The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Thursday, August 31, 2006

From Glory to Glory - St. Gregory of Nyssa

Part VI- "pues fui tan alto, tan alto que le di a la caza alcance"

We entered through the large door facing Geary St. It was already dark, and the service was well underway. As I was told, it was all in Old Slavonic, and I was completely lost as to what was going on. Upon entering, the church was barely lit with candles, and a rather portly deacon with long hair was intoning a prayer. The choir sounded almost recorded, and I wondered if they were behind that wall in the front... where was that sound coming from?

I heeded the words of Archimandrite Anastassy: don't make trouble or they might throw you out. So I tried to be as inconspicuous as possible, standing in the back of the church like a column of salt. My friend, rather tall and with back problems, decided to sit in one of the chairs in the back of the church. I knew this was a bit of a no-no, but I said nothing.

All of a sudden, it seemed that the service ended. Everything went even darker than it already was, and a young man, probably no more than sixteen years old, went into the middle of the cathedral with a candle and a small book in hand. He began reading in that rapid-fire and serious way only Russians have mastered. Again, another service started, again the deacon, again the bodiless choir. In darkness. I looked around at the shadows bouncing off of shadows, the dimly lit icons, the rather odd looking shrine on the right side of the church to a Russian bishop. It was odd, but my life had become odd. What was I to make of all of this, this past year, this year of grace, my impending departure to South America in two weeks.....

Then, the lights came on; all of them. Over the altar the imposing hands of the Virgin pleaded in supplication, with the ultimate treasure, Christ, sealed in her heart. The deacon came out and began incensing the church. All of the imposing Byzantine faces, the faces of the Body of Christ, who were slaughtered like lambs, who suffered in deserts, and kept vigil through the starless nights, all of them looked down with kindness and love, transformed by the light of Christ. And the choir.... the choir began to sing this unearthly melody, like the waves of the ocean frozen in the ethereal contemplations of angels before the world began. Frozen and moving about rapidly. Commotion above calm, color above matter.... Heaven's gates blew open. And I would never be the same again. There was no going back after this:

Praise the name of the Lord,
Praise the Lord you His servants,
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!
You who stand in the House of the lord
In the courts of the House of our God
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia....
Give thanks to the God of heaven
For His mercy endures forever,
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia....

I would sing and hear this many times over the next five years of my life; in parishes, in cathedrals, in monasteries at four in the morning. It was the Polyeleos, the "Many Mercies", one of the most powerful hymns in Byzantine liturgy. And this was the true beginning of my love affair with the Eastern Church. To tell the truth, though, she had already written me some love letters by the hand of her greatest mystic: St. Gregory of Nyssa.

Growing up Roman Catholic, I was very much affected by the spiritual ethos of Augustinianism and the ideas of merit and legal judgment. Yes, I had been baptized, and yes I knew Christ in a profound way. Coming back into the Church at twenty and living everyday in a retreat center with daily Mass and Office, I of course knew something about the Faith. It was only, however, after this encounter with the Byzantine Church, and with St. Gregory in particular, that I really felt I understood what it means to be a Christian. Indeed, it was only after reading and meditating upon this Cappadocian Father that I really felt I knew Who God was. Before, I think I was looking at the Christian mystery through a distorted lens, a lens of agendas, slogans, and party lines. Afterwards, I saw that there was so much more splendor behind all of the doctrines that I had taken for granted. I learned that often in life, you have to pursue wonder and not certainty, beauty and not systematic truth. And we will never be "there", "there" is the continuous process of getting there:

To follow God wherever He might lead is to behold God.

Beauty, however, the uncreated Beauty of God, is what most enchanted that twenty-one year old with an unsettled heart, and It continues to enchant me to this day. I would much rather look at a desert sunset, a field of wildflowers, or ocean waves crashing against volcanic stone in the spirit of prayer than read all of the theological manuals in the world. I remember when I truly understood what St. Gregory was talking about. It was during a summer thunderstorm outside of Cordoba in Argentina: the way the sky lit up at dusk without making a sound, the way those isolated mountains rose up against the great sea of the South American pampa, the whole symphony of hills and green showed me that all of creation is filled with God's light, His love and God Himself:

Pleni sunt coeli et terra, gloria tua.....

And we will never have our fill. I always imagine telling the story of St. Gregory's road, the one that we are all on, where some of us are further along, but none of us is any closer. To what? To the Beauty of God, of course! He is infinite, we are finite. He never started, but we start at some point, and the race never ends. We are running after Him, always after Him, assured that He is leading us on. This has always given me hope. For me, the spiritual life will never again be about stasis, downcast eyes, and wallowing in guilt. It is about putting your eyes to the hills, feeling the rush of the morning, arising and beginning.....

There is a poem by St. John of the Cross that I once translated into English. I don't think it was any good since I don't have it anymore. The last line is the title of this episode that I am writing. For the benefit of the monolingual gringos reading this, I will translate the last lines of the poem. The poem is about running after God, and if you have time you can Google "Tras un amoroso lance" and see if you can come up with a translation. This is how I have felt since I read St. Gregory, and I hope to feel this way tomorrow, at the moment of my death, and for all eternity:

In a manner strange
A thousand flights I passed in only one,
For in the hope of heaven
You get only what you hope for,
I hoped only for this catch
And my hoping was not in vain
For I climbed the ever ascending way
And thus gave chase to my Prey.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Read This

A good short post over at the Meam Commemorationem blog on Newman and the role of liturgy in the Church. See, I'm not THAT crazy, others think sort of like me.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

They Have Uncrowned Him - Marcel Lefebvre

Part V- You Can't Go Home Again

Last Friday, I made a pilgrimage of sorts to the place where this full-circle journey began: St. Margaret Mary's Catholic Church in Oakland. This is of course home to the local Indult Mass of the Roman Catholic diocese, and since I attended Mass there seven years ago now, they have since obtained a priest of the Institute of Christ the King to not only say the traditional Latin Mass for them every Sunday, but everyday as well. Things are looking up for them. But for me, too much has happened since then.

I felt very little nostalgia watching this German priest bark out his Latin responses while his confused altar servers meekly answered back. This was my dream, my only real joy as a disgruntled man of twenty trying to discern what the heck I was doing in the Bay Area at that time. Now all I could do in that church was admire the architecture, the stain glass windows, the saints' statues with rosy colored cheeks. I am a foreigner there now. Perhaps I am a foreigner everywhere.....

