Monday, January 3, 2011

For when you hear a truly beautiful piece of music,

There is this poem:

Music (Anne Porter)

When I was a child
I once sat sobbing on the floor
Beside my mother's piano
As she played and sang
For there was in her singing
A shy yet solemn glory
My smallness could not hold

And when I was asked
Why I was crying
I had no words for it
I only shook my head
And went on crying

Why is it that music
At its most beautiful
Opens a wound in us
An ache a desolation
Deep as a homesickness
For some far-off
And half-forgotten country

I've never understood
Why this is so

But there's an ancient legend
From the other side of the world
That gives away the secret
Of this mysterious sorrow

For centuries on centuries
We have been wandering
But we were made for Paradise
As deer for the forest

And when music comes to us
With its heavenly beauty
It brings us desolation
For when we hear it
We half remember
That lost native country

We dimly remember the fields
Their fragrant windswept clover
The birdsongs in the orchards
The wild white violets in the moss
By the transparent streams

And shining at the heart of it
Is the longed-for beauty
Of the One who waits for us
Who will always wait for us
In those radiant meadows

Yet also came to live with us
And wanders where we wander. 

I love this kind of music. The kind that flies straight as an arrow into the pit of your stomach, settling there like a butterfly perched on a branch, the kind that you keep hearing in the most silent moments, when all you see is winter, and night, and quiet. When the world is hushed, this music is still singing.

A year ago, over the winter break, my friend and I made a winter vegetable pie and sat in front of the fire, talking about friendship and love, letting our imaginations romp through sharing a ramshackle house in England and Italy, to teaching together at a school, to our lives far into the future. And we had one song on repeat for most of the night, as we watched the fire leap and dance in its grate, as we watched the cold winter night settle into itself, as the quiet settled around us like a blanket.

The song, a piece called "Canzone Popolare" by Ludovico Einaudi, is the music Anne Porter is talking about. The ache of it sinks into your bones and you almost can't bear how beautiful it is. But you are also renewed, joyful at the promise of its beauty, the promise that an Italian piano composer can sit at his piano and create something.

The poem might seem melancholy to some - focused on the ache, the homesickness, the distance between us and what was meant to be in Paradise. But I hear instead the promise, the promise that the creativity we see around us is but a glimmer of what is yet to come. When all is restored, when all is redeemed, reclaimed, made new... what kind of music will we hear then? If this music haunts us because it echoes yearning, because we, like Gatsby, are running faster, and stretching our arms out farther... then how more wonderful is the promise that it holds. The ache promises more beauty, more creativity, more life. When you hear a truly beautiful piece of music, and you feel a small knot rise in your throat, and tears gather at the corner of your eyelids at the pure homesickness for the Kingdom - take heart. It is coming.

The thief cometh not but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. (John 10.10). 

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