Love. Revere. Discover. Connect.

January 7, 2018: “Summoning the Muses”

Theme: Music and Art

Time for All Ages (Rev Denis)

In the days of Ancient Greece, from about 1000 years before the beginning of the Common Era, until about year 500, they worshiped a whole bunch of Gods and Goddesses. Hundreds of them. And there were lesser beings, too, beings who had influence over humans, but didn’t have the status of power of the gods.

Among them were nine muses, the daughters of Zeus, god of gods, and Mnomosyne, the goddess of memory. They were said to be the sources of inspiration for scientists and artists: sculptors, painters, writers, actors and musicians.

The thing that was really cool about the muses is that they were believed to interact with regular ordinary people, like you and me, the kinds of people that the great gods and goddesses usually couldn’t be bothered with. They would come to people, in the dreams or in their waking lives, and give them the courage to create.

Because you know, it’s always been true. It’s really easy to criticize, but it takes a lot of courage to create something.

Muses were believed to help people get over their own inner critic.

I think most of us could stand to get over our own voices of self-doubt, so I’m going to talk about the muses as if they are still here with us.

Calliope, whose name means “beautiful-voiced”, was the Muse of Epic Poetry. She was the one who would help storytellers remember the entire Odyssey, which is hundreds of pages long, which is a lot harder to do than to than for Ed Sheeran or Beyonce to remember all the words to all of their songs.

Clio’s name means “to make famous” or “celebrate.” She’s the muse of history, which is kind of funny when you consider her name is used for award advertisers give to each other once a year. Because, you know, advertising is about right here and now. In the world of ads and commercials, history is last week’s People Magazine.

Erato, whose name means “lovely” or “beloved”, was the Muse of Lyric Poetry, especially love songs and poems. She’s probably the one gives Bruno Mars all his ideas for songs that say things like “I’d jump in front of a train for you,” or tells maroon 5 “What Lovers Do”.

Euterpe, is the “the giver of much delight.” She’s the Muse of Music, who back in the day was said to entertain Zeus and the other gods on Mount Olympus. I have a hard time imagining where she would be now, since, you know there aren’t really any gods on Mount Olympus. 
Maybe she’s just hanging out with people who think they’re gods, like at Mar-A-Lago or something. I don’t know.

Melpomene, whose name roughly means “to celebrate with dance and song”, was initially the Muse of Singing but later became the Muse of Tragedy. I’m guessing these days she’s en epic drama queen, hanging out backstage on shows like The Voice and American Idol, encouraging competitors when they’re on stage, and consoling them when they get sent home. That would be more than a full time job.

Polyhymnia’s name comes from the words for “praise” or “hymn.” She’s the muse of Sacred Poetry and Music. She’s very serious, but can also be very lighthearted. Hmm. I think Marj is my Polyhymnia. Except for when she’s not.

Terpsichore’s name means “delight in dancing,” and she’s the muse of Dance and the Dramatic Chorus.

I imagine her watching over Rockettes and line dancers everywhere, and hovering over the sets of music videos as dozens of people do the same complicated dance, all facing the camera.

Urania, meaning “heavenly”, is the Muse of Astronomy and Astronomical Writings. She is said to be able to tell the future by the arrangement of the stars. Imagine if you could tap into her knowledge to find out when to buy and sell stocks? Or bitcoin? You could be rich.

Interestingly, Urania also been associated with the idea of Universal Love. Like Universalists. Hmmm. Maybe if we could get her hang around here, she could help us see the future.

And Finally there’s Thalia, whose name comes from the Greek words for “rich festivity” and “blooming.” She’s the Muse of Comedy and Idyllic Poetry. I might be going out on a limb here, but I think she should be Carole Clement’s muse, because Carole writes poems and comedy and she’s a good gardener.

What about you? Who would your muse be, if you could choose one of the nine sisters to watch over and inspire you? Clio to help make you famous? Or Urania to help you be a successful scientist? Or one of the others?

Personal Reflection Che Sinclair

Inspiration comes from many places, your family, your pets ,music, and any number of things and that inspirations creates beautiful things be it art music fashion anything.

But for me inspiration for my art comes from emotion, and in turn from people because people cause the greatest emotions in me. I am what you call a worry wart ,a fussbucket, a prophet of doom, a worrier and yes I did have to look up synonyms, I have dealt with anxiety and depression for many years I am easily scared and constantly afraid.

