Sunday, December 31, 2023

Pope Benedict XVI and “The Face of Jesus”

One year ago today, Josef Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI reached the end of his long earthly pilgrimage. He spoke and wrote many words over many decades, and they all had one ultimate purpose: to seek the face of Jesus, to look at the face of Jesus, to behold the face of God in the face of Jesus, to listen to Jesus, to follow Jesus. 

Today let us not be torn apart by forgetting the face of Jesus and grasping instead for our own abstract hypotheses.✝️

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Last Scenes of 2023 From JJStudios

With photographs and digital tools, I have sculpted and dappled my way through the year 2023. The last digital art creations of the “JJStudios 2023 Exhibition” draw their inspiration (or lack thereof) from these last weeks of what has felt (at least physically) to be a “gloomy December.”

I had more than the ordinary difficulties in getting outside much this month, as cold air and humidity have weighed upon me more than usual.

I am grateful, however, to have enjoyed much company from the family, with granddaughter Anna’s birth and baptism earlier in the month, and the special joy of all of us being together to celebrate a happy Christmas week.

Friday, December 29, 2023

Christmas Week: Jesus Wants to Stay With Us


“Christmas Day” is a great festival that lasts for a whole week, and the season continues into January. The liturgy continues to mark the glorious event of God’s coming to dwell with us. Keep celebrating the joy of the birth of Jesus in your hearts and homes. 

This is the joy mysteriously at work deep within us, the joy of the redemption of our humanity that is stronger than all our sorrows and frustrations, all our disappointments and regrets, all our sins. Let us make room for Him, for His joy, for His inexhaustible love that draws near to each of us with tenderness and “longs for us” to welcome Him into our lives. 

His presence changes us, saves us, fulfills us and gives meaning to everything. He reveals the Mystery that is the source of our very selves, that sustains us and all things, that draws our hearts as the end of all our searching. He reveals the Mystery that remains what-we-NEED, what we long for, what we cry out for in our anguish, our dissatisfaction, our loneliness, our guilt, and in front of our own death which we cannot escape, which seems to imprison us in its implacable limits, and cut us off from everything that is true, good, beautiful, and enduring. 

He reveals that the Mystery that whispers “forever” in the depths of our hearts is not lying to us. He reveals that this Mystery is Eternal Love, and He comes to reveal that we are called to share in the life of this Love that never ends, the life of the One-Who-Is-LOVE, the God who is eternally Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, One God in Three Persons, One God who is eternally a Communion of Love. 

Jesus Christ is born! He comes, the Eternal Word through whom all things are made, through whom the “I” of each one of us—our very selves and the root of our freedom—exists in this moment. He comes to share our humanity, to become “one of us,” so that we might become His brothers and sisters, so that we might share in His life as sons and daughters of His Father, filled with the Holy Spirit, children of God and heirs to eternal life. He becomes like us so that we might become like Him, so that we might become alive in the Love of God who fulfills and overflows every aspiration and promise of our humanity, and who overcomes the greatest afflictions of our lives and all the most horrible, incomprehensible evils of human history.

It is too much for our minds to fathom. It seems to make us “dizzy.” How can we understand this? How can we bear it?

But then again, consider our own hearts. Aren’t our hearts too much for us to understand and too much for us to bear?

Here is Jesus, the Word made flesh. He does not want to overwhelm us. He comes as a child. He comes as a gift of Love. He takes our flesh to dwell among us, to be with us, to save us. “For God so loved the world that He gave us His Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16). We are not called to comprehend and control something unfathomable, but to say “yes” to the Gift of Infinite Love. 

Christmas is a sign that God will give us this “yes,” that His Holy Spirit will invest the depths of our freedom with a “yes” that is truly our own… if we let Him. Jesus wants so much that we might “let Him” transform our lives. He has come to dwell with us, to stay with us, because He loves us.

We live in hard times, tumultuous times. The near future may seem fraught with perils. We may feel like strangers in a strange world, far from home, perplexed by the brokenness of our lives, estranged from ourselves. But He has come to be with us, and He is our hope! 

⭐️Merry Christmas.⭐️

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Pope Francis: Christ is Born, Prince of Peace in Times of War

In his 2023 Christmas message Urbi et Orbi (to the City [Rome] and to the World), Pope Francis addresses specifically the various (and changing) conflicts in what he has consistently called “World War III being fought piecemeal” all over the earth. This Christmas, the world of war has a new and terrible “front”—it rages in the land of Jesus’s birth, His historical human life, His public ministry, His redeeming death and resurrection. It involves a terrorist faction embedded within Palestinian Gaza that ruthlessly attacked Israeli citizens on October 7, killing 1500+ people in cold blood, and kidnapping hundreds of hostages, many of whom remain in captivity. But it also involves an extreme and disproportionate response by Israel’s immense armed forces to crush Gaza, to bring the chaos of war to an entire population of some two million people in order to eliminate the terrorists. Francis pleads for “an end to the military operations with their appalling harvest of innocent civilian victims,” and “for a solution to the desperate humanitarian situation by an opening to the provision of humanitarian aid” for the millions of Palestinian people trapped in Gaza, many of whom are children. 

The Pope asks us to pray for peace, justice,  and the resolution of conflicts in Israel and Palestine, as well as in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen, and in Ukraine—renewing again his ardent prayer for those he has called a ‘martyred people’ and his commitment to co-suffer with then and beg the Lord to ‘empower them’ with His love: “Contemplating the Baby Jesus, I implore peace for Ukraine. Let us renew our spiritual and human closeness to its embattled people, so that through the support of each of us, they may feel the concrete reality of God’s love.” He also prays for Armenia and Azerbaijan, and, in Africa, the region of the Sahel, the Horn of Africa and Sudan, as well as Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan. Then, with an awareness of a dangerous division that none of us should take for granted, he prays for “fraternal bonds” to grow among to people of the Korean peninsula and lead to “lasting peace” there. 

I would add that there is no historical or ethnic basis for the division of Korea into two countries, but that “North Korea” remains only as a client state of China, with an enormously disproportionate military force and an active nuclear weapons program, and with seemingly unfathomable ambitions and fears. Francis’s call for “processes of dialogue and reconciliation” is not an empty expression, but an insistence that Korean people take up again and again a great work of mercy, a dialogue that seeks not temporary compromises but that aspires to a more profound common language, and that perseveres even through failures and misunderstandings—a dialogue that is above all a prayer for a new unity and reconciliation as a gift from God, a gift of a new possibility beyond all the impossibilities of a broken human situation. 

