King Bhumibol Adulyadej 1927 – 2016

King Bhumibol Adulyadej 1927 – 2016

Close up photo of a the King of Thailand's crest on a yellow "king shirt."I wore my yellow “king shirt” on Friday. No one noticed, but I wore it to remember and honor the beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand who died the day before at the age of 88, after 70 years on the throne. Thailand has lost their king. The world has lost a good man.

I didn’t know anything about the King when I visited Thailand, but one of the first things I noticed was his picture, often huge, displayed everywhere: on highways, in the airport, on the sides of large stores, churches, businesses, and schools as well as in little shops and market places. Sometimes a large picture of his wife, Queen Sirikit, was beside his. It was obvious, the people loved their king.

I learned about wearing yellow shirts in his honor. The King was born on Monday, December 5, 1927, and for the Thai, Monday’s color is yellow. In 2006, to celebrate the King’s 60 years on the throne, and to show respect and love for the King, the people started to wear yellow shirts every Monday. I found one in a large market and bought what I’ve always called my “king shirt.”

Coming from a country founded by revolting against a king, I wasn’t sure why this man was held in such reverence. (Once, while on my way to the airport, I engaged the car’s driver in conversation about the people’s devotion. “It seems genuine,” I said. He looked me in the eyes and replied, “Many people in this country would die for the King.” I didn’t doubt it.)

I did some research and discovered much to like about this monarch. Not in the direct line of succession, he hadn’t anticipated ascending the throne. He was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts while his father was studying medicine at Harvard. He was educated mainly in Switzerland and studied engineering and the sciences, but a series of unexpected events made him king at the age of 18.

King Bhumibol speaking with people on a rural visit

Photo: BBC

When he and his wife became king and queen, he stated that they would reign “…with righteousness for the benefits and happiness of the Siamese people.” They did, visiting small, poor villages across the country. The king carried his camera, maps, and a notebook, listening and learning what was needed.

Photo of Thai women weaving baskets at the Bamboo Basketry Handicraft Centre, Chonburi Thaniland

Photo: Mary van Balen

Queen Sirikt began programs to teach women traditional Thai handicrafts including basket weaving and fabric arts, enabling them to augment their families’ income.

King of Thailand playing clarinetKing Bhumibol was a man of many talents (a jazz musician who jammed with Benny Goodman among others, composer, designer, builder, and racer of sailboats, painter, author, and engineer) and holds patents for inventions including a water aerator and rainmaking technology. He encouraged farmers to replace crops of drug-producing poppies with more beneficial crops and oversaw thousands of rural development initiatives including small dams and irrigation projects that improved the lives of ordinary people.

king-walking-in-the-countrysideKing Bhumibol received the first UNDP Human Development Lifetime Achievement Aw ard presented by then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan for his “…extraordinary contribution to human development” through continuous efforts to help Thailand’s poor and vulnerable people. (Other awards included the Philae Medal from UNESCO, a World Health Organization plaque for leadership and example in the area of public health, and the first Dr. Norman E Borlaug Medallion from the World Food Prize Foundation for his efforts to alleviate starvation and poverty.)

It seems he was well-named—Bhumibol translates “Strength of the Land.”

On Friday, I kept hoping someone would ask about my shirt, certainly not my color or style. I wanted to say why I felt sorrow and loss at the death of a king halfway around the world. I wanted to tell his story. The story of this leader who put the well-being of the people first stands in stark contrast to the story of this year’s presidential election campaign in this country, where the poor are barely mentioned and attention veers to misogyny, scandal, fear, and hatred.

He wasn’t perfect. To the annoyance of some around him who worked to keep the image of the king almost god-like, he said the same in an address on his 78th birthday, partly in response to increasing arrests for violation of Thailand’s strict lese majeste laws:

“Actually, the belief that ‘the King can do no wrong’ is a big insult to the King. Why could he do no wrong? By saying so, you mean the King is not a human being. The King can do wrong. If, by criticising the King means violating him, then I don’t mind the violation.”

