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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

Live Video: In the Room with Kevin Kling

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Live Video: In the Room with Kevin Kling and Krista TippettWHEN: Feb 9th, 2012 (1pm CT/2pm ET)

If you listen to NPR, there’s a good chance you’ve been regaled by the unparalleled storytelling of Kevin Kling. His popular commentaries and hilarious autobiographical tales have graced the public radio airwaves and his plays have been staged across the United States.

Born with a congenital birth defect, Kling’s left hand has no wrist or thumb, and that same arm is 75 percent the size of his right arm. And then, about five years ago, a motorcycle accident took away the use of his right arm when the brachial plexus nerves were pulled out of their sockets.

In a face-to-face conversation from the studios of American Public Media and Minnesota Public Radio, Krista Tippett will talk to this American humorist and writer about confronting and embracing these physical challenges and his own mortality, and the will to create rather than despair. Through his work and his personal story, we’ll focus on his work as an artist, the importance of humor and craft in his spiritual life, and how he finds meaning in the world around him.

You’re welcome to watch it here, or join us on our events page where you can chat with other folks watching it.

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The Power of Theater
by Chris Heagle, technical director
This snapshot of a performance report from Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis has been floating around my Facebook feed. Created by the stage manager following every performance, it’s usually a pretty mundane document — a basic communication tool for people working on the current production to let everyone else in the company know how the show is going. This one, though, is remarkable and speaks to the power of art and story to reach beyond the edifice of our everyday. It reads:

"It was generally agreed by all that the show was ‘kind of rough’ (tech wise). But after the show we learned that there was a 5 year old autistic child in the house. He had never spoken. But as the lights went down, he began to talk. In full sentences. He called the teacher by name. She had no idea he even knew her name. He was engaged in the show — at one point commenting to the teacher that if there is a dragon then there will be fire. And there was fire. He talked all throughout the show. When the lights came back up — he quit talking and returned to his world. So, yes, I could list all the little things that wrong today but that is not what this show is about. And that little boy certainly didn’t see those things as he sat talking in the dark theatre watching Harold and his Purple Crayon."

And of course, I couldn’t help think of our interview with Paul Collins and Jennifer Elder in "Autism and Humanity."
The Power of Theater
by Chris Heagle, technical director
This snapshot of a performance report from Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis has been floating around my Facebook feed. Created by the stage manager following every performance, it’s usually a pretty mundane document — a basic communication tool for people working on the current production to let everyone else in the company know how the show is going. This one, though, is remarkable and speaks to the power of art and story to reach beyond the edifice of our everyday. It reads:

"It was generally agreed by all that the show was ‘kind of rough’ (tech wise). But after the show we learned that there was a 5 year old autistic child in the house. He had never spoken. But as the lights went down, he began to talk. In full sentences. He called the teacher by name. She had no idea he even knew her name. He was engaged in the show — at one point commenting to the teacher that if there is a dragon then there will be fire. And there was fire. He talked all throughout the show. When the lights came back up — he quit talking and returned to his world. So, yes, I could list all the little things that wrong today but that is not what this show is about. And that little boy certainly didn’t see those things as he sat talking in the dark theatre watching Harold and his Purple Crayon."

And of course, I couldn’t help think of our interview with Paul Collins and Jennifer Elder in "Autism and Humanity."

The Power of Theater

by Chris Heagle, technical director

This snapshot of a performance report from Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis has been floating around my Facebook feed. Created by the stage manager following every performance, it’s usually a pretty mundane document — a basic communication tool for people working on the current production to let everyone else in the company know how the show is going. This one, though, is remarkable and speaks to the power of art and story to reach beyond the edifice of our everyday. It reads:

"It was generally agreed by all that the show was ‘kind of rough’ (tech wise). But after the show we learned that there was a 5 year old autistic child in the house. He had never spoken. But as the lights went down, he began to talk. In full sentences. He called the teacher by name. She had no idea he even knew her name. He was engaged in the show — at one point commenting to the teacher that if there is a dragon then there will be fire. And there was fire. He talked all throughout the show. When the lights came back up — he quit talking and returned to his world. So, yes, I could list all the little things that wrong today but that is not what this show is about. And that little boy certainly didn’t see those things as he sat talking in the dark theatre watching Harold and his Purple Crayon."

