"This is really neat!" wrote Michael Wallacavage, as he sent around a link to this fascinating clip of Eric Whitacre's virtual choirs. Watch it, and I think you'll agree.
The singing starts at 6:27 and then again at 12:12 on the timeline. But don't skip what comes before! Whitacre's introduction is very interesting and engaging. He not only talks about the project itself, how it came about and so on, but also explains how he got interested in classical music. As a youth, his dream was to be a pop star. (He wanted to be the fifth member of Depeche Mode. Remember them?). But when he got to college he joined a choir instead. Not for love of music, mind you, but because it included a free trip to Mexico and the soprano section was full of "hot girls."
But then, Boom!, during the very first day of practice, as the choir launched into the Kyrie from Mozart's Requiem, he had a profound and life changing experience:
My entire life I had seen in black and white and suddenly everything was in shocking technicolor. The most transformative experience I've ever had. In that single moment, hearing dissonance and harmony, and people singing, people together, the shared vision, and I felt for the first time in my life that I was part of something bigger than myself.
Wow. I love it. What a powerful testimony to the influence of great music on the human soul.
Whitacre's experience contains, in a concentrated and intensified form, elements that are found in any deep encounter with value and beauty. I'll try to draw out a few of them, and hope you'll add your own reflections in the comment section.
Whitacre's experience opened his eyes to the depth, richness, and significance of reality. It wasn't merely a different perspective, it was a deeper one. What previously seemed humdrum and ordinary is now revealed for what it really is. All of a sudden, everything has color and meaning, including (though Whitacre does not say so explicitly) his own life and what he decides to do with it.
This doesn't mean that everything is honky dory. All of reality is revealed in technicolor. Not just the things that are noble and lovely, but also those that are ugly and painful. And yet, if the experience went deep enough, I suspect it also inspired a certain confidence that light is stronger than darkness, and that it has the final word.
It's worth underlining that the experience of a single thing of beauty, in this case Mozart's Kyrie, does not just affect one's perception of that one thing, but spills over onto everything else as well. In that way the experience of beauty is truly eye and soul opening. It improves our general ability to see and respond to value.
Whitacre's experience is also transformative. It does not just change his perspective, it changes him. That is why he is now a classical composer and conductor instead of a pop star. The change in his career is a reflection of a deep change in his person.
And note the manner in which beauty works these changes: not through force, or by leaving him with no other option, but by affecting his heart, and inclining it in a new direction. Whitacre is not compelled to give up his previous dreams, he wants to do so. The change, though sudden and drastic, is entirely free and organic.
This gentle, natural way in which values exert their influence is one reason they are so important in education. Exposing children to high values is a way of forming and enobling them that goes deeper and is more congenial than other methods of education involving discipline and rules. (Not that the latter can be eliminated altogether!)
Another fact about Whiteacre's experience is that it was totally unplanned and unexpected. Unlikely even. This also is a general feature of experiencing beauty. We can open ourselves to such an experience, and long for it, but we cannot simply decide to have it. If we are going to be swept up into something higher than ourselves, something (or someone) higher will have to do the sweeping.
This powerlessness on our part seems like a bummer. But really it is part of the blessing of beauty. Too much control is stifling and oppressive. Letting go is liberating. Or at least, it can be liberating. Everything depends on whether one is lifted up by something higher or dragged down to something lower than oneself. The former is liberating, the latter enslaving. (As an example of the latter, there's a song I sometimes hear during spinning classes at the YMCA, that challenges the listener to "disconnect from all intellect," "lose this inhibition," "break away from tradition," "get stupid," and so on.)
One last conspicuous feature of Whitacre's experience is that of a deeply felt communion with other people. "People singing," he describes, "people together, the shared vision… I felt for the first time in my life that I was part of something bigger than myself."
This unifying power is something that all genuine goods have in common, and it is related to the soul-opening power I mentioned above. Dietrich von Hildebrand explains this very well:
The human person has an "outer" and an "inner" side. When he is closed off, he touches the other only with his "outer side" and also touches the other from the outside. Something completely new happens as soon as man opens himself, lets his inner side appear and lets it touch the other person. Every experience of being deeply moved by value means such a breakthrough of the inner side, a self-opening of the person towards all others … [T]he crust of indifference, of egoism, and of pride, which forms on the outside of the person and closes him off from the other, melts under the influence of being moved by the world of values, [and] a union with all other persons constitutes itself simultaneously. The breakthrough of the depth of the person who is taken by the embracing rays of the realm of values … is simultaneously a falling away of the separating barriers between persons.
His 'precious' literally annihilates his personhood--splitting his personality into 2: such that he can no longer say 'me' but only 'we'.
In other words, he is not free to exercise an "I-Thou" relationship of persons, but pitifully, "we-it"
I argue that addiction does precisely this: objectifies the personal dimension of reality, such that everything to the addict can only be viewed in relation to the object, "it". Persons themselves are merely means to the end of possessing "it". It is nothing short of slavery to the "precious"
The man with the lizard on his shoulder in Lewis' Great Divorce, captures addiction best in my view.
