Monday, May 24, 2010

Krauss and Plant on Artistic Collaboration, 2

Here is an interesting video with Alison Krauss, Robert Plant, and T Bone Burnett (who produced the album) speaking more about the process of making their collaborative 2007 album, Raising Sand. It relates to the subject of an earlier post, Krauss and Plant on Artistic Collaboration. (As well as this post, Yo-Yo Ma on Artistic Collaboration.)

I think this album is another example of artists producing something new and fresh as they deliberately embrace the work of those who have gone before them. In this process, the three (Krauss, Plant, and Burnett) seem to have had simultaneously in mind the spirit of the original artists and their songs, their own present-day musical intuitions, as well as the context of contemporary America with its similarities with and differences from the era in which this music was originally made.

We can see in this that paying careful attention and giving respect to the work of earlier artists--having the humility to follow in their footsteps--rather than stifling creativity, can actually serve as a strong and invigorating catalyst for producing something fresh and original and also delightfully accessible to a broad audience.

The Rounder Records promotional web site for the album describes the result as, "an album that uncovers popular music’s elemental roots while sounding effortlessly, breathtakingly modern."

When an artist remains trapped in the closed-in solipsism that seems to be encouraged in at least some modern art-world circles, I doubt if anything so enduring and broadly appealing (and therefore having such broad impact) could result.

For another musical example of the old and the new being creatively combined together to make something delightful, see Ray Charles, "Oh What a Beautiful Morning."

[And for more on the theme of the old and the new coming together, see here]

"A Living Prayer," Alison Krauss and Union Station: Wonderfully Catholic Sentiments

Here is a beautiful ballad, "A Living Prayer," sung by Alison Krauss with her band Union Station on the Tonight Show. The song was written by Ron Block, the man playing the guitar over Alison's left shoulder.

I can't help but think as I listen to the lyrics of this song, how Catholic it truly is.The sentiments behind wanting to be a "living prayer" to God as we go through life and wanting to live "inside the love the Father gives," are deeply Catholic. One could meditate and pray over these simple words with much benefit. Indeed, may we all strive, by the indwelling of the Spirit within us, to be a living prayer to the Father, learning to live inside His love in the way we care for others. The feeling behind these lyrics goes beyond seeing the loving deeds we do for others merely as a confirmation of the authenticity of our faith. These are the expressions of a heart that understands, on some level, that by being a living prayer in the way we give ourselves in love for other people, not only do we truly bring Christ to others through our own loving actions, as we do so, we ourselves also grow closer in personal intimacy to His heart.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Human Being in Heaven: Body and Spirit Together, Not A Body Only

When we think of heaven (those who do not believe that the human being is obliterated at bodily death), how do we imagine the joy that is there?

We can't, of course, know with any degree of thoroughness what heaven is like (1 Cor 2:9). But we can come to understand at least a few things, dim though they may be.

What does this have to do with the reality expressed in the title of this post, that human persons are not only composed of a physical body, but of a spiritual soul integrally united with a body?

Here is how this relates: I suspect that oftentimes when people of faith ponder the idea of life in heaven, they  imagine the joy of heaven in an unbalanced and thus incomplete way. By this, I mean that I have a hunch that sometimes we imagine only, or mostly, physical sorts of pleasures and leave out spiritual pleasure. And when we do this, we are shortchanging ourselves, hoping for a heavenly hereafter that leaves out a very integral part of our human nature. (Perhaps men are more prone to this than women.)

If I am at all correct in this, I have a suggestion as to why. It is because our life here on this earth, at least for many Americans, is so occupied and concerned with physical, bodily pleasures and discomforts. We are hyper-sensitive to our physical state of sensation, a luxury made possible by our contemporary American way of life. We want the best foods, the most comfortable cars, the most comfortable chairs, nice smelling places, the most comfortable temperature, etc. So much of what we call the enjoyment of life has become excessively concerned with physical comforts. This, in turn, tends to make us forget, or diminish, the spiritual aspects of our lives as human beings. And so, when we imagine eternity, perhaps we tend to translate our physical comfort-oriented existence here below into our notion of heaven.

Why might this be a problem? (For indeed, I believe that it is.) It is a problem because it can lead, perhaps, to our leading an unbalanced life here on terra firma before we die. If we neglect the reality of our spiritual souls, giving excessive attention to our body, we will not be able to grow and flourish as human beings in the fullest way possible. We have minds that are made for truth and goodness, and hearts that yearn to delight in the realization of beauty. This is also a problem because it might cause us to think of heaven in a rather inadequate way. The joy of heaven is no mere endless physical pleasure, like a never-ending ice cream cone. It is not a heavenly massage or a perfect recliner chair. This would not fulfill our nature as human persons, creatures of spirit and body both.