And of course, I couldn’t help think of our interview with Paul Collins and Jennifer Elder in "Autism and Humanity."

Comments
Their goddess of love is a very fascinating and complex idea. She is in fact goddess of all the luxuries which are not essential to survival. She is the goddess of love which, unlike sex, is not essential to propagation. She is the muse of the arts. Now man can live without it but he doesn’t live very much as man without it. It is strange that one would have to go to an apparently primitive culture such as Haiti to find an understanding in such exalted terms of what the essential feminine – not female – feminine role might conceivably be – that of being everything which is human. Everything which is more than that which is necessary. Taken from this point of view, there is no reason in the world why women shouldn’t be artists. And very fine ones.
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Maya DerenMaya Deren (1917-1961) describing the Vodou spirit Erzulie.

The experimental filmmaker was the first person to win a Guggenheim Fellowship for film. She used her grant to travel to in Haiti during the 1940s, immersing herself in Vodou rituals. Her 1953 book Divine Horsemen: The Voodoo Gods of Haiti introduced many Western readers to the complexity and depth of Vodou for the first time.

Photo of Maya Deren by bswise (Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0)

-Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

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We’re in the audio business and are marveling. We can only imagine the possibilities of layering the hand movements of our favorite public radio personalities and putting them to music (think Brian Eno adapting his generative music app) to form some type of chamber piece.

From theatlanticvideo:

At the Intersection of Music and Data, Visualizing a Drummer’s Movements

Bartek Szlachcic, an audiovisual artist based in Poland, used motion capture software to trace his drumsticks in space during a performance, creating this mesmerizing video. Portrait of a Ghost Drummer is a part of the artist’s ongoing investigation of “the interdependence between sound, video, human senses and issues of data storage,” a solo project named Odaibe.

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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Art from Detroit’s Ashes

by Susan Leem, associate producer

"It ain’t clean. And, it ain’t easy. And it ain’t a lot of things, but it’s so many things at the same time."
Jenenne Whitfield, executive director of The Heidelberg Project

The Heidelberg Project is a living outdoor art installation in the heart of urban Detroit. Artist Tyree Guyton created a massive art installation spanning two city blocks where deteriorating homes are reinvigorated with paint and repurposed materials. In the video above, you’ll see some of the somewhat wild colors (from pastels to brilliant primary colors), patterns (polkadots), and materials (stuffed animals).

Much like Jimmy Boggs’ mantra to “make a way out of no way,” Guyton says the philosophy of his 25-year project is "to take nothing, and to take that nothing and create something very beautiful, very whimsical to the point that it makes people think.”

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Meredith Monk: A Twitterscript

by Susan Leem, associate producer

Meredith MonkLast Wednesday, the artist Meredith Monk joined our host Krista Tippett for a 90-minute conversation via ISDN. We live-tweeted highlights of this interview and have aggregated them below for those who weren’t able to follow along. Look for our show with her in the coming weeks, and follow us next time at @BeingTweets.

For those not familiar with Ms. Monk, she is an American composer, performer, director, vocalist, filmmaker, and choreographer who has been creating multi-disciplinary works since the 1960s. She is best known for her vocal innovations, including a wide range of extended techniques.

Also a practicing Buddhist, she is a member of the Shambala sangha. Her most recent album, Songs of Ascension, is inspired by a Zen abbot who described Songs of Ascents — songs which Jews were believed to have sung in biblical times on pilgrimages to Jerusalem and to the top of Mount Zion.

