"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.
Another heartening discovery: to find that a man such as Dietrich von Hildebrand would not agree that criticism of a Pope or Bishop is necessarily uncharitable or beyond the competency of the layman, and the entryway for clericailism that such thinking produces. DvH was prophetic.
I know there may be some couples who use NFP that way, but personally, I find it hard to imagine.
Generally speaking, to forego birth control and choose NFP, because it's the only licit means of spacing children, is to be a morally serious, pro-life person. To willingly accept the sacrificies and discipline involved NFP is to be committed to right values.
Selfish, superficial, or irreligious people are unlikely to put up with it.
Again, I don't say it's impossible, just unlikely.
I think this is a big part of the explanation for why the percentage of couples who use NFP getting divorced is so miniscule. People who use NFP are (broadly speaking) people who are serious about the Church's teaching on marriage and sexuality—not just in its "negative" aspect (what's not allowed), but also in its positive aspect (life is good; children are a gift, etc.) They also, on average, have a lot more kids than couples who practice birth control, which stands to reason, because NFP is essentially life affirming.
It depends on how the purposes of NFP are understood. If taken, as I believe the Church intends, as a means to avoid pregnancy for grave reasons, then no. If NFP however is taken as a 'lifestyle' where the openess to children is put on par with other pursuits, then yes: it is the contraceptive mentality at work.
I thought of your point 5 from post #41 (The gates of Hell not prevailing) today when reading an interview with Bishop Fellay, wherein he discusses in the section, "The Church however has promises of eternal life," how the Church is suffering today, the "climate of confusion" that makes one's head spin. It was heartening to read, because it is the best articulation I've seen yet of the kind of confusion I mentioned above, and because he encourages the faithful to keep the faith in these trying times.
Yes, every married couple promises to be open to children and to receive children generously. And every conjugal act must be open (i.e. not artificially closed). If a pregnancy occurs, the child is to be received as a gift, cherished, cared for and educated.
A couple cannot licitly refuse children. A couple cannot artificially prevent children, either through contraception or through sterilization.
Yes, as with all human acts, our agency is embedded within the higher and deeper agency of God. When a new person comes into existence, God always is the prime Creator.
My understanding is that couples vow to be open to life. I am not aware of any qualifications placed upon that call to openess by the Church. It seems to me that, inherent in the spirituality of the wedding vow, is trustful surrender to Divine Providence.
By virtue of their own decision to have sexual intercourse, couples are, or ought to be, taking responsibility for what may occur (preganancy). They are not letting go of a tiller; they are operning themselves up to God's potentially procreative action, with their cooperation. It's part of the very nature of the act itself.
"To accept children lovingly from God" puts our own agency in the procreativity within a certain context, the same context that is consistent with all true Christian spirituality: we are to seek His will, not our own. As agents of our own procreativity, we are not to shut Him out. To vow to be open to life and then to do something deliberately to prevent conception, unless there is a grave reason otherwise, seems to me to do just that. My understanding is that this has always been the teaching of the Church.
Think of a captain of a ship in a storm. Would he a better, more religious captain if he lets go of the tiller and "trusts God" to steer the ship?
I think think the answer is no, except in one circumstance, namely, one wherein he hears God tell him, "Let go." Otherwise, he should bring his all knowledge and experience to bear and steer as seems to him best.
Think of a farmer. Does he "trust God" to decide what fields will yield which crops, or does he sow one thing here and another there, while he lets a third field lie fallow for a season?
Husbands and wives aren't just objects of God's creative intention. We are, according to His will and design, agents of our own procreativity.
It seems to me "Providentialism" - as an official, hardline stance on the matter - errs because it rules out any legitimate use of NFP, ever.
That said, I think there are good reasons to be suspicious of NFP wholesale, as discussed here.
Most deeply, where does the role of trust in Divine Providence come into play? That's one of the central spiritual struggles we all face, I think, no matter the circumstances. Married couples will probably have no better chance to draw nearer to God in total abandonment to Him than in the 'planning' of their families.
I also do not understand the thinking that, "if a baby comes in spite of your intention to postpone pregnancy, well, the general life-affirming attitude of NFP makes it easy to remind yourself that God will provide." Not that God will not provide then, but, why not trust Him in the very first place, or at least challenge ourselves and others to do the same? Grave reasons aside, why do something to try to postpone pregnancy?
It would seem to require even more of couples to ask them to trust God all of a sudden, when pregnant, than before.
Even Plato built into his allegory the concept of the Cross, I think. Those who have left the cave would like to stay out there in rapt contemplation of the good, but they have to return into the cave to tell the others about the existence of this other world. In return they are ridiculed, beaten and crucified. Hence the good is never only for oneself; it has to be communicated, even at the risk of one’s life. Worldliness denies the necessity of such heroism. And I think we are all tempted to construct a kind of Christianity which feels more comfortable than the one Christ instituted. The denial of some of the key demands of Christianity today is an expression of this attitude, I believe.
These are interesting points, Sam! The Transfiguration is indeed a taste of Heaven (and gets us out of the cave briefly) and I, like you, can empathize with St. Peter that it would be nice to build some tents and remain there. I guess it shows how we’re all for the spiritual life, as long as it doesn’t involve the Cross. The temptation to run away from the Cross remains present even for the spiritually minded.
Worldliness is another way of doing it; one seeks Heaven or something like it, that ultimate satisfaction or happiness in the here and now, and fools oneself thinking that it can be found in this world. Happily these things fall to dust and ashes, and this acts as our wake-up calls.