A Book for Contemplation

“In a world deluged by irrelevant information, clarity is power.” That’s the first sentence of the Introduction to Yuval Noah Harari’s book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, and it captured my attention immediately. The New York Times Book Review written by Bill Gates had peaked my interest in reading it, and I made my way through its chapters mind boggled. What’s not to find intriguing in subjects such as “WAR, never underestimate human stupidity”, “JUSTICE, our sense of justice might be out of date”, and EQUALITY, those who own the data own the future”? Harari is a historian and a futurist, a skeptic and an optimist. I’m very glad his mind goes to places mine can barely glimpse, and that he has the talent to share his view of the world with others.

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Changing Time

We all lament changing time, loss of time, time that seems to pass at an ever-increasing pace. There never seems to be enough of it, and we feel anxiety at the thought of running out of it. We even change it seasonally to suit some arbitrary need. How we choose to think about time can literally affect how we live.

Within my faith tradition, the Easter story and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, changed time. Yes, history was impacted by this event and the calendar most of us share became dated by this event, but I mean something more as well.

For Jesus’ early followers, his death was a devastation, and the empty tomb incomprehensible. Biblical stories tell us that fear and confusion kept many of his apostles silent until Jesus showed himself to them again, not resuscitated, but transformed. Difficulty in understanding the significance of the event is evident throughout Christian history and remains a struggle today. St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), an early church leader, expressed the challenge facing any who wished to believe “If you understood him, it would not be God.” 

We all live our lives through stories that we use to define ourselves and our convictions. The Easter story has had incredible resilience through centuries and across cultures for reasons not bound by the ability to comprehend the inexplicable. Choosing to believe that suffering and death are not the last words profoundly changes how I think about time.

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Music by the Day

I enjoy music; not so much the ear bud private world of music (although that works too), but the kind that fills my living space. I love listening to classical music while driving, or sitting with a book, or enjoying a meal. I was raised in a family that appreciated music, in a time that offered more space for listening, so the pleasures of music happily accrued to me by default rather than by pursuit. I know what I enjoy, but rarely know what I’m listening to, so I was intrigued when learning of the book Year of Wonder by Clemency Burton-Hill on CBS Sunday Morning a few months ago.

9780062856203_p0_v1_s192x300Clemency Burton-Hill is an accomplished musician, and Creative Director, Music & Arts at New York Public Radio. She has put together a list of classical selections to hear by the day for a year, and written a few paragraphs for each to provide a bit of information about the composer and composition. To make things really accessible, Spotify has her playlist. I have only begun this musical journey with her, but it’s fun. I don’t like everything I’ve heard, but I’ve been introduced to many unfamiliar pieces by unfamiliar names, and learned interesting tidbits about those with which I’ve been previously acquainted. She doesn’t ask for a huge time commitment in her effort to educate; most selections are about 5 minutes, and the longest so far has been in the 20 minute range. I look forward to sitting down with her as I wait for something to simmer for dinner; she shares her love of classical music with a light hand.  

 

Book List

March came in like a lamb, and went out like a lion; seems like a long time since the new year began. I read a lot, but wasn’t transported away very often during this grey season. Half of what I enjoyed were mysteries, half were life stories I found particularly interesting. Graphics are from Barnes & Noble’s website, as usual.

Traditions I Liked but Didn’t Understand

According to Wikipedia, the word Lent is a shortened version of an Old English word that meant “spring season”, but in places where Christianity was already established, it came to mean the time marking (approximately) 40 days before Easter. Doesn’t sound too complicated, but of course it is.

First of all, Carnival Season, perhaps emanating from pagan traditions, actually sets the stage for Lent. In Christian traditions the carnival calendar begins on January 6th (also known as Epiphany, or Three Kings Day or the Twelfth Day of Christmas) and culminates with Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”, or Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Tuesday), the last night of the party season in which to indulge before denying oneself certain pleasures during Lent. 

Ash Wednesday, the day following Mardi Gras, begins the Lenten period when observers are asked to refrain from indulgences to better understand Jesus’ tests and trials prior to his final suffering on the cross. The ashes placed on one’s forehead during a service marking the day are a stark reminder of mortality, as a priest intones “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return”.

And what’s with the 40 days (or 46 if Sundays are included by some traditions in the countdown to Easter)? The number forty shows up more than a dozen times in the Bible, representing periods of testing and trouble in a variety of contexts. They are all gloomy times, but during Lent the weather corroborates that feeling, no matter the level of participation in observances. 

I’ve adhered to the traditions blindly my entire life without much appreciation until visiting Mexico some years ago, where pageantry and devotion are especially meaningful. The color purple, used as a representation of both mourning and royalty, richly decorates churches and street altars, and flower markets sell bundles of purple blooms to take home as a daily reminder that repentance is an ongoing project. 

I liked these traditions before, but now I love them.