  1. For the next 90 minutes we’ll be live-tweeting Krista’s interview with composer/vocalist/performer/ Meredith Monk —@meredith_monk 1:02 PM 11 Jan
  2. "Singing was a natural kind of language for me. I read music before I read words." —@meredith_monk 1:10 PM 11 Jan
  3. "I think of the voice as a very kinetic instrument. I think of the body and the voice as one." —@meredith_monk 1:12 PM 11 Jan
  4. "Auditions are hard on the human level…I was looking for people who could sing well, and had a radiant generosity to them." —@meredith_monk 1:14 PM 11 Jan
  5. "Auditions are hard at the human level. I like to give back to people." —@meredith_monk 1:15 PM 11 Jan
  6. "I’m really trying to do something that makes the voice universal and transcendent." —@meredith_monk 1:16 PM 11 Jan
  7. "I had the revelation that the voice could be like the body. Like the spine, it could turn, it could fall…" —@meredith_monk 1:20 PM 11 Jan
  8. "I had the sensation of something ancient, primal, visceral, preverbal expression." —@meredith_monk 1:21 PM 11 Jan
  9. "As an artist so interested in uncovering the invisible, mysterious, inexplicable, things we can’t label." —@meredith_monk 1:24 PM 11 Jan
  10. "I was thinking of the voice as the messenger of my soul." —@meredith_monk 1:24 PM 11 Jan
  11. "Performing is such an amazing template of human behavior: of generosity, sensitive to the environment and to other people." —@meredith_monk 1:28 PM 11 Jan
  12. "We’re taught to be distracted and diverted from feeling the good pain as in open-heartedness of the moment." —@meredith_monk 1:30 PM 11 Jan
  13. "I wanted to spend the rest of my life making pieces about things you can’t make pieces about." —@meredith_monk 1:34 PM 11 Jan
  14. "The act of making artwork was the act of contemplating something." —@meredith_monk 1:35 PM 11 Jan
  15. "How do we spend time on this planet? How do you do work that’s of benefit?" —@meredith_monk 1:35 PM 11 Jan
  16. "Why does worship always go up? There’s this idea of heaven going up." —@meredith_monk 1:38 PM 11 Jan
  17. "In the Buddhist tradition there’s circumambulation, that’s a different form, going around." —@meredith_monk 1:39 PM 11 Jan
  18. "I love the idea of working with strings, the bowing arm is so much like the breath." —@meredith_monk 1:40 PM 11 Jan
  19. "Maybe I should’ve called it ‘Songs of Going Up and Down’" —@meredith_monk on her new work “Songs of Ascension” 1:43 PM 11 Jan
  20. "Play is something to really think about. That sense of playfulness is another aspect of being alive, awake." —@meredith_monk 1:45 PM 11 Jan
  21. "When it comes down to it, you leave love behind…the Beatles had it right." —@meredith_monk 1: 48 PM 11 Jan
  22. "If I do use words, they’re used more abstractly…The word dissolves into pure sound." —@meredith_monk on song writing 1:55 PM 11 Jan
  23. "The older I get, the simpler the work gets…the most essential is what reaches people the most." —@meredith_monk 2:00 PM 11 Jan
  24. "Curiosity is a great antidote to fear." —@meredith_monk 2:00 PM 11 Jan
  25. "All of us as human beings are part of the world vocal family." —@meredith_monk 2:04 PM 11 Jan
  26. "The human voice is the original instrument. You’re going back to the beginnings of utterance…The memory of being a human being." —@meredith_monk 2:04 PM 11 Jan
  27. "Most of my songs deal with emotion…between the cracks of emotion." —@meredith_monk 2:10 PM 11 Jan
  28. "It was like two young children just loving each other so much" —@meredith_monk on singing for the Dalai Lama 2:16 PM 11 Jan
  29. @rosannecash - Meredith Monk (@meredith_monk) loved your interview with Krista and would love to meet you! 2:19 PM 11 Jan

Photo of Meredith Monk by Jesse Frohman.

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Illuminating Maine’s Deep Winter with Light Sculptures

by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

Castle in the Park - Deering Oaks Park - Portland, Maine"Castle in the Park" at Deering Oaks Park in Portland, Maine. (photo: David LaCasse)

The holidays are over and there’s no getting around the fact that it’s January and bitter cold in the Upper Midwest. The days, while inching longer into light, are still short. Now is the time of deep winter, when a touch of light goes a long way.

