A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 345: O Holy Night

“Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.”

In 1847 a wine seller by trade was asked by his parish priest to compose a poem for Christmas. That wine seller was Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure and what he wrote is what the English-speaking world knows as “O Holy Night”.

Yesterday my family and I attended a Christmas music and carol sing event at the Knox Presbyterian Church in downtown Ottawa. The church itself was founded three years before “O Holy Night” was composed (1844) back when Ottawa was a small lumber outpost known as Bytown. The church building we sang in, a beautiful space meant to replicate English Gothic and Norman architecture, was built in 1932. The event featured organ music and a small choir plus a five-piece brass band. In that wonderful acoustic space, with excellent musicians leading us, we sang and heard some of the season’s most classic carols. I had tears in my eyes more than once.

But the above lyric really hit me hardest, sung by a soloist with a lovely soprano voice. In that space, with the voice and emotion behind it, those words hit home for me like they haven’t in a long time. “O Holy Night” has become one of those carols that has been really and truly overdone in our culture. When I Googled the lyrics just now I was given Mariah Carey’s version on Google play… Sigh. Frankly, it is hard to go shopping at ths time of year without tripping over some version of “O Holy Night” sung by someone. It is a shame that some of the songs of this season have lost their punch due to their overuse and misuse.

There was something about the authenticity of this performance, the genuine sense of faith and the context of goodwill in that church, that made these lyrics come alive again for me. It is moments like those that renew my hope in the power of art to transcend the banality we’ve attached to it. I am sure that when this poem was composed, then set to music, it was done in a sense of devotion and never, ever with an eye toward it becoming a Christmas/pop cultural staple for the next 160 years, piped in to accompany the orgy of spending and stress in our local mall.

I felt, in a way, that I was hearing it for the first time yesterday, and that was part of why it was so moving. It reminded me of the fact that Christmas isn’t about all the stuff we’ve made it about over the years; Christmas is about believing that God loved the world so much he would send his Son to teach love, spread peace, break chains and bring oppression to an end.

Hopefully in the midst of all the shopping, spending and stress this season you will be able to hear something as over-recorded as “O Holy Night”, even a version done by Mariah Carey, and come away with that feeling of what is true embedded forever in the lyrics and music. That is my Christmas wish for you.

 

 

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 344: Sunday God Quote – Isaiah & Jesus

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In the Gospel of Luke it is described how Jesus began his public ministry. He was in his hometown of Nazareth, in the synagogue, when he was invited up to read from some scripture and say a few words. He was handed the scroll of Isaiah the prophet and we are told he read these words:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor

This Christmastime, perhaps more than any other in my lifetime, I find myself seeking solace in the mission and purpose of Jesus. I have grown so disenchanted with what Christianity has become and come to represent to the world. Rather than lose all hope I choose to cling to the hope of what Jesus represents and how that challenges me to live. If the passage above was what he chose to clarify who he was and what he was charged to do, I also choose it to clarify for me my own sense of purpose moving forward from a desperately challenging 2017 into 2018.

Luke tells us the crowd in that synagogue, after hearing Jesus say that he was the fulfillment of that passage, tried to throw him from a cliff. Religion seems to be leading so many to acts of violence and words of hatred, mostly because of fear. Jesus reminds me that I do not follow a religion and therefore am not defined by fear. I follow him, who is defined by love, justice, truth, mercy and forgiveness.

As we get closer to Christmas, it is the thought of Jesus that lightens my heart and brings me peace. Not so much the Jesus in the manger, but the Jesus standing up and saying boldly what he is about and acting and living that out to a world in fear.

 

A Year of Creating Dangerously, 343: Saturday Life Quote (and Gallery)

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“Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.”  – Ralph Waldo Emerson

To accompany these words from Emerson today is a small gallery of some of the smaller beautiful creatures I’ve photographed in the last few years.

God’s handwriting is so often overlooked because of its finer details.

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A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 342: Transient

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“Transient” – Adjective. not lasting, enduring, or permanent; lasting only a short time; existing briefly.