Finally, Francis prays for “political authorities and all persons of good will in the Americas to devise suitable ways to resolve social and political conflicts, to combat forms of poverty that offend the dignity of persons, to reduce inequality and to address the troubling phenomenon of migration movements.” This is a realistic set of goals that, once again, call for works of mercy that embody justice while also transforming and transcending justice. Mercy is a form of love that becomes, in specific situations, a responsibility for individuals and societies. Countries can adopt reasonable immigration policies, but the terrible suffering that prompts and accompanies “migration movements” in the Western Hemisphere confronts every nation in the region. It is not only wrong; it is impossible for the people of any nation to isolate themselves, to ‘seal themselves off’ from the fundamental human responsibility to love our neighbors and help them in distress—neighbors, moreover, whom Jesus has identified with Himself.

Below are further, more general reflections from Pope Francis’s Christmas message, wherein he makes clear that our concern for those who are sufferings, and our work for peace and reconciliation even in this world, are not a naturalistic reduction of the Gospel (contrary to certain rash claims). Rather, the central focus of all our prayer and effort is eternal life: “an unprecedented gift: the hope of being born for heaven” through Jesus the Word made flesh, “the Only-Begotten Son of the Father” who “gives us power to become children of God” in His Kingdom which will have no end. Still, it is in this world—which is the road we journey upon toward eternal life—that we encounter Jesus incarnate, who calls us to follow Him, love Him, and share “the tender love of God” with the least of His brothers and sisters. For their sake too (at not only them) we are called to reject sin, oppose sin, and—as God’s grace enables us—to unmask sin. Sin has many hiding places, some of which are very subtle. Sometimes prophetic denunciation is necessary. In this respect, the prophetic consistency of the Popes over the course of my entire life (of nearly 61 years) deserves the most serious attention.

There is a specific realm of human activity that is has been denounced, repeatedly, by every Pope since Saint John XXIII. Pope Francis mentions it again here: “arms production, sales, and trade.” This immense system, this international endeavor mired in obscurity, this devourer of immeasurable profits and ‘servant’ of so many violent ‘interests’ from terrorists and insurgents to enormous mercenary armed forces (the ‘Wagner Group’ is just one of who-knows-how-many) to crime syndicates to governments with technologically advanced weapons and huge financial resources … we humans in the 21st century world have created this monster, and we continue to feed it with flabbergasting amounts of money.

There is something wrong with this whole business. Whoever lives by the sword will die by the sword. Of course, we have the right (and duty) of defense against unjust aggression. But is the “arms race,” “the arms trade,” the hoarding of immense weapons of death and destruction the only way for humans to live together safely in this world? Many people say, “yes, it’s the only way.” But I am not satisfied with such conditions. This is not how humans are supposed to live.

But is there another way? We have to pray and beg Jesus to come, to show us other ways to seek peace, to live as peacemakers (even in the midst of war) because fostering healing and reconciliation involves the works of mercy that serve the glory of Jesus Christ in the world. Mercy reflects the light of God’s kingdom even in darkness of an ambivalent world. And mercy witnesses to Christ’s presence here and now, drawing us and all things to Himself. It was for mercy that He came to dwell with us, to be with us through every storm, to open our hearts to our suffering neighbors, to love them, to love even our enemies, to forgive, to be humble, to be peacemakers, to be children of God.

Here are more excerpts from Pope Francis’s message:

“We are full of hope and trust as we realize that the Lord has been born for us; that the eternal Word of the Father, the infinite God, has made his home among us. He became flesh; he came ‘to dwell among us’ (John 1:14). This is the good news that changed the course of history!

“The message of Bethlehem is indeed ‘good news of great joy’ (Luke 2:10). What kind of joy? Not the passing happiness of this world, not the glee of entertainment but a joy that is ‘great’ because it makes us great. For today, all of us, with all our shortcomings, embrace the sure promise of an unprecedented gift: the hope of being born for heaven. Yes, Jesus our brother has come to make his Father our Father; a small child, he reveals to us the tender love of God, and much more. He, the Only-Begotten Son of the Father, gives us ‘power to become children of God’ (John 1:12). This is the joy that consoles hearts, renews hope and bestows peace. It is the joy of the Holy Spirit: the joy born of being God’s beloved sons and daughters.

“Brothers and sisters, today in Bethlehem, amid the deep shadows covering the land, an undying flame has been lighted. Today the world’s darkness has been overcome by the light of God, which ‘enlightens every man and woman’ (John 1:9). Brothers and sisters, let us exult in this gift of grace! Rejoice, you who have lost confidence in your certitudes, for you are not alone: Christ is born for you! Rejoice, you who have abandoned all hope, for God offers you his outstretched hand; he does not point a finger at you, but offers you his little baby hand, in order to set you free from your fears, to relieve you of your burdens and to show you that, in his eyes, you are more valuable than anything else. Rejoice, you who find no peace of heart, for the ancient prophecy of Isaiah has been fulfilled for your sake: ‘a child has been born for us, a son given to us, and he is named… Prince of Peace’ (9:6). Scripture reveals that his peace, his kingdom, ‘will have no end’ (9:7).

“In the Scriptures, the Prince of Peace is opposed by the ‘Prince of this world’ (John 12:31), who, by sowing the seeds of death, plots against the Lord, ‘the lover of life’ (cf. Wisdom 11:26). We see this played out in Bethlehem, where the birth of the Saviour is followed by the slaughter of the innocents. How many innocents are being slaughtered in our world! In their mothers’ wombs, in odysseys undertaken in desperation and in search of hope, in the lives of all those little ones whose childhood has been devastated by war. They are the little Jesuses of today, these little ones whose childhood has been devastated by war.

“To say ‘yes’ to the Prince of Peace, then, means saying ‘no’ to war, to every war and to do so with courage, to the very mindset of war, an aimless voyage, a defeat without victors, an inexcusable folly. To say ‘no’ to war means saying ‘no’ to weaponry. The human heart is weak and impulsive; if we find instruments of death in our hands, sooner or later we will use them. And how can we even speak of peace, when arms production, sales and trade are on the rise? Today, as at the time of Herod, the evil that opposes God’s light hatches its plots in the shadows of hypocrisy and concealment. How much violence and killing takes place amid deafening silence, unbeknownst to many! People, who desire not weapons but bread, who struggle to make ends meet and desire only peace, have no idea how many public funds are being spent on arms. Yet that is something they ought to know! It should be talked about and written about, so as to bring to light the interests and the profits that move the puppet-strings of war.

“Isaiah, who prophesied the Prince of Peace, looked forward to a day when ‘nation shall not lift up sword against nation’, a day when men ‘will not learn war any more’, but instead ‘beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks’ (2:4). With God’s help, let us make every effort to work for the coming of that day!….