Despite how bad it may sound I’ve gained a lot of inspiration and knowledge from it. I have created heart wrenching pieces of art from these emotions, I have created art that can get other people to feel how I was feeling and if you ask I’d show you I have no shame about what I am, I am sensitive and caring. But because of my sensitivity I am hyper aware of other people’s emotions, and sometimes I draw those emotions I pick up from others whether happy or sad and or even angry, but it helps me understand others better.

It helps me become a better person and a better artist.

Music is another form of inspiration for me, music evokes emotions that I had forgotten about, and what I hear is what I draw. I get down to the deeper meaning of a song. If you have seen me draw you know I make weird faces while I do it. I’ll frown or smile or look completely insane but its all because I am unconsciously trying to connect to the emotion of the character I am drawing, sometimes I catch myself and become deeply embarrassed or sometimes someone come up to me and asks if I’m ok!

Either way that embarrassment changes how I’m drawing. What I’m creating. My art reflects what I really am, it shows how I really am and sometimes it shows a bad part of me but sometimes it shows the best parts of me. But either way it is me and I gotta love me because i’m the only one I get and despite these troubles it has allowed me to create beautiful things and become a better person.

That’s the lesson about inspiration: it’s all about relationships. With the trees or the snow, with Patterson, the best dog ever. And with the people who keep me going, my friends and family, the people I see when I walk around town, and, even to you, the people who make this a warm, and happy, and inspirational place for me.

Reading Rev Denis Letourneau Paul

This morning’s reading is from a book called Art & Soul Reloaded, by Pam Grout, who describes herself as a creative explorer.

She writes books and articles for CNN, Men’s Journal, the Huffington Post, and that great journal of contemporary history, People Magazine. She writes:

Every dream that has ever tiptoed across your mind is a summons from the universe. A summons that says, “I need you.”

On the day you were born, you were presented with a creative gift. It is a gift the world needs. Your song may never be sung on Jimmy Fallon. It may never make the top 40.

But somebody out there needs to hear it. Maybe it’s the 92-year-old shut-in who lives next door, who giggles every time she overhears you sing “I wish I were an Oscar Meyer wiener.” Isn’t that enough?

At times, it seems like a daunting task, adding your voice to the chorus. You wonder:

What do I have to add to the world’s great body of art?

Who am I to join the likes of Michelangelo, James Cameron, Prince?

I would suggest the better question is: who are you not to? What right do you have to refuse the voice that whispers to you every morning, every afternoon, and every evening as you retire spent and exhausted from denying again and again and again the hand of the Great Collaborator?

But hasn’t everything already been said?

Until we hear your version of this fierce and joyful world, there is more to be said. Each [person] looks upon the sunset with a slightly different eye.

All of us long for a rich, participatory life. We all have the same recurring longing to break down our defenses, to be able to give and receive gifts. When we compose a piece of music or shape a lump of clay, we wriggle out of the straightjacket and come out shouting “yes, yes, yes” to life’s unlimited, unceasing possibilities.

Sermon Rev. Denis Letourneau Paul

Pam Grout seems like …. Well … kind of a kook.

She seems like one of those people who is constantly wandering, looking for something fun and exciting to do. She says she has been an extra in a zombie movie; composed a country-western song; created a TV series that never got picked up; and communed with Maasai warriors, Turkish Sultans, and Inti, the Ecuadorian Sun God.

If nothing else, she gets around.

I picked up her book a few weeks ago, because I liked the subtitle: A Yearlong Apprenticeship for Summoning the Muses and Reclaiming Your Bold, Audacious, Creative Side.

I knew this month we’d be focusing on Art and Music in worship, and honestly, I was hoping there would be some ideas in there for what we can do for the next iteration of these three panels we’ve vowed to reuse each year for a communal art piece.

The intention of the book is to get the reader to just do the nutty things she suggests, ranging from the simple – like making a hat out of newspaper – to the embarrassing – like miming on a busy street corner – to the actually kind of inspired – like writing a love letter to someone you can’t stand.

I kind of like her. And her book is the sort of thing our own Artist in Residence – slash – Director of Religious Education would write. It’s good folksy advice about how to stop criticizing and start creating. 
And based on my own art school education, I think there’s a lot of merit to what she says, and the acts of creativity she encourages.

