Just Remember That Death Is Not The End

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In the last two days the subjects of death and euthanasia have come up frequently on Christian websites. For example, yesterday I read an article in Pravoslavie.ru from the National Review concerning a Dutch doctor who was sued for “Saying No to euthanasia”. Christian Headlines.com say that in Quebec doctors are being forced to comply with the assisted suicide (ie. euthanasia) programme even if they are morally opposed to it.  For anyone who may still have doubts as to where all this “end-the-suffering-by-ending-the-sufferer” cult may lead to, I would recommend Fr. Philip LeMasters’s recent post http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/easternchristianinsights /2015/09/27/an-orthodox-christian-argument-against-physician-assisted-suicide/.

I would like to add my own protest along with other Christian voices to the gross distortion of God’s commandments that I believe “mercy”killing to be. What a gross, appalling violation against the essential sanctity of all Life! How profoundly evil, ugly and merciless such a vision of ‘mercy’ death is!

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Today, rather than any debate, let the haunting beauty and profound spirituality of two Tavener classic works’ refute their arguments. Tavener’s Song for Athene and Funeral Ikos are deeply moving musical works which convey God’s grandeur and sovereignty over life and His overcoming of death. Tavener converted to Orthodox Christianity in 1977, and his compositions after that date are in his own words “icons in sound”, heavily influenced by Byzantine ecclesiastical music. He said he wanted to produce music which is “the sound of God”. In his recent book, The music of silence, Tavener said “If you listen to the music of the East, somehow the divine is already there. It is – which is a parallel with the eternal ‘I am’.” Ivan Moody, the noted Orthodox musicologist and priest, argues that Tavener’s music has “dynamic stasis” in its attempt to convey the theology and spirituality of the Orthodox Church.

Tavener’s Song for Athene is one of his best-known works, since it was sung at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, consisting of the Hebrew Alleluia (“let us praise the LORD”) sung six times as a ‘refrain’ to excerpts from the Eastern Orthodox funeral service and from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In the Byzantine tradition a continuous ison, or drone, underlies the work, adding a profound solemnity in the face of death. Mother Thekla, an Orthodox nun and Tavener’s ‘spiritual mother’ wrote the lyrics. “Let flights of angels sing thee to thy rest” from Hamlet overcomes the ugliness of death; “the Choir of Saints have found the well-spring of life and door of paradise”. “Come enjoy crowns and rewards I have prepared for you” emphasizes the final triumph of life over death. The opening of the song in Tavener’s words should be very tender, “with great inner stillness and serenity”. This corresponds to the Orthodox hesychastic tradition of stillness in prayer, whereas the climactic crescendo, conveying “the resplendent joy in the Resurrection”, the heart of the Orthodox faith, seals appropriately the end of the piece.

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Tavener’s Funeral Ikos is a musical setting of words for the Orthodox Service for the Burial. The words offer great consolation, but they soberly admonish us to prepare for the gateway to Paradise as well.

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Why these bitter words of the dying,

O brethren, which they utter as they go hence?

I am parted from my brethren.

All my friends do I abandon, and go hence.

But whither I go, that understand I not, neither

what shall become of me yonder; only God,

who hath summoned me knoweth.

But make commemoration of me with the song: Alleluia.

*

But whither now go the souls?

How dwell they now together there?

This mystery have I desired to learn,

but none can impart aright.

Do they call to mind their own people, as we do them?

Or have they forgotten all those who mourn them

and make the song Alleluia.

*

We go forth on the path eternal and as condemned,

with downcast faces,

present ourselves before the only God eternal.

Where then is comeliness?

Where then is wealth?

Where then is the glory of this world?

There shall

none of these things aid us,

but only to say oft the psalm: Alleluia.

*

If thou hast shown mercy unto man,

O man, that same mercy shall be shown thee there;

and if on an orphan thou hast shown compassion,

the same sball there deliver thee from want.

