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Mystical Realms Newsletter for October, 2007
From California, USA
Posted on behalf of Jef Murray.
Welcome to my newsletter for October, 2007. Please feel free to forward this to anyone you think would be interested in keeping up with me! To receive these newsletters regularly, please drop me an email or subscribe online at: http://groups.google.com/group/Mystical_Realms . Notices of new paintings and events are at the bottom of this email.
"It sounds kind of sad," the little girl said.
It was sad. I was in a classroom full of middle schoolers. We had just learned to sing a very simple Gregorian chant, a setting of the Sanctus. And despite the fact that this was a Catholic school, neither the music teacher nor any of her students had ever sung even the most modest chant melody before.
I was reminded of the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, and particularly of the deep and abiding sadness that permeates his tales of Middle-earth. In those tales, ages and ages have come and gone, and the remote histories and legends of the earliest times are largely forgotten. But the Elves were the keepers of the legends. They were the stewards of the ancient wisdom and lore that linked generation to generation back to the very creation of Middle-earth...back to the time when the earliest peoples had spoken and lived with the Valar, those mighty angels and servants of God Himself.
Tolkien's Elves were immortal, and so they were, as such, natural guardians of history and wisdom. But Tolkien modeled these mythical beings after the Benedictine monks of Europe. The western monastic tradition, which began with the Rule of St. Benedict, spread throughout Europe during the Dark Ages. And in those times, as the Roman Empire crumbled and western civilization was overrun by waves of conquerors, all ancient lore and wisdom was gathered by the monks and preserved. And the prayerful temple music of the ancient Hebrews was remembered and modified to suit the celebration of the Catholic Mass, becoming what we know today as Gregorian chant.
Music is one of the greatest gifts of God to man. And ancient melodies that were sung by our forebears have an immense power; they can connect us palpably with our fathers, and our fathers' fathers, and on back through the ages. And when we sing these ancient melodies, we mystically join our voices with those ancestors, making audible the very communion of saints...that spiritual and earthly choir that cherishes what is good, what is true, and what is beautiful.
So why does no one sing Gregorian chant anymore? One could argue that it's too "old fashioned", or that a capella singing is too difficult for average folk, or that no one wants to sing in a foreign language. But I think chant is scarce for a different reason. I think it's because, as the little girl in that classroom said, "it sounds kind of sad."
We modern folk want diversion. We want bubbly songs that make us feel good. We want nothing that reminds us of pain, of loss, of suffering. And as a result, worship in many churches these days is little more than (often bad) entertainment.
But, as anyone who has ever truly suffered will tell you, pain, sacrifice, and loss are often necessary for growth. There are things in life that are sad: people are hurt; families are destroyed; neighborhoods and nations are overrun by criminals; we lose those we love.
But by papering over these things, we also paper over the brokenness of our world, and the sin that underlies that brokenness. And when we deny sin, we deny the possibility of redemption, the possibility that the sadness and hurt are just temporary. We deny the possibility that life is too glorious and too important to waste on diversion.
"Yes, it is sad, isn't it?" I answered the girl in the classroom. "But isn't it also beautiful?"
And that, perhaps, is the best description I can ever give, not only for Gregorian chant, but also for life itself.
Nai Eru laitalyĆ« (may God bless you),
- First, I have spent the last month bringing many of my existing paintings and logos up to date on my website. In addition to those that have been online for a while, I've brought back a number of pieces not seen in some time, and am including detailed commentary and info on originals with each piece. If you've not seen the site in a while, please take a look ( http://www.JefMurray.com ) and let me know what you think!
- I feel greatly honoured to have been asked to develop the logo for the MythCon 39, the Mythopoeic Society's annual conference, scheduled for August 15-18th, 2008 at Central Connecticut State University. The theme for this year is "The Valkyrie and the Goddess: The Warrior Woman in Fantasy". You can see the logo at: http://userwww.service.emory.edu/~jmu ... ketch_mythcon39_logo.html . For more information on the Mythopoeic Society or the convention, visit http://www.mythsoc.org .
- Oxonmoot 2007 was by all accounts a great success! And either 6 or 7 (depending on who you talk to ļ) of the 8 prints that I included in the art show this year had been purchased by the end of the weekend. A print of a dragon reading The Hobbit (see http://userwww.service.emory.edu/~jmu ... h/353_Reading_dragon.html ) received by far the greatest amount of interest.
- I am delighted to have been asked to be a guest of honour at the upcoming Tolkien celebration, "A Long-Expected Party" (ALEP) in Kentucky in September, 2008. I was also asked to develop one of the logos used for the event. You can see it on my website at: http://userwww.service.emory.edu/~jmu ... hes/Sketch_ALEP_logo.html . The official website for ALEP (and registration info) can be found at: http://www.alongexpectedparty.org/ .
- The September/October issue of Amon Hen, the bimonthly newsletter of the Tolkien Society, features a cover that I was honoured to have been asked to design. It commemorates the 70th anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit with a painting of the dragon Smaug (see original painting at http://userwww.service.emory.edu/~jmu ... os/tolkien/343_Smaug.html ).
- The White Tree Fund (see http://www.whitetreefund.org/ ) is now accepting memberships and is in the process of finalizing details for publication of "Silver Leaves", their new journal. I was asked to contribute several painting images and sketches for their use in this inaugural issue of "Silver Leaves". Included in these was the cover image, which incorporated my painting of the high seat at Amon Hen.
Posted on: 2007/10/5 23:25
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