And welcome to my newsletter for August, 2010! Please feel free to forward this to anyone you think would be interested in keeping up with me! To receive these newsletters regularly, please drop me an email or subscribe online from my website (http://www.JefMurray.com ) or at: http://groups.google.com/group/Mystical_Realms . Notices of events and items of interest are at the bottom of this email.
I've been brooding over boundaries: fences, barricades, walls, dikes, moats, hedges and the like. I'm contemplating commodities that separate space from space and vista from vista. "Post-modernist" folk see such things as antediluvian artifacts that want shoveling out like so much muck into the maelstrom; they call for commons, bridges, networks, cacophony and community, not sanctuaries and silence.
And we all seem to want "openness" with every aspect of our lives: we keep our music always on; we're available 24/7 via cell phones and email; we "personalize" our computers and appliances. We have news collated and streamed to us in tailored torrents. We carry our lives around in integrated black boxes: our tablet computers, our Smartphones, our MP3 players. Like everyone else in our office or on campus, we customize our cool common contraptions so as to express how unique we are and how hip .
"We are all individuals!" we proclaim boldly to the cosmos.
But, not all boundaries are bad. Not all differences divide. The joy, even today, of travelling to some far flung shore is to encounter there something other than a McDonald's or a KFC with a slightly different décor. The point of going on vacation is to model a different mode of living, however briefly, so that we can taste our lives anew on our return; the intent of insulating one's work life from one's home life is to be more bountifully engaged in both.
The eastern orthodox churches have a long history of creating boundaries. But theirs are not encumbrances that exclude, but curbs that consecrate. The eastern view of worship is one in which we are taken, wholly, with all of our senses, out of this world. We are placed in hallowed halls: all that we see reminds us of God; all that we hear is harmony, all that we breathe is balm. In the Divine Liturgy, we utter words that are reserved for that place alone; we sing hymns whose rhythms and melodies have been saved for sanctifying time, while gazing at icons that sanctify space.
Why have we lost this in the west? In too many Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, music whose rhythms and words have more in common with daft modern ditties than with timeless traditions are forced upon us. Chatty folk speak to each other in church just as they would in the mall or in a parking lot. Choir members and musicians jest loudly, ignoring the few that might be (horrors!) trying to pray quietly in the pews. If God is present, he apparently has to be "helped along" with snappy tunes and sappy displays of back-slapping congeniality; the Prince of Peace once again has no place to rest His head.
There's plenty here to plumb.
I recollect a book I read years ago entitled "In the Absence of the Sacred" by Jerry Mander. Although its predictions of impending environmental disaster did not persuade, the central concern expressed by the title remains relevant. What are we, as living beings, if we safeguard no space in our lives for that which is holy? What do we become if we populate our plazas and pump up our parishes with the profane? What remains to us when we wallpaper over the Host of hosts with melodies and sentiments more suited to Sesame Street than to the sanctuary?
G.K.Chesterton once said "Don't ever take a fence down until you know the reason it was put up." In our churches, in our homes, in our workplaces, we are whittling down walls willy nilly. We aren't aware that, instead of impeding us, these constraints may be keeping bad things out and good things in good things that need nurturing, that want warding: precious treasures to tuck away, ready to refresh us when our souls are spent; words and images, songs and stories that are set apart for us, and for our children, and for all generations to come.
Can we, then, afford to keep tearing these dikes down? Can we afford a drear and Godless world that resembles the plains of Gorgoroth, where everything is the same, where all is standardized to a low standard? Can we afford to live in C.S. Lewis' "Grey City", where nothing is off limits, where nobody's views are any more important or any more "valid" than anyone else's, where we all believe the same things and where there is no truth other than what is discovered from the next opinion poll?
In short, can we afford a world in which we are all enslaved?
A world without walls is one where monsters maraud and dragons devour. Whether our barricades are being blasted in the name of "diversity", or "tolerance", or "ecumenism", or "progress", their thwarting, like the spanning of the river Narog, often serves the schemes of the vile more than those of the virtuous. And, in the absence of the sacred, we dismantle our defenses against devilry to the risk not only of what, but of whom we most love.
Our next grand exhibition at Moreton in Marsh, "The Edge of the Wild", is almost upon us! It will be held August 14-16th. This is a free event, and it will feature the latest works from Ted Nasmith, Ruth Lacon, Peter Pracownik and myself. Lorraine and I will both be attending, and you can get tickets to the Friday night pre-show reception by contacting Malcolm Lindley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Last minute updates will be announced on the ADC Art & Books website (http://www.adcbooks.co.uk/ ), on the "Edge of the Wild" Facebook page, and on my website (www.JefMurray.com) . We're very much looking forward to seeing old friends and meeting many new ones!
- The Magic Ring: Deluxe Illustrated Edition, by the Baron de la Motte Fouqué, is finally available! This is a new fully illustrated deluxe hardbound edition by Valancourt Books. You can purchase through the Valancourt Books website (see www.ValancourtBooks.com ), as well as from www.BN.com, www.Amazon.com, and other book retailers. I was privileged to have been asked to develop the cover and interior illustrations for this new edition, and it is one that finally presents this tale in a format in keeping with its magical and epic themes. Described as a cross between "The Lord of the Rings" and "Ivanhoe", this is a story that will keep you on the edge of your seat, and one that will appeal to all ages of folk who love chivalry, enchantment, and romance. You can keep up to date on the book's reception on the Facebook page entitled "The Magic Ring", or at Valancourt's website.
- Volume 3 of "Silver Leaves", the journal of the White Tree Fund (http://www.whitetreefund.org/) is out! It features 101 pages of Tolkien/Fantasy Art and Artists as its theme. This issue is a worthy follow-on to Volumes 1 and 2, and is frankly the best issue to date. Do snag a copy and help support the good work of the folk at The White Tree Fund!
- Arjan Kiel, the gifted composer whose work is associated with the Fan Film "Born of Hope", has a demo CD of his Tolkien-themed music available to interested folk. He and I collaborated on the artwork for the CD and his revised website (coming soon), which uses painting images from "The Argonath", "Resurrection, "Tuor and the Swans", and "Legolas Comes to the Sea". To find out more, see Arjan's site at www.arjankiel.nl .
- For folks interested in original paintings and sketches or prints of my work, please take a look at the ADC Art and Books online catalog at www.adcbooks.co.uk. It features Tolkien-themed works by Ted Nasmith, Ruth Lacon, Peter Pracownik, and myself. In addition, you'll find collectible items (e.g. Black & White Ogre Country: The Lost Tales of Hilary Tolkien) and rare books featured in the catalog and on the website.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010