If in this life the naked thou hast clothed,

the same shall give thee shelter there, and sing the psalm:

Alleluia.

*

Youth and the beauty of the body fade

at the hour of death,

and the tongue then burneth fiercely,

and the parched throat is inflamed.

The beauty of the eyes is quenched then,

the comeliness of the face all altered,

the shapeliness of the neck destroyed;

and the other parts have become numb,

nor often say: Alleluia.

*

With ecstasy we are inflamed

if we but hear that there is light eternal yonder;

that there is Paradise,

wherein every soul of Righteous Ones rejoiceth.

Let us all, also, enter into Christ, that all we may cry

aloud thus unto God: Alleluia.

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For TAVENER’S SONG FOR ATHENE, please watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ma_Ouv74_8

For TAVENER’S FUNERAL IKOS, please watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ZRrbixpVV0

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Sources for Tavener’s music:

http://www.theguardian.com/music/tomserviceblog/2013/feb/19/contemporary-music-guide-john-tavener

http://www.gimell.com/recording-john-tavener—ikon-of-light—funeral-ikos—the-lamb—tallis-scholars.aspx

http://www.fulcrum-anglican.org.uk/articles/contemplating-tavener/

http://www.naxos.com/mainsite/blurbs_reviews.asp?item_code=8.555256&catNum=555256&filetype=About this Recording&language=English.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/13/arts/music/john-tavener-dies-at-69-composer-with-eye-on-god.html?_r=2&

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Die Before you Die

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“If you die before you die, you will not die when you die” (Greek Orthodox monastery)

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“… This week, I noticed a pattern in popular music of our time that I had not noticed before. It was something I heard in song lyrics. I’ll quote some for you from a few different songs:

So cut me from the line / Dizzy, spinning endlessly / Somebody make me feel alive /
And shatter me. (Lindsey Stirling / Lzzy Hale, “Shatter Me”)

Don’t let me die here / There must be something more / Bring me to life (Evanescence, “Bring Me to Life”)

How can the only thing that’s killing me make me feel so alive? (Parachute, “She (For Liz)”)

I could lie, couldn’t I, couldn’t I? / Every thing that kills me makes me feel alive. (OneRepublic, “Counting Stars”)

Do whatever I’m yours / Do whatever I’m sure / Anything, anything, anything, anything to feel alive (Jhené Aiko, “Drinking and Driving”)

When everything feels like the movies /Yeah, you bleed just to know you’re alive (Goo Goo Dolls, “Iris”)

Those are from six different songs. I could quote lots more like this, but this sample should suffice. These are all popular songs from the radio.

So what is the pattern? There are two things here. First, there is a cry out to be made to “feel alive” or to “come alive.” I did a Google search on a large popular song lyrics website, and there were nearly 1,100 songs that mentioned wanting to “feel alive.” Almost 1,300 used the phrase “come alive.” 100 used the phrase “bring me to life.”

I started clicking around when I saw this pattern and looked at the full lyrics to a few dozen songs. And the second pattern I noticed was that this language of wanting to feel alive was often paired with language about death and/or violence. For many of these lyricists, the key to feeling “alive” was first to die, to feel the pain of violence or to commit violence.

… So what is the point of this little tour through pop music? This is just one way of taking the temperature of our culture, of getting a sense of where we are as a people. There is a sort of anesthetization of life these days. We’re always trying to feel better, to feel entertained, to feel alive. And our pop songs sing about violence—even self-violence. And the movies and TV get more graphically violent. And the consumption of pornography is nearly off the charts. And we watch wars in other countries on TV as a perverse form of entertainment. …

Compare all this violence with Apostle Paul’s words: “I bear in my body the brand-marks of the Lord Jesus.” …  Into our culture of virtual violence and screaming out for the feeling of life come these words of the Apostle Paul: “But God forbid that I should boast, except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world.”

