Saturday, February 23, 2008

Can you feel the silence?

On Sunday mornings more important than the first cup of coffee is focusing until my mood is one of quiet contemplation. Often it's the thoughts listening to Van Morrison's "Hymns to the Silence" which steady me and help find a balance between what I can and cannot hold onto in this slippery world. It also inspires and tempers me as I try to begin the day by writing. The truth is I've not yet written anything as brilliant or poetic as Van, even on one of his bad days. Still, my fingers rap on the keyboard and the pen continues to fill sheets of paper with incomplete and crumpled thoughts.

I always begin with the title track found on disc 2, cut 3. "Hymns to the Silence," is a song as wondrous as the title suggests. It's holy, purifying, and mesmerizing.

"On Hynford Street" is a mystic, spoken word song delivered on top of soft, ethereal chords like you'd hear coming from an organ reverberating in a large empty cathedral before a memorial service. In it, Van takes you back--- "takes you way, way, way back to his youth where you can feel the silence of half past eleven on long summer nights." He's a true poetic champion who can tell you an entire story in just one sentence.

There are some actual hymns on the record too, such as the spirited "Just a closer walk with thee," and a favorite of mine" Be Thou my vision." I think the latter came from the Methodist hymnal, but then again I think all great hymns (which are like mini-sermons on their own) were written by the Methodist's (and to some degree the Baptists) His recording of the song is backed by the Chieftians, giving it the Celtic feel you might expect. I still get goose bumps during certain parts of it.

Riches I need not, nor man's empty praise

Thou my inheritance through all of my days

Thou my soul shelter and Thy my high tower

Raise Thou me heavenwards, oh power of my power.

I can't take credit for the quote: "Without music life would be a mistake." I agree for the most part, but not entirely. My great grandparents were deaf and lived a full life of goodness and Godliness despite not ever hearing a note of music. In contrast, Beethoven was deaf for the last 11 to 27 years of his life, (depending on which historian you believe) and composed some of his greatest works. My great grandfather, Philip Hasenstab, was the first man ordained as a minister in the Methodist Episcopal church, which poses a question most people never think about. How did the deaf get religion when there were no preachers to preach to them?

I'm guessing, but this is probably what my great grandfather thought when he first set out as a circuit rider, going town to town, preaching the gospel. The deaf were often thought of as societal outcasts and not treated particularly well. He also published a newspaper called "The Silent Herald," from 1903 until he died in 1941. He's written about widely in deaf history and his impact in the deaf community was groundbreaking.

So go placidly amongst the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence. – Taken from Desiderata by Max Ehrmann

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