Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Brian’s Reflection: Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Problems arise in that one has to find a balance between
what people need from you and what you need for yourself.

Jesse Norman, opera diva; born on this date, 1945

The first time I heard Richard Strauss’s “Four Last Songs”, as a teenager, they were sung by Gundula Yanowitz, a Viennese soprano, preeminent in the 60’s and 70’s, who is acknowledged as one of the great singers of the 20th century. I was thrilled and mesmerized. I will never forget the moment in the third song, called “Going to Sleep”, where the voice enters as the exquisite violin solo closes: it was impossible to tell when the moment of change occurred! For me, it has become a paramount symbol of the seamless flow between God and ourselves. Absolutely thrilling.

Here are the words of that song, "Beim Schlafengehen", written by Hermann Hesse:

Now that I am wearied of the day,
 I will let the friendly, starry night

greet all my ardent desires
 like a sleepy child.
Hands, stop all your work.
 Brow, forget all your thinking.

All my senses now
 yearn to sink into slumber.
And my unfettered soul 
wishes to soar up freely 

into night's magic sphere
 to live there deeply and thousandfold.

It will be sung at my funeral. But if you have never heard it, I hope you do soon. Alas, I have lost the scratchy tape of Yanowitz. But Madame Norman does a beautiful job!

Ms. Norman is right about the balance between what “people need from you and what you need for yourself”. I have never believed that God demands that to love Her or others truly we must neglect ourselves. It is a contradiction in realities. It is also to dishonour the miracle of the human nature that we are. I have never seen any virtue or a true understanding of either God or ourselves in abusing either our Self or another. The “Shema O Israel” has it balanced rightly: Love God, Neighbour, and Self - and the circle of Love cannot be broken or weakened.

Tonight, may the “friendly, starry night” gather you and me into its “magic sphere”, renew us, and return us, our needs refreshed. What others need from us will flow to them from a “cup that runneth over”.


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