It’s not clear exactly what Paul means when he says that he bears in his body “the brand-marks of the Lord Jesus.” But he is probably speaking of his own suffering, that he has been physically wounded for his confession of faith. Paul is no stranger to violence. He feels pain. He is beaten. He is thrown into prison. He will be beheaded. Paul knows about violence. He knows about death.

… Paul embraces the death of the world! And he embraces his own death. But not because he just wants to feel alive. He embraces death because he knows that in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is life. He embraces death because he knows that he himself must be crucified with Christ so that his death can be joined with Christ’s death.

This is the paradox of our great hope as Christians—that we seek life, just like the pop songs! And we seek death and even violence, just like the pop songs! But it is not just any death or any violence that brings us life. It is the suffering and death of Jesus, to which we join our own suffering and death by repentance, by confession, by the sacraments, by love.

… The pop songs get it right, but not quite right. There is more to life than merely “feeling alive.” Life is not found in mere violence and death. Life is found in sacrifice and resurrection. Life is found in Jesus Christ, and in His Cross we therefore glory. Like Paul, we boast. Like Paul, we are crucified to the world, and the world is crucified to us. And death is slain. And we are made truly alive. And with Christ we will rise from the dead.”

Source: Road from Emmaus blog

By Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick

http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/roadsfromemmaus/2015/09/13/you-bleed-just-to-know-youre-alive/

Memento Mori

There’s something about abandonment that resonates strangely with the human spirit; and the sight of human buildings reclaimed by nature has a twofold effect. Firstly, it hints at hidden histories, at stories and perhaps lives lost – but more powerful still, is the underlying message that reminds us how all things must one day return to the earth. How interesting it is then, to contemplate the decline of our monuments to religion: more than mere function, these structures carry the weight of our beliefs, our dreams, our hope and our faith.

From time to time in my travels, I’ve come across the derelict remains of churches; some of them boarded and fenced off in city centres, others left to rot in fields or forests. I felt it was about time I shared a few of these locations … and so here are five of the most memorable religious ruins that I’ve had the opportunity to explore.

THREE ABANDONED CHURCHES AND A CELLAR FULL OF SKULLS

Derelict Church and Bell Tower, Bulgaria

I came across this first site one year ago – on Boxing Day, to be precise – nestled amongst bushes and tumbled stone walls, in the middle of a remote Balkan village.

The village was much like many others in the area; half a dozen houses clustered around a potholed road, and half of those properties most likely uninhabited. Over the past couple of decades Bulgaria has seen radical depopulation in its more rural settlements, as young people typically move to the cities – or now, increasingly to other EU nations – in search of work. As a result, many of Bulgaria’s more remote villages have begun to look a little starved of life and vitality.

From the road it didn’t look like much more than a collapsed barn; the creepers and brambles already taking a hold on the old stones, pulling them down in a deadly stranglehold. It was a war memorial in the graveyard that caught my eye, however – a peculiar, kneeling figure, sat atop the Bulgarian crest and brandishing a WWI-era rifle. The face seemed somehow twisted at first, but the more I looked the more I read a profound pathos etched into that stone mask.

I walked through the graveyard to the derelict building behind, a structure I’d barely given a second look until then. Here though, approaching from the main entrance I was greeted by the faded yet familiar symbols of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church; and stepping through an arched double doorway, for just a moment I was able to imagine the building whole.

At a guess, I’d say the church had been built sometime in the early 19th century. It wasn’t until 1878 that Bulgaria finally achieved independence from Ottoman rule, before which these people were strictly forbidden from building churches that rose taller than the invaders’ mosques. As a result, Bulgarian Orthodox churches built before that were typically dug deep into the ground, to form semi-subterranean spaces of worship that wouldn’t offend their Muslim overlords.

This building, approached by a series of three stone steps descending into a shallow, one-storey church, seemed to fit the mould perfectly.

