I have been playing music for a long time. I find music and the spiritual quest are intimately related. In my next couple of blogs I would like to explore this relationship and invite you to send in your thoughts and feelings about this topic.
Recently, I was talking with an old college buddy about music. We played as a duo together. He played viola and piano and I played guitar and sang. We did a lot of coffeehouses, some private parties and weddings and even some local eating places. We even wrote a bunch of songs that we performed and eventually recorded one or two of them.
We got to talking last night about where the music business has been and where it is now. We both opened up some interesting ideas. He started talking about how music was recorded in the sixties and seventies. We talked about the Wrecking Crew and the Nashville studio scene and Motown etc. We even went as far back as the Big Band era. I know everyone has an opinion about this but I would like to share some of the thoughts I have had that came out of this conversation.
Music is an art and a business but we should never confuse the two. The art of music is and should always be accessible to everyone. If it were up to me, everyone would learn to play a musical instrument (singing does not count even though we should all learn that as well). Music is not just for those who exhibit a talent for it. I have never met someone who didn’t enjoy music in some way and it is a very large part of most people’s lives. It is tied to our very identity. In some ways, it almost seems ridiculous that we have to pay for the pleasure of listening to music. Remember that I am speaking of the art of music here. We all seem to develop tastes for different types of music and make judgments on what we like and dislike. This seems fairly normal but I wonder if we would make the same judgments if we weren’t paying for music. Would it bother people that some people do not seem to have the same kind of talent that others possess? Would some dislike Miley Cyrus for just enjoying singing if she weren’t making all that money? Would we get upset over people with no real talent for music who were simply expressing their inner reality? Would these people without talent for music have any effect on society at all? Does it bother us to hear a child singing out of tune or is it just cute?
Art is who we are. It is a reflection of our deepest reality expressed in many forms. It is always complicated to commercialize it. The business of music is just that – a business. A business in the American capitalist system is motivated by profit. Good or bad - that’s just the way it is (as Bruce Hornsby once sang). So we are put into a quandary. What is good music? Does all music that sells have merit? Do we even know enough about the art form to know what makes music good or is it whatever hits us is good music? I know that certain music just hits me. I love Fleetwood Mac but I am certain that Stevie Nicks would have had some problems making it through the music program that I went through in college. I wouldn’t say that Stevie Nicks had a great voice but there was something about the way she sings that speaks to me. Subjective opinion to be sure, but that’s how I see it. You don’t have to be great to make it, but you have to have something.
This leads me back to my conversation with my friend. While there is a great deal of music that still has value today, I believe we are hearing large amounts of music that has no value whatsoever. That is not a criticism of the people but of the system that has brought us here. The music business has undergone major changes, but that is another conversation. I invite you to comment and share your ideas. What do you think?
Pain and suffering.
Two things that we want to avoid and for good reason. They do not make us feel good. However these things can be great teachers and if we are open to it we can let God bring us healing and
take us to new levels of awareness in our lives.
Take the man born blind in a recent gospel from the Catholic lectionary. This story is full of wisdom for our lives. One of the first things that occurs when Jesus comes upon this man is that the apostles ask him whose sin caused him to be born blind-his or his parents’. Jesus’ answer is clear and to the point. It is nobody’s sin that caused his blindness-it is for the glory of God. How many of us are holding on to things that we did years ago thinking that God is punishing us for what we did? God has forgiven us. Have we forgiven ourselves?
God enters the world in the person of Jesus to heal us. The root word of salvation is the same as that for healing - salve. We must learn to be more open to the healing presence of God in our lives. We must let God forgive us. Let God love us. Believe in the healing presence of the Christ.
The other thing we see happening in the story of the man born blind is the Pharisees disbelief in this miracle and getting angry at Jesus for healing on a Sabbath. They don’t seem to want to believe that Jesus did this and the fact that he broke one of the rules of his faith makes him a sinner. They appear to be jealous and fearful of Jesus. Does it sound familiar to anybody? Religious leaders being more concerned about rules than people. Unfortunately it still happens.
Jesus does not give in to their intimidation. The Pharisees even go to the parents of the man born blind and question them. They respond by saying he is old enough to answer for himself. Jesus finally tells these religious leaders what is real. God loves people more than rules. God is forgiving and does not make people prove their worthiness for God’s love or forgiveness.
