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 Art News: Ave Maria

Spiritualityby Christine Smith

I am most intrigued by the deep rapport I have felt, all my life, with the beautiful "Ave Maria." It is as if there is some hauntingly significance to the music and to those lyrics each and every time I have heard it in my life. Having more than one rendition, including Franz Schubert's rendition (German opera), I find myself touched and drawn to it, as if it were expressing a prayer...a communication...on my behalf. The music itself (including with the Latin Hail Mary when sung) is deeply meaningful. Suppliant and seeking...the music itself expresses a depth of feeling/awareness within which I cannot explain. It has for me evoked a feeling of earnest seeking and letting go from the despair and needing to know. There have been times throughout my life that I was so moved by it as be brought to tears...hearing it anywhere stops me...and touches me poignantly.

I ponder this...because this music speaks to me on a deep level...or should I more accurately say it is as if it speaks for me on a deep level. Schubert's composition, written in 1825 when he was 28 years old, was for Walter Scott's poem "The Lady of the Lake." It is a hymn, a prayer, to Mary from Ellen, a female in love, in despair and longing, and whose devotion is her strength - a strength in letting go - for what more could she do? The references to the Latin Ave Maria prayer within "The Lady of the Lake" express the release, and often the Latin traditional Ave Maria prayer itself (Hail Mary), considered very powerful in Catholic prayers, is now commonly itself set to Schubert's music. Each of these have come to be meaningful to me...the spirit of devotion and seeking of guidance, blessing, and intercession... the reverent request for guidance and solace. ...

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Those who know me, know I am not one that others would regard as a "religious" individual, but I am a deeply spiritual individual who values introspection. Seeking truth and understanding, I listen to others, and within, often listening more than another may realize at the time. I'm one who takes away a great deal from communication, though not reflecting it necessarily at the time. This result, in recent months, has found me studying the lives of those regarded as saints (and certain teachings of Catholicism). Their writings evince wisdom, awareness, and a knowing I have not found (or rarely) in modern writers' works regarding one's beliefs and thoughts of the Divine...for they, unlike others, are unafraid to address what is sometimes referred to as Divine Darkness, as well as confronting how each of us can be the channel for God's love - that through our love of God we become the channel for God's love to all others. (Though not a practicing Catholic, I come from a deeply Catholic family/heritage...and still feel an awe which I never found in no other man made structure or place of worship but only in a Catholic church...only there have I sensed the reverence I feel within reflected around me. My primary experience of reverence and communion is experienced in my life when I'm in the wilderness, in nature, it is my cathedral. I need the solitude and the peace the natural world gives me.)

I am also studying Carthusian spirituality - reflecting upon "being in the world, but not of the word," and perception of God's (if you will) presence. The human experience of the divine is for me mystical and far from words (which are merely symbols of symbols)...but it is with words these monks attempted (and succeeded) in humanly communicating, to some degree, the ineffable experience of communion they felt simply by sharing their lives. Not because they focused on trying to share it itself, but through their sharing of their life, the reader is able to grasp somewhat the experience - especially when one's heart finds rapport with their lives and the reasons behind their way of life.

For me, solitude is essential, but is not where I remain. It is solitude and contemplation which strengthens me to go into the world to do the work I do. Only in solitude does introspection occur - others can help us - but in the moments alone it is then we can grow. Though I choose to be involved in worldly matters, those who have chosen to remain cloistered have much to share, and I learn from them (their writings).

But that which comes closest to communicating such mystical experience is often music...with the work of Ave Maria being one. (Also bringing me to study Marian spirituality/prayers.)

Are we vehicles of the Divine/of God? Is Divine awareness/experience revealed to all? And if so, wouldn't the experience of such be as natural as breathing? Not something we force or merely ally ourselves with tradition, but rather stem naturally as part of our existence...flowing...without effort? Therein is Spirit. But many, unfortunately regard themselves only as a body. A body seeking another body...a body seeking pleasure...a body seeking comfort...a body focused only on itself. They identify only with their body. I've never felt this way, rather I deeply sense we are spirit inhabiting body, and in every other human being I disregard outward appearances to look within. What is this person's story? What have I to learn from them? Why is this encounter happening? And, in doing so, I believe I learn...and teach...I view every meeting as opportunity...a divine opportunity.

Thus the beauty of relationship is fully experienced in realizing we are spirit in a body, making our body a communication device. The deepest communication, regardless of how it is expressed be it verbally or physically and dependent upon the relationship, occurs between individuals aware of their spiritual being...this is what I believe. For them, even in silence, there is perfect communication. Such relationship -be it between friends, family, or the one we intimately love - are where the greatest joy, happiness, and where the most significant fulfilling pleasure abides. For all the sharing in such a holy relationship is at its deepest level of the spirit, when our minds and hearts join there is perfect communication and thus perfect joy in all we share.

I liken such deep relationship, a place where each individual is both a teacher and learner, to the best of what the saints speak of in communion with God. A relationship of complete trust and joyful sharing. Perhaps it is in such relationship we learn of the love of God through the love of another. Perhaps we learn of silence, of listening, of being open to change...to letting go rather than the egocentric need for control. Two whole persons can learn much from one another, but we become whole only when we are comfortable and first thrive in solitude. We are then ready and receptive to share joyfully with another, and it is there we can learn the most from another individual....just as it in such state we can learn the most spiritually through reading, meditation, and contemplation.

In solitude, I find myself receptive and free; Free from anxiety (which my reaction to the world can cause). In such a state, I become much more capable of seeing things clearly, and am often amazed at how matters are clarified which previously I thought so difficult. It is then I am also more fully aware of how best to love others (relinquishing ego) and thereby free from all emotions which would stem from fear. Fear keeps us from communicating with others - fear of rejection, fear of judgment, fear of condemnation or fear of challenge. But fear is never valid to make any decision upon. Fear is the destroyer of relationship. Only love is valid to make decisions upon...and love is bold, strong and courageous. It recognizes that to open oneself to true communication with another might result in pain...but it is the key to ever experiencing joy. This experience between persons mirrors, perhaps, the relationship with the Divine. To allow it is a risk...but its rewards magnificent.

In my reading, I am also intrigued by the controversies which arose centering upon the "mind" and "spirit" or "heart." Personally, I trust that inner guidance, my "heart," and then use my mind to implement that which is within. The mind is a tool - rational, logical, powerful - and I choose to use it to best and most effectively live how my heart (my values, principles) guides me.

This is but a brief sharing of things I am recently studying and pondering, and which are significant to me.

I shall continue my reading of Western mystics and teachers in the Catholic tradition (including now learning much more about Mother Teresa). The mystery, the joy of truth, I meditate upon - learning from those who have cared to share their path with me now - and learning from those who cared to record their experiences from the past.


Christine Smith is a writer, public speaker, humanitarian and political activist. Her website is: www.christinesmith.us

[18 February 2008]

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