Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Method toward a Deeper Understanding of Romans Chapter 8

  1. Take five minutes to prepare yourself for prayer. Shut your eyes. Using your own preferred techniques, remove self-centered thoughts and still the aimless series of thoughts and worries. A mind neither focused on the self nor preoccupied with an undisciplined stream of thoughts is more ready to receive spiritual teachings. 
  2. Carefully read Romans Chapter 8, preferably in a beautiful bible with a noble translation. 
  3. Next, read Romans Chapter 8 alongside its German translation, as found here.
  4. Listen to the Bach motet Jesu, meine Freude twice. The first time through, read the words as you listen to the motet. The second time through, just listen to the motet. 
  5. If you truly listened and truly meditated on the text, you will understand more about the meaning of this chapter than you would either reading or listening alone. The art communicates meaning to the inner understanding in ways that words alone cannot. 
  1. Note: This Bach motet features text from Romans chapter 8 and the German hymn "Jesu, meine Freude," by Johann Frank (1650). 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Celebrate your Catholic Wedding with Reverence and Beauty

(Note: This is an excerpt from our special sacrament of Matrimony website www.sedunacaro.com. More photos there and details on church restoration.)

From the time of our engagement, my wife and I thought carefully about how we could celebrate the sacrament of Matrimony in a way appropriate to the spiritual majesty of the occasion. To begin, we were both struck by words in the 1962 Roman Missal: "The marriage service is a solemn and moving ceremony in which the two partners pledge their word to God and to each other to be loyal and faithful." We understood this passage to mean that the service must be solemn to truly represent the meaning of the sacrament, while it must be moving to visibly convey the grace bestowed on the couple. Beauty is thus related to grace. According to the 1962 Roman Missal, "The beauty of the ceremony which follows here, shows the Church's wish to bestow an abundance of grace on those who contract marriage in accordance with her mind."

(Monteverdi Processional)

Of course, the celebration of the Holy Mass demands the utmost devotion, beauty, and solemnity, so our goal is better stated as celebrating our marriage in a manner that reflects both the solemnity of the Mass and the sacrament of Matrimony. Further, the ceremony should convey the relationship between the Eucharist and the sacrament of Matrimony: "The Eucharist inexhaustibly strengthens the indissoluble unity and love of every Christian marriage. By the power of the sacrament, the marriage bond is intrinsically linked to the Eucharistic unity of Christ the Bridegroom and his Bride, the Church" (Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis).

(Mozart, Bride's Processional)

Over several months, we considered the teachings of Sacred Scripture (e.g., Matthew 19:6), the counsel of the 1962 Roman Missal, and the connection between the Eucharist and Marriage. All these considerations led us to think carefully about the liturgy of the Mass. We focused primarily on the sacred music, given the importance of music in the liturgy and the opportunity given to the bride and groom to collaborate on choices with the Director of Music and the priest. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Benedict XVI), in the Spirit of the Liturgy, writes that “Whether it is Bach or Mozart that we hear in church, we have a sense in either case of what gloria Dei, the glory of God, means. The mystery of infinite beauty is there and enables us to experience the presence of God more truly and vividly.” By revealing the highest purpose of music in the liturgy, this quote moved us profoundly. We wanted the music of the ceremony to do just this: capture the mystery of infinite beauty and help us and our guests experience the presence of God more truly and vividly. Our parish priest shares this understanding of the role of music in the liturgy, writing, "Music is the spirit of the liturgy, helping us to rise above the ordinary and draw closer to Almighty God."

The musical selections were not about our musical preferences alone. We have already mentioned that we chose music suited to the solemnity of the occasion, but we also chose musical pieces that are suited to purpose of sacred music: the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful (Sacrosanctum Concilium, Chapter VI). The first purpose has at least two meanings. First, music that glorifies God is music intended in composition and performance for the praise God. Since the music is directed toward praising God, it cannot be directed toward satisfying the pride, vanity, or worldly desires of men and women.

The second meaning of "glory of God" is revealed in the quote above from Spirit of the Liturgy. Benedict XVI suggests that the glory of God is not just a goal but is something experienced. In other words, we know what it means to glorify God when experiencing an internal glimpse of that glory. The greatest musical artists offer such a glimpse of the divine, since art "must make perceptible, and as far as possible attractive, the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God. It must therefore translate into meaningful terms that which is in itself ineffable" (Pope John Paul II, Letter to Artists). Art accomplishes this goal to the degree that is beautiful: "Beauty is a key to the mystery and a call to transcendence" (Pope John Paul II, Letter to Artists).

Our choices of sacred music drew from the Church's musical treasure of "inestimable value" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1156), including Monteverdi, Bach, Mozart, and Latin Gregorian Chant. These composers and mass settings are among the greatest treasures in the sacred music repertoire. While planning, we made specific notes about each piece, which we present here in summary form:

Prelude - Prelude in D Major, by J.S. Bach. The prelude instills devotional feeling and holy awe, aiding the transition from the secular world to the spiritual world of the church. We asked the prelude to begin once all had seated, so that it is not simply background music as the crowd trickles in. The Bach prelude is beautiful and powerful. It grabs the attention of the guests, even those who are not religious. It has been written that the purpose of the organ is to support church singing and to instill devotional feeling. The church's new organ and this Bach prelude accomplish both purposes. It is also in D Major, which supports the transition to the processional. 

Processional - Vespro Della Beata Vergine, Claudio Monteverdi. Trumpets gloriously announce the procession to the altar. Monteverdi's setting of the call to prayer prepares everyone for the ceremony and reminds all of the need for focus in prayer.

Bride's processional - Laudate Dominum, K339, by W.A. Mozart. Laudate Dominum means "Praise Be to God." Walking down the aisle to her future husband, the bride can only exclaim "Praise be to God!"

Missa de Angelis: Gregorian Chant adds solemnity and reverence to the Mass. The effect on the congregation is immediately noticeable, particularly on those Catholics who thought that the church abandoned chanting and Latin in the Middle Ages, and whose own churches have never used Gregorian Chant and Latin. It offers a sense of spiritual nourishment that too often is missing from worship.

Psalm - Der Herr Denket an Uns, BWV 196: Der Herr Segne Euch, by J.S. Bach: This setting of the Psalm captures the tender love of a parent for their children. The guests listen to Bach's setting and the expert performance of the soloists to aid their contemplation and meditation on the profound words of the text.

