Monday, April 8, 2013

To be a bird

What does it mean to be free?

We all seem to long for freedom, for the day when we can truly be. Literature - especially what was written by women in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries - seems to be full of images of birds in cages, birds that long to be released to live as they are meant to live, wild and free on the breeze. We long to live not imprisoned in cages, where our wings cannot realize their potential, but instead to soar through the sky, using our wings to their fullest capabilities.

But so often our enactment of freedom - and our perceived right to freedom - begins to emphasize not so much a longing to be who we are meant to be as a longing to do what we want to do. We begin to think that if we are free we can do whatever we want. And the bird that is trapped in the cage begins to believe it is her intrinsic right to live underwater and swim with the clownfish because that is what she wants to do. Freedom comes to be linked to desire.

In one of my assigned readings for the week I came across an interesting line in N.T. Wright's book After You Believe. He writes:
And, as with authenticity, freedom grasped too soon becomes an over-realized eschatology, a failure to realize how much work virtue still has to do to bring it to the goal. 
Perhaps we do not yet know what freedom is. Perhaps we do not yet know the conditions required for us to truly flourish and to truly use our wings as they are meant to be used. Perhaps we think we are primed for swimming when really these wings are for flying.

I am beginning to see freedom as inextricably linked with restraint. I came across a poem today that I wrote for a writing class years ago in one of my first years in university. Occasional awkwardness of phrasing aside, it served as a reminder to me today of how, in music, beauty is inextricably linked with restraint:
Mitten-robed, my hands run across knee caps
In frail attempts to ward off nervous cold.
As heart pounds through stomach, chest, throat, chill wraps
Me tight, while judges scribble words that fold
That beauty, that music into black lines.
Playing before me, she wooed a prelude
From that bleak black-white expanse, many times
Rehearsed to purge the imperfect, the crude.
I too sought to colour notes beautiful
Yet was vanquished by harsh reality,
Metronomes, memory. Wretched, truthful,
Notes, hung on jail-staves, taught me to see
How sweet, humble, how colourful the sound
Heard when hope from black and white is unbound.
 You cannot play the prelude properly until you submit yourself to the music, and to the knowledge that the composer was not a fool when he marked the page with dynamics, rhythm, metronome markings and all the rest. When we realize this, the notes will be liberated from the staff and notes will be transformed into music. So too is it that when we submit to our Creator, we truly learn how to soar.

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