I should back up and say what happened precisely during that time. When we last left this series, I was a revolutionary socialist activist in my late teens. To make a long story short, I had a falling out with my comrades due to their increasingly cultish motivations to control my life. I finally broke with them after my first year of college here at Berkeley, though I still remained a Marxist and an atheist. I then plunged myself into study of Marxist theory and history, trying to figure out where I could go from there in order to advance the cause of human liberation.

In the meantime, my life became increasingly petit-bourgeois and self-absorbed, if not to say lonely. I focused on my classes and work, I read and bought classical music CD's . In a word, I enjoyed being an introverted but comfortable student. The problem is, I felt an increasing absence in my heart. Later I would identify it as the call of grace.

Fissures began to emerge once I started to read about the work of Raya Dunayevskaya, a Marxist theorist. She researched much into the continuing influences of Hegelian idealism in Marxist theory. I remember one author cited Lenin's notebook when he was reading the Hegel's Science of Logic in the aftermath of the defeat of the revolution of 1905. In this notebook, Lenin inverts the classical hierarchy in Marxism in which matter determines the Idea. For Lenin, at least at this instant, it is the Idea itself that drives matter. Does that mean that the Idea is completely transcendent, above matter, driving it to its chosen end without reference to the material conditions of class struggle? If so, where does the Idea come from?

Of course, this is all very vague now, but the bottom line for me was that history was then free from the exigent task master of matter. Why then the blood, guts and violence? Purpose is not handed to us on a silver platter by the rules of class struggle. So what is the purpose, then?

These could be considered secondary causes for my abandoning Marxism, but such was my mindset at the time. I began going back to church little by little, at the indult Mass in this church in Oakland. The beauty of the liturgy, the atmosphere of holiness, and the music drove me to the Mass like a moth to the flame, but it was not enough to convince me out of my militant atheistic convictions. I was torn, though. I was an atheist who wanted to believe, but knew at that moment the intellectual price was too high. I had left the Catholic Church thinking it was an intellectually weak and shallow institution. It did not provide me with any consistent world view on why the world is the way it is.

I remember shouting at God in my heart in that church, daring Him to show me a ray of light if He did exist. I even remember once prostrating myself in front of a statue of the Virgin so that she would get me out of the abyss into which I had fallen. I felt adrift, abandoned, and utterly worthless in life. I was a good student, hard-working and bright, but where was it all leading? I launched out into the deep and I found something. Or rather, someone.

I do not remember how precisely I first heard of the Society of St. Pius X or Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. The Internet would be the short answer to the question. All I know is that at some point in the spring of 1999, I ordered the book, They Have Uncrowned Him by the excommunicated French archbishop from the Society of St. Pius X's (SSPX) publishing arm, Angelus Press. In it I found a very consistent, militant, if highly reactionary vision of history. Finally, someone from the Catholic tradition gave me a powerful, take-no-prisoners critique of the modern world, and I was asked to take it or leave it and not dialogue with it. It was just what I was looking for. The most potent part of the book for me is when he quotes St. Augustine in saying that the fact that you are free is not important. What is important is whether you wield that freedom for good or evil. So much for the cause of human liberation!

Bottom line, within six months I bought into Lefebvrism totally and unconditionally. Going to the New Mass is a sin, the Conciliar Church is heretical, the Pope is still the Pope but confused, the restoration of the Tridentine Mass will cure all ills, etc. I dropped out of college and moved into a Society retreat center nearby before I went to be a Lefebvrist seminarian in Argentina for two years. I had swapped one totalitarianism for another; from being a Marxist I was now flirting with fascism. Indeed, extremes have more in common than they would like to admit. For me, however, I was finally home. I had found that Catholic Tradition (capital "C", capital "T") that the world was hiding from me and which was the cure for all ills. The rest of this series will examine how all of this came apart.

The day before I came to Berkeley, I went to the Saturday evening vigil Mass in Spanish at the local Roman Catholic church in Hollister. For that young man of twenty who had seen the light, this action would have been tantamount to a mortal sin; it would have been exposing himself to a quasi-heretical service and generalized sacrilege. On that night, though, right during Communion (being officially an Anglican, I only went up for a blessing), the last wall of integrism came tumbling down. Maybe it is the effect that Spanish singing has on me, but when they were playing their instruments and singing their rather secularized hymn, I merely gazed at the picture of the Virgin pictured above and wondered what had happened after all of this time. "None of it matters now," I thought. All these things I had obsesssed about, all of them are irrelavent. These good Catholics were worshipping God as best they could, and God appreciated it. The only problem was that that church was not my home either. Not even the Anglican seminary chapel I go to now feels like home.

Too much has happened, I know. The only thing I can hope for is glimpses of that wonderful day when I will come back into myself and be able to return to my Father's house. We are indeed in via, not in patria. None of us will ever really be home until that day.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Lancelot Andrewes (Again)

I finished recently the biography of Lancelot Andrewes by Paul A. Welsby. It was a very interesting read on various levels, but I will not bore you too much with my thoughts. Here are some thoughts of Andrewes himself:

I know not how, our carriage, of many of us, is so loose; covered we sit, sitting we pray; standing, or walking, or as it takes us in the head, we receive.

Our 'holiness' is grown too familiar and fellow-like, our carriage there can hardly be termed service, there is so little of a servant in it.

One of the fights in Andrewes' generation of course was restoring some dignity to God's house and worship. After the Reformation, the English Church seemed to be beset with the same utilitarianism and naturalistic impulses that plaugue us now. It never quite recovered from it, but Puritanism, at least to this rather superficial observer of things, rather than just wanting to shed the world of idolatry, wanted to do so in order to plunder the Church, set up an easier form of religious praxis, and make the world a totally secular place. The parallel to what is happening today is to me obvious: the "liberals" have the moral high ground of wanting to get rid of the snobbish and anachronistic "smells and bells", but why are they doing it, really?