Presentation of the Gifts - Gott ist mein König from Gott ist mein König, BWV 71 by J.S. Bach: The trumpets and the shouts of Gott! bring our attention from the wedding celebration to the sacrifice of the Mass. 

Eucharist - Et incarnatus est from Great Mass in C Minor, K427, by W.A. Mozart. Pope Francis has been quoted as saying that this piece truly lifts one's mind to God. The Holy Father prayed on his knees for the entire duration of this piece at a Mass on Christmas Eve, 2014. As an aid to the intense devotion and prayer that occurs after receiving communion, this piece is appropriate.

Recessional - Sonata from Der Himmel lacht! Die Erde jubilieret, BWV 31, by J.S. Bach . This piece captures the pure joy of newlyweds leaving the church as husband and wife. 

Postlude - Carillon de Westminster, by Vierne - Ringing of the church bells announces the celebratory occasion. The melody of the famous carillon of Westminster Abbey is a majestic conclusion to the day's events. 

In addition, we celebrated our marriage in a church of stunning artistic beauty. Nearly every detail is inspired by the following statement: "God's dwelling place on earth is to be regarded as just as holy as God's dwelling place in heaven." At a 2014 re-dedication ceremony, our pastor wrote "This is what a church is supposed to do: to put us in touch with God, to lift up our hearts and minds to God, to make us realize that no matter who we are, no matter what our status might be, no matter where we fit in this precious life, there is someone bigger than ourselves, and that when we are here, we are at home." Through symbols and artistic beauty, our church lifts the mind to contemplation of heavenly things. As our pastor summarizes, "For centuries, beautiful buildings, devotional art, and inspiring music have drawn people to the church and to God." Our musical selections were carefully chosen to be complementary–rather than in opposition–to the sacred space in lifting minds and hearts to God. Together, music and art enhance our devotion, prayer, and aspirations to holiness.

We've been fortunate to attend beautiful liturgies in the United States and Europe that have provided us with inspiration and models to emulate. We in particular want to mention the following ceremonies: a Solemn High Mass in the Crypt Church at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on December 5, 2014; a Solemn High Mass in the Peterskirche in Munich on March 19th, 2015; and a Solemn Pontifical Mass in the usus recentior at the Sacra Liturgia USA conference in New York City in 2015. We also must recognize the consistently beautiful liturgical celebrations in the Extraordinary Form at St. John the Baptist in Allentown, NJ, and the inspiring and beautiful liturgies at our own church in Lambertville.

Our spiritual advisers, family, and friends joined together to celebrate our wedding ceremony. We thank the Reverend Robert Kolakowski for spiritual guidance, prayer, and support in planning our wedding. The organist, singers, and instrumentalists worked beyond what is generally required and performed with passion and dedication. We must thank the church Director of Religious Education, Veronica McCabe, for her spiritual guidance, management of the ceremony, and leadership. Finally, several online Catholic resources–New Liturgical Movement, Corpus Christi Watershed, and Sancta Missa–provided us with sheet music and, more importantly, thoughtful reflections about beauty, spirituality, and the liturgy.

Finally, a wedding ceremony is only the start to a life of the vocation of marriage. As a wise priest once remarked, "May you put as much effort into your marriage as you put into your wedding ceremony."

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Postlude - Vierne - Live Recording

Wedding Postlude - Carillon de Westminster - Vierne

Recorded live on Marshall & Ogletree Opus 9

July 10, 2015 

Wedding and Holy Mass

St John the Evangelist

Lambertville, NJ

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Art of the Veil and the Bible

My wife bought a new and beautiful chapel veil from Veils by Lily. It is made in the Spanish tradition; this particular veil is the Camellia style. As a side benefit, the color matches my own new Biblia Sacra from Baronius Press.

Catholic Wedding - Recessional - Trumpets and Organ Glorify!

Wedding Recessional
J.S. Bach

Sonata from

Der Himmel lacht! Die Erde jubilieret!
BWV 31

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Catholic Wedding Part 2 - Mozart: Laudate Dominum

Bride's Processional - Mozart, Laudate Dominum from Vesperae solennes de confessore, K.339

St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church
Lambertville, NJ 
July 10, 2015

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Catholic Wedding, Part 1

Processional at Catholic Wedding Mass - Vespro della Beata Vergine by Claudio Monteverdi. Opening call to prayer and movement I.

Ceremony and Mass at St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church, Lambertville, NJ, on July 10, 2015.

Sermon Notes

Summary of sermon attended 8/31/2015 :

1) It is easy to appear externally good. We engage in external signs of piety and prayer, looking virtuous while hiding a heart and mind corrupted by sin. Rather than focus on correcting that sin, we point the finger at others. But this state of tension cannot last! You will eventually fall. Where your treasure is your heart will be also. No matter our visible appearances, we all are sinners. Christ offers the spiritual food to nourish the inner man, transforming our hearts and minds toward holiness.

2) How easy is it for us to by hypocrites! We love to point the finger at others. We get pleasure from their fall and their shame. But we are all sinner here, and we all engage in hypocrisy.

3) The media today and much of the younger generation gets more pleasure by destroying others for their sins rather than correcting them. They are hypocrites.

4) Why do so many people hate good Christians? Why does society (and the media in particular) hate these good people? These are good people. They hate them, they mock them, because they hate their desire to be good.

5) Live your life and direct your thoughts according to Church teachings. How can we claim to be Catholic without knowing and living the Church’s teachings? This is important for how we interact with non-Catholics. Live the life, or people will perceive you as a hypocrite. Know the teachings, or people will be perceive you as a hypocrite.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Martial Arts and Spiritual Combat

Imagine a martial arts program that promised to teach the student the greatest fighting system. The greatness of the system is proven in combat. The system is demanding. Knowing that the system leads to the highest excellence in martial arts, students follow the stern yet compassionate authority of the master. They endure the training, the sacrifice, and the frustration. They endure it because they know it leads somewhere; it is worth the effort.  Let's call this martial arts system Champion. Only instructors certified by Champion are permitted to teach Champion.

The standards to progress are high. It may take 10 to 12 years to achieve black belt status. Few make it, but all are pushed to achieve it. The master knows every one has the potential to achieve it. Even if the student fails to achieve black belt, they will be better off for the try.

When after a decade Champion has spread across the world and has solidified its status as the dominant martial arts system, a few of its teachers decide to challenge the ancient teachings of the Champion organization. These break-away teachers argue that the system has become too difficult for the average person; the belt system is too cumbersome and lengthy for modern students who want immediate satisfaction; few students actually want to be champions and to excel at the martial art. Thus some argue that what is needed is a system that promises competence, recreation, and physical exercise, rather than the promise of mastery in the art.