“From the manger, the Child Jesus asks us to be the voice of those who have no voice. The voice of the innocent children who have died for lack of bread and water; the voice of those who cannot find work or who have lost their jobs; the voice of those forced to flee their lands in search of a better future, risking their lives in grueling journeys and prey to unscrupulous traffickers.

“Brothers and sisters, we are approaching the season of grace and hope that is the Jubilee [year 2025], due to begin a year from now. May this time of preparation for the Holy Year be an opportunity for the conversion of hearts, for the rejection of war and the embrace of peace, and for joyfully responding to the Lord’s call, in the words of Isaiah’s prophecy, ‘to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners’ (61:1).

“Those words were fulfilled in Jesus (cf. Luke 4:18), who is born today in Bethlehem. Let us welcome him! Let us open our hearts to him, who is the Saviour, the Prince of Peace!”

Monday, December 25, 2023

Merry Christmas 2023!

MERRY CHRISTMAS from “three generations” of Virginia Janaros!

[family picture from Anna’s baptism, December 9 — but the whole crowd will be together again for Christmas dinner today.πŸ™‚⭐️πŸŽ„]

Sunday, December 24, 2023

It Looks Like it’s Gonna Be a Very “Maria” Christmas

Maria is ready!

Here she is, coloring under the stockings.☺️

UPDATE: I’ll add more pics from Maria opening presents.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Sun of Justice

“O Rising Dawn, splendor of eternal Light and Sun of Justice: come and illuminate those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death” (Antiphon, December 21).

Monday, December 18, 2023

“He Has Pity on the Weak and Needy…”

This Christmas there is war in the Holy Land. Bethlehem will hold religious celebration but none of the usual public festivities and no pilgrims. Palestinian Christians, Muslims, and Jews will all be suffering the devastating consequences of the war. The people of Ukraine will search the skies for Russian drones and Russian bombs targeting the civilian infrastructure of their country.

This Christmas is special (even if not easy) for suffering people. They, and all of us, are reminded that Jesus came into the world to save us from the sins that cause wars, that lead people to inflict suffering on one another. 

For he delivers the needy when he calls,
 / the poor and him who has no helper. / He has pity on the weak and the needy,
 / and saves the lives of the needy. / From oppression and violence he redeems their life;
 / and precious is their blood in his sight” (Psalm 72:12-14).

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Twenty Years of Amy Lee’s “Evanescence”

I was going to write about this sooner or later.

I haven’t written about contemporary music in awhile (just as I haven’t written about many other things that interest me or engage my attention on a more-or-less daily basis). I have missed many “anniversaries” of creative activity—some of which I still intend to write about. But since the magnificent Amy Lee just turned 42 years old on December 13, I have to wish her a “Happy Birthday”! 

And this means I might as well discuss her ongoing musical career, which for me is one of the more fascinating creative endeavors that I am predisposed and equipped to appreciate. In a sense, Amy and her large circle of collaborators have brought about a “musical fusion” that I would have dreamed of in my youth, had I been able to imagine it were possible. And this year marks a particular “moment” in Amy’s career (way back in March, actually, although the commemorative editions and much of the conversation have only recently appeared)—a moment that most observers would classify as “achieving superstardom,” but that in fact was more complex, and in some ways tragic and inexplicable; it was an ending as well as a beginning, involving breaks on the level of artistic collaboration (and, it seems, interpersonal relationships) that remain unresolved as far as anyone knows. We don’t know what the specific personal details may have been, and we must respect the artists’ privacy. But we can legitimately consider (especially in light of what Amy herself has said) the coalescence of creative cooperation and creative tension that shaped Amy Lee’s formative years, launched her unique career, and helped her clarify her artistic vision and commit herself to its further development in the face of many subsequent obstacles.

March 4, 2023 marked the twentieth anniversary of the release of the first album—but was it actually the first album?—okay let’s say the “major label debut” of the long and still-ongoing musical odyssey known as Evanescence. The album was called Fallen, and its music was released on a CD covered with an odd, slightly spooky photo tinted fluorescent blue and filled up with the brooding face of a girl. If you were on Planet Earth in 2003, it’s likely that this music passed over your consciousness in some form or other during the course of that year.

As happens from time to time in popular music (for reasons that are hard to predict in advance) Fallen “blew up” right from the start, and the young artists who made it became instant celebrities. I don’t know the various chart statistics (which were still “old fashioned” in 2003) but suffice it to say that it sold like crazy from the moment the CD hit the record stores. It was hard to deny that there was something “different” about the combination of sounds woven together in this music. Was it “over the top”? Somewhat, yeah. Melodramatic? For sure, though not in a pretentious manner. (Fact: I’m a melodramatic person, and I’ve learned that it’s okay, it has its place.) “Dark”? Some people found it melancholic to a fault. If there seemed to be a “brooding” quality to many of the songs, it was not without reason. Song themes included abusive relationships, death as separation from loved ones, anxiety, and even suicide. 

Fallen was not a “happy” album, and during the long grueling world tour in 2003-2004, Amy Lee definitely developed a distinctive “stage persona,” playing an elaborate rΓ΄le that combined tragic 19th century literary romanticism, 20th century “B-movie” creepiness, and elements of rock-star glam. But her real, complex, ardent, grand personality burst through her stage persona. 

Amy Lee took the stage in melodramatic attire with her long hair straight and dyed black. She looked like a “dark queen”—but not “dark” in the sense of some evil power, not a witch or sorceress, no sense of conniving with occult forces (like you find in some heavy metal bands)—nothing like that. Rather, Amy appeared cloaked in sorrow and mourning or else suffocating from oppression—but she was also full of energy and emotional intensity, pouring herself out in a piano ballad and then leaping across the stage, fist-pumping and swinging her head, making great waves from the black ocean of her hair. Above all, her voice rang out with power and persistence; her voice rang like bells in your soul—this gorgeous, rich vivid voice that emerged from dark anguish and aimed for the light, bore up from sorrow and disaster, struggled for freedom. Amy’s “dark queen” was like the dark before the dawn, fringed with light, growing light, the first glimpses of a brilliant sun.

She was spectacular! All this, in a rock concert. (I can only infer this from concert videos, but also from my experience of seeing Evanescence live in concert much later, when Amy was even better.)

Perhaps I’m indulging too much my penchant for superlatives. Perhaps it’s my overly melancholic personality, or even my depression, that incline me to go for this wild, loud, intense stuff. I’m a sucker for “the big music.” But I have also had my fair share of experience in performing the big music in my youth, on numerous stages with a variety of orchestras and bands, on acoustic violoncello and electric guitar, across all the genres “from Bach to Rock,” and let me tell you, Amy Lee is friggin amazing!

