Some movies are worth watching again and again. Because they’re good for the heart.
In 1979, violinist Isaac Stern visited China. His month-long trip is recorded in the Academy-award-winning documentary, From Mao to Mozart.
Stern expresses gratitude to the Chinese people (who issued the invitation for a “cultural visit”) telling them that “we are meeting first as musicians, and then as friends.” Stern collaborates with China’s National Symphony Orchestra (the first American musician to do so), and the film documents Mr. Stern’s rehearsals and performances of Mozart and Brahms violin concertos with the famous Chinese conductor Li Delun (who also acted as his guide and translator on his trip).
Yes, the movie touches on the influence of the western world, and the lingering effects of the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), which opposed any western influences and oppressed those who introduced western approaches.
Isaac Stern comes face to face with the clash between technical skill and artistic interpretation. The soul of the documentary is the time Stern spends with young Chinese students, coaching, coaxing, teaching and encouraging.
And the level of their skill is exceptional, and… well actually, quite astonishing. A consummate teacher, Stern’s task seems to be to inspire them to stop being merely technical masters, and to put their heart and emotion into their playing.
With a disarming smile, Stern connects with every student he encounters. He knows that inside each student (and yes, every one of us) is not just talent or technique, but a song.
My favorite scene, both tender and inspirational, a 12-year-old girl plays her violin with concentrated and technical perfection (not only to Stern, but to an auditorium packed to overflowing). Stern stops her and says with his enigmatic smile, “Okay. Now. Sing the beginning to me.”
You can hear the translator (trying to find the explanation), and see the look of complete bafflement on the face of the young musician.
“Don’t be afraid,” Stern says gently. “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid.”
So, she sings, haltingly, the first few bars of the piece. It is mesmerizing.
And she gets it.
And we get it.
What a gift… This is no longer about precision …or technical brilliance …or playing the right notes …or making an impression.
This is now about what’s in the heart.
This is about the gift of enough that spills from our heart.
After she sings, Stern affirms her. And says gently, with that smile, “Listen to the beauty when you sing, naturally flowing from the heart. Now (as an invitation), why don’t you play it this way?”
She puts the violin to her shoulder and plays lilting and evocative music… no longer just notes. I pause the movie, to rewind, and watch the scene again.
I have never possessed that kind of technical—musical or otherwise—brilliance. But I do know what it is like to grow up in a world where one lived in fear of letting someone down. I was raised in a church environment where being wrong had eternal consequences. “Be ye perfect,” the Bible told us. Which we interpreted as “without any blemish.” Of course, I was not, am not, nor will ever be, perfect. But then, that’s the conundrum. And the implication: Somehow, an imperfect Terry is not enough. (I too, have spent my life trying for concentrated and technical perfection…)
Regardless of our background, we’re all familiar with the messages which bombard us daily. And they are not subtle. They tell us who we “should” be. They tell us who we are “supposed” to be. (The irony is that “they” are in our head.)
And they tell us that whoever we are, it is not enough.
But then… that’s the downfall of perfection: Even perfect is never enough.
So, here’s the deal: We need to give ourselves the permission to go through a process of unlearning. Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to do your best. There is a difference between perfectionism and living wholehearted.
What would it mean to say, “I am enough?”
I recognize that there are times I do not honor that Terry. That I do not honor the music that is within. Times when I disavow it, or times when I makes choices that wound (because of fear and vulnerability). Lord knows why, other than some internal need to rain on the parade of our own messy wholeness.
The most visible creators I know of are those artists
whose medium is life itself,
the ones who express the inexpressible
–without brush, hammer, clay, or guitar.
They neither paint nor sculpt–
their medium is being.
Whatever their presence touches, has increased life.
They see and don’t have to draw.
They are the artists of being alive.
I do know this…
If I am too focused on evaluating, I cannot embrace the moment–any and all of it; the joy, the discomfort, the uncertainty, the generosity, the pain, the pleasure.
If I am measuring and weighing, I cannot marvel at little miracles.
If I am anticipating a payoff, I cannot give thanks for simple pleasures.
If I am feeling guilty about not hearing or living the music, I cannot luxuriate in the beauty of the heart. The beauty of my heart.
I’ve come to the end of my east coast pilgrimage. Part work, part retreat. I spent this weekend with a great group at the Hinton Retreat Center in Hayesville, NC, where we created sanctuary gardens. And unpacked the paradigm change: moving to music, from playing the “right notes.” And embracing the gift of enough… the permission, the freedom, to sing the music of our heart. Giving up the lure (and demand) for perfection, listening to Stern’s gentle urging, “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid. Just sing the beginning to me.”
Tomorrow on a plane home. I’ll have plenty of stories to share with the geese.
Quote for your week… Today I plan to live simply. Love seriously. Care deeply. Speak kindly. And leave the rest to God.
SABBATH MOMENT BULLETIN BOARD
Today’s Photo Credit: “Good morning Terry, This picture was taken late yesterday afternoon at my home in Denville, NJ. Amazing, the beauty and effect of this ‘ordinary’ gift (Milkweed, beauty in the ordinary). Thanks for spilling your light each day. Peace, Love and Blessings Always,” Peg Feyl… Thank you Peg… Keep sending your photos… send to firstname.lastname@example.org
Yes, your gift makes a difference… Donation = Love…
Help make Sabbath Moment possible. I write SM because I want to live with a soft heart; to create a place for sanctuary, empathy, inclusion, compassion and kindness… a space where we are refueled to make a difference. SM remains free.
(NEW address by check: PO Box 65336, Port Ludlow, WA 98365)
–Thank you, Terry, for sharing Lorraine Hunt Lieberson’s story. What a voice! Jan
–I loved the Daily about gardening! I, too, have moved and given up a large garden. And like you, I live in a CCR that should be my final geographic change. So my garden is small but pruning 10 small rose bushes is just the right amount to satisfy my longing! Thanks, Marsha
POEMS AND PRAYERS
This is my living faith, an active faith, a faith of verbs: to question, explore, experiment, experience, walk, run, dance, play, eat, love, learn, dare, taste, touch, smell, listen, speak, write, read, draw, provoke, emote, scream, sin, repent, cry, kneel, pray, bow, rise, stand, look, laugh, cajole, create, confront, confound, walk back, walk forward, circle, hide, and seek.
Terry Tempest Williams
There is joy
in the hair I brush each morning,
in the Cannon towel, newly washed,
that I rub my body with each morning,
in the chapel of eggs I cook
in the outcry from the kettle
that heats my coffee
in the spoon and the chair
that cry “hello there, Anne”
in the godhead of the table
that I set my silver, plate, cup upon
All this is God,
right here in my pea-green house
and I mean,
though often forget,
to give thanks,
to faint down by the kitchen table
in a prayer of rejoicing
as the holy birds at the kitchen window
peck into their marriage of seeds.
So while I think of it,
let me paint a thank-you on my palm
for this God, this laughter of the morning,
lest it go unspoken.
The Joy that isn’t shared, I’ve heard,
Anne Sexton (The Awful Rowing Toward God)
Thank you for the gift of today.
Refresh me. Invite me to discover your presence
In each person that I meet
And every event that I encounter.
Teach me when to speak and when to listen
When to ponder and when to share.
In moments of challenge and decision
Attune my heart to the whisperings of your Wisdom.
As I undertake ordinary and unnoticed tasks,
Gift me with simple joy.
When my day goes well, may I rejoice.
When it grows difficult, surprise me with
When life is overwhelming, call me to
To restore your Peace and Harmony.
May my living today reveal your Goodness.
Pat Bergen, C.S.J.