Last week I posted a video of the ethereal Northern Lights in time lapse photography. Today, it is the art of the skies once again, this time in lightning and storms in a short film shot in 1,000 frames per second. This incredible video is the work of Dustin Farrell who traveled 20,000 miles this past summer to record this footage.

Do yourself a big favor and take the 3+ minutes to watch this video. Do yourself and even bigger favor and watch it on a big screen. Absolutely awesome in the truest sense of the word.

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 341: From Death, Life Renewed

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Today marks five years to the day that I sat at my Mom’s bedside and watched her die. She had lived an incredibly gracious, humble life. I felt humbled to be there with her for her final breath. And I felt such grace in that room, in the emotions and character of the family present, in the God who took her home amidst her struggle with Alzheimer’s.

I decided to re-post the very first article I wrote on this blog back on Dec. 27, 2013. I reflect on her death, yes, but more so on the reality of mortality. There is something about being confronted by death in such a personal, intimate way. Hopefully you’ll see as you read this that I don’t mean that to sound morbid or depressing; in fact, I hope you’ll see that it can lead us to living life far more graciously, humbly and exquisitely than we tend to do.

Here is that very first post:

A little more than a year ago I sat by the bedside of my mom as she panted out her last breath of life. I looked into her eyes as that moment approached, told her I loved her, and gave her permission on behalf of my siblings to “go home”, as I phrased it. It was a sacred moment, a heart-breaking moment, and a privileged moment all at the same time. I have never been that close to death, never been in the room, staring death in the face, when it appeared. I had never even contemplated being that intimate with death. Contrary to popular imaginings, it was not a frightening thing or a gruesome thing. It got me thinking how our end is so much a part of who we are. It is just a moment, like birth in that way, yet a defining moment.

I am in so many ways an average middle-aged man, edging closer to 50 as I write this. As an average middle-aged man I realize that this time of life is a typical time to consider mortality; perhaps even more typical than the supposed “mid-life crisis” that is celebrated in song and story. But the experience in that moment, those brief minutes, of watching my mom pass from life to death have pushed me beyond the superficialities of hair transplants and sports cars. I now consider death in general and my death specifically without fear. Funny, that.

We live in a modern society that is so far removed from the reality of death. In fact, it seems that we try to wipe it from our communal subconscious with our worship of youth, culture of athletic clubs, and overall sanitization of all things moribund. At one time the experience of death was a common thing, a shared event that involved whole families and villages. Certainly, from the early days of childhood people would have memories of seeing the dying and dead, going through the mourning, burying the passed in the ground and moving on with life. But this is not our experience any longer. And I do believe we are the more pathetic culture because of this fact. We are to be pitied because we do not live with the reality of death close at hand.

With death close, we learn more and more that each day is a gift. I know that is a hackneyed thing to write. My apologies. However, it is still true. As being plunged into total darkness helps you appreciate a tiny light; as gasping for breath on a mountaintop helps you appreciate the air you take in easily with each breath; death helps you truly and deeply appreciate life. What a gift, then, is that part of each of our lives we, ironically, fear and push far, far away from our minds and experiences.

Those are some deep thoughts for a first blog, I know. Likely, I won’t get that profound on a regular basis (if my past history holds true, that is). But I do hope to use this forum to share thoughts on existence – yours, mine – and perhaps help us all to embrace the time we’ve been given with the kind of bear hug it deserves.

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 340: Florence Sings Soul-to-Soul

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Florence Welch doesn’t just have a powerful voice, she has a voice that you can feel inside when you listen to her, causing your heart to leap like its been given a blast of adrenaline. Her singing is explosive, dramatic, and stirring. Listening to her one is tempted to believe that music can, indeed, bring healing.

Today I want to share with you a video of Florence visiting a sick fan in hospital. The woman, Karinya, wanted to attend a local concert by Florence + the Machine but was too ill to do so. So the music came to her. This is an amazing moment where an artist looks face-to-face with someone and delivers perhaps the most meaningful version of “The Dog Days are Over” she’s ever sung. An unforgettable experience for both of them. Truly a heart-to-heart moment, a soul-to-soul moment. Beautiful.