There is now great conflict in the hierarchy of the Champion organization, and these debates continue. The break-away masters argue that the organization's goals are set too high. The curriculum is too demanding. The masters need flexibility in determining when a particular student is ready to progress upward in belt rank, rather than using the uniform high standards of the organization. Some break-away masters even argue that success is relative. In other words, a black belt can mean something particular to one student, and something else to another student. Finally, they argue that the martial arts studio is too focused on the higher order black belts, ignoring the common student. The practices need "to be more open to all," in the sense that white belts should not feel alienated by the masters who use advanced techniques and demanding instruction. Thus, the curriculum should be changed to be more focused on what all students share: a desire of community, a sense of personal value, and exercise. The martial arts studio, moreover, needs to lessen its formalism, which scares away potential beginners.

The majority of masters reject this line of thinking. They argue that a high standard gives all students something to aspire to. The curriculum is demanding, but it is demanding because the goal is to make all students a champion and nothing less. While not all achieve champion, the high standard is expected because it makes all aspire to greatness. Masters know how to tailor instruction to a particular student without sacrificing standards and demands for excellence.  Flexibility in belt promotions means flexible standards, thus distorting the signal of quality given by a belt, lowering its value as a credential of excellence (similar to grade inflation). Changing the curriculum will change the goal from excellence in martial arts to something else, such as fitness. Orienting the class towards the white belts will make the practices less valuable to the master students, whose presence inspires the younger students and have their own needs.

Formal behavior in the studio fosters respect for the teacher, the fellow students, and the martial art. It communicates that the discipline required of all in the studio is different than the lack of discipline required at a casual gathering. Moreover, it signals that the art is greater than any individual, since all submit to this formal authority. The behavior enables progress to the goal of champion by instilling in students a sense of hierarchy, and thus respect for the master. Those who have achieved more deserve respect and deference. By submitting to the authority, students can learn humbly from the masters.

Ultimately, these masters argue that fewer students would embark on the path of the black belt knowing that its value has been reduced and its respect lessened in the martial arts world. At one time the black belt meant something, whereas now its meaning is uncertain. Even the debates about the black belt have caused harm, they say, by making all students fear that their hard-earned black belts will be devalued. Others are loathe to start the path, believing that standards can change on a whim and any achievement will not be lasting.

The effect of this curriculum change will be immediately twofold; those who want excellence will be unable to achieve it, and beginners will see the program as just another exercise program that competes with the local gym for business. Why would anyone spend their time doing tedious martial arts drills when they can just go to cardio boxing, which is more fun? They go on to point out that potential and advanced students will see that Champion's value has been lost. It will produce no martial arts masters, and the hard work required will not seem worth the prize of mediocrity. In addition, practice is now boring and not even a good work out. When the goal was excellence, everyone worked hard. Now that the goal is fitness, the best are not challenged, the blue belts get a work out but are not getting fitter, and the beginners quickly leave for another class, not seeing much value in Champion.

The debate continues and the issue will be decided at an upcoming meeting of the masters. All parties agree that the decisions made at this meeting will significantly affect the future of Champion.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Sing to the Lord

The USCCB published Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship in 2007 in order to provide guidelines on the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, particularly the music in the sacred liturgy. Various musicians, religious, and members of the laity have criticized the document on numerous grounds since its release.

One issue that has received considerable criticism is the document's emphasis on congregational singing. The critique relates to the Second Vatican Council's emphasis on active participation of the faithful during Mass, which has been widely misinterpreted to mean that the congregation must be physically active at all points, but especially in singing.  (Sing to the Lord is certainly not the only church musical guide to receive this critique.) As is well known, this interpretation led to considerable changes in the music of the church. For example, we've seen a musical selection based on accessibility rather than artistic quality, the loss of contemplative and prayerful devotion in Mass in exchange for a focus on the visible- to-the-eye community of  individuals singing together, the general decline in the quality of the liturgy that takes place when individuals are forced rather than compelled internally to sing, and the distraction caused when individuals in the congregation sing loudly or poorly.

The purpose of this post is not to repeat the lengthy and numerous arguments about active participation or more broad critiques of church music. Rather, I want to highlight just a few questions that the official musical guidelines like Sing to the Lord seem to fail to address, at least to a non-musician like me. The list below is far from exhaustive and is preliminary.

1) The purpose of sacred music "is the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful" (Sacrosanctum Concilium).  At what point does congregational singing hinder these purposes?

a) One can easily imagine that bad or loud singing of others becomes a distraction from the prayer of the Mass, thereby hindering the glory of god and one's sanctification.

b) A considerable risk exists that singing can easily turn into showmanship, where the purpose of singing is showing off to other members of congregation rather than singing to the glory of God.

c) Reading a hymnal can be distracting, in that one is reading notes and words without having time to understand their meaning or having the moments needed to allow the musical art to affect one's devotion and prayer. In addition, asking the congregation to read hymnals assumes a basic ability to read music; those without musical training may be further distracted by the musical notation and the frequent errors in singing that occur when unable to properly read the music.

Both points a) and b) are supported by commentary on Matthew 6:6, which is relevant to the extent that we believe that the Mass is a prayer. "The Holy Mass is a prayer itself, even the highest prayer that exists" (His Holiness Pope St. Pius X).

The commentary:

Pseudo-Chrysostom: "We should not pray to God with loudness of tone...but with a silent heart, for three reasons." The third reason is that "because if you pray aloud, you hinder any other from prayer near you."

He continues: "Whoever then so prays as to be seen by men does not look to God but to man."


Participation must also be external, so that internal participation can be expressed and reinforced by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes, and by the acclamations, responses, and singing (Sing to the Lord, 13).

This quotation cites Sacrosanctum Concilium but leaves out a key sentence: To promote active participation, the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as well as by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes. And at the proper times all should observe a reverent silence.

In addition, the reasoning given for the conclusion that participation must also be external is that internal participation has to be expressed and reinforced by various actions. This reasoning seems to contradict the omitted sentence from the Sacrosanctum Concilium quote, assumes without qualification that internal participation is expressed and reinforced by external actions rather than hindered by them or unaffected by them, and seems to ignore the role of stillness and silence as essential to internal participation.

The quality of our participation in such sung praise comes less from our vocal ability than from the desire of our hearts to sing together of our love for God. Participation in the Sacred Liturgy both expresses and strengthens the faith that is in us.

