A Musical Journey Across Continental Europe

by Maggie Pawsey

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Chatham Baroque took us on “A Musical Journey across Continental Europe” on Friday, September 29, as Pittsburgh’s Festival of Friendship got off to a lovely start.

The group’s violinist, Andrew Fouts, explained that the selections for the night were pulled from several important countries of the baroque era, to give a sense of diversity in the music. The concert included pieces ranging from “Sonata Arpeggiata” by Italian composer Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger, to “Toccata in G minor” by Portuguese Carlos Seixas.

The energy in the room was tangible as each member put themselves into their performance, their bodies moving enthusiastically with their instruments, just as pleasant to watch as to listen to. Each performer built off of the others’ liveliness, passing smiles back and forth during particularly fun pieces.

In between sets, the musicians introduced themselves and their instruments, explaining what the uniquely-shaped theorbo is (an instrument of the lute family), and giving anecdotes about the composers they played from (did you know Johann Heinrich Schmelzer wrote music for horses to dance to?). The ensemble ended the night to a standing ovation from a thoroughly pleased audience.

Chatham Baroque is a Pittsburgh-based group that has been playing and performing baroque music all over the country for 27 years. They have produced ten CDs, and another is in the making! You can listen to their music, and learn more about them, at chathambaroque.org.

The concert was a free event put on by Revolution of Tenderness as part of their annual Festival of Friendship. The Festival includes presentations on various topics of the Arts as well as current social issues. The weekend is open to all, and music lovers are welcome to come to Synod Hall on Saturday, September 30, at 7:30 pm for a traditional Appalachian music performance.

When I Try to Say “God,” Strange Sounds Come Out

Original post first appeared on the blog of Rebecca Bratten Weiss, Suspended in Her Jar.

Recently I attended a conference for Catholic writers at the University of Notre Dame. The name of the conference, Trying to Say ‘God’, would have attracted me even if I weren’t already acquainted with several of the organizers. And I was not disappointed. Between the beauty of the campus, the scintillating openness of the conversations, the rich presentations, and above all the opportunity for community, I felt a little like Sam visiting Rivendell, and was sad to leave. For a detailed report of the conference experience I refer you to these pieces by fellow Patheosis (and conference presenter) David Russell Mosley, and Sarah Margaret Babbs.  And in case you are thinking, “I wish I had gone to that!” – well, there will be another, in Toronto, in 2019. And if it’s hard to wait that long, some of the same speakers and themes will be found at Revolution of Tenderness’s upcoming Festival of Friendship, where we will be hosting a mini-conference on the theme of “The etymology of Convivium.”

For the moment, I want to talk about the theme of the Notre Dame conference, and what it means for a religious writer.

Trying to say “God” meaningfully, communicatively, is not easy. And it would be a mistake to think that this difficulty is simply set up external to the self, set up by some theoretical “secular culture” that won’t let us talk about God. If there is a dividing line between the place where one can say “God,” and the place where one can not, it is a porous and wavering line, and has little to do with secular vs. religious culture. It may be a wavering line drawn through the human psyche.

So certainly if enough of us could get together in a safe space with no one telling us what to do, we could put our heads back and bellow GOD loudly enough to pierce the heavens. We could write little stories for one another, in which the characters happily talk about their religious experiences. We could put formulaic praise to formulaic prosody. We could shake our heads over narratives that don’t work hard enough to “prove” God.

Adherents to a culture war ideology imagine some monolithic and hostile secular culture to be the true threat to articulators of the divine. I won’t argue that there isn’t hostility to religion. I see it in the reverences and irreverences implied in the write-ups of many arts journals. But I can understand this hostility, too, because of how the word “God” is often abused, precisely by those claiming to be the arbiters of where God can and can’t be. The recent nationalistic co-opting of Christian trappings for Trumpism is a perfect instance of this.

Maybe when we say “God” we actually, if not consciously, mean something else. Something pompous and priggish. Something that has to do with drawing lines in the sand.

The lines are drawn, and on one side are those shouting GOD aggressively, writing about God, defining God, sticking God into their stories, deus ex machina, like in ancient mythology but without all the sex. Usually without the sense of power and mystery, either. And almost invariably without the beauty.

On the other side are those doing art that people take seriously.

So, yes, this can pose an external challenge to the Christian writer, sometimes, but it’s a challenge that largely disappears if one succeeds at overcoming the much more difficult internal challenge, to say God without accidentally saying something else. That the challenge is ephemeral is evident in the fact that many fine writers who are taken seriously by the secular culture are, in fact, Catholic. Are they not making noise about it because they’re afraid, because they’re going incognito? Or is it, perhaps, that making a lot of noise is rarely the best way to say “God”?

Toni Morrison, for instance, is a Catholic Nobel laureate whose works are filled with themes of community and redemption. But the Catholic critics who enthuse over Flannery O’Connor and Graham Greene regard Morrison only as a controversial writer on race relations. “She’s not practicing,” they might say, as an excuse to ignore her. And yet, C.S. Lewis, who is revered in their circles, was never even Catholic at all.

Mary Karr – the keynote speaker at the conference – not only is a Catholic convert, but wrote extensively about her conversion, but is deemed by some not to be a “real” Catholic writer, because of her openness about certain sexual issues. And yet Graham Greene was a notorious womanizer who slept with over 300 prostitutes, was condemned by church spokespersons in his time, and closed The End of the Affair with the prayer:   "O God, You’ve done enough, You’ve robbed me of enough, I’m too tired and old to learn to love, leave me alone for ever.”

Perhaps the critics who are timid about these powerful Catholic writers working right now in our midst are waiting for someone else to “baptize” them? Perhaps they are waiting for someone else to say “I heard God there” – because they, themselves, have not learned to open the inner chambers of the ear? Because we do not have a robust Catholic arts culture that teaches us to open all the portals for reception, but instead have embraced a misnamed “Benedict Option” which is all about putting up walls and barriers, drawing those lines in the sand.