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 339: Rothko in 60 Seconds

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Mark Rothko, White Band No. 27, 1954

Abstract art is not everyone’s bag. But the reality is that different forms of abstraction have been crucially important to the evolution of art and, frankly, have influenced many, many motifs we’ve come to accept in contemporary culture. Mark Rothko is a giant in the area of Abstract Expressionism (though he himself hated those labels). If you’ve ever come across one of his paintings in a gallery space, they are quite striking but perhaps you still don’t totally get it. I’m here to tell you, as someone who got his Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts, that’s okay.  Abstract art seems simple on first viewing but reveals itself to be far more deep and complicated the longer you ponder it. It can be rewarding and frustrating in equal measure. I may be an artist but I get it, it ain’t always easy to love.

Recently I came upon this 60 second video from the Royal Academy of Arts in London, England that succinctly and clearly explains the impact of the art of Mark Rothko. To me, it is a very helpful minute to guiding anyone to a better appreciation of abstraction. Enjoy.

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 338: A Walkabout on the Hill

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It is de rigueur to make a visit to Parliament Hill when you’re a tourist in the city of Ottawa, Ontario. However, even us residents are reminded now and again just how picturesque that iconic area can be.

I had a serendipitous opportunity to take a stroll around the Hill yesterday morning, when a bright blue sky and brilliant sunshine illuminated the historic buildings and monuments, the panoramic vistas and symbols of Canada. I had gone downtown to collect the money I had made of an artwork I sold a month ago in a pub called the Atomic Rooster. The staff who could access the money was not going to be in for another hour so, with my Second Cup coffee in hand, I took a walk.

The resulting photos are only with my cell phone camera but it turned out to be a relaxing and re-creating morning for me. Below are the shots I took, giving you a glimpse of the centerpiece of this city. I do love this place so, I cannot deny it.

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A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 337: Sunday God Quote – David

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Psalm 27

Of David.

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
    of whom shall I be afraid?

When the wicked advance against me
    to devour me,
it is my enemies and my foes
    who will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege me,
    my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
    even then I will be confident.

One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
    he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
    and set me high upon a rock.

Then my head will be exalted
    above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
    I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Hear my voice when I call, Lord;
    be merciful to me and answer me.
My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
    Your face, Lord, I will seek.
Do not hide your face from me,
    do not turn your servant away in anger;
    you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
    God my Savior.
10 Though my father and mother forsake me,
    the Lord will receive me.
11 Teach me your way, Lord;
    lead me in a straight path
    because of my oppressors.
12 Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
    for false witnesses rise up against me,
    spouting malicious accusations.

13 I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord.

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 336: Saturday Life Quotes – Bowie

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“Don’t you love the Oxford Dictionary? When I first read it, I thought it was a really really long poem about everything.”

David Bowie dwelt in the world with the rest of us but wasn’t really like the rest of us. It is hard to believe that it was almost two years ago that he died. I was never a Bowie fan but, as an artist, I always appreciated his daring and creative moxie. He was seemingly unafraid to create dangerously for most of his life and many, many people loved him for it. Never the warmest figure alive in pop music, he was still able to reach people’s hearts. Mostly, I’ve learned since his death, he reached those people who have always felt marginalized and isolated from the “normal” world. That is a true gift.

He was a poet not just in how he used words but, maybe more so, in how he crafted his own life into a postmodern pastiche of various personalities and sensibilities. Bowie provides today’s Saturday Life Quotes:

“Speak in extremes, it’ll save you time. ”

“There’s a terror in knowing what the world is about”

“Tomorrow belongs to those who can hear it coming”

“The truth is, of course, that there is no journey. We are arriving and departing all at the same time.”

“Once you lose that sense of wonder at being alive, you’re pretty much on the way out…”

“As you get older the questions come down to two or three. How long have I got and what am I gonna do with the time I’ve got left?”

“It’s always time to question what has become standard and established.”

“Written in pain, written in awe
By a puzzled man who questioned
What we were here for”

“Gentleness clears the soul
Love cleans the mind
And makes it Free.”