“…You Shall Be a Miracle…By the Grace of God”

“Do not pray for easy lives; pray to be stronger people!  Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for powers equal to your tasks!  Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle.  But you shall be a miracle.  Every day you shall wonder at yourself, at the richness of life which has come in you by the grace of God…”

– Phillip Brooks (1835-1893), Twenty Sermons

Image from The Roman Catholic Church of St. Vincent de Paul in Albany, New York
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Music

Detail of Glass Sculpture by Dale Chihuly, Benaroya Hall, Seattle

Music is surely a divine gift. The sounds of harmony, the variety of instruments, the styles and individuality of each composer, musician, origin and era are part of the richness and abundance of this gift. Nations have different indigenous sounds and styles; cultural stories and legends can be woven into and expressed by a nation’s music. We can learn a great deal about the heart and history of a people by listening to its music through the ages.

My brother attended a conservatory of music for three of his four years of college, so I have an appreciation of classical music and musicians; though I am still fairly ignorant about it, I enjoy music, and love to attend live performances. I spent many hours of my youth keeping Jim company as he practiced scales on the piano, or played classical guitar pieces over and over again as part of his study, so it is fun to re-visit that world.

Last night, Gregg and I had the privilege of attending the Seattle Symphony’s concert, conducted by a friend of our friend Linda. Linda travels all over the world singing operas, so she knows musicians and conductors everywhere. She let us know that her friend was here in Seattle, and helped to arrange tickets for us (if you follow the link above, you can listen to excerpts of each piece by clicking on the small speaker icon next to its name).

We were given fabulous seats – the closest we’ve ever been to the stage – and could see and enjoy the music visually, as well as listening to it. We could see the expressions on the faces of the musicians, see the eye contact between them and study the various instruments. I had no idea, for example, that cellos could look so individual – there were at times six or eight cellists on stage, and not one of those beautiful instruments looked alike. The form of the instrument was similar – they resemble a woman’s body – but the color and finish of the wood was unique. Red, blonde, brown – so many shades and grains of wood – made me wonder about the history of each instrument. How did that musician end up with that cello? Was the tone of the sound just right for his ear? How old was it the instrument? Who made it, and where?

There was a cello solo in the Tchaikovsky piece which was pure joy to hear. The cellist was filled with passion for his music – his face reflected such intense pleasure that at times, it was hard to look away to watch his fingering and bow – and his technical expertise was stunning. Being so close to the stage enabled us to really appreciate the effort he was making and the joy he was taking in it.

The conductor was simply riveting. I have watched a number of conductors, and usually don’t pay a lot of attention to them, but because this was a friend of a friend, I was studying this one. Mr. Sondergard is very handsome, and he is a delight to watch, because he is filled with the music he is conducting. He uses his entire body to signal what he wants from the orchestra, and beyond that, as I watched his face and gestures, I felt that I could see respect, anticipation, excitement, teamwork, and embodiment of the pieces we were hearing. He seemed to feel the music in his veins, to throb with it, and the joy he radiated was contagious.

The orchestra performed three pieces, and received a standing ovation for two of them. Both times, Mr. Sondergard shared the limelight, pointing out and asking for sections of the orchestra to rise and receive its acclaim. I have never seen that kind of selflessness, to that extent, on stage. It created a feeling of community within the auditorium.

As an added treat, Gregg and I went to dinner at one of our favorite restaurants in the city, Cafe Campagne. As we were eating, I told Gregg that times like this are a miracle to me: the fact that we have delicious food to eat, time to enjoy it and each other’s company, and the privilege of listening to beautiful music – it is pure gift.

I told him that it seems to me, after six years of intense emotional and physical suffering, that the absence of pain now is nearly the equivalent of pleasure. 

We took our time, savored each part of the meal, watched people come and go through the Pike Place Market neighborhood, and saw the afterglow of sunset behind the famous market sign as we strolled to Benaroya Hall. The hall has two of these magnificent sculptures by Dale Chihuly in the lobby – a feast for the eyes:

Glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly, staircase in lobby of Benaroya Hall

I find music to be an inspiration and a joy, an art form which can speak for us, to us and about us – in nearly every place and time throughout history. Music – a timeless gift of expression of the human and divine spirit – is part of abundant living.