We are all a little deaf, from time to time, anyway. For instance: I once had the option to submit a collection of poems to a contest for religious poetry. Looking over what I had written recently, I saw poems about sex, apple orchards, ripe tomatoes, dying horses, sex, road kill, insects, compost piles, and sex – but not a whole lot of “Jesus, Mary, Joseph” type phrasing. Embarrassing confession:  I tweaked them. I stuck words like “pray” in. “Hosanna.” Hosanna is neat and iambic.

What an error that was. I had tried to make them overtly religious, failing to recognize that every one of those poems had been about God already.

Happily, I did not win.

The conference on Trying to Say ‘God’ dealt with the real external obstacles to Catholics trying to publish. I moderated one panel (on vulgarity in religious art) and participated in two others (on Catholic women writers, and on science writing). In all three of these, and in others at the conference, we spoke with an awareness of the obstacles we faced, both from other Catholics, and from non-Catholics. Our work is too religious for secular presses, sometimes, and too gritty or disturbing for Catholic presses. I can find a publisher for a poem about a vagina. I can find one for a poem about Jesus. But is there a publisher who wants a poem about Jesus entering the world through a vagina?

If we are going to get past this obstacle, however, we need first to deal with the more fundamental challenge to say God without accidentally saying other things – abusive things, untrue things. The Graham Greene way strikes me as especially powerful. The protagonist does not say “God exists and is good” – nor does he end with a happy embrace of divine favor. Go away from me, God, he says. This is honesty. Many of us might also respond like this if Jesus were to appear before us and say “follow me,” and mean it. We like to repeat, blithely, from Flannery O’Connor, that transformative grace is painful and grotesque – but until we are able to confront this in our stories, we won’t really be saying “God.” We’ll just be selling something.

image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cristo_Velato_Volto.jpg

Root and Twig: Convivium a New Literary Journal

Description English: The Minister’s Pine According to local legend, the spirit of the Reverend Robert Kirk who is said to have had contact with the faerie world is trapped within the tree. To this day people still tie pieces of material or “clooties” to the branches of the tree in the hope of having their wishes granted. Date 21 December 2008 Source From geograph.org.uk Author Kay Lennox (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Description
English: The Minister’s Pine According to local legend, the spirit of the Reverend Robert Kirk who is said to have had contact with the faerie world is trapped within the tree. To this day people still tie pieces of material or “clooties” to the branches of the tree in the hope of having their wishes granted.
Date 21 December 2008
Source From geograph.org.uk
Author Kay Lennox
(CC BY-SA 2.0)

Ordinary Time
29 June 2017
The Edge of Elfland
Manchester, New Hampshire

Dearest Readers,

I feel rather remiss, but I have something to tell you. Not long ago I had an essay appear in a new literary journal called Convivium. The first issue was titled Root and Twig and looked at issues of inheritance and the bearing of literary fruit. It is edited by fellow Patheos Catholic writer Rebecca Bratten Weiss, and is wonderful. I cannot recommend it enough and least because of my own small contribution to it.

The set up is a combination of poetry, essays, reviews, and short stories. This first issue features poetry from Joanna Penn Cooper, John Farrell, Bruno Cassarà, Meldrum Serbicki, the editor––Dr. Weiss––herself, Elizabeth Beasley Kramp, Michael Martin, and Michael Delp. It also includes a short story by Pellegrine Deuel, reviews by Meghan Berneking and Suzanne M. Lewis, an interview with other fellow Patheos Catholic writer, and Sick Pilgrim co-founder, Jessica Mesman Griffith, and an essay entitled “To Be a Tree” by yours truly.

It was a joy to be included in this interesting literary group, particularly as one who, at times, sees himself as a dry and dusty theologian. To be considered literary or artistic is something of a dream come true. If you will allow, I will give you some examples of the beauty within:

Skulking about outside churches
pointing out irises to my son––See?––
I imagine burrowing down and being in place,
moving soil around, saving annuals
over winter. ….

From “Cultivate Your Garden” by Joanna Penn Cooper.

Why is it hard to imagine,
The passage after death?
You can see the afterlife
In Nature’s grasp. ….

From “Judgment by John Farrell

When I awoke, I was naked and blind, supine on a high hill – see, one said,
and I opened my eyes to smile at the kindly sun – walk, one said,
and I rose and raced above the whispering reeds, to
the mountain’s peak, and there the four winds came with cloaks of green, ….

From “St. Catherine’s Wheel by R. Bratten Weiss

When ripe, he gathered their heads
and buried the new generation
in a field made rich with dead leaves
and a rare elixir stirred from a cow’s horn.
The crows never left them alone.

From “Seed” by Michael Martin

I have always loved trees. Growing up in central Illinois, the once Great Plains, trees were not in abundance. I grew up in a relatively small town, though I never saw it as one for there were towns far smaller not ten minutes away. Still, because it was not a large town, we often had to drive out of it to get certain things. Also, my parents were not huge on flying, so we often drove wherever we went on vacation. What this meant for the child me was long trips in the car with mostly great open spaces to look at. I would see fields of corn and later soy fly past. But there were two different kinds of tree encounters that shaped my imagination. The first was the lone, often gnarled tree. It nearly always stood in the front yard of a house or farm near the road. The gnarled variety would conjure up images of witches and ghosts. The living variety, especially when the farm was farther away, conjured up images of Bilbo’s part tree under which he delivered his farewell speech.

From “To Be a Tree” by David Russell Mosley

This is only a taste of what is contained in this slim, but full, volume. Consider getting an issue here.

Sincerely,
David