Friday, January 30, 2009

The Heavy Artillery

"I have ordered all things in number, measure, and weight." Said by God, repeated yearly in the breviary by Ireneus.
And what could be heavier than the doctrine of Thomas Aquinas? Even in their most mature years, as I have observed, priests, bishops, cardinals and even popes, groan a little - or sometimes one hell of a lot - when confronted with the image and concepts of the Angelic Doctor, or as the new archbishop of Detroit, installed on Thomas' January 28 feast day, called him, the Doctor Communis, or everybody's doctor.
The root of the second title lies in the fact - startling when first heard by those who have never studied the subject - that Thomas never stopped insisting that philosophy is only common sense, and therefore - I add - in a certain way only tells us what we already, somehow, either know or suspect. And yet to study his writings seems so burdensome to many. Or because Thomas lived and wrote long before Freud, Jung, Mark, Darwin, James Joyce and so on, he seems so old-fashioned and somehow totally opposed to modern doctrines that insist that human nature is evolving, or may even have actually changed. They refuse to believe that Thomas is any longer a sine non qua on the road to wisdom.
In fact it was a bishop who said to me, within recent memory, that he had "gone beyond Saint Thomas." And it was a pope, John Paul II, who allowed the canon law group to remove Thomas from the prescribed status he had held since the days of Leo XIII. And there are those who think to call John Paul a saint? A good and great man, certainly, but the real head of the Church warned against neither "jot nor tittle" and I have never been able to see that He did not specifically have Aquinas in mind at the moment he spoke.
Nor, without Saint Thomas, would I have got into the Seventh Mansion. It was most certainly not without daily and constant recourse to my beloved three-volume Summa, in all those most astonishing days and months. There were other writers more explicitly concentrated on the spiritual life, yes - John of the Cross, Teresa, Francis de Sales, Ignatius of Loyola - but Thomas was never off the team, and in fact I went through it all with a whole new re-appreciation of my old mentor and the mind - along with my wife's - that brought me into the Church.
In fact the current employment of Thomas is so shoddy in so many areas that it was a distinct delight to read the inaugural address of the Most Reverend Allan Vigneron, the new man in Motor City, which MT had googled up on Rocco Palmo's quite invaluable Whispers in the Loggia.
Good Lord. Not only a bishop, but an American bishop, who can smell the herbal breezes from Rocca Secca? Amongst that collection of spiritually illiterate doorknobs does there actually dwell a genuine mind? How refreshing. How comforting, if Christ actually decided to come back to earth and kick the crap out of the Sanhedrin once again. There might be a chancery or two where he could, in relief, lay down his whip. If any reader, by the way, thinks I'm being unnecessarily harsh, or unappreciative, let him look up the history of the lately late Avery Dulles, S.J., theologian and ultimately cardinal, and see what he had to say about the apostolic successors in his native land. As a group, American bishops knew little to nothing about theology, liturgy, or spiritual direction. That was over twenty years ago. Has it changed? Would some bishop like to show up in my study to demonstrate the supposed new level of episcopal wisdom?
Maybe in Motown? Blacks, and Blues? Might that have something to do with it? The somatic discipline that is in music, and in music alone, although not without analagous references.
All of this is due, in a sense, to Kathleen Norris and her book, because in order to deal with Acedia and Me in the measure that it deserves, I have had to resort to the prophetically relevant sections of the Summa Theologica: Saint Thomas Aquinas on pain and sorrow, volume One in my Benziger.
This is also a pleasant benefit for me: not only a legitimate excuse to once again take up STA, but also a very necessary browse through the thought of a man who can provide all the fundamental concepts for a completely balanced and judicious study of Asian wisdom as it applies to the culture of the body, i.e., health and fitness.
After two full days of contemplative "inactivity", I was finally, yesterday, let out to walk. There is a very fine five-and-a-half mile route east, across the big orange bridge, to a restaurant, for a chow mein lunch, and back again along the lake shore walk to the mouth of Cottonwood Creek and then home through town. The distance, in God's kindly Providence, makes up for the 48 hours of suspended muscles and disabled joints, and the view cannot help but enlarge and liberate the mind, which for a full week now has been labouring, albeit pleasantly, with Ms Norris grasp of acedia. Well, not entirely pleasantly, as the mature contemplative is rarely allowed much in the way of unbroken episodes of spiritual pleasure, and it has in fact been something of a game of intellectual ping pong, with the reciprocating balls and bats only allowed to shut up when I turned into, first, John of the Cross and the relevant sections in the the first book of the Dark Night, and then, Thomas.
Numerous references, or attempted references, to texts which I thought might spell out more meanings for acedia, only turned up useless, because blank.
Acedia is neither vice, nor virtue. It is a species of passion, more explicitly, a species of sorrow. It is largely a result of a decision of the will, more or less based on the information available to the intellect, which includes, of course, in the Thomistic scheme of thing, the intellectual memory, which in human beings relies on the imaginative, or sensitive memory. Acedia is therefore a feeling, or perhaps, lack of feeling, that should serve as a warning rather than a location in which we can wallow in self-pity. Or, in artillery terms, a forward observation post from which we can shell, i.e., blame, all the influences which we would like to believe put us into our present dilemma.
I think this is one of the reasons why I ran into the warning light, in Katheen's book. She was challenging Gregory's moral theology, in herself going "beyond Saint Thomas", as thoughtless , in its own way, as Mohammed denying the divinity of Christ.
The Super Bowl is coming up this weekend. There we will see a good deal of physical courage. And that is a good thing. But what the world needs more of, and much more desperately, is intellectual and spiritual courage. Where does it exist in its fullness, outside my most immediate circle?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sloth and Everybody