Popular music faces a challenge when it tries to take on serious themes: namely, that it’s also expected to “put on a show.” It’s supposed to “entertain.” And as we know only too well, when the artist is a young woman, the “entertainment industry” expects the “show” to involve… well… the woman to do some, uh… showingif-ya-know-what-I-mean. This really makes me angry! This is demeaning to so many amazingly talented women who want to express themselves musically, not sell their bodies to fill the bank accounts of the industry execs. I’ll save this rant for another day.

Amy Lee was not interested in that kind of “show.” In earlier days, when Evanescence was playing in clubs in hometown Little Rock, Arkansas, she was generally shy in doing any kind of performance. You can still find some interesting video on YouTube from 1999, from a venue where people are eating and talking during the gig, and Amy is not even the only singer. Songwriting and composing music were what she loved best, and she was doing it a long time before 2003.

Still, when the band was signed by the major label WindUp in 2001, A&R gave Amy acting and stage presence lessons. I don’t know what they tried to teach her, but clearly she found her confidence and her performance energy. The girl who led her high school choir (and wrote an award-winning composition for them) discovered that she could be the “opera star” (in rock opera). As both composer and performer of these “operas” she picked her own wardrobe, which was eccentric, but it was tailored to the songs

Some facts will help give us a context for the Evanescence phenomenon. Behind the costumes and the melancholy turn of many of these songs were real experiences of suffering and tragedy, the struggle against despair, but also an overall undercurrent of hope. The result (Amy has told us herself many times over the years) was intended to be a cathartic experience rather than a wallowing in sadness. Understandably, not everyone picked up on this, but it’s a crucial feature of Amy’s lyrics and her emotional style. What was unmistakable in 2003, however, was that Fallen was a huge, sprawling, overflowing flood of music. A bit overwhelming, but the music cohered, it was compelling, and it had “classic” written all over it. If you liked popular music and rock music and classical music, you couldn’t help saying, “Wow, great stuff!”

Try to put yourself in the place of someone listening to Fallen for the first time twenty years ago (if you’re a millennial, maybe you remember). You hear music that is catchy, rhythm-driven, and loud. The roaring guitars and heavy beats might make you think, “this is ‘heavy metal’… but not quite…” And then you hear melodic orchestral segments—not synthesizers but an actual string ensemble playing parts that have been clearly arranged and written with musical notation. A choir is heard in the background. Then some dude starts rapping.(?) The guitar hooks roll on relentlessly. A piano plays soft notes…

Somehow, it all “works.” 

And what made it work, what held it all together was the biggest surprise (it was certainly a surprise in 2003). This hard-rock/classical-music mashup extravaganza was fronted by a young female vocalist. Music business executives and radio stations were very skeptical that this combination could work. The label very nearly dropped the album in 2002. But they went with it in the end, and lots of people loved it. Well, that’s an understatement. The album has sold 17 million copies, including 10 million in the USA (earning the relatively rare “Diamond” certification).

That woman. Dang, she could sing!

The multifaceted sound of Evanescence was (and still is) sustained and integrated by the unique voice of Amy Lee. Once people heard this voice, they could not “unhear” it. Amy Lee had a wonderful, beautiful voice (and it’s gotten better through the past 20 years), and she sang with an unusual vocal style, with a sound that was simultaneously appealing and totally outside the box of anything in popular music (or any other music). Her voice was perfectly suited to the innovative music of Evanescence that stormed onto the mainstream music stage in 2003.

Here was a rock band fronted by a woman whose voice was strong enough to belt loudly, supple enough to take flight through at least three-and-a-half octaves and to take awesome, stratospheric leaps to thrilling, breathtaking heights—a voice that could “rock out” as good as anyone, croon with melancholic intensity and soul-penetrating richness, and do it all with tones that integrated elements of theatrical, classical, and operatic style.

My experience of the phenomenon of Evanescence was not like that of millions of adolescent millennials twenty years ago. I wasn’t listening to much popular music in those days. Eileen and I were juggling four kids under the age of seven in 2003; ain’t no time for rock-n-roll on that stretch of the road of life. It was only a decade later that I discovered the self-titled third album (released in 2012) and began to work my way back through the history of this wildly brilliant music and the people who made it. Only in retrospect can I imagine what it must’ve been like to queue up Fallen when it was brand new. Right from the start, where Amy croons, “Now-I-will-tell-you-what-I’ve-done-for-you…” people must’ve realized they were onto something fascinating and new. By the time I got around to giving some attention to Fallen, I was already sold on Amy Lee as a rare musical prodigy who was branching out in many directions with her talents as a composer, producer, choral arranger, recording artist of outstanding precision and detail, genre-fusing and genre-transcending musical explorer, dynamic and ardent pianist, and… a singer too, a rock chick who could sing with haunting beauty and then belt it out, head-bang, and send her black hair flying all over the place.

Let’s return to 2003, the year of colossal success for Evanescence, the year when songs like “Bring Me To Life” and “My Immortal” became permanent parts of the “soundtrack” of the millennial generation. Amy Lee was only 21 years old, and just beginning to really mature as a solo lead vocalist. Still, she was immediately recognized and identified with the Evanescence “sound.” At the same time, Evanescence was a “band” that had been developing their style and many of their songs since 1996.

But who were Evanescence?

There is another way to tell this story. One can point to the year 2003 and say it was the year that a band called Evanescence broke up. They had already started breaking up before Fallen was even released. In retrospect, it was all for the best (in my opinion), but at the time it must have been really difficult.

The band Evanescence that became famous in 2003 was formed in 1995 by two teenagers, Amy Lee and Ben Moody, who met at a Christian youth camp over that summer, not far from their town of Little Rock, Arkansas. Amy Lee was an introverted teenager with a passion for music, who was studying classical piano, loved Mozart and Beethoven, but was also fascinated by new electronic musical genres as well as the alternative rock music that had emerged in the early ‘90s. She had a dream of composing big dramatic music that combined the energy of classical music with what she saw as the complimentary passion of modern rock. Ben Moody played guitars and experimented with music technology, and also had dreams of creating an epic expansive musical sound. Ben and Amy (especially Amy) both loved intense movie soundtrack music, and admired film composers like Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman. They both had the dream of somehow putting all these genres together to make unique, awesome music. 

