A series of unexpected happenings, fun purchases, regrets, surprise repairs, career bumps and boosts, persistent challenges, wounds that won't heal, … welcome to life!
There’s a trail by a creek within shouting distance from home, and I like to walk it frequently. It’s a tiny, little stretch of nature and a way for me to quickly recharge. I’ve seen a group of deer, squirrels (of course), an inch-and-a-half baby turtle basking in the sun, a slithering snake escaping the trail traffic, hundreds of earthworms wriggling in the rain, a heron, a duck, frogs, rabbit … all in a portion not more than a mile long and bounded by streets and buildings.
Last winter I came upon this tree, fallen to the trail’s edge, uprooted in a recent storm. Loosened by the water’s lubricating effects, the roots' grip gave way. I wondered how it would fare by the time warm currents of spring air blew in again. A fallen tree cannot survive, can it?
On a crisp stroll in early March, I noticed little branches sprouting on the side of the tree nearest the sky, reaching toward the sun’s nourishing rays. Toward the trunk of the tree, where branches did not previously exist, the growth looked brand new.
I thought (believing the tree was dying a slow death) these tender branches won’t last more than a few weeks. Each time I passed it, I noticed how they continued growing, from bud, to tiny leaf, then many little leaves. Months later, it looks like the tree is not only surviving but thriving …
Probably anyone else would pass by this tree a hundred times, giving it no further thought or attention. Not me. I tend to imagine things beyond the plainly visible surface; I reflected and started to marvel at what I was witnessing. How remarkable this is!
More closely, I could see how some roots remained intact, maybe less than a quarter, but enough to bring moisture and minerals from the sandy creek soil and combine with the sun to nurture and sustain the sprouting branches. These few roots, still connected deep in the ground are undoubtedly growing deeper still and expanding into new terrain, strengthening the tree in greater, unseen directions.
I have felt like that fallen tree at times; I know that many of you have too. Right now some of you are going through life’s inevitable setbacks; maybe it feels like you have had more than your fair share of challenges that would bring anyone to deep despair. These are miserable places to be. Miserable and overflowing with questions! But being in a fallen state does not mean it’s the end of life, although …
It is the end of life as we knew it. …
If we consider our lives' roots to be community, friends, faith, family, talents, gifts, spiritual practice and whatever else that we count as part of our network of enrichment and support, it can feel devastating to have any part of it damaged, let alone the vast majority of it wiped out in one fell swoop.
Be encouraged by this one example of nature renewing itself. We can live well, even as most of our roots have been pulled up from what we thought was solid and secure, and a part of us is left hanging in the air with nothing to cling to, drying out. We can build on what roots remain and nurture previously unknown ways of living, exploring and persisting until we discover possibilities more beautiful and unique than the old.
This fallen tree offers something no ordinary upright tree can, and that is a way for us to touch its wounded roots, witnessing the damage, but also seeing its unusual beauty up close, its freshly growing branches and tender leaves where none grew before … and by observing, draw an inspiring lesson in the way it survives a setback and endures.
It’s ok to show our wounds. What remains … who remains, to love us, to nurture us and tend to our wounds are profoundly important as we seek relief, recovery, and growth. Begin there, with these roots. Unfortunately many others may keep their distance or offer only a lip-service level of caring, but we will never grow new and healthy roots by hiding or denying woundedness. Only by showing and sharing, only then can our remaining roots grow to sustain us, and only then may we find we can truly thrive in a new way of living.
One thing I've discovered living in Durham for five years now is that its generally mild and friendly weather here suits me (mostly) well. In some ways, it even reflects my music-making. Let me explain. We all have individual preferences when it comes to music. You probably have a style of music you automatically go to when you're at work or play, or driving around town....maybe a radio station, or iTunes radio/Spotify/Pandora/SoundCloud, etc. playlist that is your routine. It's your "go-to" music for everyday life. But then, life throws you a surprise, wanted or unwanted, and you seek out a different kind of music to match your mood, perhaps to deepen the feelings of joy, or maybe act as an antidote to sadness (or go deeper to really wrestle with it face to face). I'm the same way. Although I like to write and listen to music which involves matters of the heart and spirituality, quite often I just need to get out of the default mode and taste something completely different, maybe African drumming or techno-dance music, or whatever ditty is currently popular in bubblegum-pop music (well, not that really), but sometimes I feel an urge to write or hear something further from my norm. An idea may strike me, or I may be searching but not quite finding. When that happens, I am thankful that I regularly immerse myself in a local composer group, another circle of songwriters, a couple of top-notch choral groups and more. This helps get me into other realms of music which I maybe wouldn't experience otherwise.
