Sonder: the mystery of bearing the image of God…

Sonder from Wild Gravity on Vimeo.

n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own — an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.”
John Koenig, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows


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Drs. Anthony Fauci, Francis Collins, and Luciana Borio at the National Cathedral

An evening with Drs. Anthony Fauci, Francis Collins, and Luciana Borio at the National Cathedral, presented as the Cathedral’s 2020 Ignatius Forum.


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Democracy Virtual Concert – Norman Philharmonic

Wow! Wonderful! Thank you, Dr. Z., and the Norman Philharmonic!

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The Painted Soul

Michael Barfield, portrait

From my teenage years to the present, I have lived in the soul-shaping presence of the art and music of Michael Barfield, a.k.a. “the painted soul.” Michael’s creative expressions have given voice to my own journey.

Wherever I have lived, I have never been without art like his large, meticulously-colored pencil drawing which I call “morning tea.”

Michael Barfield, Morning Tea
Michael Barfield, “Morning Tea”

We have read countless books together through the years, from Lewis and Tolkien to Rookmaaker or Annie Dillard. Those discussions with Michael have been formative for my own thinking on art, music, literature, theology, and life.

Michael Barfield, Leonardo's Dilemma
Michael Barfield, “Leonardo’s Dilemma”

Works of Michael’s like “Leonardo’s Dilemma” and “Now a System So Advanced” have hung in the hallways of the History of Science Collections, and “Child’s Scarlet Christ” in my own office.

Michael Barfield, Now A System So Advanced
Michael Barfield, “Now A System So Advanced”

It seems somehow fitting that my favorite portrait of Steve Jobs appears in my office adjacent to one of Michael’s paintings, given that Michael and I were watching the 1984 Super Bowl together, drinking IBC root beer, when the famous Macintosh commercial aired. Technology and the arts has been a recurring conversation topic.

Michael Barfield, Child's Scarlet Christ
Michael Barfield, “Child’s Scarlet Christ”

As we were reading Erich Heller, The Disinherited Mind, Michael enlightened me about the artist’s challenge, in our fragmented age, of finding a common visual language capable of allowing the artist and the viewer to achieve a shared meaning in the experience of the work. Michael’s oeuvre constantly addresses this challenge through incorporation of motifs from the history of art.

Michael Barfield, Chorus from the Rock Michael Barfield, Chorus from the Rock
Michael Barfield, “Chorus from the Rock”

Michael’s art inspires me in ways similar to my other favorite painter, Georges Rouault.

Michael Barfield, two portraits
Michael Barfield, two portraits

Michael’s songs are an intricate form of musical poetry similar to that of his kindred musical spirit, Bruce Cockburn, to whom Michael introduced me back in the ’70’s.

Michael Barfield, guitar
Michael Barfield, at Kerry’s apartment long long ago

When Candace and I were married, Michael created the invitations and printed program and sang his song, Season Suite:

Michael Barfield, Owl

“Are you ready for the winter months ahead?
Are you ready for the stilling of all life?
When the first flake falls upon your hand can you look back
with a peaceful smile written on your face?
If you have this kind of confidence in mind,
no regrets in all your past?
That’s the kind of peace I find in him,
a season I know will always last.”
Michael Barfield, “Seasons Suite”

Through the years, Michael’s art has been a constant backdrop in our home. Countless visitors have had their pictures taken in front of the wolves or the owl.

Michael Barfield, Wolves Michael Barfield, Wolves

When I struggled for years to give birth to my dissertation, Michael listened attentively as my “resonator” throughout.

Since then, he regularly sends us doodles through the mail, including even a history of science pedagogical cartoon.

Michael Barfield, Mail doodle Michael Barfield, Madden doodle

To all who know him, Michael is a faithful friend, ever attentive and persevering in empathy and hope.

Michael Barfield, Old Faithful doodle

Earlier this year, Michael gave me permission to use six of his paintings as iconic signposts for my lectures in an online course:

  1. 2a. Thinking Theologically, “Owl”
  2. 9a. Dualism, “Leonardo’s Dilemma”
  3. 9b. Dilemmas of Design, “The Violin Maker”
  4. 10a. Natural Theology, “Child’s Scarlet Christ”
  5. 11a. Priest of Creation, “Now A System So Advanced”
  6. 11b. New Creation, “Chorus from the Rock”

Lectures take their point of departure from the paintings. Course lectures are also punctuated by musical interludes taken from some of Michael’s songs.

Now Michael has given me permission to share those songs here in this blog post. He is making these songs available for download at no cost. The songs presented here individually were originally conceived as album projects, with coordinated artwork and reflective essays.

