2017/09/21

Bach

Having spent much of yesterday afternoon editing and uploading this wonderful performance of Brandenburg IV from our Cherubim Youth Music Festival I am once again awed by the musical mind that could have created such a perfect structure. The conception, scale yet intimate intricacy to me expresses the finest achievement of the religious mind's contemplation of the harmonious potential of being alive – similar to the refined abstraction of Islamic art – yet exceeding it because the nature of Bach's musical perfection is dynamic. There can never be a single exclusive interpretation – it is reborn anew in each performance, and that is the privilege we have: by (re)creating a gossamer web of sound we are not merely participants in a miracle but can actually sense the nature and quality of the mind that brought forth this masterpiece from the Great Mind in an intimate and personal way.

To say that Bach is a cosmic singularity is no understatement. I have long believed that his phenomenal intuitive calculating ability indicates that he was a savant. I cannot see any other explanation for his super-natural structural sense; for tho his music is remarkable for its intellectual coherence, its energy (innergy) and dynamic speak clearly of a subconscious or ultra-conscious origin.

And the re-creational power of Bach's music comes precisely from this, to give us mental and emotional access to at-one-ment – an ability to put us in touch with a dynamic metaphysical reality which we sense within us, but which we Westerners have intellectualised ourselves out of sharing as a unifying human experience.

As George Herbert put it:
A man that looks on glass
On it may stay his eye;
But if he pleaseth through it pass
And then the Heaven espy. 

2017/07/24

Our Lady of Pew

As to exactly who or what she was see the Westminster Abbey site.

Last Friday I attended a mass venerating Our Lady of Pew in the Abbey. I only knew about the event because my friend Greg Skidmore was directing the choir and mentioned it. I thought I'd go because he always conducts superb performances and it sounded intriguing. I hadn't the slightest idea what to expect, and if I had had it certainly wasn't what I encountered.

My wife and I arrived at 1830 to see a large queue forming to enter the Abbey after it closed. At length we were admitted by super-efficient vergers marshalled by near-invisible earpieces (!) and directed to the choir stalls. The evening sun streaming in throu the west window was a real trip in itself.

I have been present at a great number of indifferent religious ceremonies in my life; but this was quite different. Once the mass started we were conscious of being in the presence of  committed believers, and the sincerely conducted ritual lead by the Dean, accompanied by superb singing of renaissance settings by the Lacock Scholars, caused the whole nature and energy of the ceremony to break open a hyper-reality. Somehow the officiants moving quietly and efficiently around and behind the altar reredos made me think of the sense of wonder GM Hopkins captures  in his visionary poem The Starlight Night.
    This piece-bright paling* shuts the spouse
    Christ home, Christ and his mother and all his hallows.
*the starlit sky

The core perception that I took away from the mass was seeing throu a perfectly aligned wormhole in time into a profound truth: namely, the means by which transcendence is manifested in time, and how such manifestations can only be preserved if they remain as pure transmissions. In other words, the specialness of this occasion could only exist because it was an esoteric ritual of faith preserved from deep time (into which I had interloped) - and which could never have withstood the glare of an exoteric daylight.

This is perhaps why Celts believed that religious truth could only be imparted experientially, and we can only really intuit what their view of the cosmos was?

Afterwards the congregation of 300+ filed out to venerate the statue of Our Lady of Pew in a nearby side chapel. (George Fox would've had conniptions.) This iconic image in alabaster perfectly fits its role of connecting believers to an aspect of the eternal feminine, but is in fact modern and was carved in the 1970s by an Anglican nun (Concordia Scott OSB) who has focused her skills like a medieval sculptor to create an image both deeply personal and wholly transpersonal.

The unified commitment of clergy and congregation created a powerful Presence. It was like encountering the upwelling of an underground river that had apparently been dormant for centuries and was momentarily visible before just as mysteriously disappearing. As we entered the tube afterwards Clancy and I were glad we had each other there to be sure we hadn't dreamt it.