If I’ve piqued your interest, search the internet and learn more about him. Here are some places to start:

Glimpses behind the exalted persona of Thailand’s king by David Gray, who has reported on Thailand for the AP for over 40 years.

From the Royal Thai Embassy, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Thailand Bids Farewell to Beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej by Charlie Campbell for Time.

And, if you’d to hear him play a little clarinet with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, check out this YouTube video.

Where Grace is Found and Given Away

Where Grace is Found and Given Away

flowers in a vase, mug, and guitar sitting on a blue and white table cloth.Originally published in The Catholic Times, October 16, 2016

Yesterday I came home from work and picked the five remaining stems of tall, pink snapdragons and one red geranium. They fit perfectly into a vase purchased from a shop near the Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota. The dark green matte outer layer had been etched down to the pale terra cotta, creating the stair-step design that symbolizes the Black Hills, Paha Sapa, a holy place of the Lakota.

The Lakota came to mind, and the other Native Americans and supporters who gather with them in prayer and presence, again striving to protect their land, this time by protesting the construction of the Dakota pipeline.

Their struggle was one reason I needed flowers on my table last night and why I’ve stopped perusing New York Times headlines as part of my morning routine. The violence and suffering in the news is overwhelming.

Hatred, stoked by fear and ignorance, fills our national election politics. The voices of the marginalized  around the world—the poor, women, LGBT people, children, refugees, and others—are rarely heard. Glacial ice-melts and extreme weather patterns call for action to address global warming, but the will to pursue alternative energy sources and lifestyle changes is lacking. My heart was worn out.

So, I picked flowers. I brewed tea and poured it into a favorite mug made by Joan Lederman, who lives in Woods Hole, creating glazes with sediment collected from the ocean floor. My mug is part of her Earth Crust/Space Dust series, and a band of its glaze contains asteroid-laden dust from 65 million years ago. I rubbed the blue sea glass that fills the thumb well on the handle, sipped Lady Grey, and let my heart soak up beauty.

Next I pulled my guitar case out from under the bed where it’s rested undisturbed for a year. A thin stack of papers lay beneath the instrument. Old and yellowed, they were covered with song lyrics and chord notations written in my hand during the 60s and 70s. I remembered them all, and my fingers quickly found their places on the strings. I played and sang, listening to my younger self celebrating the glories of an October day or a patient, hopeful love.

I heard my weary heart calling for Grace and comfort from the wind, sun, and rain after learning of the sudden death of a college friend. Many of my songs danced with Divine Mystery found “within and without, above and below,” or gave melody to psalms. Singing for an hour, I sank my heart-roots deep into that Holy Presence.

When my unpracticed fingertips became sore, I returned the guitar to its case and picked up a friend’s newly released memoir, Harnessing Courage. Despite its serious topic (Laura Bratton was diagnosed with a retinal disease at the age of 9 that eventually took her sight.), the first pages made me laugh out loud, picturing her confident, three-year-old self remembering every ballet step and leading the other, stage struck toddlers through their first dance recital.

As night came, I remembered holy ones whose feasts fall on this week’s liturgical calendar, who persevered despite their world’s ills. With the courage to challenge the status quo, St. John XXIII threw open the windows of the Church to let in fresh air, trusting the Spirit to bring renewal.

St Teresa of Avila, the great Carmelite mystic, reformer and first woman to be declared a Doctor of the Church, struggled with illness, opposition, and an investigation by the Inquisition. She defined contemplative prayer simply as a close sharing between friends and frequent time spent alone with God who loves us.

And while Madeleine Delbrêl (born in France in 1904) isn’t declared a saint, Robert Ellsberg writes about her in Liturgical Press’s Give Us This Day reflection for October 13, the date of her death. She knew that holiness could be encountered in people’s everyday life. “Each tiny act is an extraordinary event, in which heaven is given to us, in which we are able to give heaven to others.”