The first sentence in this quotation ignores the effect that singing has on the quality of others' participation in the liturgy. It also mentions a desire to sing together, rather than an individual's desire to sing himself. How does one know the desires of others at Mass, and why should we be thinking of others' desire to sing?

The second sentence does not mention if the participation refers to sung participation or just the concept of participation. It is also vague in that participation needs a qualifier, such as "quality participation" expresses and strengthens the faith that is in us.

Our participation in the Liturgy is challenging. Sometimes, our voices do not correspond to the convictions of our hearts. At other times, we are distracted or preoccupied by the cares of the world.  But Christ always invites us to enter into song, to rise above our own preoccupations, and to give our entire selves to the hymn of his Paschal Sacrifice for the honor and glory of the Most Blessed Trinity.

The last sentence in this quotation seems to ignore the omitted sentence from Sacrosanctum Concilium, which calls for silence. The first sentence does not state what form of participation is challenging, though the second sentence suggests that the subject is singing. The second sentence fails to instruct us what to do when our voices are less than our convictions, what to do when our voices are greater than our conviction, or what to do when our convictions are greater than our voices. Overall it assumes that singing is a cure to distraction, which is false if one sings while the mind is distracted.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Additional points related to the icons at Our Saviour

Over the past several days, many blogs and catholic news outlets have covered the grave changes occurring at Our Saviour church in New York City.

This is a very sad development. Over dinner, my wife and I were trying to understand the ideological fervor that motivates the zealous destruction of sacred art, and the sense of the sacred more broadly. We were unable to conclude with any satisfactory explanations. Mentions of iconoclasm seem incomplete in explaining the situation at Our Saviour and at many other churches.

Also, some of the coverage of this story mentions the firm hired to lead the renovation: Renovata Studios. To gauge the vision of this firm, please take a look through their website. Their work has to be seen in order to fully appreciate what some individuals think is appropriate for the liturgy and the Church. My wife compared some of their tabernacle designs to mail drop boxes--and that was generous. They also worked on a church a few miles away from my house. One feels immediately less holy upon seeing it.

Finally, I quote this following passage in full from their website, and it summarizes well the vision of this firm and the churches who hire them:

Father Doran left us with the mantra, "Think outside the box" and we worked for months with the parish to develop new designs for the worship space. The altar was moved well forward and placed under a beautiful canopy with concealed lighting. A new sacristy was created in the former sanctuary. The former sacristy was made into the Blessed Sacrament chapel. The old choir loft was removed and a new space for music and choir was made near the front of the church. The baptismal font was placed in the nave near the sanctuary and the original crucifix was cleaned of the scorched burn marks and placed upon a sanctuary cross rebuilt from the original design. Other improvements were made in addition to liturgical design changes; all new lighting design, tile and marble inlaid floor, restoration of the pews and stained glass and installation of a new air conditioning system. The result is a beautiful church with award winning designs reflecting Vatican II liturgy." - Lawrence Hoy, 10/1/03



accessed 7/23/2015

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Forkel's Biography

An early biography of Johann Sebastian Bach, by Johann Nikolaus Forkel, contains many insightful passages not only on Bach but also on art, the artist, religion, and music. Below, I present a few select quotes from this biography. I chose these quotes because they contain insights not limited to the field of music: they inspire reflection on broader topics of education and the ends of art.

Forkel is an idealist, meaning that he believes that the art of music can represent the highest conceptions of beauty. His writing reflects that belief. Forkel also writes on beauty and greatness without irony, which makes for a refreshing read for anyone who tires of reading many authors of today. 

Forkel effusively praises Bach. He idealizes Bach. Seemingly every paragraph has at least one sentence of unrestrained praise. 

Some readers are offended by Forkel's uncritical treatment. To them, Forkel writes neither as a critic nor a biographer--he writes as a fan and a champion for a cause. Experienced authors and critics cannot take the biography, and the presentation of Bach within it, too seriously. A more refined critic would put aside his or her opinions and agenda in order to objectively assess the subject. 

I agree with these critiques of Forkel. However, I prefer this idealistic portrait to vain criticism, which seeks to find fault only in order to feign objectivity or a critic's discernment. In addition, when the subject merits excessive praise--as Bach merits it--then this idealistic treatment can be inspirational. Sometimes we need a pep talk for the journey to greatness.

Of course, Forkel's intent was to inspire reverence for the old master, rather than to critically appraise him. He succeeded. 

On studying ancient masters in order to reveal deficiencies in our own time, which otherwise would go unnoticed

Moreover, Bach, whose influence pervades every musical form, can be relied on more than any other composer to correct the superficiality which is the bane of modern taste. Neglect of the classics is as prejudicial to the art of music as it would be fatal to the interests of general culture to banish Greek and Latin writers from our schools. 

Modern taste exhibits no shame in its preference for agreeable trifles, in its neglect of everything that makes a demand, however slight, upon its attention.

To-day we are menaced by a proposal to banish the classics from our schoolrooms. Equally short-sighted vision threatens to extinguish our musical classics as well. And is it surprising? Modern art displays such poverty and frivolity that it well may shrink from putting itself in context with great literature, particularly with Bach's mighty and creative genius, and seek rather to proscribe it.

On sound musical training being necessary for the exalted subject of church music

The models he selected—Church musicians for the most part—and his own disposition inclined him to serious and exalted subjects. The models he selected—Church musicians for the most part—and his own disposition inclined him to serious and exalted subjects. But in that kind of music little can be accomplished with inadequate technique. 

On the capacity of Bach's music to stir the listener to contemplation

Like every true artist, Bach worked to please himself in his own way, obeying the summons of his own genius, choosing his own subjects, and finding satisfaction only in the approval of his own judgment. He could count on the applause of all who understood good music, and never failed to receive it...
It was, in fact, the artist temperament that led Bach to make the great and sublime his goal. For that reason his music is not merely agreeable, like other composers', but transports us to the regions of the ideal. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Church Service in Bach's Time

We obtain better perspective on today's church services by studying church services of the past. By perspective, I mean noting differences and similarities--in other words, we can compare things. According to the Oxford Dictionaries online, to compare is to

Estimate, measure, or note the similarity or dissimilarity between

So that we can measure and note similarities and dissimilarities, I revisit the order of service in Bach's day in Leipzig. 