2017/06/28

Kabir - Inside Out & The Temple

If God is within the mosque, who is without?
If Ram is the object of your pilgrimage,
who journeys with you? Are the devout
reward only by place and image?
Hari is in the east you claim. To find
Allah go west. Yet if Karim and Ram
exist, don’t seek an answer on the wind,
it’s only in your hearts you'll find that calm.
All men and women living on the earth
are children of Allah & Ram. I, Kabir
am but one of many who have found rebirth:
within my heart the Guru speaks, my Pir.
Bk3:2. #69 in Tagore’s translation MMS 5/12/2010

The Temple
In the temple of this life
Honour your inward focus.
’Twas already late when daylight awoke us,
Don’t wait for the arrival of night.
Your lover has patiently waited for ages,
Alert from the very first light,
Standing outside your door to catch sight
Of you: don’t deny wages
To one who asks only a sign from your heart.
Give ear to the inaudible song
Whose lyrical tune you have known all along
Yet requires your assent for its start.
The melody’s hidden from every ear
That is closed to the feelings of love:
It comes from the highest of heavens above
To bring rapture to all who can hear.
-->
Bk3:96. #86 in Tagore’s translation MMS 13/1/2011

Kabir (1440-1518) was a mystic poet of Islamic origin, who reached enlightenment under Ramananda. the saint of the S Indian bhakti (heart worship) movement. He went to live in the holy city of Benares where he worked as a weaver, arousing hostility from the orthodox Hindu priesthood by teaching his followers to ignore the rituals of temple worship in favour of openness of heart. Kabir was a considerable influence on the emergent Sikh movement.
-->
I became interested in the meanings behind the translations made by Rabindranath Tagore and Kshiti Mohan Sen first published by Evelyn Underhill in 1915. These are, if I may so, distinctly prosaic; and as clarity of rhyme and metre are almost invariably the hallmark of mystical or epic poetry I wanted to rediscover what these poems might originally have felt like.

Kabir - The Divine Bird

The Divine Bird
In this tree a single bird
with dancing song almost unheard
swoops & thrills its deepest leaves
with the enchanting tune she weaves.
Who knows its purpose? For at night
she comes, and leaves by first light.
For whom she sings, if not for me,
who knows? It may be nobody.
Suddenly present, as if from nowhere,
she may as quickly disappear.
I was not told about this tree,
far less the bird – nor have I seen
either its colour or its form,
nor e’en what dance it may perform;
yet its etheric call I hear –
its ballet, tho unseen, is clear.
Beside an abandoned path, this place
is missed by those who’re ruled by haste.
Few there are who know the way,
and fewer still who choose to stay.
Brother sadhu, Kabir says,
don’t invite the race of fools,
who’ll drown the songs and cut the branches:
rather, merely leave them clues.
One or two within your days
may note your path and share your gaze –
them you’ll know without a word:
for in their silence sings that bird.
Bk2:95. #33 in Tagore’s translation MMS 10/11/2010


Kabir (1440-1518) was a mystic poet of Islamic origin, who reached enlightenment under Ramananda. the saint of the S Indian bhakti (heart worship) movement. He went to live in the holy city of Benares where he worked as a weaver, arousing hostility from the orthodox Hindu priesthood by teaching his followers to ignore the rituals of temple worship in favour of openness of heart. Kabir was a considerable influence on the emergent Sikh movement.
-->
I became interested in the meanings behind the translations made by Rabindranath Tagore and Kshiti Mohan Sen first published by Evelyn Underhill in 1915. These are, if I may so, distinctly prosaic; and as clarity of rhyme and metre are almost invariably the hallmark of mystical or epic poetry I wanted to rediscover what these poems might originally have felt like.



2017/05/24

Dream Prayer

I was having a night of turbulent dreams, in one of which I was pedalling a grand piano into the entrance to a Tesco carpark at a snails pace, despite my legs going round like mad. Eventually I gave up and pushed it. Tho it as hard, it was a lot easier. At this point I awoke and then this prayer came to me. 