That’s why surrounding myself with beauty, singing, and enjoying the gifts of others was just what I needed last night. It helped me descend to my center, resting in Healing Presence, finding Grace in the moment. God refreshes the heart and provides strength to be grateful for life that is given even in the midst of suffering. As John, Teresa, and Madeleine knew, we must trust and spend time with God in whatever ways deepen our relationship. Then we will have Spirit to share and can be part of the ongoing transformation of a wounded world.

© 2016 Mary van Balen

No One Can Say I Didn’t Sing

No One Can Say I Didn’t Sing

Photo of Carnegie Hall program for Florence Foster Jenkins

Carnegie Hall Program By Anonymous [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Originally published in The Catholic Times—September 10, 2016 issue

Inspiration comes from unexpected places, like a movie theater on a Saturday morning. The name Florence Foster Jenkins first came to my attention while listening to National Public Radio on WOSU. She was a wealthy woman, born in Pennsylvania in 1868, who loved music from an early age and who, in later life, embarked on a quest to become a professional singer. The catch was, well, she couldn’t sing.

Unsure what to expect, I settled into my seat and watched a most unusual story unfold. I was prepared to dislike Florence—a New York socialite who belonged to all the right clubs and moved in upper class social circles, someone who, I imagined could buy her way into anything she wanted. Indeed, she eventually did rent Carnegie Hall. To my surprise, something about Florence won my heart.

Avoiding movie details in case some of you plan to see it, I’ll share a few things I learned about her through a bit of research. She was born into a wealthy family but gave it all up to follow her passion. Her father wanted her to stay home, to become a wife and mother. She wanted to study piano in Europe. Disinherited, she held on to music through years of a failed marriage, illness, and other difficulties.

When her fortunes changed, she threw herself into New York society, music still central in her life. She was a great patron of the arts, contributing to many organizations, and the music club she founded benefited the Italian Red Cross, the Actors Fund, and Veterans Mountain Camp. Lavish operatic productions she sponsored provided well-paying jobs for young musicians at time when they were difficult to find.

Privileged, quirky, and flawed to be sure, some thought she was delusional. Florence lived in her own world, unaware of the discrepancy between the beautiful tones she heard when singing and what she sounded like to everyone else. Still, she was a woman who gave her all to what she loved and believed she was made to do: singing and promoting music. That’s the thought that stayed with me as I left the theater.

Maybe that’s what her fans loved and why they flocked to her concerts. Maybe that’s why today, only Judy Garland and the Beatles are the subject of an equal number of inquiries at Carnegie Hall. Here was a woman who remained true to herself, no matter the circumstances. She loved what she did and brought joy and pleasure to her fans while doing it.

The Magpie by Claude Monet 1869

The Magpie by Claude Monet 1869
PHOTO: Mary van Balen

As I scribbled notes in my journal, reflecting on her life, other thoughts appeared on the page. I noted the young boy in the gospel who offered up his few loaves and fishes when the huge crowd that had been listening to Jesus grew tired and hungry. Not much, but it with God’s blessing, it became enough. And what about the servants who invested the money they had been given by their master rather than burying it out of fear?

I wrote of artists with glorious talent whose paintings moved me to tears at the Musée d’Orsay and the simple string of paper cranes folded from scraps of wrapping paper and spaced by small pieces of a plastic drinking straw that hang in my office, made by an old woman in the streets of Thailand.

Paper Cranes

PHOTO: Mary van Balen
Paper cranes

Gifts seem unevenly given. Life is kinder to some than to others. Yet, every person, from the richest to the poorest, from those who appear most accomplished to those who, by society’s standards, have done little, holds a spark of Divinity to share. Our journey is to discover what that is and to give it away.

That’s all God asks of us: To do the best we can with what we have been given. Not to become overwhelmed by our flaws, deficiencies, or struggles, but to accept ourselves and our gifts and live life with energy, enthusiasm, and love. To the world’s surprise, the offered lives of those considered “least” often change it most profoundly.