Whatever will be the myriad enthralling mysteries of eternal bliss that we will only know when we arrive, by grace, at our final home, we can say this with confidence. The experience of eternal joy that awaits us will delight every aspect of our human nature as human beings to the fullest extent. We will have unimaginable joy and delight of heart, mind, spirit, soul, and body. Life in union with the blessed Trinity will fully actualize the highest capacity of our mind's desire for truth, our will's desire for goodness, our heart's desire for beauty and for union with another person who loves us, and our psyche's desire for complete wholeness and integral and full self-possession. The full, total, and integral reality of our being will be engaged as never before.

So, when you muse about what might await us after death, don't sell yourself short and think in a way that would only imagine us to be bodily creatures who sense and feel. Realize too, that we have the faculties of our human spirit. And that our whole person, as an integral unity of body and soul, will experience the utter delight, peace, and joy for which we yearn.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Do We Have the Right to End Our Lives?

I fear there is something horrible taking place in our culture. And it has been gradually happening over the last couple of decades or so. What is this horrible thing? We are becoming, more and more, a society that has stopped believing that there is never a situation in which we may kill an innocent human being in order to solve the difficulty of suffering.

I have to believe that, say, 50 years ago, when my parents were teenagers, American society took for granted that we would never look toward killing as a way out of even the hardest situations. We handle our troubles and our sorrows by pulling together, sticking with one another, being there for each other, doing all that we can for each other. And as a nation made up mostly of people who believe in Christ, we pray. We look to Jesus on the Cross. And we trust in divine providence even when we don't have all the answers.

Or, we used to.

We are more and more a nation that no longer believes that our lives do not rest, ultimately, in our own hands. Increasingly, we consider ourselves masters of our own lives. But do we have the right even to end our own lives? Yes, even if it is for the sake of cutting short our suffering?

The fate of our society as a civilized nation largely rests on the answer.

More specifically, and of particular relevance today, may we choose to end a human life by withdrawing nutrition and hydration (food and water) from someone, in order to put an end to suffering?

Well, do we still heed the commandment, "Thou Shall Not Kill"?

No matter how it is done, deliberately killing an innocent person is a direct violation of this bedrock commandment. It is not ours to choose when or how we die. Our life is a gift from God. We do not, in the ultimate sense, own our lives. We belong to God. And He tells us, thou shall not kill.

Would it be OK to go up to a hospital bed of someone in pain, put a pistol to his head, and kill him? Why not?

If this would not be OK, then why is it OK to decide to kill somebody by starving and dehydrating him to death? In both situations, the result is the same--a dead person. And in both cases, death is the desired result chosen by those who make it happen. The intention is to kill. The only difference is that killing by pistol is messier and quicker. Death by starvation and dehydration is much neater (no blood on the walls; no loud bang), and much slower (days or weeks instead of a mere fraction of a second). But morally speaking, whether you kill by pistol or kill by removing food and water--you are just as wrong. You are doing the same thing: killing the innocent, taking life into your own hands.

If we accept that we may take life into our own hands and therefore may choose to kill suffering people by keeping food and water from them, we are not far from just putting a gun to their heads. Why not just put them in a gas chamber? Why not just stick a knife in their throat? Why not just put a bag over their head? In the end, there is no real difference.

For the love of God, may we reaffirm that we are a decent, caring, compassionate, God-fearing society. May we come to our senses and realize how shockingly sick and downright evil it is to even think that we might choose to kill the innocent, by whatever means.

In other words, please do not kill your mother or father, grandmother or grandfather, by starving them and dehydrating them to death. This is not what decent human beings do to each other. We do not kill as a way to escape our pain. Part of what makes us a civilization rather than a brutal mob is that in the face of even the biggest of troubles we do not turn on each other or abandon each other; we turn toward one another, share each others' burdens, and lift each other up in prayer. We hold each others' hands, we wash each others' bodies, we place food in the mouths of those who cannot feed themselves and provide water to those who cannot drink unaided.

Do we still believe that God has a mysterious plan, though partly hidden, for each of our lives? Do we no longer realize that we did not give ourselves the gift of life? Do we not know that God loves each of us no matter what? Do we not understand that as soon as we accept, in any situation, that we may choose to kill the innocent as a way to solve our problems that we will have at that moment become an inhuman, barbaric, decaying society that has chosen a path of hopelessness and despair over love and compassion?

Thou Shall Not Kill???

Unless we do it in a slow, bloodless, quiet way that seems so easy, by holding back food and water and  providing pain medication so our target starves and dehydrates comfortably? In a sane world, this is called murder.