Friday, February 20, 2009

In Deliberate Pursuit of Splendor

The preacher last week talked about the need for building a repertoire of splendor.  She observed that it is easy for preachers to talk about depravity -- we see it all the time.  We know what it looks like simply by looking within us and around us.  We boast a very large, full-color portfolio of ways that people treat people badly, even despicably.  Say the words and the images spring to mind.  But, she went on to argue, we are also supposed to be talking about glory -- the very desire and experience of God.  Surely our calling is not simply about berating our baser instincts, but finally about whetting an appetite for something better.  The problem, she pointed out, is that most of us have so few experiences of splendor.  Say the words and what images appear?  For most of us, they are likely to be only the faintest impressions.  We know so little about it first-hand.  We can talk boldly in abstractions, but only tentatively by experience.

Her recommendation was to be deliberate about splendor -- building a repertoire of such experiences; planning for them; seeking them out.  She revealed that when she goes on sabbatical she intentionally builds in plans for splendor.  She offered a few examples.  Hers, of course, are not the point.  The point would be reflecting upon and designing and seeking out our own.

I have certainly been blessed by more than few glimpses.  Some of them have been geographic -- the compelling beauty of the South Pacific; the intricate, fragile balance of the Galapagos; the awe-filling grandeur of mountain vistas and the silencing wonder of the sun setting over the ocean.  Some of them have been interpersonal -- in humbling conversations with a saint or a sage.  Some of them have been participatory -- in the rhythmic descent into baptismal waters with a wonder-eyed youth or a cancer-laced dying adult; in the prayerful heavy/lightness of elders' hands on my head in ordination; holding hands and repeating vows in front of family and friends and an evergreen tree.  Some of them have been purely personal -- late night vespers in a lakeside church of rocks when, for all the silence, the very stars of my soul exploded; that expansive, momentary hush on Christmas Eve just after the singing has ended but before the candles have been blown dark.

Splendor (n): 
  1. Great light or luster; brilliance.
  2. A Quality that outshines the usual
    1. Magnificent appearance or display; grandeur.
    2. Something grand or magnificent.
  3. Great fame; glory.
I am in favor of it.  And I am in favor of building a vast repertoire of it -- so that we can talk about it, taste and smell and hear and feel it, if only in its imperfect part.  But I don't think the world can afford for any of us to wait for sabbaticals to begin executing the plan.  Surely there is splendor to be found somewhere in the hours and experiences of today.

I will watch for it... that I can remember it.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Grooving on the Flash of Recognition

I like to pretend that I have simply grown more sophisticated. It's more realistic to conclude that I am merely growing out of touch. In my younger years -- even well-beyond the junior high and high school brackets -- the Grammy Awards show was one of the benchmarks of the broadcast season. The live performances, the feeling of vested interest as my favorites were pitted against...the others. I knew them all, and had artistic opinions. I, after all, was a musician myself and kept up with these things.

But in recent years I have recognized fewer and fewer of the nominees and cared about even fewer. The performances became, uh, ummm...silly, and the suspense -- not really knowing the artists, and not really liking their music -- was, shall I say, suspended.

All of which is to say that when I looked over this year's list of nominees I was surprised by the light of recognition. If I can't quite say it is a "bright" light, it is at least to know it as something other than darkness. And I don't merely recognize many of the names; several of them are actually on my iPod. Adele, nominated for "Record of the Year," "Song of the Year," "Best New Artist," "Best Female Pop Vocal Performance" and perhaps others; Duffy, nominated in many of the same categories; Jasan Mraz, John Mayer, Alicia Keys, Death Cab for Cutie -- they are all there in my playlist. And at least I am somewhat familiar with Leona Lewis and Sara Bareilles and Coldplay. And, as if to provide ongoing proof that there is a God, nominated right alongside these newer faces are the likes of The Eagles, James Taylor, Paul McCartney and Robert Plant. Heart be still.

Maybe I'm groovier than I thought -- which, I suppose, is proof positive that I'm not.

That said, maybe I'll watch the broadcast anyway. For old times sake.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Valentines as the Super Bowl of Love

So, what now? Christmas and New Year celebrations are past, as is the celebration of Lori's 50th birthday. The Presidential inauguration is now history, likewise the 50th anniversary commemoration of "the day the music died" which looks back at the last concert by Buddy Holly, J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson and Richie Valens before dying in a plane crash nearby. Time has expired in the 43rd Superbowl, and even Bruce Springsteen's new album has been released, downloaded and played. What's left? What can a guy virtually drunk on big events look forward to now?

Well, there's spring, but given the forecast of 1-degree tonight and -1 tomorrow, changing seasons could be tough to imagine. Today is Groundhog Day and that could extend the super weekend excitement for a moment, but a furry rodent's climatic assessments have never really plugged me in. A new Susan Werner album should hit iTunes tomorrow, and new music from her is always welcome. But big events? Iconic celebrations? Easter feels a very long way off, as does Memorial Day. Sure, President's Day is just around the corner, but only bank employees and letter carriers are likely to get real charged by that anticipation.

And, of course, there is Valentine's Day. Hmmm. Valentine's Day. Now, that has some possibilities. Traditionally focused on romance, that, alone, sounds like a welcomed change of topic for this season of layoffs, bankruptcies, liquidations and foreclosures. Even the word, "Bailout", omnipresent and defining the cultural moment and mood, sounds demoralizing rather than encouraging. Why not, then, rally around a little respite of romantic planning and thinking and practice. Goodness knows we could benefit from a little more attention to the practices of wooing as opposed to our preoccupation with winning and crushing. A dozen roses and some fancy chocolates just might be good medicine for more than our intimate affections and relations.

What might happen if we devoted more attention to Valentines -- beyond the schmaltzy cards and heart-shaped candies? What if we expanded our attentions beyond just romance, in particular, to include love in general, and the skills and practices that nourish it? The newspaper could feature expert advice on healthy communication. Churches could preach about forgiveness. Schools could sharpen their attention to appreciating differences. The President could give a major policy speech on diplomatic relations. This could, in other words, become a national focus on developing and sustaining relationships of positive regard -- a kind of "Super Bowl of Loving".

Who am I kidding? A quick look at the crowded court dockets, global military conflicts, the Pentegon budget, and party-line votes in Congress makes it clear that no one really wants to talk about getting along -- let alone the discipline of learning how.

It was, though, fun to dream about even if only for a moment.