The only quote I could find from Florence Foster Jenkins was this: “Some may say that I couldn’t sing, but no one can say that I didn’t sing.

She gave what she had to give. In the end, how it was received was less important than that it was given.

Note: This column marks 30 years of my writing for The Catholic Times. I thank the paper for providing space for me to share reflections on the Sacred that is present in everyday life. I thank you, my readers, and hope that in some small way, these columns have helped you celebrate that Presence in your own lives.

© 2016 Mary van Balen

Paris: Music in the Air

Paris: Music in the Air

Musicians playing bass, banjo, sax, and trombone on Rue Mouffetard, Paris

Musicians on Rue Mouffetard, Paris
Photo: Mary van Balen

Music is in the air! Often, while walking around Paris, I hear music. Train stations large and small have public pianos ready for anyone passing by or waiting for their connection to play. Groups of musicians cluster on corners, a hat or open instrument case sitting on uneven cobbles to collect coins from those who stop to listen.

The first group I encountered was a foursome playing bass, banjo, sax, and trombone. They stood along Rue Mouffetard, a narrow medieval street lined with small shops, cafes, and fresh food markets. The sax player moved with the rhythm, tapping his foot. The thin, white-haired banjo player stood tall and straight. Lots of people paused to enjoy the sound and a little girl smiled while she twirled and clapped along.

Man in black suit playing accordion on street in Paris

Accordion player, Rue Mouffetard, Paris
Photo: Mary van Balem

That evening, my daughters and I had dinner at a restaurant on the same street. A man dressed smartly in a black suit and hat strolled along, weaving between the outside tables of small cafes, playing his accordion. No wonder the “soundtrack” I’ve heard in my mind when thinking of Paris includes accordion music: It’s common around the city, day or night.

Man playing piano on bridge over the Seine

Pianist on bridge over the Seine
Photo: Mary van Balen

No matter what they play, the musicians I’ve heard are accomplished. Once, while walking home from a day of wandering through neighborhoods on the right bank, we heard classical piano. Sure enough, there on a small bridge across the Seine, a man was playing Chopin on a shiny black piano. People clustered along the sidewalk, called by powerful, familiar music to stop and listen.

Music in, for me, unexpected places reminds me to appreciate, to recognize the power of song and the richness of the human gift to make stirring, soul moving sound.

Early one morning, Kathryn and I walked to our favorite boulangerie to buy a baguette and jam for breakfast. Rue Mouffetard was almost empty. Above us, a curtain billowed out of a window along with the sound of a violinist tuning his instrument. I wondered what he or she would be playing.

string ensemble and vocalist in St. Paul's cathedral, Paris, France.

String ensemble and vocalist in Saint Paul’s Cathedral, Paris
Photo: Mary van Balen

If you want to attend a concert, they are easy to find almost any night in cathedrals around the city. Kathryn and I listened to a string ensemble preform Pachelbel’s Canon and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. They were joined by a vocalist whose powerful soprano filled the church with Schubert’s Ave Maria.

On an afternoon in the Marais area, we thought a store or restaurant was piping opera music into the street. No. Approaching the art exhibition hall, we saw a woman standing in front of the building singing a piece from an opera. I don’t know what it was, but her strong, expressive voice was mesmerizing. Even armed military police patrolling the area had to stop and listen. One let his automatic droop to the side while he held up a phone to record the moment.

Guns and music. The news from the States is filled with hateful, troubling events aimed at transgender people for the moment. We watched TV in a café yesterday as the loss of an Egyptian Airlines plane was being covered. Security and armed military presence here on the streets as well as in airports and train stations reminds us of terrorist activities. Poverty is visible as homeless men, women, and children make the streets their homes.

Over it all, haunting music awakens the question in my heart: What fear and anger, what wounds make human beings, capable of creating such beauty, do such horrible things to one another?

