Inspiration

We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring, will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.” TS Elliot


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Moments of inspiration are powerful landmarks on the geography of life.

I write this listening to a song by Loreena McKennitt called Dante’s Prayer.  I still remember when I first heard it over 13 years ago, how the strains of Russian Orthodox chant gently drew me in, then the piano, her voice, the poetry, and I was transfixed.  I played the song again, and again, and again, lying on the living room floor with the lights out, next to the speakers. I’m sure my housemates wondered what was going on.

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So many years later, Dante’s Prayer remains my very favorite song and is never off my playlist.  I was thrilled to hear it performed in concert a few years ago, 1st row seat, and meet her afterwards.  The only thing I could say in my shyness as I shook her hand was, ” Thank you for Dante’s Prayer, it has meant so much to me.”

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Loreena McKennitt writes a travelogue for her CDs–where she was in the world when she wrote a song, and what she was reading.  For Dante’s Prayer, she was riding the Trans-Siberian Railway, reflecting on Dante’s Divine Comedy.  On her travels, she heard the haunting tones of Orthodox worship, incorporating “Alleluia, Behold the Bridegroom,” as bookends for the main tune.

Thirteen years ago, ordering a CD of Russian Orthodox chant at the local music store was a bit unusual (and this was just at the beginning of Amazon), but I persevered.  I also got out my dusty college copy of Dante and read it while I listened.  The wideness and depth of life, literature, history, spirituality, and travel, all things I had already loved, opened before me more deeply.  Art beckoned to be created and I painted a series of canvases on the crucifixion and resurrection for a chapel.  My bedroom had a deep walk-in closet with a little window.  I painted it to look like a forest and created a little anchorhold with candles and fountain and comfy chair, dreaming of distant lands and times. I decoupaged a large old steamer trunk as a “hope chest,” and it has now made a number of cross-country journeys.  And I read…so many books, especially on the mystics and monastics, the Celts and medieval Christianity.  It’s not surprising, looking back, that within three years, I embarked on my own train adventure to study monasticism at a Benedictine monastery.

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Why now? Why does this song newly speak to me? What brings these memories back so clearly now? In Revelation, one of the churches is told, “You have forgotten your first love.”  I know in context it refers to Jesus Christ, but I keep hearing those words with a different twist:  “Susan, you have forgotten your first love: history of other lands and peoples and distant times, prayers of the great communion of saints centuries in the mist, poetry, literature, beautiful words…beautiful lives lived, which will still speak today if given voice. And you have forgotten how I met you in this love.”

Many days I wonder what I did with my 30s and whether theological education was really worth a decade of my life.

If it was just to get a degree, the answer is no, I can think of a number of vocations I’d have preferred.  But I’m not sure they would have been loves.

To spend one’s life and have it transfigured, it must be no less than a love affair. To give one’s life to any journey or any person, and not have it end in disappointment or despair, Love can be the only reason.

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This past month, now that I’m settled, I’ve been trying to (read: playing at) work on my dissertation (cue Yoda saying: “Do or do not, there is no try“).

It simply will not get done without love.

I believe the song and memories of that season so long ago are a landmark reminding me to return to the Love that began the journey.

So today, I say yes, to this life the Love has crafted.

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Dante’s Prayer

by Loreena McKennitt

(listen here)

When the dark wood fell before me
And all the paths were overgrown
When the priests of pride say there is no other way
I tilled the sorrows of stone

I did not believe because I could not see
Though you came to me in the night
When the dawn seemed forever lost
You showed me your love in the light of the stars

Cast your eyes on the ocean
Cast your soul to the sea
When the dark night seems endless
Please remember me

Then the mountain rose before me
By the deep well of desire
From the fountain of forgiveness
Beyond the ice and fire

Cast your eyes on the ocean
Cast your soul to the sea
When the dark night seems endless
Please remember me

Though we share this humble path
alone how fragile is the heart
Oh give these clay feet wings to fly
To touch the face of the stars

Breathe life into this feeble heart
Lift this mortal veil of fear
Take these crumbled hopes, etched with tears
We’ll rise above these earthly cares

Cast your eyes on the ocean
Cast your soul to the sea
When the dark night seems endless
Please remember me
Please remember me

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  • Lisa M Hess

    Marvelous. “Dante’s Prayer” was the song that found it’s way onto my playlist nearly 3 years ago, when I was facing my first “book” challenge–write it, find a publisher, get it published, survive it–and I can’t say how many times I steeped within it. I love your wisdom spoken and unspoken here. May peace and all within it sustain you in your writing!