Thomaskirche Leipzig

It was no light matter to stay in the church for three or four hours, which was the time the services lasted. - Schweitzer 

  1. The service officially begins 7:00 am.
  2. The organ prelude begins.
  3. A motet is sung.
  4. Then comes the Introit, and after that the Kyrie. The latter is sung twice: once in German, once in Latin.
  5. The Gloria is then intoned from the alter, and answered either by the choir or by the congregation. 
  6. After the collect, the Epistle is read, or rather is sung in the old psalmody. 
  7. Then comes a congregational hymn.
  8. The Gospel is chanted by the priest, who also intones the Credo
  9. The organist begins to preludise, keeping to the keys which the instruments need for tuning.
  10. The cantata begins, which lasts on average 20 minutes. 
    1. Notes: The cantata was generally shorter in winter than in summer. During winter, the interior of the church could be very cold, and parishioners became uncomfortable.  The cantor kept the cantata length closer to 20 minutes so as not to extend the service length. Also of note: the choristers maintained a coal fire.
  11. The sermon begins and, according to rule, lasts one hour. Choristers of St. Thomas leave the church during the sermon, but they do not escape the sermon. They have to read one during the hour that they are not in the church.
  12. Sermon is followed by a prayer and a blessing.
  13. A congregational hymn leads to the second part of the service: the communion celebration. German hymns are usually sung during the communion. Organ improvisation is also played during communion. 
Further activities for Sunday:
  1. At 11:45 am, there is a short service with a sermon. 
  2. Vespers begin at 1:15 pm, with a motet, followed by various prayers and congregational hymns. Then comes another sermon, which is as a rule on the Epistle. After the sermon is the German Magnificat. 
  3. In conclusion, the hymn "Nun Danket alle Got" is sung. 
Further notes:
  1. "There was no specific Leipzig hymn-book; the congregation was supposed to know the hymns allotted to each Sunday."
  2. In Bach's notes for the order of service, he calls service "divine service." 

We easily observe differences in length, format, and variety of music. Let us not forget, however, the point of comparison that diminishes the importance of all other points. It is this: the music director is Johann Sebastian Bach. At least for me, I need a few minutes of quiet thought to grasp that fact.

Source: Schweitzer, Albert. J.S. Bach, Volume One. pp 126-128. Translated by Ernest Newman. Dover Press. 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Saintly Commentary on Love

Come unto to me, all that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest - Matthew 11:28

In Matthew 11:28, the Lord teaches that we will have rest by following Him. But to what ends do we follow Him? To Augustine, we follow to obtain “the sight of God,” where we “rejoice in perpetual rest,” according to the teaching of Chrysostom.

Thus, by following Him, we can ascend to the sight of God, where we rejoice in perpetual rest. This promised spiritual reward is indescribable in its sublimity, and is conceivable perhaps only to those Saints who have obtained that reward.  But how do we follow Him? What interior transformation must occur before we are able to make progress down this marvelous road?

Love, and only love, is how we prepare our souls to be ready to follow Him. Of course, first, we must ask what kind of love leads us to this heavenly reward. We must be precise as possible so that we are not led astray.  Augustine now reveals the teaching:

And now He teaches them how to fit themselves to follow Him: “
A new commandment I give you, that you love one another.” But does not the old law say, you shall love your neighbor as yourself (Lev., 19:18)? Why then does He call it a new commandment?

The answer, as Augustine points out, is the phrase, as I have loved you. But how did He love his disciples?

...but it is the love which our Lord distinguishes from the carnal affection. Not the love with which men love one another, but that of the children of the Most High God, who would be brethren of His only-begotten Son.

What type of love is distinguished from the carnal affection? What is the love of the children of the Most High God? Augustine:

What did He, in loving us, love, but God in us; not who was in us, but so that he might be?

To seek the sight of God and have perpetual and eternal rest, we must follow the Lord. We are not ready to follow the Lord until we love one another as the Lord loved his disciples. That love is the love of God's presence in one another; rather, that love is a desire that each of us knows God by becoming a dwelling place of God.

UPDATE: 7/3/2015

The saintly teachings on love are numerous, and to collect them all is a monumental task. However, I feel that I need to mention some of teachings of St. Aquinas in his commentary on Romans:

He  [the Apostle Paul] says let love be without dissimulation, so that it consist not in word or outward appearance but in genuine affection of heart and in efficacious works. 

Second, he teaches that love should be pure when says: "hating evil." Love is pure when a person does not consent to his friend  in evil, but so loves him that he hates his vices. 

Third, he teaches that love should be honorable when he says: "cleaving to the good," so that one adheres to another because of his virtuous goodness...

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

St. Augustine on Christian Judgement: "Judge not."

The below quotes represent some of Augustine's meditations on Matthew 7:1-5. In his interpretation, Augustine conveys in simple language the majesty of the Lord's teaching:  we are all sinners; we succumb to pride and vanity; we rarely have all the information necessary to form a correct judgement; and we judge to serve ourselves, not the Lord and our neighbor.

On how to reason when tempted to find fault with another

When then we are brought under the necessity of finding fault with any, let us first consider whether the sin be such as we have never had; secondly that we are yet men, and may fall into it; then, whether it be one that we have had, and are now without, and then let our common frailty come into our mind, that pity and not hate may go before correction. Should we find ourselves in the same fault, let us not reprove, but groan with the offender, and invite him to struggle with us. Seldom indeed and in cases of great necessity is reproof to be employed; and then only that the Lord may be served and not ourselves.

On the common faults of those who judge

The Lord having admonished us concerning hasty and unjust judgments; and because that they are most given to rash judgment, who judge concerning things uncertain; and they most readily find fault, who love rather to speak evil and condemn than to cure and correct; a fault that spring either from pride or jealousy - therefore He subjoins, "Why seest though the mote in thy brother's eye, and seest not the beam in thy own eye?" 

On judgement with uncertainty

1)  I suppose the command here to be no other than that we should always put the best interpretation on such actions as seem doubtful with what mind they were done. But concerning such as cannot be done with good purpose, as adulteries, blasphemies, and the like, He permits us to judge; but of indifferent actions which admit of being done with either good or bad purpose, it is rash to judge, but especially to condemn. 

2)  There are two cases in which we should be particularly on our guard against hasty judgments, when it does not appear with what mind the action was done; and when it does not yet appear, what sort of man any one may turn out, who now seems either good or bad. Wherefore he should neither blame those things of which we know with what mind they are done, nor so blame those things which are manifest, as though we despaired of recovery. 


Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Mysticism of Laudato si

Below, I present a few of the passages from Laudato si that concern truth, beauty, aesthetics, and the mystical and contemplative Christian path. Each passage is highly instructive for contemplatives and all prayerful Christians.  Select passages, given their focus on artistic and natural beauty enabling the ascent to God, are also teachings on beauty in the liturgy. Popular commentary has given less attention to the latter contribution of the encyclical--how  beauty in liturgical celebration, like natural beauty, takes us out of our selves and into a wider and deeper consciousness.


Every creature is thus the object of the Father’s tenderness, who gives it its place in the world. Even the fleeting life of the least of beings is the object of his love, and in its few seconds of existence, God enfolds it with his affection. Saint Basil the Great described the Creator as “goodness without measure”, while Dante Alighieri spoke of “the love which moves the sun and the stars”. Consequently, we can ascend from created things “to the greatness of God and to his loving mercy”.

- from 77

Human beings, even if we postulate a process of evolution, also possess a uniqueness which cannot be fully explained by the evolution of other open systems. Each of us has his or her own personal identity and is capable of entering into dialogue with others and with God himself.

- from 81

Jesus lived in full harmony with creation, and others were amazed: “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” (Mt 8:27). His appearance was not that of an ascetic set apart from the world, nor of an enemy to the pleasant things of life. Of himself he said: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard!’” (Mt 11:19). He was far removed from philosophies which despised the body, matter and the things of the world. Such unhealthy dualisms, nonetheless, left a mark on certain Christian thinkers in the course of history and disfigured the Gospel.

- from 98

The New Testament does not only tell us of the earthly Jesus and his tangible and loving relationship with the world. It also shows him risen and glorious, present throughout creation by his universal Lordship: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col 1:19-20). This leads us to direct our gaze to the end of time, when the Son will deliver all things to the Father, so that “God may be everything to every one” (1 Cor 15:28). Thus, the creatures of this world no longer appear to us under merely natural guise because the risen One is mysteriously holding them to himself and directing them towards fullness as their end. The very flowers of the field and the birds which his human eyes contemplated and admired are now imbued with his radiant presence.

- from 100

By learning to see and appreciate beauty, we learn to reject self-interested pragmatism. If someone has not learned to stop and admire something beautiful, we should not be surprised if he or she treats everything as an object to be used and abused without scruple.

- from 215

The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face. The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul, but also to discover God in all things. Saint Bonaventure teaches us that “contemplation deepens the more we feel the working of God’s grace within our hearts, and the better we learn to encounter God in creatures outside ourselves”.

- from 233

Saint John of the Cross taught that all the goodness present in the realities and experiences of this world “is present in God eminently and infinitely, or more properly, in each of these sublime realities is God”. This is not because the finite things of this world are really divine, but because the mystic experiences the intimate connection between God and all beings, and thus feels that “all things are God”.

- from 234

Encountering God does not mean fleeing from this world or turning our back on nature. This is especially clear in the spirituality of the Christian East. “Beauty, which in the East is one of the best loved names expressing the divine harmony and the model of humanity transfigured, appears everywhere: in the shape of a church, in the sounds, in the colours, in the lights, in the scents”. For Christians, all the creatures of the material universe find their true meaning in the incarnate Word, for the Son of God has incorporated in his person part of the material world, planting in it a seed of definitive transformation. “Christianity does not reject matter. Rather, bodiliness is considered in all its value in the liturgical act, whereby the human body is disclosed in its inner nature as a temple of the Holy Spirit and is united with the Lord Jesus, who himself took a body for the world’s salvation”.

- from 235

It is in the Eucharist that all that has been created finds its greatest exaltation. Grace, which tends to manifest itself tangibly, found unsurpassable expression when God himself became man and gave himself as food for his creatures. The Lord, in the culmination of the mystery of the Incarnation, chose to reach our intimate depths through a fragment of matter. He comes not from above, but from within, he comes that we might find him in this world of ours.

- from 236

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Holy Mass, Liturgy, and Holy Scripture

The month of June, 2015, brought us the beautiful Sacra Liturgia conference in New York City, and will bring us the June 30th resignation of John Romeri, Director of the Office for Liturgical Music in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. These two events provide, on one side, a vision of the Church aimed toward lifting souls to God, and, on the other side, a vision that seems to place accessibility rather than transcendence as the primary value in liturgy.

In the wake of Mr. Romeri's announced resignation, some online commentary has brought up the distinction between a liturgy directed toward God and a liturgy directed toward the congregation. Beauty is more associated with the former, since beauty in forms is used to impart to the fallible and weak human understanding the unseen beauty of the divine. A banal liturgy is associated with the latter, since the music, forms, and prayers are not conducted to enable self transcendence according to the guidance of Saints, but to achieve whatever ends the majority of a particular congregation prefers.

Many religious men and women have written eloquently on beauty and the liturgy.  Even our missals provide guidance, as in the 1962 Roman Missal, p 131, of the 6th edition from Baronius Press. I see fewer authors in the online community appeal to Holy Scripture (of course there are exeptions). In this post, I want to highlight Matthew 6:5-6:

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are; for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 

But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. 

This passage is related to the liturgy of the Holy Mass in the following way. The passage is about prayer, and [t]he Holy Mass is a prayer in itself, even the highest prayer that exists (1962 Roman Missal, page 897).  The passage is also not singularly focused on private, secluded prayer, according to the interpretation of Pseudo-Chrysostom: But I suppose that it is not the place that the Lord here refers to, but the motive of him that prays; for it is praiseworthy to pray in the congregations of the faithful. 

With this passage of Holy Scripture in mind, let us begin to consider its relevance to the liturgy. Much can be said on this topic, but commentary by Pseudo-Chrysostom provides a useful starting point to raise questions for discussion.

"Solomon says, 'Before prayer, prepare thy soul.'"

How can we use the time before Holy Mass to prepare our souls for prayer?  This includes the entire morning of Mass, and the time at church before Mass begins. (See my post on meditation before Mass.)

"Prayer is as it were a spiritual tribute which the soul offers of its own bowels. Wherefore the more glorious it is, the more watchfully ought we to guard that it is not made vile by being done to be seen of men."

What type of liturgy would most closely represent a "spiritual tribute which the soul offers of its own bowels?" What type of liturgy helps transcend the physical eye toward spiritual vision with our inner eye?

"But I suppose that it is not the place that the Lord here refers to, but the motive of him that prays...Whoever then so prays to be seen of men does not look to God but to man, and so far as his purpose is concerned he prays in the synagogue. But he, whose mind in prayer is wholly fixed on God, though he pray in the synagogue, yet seems to pray with himself in secret."