The site also featured a bell tower, built in a more ornate style and topped with a proud cross, which would certainly have been raised post-liberation – such an unashamed statement of christianity would never have met with Ottoman approval. In fact, during those years even bells themselves were banned from churches; the subjugated Christians would rather have made do with wooden clappers, that drew less attention to their heathen practices.

It was sad to see the church, along with its more recently acquired bell tower, in such a squalid state of disrepair; the roof had long since been stripped, leaving nothing of value and only old, moss-covered stones to hint at what had once been here. Such is the nature of depopulation, however. With only a handful of elderly residents left, there was barely a congregation to be found in the village – let alone the work force required to keep the church and tower well maintained.

The sun was setting by the time I left the main body of the church. I glanced up at the stone tower as I crossed the graveyard, and at that moment I caught the reflection of sun beams glinting dully on the brass body of a bell. Immediately, I knew I wanted to climb the tower.

The bell tower wasn’t tall, perhaps little over four floors high by average building standards. What made the climb difficult however, was the state of the wooden staircase within. Some steps were missing altogether, others splintered, grown over with moss, while just a few seemed to promise the illusion of stability.

I spread my weight across as many steps as I could at any given time, taking the climb at a painfully slow rate. The structure creaked and groaned in protest, as I crawled up the rotten corkscrew.

At last, however, I made it to the top. Coming round one final corner of the warped and weathered staircase I met a square of blue above – where day’s last light was spilling in through windows in the stone to illuminate the bell ringer’s platform.

Pulling myself up and onto the larger beams that formed a floor for the tower’s topmost chamber, I caught my breath and looked out at the view – the sleepy hamlet, the lake beyond, the mountains disappearing into mist. In all the years this church and tower had suffered the onslaught of the elements, wood and stone giving way to the inevitable pull of natural decay, the view itself had likely never changed. Now that I was here, I couldn’t resist but ring the bell. It tolled a deep and dissonant sound that echoed out across the landscape … but by now there was no one left to hear it ring.

Christ the Savior Cathedral, Kosovo

In November last year I took a trip to Pristina, the capital of Kosovo. One of the sites I explored that week was an unfinished cathedral, located in a park just off George Bush Boulevard.

The building – titled the “Christ the Saviour Cathedral” – is a perfect example of the Orthodox form with its tower and dome, its simple cross placed up top. Here however, in the largely Islamic capital of Kosovo, the unfinished building stands out in sharp contrast against its surroundings.

Nowadays this building (and what it stands for) is caught at the heart of a heated political debate.

Construction began on the cathedral back in 1995, when it was intended as a place of worship for Pristina’s Serbian Orthodox population. Things would soon change however, with the outbreak of the Kosovo War in February 1998. The construction project was stalled as war ravaged the country, Albanians pitted against Serbs in a battle for independence. The following years would see attempted ethnic cleansing, bombing raids and eventual UN intervention … and by the time the Republic of Kosovo had been established as an independent nation in July 1990, the unfinished Serbian cathedral in its capital had become an uncomfortable reminder of their past oppression.

Built on the grounds of Pristina University, the Christ the Saviour Cathedral remains a brickwork shell to this day. It isn’t guarded, and the construction team never got as far as giving the building doors which might be locked to keep out trespassers; and so I sauntered in freely, to explore the vast brickwork arches and domes of a cathedral that never was.

While some Kosovo Albanians have called for the complete demolition of the building – branding it a symbol of the regime of Slobodan Milošević – there are others here who like it just the way it is. Speaking to an Albanian Muslim friend just a few days later, I was told that there are some in Pristina (and particularly amongst the younger population) who consider this ghostly shell a kind of trophy;

“Every time I look at this ruin, it reminds me of our victory against the Serbs,” my friend told me over burek and macchiatos.

Inside the cathedral I caught the scent of something foul, and turning a corner, I found that the altar space had recently been used as a public toilet. Whether this too carried a political message – or was simply the work of someone who’d been caught short in the park – I’d never know.