It is an adage well known to theology: Before God chooses a man for an office, he prepares him for it. Thus, as I slide a little more toward a career as a book reviewer, I look back, with fresh understanding, I think, on the hints the Holy Ghost was dropping my path over the past few months. "Unconscious" has been a major mantra, for one. Then, there was the image of the school teacher's desk. And, perhaps most important, the inspiration to dig mindfully through John of the Cross' first two books, the Ascent and the Dark Night. Finally - at least for the purpose of getting the argument started - the intimation that 2009, at least at the beginning, was going to be the year of stern measures and unflinching severity.
For all of that, I had no explicit warnings that the New York Times might have to file for bankruptcy protection, as my beloved heard from her listening to early morning news yesterday. I mean, that best seller list is always suspect, but is it really evil, a handmaid of the devil? Lord, how can this be, especially as it was the Times, so many decades ago in the Sloan House, that was the occasion of no small divine vision and religious experience?
But such, I suppose, is the free market, and the results of those who abuse it. In my own small way, I tried to forestall the free fall on the Dow and the TSE, over the deregulation of the delivery of natural gas. First, I got sucked in, to my own personal amazement, thus inspiring a lot of loud mental muttering at Providence. Then I realized that God had tricked his contemplative because he wanted me to go to work and warn the media. And I tried, as much as I hate having to think about economics and finance beyond the point of charitable donations, to persuade CanWest Global to be intelligent, because I realized that the fiddling with other people's money was getting to the pusher and addiction stage. (Interesting, how much a young, attractive, white, educated, female can sound like a bloody communist when she's trying to persuade you that gas is going to go through the roof. Please God she doesn't decide to become a nun.) I knew, from all the frenzy that hit our front door, that the passion for skimming was getting out of hand, and the government and the media - sell those ads, sell those ads - was going along with it. I didn't follow the mortgage market, of course, because no one would have listened to me anyway.
And that might be the case now, but here we go anyway.
The first and last thing I want to say is that I'm very happy that Kathleen Norris wrote "Acedia and Me". No matter how much I might be found to disagree with her assertions and conclusions,
I firmly believe that she was genuinely inspired to take the subject on, by her Creator and Saviour, as well as the writer's Muse, that Holy Spirit who prompts and provokes in every culture, even those who are actually quite assinine about the Creator, and wouldn't know the Saviour if he showed up with a division of infantry wearing the robes and wings of angels. The very fact that, as a Protestant, she has tucked in with the monks, and reads the fathers and the doctors of the Church, for the purpose of an honest look at herself, makes her a worthy interlocutor for any theologian, and something of a touchstone for my own personal history.
She stands beside our bishop and his addresses, in the pulpit, or at that recent prayer breakfast, giving an account of his own relationship with faith.
But, after the delight in seeing her account of her own history with music, as it so cleanly justified the purpose of my researches, I ran into her quibbling over Gregory the Great and his dealings with the subject of her thesis, acedia, and I realized that although she had quoted Aquinas and John of the Cross, she had not actually been able to apply them as she should. At this point, there was a startling display of light, which in its first blush reminded me of the light I had enountered in Lord Lloyd's translation of the Koran: most definitely indicative of a genuine search for God, or Allah, or Brahman, but not the light of Christ. The Lord is kind and merciful, as the psalm says, but He doesn't take wooden nickles.
Now this might seem a bit harsh, and disrespectful of the searching mentality in others. But what else can the Seventh Mansion say? I've arrived. Where in the hell are you in your eagerness to teach, to proclaim, to "agonize" with the philosophers of the post-Modern era?
If you read Aquinas on the subject of sloth, you see, all so clearly, how it all fits together. Sloth is a sin against joy, and joy is the fruit of charity. What is charity? Love of God, love of neighbour, love of all things God has created.
So sloth is the enemy of love, and acedia is the prize of love failed, or love gone wrong.
And this is precisely where the battle is joined.
As I said to John Paul, back in the days when I was his offshore spiritual director, I don't read Aquinas as regularly as in the formative years. John of the Cross, Teresa, de Montfort, and the fathers of the Church as they turn up in the breviary are the more regular fodder now. But it is always a thundering adventure to get the grace to go back to the man from Rocca Secca, and bask in that incomparable mind. The drawbridges go down, the cavalry of the intellect roar out for battle, and the enemy scatters like the leaves in the wind.
Can reorganization save the Times? Or the reputation of the musical authorities in New York?
Man, you should see what the mighty Tim McDaniel came up with at yesterday's class. Triads, as they've never been studied before. Ah, Julliard, how much thou hast to learn.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Kathleen Norris