This story is a challenge to anyone who calls themselves Christian.
Can we be healers not only of physical illness but of emotional and relational illness?
Can we heal the wounds in the earth?
Can we heal the wounds in our government and our churches?
Can we heal the wounds that cause us to be isolated and depressed?
Can we bring a smile, love, compassion, empathy, forgiveness and an openness to listen to others to our wounded relationships?
Can we answer the call to be like Christ and heal what is broken?
In the gospel reading for Catholics on the last Sunday of January 2014, Jesus asks us to repent and announces that the kingdom of God is at hand. If we take time to really look around at the world we can see God all around us. Look at a beautiful sunset. Hear the cry of a baby. See the gaze of a loved one.
When you get used to looking for God all around, it becomes hard not to see and feel God’s presence. I believe that is what Jesus is trying to tell us in the gospel. Pope Francis echoes Jesus words when he spoke of not just trying to find God in the future or the past, but to encounter the living God right now. In the gospel of Thomas, Jesus is reported saying, “Split wood, I am there; lift up a rock, you will find me there”. The kingdom of God is at hand.
How do we find this kingdom? Jesus tells us to repent. This does not just mean to get on our knees and confess our sins. This is something deeper. Jesus is asking us to change our lives - our ways of thinking - our ways of viewing the world. A changed mind is essential. Jesus’ conception of kingdom is quite different than what we typically conceive. Look at the cross and see that Jesus is talking about something very different. In order to find this kingdom we must open ourselves up and make some
choices in our lives that will bring us closer to the kingdom. It is somewhat like grocery shopping. You enter a store and see all of the choices. You can choose to fill your cart with things like fruit and vegetables, whole grains and lean meat or you can buy things like fatty meats, frozen pizza, sugar filled beverages and candy. When we look at our lives, we can make choices about how we spend our time. It may feel good to attain things in life like money, knowledge and prestige, but these things may not always serve us well. We build ourselves up and our lives become so much about us there is no room for God.
So the spiritual life seems to be more about letting things go than it is about building things up. When we let go of ourselves we leave more room for God.
This is not an easy task.
Thankfully, God is patient.
People are in different places on the journey and wherever you are God is there – waiting and loving us into real transformation. Maybe Jesus is asking us today - what do we need to leave behind so we can better know God? How can we better open ourselves to the presence of God all around us?
Can we trust God enough to let ourselves go and make room for God in our lives?
Well, it's over. The shopping, the visiting, the eating and the season that we prepared for is now about to be history. How was it? Has the preparation been fruitful? How did you do at getting to the true meaning of Christmas? Are you ready to let go of 2013 and move into 2014? And what about those resolutions?
I invite you to take a minute to reflect on the passing of the Christmas holiday and the greeting of the New Year.
Meister Eckhart, the great 14th century mystic once said, "What good is it if the Virgin Mary gave birth to Christ 1400 years ago if I do not give birth to him today?" Have we given birth to Christ this Christmas season? Are we truly living the message of Christmas each day of our lives? But what is that message of Christmas? Is it a new car with a big red ribbon in our driveway? Is it a new phone for one of our children? Probably not. Would it be fair to say that we have strayed from the real meaning of the season? Probably. The meaning of Christmas is love. God cares for us so much that God comes as a human being in the person of Jesus. You know Jesus, the one who said love your neighbor as yourself, forgive seventy times seven times, blessed are the peace makers and care for the poor.
Yes, Christ's life is the message of Christmas and if we want to continue to celebrate that then we must learn how to follow him. How are we doing at loving the outcast? Caring for the poor? Forgiving those who have hurt us? Forgiving ourselves? If a war on Christmas has been waged it has been waged on the gospel message of Jesus. Selling Christmas right after Halloween? When I was a young boy, the Christmas merchandise and displays didn't come out until after Thanksgiving. Where are we going with this and is it making our world any better?
Thank God for new years. It gives us a chance to start over and to renew ourselves and renew our commitment to developing a deepening relationship with our God. Maybe some resolutions like this may help:
These are a few ways we may change our lives and give birth to Christ in our world today. This can be done no matter what religion we profess because the Cosmic Christ transcends belief structures and transforms the human heart. Remember that in the gospels Jesus asks us to follow Him. That's the hard part. But it can be done and I believe that when it is done our lives once again become meaningful and joyous. Happy New Year and may you be open in every moment to God's presence in your life!!!
