Over the past four weeks of Advent one of the things that has kept me the most on track with staying spiritually mindful has been the writing of a man whom I have never met.
I found Stephen Hough's blog on the first Sunday of Advent when I googled the phrase "darkness to light," which led me to the first of his four Advent posts.
Four sentences in, I was hooked.
Hough, an internationally acclaimed professional concert pianist, decided to choose a new musical piece each week, and explain it in a seasonal context.
It wasn't what his entire blog has been about during Advent. I'm guessing that religion is not a subject matter he speaks of often since in that initial piece he writes "for the next four Sundays, atheist, agnostic and freethinking readers might want to avoid posts with the word ‘Advent’ in the title - you have been warned!"
I have become a regular follower of his blog (and recommend that you do to), because he is a truly engaging writer no matter what the subject matter is, but for now I'll focus on the four Advent pieces. It's been fascinating to read about the season through the eyes (and ears!) of a professional musician who is also extremely well versed in Church theology and doctrine.
The musical pieces he chose to write about are as follows:
1. Prelude Chorale and Fugue, Cesar Franck
2. The Fountain and The Bell, Federico Mompou
3. F minor piano sonata (specifically the second movement), Brahms
4. Ave Maria, Franz Liszt
The pieces he chose to explain are not explicitly religious. In fact, the only one I immediately registered as liturgical was Ave Maria. But Hough writes of the composer's backgrounds as well as the historical context of the pieces. He also focuses on the music itself, the notes, the melodies and the instruments. The way Hough connects each musical masterpiece to the themes of Advent reminded me of the way someone else may find God in a sunrise, or in the ocean waves, or the movement of an electron.
I also took the time to read some of the conversations taking place in the comments sections of the four Advent pieces. Because I do not have a large or steady faith community of my own here in Boston*, I found myself drawn to these discussions between Catholics, Protestants and atheists. Together they've created conversations in which Hough's ideas were questioned, built upon and further explored.
I was amazed as I read through the various conversations. Everyone who comments, it seems, is genuinely interested in creating dialogue to further each individual's understanding of Advent. Hough also takes part in these conversations, explaining and defending his own views when necessary, but very open to the ideas of his peers and readers. People don't always walk away from it agreeing. But everyone comes to the table willing to listen and interested in hearing what was said in response.
I will certainly be posting more about my own thoughts on the season in general, and especially on Advent 2009. In the meantime I hope that if it interests you at all you will click on one of the links above and read some of Hough's insight into how these four pieces capture the pre-Christmas season.
He has certainly been an inspiration to me these past four weeks.
* the subject of an upcoming post for sure