"Some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred fold."
These are the words of the Lord, applying to a context in the New Testament that does not follow as nimbly as this handful presented itself, but somehow marking the divisions of this blog. I had no sectional scheme in mind when I launched the thing, but I became aware of a sort of marker at Post 30, and that I have again reached some sort of goal at 60 seems to make sense.
By 30, I had commented on Ignatius Loyola's "Spiritual Exercises", and that seemed, in hindsight, to make a goal sensible to me at least; and now at 60 I have engaged in conversation with an old friend, someone who showed up in our circle, in the autumn of 1973, after I had finished my year with the Exercises, and helped explain the purpose in being put through them.
An advertisement about the blog provoked her to tune in to my words again - we talked a great deal in the old days - and someone else's writing provoked her to ask me to comment. The writer was Kathleen Norris and the book Ms. Norris' latest, "Acedia and Me".
I first heard of KN through "The Cloister Walk", two or three years ago when it was Shawn's bedside book for some weeks and I was read excerpts as I sipped my morning coffee, studied my journals for twenty years ago, and read the English edition of L'Osservatore Romano.
I also had a subscription for some months to The Economist. And there was always the Divine Office, of course.
CW was a nice book and I especially enjoyed the references to the Benedictine Monastery, but as there was obviously little awareness of John of the Cross or the inescapable relevance of Aquinas, I could only be casually interested.
But A and M is different, as the Holy Spirit made abundantly plain this morning. Because Shawn had taken us all out for breakfast before MT and I shopped and she went to work, the groceries were in the packs before the bookstore door was open, and there was nothing to do but to come home without the book. No matter, according to the Boss. Get back downtown and get it. So I did just that, while MT hit our excellent French bakery for the weekly bargain in day old baguettes. We brought these home - eight of them - and there was a very telling moment which a good French painter like Cezanne or Alfred Sisley would have rendered showing a sight line from the book on the buffet in the dining room to the bag of baguettes on the kitchen island, projection his own uncertainty, by some trick of chiarascuro, as to which object, in the long run, would be of most value. A and M comes with good reviews and a nice run on the New York Times best seller list, but it's been a long, long, time since I could assume that any of those recommendations would meet with the mystic's standards. Perhaps the chief purpose in the purchase was Irene's need, albeit unconscious, to be Dutch-uncled yet again. MT and I were scheduled for a walk, as for the first time in a couple of weeks there was a promising spread of blue sky, but I did take enough time to glance at the back, to see if I could find John of the Cross mentioned.
Ah, yes. And exactly the key text, although, at first glance, perhaps short of sufficient context. So off for the walk, during which the clear sky clouded over. Then I had to help with lunch, as a week ago MT sprained her elbow falling over a roof rake for snow and I had become chef's assistant. There is a lot of chopping involved, as Marianne, true to her name, prefers a French knife to a can opener.
But finally the book and I get the chance to see why the Muse has been so bloody vehement. Oh my God. As I said - well, Ireneus said it first - in timing there is advantage. Whew. James is in place. Thank heaven. Kathleen and Assumption Abbey in North Dakota, which I have already been in contact with because of a death in my daughter's relatives by marriage, can deal perhaps with him if they need a demonstration, and I can remain the hermit, researching, and writing on the Web.
What a gift I find immediately. Maybe the New York Times and its lists can be of some use after all. Is it not one of their own that's walked right into my lab, with half the reason for her youthful acedia stapled all over her body language? The history of her music instruction left me as ill as Hanon's cluttered pages. And the fact that she loved Bach so much only proves the evils of the method she was caged within. No numbers, no freedom. It's as simple as that, and every meaningless rote process we have to endure, especially in the name of education, can only create mental problems. Memory is the tool of analysis, not its master. And obviously all those high priced editors, publishers, and reviewers are just as unaware as she is, of the problem, or the chapter would have been written much differently. You see why I can't be impressed by the Big Apple.
I will finish the book, of course. And I suspect that John of the Cross and I are going to have a very good time with the acedia thing, with not a little justified assaulting of American and Western culture. But if I never went a page further, that information about the music instruction alone has already justified the price of purchase.

Monday, January 19, 2009

In Timing There Is Advantage

It was Ireneus who said it: "In order there is harmony, in harmony there is timing, in timing there is advantage." I first really took note of this bit of advice in the early 80's, around the time God also said, more directly, by way of locution: "Consider all I have not yet let you do."
Ireneus was the bishop of Lyon, in the fourth century, a very lovely writer, generally considered the father of theology, that most necessary of sciences, that is also so widely ignored and under-appreciated, and nowhere more wretchedly than in the ranks of so many of the Church Militant.
What so many priests, religious, and so-called lay leaders practice is not theology, but a kind of middle class - or worse, working class - quasi psychology, which they are far too fond of calling "spirituality". (Here follows a long string of asterisks, or maybe blanks. It was Zane Grey who first taught me such euphemistic devices.)
Perhaps I am unjust to say working class QP is worse than middle class, because what is really the worst is academic QP in the hands of professors, especially Catholics. I will give you an example.
Some years ago, my youngest daughter, before she got effing good and tired of the so-called history faculty at UBC, because it had fallen into blaming all the ills of mankind on the Church, was pursuing an arts degree at the campus where her parents met, and in the process of that pursuit took a semester on the subject of mysticism. The course was taught by a consortium of Catholics teaching at the university, one of them even a priest.
Now as far as I know, according to the research facilities that have so far been available to my profoundly scrupulous mind, there is only one area in the world where the highest degrees of the mystical life are fully understood, according the whole mind of the Catholic Church, and that area is the home - and its one adjunct - in which my youngest grew up. That experience, of course, does not guarantee the same level of understanding in her, as she would be the first to admit. She has in fact known a few special moments with certain extraordinary events, but she has no wish to make as much of these as certain published and promoted professional theologians have done in their own case and generally goes about her vocation as a wife and mother in an ordinarily devout manner.
Was the UBC consortium simply trying to save her a test to her humility by not inviting her father to say a word or two to the tiny class? Were the Basilians too anxious over their own West Coast turf? Were they envious of the man who used to sit in ecstasy with the legendary Father Carr, in his last days? Was the archbishop of the day too attached to his innovative state of mind to be able to tolerate what might happen in his domain if Christ showed up and decided to take again the whip to the money changers in the temple? They are always with us, like the poor, and the Transformation, even hidden, scares the crap out of them, even if they can't admit it.
What's this got to do with Ireneus?
Well, the real professor has had a question from someone named Irene. The test of the real columnist, right? Irene writes to ask about accidie. Her spelling was actually "acedia", which threw me off until I dug out sufficient dictionaries, which proved that we were on the same page. I knew it as the former, long ago from my studies of the medievalists, when I learned that dear old Thomas Aquinas listed five cures. The Greek has akedia, which means "not caring", being full of spiritual sloth or indifference, which is not quite what Thomas was thinking of, as far as I
understand. For Thomas, sloth was a deadly sin, although he was not talking sloth in the same way as certain work-ethic-addicted Protestants do. In the real sense, sloth is simply the refusal to give thanks for the Divine. It is one of the great curses of modern times, if not all times, and is not really offset, by the way, by leisure activities, even amongst spectacular scenery, that are considered by the young and even not-so-young as the equivalent of getting one's sinful, humble, butt into a pew. Nor do the arts fill the bill as the equal of honest worship.
But back to the question and my history with the problem. To the medievials, accidie was principally the result of too much reading, or circular thinking that could not lead to a healthy activity. In our times, thanks to technology, it might also be said to be a result of the lack of necessary work, either about the shop, the farm, the house. But to return to myself - and that was where the question was directed - it has always been the threat brought on by too much intellectual activity that is only practical and has nothing to do with passive prayer.
For this sort of ego trip, Thomas was strong on such things as a warm bath, a stroll, a conversation with friends, a bottle of wine.
And then Teresa of Avila said that there were times when the only thing you could do was to pick up a broom, although she was also known to take up a tambourine and have her nuns dance.
But that was before the modern era of radio, TV, and now household access through DVD's to the best in the writers and actors of world class drama, comedy, and documentary. I hear of some semi-religious order in Rome that disdains such opportunities to get out of its own head.
Much better, I think, to follow the advice of our new bishop, although he was admittedly speaking in another context. "You use what you've got."
And what I've got is a grandson who's taken a lot of administrative pressure regarding music off the theologian so he can get back to the best of what he has, that being theology. And just in time for the question from Irene. Now, that's timing.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

