The Road Part Taken

In reading the poetry of Robert Frost for my honors college curriculum, I found myself hit by a wave of nostalgia. (Not to be confused with a “wave of nausea”- I’m not reading Nausea quite yet…)

Throughout the formative years of my adolescent life, Frost provided guidance and comfort. I did not read his work extensively, but I remember my initial delight in “The Road Not Taken” as my sixth grade teacher made her class memorize it before embarking into junior high school.

And I recall with warmth how “Tree at My Window” provided solace during the tragedy of my favorite tree being chopped down.

And, of course, I remember with delight singing the choral arrangement of “A Girl’s Garden” in my first choir and falling in love with the union of literature and music that has since become my life.

As I revisit the beautiful and intriguing world of Robert Frost’s verse, I am not only reminded of these memories, but convicted: Am I still journeying down the road less travelled but ultimately more worthy? Am I appreciating the beauty of the world around me as I used to love that scrawny tree? Am I pursuing the artistic philosophy that began brewing in my mind years ago?

Oh, Mr. Frost…you know how something as simple as a tree or a path or a garden might inspire a world of contemplation and I am in constant awe of such poetic power.

 

 

 

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The Girl in the Red Dress

23517777_1510531702365350_5454757495854809805_nI am a pianist, but I have long suffered from stage fright. My junior undergraduate piano recital was yesterday and, true to my philosophy that no art is complete without a proper understanding of other art forms, I used literature such as Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner to create program notes to give greater depth to the pieces that I played.

As I was writing these notes, I realized: Why not also use literature and this wonderful union of my two arts to ease my stage fright? What if I wrote a story tracing the ideal progression of  my recital and pretended that I was an audience member?

So I did. And, to my delight, it helped exponentially! Although I was still incredibly nervous, as soon as I stepped on stage, I was no longer scared little Ryanne, but the Girl in Red that I had seen perform her recital through the eyes of my narrator. It was marvelous! I felt like I had already seen the recital and so was able to imagine I was listening and enjoying the musical and literary journey rather than sitting on stage performing.

Obviously no live performance is perfect, but I felt that by writing this, I was able to play my repertoire more confidently and thus communicate their themes more effectively.

So, my dear musical readers, here is my recital in literary form:

Oh! I should tell you my program as well so this makes more sense:

  1. Piano Sonata No. 17, Op. 31 No. 2  I. Largo-Allegro by Ludwig van Beethoven  (1770-1827)
  2. Miroirs  II. “Oiseaux Tristes” (“Sad Birds”) by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

  3. Années de pèlerinage II, S. 161 No. 7 Après une Lecture du Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata by Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

So a piece about the storms of life, lonely birds, and Dante’s Inferno. Fun, right?

The Girl in the Red Dress

We came by invitation, to see a girl we know. She’s quite a character…lanky, blonde, eyes that are intense one minute and twinkling with laughter the next, always writing or dreaming of writing, usually stepping in a limping time to a tune nobody else can hear. But she’s anxious. She overworks herself and doubts her work. She is likely trembling backstage now, her hands nearly purple with cold from the frigid hall and her nervous heart. Likely she is pacing and wringing these hands, trying to calm herself and warm them.

I send a quick prayer up past the cracked ceiling of the hall for her. Lord, calm her nerves and let her play with the excellence and emotion with which she has practiced daily.

As I whisper “Amen,” my hands join the chorus of clapping. She has stepped onstage.

But this is someone different. Still her…and yet not. She’s taller. Her arms are stronger. Her lips match her blazing red dress and yet the blue of her eyes flash and burn the brightest. The click of her heels echo through the hall, a measured drumroll for her own performance.

But she looks upward when she looks outward, as if her audience is not below but somewhere beyond the ceiling’s crevices, in the region my prayer just ascended.

A bow.

She sits.

Silence.

The audience scuffles, trying to hush the murmur of their program notes. Program notes…about books, of course. I glance down at them but it’s too dark to read now. To the glow of the stage I return.