What liturgy most effectively helps us look to God, not to man? What liturgy inspires a prayer so devout and deep that the mind is wholly fixed on God? That last sentence deserves special consideration, as a mind wholly fixed on God is an extraordinary feat of meditation and contemplation. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Bach Well-Tempered Clavier Meditation

What is a Fugue?

The Fugue is the most complex polyphonic musical form, involving imitation among the parts (called “voices” whether they are vocal or instrumental). The word fugue comes from fuga, meaning to chase since each voice “chases” the previous one.

Alan Warburton recently created a stunning CGI visualization of the Prelude and Fugue in C from Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier (WTC) BWV 846. I first saw the visualization on Classic FM and then at the
Creator's Project blog.  The visualization powerfully contrasts the relative simplicity of the prelude to the complexity of the 4-voice fugue. It highlights the complexity of the fugue better than other computer-based visualizations, in my opinion, because the fugue is visualized in three dimensions. All four voices are clearly distinguished.

Considering my earlier post about the mystical experience in Bach's music, I began to think about how listening to fugues affects our minds. In particular, I conjecture that meditation on fugues can be a powerful exercise of concentration and mental visualization that leads to higher states of awareness.  To investigate this conjecture, I use a wearable EEG to assess whether preludes can calm the mind and whether fugues can focus the mind.

Below, watch as the mellow and sweet prelude changes to the complex fugue for 4 voices. The brain waves show markedly different patterns across the two musical movements. During the prelude, there is suggestive evidence of a very relaxed state of mind, with  high alpha waves and decreasing beta and gamma waves. Once the fugue begins, however, the beta and gamma waves shoot up at a steady pace. The alpha, theta, and delta waves remain roughly constant. Together, these patterns suggest that focus is increasing while calm awareness is maintained. Please note that I use the word "suggest" since the analysis of EEG brain waves is very complex, and my cursory reading of online popular writings offers only general ideas about alpha, beta, theta, delta, and gamma waves.  However, subjectively, I can confirm that I felt calm and then focused and aware.

A good summary of brain activity and meditation is here from Bryan Williams, but I cannot vouch for its accuracy. It includes interesting findings from research on contemplative nuns, but the summary is more general:

There are five types of brain waves that are distinguished by their frequency, measured in cycles per second, or Hertz (Hz): Delta waves (1 – 3 Hz) have the slowest wave cycles, and commonly appear when we are in a deep sleep. Theta waves (4 – 7 Hz) can also be present during sleep, usually when we start to feel drowsy and fall into a light sleep (Carlson, 1992, pp. 242 – 243). Alpha waves (8 – 12 Hz) are typically present during a state of relaxed awareness, when our minds are not actively engaged in deep thought. Beta waves (13 – 29 Hz) appear when we are actively thinking, alert, and attentive (Schneider & Tarshis, 1995, pp. 412 – 413). Gamma waves (30 – 80 Hz) have the fastest wave cycles, and often arise when we are mentally integrating and processing complex sensory information (Desmedt & Tomberg, 1994; Joliot et al., 1994).

Perhaps a new meditation exercise can be the Bach WTC Meditation: an intense period of meditation on every prelude and fugue in the WTC Book 1 or 2. You train your mind to relax during the preludes, and focus and visualize during the fugues. I suspect that you would reach a powerful mental state by the end of the recording. Once you reach the level of master, you progress to the Art of the Fugue.


The Well-Tempered Clavier

Beta waves (13 – 29 Hz) appear when we are actively thinking, alert, and attentive (Schneider & Tarshis, 1995, pp. 412 – 413).

Gamma waves (30 – 80 Hz) have the fastest wave cycles, and often arise when we are mentally integrating and processing complex sensory information (Desmedt & Tomberg, 1994; Joliot et al., 1994).

Alpha waves (8 – 12 Hz) are typically present during a state of relaxed awareness, when our minds are not actively engaged in deep thought. 

Theta waves (4 – 7 Hz) can also be present during sleep, usually when we start to feel drowsy and fall into a light sleep (Carlson, 1992, pp. 242 – 243).

Delta waves (1 – 3 Hz) have the slowest wave cycles, and commonly appear when we are in a deep sleep. 

Watch the entire video here.

UPDATE 6/21/2015

Most of the changed activity is in the frontal lobes of the brain. In the figures below, the lines with "TP" represent the EEG sensors at the temporal poles by the ears, while the "FP" lines represent the sensors at the front of the head. Prelude is left half (1 - 11000) on the x-axis, and the Fugue is the right half (11001 - end).

Monday, June 15, 2015

Bach, Mozart, and a Brain Wave Illustration

This post was motivated by Zelter and Geothe's reflections on the mystical power of Bach's organ music.  Select quotes are presented below. Personally, I believe careful attention to Bach's music can help us ascend to an advanced mystical state of consciousness. Why do I feel this way? His music contains at the same time extraordinary musical complexity and extraordinary beauty. To the average listener, it can seem both simple and complex at the exact same moment. At a minimum, I believe it helps one to begin to understand why mathematical equations can be beautiful.

I sense that this music can help us approach the level of contemplation taught by Diotima to the disciple Socrates in the Symposium:

...and after laws and institutions he will go on to the sciences, that he may see their beauty, being not like a servant in love with the beauty of one youth or man or institution, himself a slave mean and narrow-minded, but drawing towards and contemplating the vast sea of beauty, he will create many fair and noble thoughts and notions in boundless love of wisdom.

In our mystical ascent, we progress up to contemplate the beauty of the sciences and knowledge, of which I think mathematical equations are a part. What, then, makes mathematical equations beautiful? Not this one or that one, but them all? Perhaps Bach is leading us to this realization captured in Diotima's teaching.

These mystical heights are not achieved in the EEG results below. Lying on my living room floor, tired after a long day, we were in no mental state to achieve spiritual greatness. Rather, they are a simple and preliminary illustration of how Bach and Mozart can influence the brain.

The Bach results are from the Muse wearable on my head. I am 33 years old and have meditated quite seriously for about 6 years. Providing a different perspective, my fiancee also wore the Muse while listening to her favorite piece of music--Mozart's Et Incarnatus Est as performed by Barbara Bonney under the direction of Sir John Eliot Gardiner. She is mid-twenties and has trained in voice and violin since a young child. She brings a wealth of musical knowledge to her experience listening to the music.  She writes:

...usually when I practice, I get into an intense trance-like mode of concentration and I felt the same way listening to the recording. I think more than just enjoying the piece as a listener, I was also singing along to the soprano line in my head, preparing breaths in the necessary spots, lifting my palate and imagining singing along with some of the high sustained notes, etc.