Creativity

One way of living abundantly is expressing your creativity.

When I was in college, I majored in Fine Art. They didn’t offer commercial art as a field of study, which is too bad, because I think I might have actually been able to make a living that way – either in the graphic arts or interior design – but that was considered a “less than” field of study. It was art for art’s sake, or not at all. I chose art for art’s own sake, but I ended up working in finance, because I needed to earn a living. A good example of where snobbery leads – to a dead-end, artistically!

After I retired from the business world to be a full-time, stay-at-home wife, mother and community volunteer, I reveled in the opportunity to do crafts with my children and teach them to make things. We made candles in seashells, made soap, painted, drew pictures, used stamps, crayons, markers, pencils…the list goes on and on.

I began teaching Katie to sew. She and I made a pair of adorable, red flannel pajama bottoms from “Blondie” cartoon fabric for her; she ran out of interest before we made the top. I dreamed of sewing with her, maybe even getting proficient enough to make a prom dress with her (or for her). I never got that good at sewing.

This is the only photo I have of the pajamas that we sewed: Katie is holding our new kitten, Latte.

Before Katie got sick, I had a rich creative life, expressed mostly through making crafts. I used to knit, make beaded jewelry, make cards, take photographs, scrapbook, and very occasionally, paint. Painting was the hardest thing for me to do, as my expectations were the highest due to my education, and I got very tense about it. I wanted to paint, but I didn’t like the outcome, and the process was not relaxing or joyous.

After Katie died, I started to write my way through my grief. Writing helped to keep me from feeling stuck, frozen or suffocated by my powerful emotions, and has turned out to be the most natural form of creative expression for me. And something interesting has happened: after writing for nearly five years, I have started to want to make art and crafts again.

I helped at Camp Goodtimes West in the Arts and Crafts department this summer, and things have started to percolate creatively, since then. When working with quilts or gathering fabric for Katie’s Comforters Guild, I have started to get that creative urge to work with color and forms again.

For my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary party in August, I made the table centerpieces.

The creative process was therapeutic and FUN. It got me back into my seaglass and shell collection, using the hot glue gun, working intuitively with my hands.

Since then, I’ve finished a thrift-store table which has been sitting in the garage for a few years. It was an old, dark (mahogany?) coffee table that I envisioned as a beach glass-topped accent piece. I started by spray-painting it. I had never used spray paint before; it was fun!

Then I glued the beach glass to the top.

After that, I worked the grout into it, cleaned the excess off and sealed it. Finished product:

Close-up detail:

I am thrilled. The cheerful, bright colors of the table and the glass which I found on beach walks make me happy. It is going to be useful, as well!

Each step of the process felt good, especially since I didn’t push myself to do too much at one time. This kind of project has to be allowed to dry in between steps, and it is beneficial to take a break and review it in between stages.

It is wonderful to feel creativity blooming, and healthy to give expression to that urge, whether through art, crafts, music, drama, photography, dance, writing – whatever is your favorite medium.

What is your latest creative passion?

What if you aren’t feeling creative inspiration? Well, there are several ways to look at that situation. Here are two examples:

1) Feel nothing, but practice anyway. To put that in writing terms, Sit down with pen and paper (or at the computer) and write whatever comes – even if it’s “I don’t feel like writing,” “Blahblahblah,” “My cat is driving me crazy,”  etc. WHATEVER comes, put it down.

2) “To everything there is a season, and a time for every matter or purpose under heaven.”
Ecclesiastes 3:1 So maybe today is not your day to do art. You can clean the shower, work in the garden, write a letter, volunteer, do the grocery shopping – and you can still bring your artistic eye to the most ordinary activities, if you wish. How are the items displayed in the store? Are the leaves on the trees changing color? Can you use a different colored pen to write that letter?

Or not. You might give yourself permission to be dormant, if that’s where you are. There are four seasons, after all, and one of them is winter…when things are very much alive, but a great deal of the creative activity is out of sight.