Spiritual Direction with Mozart

Victor Frankl, world-famous psychologist and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, toured America in the mid 60’s lecturing about his method of psychotherapy, which he named logotherapy.  Frankl was a Holocaust survivor, and he used his experience in the concentration camps to reflect on what the difference between those who flourish under the difficulties of life and those who crumble under its pressures.  What he he found was those who flourish have meaning in their lives.  Those who had lost everything but survived in the concentration camps, some even going on to lead profoundly deep and meaningful lives, had found meaning that drove them to continue on even amidst some of the worst conditions we can conceive of.  And through this he found that those afflicted with various mental and spiritual ailments could be treated by helping them find meaning in their lives.  But he had a dark warning for America during his tour.  He predicted a massive deterioration of mental health in Americans due to our focus strictly on productivity, efficiency and utility.  

Studies have shown that this prediction has come to pass.  Americans are less mentally and spiritually healthy and devoid (by and large) of a deeper sense of meaning.  Pair that with the modern age of distraction, which allows us to dwell, numbed, in this reality and continue to go about our daily lives numbed to our state of emotional and spiritual trauma.  God speaks meaning into our lives, moves us towards meaning, but we can ignore it so easily.  And worse, we often choose to ignore His voice, opting instead for the satisfaction of a few minutes (okay, 45 minutes) of turning our minds off and scrolling through our Reddit feed in search of the next GIF we can forward to our friends.  Meanwhile under the surface our hearts are boiling over with desire for more and we become enveloped in a fidgety anxiety that sends us to Amazon to buy the next great self-help book about how we can become more productive or lead the life that we’ve always wanted to lead.  We work harder so we can have a greater impact on the world and find our meaning that way.  And God sits by, like Lucy in the Peanut’s comics, in his one cent booth willing to give us everything these books and this work promise but ultimately can’t deliver on.  

Okay, so it’s bleak, but let’s not panic or wrack ourselves in anxious turmoil any longer.  Let's all just take it down and notch, pour a glass of our favorite earthy red or a delightfully nutty brown ale, dim the lights and flip on a little Mahler. The world would be a better place if we all took this advice (at least I know my world would be). I'm not suggesting that we join the Catholic finer things club, but that we steep ourselves in beauty and goodness by guarding our hearts with holy leisure and finding silence in that leisure to experience God in the transcendental realm of truth, beauty and goodness.

Our desire as human beings is true communion with the transcendent God, so we're bored and desperate precisely  because we live in this efficient, productive world of "total work". We often live much more in touch with our earthly duties than our heavenly ones, and our hearts cry out for something more meaningful. We're engineered for beauty, not just to consume it but to retain it, absorb it and make it a part of us. So despite the bleak outlook we have of the "technological age of distraction", we have to remember we have the stamp of our Creator indelibly marking our souls and predisposing us to move above and beyond the small field of vision afforded us the by the blue light of our iPhone screens.   

Our lives are efficient and productive but in our structure, tidied and finely-tuned schedules need an infusion of something more mysterious and breath-taking, something that introduces us in a finite way to the infiniteness of God.

Our attention span is the start to that good life of communion with the infinite God. Take for instance one of the more noisy distractions:  the modern pop song.  The average pop tune averages around three minutes. If we see an eight-minute or more song approaching in our Spotify queue, we're more likely to switch it back to the hooky pop number so that we can look forward to the variety of ten shorter songs rather than enter into the progression of one longer one. We have a lack of concentration. Maria Montessori (look her up as I don't have space here to lay out this incredible woman's biography and philosophy) revolutionized education when she introduced practical work into her classrooms. Her reason was simple: concentration yields contemplation. Children will grow their ability to contemplate the face of God in prayer if they can concentrate on a task for a long period of time. It's true for children and it's true for adults. The more capacity we have to concentrate and stick with something the more we grow our capacity to sit in the all-too-uncomfortable silence of prayer and the more we can move past the mundane aspects of the sacraments and enter more deeply into them.

There's also something miraculous about the silence of good classical music or really any great art.  It’s so beyond our humanity in a weird way that’s difficult to describe.  I remember multiple times rehearsing Mozart’s Requiem in college where I literally shook my head staring at the notes on the page.  How could anyone come up with this?  Great art is a small window into the immensity of God, but it’s not an easy thing to enter into.

Symphonies have this way of refusing to appeal to the modern desire for immediate gratification that scientifically verified hooks woven into the hits churned out by pop stars and their producers provide. But in a really mysterious way, the grandeur and beauty of the great symphonies envelop and even overwhelm the listener. Even if you don't understand classical music, it's easy, if you pay attention, to be taken up in the music. It's almost like the music was made to spark the imagination of the listener. There isn't a need for writers and cinematographers to interfere in the stories going through the minds and hearts of the general public. Composers just supply the soundtrack.