Abandoned Orthodox Church, Romania

Perhaps the most beautiful building featured on my list, this Romanian Orthodox church was also the most severely dilapidated.

The church lies on the edge of a tiny village, surrounded by open fields and roughly an hour’s drive from Bucharest. I never would have found the remote location on my own, but rather I made the trip with my Romanian friend Ovidiu, and co-conspirator Nate (the man from Yomadic).

Ducking beneath a lintel of jagged, severed bricks, we stepped into the church through a breach in one wall; a breach created after one large section of the building had torn away altogether, to crumble into the long grass.

Immediately I was struck by the simplistic beauty of the place. Frescoed walls and pillars in warm shades of orange, delicate arches and the most exquisite murals painted in blue, gold and red.

Unlike the building above, which I had witnessed being pulled aggressively apart by power tools and bulldozers, the ugly work of human hands and gas-fuelled vehicles of destruction, the atmosphere in this place was altogether different. Here there was a sense of balance, a serenity about the decay, as green growth sprouted out of old bricks … and vines reached in through windows to steal the minerals back from the very walls themselves.

The death of this church was a beautiful thing, a painless passing wrapped within the loving arms of mother nature.

Though the space inside was small, we spent a good long while exploring it – most of that time poring over faded frescos, admiring the painstaking detail in every scene. At one point we even climbed up onto the walls themselves … moving slowly, ever cautious not to dislodge the stones. From the broken end of the nave we looked down on the altar from above, our view level with the bell tower that somehow, against all odds, stood tall and square above the ruin even now.

Outside the church, where the graveyard bordered onto a small village square in which children chased chickens and three old women in shawls had sat on a wooden bench and watched us pass, there stood a gatehouse.

Like the church, this building too had clearly seen better days – but for now at least, it managed to maintain some structural integrity. I decided to climb it.

Stood beneath the stone archway, I ran my hand through the space where once a staircase would have been – wet chips of rotten wood now hanging in heavy cobwebs, while the chewed-off ends of steps still jutted out of slots in the wall at regular intervals. There was a square hatch above, leading to the tower room with its balcony – but 10 feet up without a ladder, I wasn’t going to get there on my own.

Using Ovidiu as a human climbing frame, I managed to get a hold on the ledge above … before pulling myself up and over the lip, rolling into a square grey chamber adjacent to the central tower.

The space inside the upper portion of the gatehouse had, apparently, long since been taken over by the pigeons. Moving through the mounds of muck and feathers, I crossed to where a wooden hatch opened onto the central tower. Above me, sunlight streamed in through a wide rent in the tin roof.

The main tower of the building had lost its floor – where once the boards had been, now only a couple of wooden planks extended from one end to the next, a delicate balancing act above a 10-foot drop.

I put my best foot forward, placing it on the wooden beam with the hope of crossing, and making it out onto the balcony beyond. It wasn’t to be, however; the moment I put weight on the wood I felt it shift beneath me, the surface crumbling to a grit with the texture and consistency of coffee grounds. I took one last look at that door opening out onto the balcony, then looked down again to the powdery mess my foot had made of the walkway.

Nope, I thought, not worth it.

Before we left, the churchyard had one more surprise in store for us.

Beneath a nearby tree there sat a heavy stone sarcophagus, its lid carved with ornate script and a sculpted wreath. At each corner, the tomb was supported on stones fashioned into the shape of feet.

I was just admiring the letters carved into the tomb, when I spotted a square hole opening up in the earth beside the sarcophagus. It was deep – too deep to make out the bottom – and suspecting I might be stood above some kind of buried crypt, I began looking around for the entrance.

We found it, sure enough; a series of slab-like steps that descended beneath the graveyard, into a deep, dark chamber filled with stones and rubble. The space wasn’t large, and felt all the more cramped for the piles of broken things which had been cast down from the opening above. There were cracked tombstones, pieces of pillar, even shards of splintered wood; presumably from coffins.