Andrewes, as Welsby is quick to point out, was not free of fault. Apparently he was not a very effective man of action, nor did he act consistently on his principles. He seems to have had a rather exaggerated concept of the role of the king in the Church, i.e. he almost thought the king to be the Pope's replacement in the reformed Church. Of course, this is not the case. All I will say in Andrewes' defense is that it is very difficult to pray when someone is trying to steal your stereo. We postmoderns take the security of power for granted. We expect the powers that be to protect us, to treat us fairly, and respect our "rights". Far from us is the time when life was nasty, brutish and short; when a despot had absolute, willy-nilly power of life and death over his subjects. We then are stupified by the sycophantic tendencies of the Universal Church toward monarchs throughout the ages, whether they existed in Rome, Byzantium, or Canterbury. We like to exult the examples of the times when Christian Truth spoke up to Power, sweeping under the rug the ordinary times in the Church when this was simply not the case. When the life of the Christian, the life of the State, and the life of the institutional Church were all synchronous, you better believed that people fervently prayed for the monarch. We simply no longer understand this.

I will end on a less polemical note, from one of Andrewes' sermons:

He sits now at ease That before hung in pain. Now on a throne, That before on the Cross. Now at God's right hand, That before was on Satan's left, That before Men may drowsily hear it and coldly affect it, but principalities stand abashed at it.

Deliver them He could not except He destroyed "death, and the lord of death, the devil." Them He could not destroy unless He died; die he could not except He were mortal; mortal He could not except He took our nature on Him.

Here is joy, joy at a sight, at the sight of a day, and that day Christ's.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Monasticism and the Church

There is a must-see post over at the Scrivener blogspot. Although I am not a big Schmemann fan, I agree with this excerpt from his journal a 100%. Scroll down to the bottom to see my own bitter rant about monasticism. I have wanted to get that off of my chest for a while now!

"When La Monte Young Says 'Take It From the Top', He Means Last Tuesday"

This joke that a music critic once made in a review of Young's music most easily applies to his magnum opus, the Well-Tuned Piano. In its longest performance, its takes six consecutive hours to perform, so it is probably the longest piano solo in the history of music. (Young is the only one who has played it so far.) He actually said in an interview that he doesn't even bother getting out of bed the day after its performance.

What is so special about this piece, then? Two words: just intonation. Young takes the most Western of instruments and retunes it according to Eastern and ancient scales. (Go here is you want the nuts and bolts of it.) The affect is beautiful and other-worldly, both familiar and utterly strange at the same time. The shift between meditative chords, the sonic assaults, and purity of sound makes this by far a masterpiece of human creativity. It is taking something that all are familiar with and transforming it into something even more beautiful.

Don't try and find it anywhere though. The CD recording issued in 1992 was five discs and can fetch up to $900! The one disc DVD sells on Young's website now for over $200. The only way I can listen to it is because the music library here at Berkeley has a copy. But if you do find it, it is well worth listening to.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Some Anglican Difficulties

"The Church of England of twenty-five years ago is one that [Lancelot] Andrewes would have recognized and (generally) approved of; the present one is neither.... Andrewes would have deplored the loss of episcopal authority, of respect for tradition, of belief in basic doctrine; but most of all he might have deplored what perhaps lies at the root of all of these failures, the abandonment of a specifically religious language. The language of God has to be different; and once people cannot talk about God properly, they cannot talk about God at all."

-P.E. Hewison, in his introduction to Lancelot Andrewes, Selected Writings. (p. xv)

This is a veritable gem in explaining much of the malaise of modern Christianity, but it also opens a Pandora's box for me in many respects. I have addressed this topic before here . Since then, a friend of mine said to me that the concept of Biblical and sacred language cannot be reduced to a rationalistic transmission of data, but that the Word of God is efficacious is an almost sacramental sense; i.e. It has the power to enact and realize what It (or He) says. The old concept of translation, from the Septuagint and the Vulgate to the Authorized Version still had this in mind. Do contemporary translators, liturgists, and theologians share this reverence, or are they too busy editorializing against certain traditional concepts that they find distasteful? You be the judge.

The other find I discovered in my perusing of the Main Stacks of the U.C. Berkeley library was a copy of Ritual Notes written c. 1963. (Don't worry, classes haven't started yet, so I am free to goof-off this week.) The interesting thing about this copy was how it was looking anxiously at the liturgical proceedings of the Roman Catholic Church around the time of the Second Vatican Council. While I realize that those who want a more elaborate Anglican liturgy other than the straight Prayer Book have to look to Rome for many things, the ethos in which the author was writing seems to have been that of shadowing the Roman Church almost to the letter. He even tips his biretta to the much overused and vague concept of "active participation" by the faithful; a term that I have also critiqued severely in the past on this blog.

The crux of the problem is the following: Roma locuta est, causa finita? In other words, does our liturgical practice have to slavishly follow the dictates and programm of Vatican congregations? Is it absurd to still be using subdeacons, eastward facing altars, altar cards and other blasts from the past when the very people we were aping have long ceased to use them? Does this seem a bit ridiculous to anyone else? Perhaps the people who use the 1979 Prayer Book are right on the money on this one.

The answer I would give is that we must find a more substantial reason for these practices than mere obedience to the Roman way as a liturgical standard for the Universal Church. Do Roman chausables, tunicles, lace albs, and Baroque statues mean anything, really? Do they have something to do with the core of our Faith? I don't think there are easy answers to these questions. I tried to address these issues in my posts on the Neoplatonic philosopher Iamblichus starting here . To say that they do makes us seems like Russian Old Believers, who in spite of being maligned for being martyred for supposed trifles, had a point on a very profound level. On the other hand, is not Hooker's Anglicanism a belief that such issues are not important? So where is the way out?

Any takers?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Leon Trotsky- The History of the Russian Revolution

Part IV- Things Are Not As Simple As They Seem

Detroit, December 1996- We had just finished the yearly meeting of the Party where both locals got together to discuss the work that was being done, usually union or campus work. We had ended by singing the Internationale, so everyone was a bit riled up:

Arise, you prisoners of starvation!
Arise, you wretched of the earth!
For justice thunders condemnation:
A better world's in birth!
No more tradition's chains shall bind us,
Arise you slaves, no more in thrall!
The earth shall rise on new foundations:
We have been nought, we shall be all!

'Tis the final conflict,
Let each stand in his place.
The international working class
Shall be the human race
'Tis the final conflict,
Let each stand in his place.
The international working class
Shall be the human race.

So you can see, it was time to do some agitating.

This was at the height of the Detroit newspaper strike, and our comrades already had a reputation as leftists agitators. We all piled in cars and went down to one of their picket lines. We parked close and got out of the cars. There were about forty of us, and we all began walking towards the striking workers as one clump of angry Trotskyists. All we wanted to do, of course, was talk. We wanted to tell the workers that they had to move to the left of the union bureaucratic leadership that was selling them out and letting the "scabs" go through and take their jobs.