"Work hard and you’ll get ahead."
"Save some money for a rainy day."
"You can be whatever you want."
These common phrases provide some practical advice for a person - especially a person beginning their adult life. They are also phrases that may encourage us to hold onto things preventing us from living in a way that is more centered and connected to reality.
Here is a fact to ponder: there are many things we must let go of in life. At some point, we will be called on to let go of everything. In our final death everything must go.
Is there a way to learn how to let go of the things we hold on so tightly? Can we learn how to die while we are still alive? Many times we are forced to let go of things – we may lose a loved one or a job or we may go through a painful divorce. Being forced to let go of things does not necessarily mean that we learn the lesson that presents itself in those moments. We seem to spend most of our formative years learning how to build our lives and how to hang on to what we have built. As we grow older the things that we have built usually fall apart in some way. We are forced to let go of much of what defined us in our formative years. It is in this process of letting go that we most often learn life’s most valuable lessons. Learning to let go is not something that can be taught in a classroom. The pain of the experience must be taken in and internalized then transformed. It is never an easy process to let go of something you are attached to or something you love.
In music, one must spend hours practicing technique and learning theory only to let go of all that knowledge and become a conduit to communicate the raw emotion of the music. It is really all about communicating feeling to the listener which requires technique and theory, but if one is too focused on technique and theory, the feeling will never come out.
So one must let go of something they worked so hard on to give birth to something else. Letting go is a birthing process that is often painful, but worth the pain. This is how we grow.
In the spiritual life we must let go of many things that we have learned in order to better understand our relationship with God. Our relationship must evolve or it will just become a way to satisfy our ego. I believe that this is the lesson we learn from Jesus when he speaks of putting old wine into new wineskins. It is the paschal mystery – the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is something that happens often in our lives if we are open to it. It is also something that prepares us for the final death. If we can truly learn to let go now, I believe we will have a better sense of how to let go, and to look forward to, the end.
As the New Year approaches, I invite you to pay attention to the moments in your life that force you to let go of something to which you are attached. Be patient with the suffering that may ensue and trust that God will transform you into a person that has grown in wisdom and love.
Greetings and peace.
My name is John Calzavara and I am a professional musician and a deacon in the Roman Catholic Church. My life experiences have been enriched by a number of different spiritual writers including Thomas Merton, Julian of Norwich, Thomas Aquinas, Hildegard of Bingen, Henri Nouwen and Richard Rohr. My musical journey has been influenced by such artists as Charlie Parker, Vince Gill, Dave Koz, Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas and Paul Franklin. This blog will share my perspective on the arts and spirituality and how spirituality applies to everyday life. I invite you to join the conversation and express your own thoughts and opinions about the topics presented here. Thanks for taking the time to read and participate. Come back often.
We begin with the topic of creativity.
Creativity is the essence of life and when we do not create it is almost as if we lose the spirit of who we are as human beings. What is it that drives human existence? The pursuit of material wealth, the satisfaction of the ego, or self actualization? While all of these things participate in driving the human spirit in some fashion, I believe there is something bigger driving our species. Have you ever gotten so into something you were making or doing that you lost all track of time? Have you done something or created something and looked back on it with a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment? I believe these feelings demonstrate to us that we have been involved in
the creative process - something that is bigger than our own existence.
Being creative is very rewarding and fulfilling but can often be very difficult. In a society that is results driven, the creative process can be looked upon as too difficult or a waste of time because being creative usually requires patience and a deep process. We have all heard the phrase, “well that’s the way we’ve always done it”? This seems to be a fairly common phrase and one that demonstrates a human's aversion to creativity. Some people seem to be saying, “let’s just do it the way we always have, even if it doesn’t work, because that’s the easy way”.
Creativity requires work and discipline. Not discipline in the sense that we are incredibly hard on ourselves, but discipline in the sense that we keep working at something until it becomes second nature. Saint Thomas Aquinas said, “If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever”. I believe that Aquinas is challenging us to be creative. To do things in our own unique way, not to keep our ships in port forever.
Life in the spirit
John is a professional musician and a deacon in the Roman Catholic Church. His blog will center around the arts in spirituality and how spirituality applies to everyday life.
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