Riley, my nephew’s senior Golden Retriever stood at the fence with tail wagging. On the other side were young children on the playground of Villa Montessori. Shouts of freedom, tromp of running feet and rhythmic squeaks of swing sets offered a consoling din to our conversation. Lunch on the patio with a favorite sister-in-law marked another consoling ritual renewed. Among memories recounted and updates feverishly made, Marilyn reminisced, “Remember how Mom used to love being out here when the kids were on the playground? She loved their running, yelling and screaming! She’d never tire of their energy and joy… reminded her of her own childhood, the kind she always wanted for kids.”
Nearly the age she was then, we affirmed her truth as gospel. Perhaps a little wizened by age, it felt refreshing to cut through the flurry and noise of our lives – years – to cherish memories, reclaim life’s gift, reaffirm what matters. Unknown to Marilyn I was distracted by another flash of memory. A few weeks ago at a formal dinner preceding a panel discussion at a university, Rabbi David Wirtschafter grounded us with a quote by Reinhold Niebuhr: “Humor is, in fact, a prelude to faith; and laughter is the beginning of prayer.” My overly primed intellect had resonated with the truth of Niebuhr’s insight and envied the rabbi’s brilliance. Nussled with sounds from the playground, recalling a mother’s joy, they were reconfirmed now by maternal wisdom.
With all this rippling through my day, I became intrigued with a story spotted during a routine iPad survey of favorite sites. What really drew my attention were remarks by Jesuit Superior General Fr. Adolfo Nicolás marking the 100th anniversary of a Sophia University in Japan. Likening religious experience to a person who can appreciate the intricacies and variations of classical music, Nicolás explained that “religion is first of all very much more like this musical sense than a rational system of teachings and explanations.” In this Jesuit’s teaching I heard the wisdom of Rabbi Wirtschafter and Pastor Niebuhr affirmed. Even more, I heard music that charmed my mother’s ears.
Here to escape the harshness of winter and soak up the warmth of Arizona family, I resonate with Nicolás’ lamenting how many people have lost our attentiveness to music because of the many other distractions of the modern technological age: “Just as this musical sense is being eroded and weakened by the noise, the pace, the self-images of the modern and postmodern world, so is religious sensitivity… [We] must first of all work toward helping people discover or rediscover this musical sense, this religious sensibility… This awareness and appreciation of dimensions of reality that are deeper than instrumental reason or materialist conceptions of life allow us.” AMEN!
Being reminded of how Mom used to love hearing children at play – their running, yelling and screaming being music to her ears, renewed by their boundless energy and joy – I am again grateful for the way she taught me to pray.
Joshua J. McElwee’s report on Fr. Adolfo Nicolás’ remarks may be found [here].
The quote by Reinhold Niebuhr is from Children of Light and the Children of Darkness.