When this picket of about a hundred workers saw us coming, however, they were taken off guard. The union leadership decided to have some of them form a human barricade with a banner in order to stop us from mixing with the crowd. We stopped at the barricade, and decided just to plead our case with the workers holding the banner. It was a cold sunny day in Detroit, and just another episode in my young life as a student Trotskyist activist. This scene was repeated dozens of times over the course of three and a half years. Part prophet, part pariah, part poet, part showman, people would often listen to you reluctantly or even sympathetically. Some knew who you really were, some didn't. There were always suprises, though. Such is the dynamic of the class struggle.

Trotskyism, since its foundation in the late 1920's, has had a checkered history. Many, like myself, just became petit-bourgeois reactionary intellectuals after a youthful stint on the picket lines. Many have become impotent commentators on world events who are thankful everyday that they don't have to soil their principles by actually participating in class struggle. They are a small group, divided amongst themselves, a losing cause within a losing cause at least to the eyes of outsiders.

Such a movement does not do justice to the man for which it is named. Leon Trotsky was probably the most underestimated mind of the 20th century. Not only was he an expert agitator and orator, he was a literary giant in modern prose, art critic, historical theorist, and military general. (He basically conjured up an army up from scratch and defeated attacks from within and from without Soviet Russia during its fledgling years.) If the movement he started is a cultish joke, his gravitas is the only thing that gives it an inkling of credibility. No one book personifies Trotsky more than his History of the Russian Revolution. This is the book in which Trotsky combines all of these qualities into a massive tome of historical and literary genius.

What I learned from Trotsky can be summarized in four categories:

1. Audacity: The main problem with the Marxists who came after Marx is that they were waiting for the revolution to happen. Lenin and Trotsky realized that you have to make it happen. And for that, you need audacity, and lots of it:

De l'audace, toujours de l'audace, encore de l'audace.

That's not just revolutions. That's just life. We can never be so encaged in supposed determinisms that we can say that something is not possible. Make it possible.

2. Combined and uneven development: This is the key to Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution. In classic Marxist theory, history has to go through one stage before it can advance to the next stage. So in order to proceed to socialism, a society has to go through capitalism first. This was a problem in nineteenth century Russia, that was still primarily feudal. The revolutionaries there had to ask whether they were pushing for capitalism and bourgeois rule, or something else. Trotsky responded by saying that history is not that neat: sometimes stages are accelerated or even lept over. This is why for Trotsky the Russian Revolution was primarily a proletarian revolution that was supported by the peasantry, even if the workers constituted a small part of the population. Instead of bowing to the traditional theory of revolution, Trotsky examined the actual conditions of his situation and theorized from there.

This of course is a product of a classically formed mind that does not just look in books for answers, but takes first the reality of the situation and the goal desired and works from there. This system excludes all sloganeering and opportunism and gets to the brass tacks of what needs to get done. And that's why the Bolsheviks won the day in 1917.

3. A Bad Institution Is Not All Bad: The last phase of Trotsky's life was spent fighting Stalinism in the midst of a world that would not listen to him. Trotsky saw the reins of power taken away from him and his own exile from the Soviet Republic. But he did not give in to his rhetorical passions and say that the Soviet Union was evil. Even if he was considered its Number One enemy, Trotsky still regarded the Soviet Union as the key to the fight for human liberation. True, he did want to overthrow Stalin in a political revolution that restored workers' democracy, but he saw the cause he was passionate about (the freedom of all mankind) above his own personal failures and losses.

If only many Christians would show such impartiality in how they think.

4. Committed Art Does Not Have to Be a Slave to the "Cause": Trotsky as an art critic was a far cry from the Stalinist censors who proceeded him. For Trotsky, human progress meant artistic progress, and unlike the very "let's get down to business" Lenin, he spent much of his time reading French novels and keeping up with developments in the literary world. It was during his tenure that such avant-garde Soviet posters as the one shown above flourished, and he took an active interest in the creation of the Russian cinema and education. Unlike many totalitarians of the left and right, Trotsky did not see human nature and creativity as enemies to be feared, and revolutionary and committed art did not have to dumb itself down in order to remain committed.

Growing up in a predominantly Mexican-American community, I suffered through all of the poor excuses for literature that the New Left "Chicano" movement produced. Although these works were supposed to represent the struggles of "my people", all they were for me were examples of ersatz Bertolt Brecht in fifth grade prose. ("Spanglish" should only be spoken by your confused Mexican mother when she is calling you for dinner and can't remember where she put the comal in order to warm up the tortillas.) Coming from poverty and "oppression", all I really wanted in terms of art was what people of means had: access to literature, classical music, and culture in general. Does that make me a sell-out, a Eurocentric self-hating person of color, or a "coconut" (brown on the outside, white on the inside)? No, no more than if I wanted to exchange my "barrio-fabulous" life for a home in the suburbs, or my Ford Pinto for a Lexus. I would argue that the former is more valuable than the latter. When I had a little bit of money, I got culture first, since it was something to be more coveted. Being committed or even left wing does not mean settling for the lowest common denominator, it means giving access to our collective cultural legacy to all people. That's what Trotsky wanted to do.

Because of these valuable lessons, I will always be an "agent-provocateur Trot" on some level. People go through their lives thinking in slogans, respecting institutions that need to be questioned, and settling for things becaused they are too scared to fight for something better. Thanks to my good Jewish friend from Ukraine who became a major figure in history, I have learned that pushing the envelope is something that is very necessary much of the time, and you can have lots of fun doing it too.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Welcome to Berkeley!

This blog now has a new home. This makes all the difference in the world. These go from being the thoughts of a bohemian with a dead-end job to a student aspiring to middle-class comfort. So the tone will definitely change, since the setting is no longer the peaceful valleys of central California, but rather the hustle and bustle of the Bay Area.

I think I will still have time for this blog. If anything, I will probably have more time for it. Concert and art reviews will probably increase, as will theological posts (I now have a gigantic library at my fingertips.) Nothing too new now, though. Just getting used to the idea of starting over nine years after I first entered as a student here. Many things have changed, many stay the same. Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

It's Not Getting Up the Mountain that's the Problem....