Last week, as I caught a glimpse of holiday lights being dismantled from an indoor public tree display, I thought, “Already? It’s not even New Year’s. Now’s the time when we need the light the most.”

The good people of Portland, Maine understand this need in their watery bones. From Thanksgiving through Valentine’s Day, the city is bedecked in glorious light sculptures designed by local artist Pandora LaCasse. For over a decade, Ms. LaCasse has been transforming public parks and buildings into canvases for her light art.   

Along the Pond  Deering Oaks"Along the Pond" at Deering Oaks Park in Portland, Maine. (photo: David LaCasse)

Ms. LaCasse, a native of Maine, says that place matters in her work and that the state’s landscape inspires her creativity. As she told one interviewer, “I’m always trying to get the essence of a place. I think people like the lights because it’s the middle of winter and they respond to the color and light. And it’s accessible.”

Tommy's Park - Portland, Maine
Tommy’s Park in Portland, Maine. (photo: David LaCasse)

The Candelabra - Deering Oaks Park - Portland, Maine"The Candelabra" at Deering Oaks Park, Portland, Maine. (photo: David LaCasse)

Cascading Spheres Maine College of Art, Portland, Maine"Cascading Spheres" adorn the face of the Maine College of Art in Portland, Maine. (photo: David LaCasse)

Ms. LaCasse’s color-drenched creations feature abstract shapes found in nature, like teardrops and orbs. They’re not the stuff of Santa, candy canes, and the nativity. I once lived in Maine and now make my home in Saint Paul, Minnesota where my neighbors festoon their homes with holiday lights. As much as I admire these wintry displays, I do so as a non-Christian outsider, who’s observing them from afar. Pandora’s lights were different. I could love them without feeling excluded. They were a balm for my soul in deep winter and I miss them.

Longfellow Square - Portland, MaineLongfellow Square in Portland, Maine. (photo: David LaCasse)

Little Diamond Island - MaineLittle Diamond Island. (photo: David LaCasse)

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Our former web producer Andy Dayton is making his art dreams come true in the Big Apple! Very cool, Andy:

notioncollective:

Hey, our project Station Identification was listed in the most recent issue of Forecast’s Public Art Review (under “Recent Projects”). I’ll take that!

Yay!

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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Truth has to be given in riddles. People can’t take truth if it comes charging at them like a bull. The bull is always killed. You have to give people the truth in a riddle, hide it so they go looking for it and find it piece by piece; that way they learn to live with it.
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Chaim Potok, from The Gift of Asher Lev

Thanks for reminding me of this mind-enlivening piece of art.

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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Christmas Is a Time for Artistic Expression and Creativity

by Judith Dupré, guest contributor

Christmas tree lights IIPhoto by Shandi-lee (Flickr, cc by-nc 2.0)

How many times have you heard someone say — I can’t draw, I can’t sing, I can’t dance — with the case-closed authority of Solomon? Probably dozens of times, more if you yourself happen to be an artist blessed with the painting, flamenco, or woodworking gene. But have you ever heard anyone sheepishly confess, as they backed away palms up from an evergreen tree, Oh, not me — I can’t decorate Christmas trees?

Doesn’t happen!

Most of us dive into holiday tree trimming with gusto. We’ve got our methods, materials, and secret techniques down pat — from anchoring the tree so it stands straight to untangling strings of lights with a finesse that Houdini would have admired. Charlie Parker could have learned something from our daring as we coax familiar ornaments into different compositions each year, sentimental riffs made anew as a crystal angel is paired with a Santa made of plastic gumdrops or a tacky beaded lobster, to name some of my family’s favorites. Could Jackson Pollock outdo any of us tinsel-lobbers as we throw sparkling handfuls with random abandon? Or perhaps you prefer the single-strand-at-a-time method, placed with the en pointe precision of a Russian ballerina. I’m working the tree metaphor here, but feel free to substitute holiday crafts, baking, decorating, caroling, or gift-wrapping.

