Sunday, August 17, 2014

Heart Prayer

Only by Following the Way and re-reading my favorite poems can I find my way through the current morasses. Here's a poem by Elizabeth Cunningham from her book Small Bird.

Heart Prayer

You can only pray what's in your heart

so if your heart is being ripped from your chest
pray the tearing

if your heart is full of bitterness
pray it to the last dreg

If you heart is a river gone wild
pray the torrent

or a lava flow scorching the mountain
pray the fire

pray the scream in your heart
the fanning bellows

pray the rage, the murder
and the mourning

pray your heart into the great quiet hands that can hold it
like the small bird it is.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Memory, NPR, and the Rhythm of Communal Prayer

Greetings, earthlings,

It's been a bit over a year since I've dropped by here. I'm back because I have to share part of an email I found from a gig in June of 2012. The note came to me in April, 22 months after the gig, but the memory of the moment is strong. There have been countless stories written, videotaped, and told about the ways in which music aids memory, many brought to us by a constant stream of new discoveries in neuroscience. This week on NPR, two stories about how rhythm works helped me to re-member. The first one - Sound Off: Where the Military's Rhythm Came From, talks about how Willy Duckworth began calling cadences in 1944 as a way of "chanting to build up the spirits of his weary comrades." Just the sound of someone calling a cadence can move us. It was still very much Jim Crow's army in 1944, and the story talks of using cadences that are trying to control your movements to elegantly evade control and maintain your energy. Nice. The second story, Your Brain's got Rhythm and Syncs When You Think is about using rhythm to enable people with Parkinson's disease to recalibrate and show off their smooth dance moves when movement is coupled with music.

Here's a story of the power of memory through the more liminal rhythm of communal prayer:

"I remember vividly from the conference that it was beastly-hot that summer of 2012. The sun was very hot on your skin, but in the shade it wasn’t too bad since we were by the water. We said Noonday prayer, held in the open-air building directly by the water; you led us in the prayers of the people, chanted. It was free form and completely improvisatory. I remember leaning against one of the walls, with the hot air blowing through the structure from the river, listening to the kaleidoscopic sounds of everyone’s prayers, hearing names of loved ones being lifted up, seeing the faces of those around me. Those faces shone with what I was experiencing as we corporately received the sheer sensory overload that I was experiencing.

It was one of the most powerful prayer experiences I’ve yet felt in my 34 years, because this was unrehearsed and totally improvisatory music yet all the same gorgeous music was something that didn't get taught nor rarely experienced, if ever, in my classical musical training. Yet it was so beautiful and perfect in some way; we even spontaneously cadenced without any provocation! Heck, for most of us our eyes were closed!

I’ve yearned for that experience to happen again but haven’t been able to get my folks here to get out of their own way to allow themselves to be moved as we were that day. It is my dream that our parishioners could experience what I’ve just described. I hope that such an experience will change them, open them up and perhaps experience the release that I felt that day.

Thank you for indulging me in my telling you of that experience. As you can tell, it’s as clear to me as if I were right there again."

I've heard from others that they remember this time as if it were yesterday. As do I. I can still see some of the faces. What I cannot remember is the sound of it, although I know it was a huge gift given to us, as we gave to one another. The people gathered, and those we prayed for and remembered during this prayer contributed to an unforgettable experience of connection that cannot be duplicated. There are, however, a billion ways to create similarly beautiful moments together.

May you find a reason to sing today.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Arts Festival: Eco-Sculpture, Mural Painting, Music, Poetry, Pottery and Wonder

Galen was non-verbal and unamused when he came into my group. He separated himself and tried to hide in a pew. All I saw was a lot of blond hair and fingertips. I went over, sat down next to him, asked his name, and told him I had a nephew with the same name. He began to lighten up, but was still dubious. I left him, went back to the circle and began with the shruti box. I almost never start a kids workshop with the shruti box, FYI. At the first sound of it, he sat bolt upright and was completely mesmerized. So taken with it was he that he asked fifty questions and spent most of the Explorer time (20 minutes) with it. I had to remind him to share, and he did, but somehow it always ended up back in his hands. At the end, he came up to me, shoved paper and pen into my hand, and said "I need you to write down the name of that and where I can get one!" little brother. He thanked me and shook my hand in the rhythm of the final rhythm exercise we'd done (be still my beating heart). On the lunch line he found me again and said "Hey, Ana! Look at this!" This pic is our brains on music.