Pam Grout starts off by stressing that there are two “rudimentary but vital practices,” for cultivating creativity.

The first is to say Yes. That’s it. Just say yes. Which sounds really easy, but what saying yes requires is to show up, to have a little integrity and do what you say you’re going to do, by being present.
Saying yes, I know, can be incredibly easy. You know there are lots of people in the world who say yes all the time. People who can seem to ever say no. You know. The kind of people who overextend themselves, get way too busy, then end up falling off the face of the earth or – worse – just never get around to doing what they said they would do.

The trick here is to say yes and mean it.

To figure out exactly how much time you can give, and show up and do whatever it is the universe or your muse or your teacher, minister or therapist is suggesting you should do.

The second rudimentary but vital practice for cultivating creativity is to ask. Because once you’ve shown up, you’ll want to know what to do. Grout suggests coming at the process “humbly, asking the muses to use your skills, whatever they might be, in their service. Ask to be their channel. Agree to take dictation.

Come at it humbly, admitting you could use some assistance.” (1)

Sparks of inspiration, Grout says, don’t just appear. You have to ask for them. You’ll have to ask anyone who inspires you. Your friends, your spouse, your grandchildren, the 92-year old next door you know listens to you singing “I wish I were and Oscar Meyer Weiner”, your choir director. Whoever it is that makes you want to be more bold and more audacious, those are the people you have to ask.

And if, as Che said earlier, you are inspired by relationships with people or trees or snow, or Patterson, the best dog ever, you are going to have to ask them what they want from you. I know trees and snow and dogs aren’t going to answer you with words, but if you listen carefully, really carefully, you’ll get hear from them that little summons that says “I need you.”

They are your muses.

And for every muse, there is at least one siren ready to take you down, one enemy of creativity that tries to lure you away from any kind of achievement.

Those sirens will sing you away with their songs of procrastination. They’ll get you to make all kinds of excuses to yourself and the world, one after another. We all do it. We all make excuses in order to put off what we know would be good for us to do right now. I know what I say say to myself. “Oh, there is just too much work to do. Too many people need me.

I have to check out social media to see if anyone I care about is in need of attention. I have to look at the news to see if there is any burning issue that requires my immediate attention.”

When you hear the summons from the universe that says “I need you” the siren song of procrastination these days tries to drown it out with something like “you know want to state your opinion about that!”

Then there is Resistance.

The real problem with creating anything new is that it is, by definition, changing something. Because basically, at our core, we all hate change to some degree, and if you get really good at this creativity thing, really good at coming up with solutions that could change the world, your own life will change.

So, when you hear the summons from the universe that says “I need you” the siren song of resistance goes “everything is fine just the way it is. You don’t need to do a thing.”

Finally, there is self-doubt.

We’re all good at something. Whether it’s washing dishes, brain surgery or tax law, we all have an area of expertise. Maybe we’re even creative in those areas where we excel. But if you aren’t currently answering the call of the universe, or it seems like sparkling baking dishes or new loopholes just aren’t cutting it, you’ve got to try making something else. Anything.

Ira Glass, storyteller and producer of This American Life on Public Radio, talks about how hard it is to try something new. He says, “for the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good. It has the potential to be good, but it’s not. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people who do interesting, creative work went through years of this.”

I know what he means. When I was designing and building houses in my twenties, boy was I trying. And it shows.

My younger brother lives on a street full of houses I designed right out of architecture school. They make me cringe a little every time I visit him. But I kept plugging away, and by the time I designed his house, the last on the street, when I was 30….I was good.

Not to sound smug, but 21 years later, my brother’s house is still nice. Timeless. Elegant. Unlike the sad, awkward houses it’s surrounded by. When I started building those houses, summoned by the universe telling me it needed me to build nicer houses than people thought they could afford, the sirens were singing to me “you aren’t good enough. You’re mediocre.”

I didn’t quit. I worked through it. And became something better than mediocre. Maybe even interesting.

But then the Universe started telling me it needed something different from me. So I answered by becoming a minister, and fifteen years later, here I am, having gone through a whole lot more self doubt all over again.

When I came here the first time to meet the members, almost four years ago, East Shore was described to me as the Unitarian Universalist congregation in Northeast Ohio where art is most valued and celebrated. I was told about the Annual Art Show that began 35 years earlier, that regularly drew respected artists and big crowds of art fans, and the impact the show has had on the church and the wider community.