As Saint Paul Said

So we're just over half-way through the year the Pope had dedicated to Saint Paul and I'm still dealing with feet. Those who read the Epistles know that Paul said the head was not to tell the foot it had no use for it, and those who are kind enough to read me know that I've been spending a lot of time paying just as much respect to my feet as I do to my head.
Are we there yet? I mean, about solving the foot problems? I ask myself if we're done, having stepped into a board shop on Thursday to pick up a pair of boarding shoes. When I was a kid, a board shop would have been a place where you bought lumber, and boarding shoes would have been something worn by pirates with cutlasses in their teeth, swarming up the side of a Spanish galleon. And I never had real knowledge at all of boarding shoes until three summers ago when my young grandson was with us and wanted a pair, and then I got no little of an education in shoe stores, clerks, shoe sizes, and the moods of small boys who had not grown up under the same discipline as their parents, aunts, and uncles. It was quite the saga, but in the end successful, although I never for a moment thought that I'd be grateful for the ordeal a few years later on my own behalf.
With my Cadillac running shoes working so beautifully on the running course at the complex - I got a hit today because of the Soleeze name from Alpine, California - I do not want to wear them out and decided to pick up a pair of boarders for the street. The lad in the board shop was lively and alert with his explanations, so I'm also now qualified to hang out on street corners and debate the opposing merits of vulcanized soles as against soles that are laminated. I think it's laminated. I know the kind I have are vulcanized. I started noticing old cats in running shoes over a decade ago when I got my Birkenstock arch supports, but now I know enough about foot and leg muscles to wonder if these male seniors would be better off in the flat heel that comes with boarders. It seems to be important to not interfere with the full length of the stretching capacity of the back of the leg, from heel to butt.


It's now Sunday. My grandson is up and away, to perform last night in Kamloops, then catch up with family in Horsefly. My grandfather spent some quality time in the Cariboo and it was from him that I first heard the Cariboo place names. They still have something of a mythic quality.
And so do certain names in the North Okanagan: Falkland, Vernon, Lumby; places I was a boy surrounded by a boy's adventures and a boy's view of the landscape. For example, there's a creek runs from the direction of Lumby down toward Vernon, and one spring evening as I rambled its banks by myself I saw a very big fish, later identified - probably my Dad - as a fresh water ling cod. I had only seen little trout and Kokanee in that creek, and wondered what sort of monster I had encountered. He was that big. In Falkland I saw my first rodeo, at age six, and in my teens I was a cadet at the camp in Vernon for two summers. And only after he died, a year ago tomorrow, did I learn that our neighbour Vince grew up in Lumby, where his Mom taught school.


