Wordless Wednesday

My daughter, Kay, has put up a new website for our family information. It has a cool feature – Dates and Anniversaries. Today is September 30. That feature reminds me my great-grandfather’s brother died in Peoria, Illinois on September 30, 1923. Kay found a photo of him in the 1896 Peoria County Atlas; he was an attorney.

keithly_arthur 1896 Peoria County Atlas

My All-Time Favorite Song – Un bel di

Randy Seaver of Geneamusings suggests a blog topic each  Saturday night – typically on a genealogy subject; this week his suggestion is to write about your all-time favorite song, why it’s at the top of the list or any story about it. He admitted it may be difficult to narrow down our favorites to just one – that is ridiculously true.

Because my Mother loved music and either listened to it or sang it constantly, I was raised in a home where music was always present. Then, when I was in junior high, I discovered the joys of choral music through church and school choirs, plus I watched many of the fabulous movie musicals of the 1940’s and 1950’s, and the predictable result was that music became a central feature of who I am. I did a degree in opera performance and sang with a local opera company for twenty years.

The aspect of music that draws me most is melody. I know many people are drawn to harmony or the beat or the story, but for me melody is key and every other aspect of music is to support the melody. One of the first songs I remember being irrisistably drawn to was Cio-Cio San’s aria, ‘Un bel di,’ from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. I was a student at Capitol Hill Junior High when the students were shown a film version of Madame Butterfly; when I heard that aria I was immediately overwhelmed by its beauty and it sounded in my heart and mind for years. I’ve attached a YouTube video of a performance by Dorothy Kirsten that, if not what I heard and saw, is at least very similar to my recollection of it.

It was the strongest desire of my heart that I would have a voice that was capable of singing that song beautifully. When I enrolled at Oklahoma State University as a voice major, the first question I asked my voice teacher was if I would ever be able to sing that song. She assured me, though it was a little advanced for a freshman voice student, that I would someday be able to sing it.

I had to wait until my senior recital to finally perform my ideal song – and due to moving around a lot, that didn’t happen until I was 46. By that time I had added other Puccini songs to my list of favorites and so also included the ending song from Madame Butterfly, which depicts her death by suicide, as well as the soprano aria from Turandot, “In questa reggia,” which had by that time taken over as my favorite Puccini aria [for the soprano voice – the tenor aria “Nessun Dorma” (also from Turandot) is probably my favorite Puccini aria to listen to].

Yes, there are many songs I love, but there will always be a special place in my heart for “Un bel di” because it was the aria and the story that introduced me to the beauty of opera – a lifelong journey.

Immovable Versus Change

The sermon text was 1 Corinthians 15:50-58. Paul, in verses 51-52 says twice that we shall all be changed. Then, in a totally unexpected concept – after telling us we will all be changed – he tells us in verse 58 “Therefore, stand firm and be immovable.” I was so caught by the unexpectedness of being immovable as a response to the call to change that, even though I understood Paul was talking about the resurrection, I still thought there was more to be learned from the juxtaposition of those two seemingly opposing thoughts. You see, God has told us we WILL be changed – it will happen to ALL of us and yet way too often we hear that as a call to dig in and stand firm and be immovable. No matter how much God wants us to change we refuse to be changed.

Beth Moore, in her August 2009 simulcast, mentioned the psalmist (Psalm 37) saying, “Trust God and do good.” She said we sometimes interpret that as “do right” but it says “do good.” I was caught by the current political illustration of that “do good – do right” scenario: the conservative Christian political view seems to be that Obama (Democrats) are wrong and we (Christian conservative Republicans) are right and we will prove ourselves right at all costs. No matter what he (they) wants to do, we need to dig in, be immovable – undermine him at every turn; eventually, when he fails, we will be proved right. In the meantime, we have done nothing good for our country or our economy.

In that same vein – do good, and we say do right – God says be changed and we say dig in and be immovable. The pastor said the word immovable is a word that means settle in. That reminded me of the story from Joshua about the Israelites crossing over into the promised land and one group said, let’s settle in right here. Joshua said, “No, All you who are fighting men must continue to fight until everyone has received the promised rest and land.”  Yes, in the midst of the call to change, it would be a lot more comfortable to dig in, settle down and become immovable.

Another illustration of one who became immovable: Lot and his wife and family were told by God’s angel to move on to safety – to walk looking only forward to the future – to change, but Lot’s wife couldn’t; she looked back and became immovable.

When Jesus brought his first message it was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repent is a word that means change. It doesn’t mean stand firm and become immovable; it means turn from walking in the way you were going and walk the other way – in this case, toward the kingdom that is near – and not the kingdom that is far. I believe too many of us live as though the kingdom is far, far away – over there, but I believe we were called to live changed lives with the God who is near. George Bernard Shaw said, “Beware of the man whose God is in the skies” and C.S. Lewis in “The Screwtape Letters” illustrated the distance aspect of our faith life by having Screwtape counsel Wormword to, during prayers, have his human focus on a specific high corner of his room – by so doing he would see only the corner while missing the evidence of God’s presence with him. So many of our Christian, and particularly gospel, songs stress the distance aspect of eternity. One of my favorite songs about heaven is the spiritual, “I Heard of a City Called Heaven*,” with the following phrase, “I’ve started to make it my home.” Jesus didn’t focus on the distance of heaven but rather on its nearness; he told us “This is eternal life, to know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

The Christian life isn’t about being immovable or waiting for resurrection but it is a constant and daily walk [anything but immovable, but ever changing and growing] with God who is near.

* a YouTube link for the song [the Leontyne Price version is my favorite but I thought I’d post one that might be more popular]:

Wordless Wednesday’s Wisdom

My brother and sister-in-law and I went to Lake Overholser with our cameras. Photos viewed with a meditative mind:

Life may bring knotholes, but develops a rugged beauty.

Life may bring knotholes, but develops a rugged beauty.

Growth during adversity shows character.

Growth during adversity shows character.

There is an indominableness about life - it refuses to be stopped by adversity.

There is an indominableness about life - it refuses to be stopped by adversity.