It's How to Get Back Down
(An Homage - A Farewell)

As the reader of this blog may well know by now, I am very given to overly sentimental and symbolic actions. In order to anticipate my last few days here in Hollister before I leave for Berkeley tomorrow to go back to school, I climbed the most significant peak here in the Hollister area: Fremont Peak. As usual, I basically ran up it, trying to experience once again that cathartic rush of getting back on top again. I ran on steep paths, climbed over craggy rocks, and dodged the junk careless hikers left as a commemoration of their having been there. Finally, I reached the top and sat on the plaque that commemorates John Fremont's planting of the American flag there for the first time in the 1840's. I looked down at the various valleys below: Hollister to the east, the Salinas Valley to the south, San Juan Valley to the north, and in the distance Watsonville, Santa Cruz, and the Pacific Ocean still covered in a layer of fog. I said a prayer and reflected on how I have changed even in the past seven months since I left the monastery. But I had things to do that day, so I had to leave the mountain top. I looked down and had a moment of vertigo. How the heck was I supposed to climb down there without falling on my fat behind? Then I realized that of the few such adventures I had had, it has always been the descent that has been the tricky part.....

To tell the whole truth, this period between leaving the monastery back at the end of January and now has been a very enchanted time in my life. I have really had to struggle to even get my identity back, to earn a living and even just to have fun again. My family, as always, has helped me out a lot, and I give thanks to God every day for them. The most ironic thing is that this has been the least cosmopolitan time in my life. Save for a few trips here and there, I have made my life here in this small town, without having to chase ecclesial and ideological utopias. For the first time since I was sixteen, when I first began my quest to save the world from tyrannical capitalism, I have pretty much stayed put and made my life here nestled between the mountains that surround my hometown. I work within the area, visit the local library, work out at the gym, and go to church just down the street from my house. Everything was here, in my reach. But now it is coming to an end.

For those of you who were not raised in a small town, life here is so different and peaceful than it is elsewhere. Indeed, I have met people here who are my age and never left, and I almost envy them in many ways. The pace of their life is so serene, their dreams so modestly achievable, their attitudes so bright that this weary traveler sometimes wonders why such an exciting life had to happen to me. Even the one love interest I have had (uncorresponded, of course) I think might just be a symbol of that peaceful moment in this valley just before sundown, when the fields serve as a mirror of the last light, and the hills fade into purple silhouettes, greeting the people coming back home after a long day's work far away.

I have indeed climbed many mountains. I have been to other continents. I have dressed in an eccentric medieval manner . I have even changed my name and mutilated my identity. Each one of these was an ascent, a new height, a desperate attempt to knock on heaven's gate just one more time. The doors didn't open, and in a frantic turn of the head, I looked down and saw that I was on the edge of a precipice. And the dismount was always much harder. By far.

That is what this time in my life has been: just trying to get back down from shattered, lofty dreams. And this peaceful town, Hollister, where I grew up, where my dreams always will be no matter how far I go astray, has been a place of healing for my soul. I have had to climb down, back into the heart of Arturo Vasquez, just a simple man trying to work out his salvation in fear and trembling. Something tells me, however, that I have yet to climb my last mountain....

I planned my descent very carefully. I first started going to one side of the mountain (the one I climbed up) but then I realized that the other side, though steep, was much shorter. I sat down and tried to get good footing. I was kicking all the rocks below me to see if they could hold the weight. I didn't want to slide or lose control of my descent. I was alone and no one would see me if I got hurt. It was a pity no one was there, they missed a good laugh as I slid down that steep slope. I would just stand at some points for an entire minute to see what angle was best to go down, what footing I should use, whether the rocks were too slippery, etc. After some time, I made it down the steepest part, and the rest of the trail was smooth and downhill.

I approached a grove of trees in the camping area. I looked up and had one of "my moments". I can describe it not as prayer, nor as contemplation. Just silence, and the feeling of an absent Presence. I saw the green leaves shining in the late morning sun, and I realized how beautiful everything is. It has all been very beautiful. If I have a goal in life, it is to share in some way that beauty with others. Indeed, this blog could easily be subtitled: "Looking for a Guide to Lead a Beautiful Life." Life is short, eternity is long. So let's get on with it.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


Thinking Aloud About Faith, Culture and Art

Thus the Angel in heaven

And the human race on earth,

The devil in Hell

All to this Bread bow,

Down below, in the heights

And on the humble ground in unison

Is heard the sweet sound of voices

That praise in accord and harmony.

Thus ends Calderon de la Barca's play, the Great Theatre of the World. For those neophytes in the history of Spanish Baroque literature, this play is one of the autosacramentales, which are grand dramatic allegories that teach the truths of the Faith to the masses. In this one, Calderon returns to one of his favorite themes: life is pure fiction when compared to the destiny God has prepared for us. All of our glories and sufferings are roles given to us, not who we are in ourselves. This is seen in the recurring slogan of the play, "Obrar bien, pues Dios es Dios." (Do well, for God is God.) In other words, you can't take it with you, and how you will live in the next eternal life is determined by how you play your transitory role in this one.

Like all Spanish Catholic productions of this time, there was a message that hammered home a tenet of the Counterreformation. In this case, as you might be able to devise from the name, the autosacramental always tried in some form to stress the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. In this sense, they were theological propaganda tools, but in this case written in the most elegant verse of the greatest poets of the time. Even if we may not believe in their message, the high art shown in these works of piety is a testament to man's creativity and the aesthetic fertility of the Incarnational religion of Jesus Christ.

What about now, though? What do we have to show for all of our scholarship, expertise, and organization? Guitar masses? Ennegrams? The Left Behind series? It sounds very smug and almost principled to say that we have moved beyond the smells and bells, that we are more in touch with the "pure Gospel", whatever that may mean. We have so many resources, yet we are almost impotent in creating something beautiful for God. Do we have any excuses? Are we too busy praying, feeding the poor and reading the Word of God? Highly unlikely!

Many people, especially Roman Catholics but not just them, will pull up into the parking lot of the church on Sunday morning in a Hummer wearing flip-flops, shorts, and a tee-shirt, even though their means could provide for much nicer clothes. "Why should they dress up," many will ask, "aren't they going to the Father's house?" It's just like love though. If I were courting a young woman, I would always dress nice around her, bring her pretty flowers, and write her poetry. If I were to be as casual around her as many are "casual" around Almighty God, I will only get her disdain.

