All that music has meant

Possibly my favourite Wittgenstein remark (of at least 20 contenders for that title): “It has been impossible for me to say one word in my writing about all that music has meant to me in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?” (that’s from memory, so may not be word perfect)

I feel the same way, always have. Yet one of the wonders about McGilchrist’s work (I’ll be referring to him a lot this year) is that it provides a way of getting a handle on what is going on. Put simply the form of attention that we give to music is an attention rooted in the right hemisphere, whereas the critical thinking about it is rooted in the left hemisphere.

I think there is a moment in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance where Pirsig is discussing jazz and gets told ‘man, if you have to ask the question you won’t understand the answer’.

So music for me – and, more broadly, poetry, humour, fantasy, immersion in nature, also worship (liturgy) when it is done right – all these are ways of immersing myself into the more deeply human forms of life; or, to phrase that from the opposite side, they are ways of escaping the tyranny of the discursive, detached, verbal intellect, the left-hemisphere forms of attention.

In a word, music is a major part of how I pray, how I bring balance to my emotional life. Whereof one cannot speak 😉

I don’t listen to classical music half as much as I used to, although I expect that to change back again over time. I discover that I really enjoy jazz, and I really, really enjoy live music. At the moment I am discovering the band James – one of their songs will be written up as the ‘song of my sabbatical’ in a few weeks time – but this one is rather good, with a very clever video:

Of deserving and thanksgiving

I watched the TV series Yellowstone earlier this year and was very struck by a moment in season 4 involving my favourite character, Rip Wheeler. Rip has been effectively adopted by the family that owns the ranch, coming from his own traumatic family background. Over time he becomes the real lynchpin for the running of the ranch. There comes a point when his wife has brought in a ‘stray’ – another boy, Carter, also running from a broken down situation. When Carter asks Rip how he managed to not just survive but thrive in the environment of the ranch (something that Carter is struggling with) Rip says, “Don’t think you deserve it. You don’t deserve it. And you never will.”

I like this because there is a real Holy Spirit about it. I’m not suggesting that Rip is a Christian – those familiar with the programme will know why not – but because this spirit of acceptance, of not taking things for granted, of not feeling entitled, seems to me to be exactly how we are to live as Christians within the world; and this, not in response to a soul-crushing ‘ought’ but as the means, the only means, by which we can discover joy in the world.

What I mean is this: it’s all a gift. In the end we either accept the ticket (Dostoyevsky) or we reject it. If we reject it we are expressing a sense of entitlement, an entitlement which brings forth cynicism and bitterness when reality doesn’t co-operate with our expectations. If, instead, we expect nothing we can be grateful for whatever comes, we fundamentally say ‘yes’ to our existence, a ‘yes, thank you’. On such a basis life becomes the vessel and vehicle for authentic life.

Barth famously said ‘gratitude follows grace as thunder follows lightning’. I want to cultivate my sense of gratitude as the appropriate response to the presence of grace in my life. I hope that it will counter the cynicism and bitterness and despair into which I sometimes sink.
So I might start including the general thanksgiving prayer with compline each night, which runs like this:

ALMIGHTY God, Father of all mercies, we thine unworthy servants do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all men. We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful, and that we shew forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives; by giving up ourselves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.


Spiritual journalling

My writing output here has, in the last few years, declined to almost nothing. I put that down mostly to being depressed since 2009 or so (and that depression fed into further trauma which made more depression and so on). Yet I’ve been moving in the right direction for a few years now and this sabbatical has really accelerated that process. I feel able to write again.

I am on substack here and I plan to use that avenue for work-related, ‘public’ writing – so material related to my PhD research, church issues, and commentary on cultural collapse. (Some of the PhD work can’t be published yet, but when it can be it will go there).

Here I plan to resume my spiritual journalling, as I think that will help me emerge from my long melancholic slumber; hopefully it will also allow me to be more gracious in my writing as a whole.
I am minded to try and write something every day, sometimes – often! – something very short, but we shall see how it goes. There will be a little cross-posting with the substack, but not much.

For now, here is a picture, which I think is a fair representation of where I am ?