There is a memorial mass for Vince today and we'll be off to it. Meanwhile, I'll go on with reference to the mythological experiences of my boyhood to recall one from Nova Scotia, which place, as I said the other day to a Nelson journalist who hails from there originally, I have not yet been able to to give much credit to in these notes. I had a most poetic skating experience in my winter in Eastern Passage, gliding about through the evergreen trees on a surface created by the local creek flooding its banks high above the village. As it was in the Eastern Passage school that I discovered fairy tales, you can imagine how easily I felt myself to be in a marvellous story.
But there's no time to expand on that episode at the moment, because of the breaking news arising out of the week with the grandson.
By the time James left for his appointed concert in Kamloops, I had come up with the title for his new responsibilities. He is now the Chief Executive Officer of the Music Education Division of the George Edwards Agency. Not bad for going on 25. I grin, of course, as I remember that I was a principal at 24. We must be a pushy family, as the world judges these things.
I'm only partly surpised by this turn of events, thanks to an article in our local not-too-shabby Kootenay Mountain Culture, winter edition. It was in those pages that I read piece a couple of months ago by one Lisa Richardson, talking about the ski industry's foot dragging over how to market itself to the 14-28 category. The fellows in head office, she was saying, had yet to catch on to how Generation Y intercommunicated, that is, on line. By that time I was aware that James and his peers were forever gabbling on the new creations: Face Book, My Space, You Tube. And about the same time I'd also had a good thump in the soul about the unique relationship between the first and third generations.
Perhaps Lisa will get the inside track on a story about how the guys in head office in the music publishing business are even slower, so far, than the people on the mountain tops. Well, some music publishing businesses. It will be interesting to see how James' business flies over the Net.
Thanks to the Net I've already heard that the concert in Kamloops certainly flew. In spite of knowing only one person there, and that only from the Net, he had a full and very appreciative house. A good sign, don't you think?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

As Aristotle Said

For the second lesson in a row, it was the kind of episode all real teachers dream of, work for, pray for: that moment when a student simply takes an essential principle and runs it to the stars. The teacher may have had an inkling, as I did in the case of grandson James; or a warning to drive himself incessantly to get on top of a new idea, as in the case of the week before Hayley sat on the piano stool; but for this kind of situation to be at its best, the student has to bring something uniquely hers or his. In Hayley's case it was the compelling inspiration of descants in the Jane Austen sound tracks, in James' his constant preoccupation with professional musicianship. He's either soloing regularly, fronting his own band, sitting in on a performance or recording session with some other bands or singers, and writing. And this all across the country and even, once, south of the line. You Yanks just might be in better luck with him than you've been with me. I hear he actually likes New York. I don't actually hate the place, but it's performance in my own regard has been far from perfect. It still has an awful lot to learn, and it is by no means the only metropolis in the land of Lincoln and Mother Cabrini with that kind of track record. I speak of the Church, I speak of the arts, I speak of government. All three of these invested interests would do well to start reading John of the Cross. Ah, yes, and the press as well. Is there such a thing these days as an anglophone journalist who is actually literate?
James blew in early Sunday morning, on the Greyhound. He was two or three days later than originally intended, thanks to the unusual snowfalls from the Coast to the Rockies that have been closing the British Columbia passes, and my first fear was that we would not have available the week he had intended to pass, in our attic, at the piano - and guitar studio as well - and amongst the talented people he grew up with in Nelson. I actually had not considered this last category until I realized that one lad he was keen to connect with is actually a graphic artist.
Thus the reference to Aristotle, who said, in the Nicomachean Ethics, that you cannot accomplish anything great without friends.
It is one thing for the inventor to teach a skill one to one, or even to a class, with a blackboard and the requisite tools or instruments. It is something else, and in a sense, infinitely more challenging, to produce the texts by which any other teacher, who is not the inventor, can pass on the same information.
But later in the day, when James had caught up on his sleep - bussing does not permit such comforts to his long legs - we had a preliminary chat in which he confirmed that he would still have a week to absorb the ideas and I started in expounding the ideas so he could start getting his head around them. This was all very sketchy as we were in the midst of a birthday party, mine and my professional musician daughter's. It was also the birthday, January 11, of my late father, who was to a small but significant degree part of the earlier research team. A nice coincidence, in the Providential scheme of things. After the party, James headed out to visit friends.
So it was not until Monday morning that we could get together at the keyboard, and just as well, as on Sunday night after watching Morse and before I headed for the tub I tinkled away until I uncovered a significant gap in my approach to entire octaves. Thus, I had this essential additional feature in place, mentally, when we had our mere twenty minute encounter. Such an abbreviated affair due to my already scheduled guitar lesson with the great McDaniel.
But the boy is very quick, and the numbers of course make sense, like Thomistic philosophy, to anyone who takes the time to approach it. The scheme was all but self-evident and I left him practicing and analyzing, and the next morning he told me how he had not only made use of the
elements I had shown him, but had gone on to apply the harmony scheme to all the diatonic octaves and then the chromatic. And in the process, realized how he could study harmony. Heretofore always a lead singer, he had recently been rung in to add some backup on someone else's record. That had not been an easy assignment. Reflecting on his suddenly acquired understanding, he grinned like the cat that had just found the bottle of cream and knew how to get the top off and tip it over.
So then I brought up the subject of the frozen brains of the current captains of the music publishing industry in Toronto, London, New York, etcetera, as well as the government of Ontario's legislation, original response to my probing, and subsequent puzzling silence. He grinned again. He has some gigs back east coming up.
Coincidentally with all this, I have been thinking that it would be nice to get back to the rosary. This thought is more significant in symbol than in fact, for certainly throughout the years of this research - a round Ulyssian twenty - I have been by no means robbed of my habitual and co-natural relationship with the Mother of God, because it was specifically she who launched the ship ordained for these discoveries. In fact, as she made clear over and over again, she would only be displeased if I preferred the exercise of the beads to the exercise of probing the calamitous faults of current music instruction. She never actually smacked me over the head, as she is said to have done to one Blessed Allan, but she was thorougly rigorous about the preference and the obligation.
The night before James' fateful lesson, I was as always browsing Louis de Montfort's True Devotion to Mary, and was struck by his stating that it was a good idea to be familiar with the Little Psalter of the Virgin Mary as written by Bonaventure. Now I have in myself, as befits someone familiar with the Seventh Mansion, had very good luck with Marian interpretations of the psalms and other sacred texts concerning the fullest wisdom that can ever be granted to a Christian in this life, but I had never studied a Little Psalter by Bonaventure or anyone else, and it felt, given the order our Bishop Corriveau belongs to, an appropriate time to take it up. I had my business meeting with my grandson yesterday morning; Marianne downloaded and printed Bonaventure's genius yesterday afternoon. The pages now rest, appropriately enough, in a blue covered ring binder.
Retirement feels good, and perhaps my grandson and his cronies will do something to get the economy rolling again. God knows the generation ahead of them have managed to trash it. I was moved to give both government and journalism a chance to head it off, to catch on to the hysteria that comes when the greedy try to make money off the money off the money - the first two are legitimate and necessary, but the last always causes trouble - but nothing took.
As John Paul said long ago, music is prophetical, and I had to stick with that, because I knew that in this situation music was almost as important to the economy as it was to education.
James and the cronies he collects for the Operation Wakeup Call will no doubt continue to report to Grandpa, but the movers and shakers and supposed think tanks can report to the youngsters.
James is friendly. They might even get a piano lesson that will make the first day of the rest of their lives. Or guitar.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

