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Music as the hands of grace

I believe in the healing power of revisiting. Returning to stories—in books and movies and parables—that have reminded us that hope and joy and renewal are alive and well. Stories that ground us in the gifts of sufficiency and wholeness.

One of my movies (and books) to revisit is Cold Mountain. The opening battle sequence in the movie Cold Mountain realistically portrays the gruesome nature of Petersburg’s “Battle of the Crater.” Union engineers created a massive crater with explosives in an attempt to penetrate the Confederate lines.  The scene is a graphic depiction of life’s fragile nature. A reminder that there are times and places even in a “photoshopped” world… of atrocity and suffering and cruelty and sorrow.
Before the battle scene, we are introduced to young Oakley, a boy who is helping Inman (the main character of the story) and other confederate soldiers distributing supplies in the trench. As an aside, Inman comments to a fellow soldier about the boy’s age and that he is certainly too young for war. In the battle, Oakley is mortally wounded.
After the battle, a makeshift ER and triage is filled with cots and young bodies (including Oakley), many given whatever comfort that can be afforded in their final hours or minutes.
Stobrod—a fiddle player—stands by the bed and begins to entertain (and hopefully console) the boy.
“No,” says Oakley, his breathing labored. “Play me something sweet, like a girl is waiting for me.”
“You heard him,” Inman tells the fiddler.
“I only know a couple of tunes,” Stobrod tells them, now ill at ease.
“Like when you’re up Bridge’s creek,” Oakley continues, “and you’re thirsty and the water is so cool.”
“I don’t know what music that is,” the fiddler confesses, his face crestfallen.
Even so—to grant the dying boy’s request—Stobrod puts bow to string and from the fiddle we hear haunting, lilting and evocative music.
Yes. Music as poetry, “up Bridge’s creek, and you’re thirsty, and the water is so cool.”
Music as affirmation that even when life feels dark, the hands of grace still hold us.
Music as a picture to reassure the boy, and carry his spirit safely back to Cold Mountain.

Yes, I believe in the healing power of revisiting. Because sometimes we need stories more than food to stay alive. They remind us what really matters, and allow us to see—and connect—with our heart. Stories save us.
Especially in a world where we may not, or cannot, hear or believe the music of hope, wondering if it is possible. I can relate to the fiddler’s admission, “I don’t know what music that is.”
But here’s the deal: I do know that music when I hear it, even if I don’t have the words. I do know that it makes my lungs swell, and my heart flutter.
There are two aspects of the scene that touch me deeply.
One, I am drawn to the vulnerability or openness of the young boy (not only in his acceptance of his “fate,” but in not fighting it, or trying to figure it out). The gift of presence, even when life is so very fragile.
And two, I am struck and humbled by the transformation in the musician, who “knew” only two songs—until he was invited to the music that is alive and well within his heart and soul.  Music that had, for whatever reason, been dormant or buried or forgotten.
I will confess to you that…
I too easily play only the two songs “I know”.
I too easily tell myself that the price of playing and feeling the music inside of me that is multi-layered, authentic, life-giving and heart-rending may be too steep.
I too easily steel myself against anything that can break or rent or tear.
I too easily tell myself to in order to live that vulnerable and open, would require too much.
But here’s the deal: When I live that way, I too easily miss the gift of sufficiency in the hands of grace.
I too easily miss the music that spills from me, to a hurting world that needs it.

I really enjoyed Andrew Schulman’s Waking the Spirit. Andrew is the resident musician in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit at Mount Sinai Beth Israel hospital in New York. Yes. Musician, in a hospital.
Why? Because music soothes. Music heals.
What does all this mean for me?
This week, we can all be Oakley, and ask for our song.
And, we can all be Stobrod, putting bow to fiddle to soothe and heal those lives we touch.
“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive… of the rapture of being alive,” Joseph Campbell reminds us.
Yes. But here’s my question: How can I do that—live fully, live wholeheartedly—if I am still learning to be comfortable in my own skin?
We are on a journey (process) that can be beautiful and messy, exhilarating and confusing. And we are derailed when we are unable to trust or embrace this journey from a place of not being in control. Even so, the invitation is still redemptive for us all; this week, I hope we hear our music. And I hope it invites, allows, honors, spills and heals.

I’m unsure how to finish this Sabbath Moment, so I step outside to toast the stars, but our Seattle cloud cover has closed up heaven for the night. I stand for a while, absorbing the frog’s chorus. And I remember another scene from the movie. When Inman and Ada meet, he says to her, “If it were enough just to stand without the words.”
“It is,” she tells him. “It is.”

Quote for our week… “Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing true or beautiful makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love.” Reinhold Niebuhr

Note: Charles Frazier, Cold Mountain author, describes the story as “a meditation on what we fear and desire, the way we react to violence on a personal level and how we move away from violence towards peace, home, and a way of life.”


Today’s Photo Credit: “Terry, Not a nice day today, but a beautiful ending. At our cabin in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.” Mary Jo Sharp… Thank you Mary Jo… And thank you to all, I love your photos… please keep sending them… send to 

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Letters that do my heart good…
–Terry, I loved the Big Panda and Tiny Dragon quote and so found the source and am delighting in it. I can see why you would find it a source of wisdom and inspiration. I just read this: “time doing nothing is never wasted.” And this: “It is possible to find a little peace even in a storm.” I often chase the sources of your quotes to great benefit. This is one of those times. Cheers Richard
–Hi Terry, I love Cat Steven’s Morning Has Broken. We had it played for our wedding and are requesting it to be played at our funerals. I recently started reading Learning To Pray by James Martin, SJ. He writes about the many ways to pray. One way he calls “A Long, Loving Look at the Real.” Long, because it’s important not to rush; spend time noticing and settling into God’s presence and activity in our daily lives. Noticing the joys and miracles around us. As I read this, I thought, yep, Terry knows this one! Bless you Carol
–Oh Terry, Marigold Hotel was my husband’s and my favorite movie and we watched it so often we knew every line. He died three years ago and I haven’t brought myself to watch it on my own… but I will. But you know the line where the internet phone support tech asks Evelyn to put the account holder on the line and she says–he’s dead! Well, exactly the same thing happened to me… AT&T or someone asked if the main account holder knew I was calling (fortunately I was the secondary account holder)–and I said, No, he’s dead and burst out laughing and crying at the same time. There is a lot of comedy in death. Love your daily devotions. As ever, AM


The Spiritual Canticle
Forever at his door
I gave my heart and soul.
My fortune too.
I’ve no flock any more,
No other work in view.
My occupation: love. It’s all I do.
St. John of the Cross

Let us fall in love again
and scatter gold dust all over the world.
Let us become a new spring
and feel the breeze drift in the heaven’s scent.
Let us dress the earth in green,
and like the sap of a young tree
let the grace from within sustain us.
Let us carve gems out of our stony hearts
and let them light our path to Love.
The glance of Love is crystal clear
and we are blessed by its light.

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