On the way over to the Botanical Gardens today my husband gave me a mini-overview of 20th century music. This was in response to my question regarding Hovhaness, about whom I knew very little, except that I love his piece, And God Created Great Whales. (Our dog, Scout, seems to like this piece, too.) It seems that 20th Century composers felt that they had a dilemma; what could they do that was new and different? After Wagner, everyone felt that "you couldn't get any bigger." Wagner had taken the genre about as far as it could go. So the 20th century "new thing" was to be atonal, and "not pretty", at least in the way music had been "pretty" before. Composers like Hovhaness and Vaughn Williams are considered less serious composers by some because they composed pleasing music. (I realize that many music scholars may disagree with this.)
On the way to the Desert Botanical Gardens, then, we were listening to Mysterious Mountain, and I was reading The Bible Salesman, a wonderful little novel about a young man who in the early 1950s South who is an unwitting accomplice to a criminal. He also is selling Bibles, and, coincidentally, really reading them, as if for the first time. This Bible-reading theme is a background, a curious counterpoint to the story of the naive and earnest young man and how he grows up. He's asking questions about the Bible that he has never asked before, and wondering about whether it is true, and how it can be true. In the end, he finds comfort in different truths that he discovers in the Bible, and in his life.
I thought about how our ears need fine tuning so that, in each age, we can hear God's word -- in the strange words of the Testaments, Old and New, in our words to one another, in the soft or loud voices of those on the mountains or on the margins, speaking a counterpoint to the big and brash news of the day. I thought about how my eyes need fine tuning so that I can see the beauty in the desert, where, the land is big and barren, and it takes a sharp eye to capture a quail walking through the brush, or fairy dusters, small bright red spots among muted browns and greens. Some beauty is loud and brash, and takes my breath away; some beauty skirts along the edges, or even hides; I need to fine-tune my eyes to see it, just as I need to fine-tune my ears to really hear the truth.
In a few days we'll leave the warm and barren land to come back to the frozen north where we live. I hope I can fine tune my eyes and ears again to see the beauty, and to hear the truth of the strange and familiar place where I live.