The ghost of notes begin; substantial yet ethereal. How? I hardly dare to breathe, unsure whether I really heard them and yet they are resounding gently through the hall. It’s a mist of sound. And then the mist is broken by the steady gallop of a frightened yet determined human tread.

But the mist is back.

And now the running. It’s an uphill run- not fast but intense and ever moving.

And suddenly it’s a battle cry interchanged with a plea. And now a whirlwind. All melting seamlessly into each other.

But the mist comes again, for the adventurer has reached a peak in the mountain range. It is cold, yet clear, colors of sunlight radiating softly through the curtains of mountaintop clouds. Peace descends like a gentle rain, drawing us upward.

Then the battle rages once more, startling and yet not surprising…Did not we feel in our souls the same ever-present struggle of this piece? Beethoven was too knowledgeable. He knew himself- that is, he knew all of us – too well.

Another moment of peace…yet not peace. It’s a cry. The sound of an oboe as the sound of our very hearts. It is a recitative and it is reflective, but it is not weak.

And then a piercing urgency and pain returns, then whirling and, before I knew it, the piece concludes; urgent and yet not rushed. It is reminiscent of intentionally restraining the racing heart. Controlling our steps if we cannot quite control our fears.

Silence falls. I can see the moth-like breath of the girl in red; it flutters, shaky, but soft.

The scene changes. It’s still a mountain’s peak… Grey swirling mist abounds, but the girl in red leads us above it. We are alone. I am alone. She is alone. Everyone is isolated and alone. No man is an island? False. All men are mountaintops calling in vain to each other, wandering birds forever losing their nests.

It is beautiful but sorrowful. Something tugs in my heart at the harmonies, so blended and subdued but for a sudden flurry of frantic wings. And then faded again, as if the great shroud of mist has descended over us all, sealing out loneliness and separating us from the enduring and interconnected nature in which we have no part apart from our lost nests.

This silence is lighter and heavier at the same time. Something is coming. Something terrifying.

And then it does, in a trumpet blast. It is evil. Or no…not evil…something more terrifying than the evil that has become familiar. It is the best good. It is the Good. And I cannot stand to it and thus cannot but think it evil. The mountaintop that seemed a hermitage is opening up as a gaping prison beneath me and I stumble into it with a crying utterance too deep for words.

Is she bringing us into this inferno? Is she the girl I know or some spirit sent to administer justice of the most fearful kind?

The lament continues, more rhythmic than melodic and each note is a beat of my own heart, which is pounding at the walls of my chest in an effort to escape, but my ribs constrain it and it holds its time.

A reaching for higher aid falls back into lament. We have all killed an Albatross in our lives and this is our recompense.

Drum-rolls and rising tides. Shivers of terror more substantial than chains run down my spine and suddenly it is the distant beating of drums as they approach a funeral pyre…my funeral pyre.

But something is changing… the tonality is richer. Something of gold is in the flames of judgement and real gold fears no fire…but who put it there? Can it – this gold – be enough to pay my ransom?

And then in a burst of light made of every color, my soul is bathed in the burning purity of F-sharp major. It peels back my mask of sin and I realize this mask hid not my face but hid me from seeing the face of One too Great for My Sight.

But I can hear Him. Though I may not yet look, I might hear and feel and sense that the Almighty has won a victory. The victory. And I might dare to hope that He shall make me a soldier to share in this victory.

I take to arms within the deepest part of my being and when the trumpets of fearsome judgement sound again, there is something of my own determination in them.

And this determination brings the strength which is grace.

It is beautiful. I am swept into a lulling dance which turns to the song of Him singing over me. The powers of darkness might whirl around, but this song holds me fast, anchoring me.

It gives way to a beautiful dancing flurry which concludes with a declaration of coming victory, if only the judgement first comes.

Drums again. I feel the darkness creeping forth from its pit. It will not be contained, it says. It inches its way toward the hearts of men.