So what does this have to do with the weather in Durham? At first glance, maybe little, but I have observed a discernible and distinct correlation between the weather and my musical frame of mind. To grossly oversimplify: cloudy=pensive, sunny=hopeful, snowy=wonder, rain=calm, windy=animated, humid=mellow, etc. However, in truth these equations are incomplete, and on many occasions simply do not tell it like it is. When I was a child, I was taught that music in minor keys=sad, and music in major keys=happy. Sometimes this is true, but for many songs nothing could be further from the truth. It all depends on tempo, rhythm, context, lyrics (if present), instrumentation, delivery of performance, past experiences of those who listen, present experiences of those who listen, and yes...even the weather,....and so on... Personally, I love minor keys because they offer the most potential for variety in harmonic colors and provide the most interesting vessel for channeling a very high level of energy. Major keys can be so very boring and unsatisfying compared with the potential of music in minor keys....but I digress.
Here's the thing about Durham weather, what I love the most is that no matter what it is, it is guaranteed to change, often unpredictably and in short order. Variety is the foundation on which I try to form my musical world, performing and writing both! So for as long as it works out for me to be a Durhamite, I know I will have natural surroundings which at times complement and other times contrast my musical mood. Whatever the forecast, variety is going to be on tap in Durham, and for that I am glad!
Recently I have continued reading a book called, All Our Losses, All Our Griefs, by Herbert
Anderson and Kenneth R. Mitchell. It is written from a pastoral perspective, incorporating both theology and the human sciences. When one thinks of loss or grief, the mind immediately turns to
the subject of death. Death seems like the ultimate loss, and indeed, when we lose a loved one, the loss is quite profound and persistent; its effects are enduring, leaving permanent marks.
I started reading this a few years ago when I experienced several different but related events in my life, including death of a loved one. I never finished the book. Today I happened upon it and
picked up where I left off...chapter 4 (yes, I suppose I am a slow reader). I have not experienced losses lately of the magnitude I did years ago, but other losses have occurred. Regardless
of our life happenings, all of us experience loss and dealing with the grief that may accompany it. Indeed, we experience all kinds of losses, big and small throughout our entire lives.
Acknowledging the loss and the feelings it creates is key to finding some way of moving on with our lives in a healthy, productive way.
As I picked up the book again and opened to chapter 4, I had music of Arvo Pärt to accompany my reading. (His music, by the way, is a pretty good soundtrack for the subject.) One sentence really struck me, "Loss of any kind requires reaffirmation of the self". The statement seems so simple, but it kind of blew me away for a moment. The implications of this go to the heart of what it has meant for ME to recover and grow after loss. I never realized it at the time, but in order for me to process and grow from losses, I have needed affirmation that I am _________ (fill in the blank- strong, good, smart, hard-working......etc.) enough to take the next step. Or if I didn't know what steps to take, to summon the courage to be able to explore and find out what steps I could even try.
Do you remember the segment that used to be on SNL many years ago called, "Daily Affirmations with Stuart Smalley"? In the show, a self-helping and cloyingly optimistic person with troubles declares to himself in a mirror, " I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!" This it not exactly what I am talking about, however taking this stance in the face of trouble can be a good catalyst for getting moving in the right direction.
When I am troubled by things I have lost, things completely out of my control, I try to really examine myself and recognize the good things that are still in my life. I examine the skills I have learned, the experiences I have had, the people in my life who love me, the memories of seeing foreign places and tasting unusual foods on vacation, my morning coffee, my afternoon coffee, my purr-happy cat, loving spouse, bills that (at least for the moment) are paid on time or early, even the gift of time to sit here and write a little blog post which (who knows?) may never be read by anyone but me-- All of these things are reasons to be grateful. Declaring these things and taking this inventory gives me enough strength to start the recovery process from losses, whether minor or profound. As I take this inventory and declare, that I am "good enough and strong enough and know that I am loved" I have actually already begun the journey of living in recovery. I think it is time for me to close this post and find a mirror now.
There are days when we all feel the rough abrasion of other people as we do our best to relate to them, to try to meet each other eye to eye, etc. As the song goes, "Momma said there'd be days like this". Recently I had one of those days.
This kind of experience where you feel your voice is not heard...maybe you are struggling to formulate some kind of communicative dialogue with those who seem to oppose you...THIS kind of experience, THIS kind of day is something I have written a song or two about. Funny thing how songs you write have a way of coming back to test you. A line or two of the song seems to ask, "Do you REALLY mean it when you inserted me into that song? Do you REALLY believe what you said?" Well, the line of my song goes like this: "Hopeless days or sleepless nights, when it's more than you can bear, a step of faith, a word of prayer, you can cast your cares upon the Lord"- (© 2015 Brad Croushorn)
I was really put to the test as I mustered all I could to cast my burdens to the winds of the Holy Spirit. Today a moment of grace came to me in the form of encouragement from someone whose judgement and opinion I trust and value. I rarely hear from this person, but some very specific things that were said, seem to confirm for me that I am on the right track. I don't necessarily mean the right track relating to what happened recently, (all the yesterdays of our lives will be what they are and don't matter much in the grand scheme of things anyway). More broadly speaking, I mean the right track of songwriting and music making. It's a hard road to travel, for sure, (anyone who thinks otherwise knows zilch about music), but this road is one I am glad to be on today. If I live long enough to have travelled this road much further, I doubt I will regret any of the places I've been able to visit while traveling this road. I know too, that grace will pop its head once in awhile in some delightful and encouraging ways! For these moments of grace, I am truly grateful.
