven children, even though two have died.  This inclusion in the family’s number of two who are unable to speak for themselves resonated with me as I thought of the voiceless unborn and their need for similar champions.
Finally, the enire quotation:  “A simple child/That lightly draws its breath/And feels its life in every limb/What should it know of death?” I thought of the unborn child, alive in every way, in every part of its tiny body, heart beating, blood pumping, at the very beginning of its life doomed so often to a premature and violent death.
I wonder what Wordsworth might add to the abortion debate if he were with us today.  My first child’s godmother (a fellow student of the aforementioned professor) created a beautiful cross-stitch as a gift for Emily when she was born from a paraphrased Wordsworth quotation: “Children come trailing clouds of glory from God who is their home.”
This comes from his Ode on the Intimations of Mortality, in which he expounds upon his belief that children are closer to God because they remember glimpses of heaven that are more and more lost to us as we grow older.  His own heavenly visions, the “spots of time” he celebrates in his long autobiographical narrative poem The Prelude, were a continuing source of inspiration to Wordsworth.  I have a feeling that he would have viewed the killing of the innocent unborn, fresh from God’s hand, as the worst kind of sacrilege.
Moving to a different sort of literature, the phrase “life in every limb” calls to mind St. Paul‘s metaphor of 1 Corinthians 12: ” . . . [T]he body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body . . . .”  Each person, born or unborn, is a part of that body and has a unique role to fulfill.
In valuing all members of the body equally, our church espouses a consistent ethic of life.  Although abortion is the focus of this column, I plan to write about many other life issues, such as the death penalty and euthanasia.  We might think of the abortion issue as just one of the many limbs of the church’s pro-life teachings.  For we are a church that embraces and celebrates and protects all life, that of the innocent unborn equally with that of the convicted murderer, of the ill and disabled along with the healthy, of the non-Christian along with the Christian–life in every limb of the Body of Christ.