And after that we bid the church farewell. In one sense it was tragic to see such art left out to rot, and I wondered why no effort had been made to preserve it; the more time I spent in and around that building however, the more I experienced an inexplicable feeling that everything was exactly as it should be … and from then on I was simply grateful for the opportunity to admire the church before it had been swallowed back into the earth altogether.

Monastery Crypt, Bulgaria

My last location was not abandoned; neither was it a church, strictly speaking, but rather a picturesque little monastery nestled beneath a cliff in the mountains of Bulgaria.

While the monastery itself was undoubtedly beautiful – not to mention unique, at least in terms of structure and geography – my main reason for visiting the place was a small, half-buried chamber that would usually not be seen by visitors.

Stepping around the corner of a chapel, we followed the graveyard path that wound around and down; a flight of stones steps descending to the cellar door. We tried the handle and though the door was stubborn to open – the wood swollen from moisture – it had been left unlocked, as expected.

Inside the dim chamber beyond, a number of wooden boxes had been stacked in clumsy piles, a muddle of mismatched chests and caskets. “костилница,” read lettering on the wall: “Ossuary.”

Many of the boxes were labelled with names, presumably corresponding to the one-time owners of the bones that lay inside. I wondered where these bones were headed – or if these wooden boxes were indeed the final resting place of monks, martyrs, or whoever else this may have been in life.

Not all these holy bones were hidden though, and on a recessed shelf at the back corner of the crypt were arranged a series of human skulls. Following the same tradition I saw on my recent visit to a Czech ossuary, these bones had been boiled clean … but after that, the monks here had painted names and dates across each skull in delicate brushstrokes.

The effect was strangely beautiful; a repurposing of death, skulls used in place of headstones. These bones had served as vessels of information in life, why not allow them to continue to speak beyond that point?

It did trouble me a little to see the bones left open to the air … the skulls on the shelf showed signs of disintegration, while the stacked boxes were beginning to collapse under the weight of those piled above. Perhaps, though, such desire for preservation is itself an unnatural urge – maybe it’s healthier to accept the passing of time, and to embrace the inevitable decay that comes with it. These skulls seemed to serve the purpose of memento mori in every sense: both a reminder that all things must end, and also an admission that such processes can yet be beautiful.

That Sleep of Death

Death scenes from Le Jeune Homme et la Mort ballet & Henry Purcell’s opera, Dido and Aeneas

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Both the anonymous young man and Dido, Queen of Carthage, are heartbroken and about to kill themselves. Yet how “ugly” and merciless and “cold” (very Cocteau-esque) is Le Jeune Homme et la Mort for all the exquisite beauty of J.S. Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor and Baryshnikov’s and Noureyev’s mesmerising performances.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ptNz8rBk7Y (Noureyev)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Er0-aAdC2n4 (Baryshnikov)

* That must have been incredibly hard for Baryshnikov to do – his mother hung herself when he was a small child, and he discovered her hanging from the rafters in their home.

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Compared to the supremely forgiving and uplifting Dido’s Lament, sung with pure clarity‪ and charity, at Henry Purcell’s opera – Dido and Aeneas:

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“When I am laid, am laid in earth,

May my wrongs create No trouble,

No trouble in thy breast”

* quietly sobs *
Hauntingly Beautiful! True heart breaker! A most precious friend of mine asked me once to forgive him in the exact words of Dido, although there was nothing to forgive, and I promised him to play this song on his funeral, for all the world to know what a most gentle, kind, noble and selfless love he had for everyone. Ever since I cannot listen to this without remembering him and welling up ..

Is it possible to hear this masterpiece by without sobbing? I think emphatically not. Dido’s Lament from Purcell‘s opera Dido and Aeneas is arguably the saddest piece of music ever written. But how exactly does Purcell manipulate our emotions to make sure we well up each and every time we hear it?

