Saturday, January 25, 2014

QOTM...*: Viktor Frankl

(*Quote of the Month)

OK, I’ve got a pretty penetrating excerpt this week for my Quote of the Month. It’s from Austrian psychologist Viktor Frankl’s, Man’s Search for Meaning. I’ll admit it is also more of a passage than a quote, but I wanted to share it in its entirety, as it is pretty incredible, particularly within its circumstance.

Frankl (1905-1997) was a three-year survivor of several Nazi death camps during World War 2, liberated in 1945, and became a world-renowned psychologist following the war and founder of a psychological approach called logotherapy: its major tenets include finding meaning in all experiences of life, including horrific suffering. Man’s Search for Meaning (1946) was his first book, rewritten after his notes were taken from him and destroyed in his first prison camp assignment. This is a profound book, and yet is one of 39 written by him. I read it again recently, just a tiny little thing, in which he first describes his Holocaust experiences and then draws conclusions for the foundations of his philosophy. It is a simple but very thoughtful read. (Hit this link for more quotes from this insightful book.)

One of his recollections referred to the healing effect of natural beauty within the context of their misery. Here we go:

As the inner life of the prisoner tended to become more intense, he also experienced the beauty of art and nature as never before. Under their influence he sometimes even forgot his own frightful circumstances. If someone had seen our faces on the journey from Auschwitz to a Bavarian camp, as we beheld through the little barred windows of the prison carriage the mountains of Salzburg with their summits glowing in the sunset, he would never have believed that those were the faces of men who had given up all hope of life and liberty. Despite that factor -- or maybe because of it -- we were carried away by nature’s beauty, which we had missed for so long.

…the healing effect of natural beauty
within the context of… misery…

In camp, too, a man might draw the attention of a comrade working next to him to a nice view of the setting sun shining through the tall trees of the Bavarian woods, the same woods in which we had built a hidden munitions plant. One evening, when we were already resting on the floor of our hut, dead tired, soup bowls in hand, a fellow prisoner rushed in and asked us to run out to the assembly grounds and see the wonderful sunset. Standing outside we saw clouds glowing in the west and the whole sky alive with clouds of ever-changing shapes and colors, from steel blue to blood red. The desolate grey mud huts provided a sharp contrast, while the puddles on the muddy ground reflected the glowing sky. Then, after minutes of moving silence, one prisoner said to another, “How beautiful the world could be!”

It gave me joy to read this, imagining these tormented men in this situation. God’s creation truly does possess a remarkable ability to lift us, to draw our spirit to a higher plane of mindfulness, contemplation and delight, regardless of our circumstances.

~~ RGM, January 23, 2014

P.S. A key to Frankl’s psychological philosophy is that, no matter our circumstances, good or appalling, the opportunity is still ours to choose our response to it. No wonder he and others could find a modicum of pleasure even in the prison camp context. That’s something for us all to muse upon a bit this week.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Blowin' in the Wind: The Music of the Spheres

(Blowin’ in the Wind is a regular feature on my blog highlighting an assortment of nature writings – hymns, songs, prayers, Bible readings, poems or other things –pieces I have not written but that inspire me. I trust they will do the same for you.)

God’s creation is not the only thing that touches me at the depths of my soul. You may find that, for yourself, like me, music does that as well. In fact, I think nature and music often go hand-in-hand to naturalists. But beyond the singing of birds, beyond the echoes of one’s voice in mountain valleys or at the shore of still lakes at night, beyond the impulse to break into songs of praise upon seeing something of natural beauty – music itself, like nature, often has a power to translate us into God’s very presence. It is no wonder that some of the great philosophers since before the time of Christ have referred to one aspect of creation, the heavens, as producing ‘the music of the spheres.’ Even Martin Luther, not to be forgotten as a gifted hymnwriter (A Mighty Fortress is our God, Away in a Manger and many others) is quoted as saying, “Music is a fair and glorious gift of God.” I could not agree more.

…Music itself, like nature, often
has a power to translate us
into God’s very presence.

My blog writings on creation not infrequently lead me into references to Christian hymns and songs, so I thought it might be of interest for readers who share these two loves with me to be able to reference back to earlier posts that deal with some of the great songs of our faith. As a result, it occurred to me that an index tab at my blog’s masthead might be a helpful tool for doing so. Maybe you remember a musical post that touched you and you’d like to find it again but can’t remember when it was published. Or maybe you are newer to this blog and want to reference some of the previous posts that combined a love for music and a love for nature. Then this index is for you. Who knows, it might serve you some quiet evening when you are looking for something uplifting to inspire you before you sleep!

So consider this post an announcement: I have added the tab called "The Music" above. I will, of course, continue to add to that tab page songs referenced in future posts.

