Monday, April 25, 2011

Liturgie des Lumières


Saturday night I went to a Catholic Mass. I had been wanting to attend a meeting in one of these amazing churches there are here, and Easter seemed like the perfect occassion. I expected to learn a lot, which I did, but what impressed me the most was the music...

Singing the chants along with the priest and congregation was like a sublime culmination of my university studies, both of music and of cathedrals and their symbolism and evolution. "The song of the righteous is a prayer unto me," and it was truly beautiful to sing. As we sang the psalms it filled the once ghostly and empty vastness of the church with love and spirit and light. "For where two or more are gathered in my name, there will I be also."

In these brief intervals of song between recitations and formalities, the whole building seemed to come alive for me. The walls stood a little taller, the air was joyful, the carved columns and capitals held themselves proudly as the ancient beauty of truths written into prayers and voiced in the form of songs passed down through the millennia since Isaiah rang out and the old tired building became, for me, something like a temple.


The magic of the music transformed the church before my eyes and I imagined it in its former splendour and beauty, every detail carved so patiently by hand, then painted to come alive so that the walls, columns, arches, and windows would shout forth the truths of an Almighty God, vibrant, alive, and full of love.

I marvelled and imagined that the ancient Apostles would have been so happy to see Christians build and gather to worship in such incredible buildings as these--so full of the wisdom of the ages and of the teachings of the biblical prophets. Practically every element of the building was crafted and created with religious symbolism. But I think they would be saddened, too, that so little of the symbolism is understood today by the people who attend, and that these people are so few in number.

Words simply cannot describe my emotions as the multitude of penitent worshipers sang in the form of Gregorian chants, the songs resonating off the ancient stone walls and filling the building with such beauty. The music soaked into my soul, wrapped all around me, enveloping me in the beauty of the music and the spirit of the words, then drifted off quietly and humbly up into the high vaulted ceiling of the third and highest level of the building. In effect, the music was floating, both symbolically and literally, up into the Celestial realms.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Purple Hats

Today I bought a PURPLE HAT.

Which reminded me of this great poem I read once in the BYU bookstore in a little book by President Monson, and which has inspired me ever since:

A WOMAN'S LIFELINE

AGE 3: She looks at herself and sees a queen.

AGE 8: She looks at herself and sees Cinderella.

AGE 15: She looks at herself and sees in ugly duckling ( Mom, I can't go to school looking like this today! )

AGE 20: She looks at herself and sees "too fat/too thin, too short/too tall, too straight/too curly" but decides she's going out anyway.

AGE 30: She looks at herself and sees "too fat/too thin, too short/too tall, too straight/too curly" but decides she doesn't have time to fix it so she's going out anyway.

AGE 40: She looks at herself and sees "too fat/too thin, too short/too tall, too straight/too curly" but says, "At least I am clean," and goes out anyway.

AGE 50: She looks at herself and says, "I am what I am," and goes wherever she wants to go.

AGE 60: She looks at herself and reminds herself of all people who can't even see themselves in the mirror anymore. Goes out and conquers the world.

AGE 70: She looks at herself and sees wisdom, laughter, and ability and goes out and enjoys life.

AGE 80: Doesn't bother to look. Just puts on a purple hat and goes out to have fun with the world.

The moral is, maybe we should all grab that purple hat a little earlier.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

What is 'Fluent'?

When I tell people I speak French and study French History at University they almost always end up asking, "so are you fluent?"

Fluent?

What exactly is that, anyways?

I suppose I always connected it with being able to speak like a native. The thing is, in a second language, you are always aware of the things you CAN'T say or communicate, the vocabulary you HAVEN'T touched. Language is about trying to express oneself, which can be fairly difficult in my native tongue, so perhaps the fact that it isn't always eloquent in a second language doesn't immediately translate into beginner status. Claiming to be fluent seems pretty steep to me, since there is always more to learn! But, I can open a bank account, get telephone and internet service, argue with the post-office lady when she won't send my box for the flat book rate, read French literary classics, participate in dance and music classes, and converse with waiters at the restaurant (some of which I've never tried on my own in English). When do you reach the coveted title of FLUENT?

Immersing yourself in a foreign society results in hearing the foreign language around you every day. If you are attentive, you'll hear the same conversation you need to have repeated ahead of you in the line at the grocery store, post office, butcher shop, or at the next table over at the restaurant or café, and thus learn common phraseology and cultural nuances that you could never learn from a textbook. But there is SO much of that language around you--Immersed is a term usually used for water--you are simply swimming in the language, sometimes all you can do is try not to drown. You reach out all around you, but there is simply not enough time to examine each water molecule,(or every new vocabulary word).