© 2016 Mary van Balen

Praying Presence at the Roosevelt

Praying Presence at the Roosevelt

white teacup filled with dark tea on deep green and white saucerBright sun was a welcome change from the grey overcast days we’d been having. I hurried along the sidewalk, passing upscale condos along the street adjacent to the downtown parking lot where my car waits everyday while I’m at work. The brown sandstone cathedral sits just across the street. I thought about dropping in, but opted for the church of buildings and people, cars and cracked sidewalks instead. The cathedral would be locked anyway.

I moved quickly, wanting to make the most of my break: Arrive at the Roosevelt Coffeehouse, order tea, and have time to read. After walking a  block to avoid construction, I turned left. There was a policeman walking in front of me and a man in front of him–an unsteady man whose black leather jacket hung oddly, drooping off the right side of his slight body. He had something slung over his shoulder. But what I noticed most was his stumbling gait and regular brushing against buildings’ old bricks.

I slowed, a participant in this odd, short parade, then turned down an alley, whispering a prayer for the man and for the policeman who followed him. Taking long strides and stretching my legs felt as good as the cool air and sunlight. When I turned left again and crossed the street, there was the man in the drooping black jacket. He must have walked faster, too. The policeman, no longer following, had stopped on the corner to chat with a security guard on a bicycle. Parade over.

Slipping into Roosevelts, my new favorite place to spend a break, I smiled at the barista and looked over the day’s menu of coffee and teas. How could I not order an oolong fig peach tea? I found a table by a window, pulled a book from my purse and settled in. Music comes from a turntable and donated records at this place, and the soundtrack from “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou” was playing. I remembered singing a variation of one song a cappella with my sister and my ex, years ago in tight, smooth harmony. My foot was tapping.

“Oh brother, lets go down, come on down, don’t you wanna go down? Oh sister, lets go down, down in the valley to pray.”

The tea arrived, lovely in a large white cup sitting on a saucer glazed with deep green. Steam rose like incense, and holding cupped hands above it, I savored the fragrance and warmth. I don’t remember when I stopped reading and started paying attention instead, but that’s what I did.

Aromas of freshly ground coffee beans and spicy teas were thick enough to taste. My tea rested on a table made of a repurposed bowling lane, its light wood encased in enough polyurethane to make it shine. All the tables and counters were made of the same luminous stuff.

People had gathered midday at this little place. There was a man in a flannel shirt engaged in lively discussion with two women. Between them was a scatter of papers covered with colored pie charts and notes. They were planning a meeting and exchanging phone numbers. Five or six people worked on laptops and three guys sat on stools at the counter, laughing and talking about music. One young woman, shutting it all out, or at least trying to, was studying.

I was paying attention. Watching bits of dust and steam lit up by sunlight coming in the window. Marveling at how different people are from one another, what different lives we have: the policeman, the jacket man, the people in this place, my coworkers just a few blocks away.

The congregation of the church outside the cathedral. The prayer, paying attention.  Simone Weil famously said, “Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.” The ancient prayer of attentiveness, of being present to the moment, runs through the great traditions. Mary Oliver, a poet of attentiveness, writes:


It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

Draining the last bit of tea from the cup, I packed up my book, said goodbye, and walked from the doorway of one church into the expanse of another.



Birdsong and Hope

Birdsong and Hope

PHOTO:Mary van Balen

PHOTO:Mary van Balen

Sitting quietly, holding a cup of tea to warm my hands, I tried to enter into silence, greeting the morning, welcoming Presence. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. After ten minutes or so, I couldn’t help but focus on the birdsong coming from snow-blanketed tress and yards outside my building. Try as I might, I couldn’t let them go. “An invitation,” I decided.

Putting down the tea I opened the front door to see if I could spot the singers. Squinting my eyes against the bright light reflecting off all the white, I could see a small form or two on a tree a few doors down. I went inside, grabbed binoculars, slid my feet into slippers, and walked out the side door onto the driveway.