I Q Tests for the Music Industry

You know how some kids are after they have graduated from high school: one week they're full of plans, enthusiasm, and confidence, and the next week they're having second thoughts, or else they're full of all of the above about contradicting the intentions of the first week. This is not, of course, unlike the spiritual exercises, except that with the exercises you have a director who should guarantee a logical conclusion. The kids may or may not be so lucky, given that so often the adults cast in the role of advisor are not a little worldly in their expectations, and thus given to smothering, or at least hindering, the best instincts in the young.
All this means that for the past six months, ever since my granddaughter and piano student Hayley graduated I've had to sit on my heels and wait for her to decide what she is going to do for the next little while in her young life. She had gone off to work in Victoria, where a brother is at school, and then there was talk of later working for War Child Canada, or going to art school, or perhaps studying sound engineering. The art school could have been here in Nelson, or maybe Halifax, but the other two were either Vancouver or Toronto. The researching grandpa was looking to be left high and dry in terms of his most useful keyboard guinea pig.
But then came Christmas, and Hayley announced she was coming back to Nelson, maybe to work here for a while. And meanwhile in the months intervening between her last lesson and now, Grandpa had finally burrowed under the hilariously stupid accretions of the last four hundred years of music teaching deep enough to find the mother lode, hints of which have been strewn throughout these posts.
For quite a few years now, we have had a tradition of making a big night of Christmas Eve, and when the kids were small, Christmas Eve always allowed for the opening of one present. The adults don't do this one any more, but, as I look back now, the tradition came alive for the sake of all future generations of piano students: Hayley told me at the gathering that she had a possibility of a job with one of the local lawyers. This had come through connections with a family, the wife and mother of which works for the lawyer, that had come about through the student brother in Victoria.
How wonderfully integrated life is! How smilingly the Almighty looks down on all legitimate endeavours! I had left law school to work more fully as an artist and a teacher, and now a law office was providing one of the final links in getting this piano business up and running around the universe! Obviously my fellow researcher was back for a while. We discussed the possibility of continuing the lesson/research episodes, and Hayley called and set a date for a lesson as soon as she had been through the interview and landed the job.
Today was the lesson. 10 a.m. Forgetting the young's rights and obligations over Friday nights, and therefore sufficient sleeping in on Saturday morning, I had said any time after 9, but was quickly corrected. So the status of scientific certitude for the new system could not really be established until around 11, about the same time in the morning as they signed the armistice agreement that ended World War One.
I hope our conclusions can be more final, and put an end to the current abuse of the minds and hearts of music students. The more I uncover the neglect of the mathematical foundation of scales and harmonies, the more amazed I am that such nonsense has gone so long unchecked, and that there are so many bad texts out there.
Being such a peace-loving fellow, I do try to compromise, to meet the reigning systems half-way, but every time I do this, I only make more mistakes, and then, having taught little guys and older beginners, I eventually realize how serious these mistakes can be, and then further realize how lucky I am that my students don't give up on me, even if they do have a rather inconvenient habit of moving about the country so I can't always get at them. And yet, as I keep finding the holes in my own redesigning of the process, I'm also grateful they weren't there for something I'd only wind up having to unravel.
One of the great things about Hayley being away for a stretch was that I wasn't able to pursue trying to persuade her to sing her numbers in too high a key. She's an alto, which means her home tonic has to be well below C, that is, the key children are usually started off in. Just before the news of her return I had from further tests on myself with the guitar discovered the bass or baritone joy in the tonic A. (This was also connected with making more sense to myself about the basics of yoga breathing.) What could be easier, I'd finally realized, than doing a scale on the fifth string, especially if you were a man? And how convenient to have the E of the sixth string to function as a dominant drone! It was in that range that the reluctant vocalist Tim McD. swung out like Nat King Cole. After all, the top note is only in the lower regions of head tones.
But when I tried A with Hailey, she found even that top note a little challenging for Saturday morning, so we dropped down into G, which also left us with only one black key. Blacks keys are no real impediment when you grasp the numbers, but every little bit helps, so she took off like Diana Krall and vastly entertained her teacher. Not bad for the first lesson in half-a-year, but it turns out she's been hearing the right hand tetrachord descant in the sound tracks on Jane Austen videos, and applying it when she has been near a keyboard.
And we even found a way to make an adapted use of scale books.
G also works nicely on the guitar, as it is found on the third string, with good old D on the fourth, to act, again, as the dominant drone.
To make things even better for the researching teacher, her oldest brother arrived this morning on the bus from Vancouver. I'm a day later now. He's here to spend a few days brushing up on the latest secrets before he hits the road again, from Victoria to Toronto. And that should leave us with even more interesting discoveries.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

