"Once we clearly acknowledge the soul, we can learn to hear it's cries. - Dallas Willard, Renovation Of The Heart."

It takes courage to pursue our dreams. It takes time and patience to unearth buried treasure. But I believe with all my heart that we must do both.

2.20.2010

Open Wide - our eyes, ears, and hearts


This is a rather lengthy excerpt from "Listening to Your Life" by Frederick Buechner, but it was so timely for me, and I thought it may be for some of you as well. It's too easy for me to sleepwalk through life.

“An old silent pond./ Into the pond a frog jumps./ Splash! Silence again.” It is perhaps the best known of all Japanese haiku. No subject could be more humdrum. No language could be more pedestrian. Basho, the poet, makes no comment on what he is describing. He implies no meaning, message, or metaphor. He simply invites our attention to now more and no less than just this: the old pond in its watery stillness, the kerplunk of the frog, the gradual return of the stillness.

In effect he is putting a frame around the moment, and what the frame does is enable us to see not just something about the moment but the moment itself in all its ineffable ordinariness and particularity. The chances are that if we had been passing by when the frog jumped, we wouldn't have noticed a thing or, noticing it, wouldn't have given it a second thought. But the frame sets it off from everything else that distracts us. It makes possible a second thought. That is the nature and purpose of frames. The frame does not change the moment, but it changes our way of perceiving the moment. It makes us NOTICE the moment, and that is what Basho wants about all else. It is what literature in general wants about all else too.

From the simplest lyric to the most complex novel and densest drama, literature is asking us to pay attention. Pay attention to the frog. Pay attention to the west wind. Pay attention to the boy on the raft, the lady in the tower, the old man on the train. In sum, pay attention to the world and all that dwells therein and thereby learn at last to pay attention to yourself and all that dwells therein.

The painter does the same thing, of course. Rembrandt puts a frame around an old woman's face. It is seamed with wrinkles. The upper lip is sunken in, the skin waxy and pale. It is not a remarkable face. You would not look twice at the old woman if you found her sitting across the aisle from you on a bus. But it is a face so remarkable seen that it forces you to see it remarkable just as Cezanne makes you see a bowl of apples or Andrew Wyeth a muslin curtain blowing in at and open window. It is a face unlike any other face in all the world. All the faces in the world are in this one old face.

Unlike painters, who work with space, musicians work with time, with note following note as second follows second. Listen! Says Vivaldi, Brahms, Stravinsky. Listen to this time that I have framed between the first note and the last and to these sounds in time. Listen to the way the silence is broken into uneven lengths between the sounds and to the silences themselves. Listen to the scrape of bow against gut, the rap of stick against drum-head, the rush of breath through reed and wood. The sounds of the earth are like music, the old song goes, and the sounds of music are also like sounds of earth, which is of course where music comes from. Listen to the voices outside the window, the rumble of the furnace, the creak of your chair, the water running in the kitchen sink. Learn to listen to the music of your own lengths of time, your own silences.

Literature, painting, music – the most basic lesson that all art teaches us is to stop, look, and listen to life on this planet, including our own lives, as a vastly richer, deeper, more mysterious business than most of the time it ever occurs to us to suspect as we bumble along from day to day on automatic pilot. In a world that for the most part steers clear of the whole idea of holiness, art is one of the few places left where we can speak to each other of holy things.

Is it too much to say that Stop, Look, and Listen is also the most basic lesson that the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches us? Listen to history is the cry of the ancient prophets of Israel. Listen to social injustice, says Amos; to head-in-the sand religiosity, says Jeremiah; to international treacheries and power-play, says Isaiah; because it is precisely through them that God speaks his word of judgment and command.

And when Jesus comes along saying that the greatest command of all is to love God and to love our neighbor, he too is asking us to pay attention. If we are to love God, we must first stop, look, and listen for him in what is happening around us and inside us. If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces by the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.

In a letter to a friend Emily Dickinson wrote that “Consider the lilies of the field” was the only commandment she never broke. She could have done a lot worse. Consider the lilies. It is the
sine quo non of art and religion both.

15 comments:

Butterfly Works said...

Mary, After reading this, immediately my eyes when to your "About Me" and the last line
"learning to love better"....that sums it up for me...Thanks for sharing...I want to keep this in mind as I go through my day.
Hugs and Blessings,
Butterfly

CountryDreaming said...

The Life of Jesus was framed with wood, from cradle to cross.

Debbie said...

Wonderful Mary, and so encouraging to me, to listen, learn and love. Thank you!

Finally Free said...

Mary,
I saw a butterfly fly by me today. I had not seen one in a while. Probably the cold kept them away. I saw a bird singing today. I wondered if He was saying "Praise God".
I think what I here is to really live and pay attention. I am trying to abide like you have been talking about. To listen to my Shepard's voice. In a butterfly or calling a friend who is grieving. To really "see" nature and people.

Thank you for sharing...It wasn't really that long to read for me.

And thank you for commenting on my blog...the enemy was messin with me about it and your comment encouraged me greatly. Thanks my friend.

Blessings,
Tammy

Diane said...

This is beautiful, Mary--Thank You!!

Denise said...

So inspiring.

Sandra Hall said...

Good words for reflection Mary.
By the way, I like the new look (and most colourful) blog!

x.x

Mollye said...

Hi Mary, Thank you for coming around to visit and say Hi. Mary I am in awe with your words. Sometimes it takes the words in print for us to take notice and you have inspired me to do just that. You're such a dear sweet lady. So glad I "found" you! Hugs, Mollye And I also like the new cheery look!

Poetic Artist said...

Mary,
This a great post..Great..
Love and Hugs,
Katelen

sarah said...

great post....

Martha Lever said...

I loved reading this post, Mary! It was wonderful and actually the first I have read since I have emerged back into the land of the living. I am better now but it was rough. Oral surgery always seems to be bad. I love your new colors on your blog--it's so YOU! And I am envious of your colorful plates!!! I want some!

S. Etole said...

the moments are so important ... great article

Martha Lever said...

Hi Mar! I am feeling so much better yay!! Ok, I have a challenge for you. I think that you should set up your video camera and film yourself painting one of your wonderfully bright, distressty and happy paintings and put it up on Youtube. People would love to see you paint one of these because really, nobody does it like you. Because it's so you!

Hey, no pressure, but people would love it!

Tracy said...

Just Beautiful.

Anita Van Hal said...

Wow Mary! Bevie sent me the link to your blog and asked if I followed it...I said that I didn't but would check it out...I'm SO thankful I did! This was such a blessing to me! I hope you know that this is NOT the kind of artsy thing one normally reads...where is the "everyone is a goddess, etc., etc., etc.?" LOL! Seriously though, you actually gave me pause to ponder, and my overactive mind doesn't do that nearly enough...what a great thing you are doing here...I pray that the Lord continue to give you wisdom so that you may continue to bless your readers! Hugs!!!