Wednesday, June 23

The Question

The question recently posed to me was, "What is meaningful to you as you work through grief and loss?" Especially with regards to music, poetry, mantra, meditation.

One piece of music that always does it to me is, "The Lord Bless You and Keep You" written by John Rutter. Sitting into that music whether I am grieving, longing for rest, or sinking into Sabbath always lifts my spirits. Sometimes I forget how amazing I think choir music is! Then I'm blown away all over again.

My top three go-to's for music chills are:

1. The Lord Bless You and Keep You by John Rutter

2. The Conversion of Saul by Dr. Z. Randall Stroope

3. Lux Arumque by Eric Whitacre

And an add-on:

4. Leonard Dreams of His Flying Machine by Eric Whitacre (this one also makes me laugh out loud)

What is meaningful to you? What music, poetry, mantra, or meditation comforts you in grief, lifts you in love, or settles you on the Sabbath?





  • I dunno why, though I still often wonder, but the kinds of poetry, music, and philosophy I find most comforting are the kinds that attempt to provide the LEAST comfort. I’m NOT saying they make or attempt to make the pain worse. Rather, they acknowledge the pain I’m going through and respond with some form of “Yeah sometimes life is a bitch, ain’t it?” AND THAT’S ALL.

    Examples: Wallace Stevens’ poems like “The Snowman”, “Sunday Morning”, and “The Idea of Order at Key West” … A. R. Ammons’ “Easter Morning” (which was sparked by the senseless death of his little brother & the Ammons kids’ mother carefully preserving a sneaker print from the little brother in the soft soil of the Ammons’ front yard) … T. S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets” … most of the late paintings of Edward Hopper … the beginning of the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s “7th Symphony” … Tennyson’s long poem “In Memoriam” and his “Ulysses”.

    T. S. Eliot once said that the problem with most religious poetry is that when most religious believes write religious poetry, they do not write about what they REALLY FEEL, but about what they *** WISH *** THEY FELT BUT DO NOT. I’ve found that to be true. And not only about poetry that is explicitly religious but also poetry that deliberately sets out to be comforting. Maybe it’s because of my life-long experience with Christianity as an elaborate “Disappointment Machine”, but when Christian writers / artists set out to deliberately comfort me, my first thought is usually “Yeah … bullshit … which one of us are you trying to convince”. The conspicuous exceptions are always either non-Christians like Stevens or Christans who avoid comfort because they came to Christianity under tragic circumstances like Eliot during his wife Vivian’s commitment to an insane asylum and his experiences as a fire warden during the London Blitz.

    I find REFUSAL of comfort quite … COMFORTING … because it’s more real.

      • And this by Ammons is incomparable, one of the 2 or 3 best religious poems ever written in the English language …

        Easter Morning by A. R. Ammons
        I have a life that did not become,
        that turned aside and stopped,
        I hold it in me like a pregnancy or
        as on my lap a child
        not to grow old but dwell on

        it is to his grave I most
        frequently return and return
        to ask what is wrong, what was
        wrong, to see it all by
        the light of a different necessity
        but the grave will not heal
        and the child,
        stirring, must share my grave
        with me, an old man having
        gotten by on what was left

        when I go back to my home country in these
        fresh far-away days, it’s convenient to visit
        everybody, aunts and uncles, those who used to say,
        look how he’s shooting up, and the
        trinket aunts who always had a little
        something in their pocketbooks, cinnamon bark
        or a penny or nickel, and uncles who
        were the rumored fathers of cousins
        who whispered of them as of great, if
        troubled, presences, and school

        teachers, just about everybody older
        (and some younger) collected in one place
        waiting, particularly, but not for
        me, mother and father there, too, and others
        close, close as burrowing
        under skin, all in the graveyard
        assembled, done for, the world they
        used to wield, have trouble and joy
        in, gone

        the child in me that could not become
        was not ready for others to go,
        to go on into change, blessings and
        horrors, but stands there by the road
        where the mishap occurred, crying out for
        help, come and fix this or we
        can’t get by, but the great ones who
        were to return, they could not or did
        not hear and went on in a flurry and
        now, I say in the graveyard, here
        lies the flurry, now it can’t come
        back with help or helpful asides, now
        we all buy the bitter
        incompletions, pick up the knots of
        horror, silently raving, and go on
        crashing into empty ends not
        completions, not rondures the fullness
        has come into and spent itself from

        I stand on the stump
        of a child, whether myself
        or my little brother who died, and
        yell as far as I can, I cannot leave this place, for
        for me it is the dearest and the worst,
        it is life nearest to life which is
        life lost: it is my place where
        I must stand and fail,
        calling attention with tears
        to the branches not lofting
        boughs into space, to the barren
        air that holds the world that was my world

        though the incompletions
        (& completions) burn out
        standing in the flash high-burn
        momentary structure of ash, still it
        is a picture-book, letter-perfect
        Easter morning: I have been for a
        walk: the wind is tranquil: the brook
        works without flashing in an abundant
        tranquility: the birds are lively with
        voice: I saw something I had
        never seen before: two great birds,
        maybe eagles, blackwinged, whitenecked
        and –headed, came from the south oaring
        the great wings steadily; they went
        directly over me, high up, and kept on
        due north: but then one bird,
        the one behind, veered a little to the
        left and the other bird kept on seeming
        not to notice for a minute: the first
        began to circle as if looking for
        something, coasting, resting its wings
        on the down side of some of the circles:
        the other bird came back and they both
        circled, looking perhaps for a draft;
        they turned a few more times, possibly
        rising—at least, clearly resting—
        then flew on falling into distance till
        they broke across the local bush and
        trees: it was a sight of bountiful
        majesty and integrity: the having
        patterns and routes, breaking
        from them to explore other patterns or
        better ways to routes, and then the
        return: a dance sacred as the sap in
        the trees, permanent in its descriptions
        as the ripples round the brook’s
        ripplestone: fresh as this particular
        flood of burn breaking across us now
        from the sun.

    • When I’m at my lowest I find connection in what you rather brilliantly call “un-comforting comfort” – I think the comfort is a validation of what I’m experiencing.

      It is cloying at best and annoying at the least to hear words (written or spoken) which don’t match my personal pain. Music or visual art, on the other hand, is very different for me – the upbeat or whimsical can actually lift my “spirit”. I’m guessing that it has to do with where it is processed in my brain and the feed-back loop to the neurochemical emotional centers . . .

      • I think the whole comfort / consolation thing is one area that has been neglected by my sibling atheists & humanists. When people are hurting, they want something more than the cold comfort of rational discourse. What can we (my sibling atheists / humanists / skeptics) give them. Well, in the here-and-now, we can just sit with them & BE with them without trying to “fix” anything. That, I think, is the open secret of “un-comforting comfort”: just sheer presence.

        But in many cases, hurting people want assurances about the way things will be in the FUTURE. I used to be pediatric-oncology hospice counselor (really just a “para-professional listener”), and I’ve had any number of parents say to me something like “I just KNOW that if I pray real hard, this round of chemotherapy will work … don’t you Jim?” That was always hard, because the fact is I knew nothing of the kind. I couldn’t predict the future. AND THAT WAS WHEN I WAS A *** CHRISTIAN ***!!!

        That’s where religious myths beat the hell out of atheists & humanists: comfort about the FUTURE … which is the stock-in-trade of religions, at least all God-centric religions. As long as we atheists / rationalists / humanists maintain our integrity by hewing to rationality, we will never be able to match that, I’m afraid. The solution lies in the other party, the party needing comfort, being likewise rational, which, being desperate for comfort, they almost by definition never will be.

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