This is one of those rare days where all is quiet in my home in Durham. All I hear is a slight sound of traffic in the far-off distance and the occasional gust of wind outside my living room window. If my life were a song score, this moment would be an eighth rest with a fermata over it.
My cat is curled up in a loosely wound package of fur beside me. Over the past year I discovered that he has become completely deaf, a result, I suppose, of advanced age. Sometimes I envy him. Although my livelihood depends on hearing, my spirit can only be sustained long-term by having an abundance of moments like I am experiencing now...that is, moments of nourishing quietness. It's the only way I feel completely at peace, and it is the only way I can find the key to unlock what is deep inside me. My most authentic music comes from this place, no matter whether the music is light and lively or slow and expressive.
It is such a challenge for me to disconnect from the noise of the world or the distraction of impulses to check the alerts from my iPhone. I am sure it is the same for everyone who is a musician or anyone who creates artistic things. We are assaulted at every angle by noise. Even if external noise is momentarily muted (as it is this morning), there are always voices or thoughts inside which seek to sabotage our creative efforts. The moment we get a nugget of gold from our muse, we scarcely get very far before the critic inside us starts to edit the life out of our inspiration.
Still, I am so grateful for this quiet moment now. I will treasure it and feast on it to sustain me until the next one comes along. I have noticed though, that if I take more time to allow the quiet to enter in, even if the outside is noisy, the inner critics start to tire themselves out from all their yammering. And then with some good earplugs or headphones connected to my Roland, I can start to communicate with my muse once again. As this happens, I know one thing for sure...my cat will jump up, curl himself onto my lap and enjoy all of this in his own silent, peaceful world.
In the moments of everyday living, from the waking minutes of morning as I linger long over a cup of coffee, into the afternoon as I cut through the jungle of tasks which clamor for my attention, to the softening of daylight as my body slows down in anticipation of sleep, there are countless intersections of the spirit and body, the sacred and secular. Organically, in a most natural way, these intersections diverge and merge, separate and intersect again.
Too often I think many of us desire a clean distinction between the two planes, as if they are polar opposites of a magnet which must repel the other. We know how to operate in the physical realm, and we can allow ourselves to be inserted into dimensions spiritual, but to hover between the two can make for feeling more than a bit out-of-sorts, wobbly and disoriented. I think this hovering or straddling between the two, seeking to bridge the distinctions is precisely the most fulfilling way to live. Humans are nothing if not multi-dimensional. To allow for greater linking of the spiritual and the physical, including sacred and secular can lead to higher living and a fuller life. Maintaining an awareness of the presence of spirituality while working in physical territory will alter the course of our decisions in a way that can reduce what is trivial and focus on what is ultimately most beneficial.
Do you perform your "secular" songs for the benefit of a greater good? If so, you are doing something sacred. Do you perform "sacred" music to receive accolades and applause from those who hear you perform? If so, then how can your music be considered sacred? If your music is well-crafted and diligently-rehearsed, that is a good start. If it contains a positive message, that is a must! And if your intent is to share this positive message, hoping to transport your listeners to a place of comfort for those in distress, or healing for the brokenhearted, it is a beautiful thing, a very good thing indeed! Music need not explicitly mention God to result in a listener moving closer toward God.
Does God wear the finest garments or flashy accessories proclaiming "Divine Deity, Supreme Being"? More often there is an unnoticed God, present but camouflaged among us in the most ordinary clothing, too busy with the task of ministry and healing to be constrained by gold-threaded robes, the finest stoles or ceremonial hats. Any time music uplifts someone and spurs them to lift up others or offer kindness to strangers, this is a sacred thing which God smiles upon.
And doesn't God delight in the human experience? Loving relationships between people of all walks of life surely please God. Our life stories shared in a positive light are a source of strength. God is in the physical world, all the time working through other humans to bring positive change, however small or seemingly insignificant.
The things we hold sacred and the things we may recognize as secular will always intersect in the most unexpected or ordinary ways. With music ministry, music performance or composition it is imperative that we ask, "What is our intent, and what is the result?” Though we may not see the result right away…or ever, it is an important question to keep in the forefront of our musical labors.