  1. Season Suite
  2. Hold Onto You
    • This song portrays Michael (“A poet sings his song, it lingers on the wind…”), and his love for his wife Rhonda (“Let every step that they take, let every word they breathe, rise from their soul to draw close and hold onto you…”).
  3. Morning Tea
    • One of Michael’s early songs, reminding me of characters painted by Georges Rouault.
  4. Bitter Wine
    • The mystery of the eucharist, as God calls us to enter into joy through suffering.
  5. Bride
    • Produced by Eric Barfield, Michael’s son.
  6. Broken Wings
  7. Carnival
    • Another “Rouault” song; I think of Rouault’s clowns.
  8. Raindrops
    • For those of us who love the rain…
  9. No Home
    • Night thoughts of a pilgrim with no home in this world.
  10. Eternal Dance
    • Glimpses of the eternal dance behind the daily grind.
  11. Photographs
    • Title song of one of Michael’s album art projects.
  12. Stayed Up Late
    • What might tomorrow bring?
  13. Winter (Daybreak)
    • “Redeem the past in my remaining days…”
  14. Proverbs 3
    • A simple affirmation.
  15. Sometimes I Wonder
    • A confession of gratitude.
  16. Thank You Song
    • Another simple affirmation.
  17. Evening Prayer
    • A prayer not for escape but for transformation.
  18. Tomorrow
    • A song of longing and hope.

Download all of the above.

These paintings and songs are only a small subset of Michael’s creative compositions. Think of them as appetizers for his larger work. Digest them slowly, without haste, in appreciation. If you like them, or want more information, let him know: thepaintedsoul at gmail dot com. Or send him a tip for a coffee at his favorite coffeeshop, Picasso’s.

Michael Barfield, coffee shop

As for the larger coordinated media project, I’m hoping someday for an exhibition.

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When I first met Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer books

Greg Williams recently interviewed me on the topic of GCI’s new initiative to establish Ministry Training Centers on every inhabited continent. Here’s an excerpt from that interview where he asked me about my own spiritual formation, and I recalled the occasion when I first discovered Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

As a teenager, growing up in rural Missouri, I had never heard of Bonhoeffer. But I was privileged one summer to attend a week-long church camp in North Carolina. This camp was not anything like the camps I knew in Missouri. Most importantly, it had a bookstore — it was the first time in my life I had ever seen a theological bookstore. Every day, in awe, I spent the lunch hour in the bookstore, poring over which books I might buy with my food money. At the end of the week, I came away with a geography of the Bible and four books by Bonhoeffer including Life Together and The Cost of Discipleship. Back in Missouri, I stumbled into my house gaunt and faint from the sacrifice of the moment, but I still have those books and treasure them to this day! The books by Bonhoeffer describe the embodied experience of ministry training for the Confessing Church in Germany during the rising years of the Nazi party. Many young ministers in training came to Bonhoeffer’s underground seminary at Finkenwalde. Books and pamphlets read in isolation during those trying times would not have been enough — only through shared life together could they be fortified for the challenges of ministry that lay ahead. Reflection upon these books was formative for me.

Read the full interview.

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“When I have money,
I buy food and books.
When I do not,
I buy books.”
– Erasmus

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Minds alive on shelves

“These are not books, lumps of lifeless paper, but minds alive on the shelves. From each of them goes out its own voice, as inaudible as the streams of sound conveyed by electric waves beyond the range of our hearing; and just as the touch of button on our stereo will fill the room with music, so by opening one of these volumes, one can call into range a voice far distant in time and space, and hear it speaking, mind to mind, heart to heart.” – Gilbert Highet, The Immortal Profession

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Francis Collins’ Templeton Prize ceremony

The Sept 24, 2020, Templeton Prize award ceremony for Francis Collins is moving in many ways, on multiple levels, with respect to every segment, speaker, and participant. The ceremony culminates in Collins’ eloquent acceptance speech, which shines with wisdom and love. It will repay repeated hearing. His story and his message coinhere to create a message of hope for our time. And then there’s an incomparably appropriate song at the end.

Watch the full ceremony:

We thank God for you, Francis. You are a sign to us of what God is doing in these hard times. We are praying for you.

How Will Pandemic Change Us? NIH Director Francis Collins on Fighting Covid-19:

Short clips of different segments are available from a Templeton playlist. Below is the final clip, of Dr. Francis Collins and Renée Fleming Sing duet:

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Microscopic wonders

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New C. S. Lewis recordings – Ransom Trilogy

What a delight to hear on my drive to work this morning that the Wade Center is releasing newly digitized recordings of C. S. Lewis. They capture Lewis reading excerpts from the Ransom Trilogy. The Wade Center Podcast, hosted by the Wade’s co-directors David and Crystal Downing, is a treasure trove of enthralling and insightful conversations about the seven authors the Wade collects: in addition to Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Dorothy L. Sayers, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, G. K. Chesterton, and George MacDonald. If you enjoy any of these writers, you will want to go back and listen through the archives of the Wade Center podcast!

This morning’s episode introduces the Ransom Trilogy, which includes Out of the Silent Planet (1938), Perelandra (1943), and That Hideous Strength (1945). Excerpts from the Lewis recordings will appear over the next two episodes. The full recording consists of Lewis reading from ch. 3 of Perelandra (27 minutes); ch. 13 of That Hideous Strength (9:13 minutes); and the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales (8:35 minutes, in Middle English). The podcast episodes contain excerpts with enjoyable and insightful discussion; the full recording is available for $3 at the Rabbit Room website.

Subscribe to The Wade Center Podcast wherever you get your podcasts or listen on the Wade Center website.

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