But wait! There's more. As I was heading to the parking lot at the end of the day, wanting nothing but a cup of coffee to help me drive home without falling asleep, Galen came over and put his hand out to shake. When I took it he jumped up and down 15 times (I started counting out loud at nine) like a jumping bean. When he stopped, he said "That's a nice way to greet someone at the gym." Indeed.

Who has a better job than me? Not even God, people. Not. Even. God.

Friday, April 26, 2013 Makes Me Smile!

I know I've been neglecting you, my little blog, but I've been a busy girl. Click on the title to check out my new Tumblr page! With a little help from my friends (especially Carolina Armstrong - thank you again!), I've been able to collect almost every video, tune, interview, photo, alongside my appearance calendar, bio, contact information, cool quotes, and the occasional sterling encomia. There are tiny, adorable buttons so you can link directly to Soundcloud, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and more, including email, the dinosaur-in-waiting. They call it "curating" but I don't feel much like a museum yet, in case you were wondering.

The format is an endless scrolling grid in four columns, and everything can be tagged for clickable convenience, so if you'd like to see all the quotes you can click on the "quote" tag and all the quotes will load in a nanosecond.

Look me up at - there's so much to see and share, you won't be sorry. Hell, you'll probably want a Tumblr of your own, and will no doubt make an even better one.

Do me a favor and pick one thing to "like" or share, or tweet. Maybe you can think of one person who might really like my work, or even one song? Now you can easily send it to them!

Thanks for sharing.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Epiphany Now!

Epiphany partially defined, with recipes...

1) A Christian festival where Three Kings with presents follow a star looking for a baby boy, get scared and go home by another way. Don't worry, they leave us the tradition of gifts before they go, but every year we're left trying to apply whatever meaning we can glean from this story to our actual messy, busy lives, while fixing or re-assembling the aforementioned gifts and shopping for replacement batteries.
Occasionally there are pageants to reenact the story and people get really creative, but it doesn't happen nearly enough. These puppets get my vote for prettiest Kings ever. They're over ten-feet tall and require seven people (one adult) to wrangle each one. Thanks to Emily and Suzanne for sharing.

2) An appearance or manifestation, especially of a deity. At which manifestation one of the kings was overheard saying "Melchior! May I borrow your Epiphany? Either I've got a bad feeling about the road home or the baby needs to be changed. Either way, I'm allergic to that smell." ...proving once again the humanity of baby Jeebus.

3) A term in literary criticism for a sudden realization--a flash of recognition in which someone or something is seen in a new light. Adjective: epiphanic. Like finding the batteries (How'd they get there?), or maybe like a panic attack. Hard to tell what it means, really, it's literary criticism.

4)A sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience. This is often characterized by a "WTF?!" or a "Whoa! did you see that?!" or a "Can you believe this shit?!" type of reaction. Occasionally these reactions develop into responses, but we're a distractable lot, so it doesn't happen nearly enough.

9) Epiphany is also the day you wake up wondering "Who the hell knocked on the door singing carols in German last night?" and "Why are there chalk marks on the front door?" I don't know about German carolers, but the chalk thing is old. The Kings have been named Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar since before we were born, possibly so some old church guy could have an excuse to bless your grandma's house correctly in Latin: Christus mansionem benedicat, which translates as "may Christ bless the house." Nowadays, we can bless each another at anytime in any language. We should probably do it more. Every day sounds good to me. Too much? Okay, how about when we think of one another?

7) A traditional time to bake and eat cake or liberate Puerto Rican children. On the day of the Eve of the Epiphany, children (if they haven't been thrown in jail or perished of ennui by now, due to the lack of Xmas presents), are asked to cut grass to feed the camels. The grass is put in a box under the bed because this is how their grandparents did it. While the children sleep, the box is filled with gifts, the grass is thrown away (not a large camel population in Puerto Rico), and on Epiphany they open the gifts (Los Reyes only come if the child has been good all year, and if the children are awake they bypass the house).

5) A time to intentionally review the same sh**, different day theory of stuckness, thus provoking epiphanies wherever you look, until Lent, by which time you realize you've forgotten and need to start over. The trouble with Lent is that it lacks the party atmosphere and some people act like you're supposed to feel bad about yourself. Epiphanies don't happen nearly often enough, so better to start now. There's cake.

May your house be blessed.