They were looking for a sound that we used to call “fusion” back in the 1970s. Some groups were doing it with stringed instruments in their bands (like “ELO” and “Kansas”). The Beatles, of course, had sown the seeds of this fusion (as they had for most of the best trends in popular music that came after them). Our problem as high school musicians in the 1970s was that we didn’t have access to the materials to make the sounds that were necessary for “symphonic rock.” Not that this kind of “fusion” didn’t exist; it had, in fact, just passed out of a “Golden Age” in the early 1970s. My friends and I listened to the amazing music of Progressive Rock, but we had no way of making it ourselves. I played classical cello during the day in the orchestra and electric guitar (loudly and, eventually, pretty well) with my friends in the evening. I had no way of bringing these two music worlds together.

Twenty years later, in the 1990s, technological possibilities for experimenting with “fusion” were accessible even to teens who had the motivation to use them. Amy’s and Ben’s big idea could begin to take shape. It was a big idea, with plenty of room for different approaches, emphases, and hopes to cultivate an audience—and it seems that from the beginning Ben and Amy had different goals and methods in mind in relation to their broad common vision. Still, they were just young teens, and both were misfits in the more preppy environment of Little Rock’s venerable private schools. They became good friends and began to perform and record their own music on an eight-track analogue recorder that Amy’s father—Little Rock radio show host John Lee—let them use at their home.

The Lees and the Moodys knew one another as families and supported the creative endeavors of their kids. If you’ve raised teenagers with a healthy measure of freedom and encouragement within loving and pedagogically shaped “boundaries,” you know that with a little support and access to resources they can be astonishingly creative. Amy and Ben collaborated on writing and recording songs. Media possibilities were in a transitional stage in the mid-1990s, and the technology for recording and copying one’s own music on a CD was becoming more available. Amy and Ben would record three independent EPs in the 1990s, which included very primitive versions of songs that later were recorded on Fallen. They received some local radio airplay and played local gigs, for which they would draw from among their musician friends to play bass and drums onstage.

In the beginning, the two friends browsed through the dictionary looking for possible names for their (then two-person) “band.” Amy liked the word “evanescence” because it pertained to things that are brief and fragile, that appear and disappear rapidly, often beautiful things; for example, the “evanescence of a rainbow that shines for a moment in the clouds after rain.” It seems ironic that a band with such big artistic aspirations would choose a name that implies something ephemeral. But Amy Lee was familiar with the experience of precious realities that vanish. She had already lived through a terrible family tragedy that had inserted something hard, even traumatic, into her childhood. She has spoken about its impact, and indicated its importance to her artistic and human vocation.

John and Sara Lee were dedicated to raising their family in a healthy, loving, and generous way. They were Evangelical (Protestant) Christians and they endeavored to build a faith-filled home. Amy was their firstborn in 1981. Three years later she became an older sister. From the ages of 3 to 6, Amy delighted in her younger sister. Siblings form strong bonds early in life, and their companionship is integrated into their emerging identity. Amy loved her sister and the wholeness of her family during these crucial formative years of her life. Then, tragedy struck. We don’t know the details, but it’s enough to know that her sister became ill and died. Amy was suddenly afflicted by a “loss” she couldn’t understand, and had to struggle with her own grief and the grief of her parents at this particularly vulnerable time in her own childhood.

Amy has spoken about how this event caused her to “grow up quickly.” The central questions of human life—“why do we exist? what is the purpose of living? what happens to us when we die?”—became specific and urgent questions for her at the age of 6. She had a basic child’s idea of Christian teaching about “eternal life” but it also seemed very mysterious to her (as it still does for her today). She wondered, “Where is my sister?” and “Why can’t I be with her?” Adults know that death provokes these questions, and that even with deep faith there is a sense of loss when someone we love dies. We know and grow by the adherence of faith, especially when we can’t “understand the reason” why God permits terrible things to happen in our lives.

Eventually, Amy got two more sisters and a brother, but the loss of her first sister remained like a wound that hasn’t yet been healed (her brother was also afflicted from childhood with a severe form of epilepsy; his harsh seizures brought on a long degeneration of his health and led to his death in 2018—the Lee family has thus endured a long and extraordinary measure of suffering and grief). Amy’s grief and her questions about life and death also left a deep impression on her poetry and musical style. The “heavy sorrow” in Evanescence’s songs is founded on real tragedy. It represents an effort to work through the pain of tragedy as much as possible, to express emotions and share them with others. In music, Amy found an outlet to let go of the sufferings, and allow her sorrows to create something beautiful. These songs don’t always present an easy resolution of the complex psychological problems involved with pain and sadness. In some songs a sorrowful mood seems to predominate vocally and tonally, which might make us think they offer no hope (for example the beautiful, mournful “Hello” from Fallen, which draws on the experience of a little girl trying to grapple with the news of her sister’s death). People may find this unsettling, and some Evanescence songs are more successful than others in evoking pathos in their listeners. It’s similar to the diverse responses people have to the lavish productions (and often fatalistic stories) of the famous Italian operas. Not everyone finds Italian opera cathartic, and the stories enacted don’t carry much weight by themselves. It’s the music—instrumental and vocal—that makes the difference. I happen to come from several generations of opera lovers and amateur opera singers, so I “get it.” But when many people hear “sad music” and emotionally complex, unresolved, or strange circumstances expressed lyrically, they wonder, “What are you trying to tell me to do? Are you ‘advocating’ despair?”

However, it seems to me that we must not assume that the logic of lyrics in a song is always intended to “teach us a lesson” or even to present us with a complete, coherent experience. The song may be ironic, or it may present a fragment, or an unresolved emotion or unanswered question that is left to reman as such, because these interior struggles are human: they are steps on the path of human suffering that people often take as they discover their own inner poverty and search for redemption and healing. An artful recognition of a tragic experience or painful process can be much appreciated by people who have had similar struggles. This is something entirely different from lyrics that are designed to lie to us or manipulate us, which can damage or undermine entirely the beauty of a song. No one should be obscene or glorify violence or encourage self-destructive behavior in their songs. Unfortunately the dominant trends in pop culture do precisely these things, which deserve their own mournful lament (and get it, in a sense, in the song “Everybody’s Fool”). But personal loss is a more prevalent theme.

Ben also knew the sorrow of losing a loved one. The lyrics of the famous “My Immortal” were written by him in honor of his late grandfather, who had been an inspiration and source of strength to him growing up. It remains one of the most beloved songs in the Evanescence catalogue.