It’s your thing!

More good news! Remember Charlie Brown’s scraggly Douglas fir? The one with three spindly branches and a single bulb that weighed it down like a lead onion? Was there anything more pathetic or endearing? Pathetic attempts are not only okay at Christmas, they’re entirely fashionable. Call it folk art. Unlike the rest of the over-achieving calendar year, trying, if not actually succeeding, is acceptable during this season. Because, really, it’s not a question of what you are doing, it’s how you are doing it. The smallest of art projects becomes luminous with awareness and love.

For centuries, until recently, art was a concrete and widespread way of expressing one’s faith. Artists and artisans conveyed their devotion to God through painting, verse, and music. With the advent of the industrial age, abetted by myriad other factors, making art became the impractical pursuit of a chosen few. This is the great, unspoken loss of contemporary life. Creativity at its most transcendent — the moment when the work of art takes on its own life, when there is no separation between maker and object, when the artist is being re-formed by the very thing he or she is making — is comparable to the pure, blissful connection achieved in prayer or meditation.

We cherish Christmas because it presents us with weeks (months!) of artistic expression that is usually kept under wraps during the rest of the year. Christmas is a time when everyone has the opportunity to create — an act of transformation that mirrors what is most sacred in each of us. The works of our hands give glory to our Creator as they reveal us at our most human and most holy. Each of us was created with the same inexhaustible delight and diversity found in nature, and we are free to create with similar abandon. Perhaps this is the true magic of the season: We don’t question whether we should, or judge whether we can, we just create! I’d venture that we’d be more fully ourselves, as human beings and as spiritual beings, if we allowed ourselves that freedom more often.

This season let your spirit shine forth in the tree you trim, the candles you light, the songs you sing, and the cookies you bake. Let every ribbon you tie tie you more closely to your loved ones and to your own beautiful creative soul. While you’re in the Christmas spirit, why not consider giving yourself the gift of creativity, surely the gift that keeps on giving, all year round.


Judith DupréJudith Dupré is a fellow of Yale University’s Saybrook College and the author of several books. Her latest book is Full of Grace: Encountering Mary in Faith, Art and Life, a collection of stories about everyday spirituality and the nature of personal transformation.

We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication for the On Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

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Being Comfortable in the Presence of Mystery

by Krista Tippett, host

Livio_CMYKMario Livio speaks with Brian Greene (photo: ©The Philoctetes Center for the Multidisciplinary Study of the Imagination/Flickr)

When I first picked up Mario Livio’s book Is God a Mathematician? I knew I wanted to speak with him. Given that title, it is perhaps surprising to learn that he is not himself a religious man. But in his science, he is working on frontiers of discovery where questions far outpace answers — exploring the nature of neutron stars, white dwarfs, dark energy, the search for intelligent life in other galaxies.

In vivid detail and with passionate articulation, he reinforces a sense that has come through in many of my conversations with scientists these past years. That is, in contrast to the nineteenth- and twentieth-century Western, cultural confidence that science was on the verge of explaining most everything, our cutting-edge, twenty-first-century discoveries are yielding ever more fantastic mysteries. The real science of the present, Mario Livio says, is far more interesting than science fiction could ever be.

For example, the fact that the universe is expanding rather than contracting is new knowledge. That has led to the discovery of what is called, for lack of precise understanding, “dark energy,” which is accelerating this expansion. This utterly unexplained substance is now thought to comprise something like 70 percent of the universe. Likewise, the Hubble telescope has helped humanity gain intricate new detail on the unimaginable vastness of the cosmos and the relative insignificance of the space we take up in it. At the same time — and this is one of Livio’s intriguing mysteries — this new knowledge and perspective also shine a new kind of light on the inordinate power of the human mind.

