pilgrimage, pain, music and hope...

Over the past month I have been making my way through a small stack of novels by my bedside
- and about halfway through, it began to dawn on me that there was a clear theme running through them all - mysteries, different cultures, etc. Not all of the authors pull off a work of art, mind you. But they all give shape and form to something simmering within my soul. And, as often happens when I finally "hear" the music I have been listening to at any given moment in time, these books are speaking to me truths I have been feeling but haven't yet acknowledged. 

The first, Arab Jazz, by Karim Miske was supposed to be a simple mystery. Set in Paris, with excursions into Brooklyn, too, this is a tale of an emotionally wounded artist who becomes inadvertently embroiled in the violent criminal schemes of a Jewish, Islamic and Christian fundamentalist cabal.  As the story unfolds, the artist is slowly reawakened to the joy of living in the real world, but only after making peace with the death of his upstairs neighbor. She, too, was a wounded soul searching for beauty beyond her brokenness only to be destroyed by the unresolved demons in her past..The second, The Piano Maker by Kurt Palka, started out with promise, but soon turned flat and plodding. It too, involved an artist - a French refugee musician who endured the wars of Europe only to find herself in Quebec - who seeks a fresh start. Again, a tragedy from her past haunts her new life and forces her to endure yet another bout of suffering before hope is restored.  The dialogue becomes stilted and too much of the closing takes on an "Indiana Jones" quality for my tastes. But by the time I was near completion, I was beginning to become aware of this emerging theme. Susan Hill, a master British noir story teller, has regularly grabbed my attention, and the latest installment of her Simon Serailler series, does not disappoint. The Soul of Discretion is not for the weak-hearted. It is a dark story of sexual obsession fueled by child pornography. To keep their ugly and unconscionable secrets hidden, the hero (yet another wounded artist) goes undercover and is nearly beaten to death by members of a publicly polite and powerful English elit.who are privately vicious in their dedication to pain and evil. 

As you might imagine, by the time I began the fourth novel, Lauren Belfer's And After the Fire, it
was clear that my book purchases were telling me something important about the state of my soul. This novel has grabbed me - it could cut deeper emotionally - but mostly works as a multifaceted plot unfolds connecting the realm of artistic creation with the flaws and promise of religion. Belfer writes about the paradoxical beauty of Bach's music alongside his equally repugnant Christian anti-Semitism. Set in contemporary NYC - with periodic flashbacks to the life of 19th century Jewish artists and merchants in Europe - the author describes a variety of ways that art awakens us to the horrors of reality even as it lures us towards hope. She also tenderly but unsentimentally reminds us that all of us have been broken - often by that which we once held dear. After the Fire is a more satisfying read than The Piano Maker - and I am only two thirds through - but looking to my bed stand and seeing the other three titles awaiting me, my inner pilgrimage in no longer enigmatic: 

+ The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George finds a hurting intellectual who leaves his home behind in order to bring literature and poetry other weary pilgrims on a floating literary apothecary.

+ Grace by Calvin Baker recounts the choices a war correspondence makes as he quits the violence in order to rebuild a new life of hope and tenderness.

+ The Blue Between Sky and Water by Susan Abulhawa blends folk tales from her Palestinian family into a storytelling prayer for her oppressed and often bereft relatives in the occupied territories of 21st century Israel. 

Last night, before sleep, I wrote in my prayer journal that three clear truths are calling out to me: 1) an artistic invitation to move beyond my status quo is percolating that simultaneously 2) integrates my art with 3) the reconciliation of my wounds - particularly the pain I know born of religious fear and bigotry. I was writing and praying about this exact pilgrimage at the start of last year's sabbatical. Facing some unexpected challenges - and at times unkind realities upon re-entry - kept me distracted from acting upon this emerging vision. Our work on both Missa Gaia (Paul Winter) and A Love Supreme (John Coltrane) reignited the fire for more. 

And just so that I wouldn't mistake the movement of the Spirit, last week a musical colleague and soul mate dropped off a book for me entitled, Prayer Beads - and inside there was a CD with a title: music is THE healing force.  As Di said to me at breakfast, "Such is the hero's quest: a new journey into pain that discovers reconciliation and hope beyond the wound." Ain't life grand? 

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