A Gentlemen's Agreement

My dear old breath work coach, the Holy Spirit, has finally got me where He wants me. I have to admit that he hasn't had an easy time of it. As far as I know, there's not a drop of Pole in my blood, but I'm as stubborn as that breed is reputed to be. Yet I also know that the stubbornness, my adherence to persistent closed mouth breathing, was based on principle, at the time the best collection of principles I knew of. And those principles, although imperfect in the over all scheme of physical culture, nonetheless were excellent and necessary for learning some of the key fundamentals of functional anatomy. All arts of performance, of which athletics are a genre, have their parts of the whole that need to be worked on individually before there can be any hope of a complete balance. Probably before we can fully appreciate the unique purposes of breathing in through the mouth, we need to exhaust the limitations of breathing in only through the nose. In singing, for example, we absolutely need to learn how to sing softly, yet resonantly, before we start cutting loose in volume.
All of this means that I was able to return to our beautiful sports complex this morning and leg out another twelve laps, and also, for the second time this week, to tell someone that I have decided to at least look into the possibility of trying for the world record in the mile for 70 or 75 plus. This is not because I like collecting records or trophies, but because I want to promote the intelligence of sound breathing technique and the employment of yoga as the ultimate foundation of all real athletic intelligence, simply as the gifts of an all wise Creator.
In other words, the great Kevin Wallbridge has been released from some of his sniping duties - although not any of his tai chi instruction - because I'm honestly looking forward to running one of the fastest bloody old man's mile the world has ever seen, if I can pull it off, simply to prove the validity of the system and the genius of God's design of the anatomy of the human body.
The twelve laps were amazingly easy, three steps of mouth breathing in, six steps of mouth breathing out, with an excellent conversation with a retired hockey player and continuing coach sandwiched between laps four and five. Without the conversation I might have gone for three miles again, but that would have left me a little too tired perhaps for writing.
It was to the one-time player, now coach, in the rink to help with evaluating the dozens of young hockey players in Nelson to try out for spots on an upcoming BC-Alberta bantam level team, that I spoke of my intentions on the world record. His life work has been teaching, and he is as concerned about balance in the education of the young as I am. He's also a fellow grandpa, which gives us a sense of allegiance no one else can ever appreciate until he reaches that category.
I didn't come into the rink and the concourse to chit chat. I was there, not without anxiety, to see if there would be a really positive result of my returning to using my Birkenstock arch supports. I had been experimenting with tensor bandages on my ankles, wondering if they might restore some of the elasticity to my slumping arches. (A very real, as opposed to an imaginary, age-related factor in fitness.) They might have been some help in walking, but when it came to running, as I found out on the last day of 2008, they were no substitute for the pounding the feet have to take on a jog. 175 pounds landing on one foot every second stride is going to take its toll somehow.
Well, this time the 175 was no problem to the Birkenstocks. Good old German engineering, and a cake walk around the cement floor of the complex complex, at least with my Soleeze insoles as well. The Cadillac of running footwear, if I do say so myself. In fact, my left ankle feels better than it did before the run. If there's a Nobel prize for foot therapy, I'm a candidate. Man, what a lot of single malt that prize could buy! I could throw a party for the entire NFL, in order to cruise around and find out how much those mighty fellows know about yoga.
A lot of this, of course, because I'm really starting to get the hang of all the good you can do to the lower body muscles in the child pose and its many adaptations. I've got plantar stretches coming out of my ears - including one you can do while kneeling through the Canon of the Mass - so I was able to do a fair amount of healing to the ankle that took several hits from not using the Birkenstocks in the complex on Wednesday.
Suck it up, Eugene, Oregon; suck it up, Melbourne and Sidney. You guys used to have the advantage from the climates that let you train runners all year. But that was before the Nelson and District Complex - which in my heart is really the Ernie Gare Sr. Memorial Arena.
And it was also before I ran into the Maharishi of yoga coaches, the incomparable Patanjali of India.
Stability and comfort. Two fundamental principles, that keep the balance in effort. Two principles, just like two legs.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Hockey Day in Canada