Back to history: In 1999, Evanescence acquired a third full-time member and collaborator in local keyboard player and mutual friend David Hodges. David was Ben’s roommate and he was active in “Praise and Worship” music at his church (as I recall, somewhere on the Internet you can hear Amy singing some P&W songs with David on a church music recording). In the year 2000, the band put together a collection of what Amy calls “demo recordings,” had 2000 copies made, designed a cover and inserts, and “released it” as an album called Origin. Years later, it was re-released as part of a comprehensive box set. Amy laughs about it today, and denies that it was their “first album”—according to her, it was just a collection of demos put into the form of a CD so as to get the attention of industry executives. But many Evanescence fans consider it a “real album” because they recognize that it has so many fascinating features in its own right. Personally, I think that while the recording is primitive, the content provides precious insight into their developing sound. This is the recording that the young musicians made “on their own”—in some ways it’s like an audio “peek” at the sometimes-rough explorations of a talented group in its early phase. Listening to Origin reminds me of the way you can watch the early work of artists in the 2010s who were video-recording using laptops and webcams, playing covers or primitive versions of their own songs in their bedrooms and posting the videos on YouTube. 

Some of what Evanescence came up with on Origin was really cool, and—whether or not they recognize it—I can see clearly that they were the true successors of the spirit of Prog rock, which at its best was adventurous rather than pretentious, crafting rhythmic and melodious “order” out of a wide spectrum of sound. We live in a world in which we are constantly bombarded by artificial sounds. Someone has to make music out of these sounds, to help us to inhabit this electronically humming world, to keep it from driving us insane! Prog in the early 70s and Evanescence thirty years later were convinced that harmony was possible not only with the brave new sounds, but also that they could be integrated with the beauty of classical music traditions.

After the monster success of Fallen, bootleg copies of Origin appeared all over eBay, offering the “rare first album” for hundreds of dollars. Evanescence’s website responded by telling fans not to waste their money, and posted audio files of Origin and other previously recorded material for free download. That killed the inflated bootleg CD market. (Between then and now, internet audio technology has killed the entire CD market, period… and many other things about the old-fashioned mechanics of the music industry.) Today there are many more options for artists to connect with listeners and even interact with them in ways no one dreamed of a generation ago.

Bootlegs of Origin can still be found (at normal-to-low prices) online, and I’ll admit that—even though I already had the free download—I bought one of these CDs some years ago, for like ten bucks or less (not a hundred!). It looks perfect, but I’m sure it’s a reproduction of one of the “original 2000.” It has value for me, nonetheless. I still eagerly collect vinyl records and Compact Discs because I have OCD for “archival purposes” and because it’s still more fun to have things I can handle and examine. I like accurate credits that can be more easily found, and little details like those that can be found in the “acknowledgments” section. Inside the Origin booklet the band is identified and pictured as Amy Lee, Ben Moody, and David Hodges (This is the same trio that later signed with WindUp and performed all the songs on Fallen.) There is also—in the “thanks” section of this wild album (that also has a few similar references in songs, although you probably won’t hear them without the accompanying lyrics)—about a half a paragraph that makes no secret of the “radical origin” (and purpose) of Origin. After thanking everybody else, the text says: in closing, we give all praise and glory be [sic] the Lord Jesus Christ. All we have and all we are we owe to the Grace of Jesus. He is our strength and our redeemer. Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. Romans 6:4.

Wow. I mean… wow. 

Actually, this clear statement is not really surprising. Nothing comparable appears on Fallen (Ben “thanks Jesus”), although the song “Tourniquet” has the theme of someone asking and pleading for redemption after a suicide attempt. The themes of death and desperation, though sometimes coming off as morbid or melodramatic, also broadly incorporate Christian symbolic language as a counterpoint. “Bring Me to Life” evokes images of salvation, although Amy Lee says it was inspired by a powerful encounter with a guy who was, at the time, only an acquaintance but whom she eventually married in 2007: Josh Hartzler (they recently celebrated their 16th anniversary and they live In Nashville with their 9-year-old son Jack). “Whisper”—a song they’ve been playing in simpler forms since the ‘90s—is the final track on Fallen, where it sprawls out into the “big song” that has everything in Evanescence’s musical repertoire mashed into an epic quasi-apocalyptic musical storm about confronting fear and temptation and, ultimately, death. As strings swirl and guitars churn, the song ends with a choir chanting repeatedly in Latin: “Deliver us from danger / deliver us from evil.” Amy Lee views the song today with nostalgia and a sense of humor regarding its cheesy over-the-top qualities. But it stands as a classic example of their youthful aspirations, and of the success of Amy’s fight to get a real string ensemble to play on the album instead of settling for cheaper and easier synthesizers for the string parts.

Amy, Ben, and David were indeed believing Christians raised in Christian families, and active in the edgy part of the large Contemporary Christian Music scene in Little Rock. By 2003, CCM had become a vast superstructure that covered virtually every genre in popular music, including “Christian Metal.” But Evanescence didn’t want to be labeled a “Christian band” or carry out an evangelistic ministry through their music. David Hodges wanted to move more in the evangelistic direction, and this was one reason why he didn’t stay with the band. But clearly Fallen didn’t fit into CCM as a marketing category. This doesn’t mean that Amy and Ben were rejecting Christianity in their lives. Amy Lee has affirmed even in recent interviews that she still is a Christian. Coming out of a Protestant background, she’s not clear on the form this faith takes in her life or how she conceives of it. She has acknowledged something of a crisis, a painful reawakening of questions about the meaning of life and difficulties with God, or at least her understanding of God, following the death of her brother in 2018 (her recent song “Far From Heaven” expresses this crisis—in her signature poignant and hauntingly beautiful manner). Amy is one of the artists I pray for. I pray for her growth in faith and for her artistic vocation.

We are beginning to see part of the picture of “who Evanescence was” not only during what “Ev-heads” (fan experts) classify as the “pre-Fallen era,” but also the central collaborators who made the famous Diamond-certified album 20 years ago. The actual recording is credited to Amy, Ben, and David, and two session musicians on bass and drums. The original collaboration, however, was “falling apart” before Fallen was released. David Hodges left the band after the studio work was completed, moving on to other musical projects and a successful songwriting career. And whatever other interpersonal dynamics may have been involved, Amy and Ben had long grappled with creative tensions that became “creative differences” in the wake of fame. The way it has been summarized (which is informative enough) is that Ben was striving to lead the Evanescence sound in a more “commercially accessible” direction while Amy wanted to follow the artistic sensibilities that had always inspired her, and for which she would continue to fight for years to come. 