Cold, crisp air felt wonderful. Sun shine everywhere. Birdsong coming from every direction. “Sparrows,” I decided, on the trees over the red-tiled roof. “Cardinal.” The raspy bark of a woodpecker. Then, from somewhere out front, a clear, three-note call. I turned and followed the sound. Against the bright sun, only the bird’s silhouette could be seen. I began to hum along…three descending notes. “Lovely,” I thought, singing along. “What notes?”

I stepped back inside to find an instrument. The piano hadn’t made the transition into my apartment, residing now at my sister’s home in Ann Arbor. The guitar wasn’t tuned. Ah, the recorder, resting in its original hinged box, sat in front of a row of books in the glass-fronted case. Wrapped in scraps of pink and white flannel cut from pajamas decades ago, the pear wood instrument still produced warm tones as my fingers ran through the scale.

PHOTO:Mary van BAlen

PHOTO:Mary van Balen

There were the notes: B above middle C, A, and G. Over and over. Like “Three Blind Mice.” I don’t know why I wanted to know the notes. Maybe to honor the little singer who helped fill the winter morning with hope. Hope of coming spring. Of life waiting for a thaw, prepared by cold and darkness to push up into daylight. I played the notes over and over. God-breath could sing through me today, if I let it. That’s the invitation.

One more look outside. The long icicle hanging from a downspout along the porch overhang was melting. Drop after drop formed at its tip, liquid light. Suddenly, it crashed into the snow beneath. The little bird had disappeared into a large tree across the street. It kept singing, now in tandem with the one called ‘hope’ that perched in my soul, as Emily Dickinson wrote, who wouldn’t stop at all.

Room to Grow

Room to Grow

PHOTO: Mary van Balen

PHOTO: Mary van Balen

Finding new pots for root-bound plants isn’t easy in November. After trying convenient stores like Target, I took a drive to a garden store and found what I was looking for. Yesterday, my daughter and I repotted a plant with a history. It’s a snake plant. When she was about eight, she rescued it from me. It wasn’t a favorite. Not even sure where it came from. It sat on a shelf fastened midway up the kitchen window frame and was too tall for that place. In a rare moment of cleaning, I lifted the plant from the shelf and walked with it down the hill to our garden where I unceremoniously removed it from the pot and laid it on the earth, figuring it would be good compost for the next year’s crop.

My young daughter did not approve. “Mom!! You’re KILLING that plant,” she said. No amount of recounting the cycle of nature, of things returning to earth to nourish what comes next could convince her. She stood her ground, looking accusingly into my eyes. “No, YOU ARE KILLING THAT PLANT.”

Exasperated, I gave in, sort of. “If you want it, you repot it.” She wouldn’t bother I thought.

Wrong. She brought it to me in the same pot and poor soil, and it went back on the shelf. That year it flowered for the first time, positively dripping nectar. For two years it did that. In my face. I was chastened, and it has moved with me or one of my daughters ever since.

Yesterday, its savior helped me place it in a lager pot. This plant is huge with some leaves four feet tall. It’s become company for me in my office, and I’ve become fond of it. As I was running in and out of the house for potting soil, florist’s tape, and scissors, I called out to my daughter…

“Talk to it, honey. Lay your hands on it. Hold it steady. It trusts you.” She did and carried it back inside.

Today, after buying three new pots, more soil, and a little trellis for a plant that would just as soon climb as spread out all over the buffet, I prepared the counter in the kitchen and put on a little Bach. Couldn’t hurt, I thought. The three chosen plants were ready to break their old containers with roots so thick and entwined that they easily slid out of the pots. I spoke softly, patted, watered, and placed them in clean saucers on the buffet. Root room at last.

PHOTO:Mary van Balen

PHOTO:Mary van Balen

I cleaned the kitchen and then, for a while, just sat and looked at them. Lovely. Dark soil. Clean clay pots. Room to grow. I thought I should probably do something. Like read for the course I’m taking or visit a great niece who’s spending a few days with her grandparents. Or straighten up the dining room table. But I didn’t want to move. Bach was sounding good. I chose root room over busy, breathing deep and letting thoughts and “shoulds” untangle, like I imagined the roots were beginning to do in their new pots. So, there we sat, the plants and I, listening to Cantata #208 and relishing a little space.








