Friday, August 17, 2007

Lux in Tenebris

"Do you know why that mountain is so tall?"


"So that when God comes down from heaven, He can sit on it."

I don't recall where I heard this conversation; I am not even sure if I had ever really heard it before, or if it were just a figment of my imagination, correlated from hundreds of shards and fragments all coalescing to form this bit of dialog. I am sure, however, that, were it ever spoken by a real person in real life, it could only have been uttered from the lips of a child. I don't even care if it is factual-- but it is the truth. There is something about children, perhaps their simplicity and inherent genius, that allows them to be agents of a Truth far greater than the most intellectual ramblings of an adult.

A trip to the Philippine Suzuki Association (it was for one of my classes) yesterday brought me in contact with several talented young musicians. Now, many of my readers have probably encountered the term 'Suzuki method' before-- it is a method of teaching music that is based on the philosophy that music is learned the same way that speech is-- through memorization, listening, and intuition. The revolutionary figure behind this method was a Japanese classical violinist named Shinichi Suzuki, who writes in one of his books that genius is something inherent and dormant in every child-- all it takes is one spark to kindle it to unleash the beauty and wonder simmering beneath. There was a twelve year old girl who played Bartok, Brahms and Vivaldi on violin effortlessly, while another essayed Strauss. It was an edifying sight, seeing these children playing such beautiful music, without so much as even being able to read sheet music.

We must have sat listening to these children play for a whole hour. The first girl I mentioned, whose name I sadly was not able to purloin, channeled an extraordinary-- nay, almost supernatural-- passion and pathos, despite being the product of a broken family. The second girl was a virtuoso at the piano and reached sublime heights with her skill with the violin. And most important and perhaps shocking of all, none of them were over thirteen. Neither of them, I was told, knew how to read notes very well. Yet these two have performed in front of dazzled crowds and likewise dazzled orchestras with their skill.

When I was two years old, my mother enrolled me at art class, because, apparently, I always asked my father to draw dinosaurs, clowns, and cockroaches at every occasion I could. My love for seeing him draw --bring to life-- these creatures which I previously had only enjoyed in the wilted pages of my books, seemed to me then full of vitality, roaring, stomping and rampaging, belying their crude and primitive ball-and-stick outlines. A simple dot for me became a menacing, glaring eye; a dash of lead on paper with small bristles sticking out perpendicularly became the gates of a menacing jaw, about to clamp themselves on a soon-to-be struggling neck of an Apatosaurus. My parents always believed I would end up an artist; they cite frequently that I used to use up an entire sketchbook in two days, no doubt filled with menacing, frightening drawings of T. rex in all his glory.

I must have attended art class for two years; my teacher was an elderly man, in his sixties then, who had the fiery passion and temper of the Spaniards (of whom he was probably descended, judging from his mestizo features) and the tenderness, love, and even carino brutal of a Spanish Baroque santo. On Saturday mornings, my mother would wake me up at seven, and walk to my teacher's studio, as it was only five minutes away (ten if I dilly-dallied). His house wasn't very big: the garage was cluttered with an assortment of power tools, old newspapers, umbrella skeletons, paint stains, drawing boards, and of course, his dear students. I remember we must have been ten, with myself being the youngest.

For some reason, I stopped going to art class. In the course of time and moving from our old apartment to our present day home, I must have left or lost all those sketchbooks and watercolor sets in the transition; I only recall having seen one out of my prolific works in our new house, in fact one of my first, a drawing of a family of T. rexes chasing after a Triceratops, badly inked with blue, maroon, orange and green markers, so much so that today it seems vaguely reminiscent of a neon-lit LSD trip. My hands seem to have atrophied as well: they are now more rigid, and probably less dexterous. All those years writing those five page essays by hand must have crippled them.

Nowadays, I ask myself: what would have happened if I had continued with my artistic pursuits? My first love had always been pen and paper, but whereas now I use ink to put my thoughts on paper, before, I simply stamped paper onto my brain, and enjoyed the fruits of my labor. Had I taken up the piano, as my aunt always wanted me to do, or the guitar, would I turn up a classical musician in the long run, or a rebellious rock star? What might have happened had I stuck to reading Jack Chick tracts longer than I should have? The possibilities are endless, and they are even frightening, to some extent. But above all, I am consumed by the memory of what might, could, should, and will have been, and I derive a certain joy from this exercise.

By any standard, I am already an adult-- but I find myself not knowing any more than I did learn two, three, or four years ago. When you are an adult, everything seems to grind to a halt-- you are now no longer allowed to ask 'stupid' and 'inane' questions, you are to follow a set pattern, the proper way to learn is to read, and an endless litany of dos and donts that follows. Weber writes of this phenomenon of rationalization as a sort of crypto-movement of reduction and redaction of the human being into the mere equivalent of his efficiency; he is anomie, the nameless, the faceless, the anonymous, the phantom so discordantly separate from his body. The individual works, but his pay is but an illusion constructed out of a fear of his debts and obligations, of taxes and needs and wants. Thus, he ends up with nothing. In the world where social contract is upheld to the level of infallible, impeccable dogma, the 'social' part, most ironically, seems left behind, discarded and useless in the machinations of the machine.

We are all, of course, familiar with the Socratic method. In today's information age, asking questions seems to be gradually fading into obscurity. But is the information we hold so dearly the answer to our questions? What does it really matter to know the innermost secrets of the sea and to feel the heat of the sun-- if such things are seen as merely things to be seen and believed? What happened to experience? What happened to knowing? A Confucian proverb proffers is very succinctly: 'Read not ten thousand volumes but into the silence of the stars'. What we sorely need today is not so much as to know the exact number of stars there are that populate the known universe (though it would be nice); what we need to know is what a star is. We need to know what its being is.

A friend once remarked that modern society's obsessive desire for information and progress is symptomatic more of a growing specter of ignorance rather than the spirit of innovation that is usually proffered for our convenience. All the rationalization and standardization, then, are for the use of the dumb, the lame and the ignorant-- not so much for their betterment, but to perpetuate their condition. Thus, it becomes easy for us to lambaste the illiterate as being without knowledge, while we remain hopelessly a slave to technology and information. The illiterate, at least, can produce an exquisite bench or table from a block of wood, while perhaps for the literate, it remains merely a thing of carbon. If 'improvement' is so symptomatic of our age, then why does it still take a housewife four hours to clean her household, the same amount of time that housewives did a century ago?

For Christians, the only recourse is Jesus. And He, at least, remains constant-- the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last. He is Truth: unchanging, all-encompassing, the sorrow of the wicked and the beatitude of the just. He simply is. He is our Eternal Companion, at once distant and immanent, Who revealed Himself to us and yet is ultimately unknowable. And this is the knowledge that sustains us, even in the darkest and bleakest of times, because the Light shines luminous and brilliant in the darkness, no matter how deep the shadows are.

As we exited the studio, I left as if I had been struck with lightning. The metaphorical scales fell from my eyes, as even then I felt as if my hearing heightened, and I felt electricity crackling in my skin. The children essayed their pieces flawlessly and beautifully, and with it came the realization that I had witnessed an epiphany. And I could not help but think that they had been touched by God Himself.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Love your blog...God bless