Most of the churches in Kirtland and Chesterland now have some sort of annual art show or craft fair. I was told about the process for designing the building, and the impact of the artistic members on the finished building.

The art pedigree is one of the things that appealed to me most about coming here and working with you all. I’d get to do something familiar, something I was skilled at, as I continued to hone my liturgical craft, preaching and creating worship. I’ve gotten to work with Halcyon, David, Bree, Elisabeth, Marilyn, Marianne and others to create make these panels behind me, and decorate the space for worship.

It’s been great. There’s noting I love more than creative collaboration.

But the thing I knew even before I got here is that the art in this congregation, the art in any congregation, isn’t just about the visual and decorative, the stuff that gets framed or hung or displayed. The art in a congregation is in the way it lives. The way it worships as a community and connects to the wider world.

I knew then what Pam Grout confirms in her book: All of us long for a rich, participatory life. We all have the same recurring longing to break down our defenses, to be able to give and receive gifts.

[We long to love, discover, revere and connect. That’s why we get out of bed on Sunday mornings and bring ourselves here.]

When we [sing] a piece of music [form flaming chalices out of clippings from the yard, or show up in support of our neighbors in need,] we wriggle out of the straightjacket [the rest of the world seems to want to put us in,] and come out shouting “yes, yes, yes” to life’s unlimited, unceasing possibilities.

I often regret making generalizations about generations. Especially generalizations about Baby Boomers, because there is nothing boomers hate more than being generalized. But one thing I’ve learned from the majority of Millennials I’ve known and worked with,
is that they often aim to make their lives into an art form that they can share with the world. Thanks to the internet and the gig economy, they can share the stuff that really matters to them.

You can watch hours of video blogs about couples who’ve made their homes in narrowboats going up and down the canals of England, or made innovations in 
Beekeeping, or beer brewing;
Tiny houses, or historic preservation;
Extreme sports, or folk music.

The song we heard during the candle lighting, Falling Slowly, is from a movie that was turned into a Broadway musical, called Once, in which the protagonist, played by Glen Hansard is stuck in a rut after a terrible breakup.

He plays angry songs he’s written, banging them out on his guitar that has a hole beaten in the front of it from the force of his playing, busking on the streets of Dublin between shifts at a vacuum repair shop.

In a plotline that loosely resembles their own relationship, one Day Marketa Irglova shows up, an immigrant from Eastern Europe who works as a maid. She’s fairly unimpressed. She gives him a dime. A dime. He responds, of course, with disdain.

But somehow, they strike up a friendship, he discovers she’s quite skilled musically, the daughter of a composer. Falling Slowly is the first song they perform together.

Miraculously, she becomes his muse, the inspiration for a whole album of songs that finally get him out of the doldrums, out of his parents’ basement, and launch his career. She does it not by whispering into his ear messages of love and sweetness. She kicks his butt, calls him on his bad habits, and withholds from his the one thing he wants: her love.

I know none of this is particularly earthshattering.

The creative process requires showing up and asking for inspiration from our muses, the people and things we are in relationship with. The sirens of our distraction are procrastination, resistance and self-doubt. Pretty obvious, really.

But here’s the thing that occurred to me as I put together this sermon: I’ve had a lot of resistance from members to the idea of working on our mission. The very word mission sounds either like an empty statement from a corporation about passion for customer service, or worse, mission sounds like a bunch of white church people going to a poor country to convert the heathens.

But maybe we’re not looking for a mission. Maybe we’re looking for the dream that is tiptoeing across our minds as a summons from the universe, saying “I need you.”

Maybe what we’re looking for is a muse to kick our collective butt, and call us on our bad habits, inspire us to show up and ask the kinds of questions that will inspire relationships of mutual help and support.

Maybe our muse is not a person like Urania or Polyhymnia or even Marketa Irglova but an idea, summed by a few words, or commitment to an important issue. Maybe we’re looking for less of a statement in words and more of an inspiration to the kind of creativity that will allow us to have a positive impact on the world. Together. On purpose.

I think it starts with the kind of gutsy attitude Che has.

What do you think?

(1) Pam Grout. Art & soul Reloaded: A Yearlong Apprenticeship for Summoning the Muses and Reclaiming Your Bold, Audacious, Creative Side. 2017. Hay House, Inc. P 4.