Livio’s question “Is God a mathematician?” is actually an ancient and unfolding question about the uncanny “omnipresence and omnipotent powers” of mathematics as experienced by science and philosophy across the ages. The question itself, as Livio says, is as rich to ponder as any of its possible answers. And so is the fact, behind it, that our minds give rise to mathematical principles, which are then found to have what physicist Eugene Wigner called “an unreasonable effectiveness” in describing the universe.

Livio also picks up on an intriguing theme left dangling in my lovely conversation in 2010 with the Vatican astronomers Guy Consolmagno and George Coyne — the enduring question of whether mathematical truths, laws of nature, are discovered or invented. Livio unapologetically offers his conclusion that there is no either/or answer possible here — that mathematics is both invented and discovered. That is to say, as he tells it, scientists habitually “invent” formulations and theories with no practical application, which generations or centuries later are found to describe fundamental aspects of reality. Even mathematical ideas that are at first invented yield real discoveries that are relevant, true, and wholly unexpected.

I was also interested to learn, as I went into this conversation, that when Mario Livio is not doing science he is a lover of art. “Beauty” is a word that recurs across my cumulative conversation with scientists, and Mario Livio infuses that word with his own evident passion. He is not quite sure, when I press, what that might have to do with his simultaneous passion for art. And yet there is something intriguing — mysterious even — about his description of how echoing allusions from science and art come to him effortlessly in his writing.

And in the backdrop of our conversation, images from the Hubble Space Telescope have brought a lavish beauty of the cosmos into ordinary modern eyes and imaginations. One senses that of all the accomplishments in which he has played a part, Mario Livio is most proud of this one. For him, science is a part of culture — like literature, like the arts. And he wants the rest of us, whether we speak his mother tongue of mathematics or not, to experience it that way too. This conversation brings me farther forward on this path.

I kept thinking, as I spoke with Mario Livio, of Einstein’s references to the reverence for beauty and open sense of wonder that Einstein saw as a common root experience of true science, true religion, and true art. His use of the word “God,” Mario Livio tells me, is similar to Einstein’s grasp for the word “God” as a synonym for the workings of the cosmos. I am struck once again with the capacity of modern scientists to be more comfortable with the presence of mystery, and bolder in articulating its reality than many who are traditionally religious.

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If it is art — if it is honest to God, card-carrying, well done, well-crafted, well-honed art — it comes up so sweetly against the side of religion that they are essentially kissing each other. We can’t escape the fact that somehow religion is concerned with the subjective world, as is art. And they share a territory that somehow circumvents or circumscribes the mind, and they have a conversation together.
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Veritas Conversation with Phyllis Tickle and Carmen Acevedo Butcher, 3/3/11Phyllis Tickle, from "A Return to Mystery: Religion, Fantasy, and Entertainment"

Looking back at this old transcript in anticipation of this week’s show, “Monsters We Love” with Diane Winston, I found these lovely lines worth pondering.

Photo by Wyoming Jackrabbit/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0

~Krista Tippett, host

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Light Painting the Mines of North Wales

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

If you’re looking for a brief respite between Thanksgiving meals or a brief interlude to the NFL triple play, check out this short film by Andrew Telling and Owen Richards. They shadow photographer Robin Friend as he traverses the foothills of North Wales and descends into an abandoned Victorian mine at Cwmorthin to do a bit of light painting for his Slaughterhouse series:

"Slaughterhouse" by Robin Friend"Although my mind kept wandering and playing tricks, it would always return to the absence of the men that used to work here. Their presence was palpable; this was their mine and I was trespassing. Each cathedral-sized cavern would have been leased and worked by one family. Grandfathers, fathers, sons, uncles, and nephews would have worked side-by-side, day in day out. These dark passages, steep crevasses, and sheer drops would have been their livelihood. This was their world. They would have spent the majority of their lives down here in the dark with nothing but a candle to illuminate the slate and their spirits."

(h/t trishutchinson)

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Animated Shorts on the Lessons of Forgiveness and Repentance for the High Holy Days

by Susan Leem, associate producer + Trent Gilliss, senior editor

The son of an Israeli nuclear physicist, the artist Hanan Harchol moved to the United States with his family when he was two years old. And it’s his father’s accent that Harchol impersonates and argues with in these two humorous and enlightening animated shorts for the High Holy Days. 

