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.