An Invitation

8 01 2009

Let me take you on a tour of my house:

I live in a house of books and music. To be frank, the music outnumbers the books. Most of my books you can find in the living room – within easy reach of the couch and the fireplace – and the very occasional cup of eggnog.

I like books – the wealth of information to be gleaned from an object that takes-up very little space in the universe. All you need is a quiet spot to concentrate and – boom – your mind expands. Sometimes it expands a lot, other times the expansion is hardly noticeable. Of course, the direction in which your mind expands is largely dependent on the kind of books you read. Consider yourself warned.

Peruse my bookshelves, if you will, and you will find that my selections are based mainly on two or three things: entertainment value, experiential value, and spiritual value.

The past three or four years saw an explosion of books revolving around the first value – with a number of books I actually regret buying. Needless to say, once read, these books are rarely read again.

I acquired two or three books in the experiential vein during this same period. Most make for hard reading; evoking the blackest, bleakest, winter nights where the wind howls madly outside like a pack of deranged wolves. One of them, Under a Tuscan Sun, actually does the opposite, bringing to mind days of endless, eternal mornings where good friends gather around my table to partake of nourishing meals amid endless laughter and perhaps, love so thick you can touch it.

For books in the third vein, I have dedicated an entire shelf – here are the books which have taught me or illustrated to me what matters most. You might think they are all of a religious bent, but that is not so. Some are actually books for children – and these I read and reread fairly often. Through the Looking Glass (what a charming word for “mirror”, don’t you think?) has been worn out – and yet reading it again brings a strange sensation to me – like a dream.

Of those which are religious in nature, I treasure most the writings of my mentor, C.S. Lewis. He has a way of taking what would seem to be a complex spiritual truth and rephrasing it so that not only do I understand it clearly, I am shot clean through the heart. He makes for slow reading, however – mainly because every few pages of, say, The Great Divorce, brings one to long prayers of contrition.

Oh, but we tarry – this is not meant to be a tour of my bookshelf, but of the house. Come, walk this way, down the main hall…

I have walked this hall every day of my life, and I have yet to come to the end of it (how this house was built, I do not know – perhaps it is being built even as we speak). As you can see, many hallways branch-off of it – hallways full of doors.

What do I keep in the rooms? Why, music, of course. They take up too much space to be relegated to the living room.

Unlike my books, the music I keep refuses to be organized properly. Sometimes, I must believe that the music takes-up residence in whatever room it desires of its own accord – I merely discover them already there.

Obviously, some rooms I don’t venture into very often, if at all. I don’t advise you going there, either. You might not be as sensitive to music as I am (by that, I mean that music might not affect you the way it does me), but all music has power…and those rooms house music of the truly dark sort. I wish I could lock those doors from the outside, but the house operates by rules I did not ordain, and those doors refuse to be locked. However, the music never opens the doors themselves – I must open those doors for them. Let the dark music out (or in a more realistic sense, allow myself to be pulled through the door), and I have only myself to blame. Once again, consider yourself warned.

Some hallways I’ve walked only once. Take this one, for example – note the heavy grille-work barring the way. I didn’t install that – I just awoke one morning to find it there. Fortunately, Whoever did left the key – but left it in such a bothersome place to reach, I haven’t gotten around to it since.

I don’t remember much of the music I heard down that hall – but there is one: The Turning of the Seasons, by John Whelan. Most of you, when you hear the sound of an accordion, you think of Venice and gondolas and romantic, moonlit nights – but few people actually know what an incredibly expressive instrument it really is. In that particular piece, I could see my own past and present…the future, I couldn’t see; it was a road that curved out of sight.

Some of the doors don’t really house music as in complete pieces: some of them are inhabited by sounds. Take this one, for example: Open it and hear the sound of Tibetan monks chanting. Not many people like that sound, and it can be admittedly unnerving, especially when it sounds like you’re in a room full of monks. But did you know that you are hearing men chanting more than one note at the same time? Every one of these monks is singing chords.

Another room with only a sound inhabiting it is this one; you can see the knob is well worn – I’ve been here quite a number of times in the past; I still drop by from time to time. In fact, if you had not dropped by, I would probably be inside now. This room houses the sound of bagpipes.

Popular culture paints the sound of bagpipes as noisy and intrusive – well, bagpipes are noisy, and with good reason: you’re not supposed to do anything else around them except listen. Take a moment to do that – get rid of all those clichéd images of men in kilts and really listen. It’s a sound that is both emboldening yet sad; there’s a reason that sound inspires men to march both to war and to funerals. Laugh if you will, but I do wish you would listen.

Some doors house music much like some of my books: you hear them once and don’t hear them again except by accident. Sure, they can be a rip-snorting barrel of laughs, or even evoke a tear or two, but most lack real substance. Moving on…

Let’s walk down this hallway, shall we? As you can see, the knobs on these doors are well worn – much like the knob on the room inhabited by the sound of bagpipes. Care to open one? It’s the sound of  the Gloria portion of the Missa Papae Marcelli by Palestrina – a Renaissance church composer. I am mystified by how he managed to expand our commonplace four-part harmony (SATB) to up almost 12 parts, and still weave a cohesive whole – in fact, nevermind cohesive: the result is magnificent. Why, I cannot keep my eyes dry as the last few measures play…it is like knocking on the door of heaven itself…

Excuse me a moment…a bit overcome there.

Ah, this door…I know this one very well. I am convinced it is the biggest room in the house. I’ve been inside many times, but I have yet to find any of its corners. I’ve spoken of it often, and I find I don’t really tire of telling people about it, but I don’t open the door itself often, and when I do, I take off my shoes first, so to speak. Perhaps you should too.

You see? The door itself seems to hum…I just touch it and I am set to trembling.

This room is occupied by the Amen chorus from the Messiah oratorio by Handel. If the piece by Palestrina managed to get us to the gates of heaven, this one…this one…opens those gates to give us a glimpse inside – and the glory that pours through that crack in the gates leaves me a weeping, broken wreck; There is no way such music could have been written by the hand of man – it is the sound of God Himself, singing.

I cannot describe it…I cannot bear it…and yet I cannot resist it. It permeates my entire being – I fully expect it to be the music by which all the saints will be welcomed into heaven. Sigh. I dare not open that door now, or you will be left to explore the house on your own. Quickly now…stay my hand from the knob…

…or else enter with me.




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