Happy Christmas Carol Day!
You might be asking yourself, what is Christmas Carol Day? Well, it happens to be a holiday heralding in the Christmas season, a holiday that always falls upon December 1st. This holiday also happens to be completely made up by yours truly. But seeing as I invented the holiday several years ago, I feel as though it might be on its way to gaining some sort of traction, at least among a (very small) handful of people.
As the name suggests, Christmas Carol Day is all about listening and singing along to those familiar songs that mark this time of year. I must admit that I have broken my own rule and begun listening to such tunes before today, but I plan to spend a greater amount of time this afternoon and evening blasting my Christmassy music (apologies in advance to my neighbours). It has often been said that there is something magical about the Christmas season, and I think this is certainly true of Christmas carols as well. I think this “music magic” stems from several reasons.
I have been sitting here for some time trying to decide what to write for my first Advent reflection. Today is the first Sunday of Advent: the first of four Sundays preceding Christmas. A purple candle was lit upon the Advent wreath and a hymn was sung entitled “Come, O Long-Expected Jesus.” Outside frost was glazed across the grass and the mud was hard and cold, preparing for the coming of snow. Over the window frame of the front room in my apartment, coloured lights are strung, and the glow reflects in the open glass and out into the darkening sky of November.
Christmas is on its way; all the signs that accompany its coming have begun to arise. December is only a few days from our midst. Despite this, I don’t know what to write. Despite this, I am not quite in the spirit; the spirit of Christmas is still distant rather than intimate. It is far away and I am watching it descend while I think of Advent-related ideas upon which to reflect.
I don’t think it is entirely inaccurate to say that we are living in a shuffle culture; we are a people that shuffles. When I use this word (to shuffle), I am not referring to a kind of movement. I don’t mean to conjure up images of a person shuffling along, walking down the street and dragging their feet on the ground. Such a use of the word ‘shuffle’ might be more applicable in my previous post on The Lost Art of Walking. In this post however, I am using shuffle in a very different sense (though there is certainly a connection between these two meanings of the word): ‘shuffle’ is an option we have the power to select when we listen to music.
Is listening to music an art that has been lost? Here I must distinguish between listening to music as an art, and music as an art in and of itself. Saying that to listen to music is an art implies two things. First, it implies that when we listen to music, we are not just passively receiving someone else’s art, but creating something ourselves through the process of listening. Secondly, it implies that there is more than one way of listening to music, and that perhaps some ways are better than others.
The runner and the body. In a certain sense, the two are one and the same: the runner has a body; he could also be described as being a body. The act of running and the body of the runner are inextricably linked. To explore this relationship would undoubtedly be a large task, one I could only hope to partially open within the confines of a blog post. That is why I want to discuss not the body as it is during the act of running but rather, the effects of running on the body and how these effects (or the anticipation of them) can spread their influence to the mind as well.
I don’t think anyone would deny that running is good for the body, though you could deny that it is many other things: namely, enjoyable or worthy of effort and time. I suppose I should also add a condition to the opening statement of this paragraph: running might be more destructive than good for the body that is already plagued with injury. But I see this as the exception rather than the rule. In its ideal and intended form, running brings much ‘good’ to the body. It increases fitness and health, reducing risk of illness through cardiovascular exercise. It also helps to trim and tone the runner’s physique. This last point is the one I want to flesh out a little (if I can be excused for my use of the pun).
How does real change come about?
When I pose this question, I’m not referring to broader social change, but change at the level of the individual. To what degree are we, each as individuals in our own right, able to influence or effect change in other individuals around us?
I think this is a very pertinent issue, because the idea that an individual can really influence another is one that comes up in teaching, parenthood and evangelism, to name a few. For simplicity’s sake, let’s call the two roles in such a relationship the teacher and the student (though they could just as easily be friend and friend, sister and brother, or any number of other combinations of roles). The teacher presumably has his own motives, extraneous to the mere subject being “taught.” Though passionate about the subject at hand, perhaps he also experiences great enthusiasm at the prospect of being the catalyst or cause of a “change for the better.”
In a previous post in this series, I talked about breathing and how this simple practice is necessary in the maintenance of life. Eating (unlike letter-writing) is also a necessity for survival. Although people are capable of enduring conditions of severe scarcity, they need a certain amount of food and to ingest this amount of food with a certain measure of regularity, in order to live. So it can be easily established that food plays an essential role in our lives and that it is a fundamental need, rather than merely a want. What remains to be seen is whether the sphere of food can be elevated into the sphere of art.