It must come as a shock to nobody to hear that your friendly neighbourhood contemplatives do not watch a lot of ordinary TV. Our hours with the box primarily consist of mining our great library of BBC productions, dramatic or comic, or the occasional current film or documentary. This at evening recreation, the hour of playfulness sacred to all sensible convents. Live TV provides the odd rerun - Red Green and the Simpsons, for example - and a bit of the news, the complete weather forecast, and sports maybe or not. The contemplative, like the priest as recommended in canon law, must keep his/her mental edge, and there is too much on the tube that is wonderfully dulling to the brain cells. It's a bit of a razor's edge to walk, as the contemplatives exist to pray for stuff, and some of the stuff has to come in through ordinary news channels, the village pump of modern communication. And then there is the old problem of the right inspiration for the current assignments in research or creativity. You simply never know where the light will shine from next, and you have to remember what Saint Thomas teaches very early on in the Summa about the greater the message from on high, the more likely God will hide it in a very humble place. After all, it was no woman related to Augustus Caesar or Herod that gave birth to the God Man, as we celebrate today.
This primarily my rule of thumb. MT's is similar, but different to the degree that her way of keeping in touch with Church news is the sprightly blog, "Whispers in the Loggia" proceeding from Philadelphia and operated solely by one Rocco Palmo, one of the most independent broadcasters in the world, on or off the Net. Shawn, as Toronto the Good will be relieved to hear, regularly browses collected back issues of the Globe and Mail, and passes on to me items she knows I will be interested in.
Thus, in our household, it was quite predictable that I would not know that Ron MacLean was to be a guest on the final show of the CBC's Royal Canadian Air Farce. So it was doubly interesting to have him show up the night of the day that I returned to the walking and jogging concourse in the civic sports complex that Ron helped make known across the country early in 2007, when he hosted Hockey Day in Canada in our brand spanking new arena. Yep. We had the Stanley Cup and everything, on display in Shawn's new museum.
I had been using the cement track for about half-a-year, a runner and researcher coming in out of the cold and wet and snow of a Kootenay winter, still experimenting with full nasal breathing, trying to analyze various twitches in various joints, and slowly but steadily winning the second Battle of the Bulge without giving up his daily pint or two.
But this mixture of success and continuing puzzlement had to surrender to the realization that my music researches needed my first available hours of concentration. I simply was not getting to the secrets I knew had to be in there, via the numbers, but had not yet uncovered. So, concentrate, and let the jockdom look after itself. Thus, for nine months, the fat began a counter attack, and from all that sitting with my legs stretched flat our under the board that held the rubber keyboard, I developed annoying sensations in my hips, not at all helped by sitting, even on a Swiss ball, in front of this thing, and further assisted by couch roosting at film time, even though I spent quite a bit of that evening hour in the Taylor position, or lazy man's lotus.
Then came the realization that I had acquired a hernia from some aspect of the renos, house or yard, the designated surgeon's orders about weight loss, and the high speed walking programme that in normal men's heels gave me the sore feet and ankles I have previously discussed.
In all these months, I avoided the sports complex, and basically only jogged enough, I would say, to find out what I still had to learn. And all the while I had to deal with the little nagging voices that kept telling me that all my frustrations were age related. What could I expect after seventy?
Hah hah hah.
Yesterday I returned to the complex. Ever since she went to the museum, Shawn has found it practical to take her annual holidays at Christmas. Bishop Corriveau has been saying the daily masses this week, giving the cathedral priests a break, so we have been attending and subsequently going for a stroll before returning home. Yesterday we strolled as far as the Greyhound depot in the mall, to pick up the annual Christmas box from Shawn's brother, still active in the transportation business. Visitors to the 2010 Olympics will find him at the helm of one of their Pacific Stages coaches heading from Vancouver to Whistler. Our route home led naturally by the complex. I handed the box to my companions and walked in. My new running shoe design was on my feet, inside my overshoes.
And what a design it is, with possibly one flaw which I can correct the next time I hit the concourse. It is closed today, for the New Year's holiday, and I'm both relieved for the staff and irked, like a kid, that I can't make the correction right away.
My ordinary size in Feiwue's is a 44. But for my new purpose I picked up a pair of 46's. The extra room accomodates the forward half of a simple felt insole and a full length size 10 Soleeze spring-loaded insole ordered from the Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue. The shoe provides a completely flat sole, with no disturbing heel. The Soleeze provides the excellent cushion that the Feiwue was never meant to have. And the felt half sole lifts the front of the Soleeze to compensate for the half-inch heel rise at the back of the Soleeze that my musculo-skeletal system objected to.
One more thing. Under the heel of the Soleeze I have put a little circle of metal to protect the Feiwue fibres from the hard plastic cylinders encasing the springs. At the moment I use the lid from a small canning jar. This is especially necessary when running on concrete.
In this get up yesterday, three very comfortable miles. Each mile in less than twelve minutes and I was able to jog at least two-thirds of the time with the mouth open, generally, for intake. With nasal breathing both in and out, at the start of the season I achieved only 50/50. Furthermore, at the end of my second mile, nicely warmed up, I did one entire lap - one-eighth of a mile - of jogging.
The actual key to this success, this change of attitude about breathing technique, has taken a fair amount of working out, and once again I can only say that I wished Patanjali and the ancient rishis, or even some modern ones, had analyzed the comination of yoga and athletics. Possibly, now that India is finally entering the Olympics, some of their undoubted intelligence will spill over on to the track and elsewhere in the sports field. (The Canucks, meanwhile, have lost yet another goalie to the groin factor.)
Eventually, however, it began to seem quite simple, following my long-awaited clarity over anatomical structure and function. The code, as I see it for the moment, has mostly to do with the proportion of in-breath to out-breath, as it is by retaining the oxygen in the alveoli at the bottom of the lungs, thus giving sufficient time for carbon dioxide to come into existence and do its work, that the desirable balance is struck. For me at least, on the flat it seems to be fundamentally a two-to-one ratio, which in my case translates into three steps to a breath in and six steps to a breath out, both running and walking. On a climb, this two-to-one drops to something like two in and four out.
And depending on a variety of factors, especially weather, I don't really think it's essential whether the breath is coming or going through the nose or through the mouth, so long as the in-breathing to out-breathing ratio is maintained, and oxygen deprivation is avoided.
There is probably a lot more to be said on this issue, but this is probably enough for now, and a lot of the most significant conclusions won't be available until I've got some longer, faster, runs under my belt down at the complex Ron has already made famous. And I suspect that the Air Farce should keep that Chicken Cannon he was brought in to fire in working order. I still suspect that 09 could be a brutal year for certain invested interests.