And all of this sounds very romantic and idealized, and in a way I guess it is, but the introduction to a real interior life can be found hidden away in the back of your public library’s CD shelves or in the unsearched "classical" genre on whatever music app you prefer. If we simply dim the lights, light an incredible-smelling candle (I'm unashamed in my loved for scented candles) and flip on Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, we are allowing transcendental goodness to enter into our hearts and lives, cultivating good soil for the God to sow His word and grace into.

The Best Bands to Listen to This Fall

With the first day of fall just this week I have been trying to embrace the season; which, unlike most folks (CBC editor included) is very hard for me.  Here in CO we get a fleeting moment of delightfully crisp air and the beautiful death of the changing leaves then we are thrust head long into winter. In my very biased opinion winter is awful, so fall is always accompanied with serious feelings of melancholy. Lucky for me there is a plethora of music to accompany this feeling. Find a winding road and turn up the volume or grab a blanket and a cup of tea and get cozy with these bands that are perfect for fall.

1) Gregory Alan Isakov

I cannot speak enough praise about this man’s music. His most recent album is with the Colorado Symphony and quite simply awe-inspiring.  If you have heard his music before but have not taken the time to listen to these new arrangements, you are missing out on a glorious exhibition of talent

2) Tow'rs

Swelling harmonies and flowing melodies make for blissful listening.  It is one of few regrets I have that I missed seeing them live when they last came through town.

3) Allman Brown

Combine Brown’s lush voice with poetic lyrics and beautiful instrumentation and you get perfect songs to accompany watching leaves fall outside your window. Do your heart a favor and put “Sons and Daughters” on repeat for about 5 hours.

4) Covenhoven

I found a kindred spirit in Covenhoven. Fellow Colorado native and lover of all things wild he brings all of himself to his music. I think the article on his sight says it best “It’s about the things you say when you’re way out there, with others, but by yourself. They are simple, woody meditations...”

5) The Oh Hellos

I mentioned this band in my last post but they are worth bringing up again. I would highly suggest listening to the full album “Dear Wormwood” start to finish. It is just so good.

6) Daughter

Daughter creates music that is truly painfully beautiful. I pray that the lyrics are as cathartic for the writer as they have been for me in moments in my life. Listen with caution, and be prepared to feel your own glorious insignificance.

7) Ben Howard

For me Ben Howard personifies melancholy and therefore is constantly playing this time of year. His instrumentation manages to be completely intentional while feeling wholly improvised. Lyrically he is a true poet with a capacity to speak to the heart.

photo credit: Joe Lehto

5 Bands you need to see live

I go to a lot of concerts. I have spent far too much time and money seeing shows; but let me tell you, it has been worth every second and every last penny. There is something special that happens when you witness music performed. Watching the emotion the artist pours into each song; how an entire group of people can be united by beauty, joy and the call to something outside of themselves. So here it is, my list of the best bands to see live!

1) Jared and the Mill

Any time these guys come through Denver you can bet I will be there front and center. They are incredibly talented musicians with an amazing capacity to connect with a crowd of total strangers. This band is one of my all-time favorites because of their live shows. They always come into the crowd to do at least one song completely acoustic. It really is a special moment when the crowd is hushed after the jumble of sound that surrounds the band as they descend the stage and join you in the crowd. These guys tour recklessly and are getting ready to release new music so it is very likely they are coming to a dive bar near you!

2) The Oh Hellos

I just saw these guys for the first time last month and was beyond impressed. I have casually like this band for a while but never really was a huge fan. After their last album “Dear Wormwood” was released I bought my ticket. I was totally surprised by their performance. What I had expected was a mellow, low key evening. What I got was equally as rambunctious and rowdy as it was moving and evocative. Their music flourishes when their zealous energy is driving it. I only regret waiting so long to see them.

3) Moon Taxi 

I first saw these guys when I was at a music festival in Austin, TX. I was blown away by their dynamic stage presence and unending energy. You could see the crowd drink that energy in and be revived and enlivened by it. They managed to bring that summer festival feel to Colorado in the dead of winter when I saw them again.  These guys are nothing but pure rock; they know it, we know it and I love it. Just hearing them perform “Change” is worth the price of admission.  

4) The Hunts

Talk about an absolutely beautiful display of musical talent. This band is made up of seven real life siblings that spend their entire set bouncing between instruments and wowing you with how effortless they make it all look. Their humility radiates through in their performance leaving you feeling like you want them all to be your new best friend.

5) The Lumineers

I have a hard time putting into words exactly what it was like seeing The Lumineers. There are so many things that made that show one of the best concerts I have ever been to. I have been a fan since the first shouts of “Ho Hey”. But, what I felt that night was something akin to what I have felt on the top of high mountains or running at breakneck speeds on horseback. With the exception of the sacraments, it was one of the most elevating experiences on earth. It was exhilarating and beautiful. It made me want to be better and do better. And isn’t that what beauty is supposed to do, to call us to something greater? It was an experience that demanded a response.

I only included bands I have seen. There are plenty of other artists, who I am sure put on amazing shows I have not been to (The Black Keys, yeah I am looking at you, Mumford & Sons I am coming for you). If you have any suggestions for me and others COMMENT!