But, these illustrated videos mining a deeper understanding of the Jewish concepts of teshuva (repentance) and slicha (forgiveness), Harchol says, weren’t inspired by a personal sense of devotion or religiosity. Just the opposite, in fact. The requirements of the project stipulated that he immerse himself in the texts, and through studying them he reevaluated the essence and spirit of Jewish teachings he had ignored or rejected for many years:

"I spent my life gravitating towards, and making, narrative art that explores the human condition from a psychological, philosophical, and existential perspective. While Judaism offers thousands of years of wisdom on the human condition, I avoided it as a source because of what I perceived to be its preachy, judgmental, and shaming tone.

Then, in 2009, I was commissioned to create a short artistic animation that interpreted the eating of bitter herbs during Passover. As part of the project, I was mandated to participate in a monthly Jewish study group under the leadership of a dynamic and brilliant rabbi named Leon Morris. To my surprise, I discovered that the human themes we were discussing and wrestling with in the study group were precisely the kind I had always been exploring in my personal artmaking. Even the process itself of sitting around a table, debating and wrestling with these human concepts (a process I did regularly with my friends and in my artmaking) proved to be a fundamental part of the Jewish study and learning process.

I became filled with questions about how much my Jewish heritage had influenced how I was raised, how I behaved, how I thought, and even who I was as a person and an artist. What I discovered was a wealth of wisdom. Within the Jewish texts were crucial teachings and lessons that applied as much to our contemporary lives as they did when they were written. By avoiding the Jewish writings because of their religious nature and tone, I was missing out on thousands of years of deep thought and study on the human condition itself. I had thrown the baby out with the bath water.”

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Communing with Beauty

by Rita G. Patel, guest contributor

"Beauty and Its Possibilities" by Rita G. Patel"Beauty and Its Possibilities" by Rita Patel

The architect Christopher Alexander tells this story in The Timeless Way of Building:

I once saw a simple fish pond in a Japanese village which was perhaps eternal.

A farmer made it for his farm. The pond was a simple rectangle, about 6 feet wide, and 8 feet long; opening off a little irrigation stream. At one end, a bush of flowers hung over the water. At the other end, under the water, was a circle of wood, its top perhaps 12 inches below the surface of the water. In the pond there were eight great ancient carp, each maybe 18 inches long, orange, gold, purple, and black: the oldest one had been there eighty years. The eight fish swam, slowly, slowly, in circles—often within the wooden circle. The whole world was in that pond. Every day the farmer sat by it for a few minutes. I was there only one day and I sat by it all afternoon. Even now, I cannot think about it without tears. Those ancient fish had been swimming, slowly, in that pond for eighty years. It was so true to the nature of the fish, and flowers, and the water, and the farmers, that it had sustained itself for all that time, endlessly repeating, always different. There is no degree of wholeness or reality which can be reached beyond that simple pond.

Not only is the description both vivid and beautiful — conjuring up a lovely image — but the emotion from actually seeing and being with this beauty in nature is profoundly powerful.

If I am open, moments where I can deeply see, feel, and be are available in all sorts of so-called common places and interactions. And what happens is that I don’t just observe with my senses and my mind, but I commune with the beauty of it in my heart — that is where it happens, where I actually feel it. The feeling doesn’t stay but the feeling about other things afterwards is always affected. And the more I experience this beauty the more I realize that it does not disappear but is always present. Available to connect to when I am available. A wonderful thing to wake up and remember and make a habit.

"Radiance belongs to being considered precisely as beautiful; it is, in being, that which catches the eye, or the ear, or the mind, and makes us want to perceive it again."
~Etienne Gilson


Rita G. PatelRita G. Patel is an artist, chef, and business consultant living in Rochester, Michigan. You can read more of her writing at Beauty’s Invitation and see her artwork at 365 Days of Print.

We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

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