I, on the other hand, have no musical training, and can barely hum a string of quarter notes.

We begin.  Videos first, then time-series plots of the entire session.


It is only since Mozart's time, that there has arisen a greater inclination to understand Sebastian Bach, for the latter appears thoroughly mystic, just where the former impresses us clearly from without....

-- Letter from Zelter to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

[W]hen my mind was in a state of perfect composure, and free from external distraction, that I first obtained some idea of your Grand Master (Sebastian Bach). I said to myself, it is as if the eternal harmony were conversing with itself, as it may have done, in the bosom of God, just before the Creation of the world. So likewise did it move in my inmost soul, and it seemed as if I neither possessed nor needed ears, nor any other sense--least of all the eyes

-- Letter from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to Zelter, on the organist Berka playing Bach.

The organ is Bach's own peculiar soul, into which he breathes immediately the living breath. His theme is the feeling just born, which, like the spark from the stone, invariable springs forth, from the first chance pressure of the foot upon the pedals. Thus by degrees he warms to his subject, till he has isolated himself, and feels alone, and then an inexhaustible stream passes out into the infinite ocean...Weighing every possible testimony against him...[Bach] is one of God's phenomena. 

-- Letter from Zelter to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

EEG Illustrations

Brain waves while listening to the Bach Prelude for Organ in E-Flat Major BWV 552. Eyes are closed. The artist is Helmut Walcha. The recording is Walcha's Bach: Great Organ Works, from DG.

Subject: Male, 33 years old. 6 years of meditation experience.

Brain waves start with high alpha wave dominance. Later, the brain waves begin a pattern of Beta and Gamma dominance. Patterns really start to change at about the 4:00 minutes mark. By the end of the piece, Beta waves are the highest.




EEG Illustrations

An example of music leading one into deep, focused concentration.

Brain waves while listening to the Mozart's Et Incarnatus Est. The recording is from You Tube and features Barbara Bonney.  Eyes are closed.

Subject: Female, mid twenties, who has trained as a classical musician (violin and voice) since a young child and performs regularly today. 

Brain waves start with high alpha wave dominance. Later, the brain waves begin a pattern of Beta and Gamma dominance. Patterns really start to change at about the 2:00 minutes mark: beta and gamma soar.  By about the 4:20 mark, beta and gamma are clearly dominant and remain so until the end. Noe: the EEG loses signal strength at several points in this recording. 

1) Coleridge, A.D. (1892). Geothe, Letters to Zelter.  London:  George Bell & Sons. Accessed via Google Book's Free Ebooks.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Meditation before Holy Mass with Beta/Gamma Waves

A serious morning meditation is always a good way to prepare one' s mind for the great Holy Mass. These meditations can include the Rosary, contemplative prayer, or any tradition that best suits one's personal practice. The benefits include far less distraction and greater interior participation in the mystery.

The soul aspires after heaven, rejoicing in the meantime in being in the communion of God's Church upon earth. - 1962 Roman Missal

Today's meditation was a strong session. Lately, I have used my Muse a few times per week just to gauge what is happening inside my brain during meditation. An unexpected benefit of the Muse is that is improves my focus in meditation just because I know it's there. In other words, I know my mind is being monitored, and any distraction is instantly detected. Imagine if one could wear one of these tools at Mass (which I would never recommend), or even during a zazen practice, where the teacher could see inside of you to detect a lazy mind!

I post today's figures only because I note a different brain wave pattern than usual. Towards the end of my meditation, when I was in a state of  quite powerful focus and interior energy, together with a near empty mind, the EEG shows a spike in Beta/Gamma waves. I understand how difficult it is to draw any firm conclusions from these results; however, it is a pattern worth noting.


Saturday, June 13, 2015

To What Ends?

How many there are who seek Jesus, only to gain some temporary benefit. One man has a matter of business, in which he wants the assistance of the clergy; another is oppressed by a more powerful neighbor, and flies to the Church for refuge. Jesus is scarcely ever sought for Jesus' sake.

- St. Augustine

Writing on her conversion to the Church, Rachel Lu writes at Crisis:

Of course there are no guarantees. Worldly joys are all ephemeral, and the next ten years might be much grimmer.

In this insightful essay, Lu explains well the challenges of trying to understand and articulate why it is we first seek spiritual fulfillment in the Church. Our first powerful encounters are diverse--Augustine's heart stirred to longing by heavenly hymns, or perhaps a profound respect for the authority of the Church's teachings.

But to what end does our effort lead? What do we seek as profit from our devotion? As Lu writes, there are no guarantees; worldly joys are fleeting. But how to seek the lasting, spiritual joys?

Above, Augustine reminds us how to direct our thoughts in order to achieve true spiritual progress toward the everlasting: seek the Lord for the Lord's sake alone. The Imitation of Christ echoes: "Let all things be loved for Jesus, but Jesus for his own sake."

The writings of the Saints suggest that this unselfish form of prayer, which seeks no gain, is necessary if we seek the "life eternal" (Augustine). There is still reward to this path: "This is the highest reward, you shall not only be made useful to others, but shall make yourself to have peace" (St. John Chrysostom).

This teaching, like many, is a significant challenge, despite its simplicity.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Brain Waves, Two Types of Meditation

The quality and nature of a meditation session varies every time. Depending on the day and my readiness for meditation, I use different meditation techniques to calm my mind and prepare for deeper meditation. This morning, my mind was very inattentive. I was very tired, and my mind was still racing with thoughts about my dreams. Starting meditation directly with techniques such as breath counting or visualizations would not avail me--I'd lose focus almost immediately. Therefore, I spent the first 10 minutes or so of mediation doing a mental concentration meditation. This meditation helps focus the mind, but it will not lead to any more profound states of meditation. It is thus suited only as a tool to help get control of your mind prior to serious meditation. The graphs below actually reveal the differences between the two states. To the right of the vertical line is brain activity from the concentration exercises, while to the right of the line is brain activity from more traditional contemplation. 

A noticeable drop in Beta activity. Higher variance in the second half. 
A noticeable drop in Gamma activity to the point of near complete absence of Gamma activity. 

This figure shows all the brain wave types. Alpha shows the least significant drop in activity.