This Fine Music

An old Irish story claims that the “finest music in the world is the music of what is happening.”  It’s rather obvious that much of what is happening today is neither pleasant nor fine.  People are losing their jobs, health insurance, homes, and life savings. The economic structures we have come to rely on are in shambles. Many people can’t face the future for it looks too bleak.  Many can’t look backward to what they thought would last forever because it is too heartbreaking.  If we look beyond the nation’s borders, we see similar suffering and anxiety in other lands. So, is this the finest music in the world?

The world can be viewed as a Great Song, or as they say in Gaelic, Oran Mor. (See Rivercurrent posted 1-16-09) The Great Song is composed of three strains of music: sorrow, joy, and sleep—sleep being the release from the tension between sorrow and joy.  We might call this third phase: rest, dream, wonder, or peace.  Celtic harpers and poets were and are masters of this matrix, using it for healing by bringing people to tears, laughter, and dreams or visions from which they wake refreshed and healed.  It seems from stories and legends that the very process of these three strains jostling with each other is critical for a whole and healed life.  The three strains move from one to the other, and it is in the movement that healing takes place. I wonder if healing may actually require the realization of this matrix, and a personal acknowledgment and acceptance that this is how the world is made, and that these three conditions require each other for movement and life, maybe for existence itself.  Life requires restlessness—this constant tugging between sorrow and joy—that is only temporarily resolved in peace.  Robert Frost noted that no one really expects “that the ecstasy should be static and stand still in one place.”

We know music by its movements. One single note held for an indefinite period of time is not music. Only when one note leads to another and that one to yet another do we recognize the sounds as music. We only know music as it progresses.  We might put it this way: Music only exists when it is becoming.  It doesn’t exist before or after it has been played.  It doesn’t really exist written on a page.  Of course, a trained eye can move along the staff and notes and hear it in an inner ear. But for us who are not trained musicians, the page is silent. For all intents and purposes, it is not music.  It is the plan or blueprint for music, perhaps, but as a written page, it is static and has none of the movement and progress—and life—that we associate with music and song.  For music to be music, it must come into being.

The phrase Oran Mor in some Celtic regions is a name for God or the Creator, in addition to referring to Creation itself.  Many origin myths tells us the world was sung or spoken into being, and that the breath or song of the Creator is what Creation is composed of.   The Great Song is continually being sung, and we are part of it.  At any given moment, the music of what is happening—no matter what is happening—is the Great Song.  Creation is always coming into being. Modern physicists have described reality as vibration and fluctuation, and as elements coming into existence and going out of existence in a kind of ongoing, unending dance.  The music of Creation cannot stop.  What may look like stable forms are only and always temporary, just as each note or sound in music is only temporary, and must be temporary for it to be music.

Over the years I’ve met numerous people who have told me their lives are in transition. And of course they are. All our lives are in transition.  Our homes, jobs, savings, health insurance, and other forms of security are only, as Robert Frost put it, “a momentary stay against confusion.”  Frost, however, was not talking about homes and mortgages and careers.  He meant poetry.  The poem, he said, is a momentary stay against confusion.  Another poet, William Stafford, ends a poem about the dualities in the natural world withthese lines

. . . . . . .this tranquil
chaos that seems to be going somewhere,
This wilderness with great peacefulness in it.
This motionless turmoil, this everything dance.

So let’s pause amidst our worries about the economy and our confusion about the world at large, and consider that these times, like all times, come into being because of a Divine Restlessness that erupts in song.  We might find some comfort in the old Neo-platonic notion that God yearns to come into existence, yearns to keep singing, and that this coming into existence requires movement, motion, the tension of opposites, and the transition from one thing to another, just as a poem does, just as music does.  Everything is and must be part of an “everything dance.”

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