Sorry folks, God is not a chump. Spiritual life plays by the same rules as life here below. The more attention, the more anticipation, the more "class" we put into something, the more it shows how much we care about God. Besides, its not as if with all of our time-saving gadgets and computers we don't have the time and the money to do it. There is no excuse for building churches that look like parking lots, for using hymns that sound like second rate lite-pop songs, and for subjecting the Angels to the banality of a supermarket check-out stand in our houses of worship. We have enough luxury in our over-pampered society to make our religion something that uses the greatest creative voices of our time to make something beautiful for God. We just have to start caring again. And that is a matter of Faith. Simply put.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Some Advice

A carpenter doesn't come to you and say, "Listen to me discourse on the art of carpentry"; but he draws up a contract to build a house, builds it, and thereby shows that he posseses the carpenter's art. Do as he does: eat like a human being, drink like a human being, get spruced up, get married, have children, lead a life of a citizen, learn how to put up with insults, tolerate an unreasonable brother, father, son, neighbor, or traveling companion. Show us these things, so that we can see if you have really learned anything from the philosophers.


In other words, folks, life is its own reward, so live!

Monday, August 14, 2006

CD Recommendation of the Week

Sebastien Le Camus: Airs de cour

A delightful and affordable recording of French baroque music.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Karl Marx- The German Ideology

Part III: A Very Classical Formation

What Marxism most gave me was not a revolutionary or defiant tendency in my world-view. What is gave me was discipline in thought, action, and sentiment. Compared to most "liberal" paradigms floating around in academic circles, Marxism is a dinosaur. Marxism believes in the universality of truth, cold analysis of events, and is committed to the conviction that ideas do have consequences:

Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.

-Marx, the Eighth Thesis on Feurbach

This is what I most needed at the tender age of sixteen. My brother (an avid reader of this blog) had just gone off to Berkeley, and like a cliche playing itself out again, he was radicalized when he met a group of Trotskyists masquerading as civil rights activists. (Leftists like front groups because it makes them look less scary.) Being the younger brother, then, it was natural that I took interest in what he was doing, and I quickly began absorbing Marxist literature. I was at the time reading a lot of postmodern theorists: Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze, etc. My Catholic Faith, while strong in some ways, was becoming weaker and weaker. There was a profound disconnect between what I read, how I believed, how I thought, and how I lived my life. Postmodernism was just a lot of intellectual goofing-off, and it was then that I began to believe that the Roman Catholic Church really had no idea what it really believed in. It was a middle-class, feel-good joke, at least how I experienced it. So it took very little time for me to jettison it all together once I had found something more viable to believe in. I became an atheistic Marxist at the age of sixteen, and for the next three and a half years my life was committed to trying to foment socialist revolution, no matter how absurd that goal really seemed. The first thing I read, coming out of studying philosophy, was Marx's early work, The German Ideology, and I didn't look back from there.

What did Marxism offer? A way to approach the world in all of its aspects. From how to stir up a crowd to fight the police to how to appreciate a work of art, Marxism is a total package as an ideology. At each step it asks: are you committed or not? At each moment you are thinking on how your actions can further the advancement of the liberation of mankind from the eternal enemy of necessity. Even events that might seem cruel and tragic take on a meaning almost equivalent of Divine Providence: Marx said that slavery was necessary in some epochs of humanity. It is only the spread of universal commodity production (capitalism) that has provided the means for human liberation through revolution. Only now can society function where it takes "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need."

Here I pause to notice a trend that will foreshadow a lot of authors in this series. On the one hand, there are the dreamers that have inspired me: Sartre, Plotinus, the Greek Fathers of the Church, many Orthodox theologians, St. John of the Cross, and the various poets I read. On the other, there are the "realists": M.D. Chenu, Georges Florovsky, Iamblichus, monastic spirituality, and above all, Marxists. The former teach us to look to the sky and imagine, the latter force us to keep our feet on the ground and deal with the problems here below. Marx taught me that life is brutal, but there is beauty in that brutality. We live in a fallen world that plays by fallen rules; you can't play by the game-plan of an ethereal heaven when here on earth, man is a wolf to his fellow man, as the Romans used to say. Marx, though he was uncouth, irresponsible, and all around a real bastard personally, really did care about the fate of humanity. He really did care about those people who were dying of exhaustion in the factories; if he didn't he wouldn't have lived the life he led. He was godless, though, and this meant heaven was closed in terms of a solution to all of it. So brutality had to be met with brutality; force with force, and blood with blood. Could you imagine agnostic political pundits being so honest today about these things?

Logic has to exact its price, even if it has to step on the thrones of kingdoms. Think, act and do not count the cost. This is not the drivel we are fed nowadays.

There is poetry in all of it, though. Marx was a poet, and a very good one since he did not have to write a single poem in his mature life. Observe these lines:

Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce...... Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language.

This is how Marx begins the 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon. And who can forget the Promethean hymn that ends the first volume of Capital: the expropriators will be expropriated? There was an aesthetic in all of this, make no mistake about it. Again no one was going to tell me how I should think, act, or live my life. Being a poor kid from the barrio, I was not willing to give capitalist society the benefit of the doubt. I agitated, wrote flyers with the help of my Trostkyist party (yes, I was a full-blown comrade once) and nearly got expelled from school for my efforts. And what I had most was a purpose, a romantic purpose, for why I got up every morning. That is what I needed at that young age, and that drive has been with me ever since.

While I still foment leftists tendencies, I have found, to use what has become a shibboleth on this blog, that life is not that simple. The lofty vision of humanity that Marx had includes God and does not exclude Him. Did not St. Ireneaus write: the glory of God is a man fully alive? Why then do we need to exclude the Archetype when explaining the Image and Likeness? Also, to be completely petit-bourgeois, I have found that, echoing Pierre Hadot, political action is useless without personal transformation. Is our postmodern consumerist society even capable now of producing a Marx, Lenin or Trotsky: people so selfless that they will risk their lives and the lives of others for a conviction, without the comfort of an eternal God? The true Marxist will respond that it is only a matter of time that the material and subjective conditions for revolution will produce minds to lead the class struggle. I remain skeptical, and very skeptical. Besides, the only banner I fly now is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Only this red banner, soaked in His blood, can save the world from the tyranny of death.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Nature Speaks

Were one to ask Nature why it produces, it might- if willing- thus reply: "You should never have put the question. Silently, as I am silent and little given to talk, you should have tried to understand. Understand what? That what comes to be is the object of my silent contemplation- its natural object. I am myself born of contemplation; mine is a contemplative nature. The contemplative in me produces the object contemplated much as geometricians draw their figures while contemplating..... Within me I preserve traces and principles of my source and of the principles that brought me into being. They too were born of contemplation and without action on their own part gave me birth. But they are greater than I: they contemplated themselves and thus I was born."