But that Great and Only Goodness is not touched. It’s dignity and perfection reign and the throne is not overthrown by these creeping, oozing things. It’s perfect order and rhythm and timing subdue them with a fear greater than any they could evoke.

And the song sings again, restoring my strength to finish this battle.

And I see it. I see this Light. Distant, but it is coming for me. I tremble yet rush to meet it.

Oh, glorious victory! Surely it is won!

But are those the trumpets of perdition I hear once more? Oh! the dwellers of the pit sneak forth again in chromatic slyness. They dance, the demons do, dance with a syncopation that is too easy to fall into. They crescendo in their final push.

But their frantic, Bacchic celebration of their own undoing is overthrown by the grace and gentleness of a waltz, which crescendos along with them into their end and its everlasting beginning.

The drums return, but no longer accompanying lament. Rather, it is a drumroll toward triumph. And the horns declaring this triumph continue longer than expected, but, after all, are they not to resound throughout all eternity?

Yes, Lord.

Amen, Lord.

I am shaken. Something has been purged from my soul. I barely register my hands applauding. How does one applaud the victory of the Lord?

But then I remember. This is a piano recital. An ordinary girl in a red dress is performing. This is a piano solo, not a divine judgement. But perhaps they are intertwined after all. Perhaps, even more than the Steinway grand, she herself was an instrument of the true Master.

Flowers and bows and the girl in red smiling as if she has won a victory herself, yet blushing and laughing with an innocent, overwhelmed delight at the same time.

She exits.

And returns.

More bows. More golden laughter, trilling softly beneath the thunderous applause of her loved ones below.

She winks at a friend, signaling him to stop clapping and waits for others to follow before she invites us to tea and scones.

Tea and scones? After this moral turbulence?

I glance at my watch. It’s only been thirty minutes.

Alright, then. Tea time it is.

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Also in the interest of combining arts, I used this stunning painting “Le Femme en Rouge” by Impressionist artist Giovanni Boldini for my recital posters. People kept asking how I got someone to paint me…

Running for Perspective

I love to run, but unless I have a really good soundtrack or running buddy, abhor running on treadmills or tracks because I do not run merely for exercise, I run for perspective.

This is why I cannot run on a track only. After a while, I get bored watching the same people play the same sports on the field as I listen to the same playlists and circle the same route. I’m bored just typing this.

But if I run elsewhere… oh the perspective it brings! I might not get the maximum speed I could on a track, but I gain something infinitely greater: reflection, restoration, reminders…pretty much any nice word that starts with “r.”

Tonight I had an especially good run, following my usual route off of my college campus through several tunnels, past a lovely neighborhood, to a park with green hills, a creek, huge trees, and all variety of life.

As soon as I pass through the first tunnel, I feel a weight lift from my shoulders, as if I am shedding the pressures of college life. In leaving campus and feeling the powerful movement of my body in running, I remember there is more to life than the stress of a student.

As I pass the neighborhoods, I am comforted to look at homes. Actual homes with families and tacky Thanksgiving decorations. Homes where parents are returning from work and cooking dinner and children are shouting in play. It’s so peace-giving to see homes instead of dorms. One represents stability and comfort whereas the latter, though nice, is temporary and functional.

And then I reach the park. Its green fields open up before me like the pages of a well-loved book; Celtic music sings in my earbuds and I rejoice as if I am once more running along the Caledonian Canal in Scotland. An autumn breeze makes the boughs of a willow tree dance and the hanging leaves of another catches in my curly hair, ruffling it like a teasing brother. Birds sing in choruses on either side of the creek and dogs pant with the joy of a walk with their humans. The sky, a burnished orange, reminds me of home; Arizona’s sunsets always will be the most beautiful…

My heart is refreshed by nature. Perhaps I am reading too much Wordsworth (kidding- no such thing!), but as I drink in the evening air, I exhale poetry in gasping breaths. A thousand verses all bloom in my mind and I feel the rush of creative power in my muscles as I press onward.

