did not answer. He looked at the great walls, and the towers and brave banners,
and the sun in the high sky, and then at the gathering gloom in the East; and
he thought of the long fingers of that Shadow; of the orcs in the woods and the
mountains, the treason of Isengard, the birds of evil eye, and the Black Riders
even in the lanes of the Shire – and of the winged terror, the Nazgul. He
shuddered, and hope seemed to wither. And even at that moment the sun for a
second faltered and was obscured, as though a dark wing had passed across it.
Almost beyond hearing he thought he caught, high and far up in the heavens, a
cry: faint, but heart-quelling, cruel and cold. He blanched and cowered against
was that”, asked Beregond. “You also felt something?”
muttered Pippin. “It is the sign of our
fall, and the shadow of doom, a Fell Rider of the air.”
the shadow of doom”, said Beregond. “I
fear that Minas Tirith shall fall. Night
comes. The very warmth of my blood seems stolen away.”
a time they sat together with bowed heads and did not speak. Then suddenly Pippin looked up and saw that
the sun was still shining and the banners still streaming in the breeze. He shook himself. “It is passed,” he said. “No, my heart will
not yet despair. Gandalf fell and has
returned and is with us. We may stand,
if only on one leg, or at least be left still upon our knees”.
said!” cried Beregond, rising and striding to and fro. “Nay, though all things
must come utterly to an end in time, Gondor shall not perish yet. Not though
the walls be taken by a reckless foe that will build a hill of carrion before
them. There are still other fastnesses, and secret ways of escape into the
mountains. Hope and memory shall live still in some hidden valley where the
grass is green”.
are living in difficult times: in the world, in the Church, inside our very
selves. Darkness and gloom, gloom and
darkness all around us.
yet our Saviour Jesus Christ fell and has returned and is with us. We too may stand, if only on one leg. There are still other fastnesses for us and
secret ways of escape into a new joy and a new peace where hope and memory
shall live in the hearts of those who come after us for whom we kept our hope
and joy alive.)
If we are to hear the
silent music beneath the noisy traffic of our thinking, we need to lern how to
leave the mind and focus on the senses. The distractions of modern life prevent
us picking up the rhythm of grace.
At a Metro station in Washington DC a man started to play the violin. It was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that rush hour it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station.
After three minutes, a middle-aged man stopped for a few
seconds and then hurried on. A minute later, the violinist received his first
dollar tip – tossed in the box by a woman without slowing her stride. A few
minutes later somone leaned against the wall to listen, but after looking at
his watch began to walk quickly on his way.
The one who paid most attention was a three-year-old boy.
His mother hurried him along but the child stopped in front of the violinist.
Reluctantly the boy was dragged away, looking back all the time.
During the 45 minutes that the musician played, only six
people stopped and stayed for a while. He collected 32 dollars. When he
finished playing and silence took over, no one applauded him or showed any sign
The violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the world’s finest
musicians. He had played some of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a
violin worth 3.5 million dollars.
The event was organised by the Washington Post as part of a
social experiment about perception, taste and the priorities of people. The
inherent questions were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour,
do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to
appreciate it? Do we recognise talent in an unexpected context?
One of the possible conclusions to be drawn from this bit of
research might be put in another question. If we do not have a moment to stop
and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music
ever written, how many other things are we mission in the courses of our normal
day? Do we forget that our senses are
“the threshold of our soul”? “Listen, my
child” St Benedict wrote at the beginning of his Rule, “with the ear of your
Another railway station; another musician; another busy
mother and small son. This time in Leeds
where a wintry wind was wailing down the empty platform. Linda suddenly
realised that Iain had let go of her arm. In panic she retraced her steps. And
there he was, hunkered down in rapt attention, listening to a scruffy,
broken-down old man playing a lonely mouth organ in the cold rain.
Iain was offering the last 10p of his pocket money to his
new hero, oblivious to the man’s appearance. “How lucky he is”, he said to his
Mum, his eyes shining, “to be able to play such beautiful music.” Unlike people
in Washington, Iain was listening with the ear of his heart.
Awareness is always about presence. But how often are we
present to ourselves and to our environment in a distracted world where
electronic multi-tasking rules, even while we’re having a meal with a friend?
From both within and without, that inner sacred place is continually invaded.
Without this grace of space there will be no stillness for catching the
cadences of the unfinished symphony beneath the surface of what happens.
One Celtic evening, the mythical Fionn MacChumhail and his
warriors were having a discussion about the finest sound in the world. His son
Oisin extolled the ring of spear on shield in the din of battle. Another went
on about the fearful cries of the stags and the haying of the hounds in the
rising blood lust just before the kill.
Yet another spoke of the song of his beloved as she played
the harp to soothe her hero after a day of blood and gore. The wise warriors
nodded their approval. “And you, Fionn”, they then asked, “what do you say is
the finest sound in the world?” The
mighty hero paused. “The music of what
happens,” he said.
We need to learn how to leave the mind and come to the
senses so as to hear the silent music beneath the noisy traffic of our
thinking, to catch the divine harmony in everything human. Close to our soul,
we are called to become like human tuning forks catching the rhythm of grace.
The funeral memorial card of John Moriarty, the Kerry
mystic, carried one of his reflections. “Clear mornings bring the mountains to
my doorstep. Calm nights give the rivers
their say. Some evenings the wind puts its hand on my shoulders. I stop
thinking. I leave what I’m doing and I go the soul’s way.”
Along the soul’s way we find the only places of encounter
between our spirit and the Spirit of all life, between our emptiness and the
universal flow of energy. It is along the soul’s way that we hear and create
the unique music that only we can hear and create. It is here that we come home
to the God of harmony already within our hearts. “God is always at home,”
Meister Eckhart insisted, “it is we who take a walk.”
If the present moment is the only place we can meet the
incarnate God, will we be at home when God comes in disguise to find us? Are we
always too distracted, seduced by other transitory attractions, to gaze at and
recognise the mother of all beauty – and to hear the music she is always making
for us? There is something both funny
and lovely about a verse in John Ashbery’s “At North Farm”:
Somewhere someone is
travelling furiously towards you,
At incredible speed,
travelling day and night,
Through blizzards and desert
heat, across torrents,
Through narrow passes,
But will he know where to find
Recognise you when he sees
Give you the thing he has for
It is as though a secret smile, a whispered assurance, a
small melody lies hidden, like an impatient epiphany, in everything we
encounter in the course of each day. Everything wants to draw us into the harmony
of life. Everything is waiting to
encourage and support us as we struggle, mostly out of tune, to get the timing
right. Our monkey-minds miss the magic and the music of the moment.
There’s a Joshua Bell playing somewhere always, in the most
unlikely places. But we need to be aware. To stop running. To be here. In “Now
I Become Myself”, May Sarton writes of the time it takes to be present to one’s
true harmony after years of distraction, of panic, of waring “other people’s
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move.
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and
stop the sun!
Daniel O’Leary, a priest of the Leeds Diocese, passed away
on the 21st January 2019