Credits: -Poem "XXXIV (You are a Daughter of the Sea)" - Pablo Neruda -Photograph/Reader/Violin - Michaela Sandness -Meditation/Piano/Production - Greg Woodsbie -Guitar - Matthew Martin Nickoloff A Reflection and Guided Meditation by Greg Woodsbie A church I was at when I first started as a working musician was doing this “ONE MONTH TO LIVE” challenge: “What would you if you knew you had one more month to live?!” I decided to use it as a compositional challenge - I would write a small thing every day - four measures! Simple! Measurable! Whatever the rest of that acronym is! On day one, I wrote a short piano piece called “And Abel Cried” for my three month old! On day two I wrote about sixteen measures of a choral piece. On day three I got excited about the choral piece, and mostly finished it! On day four I did a few final edits, putting in like, dynamics and fussing with how it looked on the page in my music notation software. On day five I did nothing On days six through thirty I also did nothing. This is a pattern I’ve found with a creative challenge: I kick it off with some real vigor, create a few really satisfying, impactful things, and then life happens and I fall off basically the rest of it and feel like a TOTAL failure, forgetting that I still have some pretty awesome things that I wouldn’t have had without the “failed” attempt at discipline. I’ve come to see these types of challenges with much more fluidity and grace over time, knowing that if I dropped off on some of the discipline, it’s because the conditions were there for that to happen. I try to celebrate what I got out of it, learn from the data, and try to create better conditions for the next exciting project, leaning into whatever channels are available for my energy in the here and now. Ok that’s a really long winded introduction to this cool thing some of us made! We got together as a “liturgy guild” on zoom one night in early January to plan the Sunday services for the month, as Omicron had forced us into another month of zoom church. It was a really fun meeting! (Pro tip: whether it’s liturgy planning or writing a sermon, sometimes you get like 80% of the spiritual benefit of a church service in the preparation for it.) A number of people who had never been a part of planning liturgy were there and we bounced lots of great ideas around. We actually created a service that was engaging on zoom for kids and fed the adults. It was all tied around this water practice: The Practice: A riff on a grounding exercise as explained by Hillary McBride In the original exercise, designed to help someone recover from a panic attack, you instruct someone to name: Five things they can see, Four things they can hear, Three things they can feel, Two scents they can find, and one taste that they can either taste now, or remember. Our version will focus on us making the water special by giving it our attention, as well as connecting with those you are with. For two people, grab three glasses (mason jars work great) and a towel. Fill two of the glasses with water and set up all three next to the towel in a comfortable spot. Each of you find five things you can see in, through, with, or about the water. Use the empty glass if you want to pour different amounts. Don’t be afraid to spill a little! You will convey to yourself or your partner that this is a zone where boundaries are looser and creativity is valued. Take every opportunity to unclench, physically and mentally. Practice saying yes. Encourage yourself to just gently note what you’re seeing with a gentle word. Try to just experience it without the words in between - or like, 20% word, 80% just touching the sensory moment. Continue with four ways to touch and feel the water, three sounds you can make involving the water, two smells (if you can find any - get subtle! or reflect on the lack of smell), and then finally drink it! In the days leading up to the service, as numerous folk in the liturgy planning team were isolated with mild Covid cases, they found these ways to drive to spots they enjoyed in the summer and figure out what was still beautiful or new about them; to bless them and sacramentalize them with their attention (also as desperate ways not to put their children out with the discarded Christmas trees in a vague hope that the big garbage truck claw will just grab both). Michaela took these STUNNING photos along Lake Ontario, and turned us all on to this Pablo Neruda poem that pairs so perfectly. Matthew read the poem and recorded a guitar track, which sat in my voice memos for two weeks, and then Michaela and I were rehearsing and recorded a meditation/improvisation exercise where we sit on one repeated phrase for about five minutes, (the same way one would watch your breath, noticing all the variations and nuances and allowing your mind to rest on one thing) and then once we’re settled somewhat, we let ourselves explore anything interesting. A few hours later I realized that I could digitally change the key of Matthew’s guitar to match our improvisation, and edit bits of all of that together with Michaela reading the poem into her phone. As you may have inferred from the introduction, the rest of the month’s liturgy was… well… you’ve all been to zoom church. We mostly gave up and went outside around various people’s fire pits, which was lovely. And we have a beautiful artifact that feels peaceful and rich and lets me temporarily replace the screaming monkey in my head with some lovely violin and whatever energy gets stirred up by Pablo Neruda’s virtuosic curation of language. Enjoy!
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