I pass a young family, the son grumpy in his dress clothes and the parents beaming as they take the photos that will announce the coming of their second child. Only a half mile later, I pass a proposal and, when the couple and their loved ones leave, I run on a trail of rose petals. And, between these two golden moments, I see older couples walking hand-in-hand and elementary children racing their scooters. I find here a perspective; life goes on and wondrous things lie ahead with lovely little things in between!

Oh, there is a wealth of love and poetry in the air tonight! More than my small heart and mind can absorb at once! And so my run turns to dance and a smile lifts my face toward the sun, which has flickered into street lamps as dusk falls.

Another mile. No, two more. Hmmm… another. It is a sorrow to leave this glimpse of paradise. I smile at every passerby and they smile back. It’s easy at a park full of families and puppies and sunshine to forget the hardships of life; everything is gold-tinged at sunset here.

I set my face toward school once more, but with a lightness to my step that I lacked when first setting out. The longer I run, it seems, the freer I fly. I barely feel my feet touch the uneven ground as I race myself back.

Then, naturally, the poetic spell was broken as I almost stepped on a hawk. (It could possibly have been a falcon.)

Yes, you read that correctly. As I sprinted the final stretch of nature before reaching the pavement of campus, I had the misfortune (or was it?) of stepping within two inches of the largest bird of prey I have every seen up close. It flew- annoyed, no doubt- up and away, leaving behind its mangled dinner.

Too surprised to stop and take a closer look, I ran on, laughing aloud with sheer wonder and a little fear (after all, Wordsworth would say beauty and fear are often realized in the same experience). I probably should not have been so surprised, as I have met this hawk before, though I had never presumed to interrupt his dinner!

Thrilling with poetry and humor (and endorphins), I sprinted the last few steps back and with a pulsing spirit set to recording my run in words rather than statistics.

Readers, I encourage you with all my heart: when life feels overwhelming, run to a park. The exercise and perspective will do wonders for your spirit and imagination.

But watch where you step. 😉

Non-Writing Writer

I was inspired this morning as I walked to practice piano for an upcoming recital… this would have been great, had I been inspired to practice. Rather, I was inspired to set the opening of Wordsworth’s The Prelude to music. 

My roommate (bless her) stopped me just in time: “Ryanne, if you write a melody and add lyrics, you’ll also want to add harmony and piano. You don’t have time!” 

Valid. 

But I felt strongly the annoyance of being unable to create due to the pressures of my ordinary, required pursuits. 

So I wrote a little rhyme to vent: 

A non writing writer’s a monster they say:

A little too frazzled and nearly insane.

She lives in an enchanted, storybook world 

Yet can’t venture in, for life is a whirl.

One single word leads to many and two-

Well, they multiply to be more than a few. 

And should she dare to compose a small line 

She risks the danger of falling behind;

The everyday life has no cares for the muse,

Though the poet’s soul, she hardly did choose. 

So cursed with a mind that brews up ideas 

And a heart that ever ceaselessly feels,

She stumbles about with a businesslike stride 

And forces her little brainchildren to hide

And wait for a time when life will relax 

It’s grip made of boring and ord’nary tasks-

So she might finally write them all down,

These inkling ideas that, impatient, abound. 

Knox Knock: Protestant Parents Reform Halloween Door-to-Door Tradition

OCTOBER, 2017: SCOTTSDALE, AZ- As families of children and teens work together to plan their annual Halloween festivities, one family is changing up their traditions, or, rather, continuing those began 500 years ago.

“We don’t celebrate Halloween,” said Mrs. Geneva Knox, mother of four, as she welcomed reporters, sharing both her insights and her gluten-sugar-dairy-and-taste-free porridge snacks.

“No,” added her husband, Mr. William Knox, as he coughed his way through the snacks. “That’s just a terrible day… all about devils and sugar…not healthy spiritually or physically!”

Mrs. Knox nodded in agreement and explained that instead of succumbing to the lure of free candy and unholy costumes, she and Mr. Knox would be starting a new door-to-door tradition with their children. Rather than miss out on the fun of trick-or-treating, the Knox family is reforming this annual romp according to their faith.