I humbly kneel before your throne, great just and mighty God,
Attentive to the inner whisper of your presence.
Here the storm is banished - within this sanctuary of peace I feel your loving care and know that all is well. Obedience is a word I've lacked – faith another. 
You are the same God our forebears trusted and were preserved from harm. Be our protector too. 
Allow us please, the privilege of knowing that as we place our will at your disposal we become partners in the unfolding universe, and so fulfil our destiny as light-bearers – for whom faithful service is its own reward.

During the time this was dictated to me I began to feel the most wonderful peace, and so returned to sleep. 

2017/05/17

The Spirituality of the Land - John Carey

Oriel College, Oxford
I hope I do not misrepresent  John Carey's Deep memory and the power of place in early Ireland, since many of its reference points were new to me. He opened with a paragraph from Augustine (Confessions 10.8) where he says that 'memory is an entire universe' wherein we are led to credit things that we do not otherwise know and/or which are beyond our personal experience. Augustine also talks of the 'the fields and palaces of memory', which I took to include archetypal imagination and dream space.

Carey's lecture concerned the dark ages of Irish history and the nexus between oral (Druid) and literate (Christian) memory; and the agendas of the latter in subtly distorting the former, whether deliberately or by misunderstanding. He said that, contrary to widespread belief, early Celtic culture was not illiterate. They used the Greek alphabet; however they did not use it for religious purposes since, no doubt, they felt that its two-dimensionality could not capture the importance of feeling /experience /memory in transmitting spiritual perception/s.
   
St Patrick began to evangelise Ireland in the 5thC, but the continuing presence of Bards in the 7thC may be inferred from certain references. And a fragment known as The Conversation between St ColumCille (Columba) and the Youth from the 8-9thC suggests that Bardic beliefs in reincarnation were still prevalent, for the 'Youth' seems to be talking about memories of former experiences /lives to the Saint, and contains the sentence: "If you truly know: death is but the middle of a long life."
   
Carey dwelt at some length on a (9thC?) account of the story of an encounter between Tuàn and Finnio. The latter is represented as a Christian scholar keen to learn from the oral memory of an old, thrice-reborn, high Druid. Carey made the point that the tale would seem to be an attempt to colonise memories of the old religion by representing the expiring Bard as voluntarily handing his tradition forward to Christianity as its natural successor – using the same technique by which sacred pagan locations and festivals were christianised.
     Nevertheless, the narrative reveals much of the old attitudes, particularly in relation to the concepts of transformation and rebirth – and thus to ideas of a reincarnatory continuity of perennial wisdom. Tuàn tells how when he grew too old he returned to an ancestral cave. There he fasted for three days, fell asleep (ie, surrendered consciousness) and was reborn. His first metamorphosis was to become a wild stag; at the end of which life by the same process he became a hawk; followed again by becoming a salmon.  
     In that life he was caught by a magic boy (a prince) and eaten by his virgin sister - from whom he was reborn for his final incarnation as a return to human form. He was now desirous of handing on his Druidic knowledge so that he could be released from further rebirth. By so doing he was implicitly entrusting Finnio, and thus the Church, with the guardianship of his lineage.

Carey showed pictures of Coull's Cave in the Mourne Mountains as a typical example of a natural formation used by bards to anchor myth/s within a landscape and make them real or credible to the populace. Fingal's Cave near Iona would be another. He made the point that the use of location appears to create a narrative legitimacy for articulating archetypal myth, and thus establishes a self-reinforcing connexion between [deep] memory and place.
     I would add that in his BBCtv series on the Greek Myths Robin Lane-Fox makes exactly the same point, and illustrates it brilliantly by citing classical authors in the very locations to which they alluded.

Carey's final reference was to a single gnomic illustration which appears to illustrate how Druidic mnemonic practice may have worked, by teaching bards to tie the sequential narrative of their sagas to specific elements within a landscape.