Midweek Devotion #11
September 16, 2015
Mysticism is the art of union with Reality…
The visionary is a mystic when his vision mediates to him an actuality beyond the reach of the senses. The philosopher is a mystic when he passes beyond thought to the pure apprehension of truth. The active man is a mystic when he knows his actions to be a part of a greater activity.
Blake, Plotinus, Joan of Arc, and John of the Cross—there is a link which binds all these together: but if he is to make use of it, the inquirer must find that link for himself.
—Evelyn Underhill, Practical Mysticism
The Art of Union with Reality comes through the senses, through music, through art, through nature, giving us glimpses of a larger and more magnificent whole.
The violin is an access point for me into what Evelyn Underhill calls the “actuality beyond the reach of the senses.” Hearing music, it is true, starts with a sense and a sense organ. There are physical things called sound waves reaching my ears, and I have to understand how to produce those waves with a bow on the strings to make a good sound.
But the end result is to put me in touch with a primordial harmony, an aspect of the universe that I cannot directly hear.
I recently joined the Metropolitan Orchestra of New Jersey. During the first rehearsal, we read through Beethoven’s 6th symphony, called the “Pastoral.” It describes being in the country. It is about meadows, brooks, and thunderstorms. The rehearsal was clumsy, and it was my first time playing this piece. Trudging along, we tried to keep up and render all the notes. (I skipped quite a few.) Nothing transcendent about that.
And yet, already the sound of the whole began to shine through, despite our halting efforts. Much more than a mere investigation of nature, its trumpet calls shout forth the soul’s joy in response.
I look forward to hearing how the melodies and the motifs, the rhythms and the often strange alterations of sharps and flats (the raising and lowering of pitches within a given key) along with the dialogue and synergy between instruments, will transport us to another place, show us briefly that world beyond the senses.
Beethoven reminds us of our participation in that raw tempestuous thing called nature, sometimes flowing, sometimes crashing, sometimes melodic, sometimes discordant, sometimes poundingly loud, sometimes breathlessly quiet. But always, always beautiful.
Take A GoodMinute:
Is there an actuality beyond the reach of the senses?
What might be the link between a poet, a philosopher, a warrior, and a saint?
Read more about Beethoven’s “Pastoral” and listen to a recording. (Here is a sublime one.) What is it about this symphony that makes it both grounded in reality and transcending time and place?