The Rose Windows that emerged in Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries are a potent metaphor for our times. The Gothic cathedrals were dark and cold stone places, erected during some of the most violent and bloody and contentious times ever known to the planet. But in such darkness, the brilliance and splendor of these windows were all the more dazzling.
Similarly, though this year has been filled with darkness (both in my own life and in the life of the world and our country), I have also had my breath taken away by the kindness and compassion of so many people I have met. I have been deeply moved by the architects of beauty and peace that I have encountered, both those souls living now who are working valiantly to live lives of compassion and purpose and those saints of the past who wrested all the beauty they could out of their own unbelievable sorrows. I am reminded every day as I teach Dante, T.S. Eliot, Julian and Norwich and Beethoven that it is often in the midst pain and crisis that the truest glory and light of humanity shines forth.
My favorite piece of music right now is the String Quartet Op. 132 in A minor. Written by Beethoven after a life-threatening illness when he was utterly deaf, the middle movement bears the unwieldy title, "Heiliger Dankgesang eines Genesenen an die Gottheit, in der lydischen Tonart" (A holy song of thanksgiving of a convalescent to the Deity, in the Lydian Mode )- see below. In it, we hear both the tenderness that comes from complete surrender in the midst of illness, and the joyous stirrings of new life and the vision of the possibilities of transcendent joy
It is a piece which inspired T.S. Eliot to pen his poetic masterpieces, The Four Quartets, and also which has inspired my own humble offering for the season:
A Blessing for Thanksgiving, written after Beethoven
by Kayleen Asbo
May I have the eyes to see
The sacred ordinary miracles that weave their web of light
Around each darkening day:
The dappled dew-dropped leaves that decorate each dawn,
The shimmering sunrise on the glistening grass,
The symphony of birdsong that greets each new morn
And the owl's lament as the moon rises and sets.
May I be mindful of all the graces I did not deserve
and yet fell upon my thirsty soul:
For the beauty that ran to embrace my hurried, harried eyes and ears,
For the kindness of strangers that softened the shadows of sorrow,
For the loyalty of friends who saw my need and wordlessly offered
their tender touch,
For the strange and undying affections of blood
That opened my heart once again when I had thought a door had shut
For the courage that Beethoven kindles across the centuries
As he shows the way
To compose a life of hope in the midst of despair,
Joy in the midst of sorrow,
Love in the midst of loneliness.
No matter what may come,
May my soul, too, remember
To sing a song of Thanksgiving
Until my last, grateful breath.
Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
-Rumi, translated by John Moyne and Coleman Barks
A million points of light: that is what we need today. For much of the world, yesterday was the manifestation of their worst fears and they wake terrified, sickened and broken hearted. For other people, it was a day of triumph and jubilation. No matter which way you voted, however, you know that this election has left deep scars and the shadow of hatred and darkness upon us. All of- Democrat, Republican, Green Party, Libertarian- need to come together. I do not think Donald Trump is a figure who can do that. But I do think St. Francis is. He lived in a time that was even more divisive and violent than our own, a time when Dominicans were burning people at the stake for their different views. St. Francis taught a pathway of healing and reconciliation, and it was simple: praise. Praise everything in creation. Give honor and blessing to all: to sun, moon, stars, fire, wind, water, earth and even death. See everything as a brother and sister. And then sing, say and write your praise songs. So I invite you, everyone in America, everyone in the world, to start singing your praises as loudly as you can. I am going to start a Facebook page called the Canticle Project. It is a hate free zone. Here I invite you to share what is good, beautiful and true. See something lovely? Post a picture. Hear a gorgeous song? Upload a link. Meet someone who inspired you? Tell us their story. Experience an act of kindness? Witness a profound gesture of hospitality? Share it with the world. Not one word of division, not one word of contempt. Only a celebration of what is kind and compassionate and in the spirit of love. Because we need those million points of life. All of us.
Please join our Facebook page (Canticle) and add your stories, images and songs of beauty, love and goodness. Thank you.
The Canticle of St Francis
Most High, all powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, the honor,
and all blessing.
To You alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no man is worthy to mention Your name.
Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Praise be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon
and the stars, in heaven you formed them
clear and precious and beautiful.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather through which
You give sustenance to Your creatures.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night and he is beautiful
and playful and robust and strong.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains us and governs us and who produces
varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Praised be You, my Lord,
through those who give pardon for Your love,
and bear infirmity and tribulation.
Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by You, Most High, they shall be crowned.
Praised be You, my Lord,
through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whom no living man can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin.
Blessed are those whom death will
find in Your most holy willl,
for the second death shall do them no harm.
Praise and bless my Lord,
and give Him thanks
and serve Him with great humility.