Of the handful of NA groups that I've sat in on, the addicts describe "stinkin' thinkin'" as a kind of rationalizing voice in their heads that convinces them to sabotage their sobreity. Particularly in times of family reunions or very stressful situations, the voice seems irresistible to them. They lose the ability to be responsible, and sabotage all for the sake of "getting a fix".
In Lewis' book, the man defeats the lizard with much difficulty--and promptly transforms into a much greater version of himself. This is the case too with the few instances of addicts I've seen who "kicked the habit", and were able to gain employment/independence/accountability for staying sober. They literally improve their posture/thought patterns/speech/etc. From vice to virtue--a very difficult road w/ drug use--and a desperate need for God's unmistakable grace.
I find therefore the approch of Hagiotherapy and of an Italian sister (I think her name is Elvira) interesting; trying to heal the problem primarily on a spiritual level. I could imagine, however, that with some (or perhaps many) that might still not be enough, since the addiction also takes place on a physiological level, but hagiotheraphy addresses something about the root of addiction which, I assume, the average rehab doesn't.
I've noticed Pope Benedict and Pope Francis both mentioning the problem of addiction as a serious threat to persons in the modern world. And I agree with you, Marie. The problem is much wider than we usually think.
On a side-note: I haven't read much about addiction, but I've always thought that its treatment requires an awareness of man's supernatural vocation. I'd be tempted to say that we are all addicts, so to speak, that we all try to fill the void in ourselves (which St. Augustine captured so well in saying that our hearts are restless until they rest in God); Pascal delineates with great psychological finesse the ways in which we throw ourselves into pleasures, the pursuit of glory, the bustle of work in order to fill that void. This, it seems to me (not being a professional pscyhologist, I don't know the medical definition of addiction), is addictive behavior; for some it gets out of hand and becomes more apparent to the world, especially when linked to drugs or alcohol which are addictive on a physiological level and destroy the person in a very visible way. Hence battling those addictions or idols means for all of us accepting the emptiness in oneself; the experience of the desert or of a dark night therefore seems essential in the spiritual life and necessary for God's descent, to use S. Weil's terminology (who was very influenced by Pascal).
Well...I think it must have been somebody else. It sounds like a different style than my mother's. Also, my mother read the piece and thanked me for "making up all those nice virtues" for her. It is true that my father would make pizza every Sunday night, so she didn't actually make a home-cooked meal every single day for fifty years, but the pizza had starch, vegetables and meat on it, so I figure that falls under poetic license.
She did respect us all as persons in a way I gradually realized was very unusual. I had friends whose parents let them express their freedom any way they wanted, because (in some ways) that was simpler for the grownups. I had other friends whose parents believed in objective right and wrong but micromanaged their lives and tastes down to the last detail. I'm sure my mother would disagree, but I think she managed a good balancing act.
I read an article many years ago by your mother, I think. (I mean I think it was by her.) It has stayed with me. She described sitting at a restaurant table with two worldly-minded women (was it her mother and sister?), and feeling a little frumpy and awkward and out of place. The other women were admiring each other's jewelry. The author blurted out, "I too have many precious gems. My children."
even if we have greater or lesser degrees of "space" that we've created for God through love on Earth. There will be no sense of incompleteness, no lack, no frustration; there will only be complete union. God will be giving Himself completely to everyone of us (as I've also explained in my interpretation of the late-hour workers) - there will be no difference in this way. I agree with your (and St Therese's) understanding of sanctity, of completely depending on God, on complete trust; hence Our Lady is our model, she is full of grace - no sin is there to prevent God's grace from fully inhabiting her. We don't tend to have this complete dependence; some of us - like St Therese manage to have it to an extraordinary degree - and there are probably a lot more than we know, and yes sanctity is accessible to everyone of us. But that there are differences in how much we let God inhabit us and that this will be reflected in Heaven seems to make a lot of sense and is in line with the tradition of the Church. I hope this sheds some light on this discussion.
I completely agree with many of the points you make, Patrick, which are very good. But I think you are working with the wrong notion of hierarchy, or rather are assuming that this notion of hierarchy is underyling what I'm trying to get at. I'd say that there is no contradiction between the hierarchy in Heaven I'm trying to capture here and St. Therese's little way, her understanding of sanctity etc. Perhaps you have in mind some of the paintings we know so well with the different layers of saints, closer or further away from God, and thus are using as a metaphor a ladder, or something of the kind. A metaphor only works in some respects and in others it is wrong. To think that we will be kept at a distance by God or that we achieve sanctity by climbing up the mountain would indeed be wrong. Perhaps the metaphor of pots works better (if I remember correctly, it was also used by St Therese): pots of different sizes are still completely full even if the quantity of water in them is of a different amount. Similarly our union with God will be complete;
Richard, I'm very sorry, and have added an attribution within the post. I've checked out more of your photos at the address you link to--here--and was very struck by the beauty and variety of your work.