Inching Into This Century: Amazing Bluetooth

Inching Into This Century: Amazing Bluetooth

outside with speakerI’m not completely Bluetooth challenged. I have a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse for my computer and iPad. But, last week, after a year without anything to play music in my house (unless you count the TV, which I hate to use because the entire time the CD is on, so is the TV’s blue screen), I decided to shop and not return without a speaker of some sort to use with my ipod/ipad. I’ve procrastinated too long to buy an iHome docking radio and speaker. Why didn’t I buy that one I saw at Target six months ago. Now, my 4th generation iPod is “old,” its 30 pin connector replaced by “lightening connect.”

I drove to the closest Apple store. No matter what you think of Apple products, their stores are full of knowledgeable people who get paid to help you. The man who helped me sort through bluetooth speakers was a musician and did some music producing on the side. How lucky could I get. He didn’t mind endless questions, playing and replaying classical music through speakers until I narrowed it down to two. Other customers were turning to look at us as my Apple guy turned the volume up so I could hear differences between how the two handled volume and put out bass as compared to midrange signals.

“They’re looking at us,” I ventured. “Maybe it’s too loud.”

“No problem. You’re just as important as any other customer here. You need to hear the sound before you can know what you like.”

I deferred.

And walked out with a cool cylindrical speaker that I can take anywhere. It is water resistant so if it gets caught out in the rain, no problem. You can even use it in the shower if you want, as long as it not directly in the water stream. OK. I don’t need it in the shower.

The next hurdle was loading my iPod with music, something I had been avoiding. Emboldened by my purchase, I did just that. So, today, I decided to do some writing outside. I put my iPod near a window and set the speaker along with my computer and a cup of tea on the table in the backyard. Amazing. Bach and I outside, watching big dark clouds blow by. I savored the cool air and prayed that the yard service across the street would stop at trimming with a weed whacker and leave the grass cutting to a sunnier day. Nothing drives me inside faster than people cutting lawns. My lungs hurt just thinking about it.

No grass cutters. No rain. Just beautiful music and thoughts and a computer to receive them.

I love quiet and don’t mind spending entire days in silence getting in touch with Grace in my life. I also love music. It has its own way of helping us be in touch with the Sacred in our midst. Now I have music to go!

Music in the Air

Music in the Air

Musicians on Royal Street

Musicians on Royal Street

Even before getting out of bed in the morning, I hear music punctuating the other sounds of New Orleans waking up for a new day. One man sings, unaccompanied at the entrance to a store across the street. Soon a horn or two is heard. Maybe guitars. By lunch time, no matter where you walk, you are entertained by the gift of musicians sharing their talent and passion.

Passsersby throw coins or a bill in the box or hat or instrument case lying open nearby. But the musicians play, paid or not. Their gift is my grace. My morning or noon or night prayer, reminding me to give thanks for life spirit that is freely given, not only by the street musicians, but also by the One who breathes life into us all.

Of Identity, Faith, and Love

Of Identity, Faith, and Love

by Sara Davis Buechner

 As difficult as it is for me to define the music I play in words, so it is with religion. The two are deeply intertwined within my soul, and the expression of both is something that takes me into a realm far different, far higher, than the ordinary experience of daily life. It’s fair to say that my life would, indeed, have no meaning without music, and thus I may say also of a life without God, without spirit, without a daily soulful prayer to the Creator. Since earliest memory I have had the need within, to make a joyful noise unto the Lord.

As a young child, the most joyful times in my life circled around the music played on our home piano, the Mozart Symphonies that came into our living room on the radio, the classical records my mother bought for our RCA turntable, and most of all the piano lessons taken on the lap of one of the most spiritual and loving human beings I know, a then-young Hungarian refugee named Veronika Wolf.  [Read more…]