Here are the listings of songs about which I have written, and links to them:

-- All Creatures of our God and King, by Francis of Assisi, music by Peter von Brachel:

-- Day is Done (or, what we sometimes call Taps), by Horace Lorenzo Trim, music traditional:

-- For the Beauty of the Earth, by F.S. Pierpoint, music by Conrad Kocher:

-- Hallelujahs, by Chris Rice:

-- How Great Thou Art (see O Mighty God below)

-- In God My Soul Rests as on Placid Water, by Carl Boberg:

-- Joy to the World, by Isaac Watts and G.F. Handel:

-- O Mighty God, by Carl Boberg, music traditional:

-- Taps (see Day is Done above)         

-- We Plow the Fields and Scatter, by Matthias Claudius, music by Johann A.P. Schulz:

More to come!

~~RGM, January 16, 2014

Friday, January 10, 2014

POTM...*: "LOOK! Up in the sky... It's... What?"

(*Photo[s] of the Month)

I have been eager to post these. Gail and I took them last month on our way down the mountain from an afternoon drive southwest of Denver. We thought we were noticing some strange color in the midafternoon clouds, but the sun nearby was just too bright to see it well. Then we positioned ourselves where a ridge could block the sun’s glare, and the colors became strong and much more clear. It wasn’t sunset color. It wasn’t some kind of rainbow or sundog. What was it?

Now I know. It’s simply called iridescence, perhaps in this case, more accurately, altostratus iridescence, and it’s a fairly rare sky phenomenon. In fact, I can recall having seen it only one other time, and that was while visiting our kids in Seattle, out with them on a ferry in the middle of Puget Sound. We all looked up at it in collective wonder. These photos here were taken from top to bottom over a seven-minute period at about 3:30pm last midmonth. Click on a photo to enlarge it.

Iridescence is caused by the same atmospheric conditions that create coronas, also fairly rare: light diffracting around an object, in these cases, around a cloud’s water droplets. Coronas (Latin for crown) are round, and surround the actual sun or moon as a rough circle through a bit thicker sky; iridescence is a more imperfect corona, seen more diffusely among mid-level clouds that are sparser but near the sun. With either, the cloud’s water droplets must be of a certain, uniformly small size, and the cloud fairly thin, thus the marvel’s rarity. Additionally, they can be seen best in the presence of altostratus (mid-level, layered) or altocumulus (mid-level, clumped) cloud forms.

I hope that’s not too much science! But if you’re interested in another of the sky’s very interesting optical effects, hit this link and it will take you back to a post I did last summer after seeing a complete sun halo, or aureole, in Alaska. (Hmmm… that was also while visiting my kids: it’s just another good reason for me to visit my kids a lot more often, so I can see cool things in the sky!)

The scriptures say that at Jesus’ second coming he will return ‘from the clouds,’ and that all the earth will see it at once (Revelation 1:7, et al). Years ago one might have wondered how that might even be possible; but today, with satellite transmission and handheld technology it no longer seems unreasonable. How well I remember my beloved Bible professor, Dr. Paul Sebestyen back at North Park College in Chicago, getting absolutely wistful when he would speak about it: the ‘parousia’ as he called it. To this day, when I see phenomena like this I like to pause and imagine Jesus stepping out of the cloud. It’s a happy thought.

Maranatha. Come Lord Jesus. Soon.

~~RGM, January 10, 2014

P.S. Next up? The music...

Saturday, January 4, 2014

From my Nature Journal: Iceflow

I come silently upon a small, familiar creek in Rocky Mountain National Park, now absolutely frozen, rock solid. I have found it before as a spring torrent in June, have watched it as a small kaleidoscopic trickle flowing under clear ice in March. Even fell through its ice once. Not today. Nothing but stillness.

There it sits, immovable as the Rock of Gibraltar, its tranquility held nearly as solid as the foundations of the earth. Yet, though one might not know it, the current is somehow 
still there in the long silence of things.               

In this larger scheme, it is surely moving, flowing. The current hasn't really ended. Ice that grips rock today will alter its form and be down the Big Thompson to the Platte by spring, the Missouri and Mississippi by summer, finally emptying into the surprise of the great salty sea by the time the cycle of seasons pass again.

Yet today it is held in waiting, a seemingly immovable river of solid stone.

Things are often not as they appear. Wait. The Lord does not count days as a man counts days. What seems immovable, impossible today, is fulfilled in its time. Be patient. Wait for the Lord.

...Ask me in the spring if
things are still as immovable
as they seemed today.

And ask me in the spring if things are still as immovable as they seemed today.

God sends the snow like white wool;
He scatters frost upon the ground like ashes,
And hurls the hail like bread crumbs.
Who can stand against his freezing cold?
Then, at his command, it all melts.
He sends his winds, and the ice thaws. 
(Psalm 147:16-18)

~~RGM, from an earlier journal entry 
that I wrote on December 10, 2011

P.S. I saw the basic idea that inspired this journal entry some years back, but never have been able to find the original source again. If any of you are aware of it, I'd be pleased for you to point me in its direction. Happy New Year!