This is not to say that Ben wanted to “sell out” or that Amy was infallible as an artist. It points to aspects within a large musical vision that couldn’t hold together after making one hugely successful, memorable, remarkable album of genre-defying music. The pressures of fame and a relentless touring schedule probably contributed to the breakup (or, at least, the perceived public drama of it). Ben quit the tour after six months, and went home to Little Rock. The tour continued with another guitarist, who turned out to be Terry Balsamo, a fixture of the band and close collaborator with Amy for the next two albums and over a decade of touring. Terry played on the live album/DVD of 2004 and worked with Amy on the exquisitely-crafted studio follow up album The Open Door. I actually got some sheet music (and there was sheet music!) for this album so that I could follow the multiple vocal parts that Amy brilliantly composed and beautifully recorded with her own voice on multiple tracks on this album.

Lots of other points could be addressed, but this article is already too long. Conflicts between the record company and the band absorbed time, and would continue over subsequent albums until Evanescence finally won full control over their entire “brand” in court in 2015. I don’t know the details, but they have served Amy’s development of her artistic vision for the group as a collaborative effort under her direction. I’m not complaining about this, since I’m a huge fan of Amy Lee as a creative force in music today, and I hope to hear further development of her splendid talents in musical composition and performance. Though the band lineup became much more consistent after 2007, the history of Evanescence has been very much the history of a “musical project” led by Amy Lee, with various talented players coming and going over the early years and lots of behind-the-scenes contributors and occasional collaborators, culminating in the astonishing achievement of “Synthesis” in 2017-2018. The band was re-tooled with experimental electronic instruments and combined with a full symphony orchestra along with Amy’s soaring vocals and a grand piano in a reimagining and rearranging of their old songs and a few new songs, followed by a concert hall tour that brought Amy and the band together with local orchestras in cities around the world. I went to the Washington DC area concert with my two oldest kids in 2018 (and wrote about it on this blog). The band then returned to a “traditional rock” format (as the critics termed it) and released a new album, The Bitter Truth, in 2021 and have just finished another (reasonably-paced but thorough) world tour.

From my perspective, coming across Evanescence after their self-title third album in 2012, I have always regarded Amy Lee as the leader of the band, and the key to its originality. The record Evanescence is a hard-driving, solid rock album which drew my attention to a then-more-recent band member and now a veteran and mainstay of the lineup: the marvelous drummer and percussionist Will Hunt. In my opinion, his expert and versatile playing has refreshed the whole catalogue of Evanescence songs and he also played a crucial rΓ΄le with percussion on the Synthesis tour. All the band members have their own formidable talents, but Amy still “makes the show”—she is a precise perfectionist as a recording artist in the studio and an energetic and daring singer and performer on stage.

Old videos make it clear that Amy owned the stage right from the start on the 2003-2004 Fallen tour. The songs she writes are difficult to sing, and her voice is greatly challenged in live performances. She never shies away from facing those challenges on stage, where a singer has only one chance to execute all the vocal acrobatics the song requires. Amy is not always “perfect” in every live concert, which is normal for any singer but with Amy you have to admire the ardor and determination she brings to every performance, and the risks she takes singing difficult songs at live concerts. The fact is that her vast imagination as a musical composer is continually “outrunning” even her formidable vocal capacities. This is a point I have made for years that she indicated in a recent interview was something she recognized herself. She keeps “setting the bar higher” for her own superb, vivid, agile, and now increasingly mature singing voice. 

Until recently (with the addition of other female band members) Amy couldn’t present on stage the rich harmonies that she composed and sang on Evanescence’s studio recordings. Thus, in concerts, Amy had to place all her vocal energy on the central melody. But the melodies were gorgeous, and her voice carried them brilliantly on stage. If she didn’t hit every high note or manage every transition perfectly, it wasn’t for a lack of trying, and her efforts were always exciting. It was like watching an Olympic gymnast plan a very difficult floor routine, and then execute it as close to perfectly as possible, and always in a breathtaking way. 

Amy is a such a superb singer with a unique sound, but she is an even better musical composer. In the past decade, she has had the chance to write and perform music for films, and collaborate in the composition of complete soundtracks with Juilliard music professor and cellist Dave Eggar (several Evanescence songs feature wonderful parts for cello, ah wow!). Amy also released a delightful children’s album in 2016, where she not only sings but also plays accompaniment on the harp. These sweet songs that grew out of singing to her own son as a baby and small child. Dream Too Much is an album I look forward to sharing with my grandchildren.

Here I must conclude these reflections with gratitude to Amy Lee for all the tremendous music she has shared with us. It has meant a lot to me, and to countless other people. Thank you!!

Friday, December 15, 2023

I’m Colder (and Older) in December 2023!

I’m COLD! Is it because I’m OLD?

When I go out of the house, I’m cold. Has it been colder this season than in past years? It doesn’t seem to be particularly cold, according to the thermometers. But I feel colder.

Maybe I’m just getting older.

When I stay in the house, I’m cold. We still use the same indoor heat. There are no new drafts in the house this winter. We even got a new roof over the summer. So why do I feel colder?

Perhaps it’s part of getting older.

When I wrap myself in blankets, it helps a bit. I can get a little cozy, but still I’m stiff. My bones ache like they always have, but also—if this makes sense—“inside” my bones I feel colder.

Is this because I’m getting older?

I don’t know if I’m losing my mind, trying to make these words rhyme.

It’s not my style; I haven’t done it in a while.

Or perhaps I’m getting bolder…

…because I’m getting older.

[Oh, BOO! BOO! BOO!πŸ™„πŸ˜§πŸ₯±  I know, that was dumb.πŸ‘Ž Go ahead, throw raspberries at me!πŸ’πŸ“πŸ‹πŸ‘πŸ“ Go ahead, call me…a bum.😜]

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Music, Creativity, and a New Ideal of Freedom

Music still has a special place in my life, my soul, and my imagination, even though I don’t seem to have the energy to play very often the instruments (cello and guitar) that were so important to my youth. But I still “feel at home” with musicians of all ages and the challenges they face in fulfilling their creative vocation, which entails the sonic articulation of beauty in the particular (even peculiar) ways that they perceive it. 

As I have said before, the realm of beauty is as vast and various as the whole universe of being (which we encounter through beings—in all their amazing diversity and fundamental harmony, with the latter not easily recognized amidst contrasts that may appear to be in conflict). This has nothing to do with the narrow reductions of relativism; rather it pertains to the complexity—and difficulty—of the human ways of engaging reality, and ultimately to beauty’s participation in the ontological mystery of the analogy of being.

When it comes to the particulars of beauty and creativity—especially those that are “closer to the earth”—we can learn a lot from young people. They have fresh intuitions of the wonder of reality, the dramatic character of life, and the radical risk entailed by their newly emerging, fragile, imperiled human freedom. Great creative intuition (particularly in music) often arises at an early age, and even if its initial expressions are flawed, many elements of a mature artist’s creativity are at work from their youth.