I propose that while living, and succeeding, in a foreign culture and language, it is often 'grace à' what I call a borrowed vocabulary. There are loads of words one is able to use because the word has just been used on you. Whether or not you'll remember and be able to use that word a few days later often depends on if you hear it again. For every action there is a reaction. I think the same principle applies with languages. When I left Chinese society after a year of immersion with them, I found my vocabulary pool somewhat reduced. When I came to France after years of studying the language, I found my vocabulary pool suddenly greatly enhanced. Succeeding in a language demands interaction and interchange; its a game of exchange. Which is why, I'd wager, that one is always more successful at being 'Fluent' when immersed in the language than otherwise.

Perhaps there is 'borrowed vocabulary' in a native language too, that's another thought to ponder...

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Love. In real life?

This was in response to a posting about love, and how people discredit it to rationalize the lack in their own lives.

I also agree, from personal experience, that there are a lot of people living un-lovefilled lives who discredit love in order to justify their own emptiness or unhappiness. I do not want that. However there are some of those people who try to turn it into words of council so that the next generation won't repeat their mistakes. I appreciate that.

While living in a small, out of the way French port town I observed the people constantly. There are always, as in the US, the cute elderly couples helping each other down the street or in the store, but I was struck by the amount of middle-aged couples that seemed obviously delighted to be around each other. Maybe it's the countryside, maybe it's a new romance, maybe it's just France, you say, but I think it's more than that.

I think that Americans, "living life as automatons," forget to actively choose to love. People get into a committed relationship or a marriage and the 'chase' is over: they feel secure in their marriage, in having a marriage, and subsequently move on to the next big obstacle in life, whatever that may be. That is the WRONG thing to do. The distance starts mentally, then emotionally and eventually physically too.

Maybe the French have it figured out because they don't have this culture of finding the job that you love and/or climbing the ladder to the top. They often choose a career path early in life and can't easily change or move up. Ever. So while I agree that IMMENSE satisfaction can come from a job well done and a career that you enjoy, the French aren't focused on gaining happiness from their career. If it comes, that's wonderful, if not, they're still coming home to the place and person that spells happiness for them: their love. And by keeping love an action word, and that person foremost in their lives, they continually benefit from "the world's most powerful motivating force," that is, romantic love.

It's not a hoax; it's not a fairytale. It can be real life. But couples have to choose and 'agir' for it to be a reality.

Birth of Superstores

"C'était la cathédral du commerce modern, solide et légère, faite pour un peuple de clients. Mouret avait l'unique passion de vaicre la femme. Il lui avait bati ce temple, pour l'y tenir à sa merci." --Zola, Au Bonheur des Dames

Zola wrote this long before walmarts or chain stores, and I find it delightful that the marketing principle is still in avid use. For me this is a reflection on department stores and Super Stores of the modern world. But please note how blasphemous this would have sounded in 1900 Catholic France.

Google trans. ruines the last lines. It should read: Mouret had the sole passion of conquering women. He had built them this temple, to hold them at his mercy. (I love how it makes big stores sound diabolic)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

My blogging beginnings

When I set up this blog I was in the middle of my university degree, frustrated by the testing and grading system. I realized that the system's way of monitoring educational results was different from my own, and that because of it I was putting lots of information into my short term memory at the expense of long term memory in order to recieve top marks. While working very hard to get top marks, I didn't have enough time or energy to do what I had actually gone to university to accomplish: learn something. But not just something! I love learning about history, about the world and the peoples in it. About their ways of thinking and conceptualizing life, love, and happiness. I love it because as I learn about other peoples I understand myself, those around me and my world more fully.I am passionate about understanding.

As I came to the realization that my approach to university WAS giving me great grades but WASN'T giving me the usable knowledge I was hoping for, I decided, among other things, to set up this blog as a way to keep my learning a working reality rather than a test score soon forgotten.

Then there were no posts for two years.

That sort of makes me chuckle. Because really, in those two years, I learned (and retained) more than the previous three university years! Life offered a chance to go out and experience learning about the world and its peoples in reality rather than through books. I learned a new language, I fought and struggled to grasp a working understanding of new cultures and coincidently, the people I was living and working with daily.

So when I returned to university to finish my degree, I headed back with this new outlook on learning well-rooted inside of me. Quite frankly it changed the whole experience of classrooms and lectures, studying and essay-writing. This time I was in it for what I could get out of it personally, and it became enjoyable! Sure, it was still incredably demanding, but now it was also thought-provoking and that is something I very much enjoy: and good ponder.

So why have I suddenly posted on a 2-year old blog that was doing just fine as a blank sheet of paper? Well a couple days ago I found one of those truly thought-provoking questions, which I pondered, and then put some of my thoughts into a writen response; an experience which I really enjoyed! So I thought, why not try again?