Although I used the word “eating” in the title of this piece, I want to include the entire process of preparing and arranging food in my discussion, not just consumption. For it is very clear that food is about far more than nutritional value (or lack thereof), even if we intend to desire it only as such. The basic definition of food might be cut down to its constituent parts, but whenever we encounter food on the practical level of daily living and not in some abstract theoretical realm, it is impossible to separate the food itself from the experience of eating.
The title of this post may lead the reader to believe it is about running in the absence of onlookers; that is, the freedom to run without being watched. Such freedom is certainly not insignificant, though I think we more often have need of liberation from internal rather than external judgements. However, I was actually referring to a different kind of watch, and it is this watch (the one to do with time) I want to discuss today.
I love wearing a watch. I don’t remember when I got my first watch or when it became a regular staple of my wardrobe, but it’s rare for me to leave my house without it. Why do I wear a watch? It’s hard to avoid a simple answer: I like knowing what time it is. The ability to carry time with you gives off some illusion of control, not the illusion of controlling time but of being able to measure time and control one’s schedule in accordance with it.
I often find myself preoccupied by noise. This can be a problem, because our world is saturated with noise in many ways. We rarely can achieve that pure and perfect silence, whether we seek it, or strive to avoid its searching depths. There is almost always something going on in the background. Sometimes they are deliberate sounds, like music, and sometimes they are incidental, intertwined with everyday life. Cars whiz by on nearby roads; drilling slices through the air from the interminable construction work always going on somewhere in the neighbourhood…
There is always noise: people talking, people walking, even the noises that nature imposes on a sterile silence, like birds chattering and wind rustling through trees and rain pricking softly against the slicked black pavement. Here, the words of the Grinch spring to mind (if you’ll pardon the not-yet-seasonal reference): “Noise, noise, noise!”
Today I want to talk about reclaiming the lost art of breathing. I’m not crazy (or if I am, this isn’t the reason): humans have been breathing, are currently breathing, and will keep on breathing to infinitude (or at least until they die). Oxygen, as everyone knows, is one of our most fundamental needs. How could it ever be possible to “lose” such a necessity, one that is literally woven into the fabric of survival? Breathing is not something that we need to learn or be taught in order to do it “properly.” As newborn infants enter the world, they draw their first breath; it happens naturally; it is a part of their very nature, which must be why we have the expression “as easy as breathing.” How then is it conceivable to label breathing as an art?
I am not using “art” in a literal or restrictive sense of the word (then again, I rarely do). In my conception of it, art can be anything that opens us up to the beauty of the world. Art is not just some external thing; it must possess transcendent power, the power to become a part of ourselves and to lift us above the strict and basest reality of everyday life. I realize this is a broad and rather loose definition of art (can it even be called a definition?), but I think it is an entirely valid (and indeed, necessary) way of looking at art. There are also specific categories of art that can be better defined, shared, and studied (think of literature, music and visual art), but another vital aspect of art is experience. All humans are by nature creative beings. Because we are created by God in His image, we are able to participate in His creativity through our thoughts, our words, our actions, and simply by being. In light of this, we can all be called artists, art can be called life, and the art of living creation. We create because we were created first, and we experience art in our daily life.
Previously I talked about how, for me, running is a very solitary experience. A lot of good can come from this solitude, from the opportunity to let ourselves be, removed from the regular pressures and distractions of other voices. It is a time in which we can be alone with ourselves, within ourselves, and so turn to this inner life, the inner self, and explore its depth and beauty.
And yet, for the most part, when we run we are not alone. There are exceptions to this- perhaps if you are running on a completely secluded and deserted path, or if you happen to have a treadmill in your house and lock the door (I don’t personally like treadmills, but that is a different story for a different time). However, I don’t think there has been a single occasion in the last couple months when I have gone running and not encountered another person. By this, I don’t mean I’ve run into someone that I know (I have only met a familiar face, in the midst of all my sweaty, heavily panting glory, a small handful of times). Rather, I run past people- strangers– sharing the same path as me. Sometimes I also run on the sidewalk alongside the road and in such cases, cars (presumably filled with people: perhaps strange, perhaps familiar) pass me by.