Legendary harpsichordist and conductor Trevor Pinnock, explains why  it breaks our heart every single time and exactly how Purcell reduces us to tears every time.

http://www.classicfm.com/composers/purcell/guides/trevor-pinnock-didos-lament/#iKWe3zIsJVq33irX.97

For opera connoisseurs, the great Jessye Norman’s rendition is in my opinion classic for its great depth and superb diction, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_R7BYSgz8xY

Elin Manahan Thomas‘ is more ethereal and crystalline

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uGQq3HcOB0Y

and Xenia Meijer‘s quite beautiful and moving

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ivlUMWUJ-1w (Opera)

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For more classic paintings on the theme of Love and Death, go to https://vimeo.com/89692541, which features a recording of the famous Aria, arranged for classical guitar and illustrated by several paintings of Heinrich Füger, Nathaniel Dance-Holland and Joseph Turner.

  • That Sleep of Death

Aye, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.

From Shakespeare, Hamlet: Act 3, Scene 1, Hamlet’s Famous Soliloquy: “To Be or Nor to Be”

A Spectral Array of Blues

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TROIS COULEURS: BLEU (1993) is a stunning film from one of the world’s preeminent directors, a rich, dark film with all the Kieslowski marks: death, silence, depression, and inner torment of the protagonist. Bleu is an impressive, inspired and inspiring anatomy of Loss, Death & Mourning with certain Christian overtones.

Desson Howe notes that “in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Blue,” the rehabilitation of a human spirit after painful tragedy is given stunning, aesthetic dimension. A story about a woman (Juliette Binoche) who loses her family (her composer-husband and 5-year-old daughter) in a car crash, this Polish-French production is also a spectral array of blues — cold, heart-chilling and beautiful.

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For the trauma of loss and persistence of memory, watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=osu3j7N1fGU

Emotionally, “Blue” is a grim ordeal, as Binoche (still in the hospital recovering from the accident) attempts suicide, then retreats into deep-freeze mourning. But Kieslowski, cinematographer Slawomir Idziak, set designer Claude Lenoir and composer Zbigniew Preisner infuse the harrowing atmosphere with stylistic rhapsody.” (Washington Post, March 04, 1994 )

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More importantly, unlike Michael Rosen’s Sad Book, certain Christian themes throughout the movie offer the hope of redemption. Throughout Kieslowski implies a form of divine intervention or destiny at work, forcing Julie to come to terms with her past, others, and herself and serving as an agent of epiphanic inspiration.

There is also specifically love and forgiveness: Julie for example discovers that her late husband was having an affair. She tracks down Sandrine, Patrice’s mistress, and finds out that she is carrying his child; Julie arranges for her to have her husband’s house and recognition of his paternity for the child. What a ray of hope and redemption for such a “bleak” film, focusing on death and mourning, to end with the ultrasound of a baby, waiting to be born! Life conquers Death because Love is Life, and nothing, nobody can defeat Love, not even Death, the ultimate enemy.

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Then, there is humility, self-effacement and sacrifice. After the crash, in an attempt to blot out the trauma of loss, Julie destroys the score for her late husband’s last commissioned, though unfinished, work—a piece celebrating European unity, following the end of the Cold War. It is strongly suggested that she wrote, or at least co-wrote, her husband’s last work. Throughout there is an implication that she has hidden her own work behind the public face of her husband. In the final sequence she rewrites and completes the score and the Unity of Europe piece is played, while images are seen of all the people Julie has profoundly affected by her actions.

Significantly, this climactic piece which features chorus and a solo soprano is Saint Paul‘s 1 Corinthians 13 epistle in Greek, the hymn of love.