“It’s really perfect,” said Mr. Knox. “Everyone is so excited for Halloween, but what they should be excited for is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation! I mean, why knock on doors asking for candy when you could instead follow the spirit of Martin Luther and nail Theses to doors?”

Instead of dressing in this years’ popular Wonder Woman and Stranger Things costumes, the four Knox children will be donning authentic Benedictine monk habits which they learned to sew themselves during their homeschool history lessons. Properly attired, they will then to go door-to-door to pass out copies of Luther’s 95 Theses, which they translated and hand-wrote during their homeschool penmanship lessons. Should homeowners not answer the door to their knocking, Mr. and Mrs. Knox are planning to supply their children with a sufficient number of thumb tacks and toy hammers so that they may continue to live in the spirit of Luther and attached their Theses to the doors regardless.

“We would not want to leave any houses out just because they don’t answer!” explained Mrs. Knox.

However, those who do answer are in for a special surprise; not only will they receive their own copy of Luther’s 95 Theses, they will also be treated to a rousing a cappella rendition of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” sung by the four children.

“I’m excited to sing,” said Grace-Alone, the youngest Knox daughter, “but I must confess I miss getting candy…”

Grace was quickly nudged into silence by her twin sister Faith and handed a consolatory cheese curd by her brother Zwingli.

“Yes, I know it is hard for the children to pass up on candy when everyone else is eating it,” acknowledged Mr. Knox, “but we, like Luther, do not believe in indulgences.”

When asked whether they were excited to go door-to-door on Reformation Day, the Knox children had mixed responses. Grace still mourned her forgone candy, but brothers Zwingli, age 12, and Calvin, age 15, were enthusiastic about their endeavor.

“I’m willing to give it a try,” said Zwingli. “It could be fun!”

“Yeah,” agreed Calvin, “With our costumes and handwritten copies, we will be irresistible!”

The Knox family is hoping to promote their idea as a safe and spiritual alternative for Protestant fun this Halloween. Perhaps they will start a trend amongst likeminded families, themselves serving to reform traditions and continue those began 500 years ago.

“Whether it works is not the focus,” concluded Mr. Knox, “as we feel we are fully justified in this endeavor.”

Unarmed Battle: Insights on Ephesians 6:10-18

10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints. (NKJV)

I have read this passage (Ephesians 6:10-18) probably over 50 times in the past couple of months and numerous more throughout my life (sword drill and memory verse, anyone?). However, this time I felt as if the Sword of the Spirit had hit me with the flat of the blade. Hard.

Reading these verses this morning, I realized with sorrow and fear that many Christians in my generation- myself included- are entering a battle unarmed.

Every morning when I check the news, another tragedy has erupted. Another disaster has left devastation in its wake. Another evil person has taken the lives of innocents. More leaders have turned to threats instead of negotiation.

And switching to social media leaves no relief. Where once I saw memes and birthday wishes, I overwhelmingly see more and more cries for help. 

This network of anxiety, insecurity, and frustration is what the world has become. Our world was created with so much beauty and remains overflowing with blessings, but sin left its mark and we are living in the fallout (no pun intended…)

This is a world at war: physical war as well as spiritual…indeed, physical war because of spiritual warfare.

This brings me to my point.

Christians, especially those of my young generation, we are in the midst of the greatest war ever fought and, although our victory is sure in Christ, we cannot enter this conflict unarmed. My goal now is to provide insight (humble as it may be) into how we may live out the strengthening command of Ephesians: to put on the full armor of God.

How do we arm ourselves spiritually? 