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

When My Personal Life Invades My Blog

Negative Love
by John Donne

I NEVER stoop'd so low, as they
Which on an eye, cheek, lip, can prey ;
Seldom to them which soar no higher
Than virtue, or the mind to admire.
For sense and understanding may
Know what gives fuel to their fire ;
My love, though silly, is more brave ;
For may I miss, whene'er I crave,
If I know yet what I would have.

If that be simply perfectest,
Which can by no way be express'd
But negatives, my love is so.
To all, which all love, I say no.
If any who deciphers best,
What we know not—ourselves—can know,
Let him teach me that nothing. This
As yet my ease and comfort is,
Though I speed not, I cannot miss.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Against Internet Religion

An "Inside" Post

(This post is intended for one particular individual who may or may not be reading this blog. He will know who he is when he reads it. So sort of like an inside joke, there will be many things that I say that only he will get. The rest of you are more than welcome to read it as well, and hopefully you too will get something out of it.)

There are some individuals whose only real contact with Christianity comes through the means of a blinking screen. This is often not their fault. Our society is one of complete licentiousness, broken homes, and fractured discourse. How many people have I known that were raised with no religion at all, and when they go on-line, they get interested in the Christian Faith just as others might get interested in role-playing games, pop music artists, or pornography. What else is to be expected? They weren't raised in a religious household and in a religious culture, where you were dragged to church Sunday after Sunday, and sent to religion classes at your parish whether you liked it or not. Neither was their life defined by the rhythms of the Church. The cycles of birth and death in my Catholic family were always marked by going to Mass. Not everyone has had that experience. And hence Faith becomes just another hobby.

Some have gone even farther, and actually begun practicing the Faith with much fervor. They have gotten involved in wacky sects, ancient extreme practices, and have given their heart to people who probably didn't deserve it or at least did not know what to do with it. After that, they feel "burnt" by Christianity, and feel that even if they are still interested in it, the best way to associate with it is behind a keyboard.

The Internet has been both a blessing and a curse in my own walk of Faith. I found Roman Catholic traditionalism through the Internet as an atheistic student at Berkeley. The next thing I knew I was a seminarian for the Society of St. Pius X in South America. I also was sustained in my whole Byzantine Catholic phase by the Internet, and I got to know people who were just as delusional and unrealistic as I was, and share my thoughts about the Uncreated Light, spiritual fatherhood, and a whole lot of other ideas I no longer believe in. I have found support in my newly-found Anglicanism, but now I just don't have the time to stare at a screen for hours and hours. I am learning slowly to let go of Internet religion.

Religion is all about routine and obligation. Yes, you should ideally have flights into the seventh heaven while contemplating God's love, but that is not going to happen very often and when it does you will regret the aftermath when you find you are still a very sinful human being. You get up Sunday morning and you go to church. That is the least you can do. No matter how boring, how painful, how unappetizing that concept may be, you have to do it. There is no other way. Often we feel ashamed before the Lord, we feel that we have to be purer in order to stand in His presence. That day will never come unless you go before Him face to Face. You may feel burnt out spiritually, unwilling to commit, unwilling to have your feelings hurt again. But this is ultimately not about you and other human beings, its about you and Jesus. And Jesus is waiting for you.

So don't just stand in the back of the church and wonder if you should go in. "I will arise and go to my Father's house." If the Prodigal Son only had the intention of going to his Father's doorstep, he would never have been greeted so lovingly while was still on the road to his Father's House. You have to go in, find yourself a pew, and begin to talk to God. It will be painful; trust me, I have been there. But you have no choice. One day you will have to do this.

I apologize very much if I gave you a cold reception. Maybe I came to church that day needing as much healing as you did, so I just fell to my knees and ignored you. It is cold actions like this that give us Christians a bad name. I should have been more hospitable. You don't have to come back there in particular. Just go somewhere where Christ is worshipped and loved, and you will find that you will begin to heal, slowly but surely.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Jean-Paul Sartre's Being and Nothingness

Part II of X:
On the Buena Vista Social Club, Ethnicity, and the Creation of the Self

Recently I was in my friend's car when he played for me the first Buena Vista Social Club recording. Normally, I do not like Caribbean Spanish music (salsa, meregue, etc.) but this stuff struck a chord with me. I recognized instantly that it had soul; something I find missing in a lot of music from the hotter climates of Latin America. I then went out and bought the recording, and have been playing it fairly regularly ever since.

One thing that you the reader have to realize is that one of the things that has formed this writer more than anything else is my ethnic identity, and even this is highly problematic. The above mentioned recording would be deemed "Latin" or "Latino" music, but this is largely a construct of census takers, opportunist academics and marketers. A person of Mexican descent is not the same as a person of Cuban descent. The language is similar, but they abide in very different emotional and psychological temperaments. The "Latino" in popular culture, though, is very homogenized: passionate, dark, and over-sexed. I can tell you now that I am very few of those things!

Where I grew up, there were no "Latinos", only "Mexicans" (whether you were born there or not). This I would classify as the "rural barrio" of the central coast of California, to distinguish it from the urban barrio of say, east Los Angeles. Here, multiple generations of the Mexican diaspora live together and overlap: my mother is first generation straight from northern Mexico, my father is fourth generation from southern Texas (virtually northern Mexico). I was raised in a church-going, ultra-conservative extended family on my mother's side: any drinking of alcohol is not allowed at family get-togethers, and you will never hear in our houses even the first syllable of one of the many curse words that inhabit the speech of most Mexican tongues. (Though I know them all by heart, you can rest assured!) I call my family the world's only example of Mexican Puritans; a rather odd spectacle to say the least.

