Moonlight, the piano, and lyric letters have been heavy on my mind these past few weeks. Moonlight for its brilliant, haunting, redemptive connection to past and future. The piano for ascending notes handled by talented songwriters like Sara Bareilles and Audrey Assad. Lyric letters because writers Petrarch and Laura Cereta write eloquently of mountains and pleasure to their friend and sister, causing the reader’s internal mirror to focus. Snaking themes of second chances, appreciation for nature, and quiet mystery coil neatly around these things. The three objects work so well together, shaping an image of a beautiful woman playing the piano underneath the night sky or a distant concert echoing through the moonlit forest a man camps in. It’s powerful, complex and ancient. It causes questions to build up, ideas to pursue here and now. Instead of plowing through anthologies to build up a false sense of pride, why not explore unexpected places and take the beauty for what it’s worth? Rather than try to tackle hobbies in a fury, creating designer dresses and playing flawless music, why not make a napkin or practice scales each day in commitment? Perhaps fruitful conversations with the time allotted relationships, versus frantic purging to try to have the world over for a Martha Stewart dinner? As most of these other internet musings return to, I thoroughly enjoy asking and sitting with such interrogation. This comes especially in preparation of the birth of our son.
The moon has been written of by everyone at some point, and for great reason. It (she, he) is a cosmic masterpiece showering the largest light in darkness. Not much further inspiration is needed to create. Half of children’s books have a large picture of the moon on its cover. Goddesses and muses alike dance in its presence. Spartan kings creep into battle by its luminosity. After reading “Lullaby: Moonlight Lingers” by Robert Penn Warren, an audience can see the dreamlike atmosphere of a little boy’s sleep in the wash of such light. Because night can be frightening in its unknown territory, the moon signals relief. Its magnetic pull of the ocean is the same that holds our gaze no matter where we are. It may be taken for granted in the throes of baby showers and full days of work, but one long look at its regal pose restarts priorities. It also plays with time, mixing together reflection of the past and dreams of the future. Sitting beneath it has been a sweet surrender, and will hopefully bring peace to Ian’s nocturnal cries.
Mulling over the moon is an easy step to music. For several years now I’ve really enjoyed the tunes of Sara Bareilles and Audrey Assad. Bareilles is a fantastic pop songwriter, as Assad works incredibly well in the medium of hymns and God-focused songs. They don’t smack of repetition and laziness, but of a mind that is really trying to showcase the Creator of the universe. Needless to say, a concert from either of them should be underway soon. I recently discovered Assad’s pleasantly-written blog here, which lets me know that she is now the mother of a son and most likely won’t be touring much. It also means I feel an even deeper connection to her as a fan. These two women have other-worldly voices, the kind that spark the need to imitate such art. Singing along with their pieces, particularly “One Sweet Love,” “Gravity,” “I Shall Not Want” and “O My Soul” is a day’s highlight. I’d like to imagine their coffee-stained drafts of songwriting, late night conversations with friends, and hours spent perfecting rhythmic skills. All of it regulates artistic imitation.
Hand-written letters are rare and pretty in the pen of a ready writer. Petrarch, the father of his named sonnet and Laura Cereta, a fascinating woman in early modern Europe composed such letters. “To Dionigi da Borgo San Sepolcro (On Climbing Mt. Ventoux)” by Petrarch is addressed to a monk who gave the narrator a copy of Augustine’s Confessions. Clearly influenced by this work, he writes of climbing a mountain with his brother and the painful hardship, breathtaking scenery and tormented inner dialogue that comes along for the hike. A memorable passage of the author addressing himself:
“’What you have experienced so often today in trying to climb this mountain you should
know happens to you and to many others as they approach the blessed life. This is not
easily realized by men, however, because although the movements of the body are
visible, the movements of the mind are invisible and concealed. The life we call
blessed is certainly located on high, and, as it is said, a very narrow road leads to it.
Many hills also intervene and one must proceed from virtue to virtue with very de-
liberate steps. At the summit lies the end of all things and the limit of the path to which
our traveling is directed…” (Petrarch)
While Petrarch concentrates on the deliberate virtues and limited path, Laura Cereta focuses more on the genuine pleasure of human free will. She fleshes out a happy, carefree picnic in the mountains with companions, in contrast to Petrarch’s very serious undertaking. She describes birds that joyfully interrupt their collective nap, the types of food they eat, and the freedom they enjoy by actually enjoying themselves. I wonder how that might look today, in exchange for 24-7 work-communication-performance. Her standout quote:
“This end, however, has but one object for our soul: the one God; and he, so that we
might enter Paradise, has placed us, since we are sojourners, in the exile of our fragile
flesh. Let us devote ourselves, therefore, wholly to virtue and to the innocent and
celibate life of our Savior and let our sinful life revert to him also. Let us imitate
the many illustrious men in the Church who, detached from all desires, have yearned
with full hearts for eternal life. Nature has taught us always to incline our hearts
freely and deliberately towards the good, so that it will finally come about for us that
God will win us over as heavenly beings for all eternity.” (Cereta)
We have here gingerly composed updates, peers into the lives of those living centuries away. They’ve thought deeply about many things, processed theories in the shelter of trees, and left a lasting impression on the world with their words. The letters don’t end with finality, but allude more justice and grace in the future. It’s worth producing one or millions of these for Ian, for family and companions. It may never be published, but it will be art.
Now that I hear piano music by moonlight, it’s easy to sit and craft a letter to the tiny boy due in about a week (sooner or later?). It will start with, “God is beautiful and true, and that’s all any of us need to know and chase…”