For a profound rendition of the Christian Hymn of Love (1 Cor, 13) , watch Trois Couleurs: ‘Bleu’ finale: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jmQ88PWzvR0

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13 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 

6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 

13 And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

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So, although there are some scenes, themes and plot developments in Bleu which conflict in my opinion with a Christian outlook, such as the typical French twist with Julie and her husband’s friend becoming lovers, still I find this film so much more comforting, uplifting and inspiring than The Sad Book* and its like, so plenty in modern art!

*See https://orthodoxcityhermit.com/2015/09/17/heartbreaking-anatomies-of-loss-death-mourning-iexemption/

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I’m Sad, not Bad

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This is me being sad.

Maybe you think I’m happy in this picture.

Really I’m sad but pretending I’m happy.

I’m doing this because I think people won’t like me if I look sad.

Sad Book by Michael Rosen: darkness in literature

Sometimes sad is very big.

It’s everywhere. All over me.

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Then I look like this.

And there’s nothing I can do about it.

What makes me most sad is when I think about my son Eddie. I loved him very, very much but he died anyway.

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Michael Rosen’s Sad Book: A Beautiful Anatomy of Loss, Illustrated by Quentin Blake

“Grief, when it comes, is nothing like we expect it to be,” Joan Didion wrote after losing the love of her life. “The people we most love do become a physical part of us,” Meghan O’Rourke observed in her magnificent memoir of loss, “ingrained in our synapses, in the pathways where memories are created.” Those wildly unexpected dimensions of grief and the synaptic traces of love are what celebrated British children’s book writer and poet Michael Rosen confronted when his eighteen-year-old son Eddie died suddenly of meningitis. Never-ending though the process of mourning may be, Rosen set out to exorcise its hardest edges and subtlest shapes five years later in Michael Rosen’s Sad Book (public library) — an immensely moving addition to the finest children’s books about loss, illustrated by none other than the great Quentin Blake.

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With extraordinary emotional elegance, Rosen welcomes the layers of grief, each unmasking a different shade of sadness — sadness that sneaks up on you mid-stride in the street; sadness that lurks as a backdrop to the happiest of moments; sadness that wraps around you like a shawl you don’t take off even in the shower.

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Blake, who has previously illustrated Sylvia Plath’s little-known children’s book and many of Roald Dahl’s stories, brings his unmistakably expressive sensibility to the book, here and there concretizing Rosen’s abstract words into visual vignettes that make you wonder what losses of his own he is holding in the mind’s eye as he draws.

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What emerges is a breathtaking bow before the central paradox of the human experience — the awareness that the heart’s enormous capacity for love is matched with an equal capacity for pain, and yet we love anyway and somehow find fragments of that love even amid the ruins of loss.

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With exquisite nuance, Rosen captures the contradictory feelings undergirding mourning — affection and anger, self-conscious introspection and longing for communion — and the way loss lodges itself in the psyche so that the vestiges of a particular loss always awaken the sadness of the all loss, that perennial heartbreak of beholding the absurdity of our longing for permanence in a universe of constant change.

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But what makes the story most singular and rewarding is that it refuses to indulge the cultural cliché of cushioning tragedy with the promise of a silver lining. It is redemptive not in manufacturing redemption but in being true to the human experience — intensely, beautifully, tragically true.”

Where is sad?

Sad is everywhere.

It comes along and finds you.

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When is sad?

Sad is anytime.

It comes along and finds you.

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Who is sad?

Sad is anyone.

It comes along and finds you.

 

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By Maria Popova

Source: http://www.brainpickings.org/2015/08/25/michael-rosens-sad-book-quentin-blake/

http://www.michaelrosen.co.uk

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Be sure not to miss Michael Rosen’s absolutely breath-stopping telling of his story and reading of his book at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-SQE_bDWFY

*

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Still, I would really like to disagree very strongly with both Maria Popova’s and Michael Rosen’s conclusions as a Christian. Yes, it is all this, but there is so much more to it. What do you think? I have never experienced such profound loss myself, so maybe I don’t know what I am really talking about, but there must be more to it than all this pain and mourning.  But more about this on my next post …