Thus, strong clan-like tendencies formed my first sense of the self. Along with this, however, was the strong concept of "deber": duty. My mother's family came to this country as field-workers, and I am the first generation of those who did not have to work in the fields.(my mother and my father both had to as small children). We were expected to rise to the highest rank in the barrio hierarchy: those who leave for a better life. If I can get a little "red" here, those who grow up in poor Mexican-American neighborhoods are expected to fall into one of three categories:

1. Lumpen-proletariat: the gangsters or cholos who end up in prison or are trying their hardest to get there.

2. Proletariat: those who work the dead-end jobs or even some more decent jobs but stay in the barrio.

3. Petit-bourgeoisie: those who get good paying jobs, leave the barrio and usually end up marrying white people, or at least people of their own social stature, thus drying up that stream of the diaspora and becoming part of the great American melting pot.

Of course, these are generalizations, but they are accurate ones. And I was slated for number 3, and to go very high in number 3. However, little Arturito was not just smart, he was really, really different. I mean REALLY. A bookwarm, constantly in the library, and very reclusive, he did not seek to read to get better grades. He read for fun at a very young age. He began seriously reading philosophy in middle school, and one author, one prophet of self-assertion overshadowed the formative years of this youth who was surrounded by cultural conditions that would determine for him who he needed to become. That prophet, of course, was none other than Jean-Paul Sartre, the godfather of existentialism.

His master work, Being and Nothingness, took me six months to read, and it was the most pleasant agony of my life. I was fourteen and had spending money due to the fact that I had my first real summer job (my family took the children out to cut apricots since we were five, but that was more to keep us out of trouble). I saw a biography of Sartre in the library and was fascinated by the whole ethos that he portrayed. Since I found Descartes and Aquinas very boring (indeed, I don't think I understood them fully), I jumped at this thick, convoluted paperback volume and tore it to shreds trying to figure out what negation, consciousness, and freedom really were. The result of this rather strange task has formed my life ever since.

I don't remember a lot about Sartrian existentialism, but one thing that is very potent is his concept of the self. For Sartre, most of us live in "bad faith", i.e. we think we are something that we are really not. The self in Sartre's tome is a constantly roving ghost trying to catch its own shadow. Consciousness is always consciousness of something, and if you are conscious of that thing, you are NOT it. Thus, when a person says, "I am a waiter," for Sartre, this person is in a sense lying since he is looking outside of himself and saying: "I am that", when he really isn't. For Sartre, the self is a negation, a constant negation, and this is the ground for the absurdity of human life, but it is also the ground for freedom. Man, as Sartre says, may be a futile passion (since he wants to become God, ens causa sui), but this makes man free to choose his actions in an absurd universe.

Now you know why I am so messed up: a fourteen year old has no reason to read these things. One thing this did give me, though, was a sense that I can choose who I become. It exorcised from me the spirit of "deber" for better or for worse. I dropped out of college so many years ago to pursue a thing that most people don't even know exist: happiness in contemplation. I have resisted all labels even in my Faith. For most people in the Mexican American community, a person of my ethnic pedigree needs to go to one of "our" churches, whether they be Catholic or evangelical Protestant. But a Mexican-American Anglican or Byzantine-rite monk? What an absurdity! Even though I am very grateful for my upbringing, I think I have said to the barrio more than once the words that Sartre puts on the lips of one of his characters in a play he wrote:

I am my freedom. No sooner than you made me that I ceased to be yours.

Rather than reveling in my "Mexicaness" all of the time, I try and take a more Platonic approach. Rather than trying to distinguish myself in postmodern fashion from the rest of "Anglo" society, I try and see universals in all manifestations of human life and culture that I encounter. I try and find those things that bind us all; as a Christian it is something I must do. Yes, as a poor kid from the barrio, it's hard to mix with upper-class Anglicans, Russians, or even with people who grew up on the other side of the tracks. Who I am, however, is not determined by where I come from. It is determined by the fact that I am a free human being, made in the image and likeness of God. And we are all brothers and sisters of the same Father in heaven. That is the legacy that existentialism left with me, and it is one I intend to keep.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

I Met Philip Glass!

A review of the performance I attended

This of course was the world premiere of Frans Lanting's and Philip Glass' Life: A Journey Through Time, premiered last Saturday in Santa Cruz, California. (For the geographically challenged, that is about an hour from Hollister, the real location of this blog.) The multimedia spectacle consisted of moving photographs being projected onto a rather large screen that tell the story of the evolution of life on earth with an orchestra playing live as the soundtrack to the film. It wasn't the best Philip Glass performance I have attended, but it continued to confirm my opinion of Glass as the world's greatest living composer, and probably the greatest composer in a very long time.

The music was "recycled" in a manner of speaking. Glass said in a talk after the premiere that he felt he was listening to his "greatest hits", but these were the greatest hits that no one knew about. Indeed, while some orchestral transformations of these pieces seemed a little over-the-top (notably the transcription for orchestra of the overture of his opera, Les Enfants Terribles), some orchestrations were quite rewarding, notably the last movement of the suite that was originally used for a little-known soundtrack. Glass also said that he felt that this is a new path that his career as a musical collaborator is taking. Though he has worked in stage, film, and many other media, he had yet to work with still photographs. Glass, who considers himself first and foremost as a composer of performance music, thus expressed that this experience is rounding him out as a composer as he pushes toward his seventieth birthday.

I should here defend my position on why I think Glass is such a great musical genius when he is often maligned by musical experts and connoisseurs. I like to think that if you really like a style of music, you can listen to it all day long and not be bored by it. Sure, I love listening to Bach, Mozart, Alban Berg, or Steve Reich, but their music becomes very tiring after a while. Glass' music, with its complex simplicity, its lyricism, and its romanticist insistence in even its most avant-garde form, never bores me and continues to excite me after years and years. Not that I think everything he writes is musical gold. He has, however, written enough masterpieces that his place in the musical pantheon at least for me has been more than sealed.

After the last talk after this performance, I decided to make my move toward the stage where Glass was seated during the talk. Being that no one tackled me nor was I struck by lightening by the music gods, I went up and merely said:

"My Glass, I have always wanted to meet you."

Glass responded, "Well, here we are."

"I have been a fan of your music since I was fourteen. For me, you are one of the greatest composers who ever lived. Your music has really changed my life."

[This is not an exaggeration. His music has formed how I think and approach the world: vibrantly, romantically, and insistently. There have been days that only a musical piece by him has kept me going.]

"Well, thank you," he said in response to my adolescent praise. "He looked around pensively, "We really did something special here tonight."

I said farewell and walked into the cool summer night. I think I literally said to some stranger, "I just met Philip Glass. This is so cool!"