Books and music are friends. When I am sick I read. I also listen to music. I guess I also write to medicate myself with what I have read and listened to. Now this is going to be my shortest post in a long while, which could be a relief to some who bother to read.
Lately I have battled a sickness that has led me to read a lot and listen a lot. I have focused on several thoughts from these readings and music. I share them not out of a narcissistic display (always possible with this wound of the fall in my soul) but to encourage others who may be going through some trial. First, I share a thought from some books I have read. John Donne is, for me, an endless source of inspiration. His life is a testimony that God can use washed up, broken, sinful men who misspent their early years. Indeed, it always amazes me to think that Donne preached from St. Paul’s Cathedral in London while opportunistic (and slimy) publishers reproduced the vulgar lines of the younger Jack Donne even as the famous older Dr. Donne preached from that venerable pulpit. The matter was always a humbling one to him. To have one’s sin ever before one is to also cling tighter to the righteousness of Christ. I like this storyline in Donne’s life. Well, on to the reading. For a sick man, reading Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions is a good sedative, and a bracing apothecary. My illness has allowed me to focus on fewer sentences, taking them in, mediating upon them, and enjoying them, quite frankly, more than when I devour books for utilitarian purposes (even good purposes, like preparing a sermon or lectures). So I have with Donne. I share this one line from Devotions (XIV) that Stanley Fish has called “a magnificent sentence” (How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One, 2011, 155) as a possible medicine to ingest at weak moments in life:
“Eternity is not an everlasting flux of time, but time is a short parenthesis in a long period, and eternity had been the same as it is, though time had never been.”
Stanley Fish comments:
“Time is an artificial breach in eternity (Donne calls it ‘this imaginary half-nothing’), an imperfection that springs from the nature of an imperfect, finite, transitory creature.”
That is almost as good as Donne. The matter before Donne (and Fish and me) is “time.” When you are sick you think about time. But sometimes you listen to others think about time, which is, now, even better. And that leads me to a second offering for a sick person thinking about others thinking about time.
My wife and I have really enjoyed “Love in Time,” the last album by Dan Fogelberg before he succumbed to prostate cancer. Dan Fogelberg (1951-2007), the Peoria, Illinois folk singer/songwriter and musician who skyrocketed from the cult status album, “Home Free,” to international fame with “Souvenirs,” and a string of albums and concerts that made his thoughtful, lyrical compositions ubiquitous at weddings (“Longer”) and on Father’s Day (“Leader of the Band,” written for his father). “Love in Time” by Fogelberg is a perfect pairing, at least for me, with John Donne’s Devotions. The last recording of Fogelberg covers not only earlier material that he had never released, but gives a glimpse into the thoughts upon an “emergent occasion” in his life. The result of his introspection is not gloom, but, again, healthy reflection. I am so fond of the song “A Growing Time,” which is a simple but beautifully written and performed ballad about spring and the common joy of tending a garden with his wife. I like it (indeed my wife and I danced to it yesterday in the living room) because it is something that soothes my soul in sickness: tending a garden.
“Caring quietly For the garden in our care| It’s a joy to see |True love’s blossoms growing there|When you walk with me|A single shadow’s thrown |Across our peaceful garden |And this growing time we’ve known.”
So “Love in Time” and “Devotions” with Donne, reading slowly and listen to music attentively, resting and reflecting, with an occasional living room-stolen-dance to a Fogelberg ballad and some Carolina-spring-garden-work, is doing its good work. Our wonderful seminary board members and senior staff, who are giving me this time are giving a gift not only of healing but of preparing for days to come, I trust, and I thank them. Time, and words and musical notes are indeed gifts; gifts from God no less than the food and drink that sustains life. For these gifts I also give thanks and would pray their healing effects be with any of you who suffer in any way.
May the resurrected Lord of life cultivate growth and lyrical beauty in the deepest parts of your life, diffusing a love and grace unknown to the healthy.