  1. “Know thine enemy”– Our ultimate enemy is not our neighbor with opposing views, nor the man whose words strike like daggers, nor the one who inflicts physical wounds. Certainly these are fleshly enemies, but our principle enemy is “not flesh and blood, but the…spiritual forces of evil.”  When we recognize that our enemy is much more terrible than any single human being and is the force behind the evil we experience, we are better able to love our earthly enemies in prayer and deed, as well as to prepare ourselves to defend all against the evil powers at work in this world and in the hearts of mankind.
  2. Know Who holds the Power- We must “be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power,” indicating that we must don our armor and face our battles with confidence, knowing that they are “a light, momentary affliction…preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Our King has already won the battle and our End is sure; bearing this constantly in mind will give us the strength to withstand any attack of the enemy.
  3. Tighten Truth- It is no coincidence that Paul describes Biblical truth as a belt, for it is what holds us together as individuals and as the body of the church. We are bound by this truth as we might be bound by a well-made belt. However, we must not allow ourselves to feed on the lies of the world, growing so full on deceptions that we loosen the belt of truth in favor of comfort. Rather, Christians, we must fasten it still tighter, binding our hearts to the Word of the Lord and committing ourselves to discernment in all things.
  4. Perform Spiritual Cardio-  A breastplate protects the heart, thus the “breastplate of righteousness” is a safeguard for Believer’s hearts. In practicing righteousness in a world that has abandoned definitive morality, we exercise and strengthen our hearts; imitating Christ in unwavering righteousness is the greatest heart exercise, for it teaches us to sacrifice our own desires for the love of God and others, as well as prepares us to shine as lights unto the world and to stand before the throne of our Lord.  None of us will do this perfectly, but as honorable soldiers we must continue to “press on toward the goal…for the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).
  5. Come in Peace- We are instructed to fit our feet to bring the Gospel of Peace. Perhaps this means listening to others with the intention of understanding rather than replying. Or maybe this means voicing our convictions with firmness but gentleness. The cliche “What Would Jesus Do/ WWJD” saying applies quite nicely here, for Jesus used strong speech when necessary and was never hesitant to proclaim the truth, even when it made people uncomfortable. However, we must also be winsome and kind. Finding this balance is difficult, but it is the key to fighting a spiritual battle while preaching peace to others.
  6. Take Refuge- Ducking behind a shield in the midst of battle is not retreat, but reasonable refuge. In the same way, amidst the turmoil of this spiritual war and the conflicts on earth, we must seek refuge in our faith. There are two sides to this shield of faith. The first is that we have a certain hope for future victory, that is, we have faith. The second is that we must live faithfully (loyally, earnestly) in light of this hope. We uphold faith as we look toward our End, but we also must maintain integrity and perseverance through the present struggles, thus living faithfully. This twofold faith hems us before and behind, protecting us against the enemy’s onslaught of doubts and despair.
  7. Keep your Head- A mind set upon God is a helmet of salvation. Christians, our salvation is assured, but we must keep our minds focused on it, rejoicing yet always striving forward. A clear-headed soldier is a more courageous warrior and a focused fighter will win. However, just as a soldier must put on his helmet again each day, we must continually remind ourselves of our salvation and hope in Christ, ceaselessly renewing our focus and resolve.
  8. Draw your Sword- Time in the Word and in spiritual development is not optional. The enemy loves to persuade us that we do not have time to pray or study scripture and is strongest when he convinces us that the Holy Spirit is no longer active. But these are the very lies we combat when we choose to focus on spiritual growth. Throughout my personal battle, I have found that any time I give to the Lord in studying His Word and praying or praising, He redeems in some other way. After all, He who made time surely can make enough for us to spend with Him. Our time in study and meditation on God and His precepts is as crucial as sword training for a knight. Without it, what pitiful tin soldiers we will turn out to be.

 

Beloved Reader, I am writing this for myself as much as for you. I confess that I neglect my armor, allowing it to rust in patches and loosening my grip on the Sword. But I beseech you and am dedicating myself to continue training for this ongoing war. Our victory is won in Christ, but we have a duty to fulfill in this fallen world, which is the battleground. We must be faithful soldiers, living in love but firm in conviction, prepared to withstand the fiercest attacks of the enemy and strengthened by our secure future as redeemed Believers.

 

In Christ,

Ryanne