I’m still happy to be surprised by young people. Even more surprising is observing the (relatively rare) process of young talent, youthful intuitions of beauty, and youthful collaboration maturing over time and realizing its potential to fashion great works of music. There are many reasons why this potential may not be realized. Sometimes (perhaps most of the time) the ordinary responsibilities of adulthood don’t leave room for the singular dedication required for artistic growth. Many youthful dreams end up on the sidelines of adult life, as avocations, forms of recreation, or hobbies. There is nothing wrong with this; on the contrary, life is thereby broadly enriched. On the other hand the demands of creativity are relentless in themselves, and the effort to realize them “fully” can swallow the rest of the personality, or at least damage it significantly. There are various ruptures that can derail creative activity, or change its course.

Music involves various media that can be shaped individually or in various combinations, including composition, playing musical instruments, recording for audio or audiovisual media, and live performance with the various dynamics that arise in the exchange between performers and audiences. But in a society saturated with “entertainment” — a society that craves consumer products that can be used and thrown away, a society that measures everything according to its restless itch for immediate satisfaction of superficial and often artificially manipulated whims — musicians face pressures that have no essential relation to musical creativity or excellence in their craft.

Musicians and artists are too often diverted by the financial and legal entanglements surrounding creative work in the “music industry,” not to mention the vanities, preoccupations, invasive curiosity, inflated expectations, and inevitably crushing disappointments that come with celebrity status. Few artists have such power over themselves to be able to inhabit all the personae of their stage and screen performances and the shifting public image of celebrity life in such a way that they “make artout of themselves, in the sense of turning their external lives into a continual performance. Those who attempt this will inevitably push themselves too far, hollowing out their already-fragile human foundations and impoverishing their personality. Eventually, their creative sensibility wears out, and they are faced with deeply underdeveloped personalities that have been blocked off from the normal experiences of human maturity. Their inability to live without a role to play can have tragic consequences.

We need to have lots of compassion for those who “entertain” us, to make sure we give them “permission to be human,” so that they can step out of the spotlight, out of their own self-generated dramatic narratives, so that they can rest, contemplate their real lives, and make decisions where they invest their hearts. Their “next album,” or tour, or show can wait. Let’s not participate in the dehumanization of our artists. Rather, let’s support their humanity and be grateful for what they give us.

Artistic creativity doesn’t need the drama of our celebrity culture; it has enough intrinsic pressures, and tends of itself to “tilt” the balance of artists in their ordinary human lives. Insofar as their work demands a fine tuned sensibility, artists become more vulnerable to their environment, other people, and their own emotional states. Without a lot of psychological stability (which is difficult to maintain in our tumultuous era), artistic integrity and perseverance is extremely difficult to maintain. We shouldn’t be surprised that artists tend to be eccentric, peculiar, unconventional people. They need “space” in ways that other people are not likely to fully understand, and sometimes their need to focus can make them appear rude and antisocial, over defensive and self-absorbed. There is indeed the danger that they will become unbalanced and develop bad habits, neglecting personal obligations and taking up unstable and even dangerous behaviors.

Certainly, most creative people seek out ways to integrate their lives, even if it means deprioritizing certain particular ambitions. The circumstances of life call for all kinds of sacrifices, but they are never in vain if they advance people along the path of their more fundamental human vocation. They will find other avenues for their creativity, and share their gifts in ways and in places that would not be otherwise enriched.

There will always be people, however, who are stamped with remarkable natural gifts and energy, who feel “summoned” within the depths of themselves to work tirelessly and consistently to master the forms and media necessary to make works of beauty. Here, the mystery of our humanity is in play in a particular way that can shed light on the lives of everyone. The “artistic vocation” (as a dimension of the basic human vocation) can manifest itself in many ways, but here it has a kind of clarity that should be unmistakable. These people are human. They are not “natural-born geniuses” who have an inherent right to adulation. Rather, they are called and predisposed (this is what we mean by “talent” in the proper sense) to a particular kind of human work, a particular way of giving themselves in love. They need friendship, compassion, understanding, and constructive criticism. They need to be grounded, to be supported by a community. 

They will work very hard. Indeed, they will be relentless. They do not have a license to make their own moral rules; rather, they have a special need for real and authentic freedom. They need patience, encouragement, and “space” for their creative work, which takes time to develop and often unfolds along a messy, bumpy road that others would not want to navigate. They can get sidetracked, make mistakes, go off into dead ends. They need direction, advice, and attention in developing their craft and (like anyone else) in living and growing as a human person. They will continue to work, and they will work best in an atmosphere of human freedom. This does not mean they have some special “right” to violate the common good, or to do evil for the sake of what they imagine to be a “greater good.” Freedom flourishes within the mystery of interpersonal communion. Authentic interpersonal communion also has abundant space within itself for artistic creativity—it has space for the desire for the Infinite that constitutes every human heart, which (needless to say) is a vast space. Personalist-communitarian freedom is human freedom. It is the only real freedom, which means that it is far greater and more “open” than what is offered by the ideology of individualistic freedom that forms the dominant mentality of contemporary Western society. This ideology promises unfettered grasping at alleged “self-realization” but then offers only a range of finite (ultimately dissatisfying) “identity options” controlled by those who wield power. Art needs another kind of freedom; not the individualism that creates the illusion of freedom while making slaves who—at most—are “free to choose” their own master.

For art to flourish, for music to flourish, for humanity to flourish, we need a new ideal of freedom… a freedom large enough for the infinite longing of the human heart.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Eagles’ Wings

On this feast of Saint Lucy, the first reading of the Mass proclaims this great promise from the book of Isaiah that encourages us to trust in our loving, omnipotent, and merciful God.
God is our Father, who has called us to share in His glory through His Son Jesus Christ. He will sustain us and enable us to persevere in moving forward in our earthly pilgrimage. His strength—poured out upon us in the gift of the Holy Spirit—will lift us up and transform our lives beyond anything we could achieve or imagine by our own power. The Triune God’s gift of Himself fulfills and gratuitously overflows the longing of the human heart beyond all measure. His love is our ultimate joy and freedom.

Let us place our hope in the Lord.

Do you not know or have you not heard? The Lord is the eternal God, creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint nor grow weary, and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny. He gives strength to the fainting; for the weak he makes vigor abound. Though young men faint and grow weary, and youths stagger and fall, They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar as with eagles’ wings; they will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint” (Isaiah 40:28-31).