Lewis, Tolkien, and the Creative Power of Music

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Music is powerful. Something inherently in music provides peace and joy amidst stress and turmoil. At least that is the experience I have when listening to music. There exists a certain universal quality to music that draws all mankind together. Below I will provide examples from literature and the tradition of Catholic Church to show evidence of music’s capacity to unite people through its creative power.

1. Aslan’s Aria: Similar to the creation story in the Book of Genesis, the creation of Narnia takes place through the creative voice of Aslan [God]. Here is a brief excerpt from The Magician’s Nephew which gives the reader a glimpse into the inception of Narnia,

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A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming. Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. It was hardly a tune. But it was beyond comparison, the most beautiful sound he had ever heard.

Words, especially clothed in music, possess a dynamic quality in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Reading Aslan’s Aria moved me. I felt closeness to Lewis’ literary universe and a pull to experience the transcendence of God through music.

2. Evidence from The Silmarillion: According to Peter Kreeft, in The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings, “The most powerful and magical of language is music. The reason for this is that music is the original language. Music is the language of creation” (p. 161). Similar to the creation of Narnia through Aslan’s song in The Magician’s Nephew, C.S. Lewis’ contemporary and friend J.R.R. Tolkien recognizes the creative and unifying power music holds in the creation of Middle Earth. In his great work The Silmarillion, Tolkien details the creation of the universe—and Middle earth—through the creative power of music. Tolkien writes,

Ilúvatar [God] said to them, ‘Behold your Music!’ And he showed them a vision, giving to them sight where before was only hearing; and they saw a new World made visible before them, and it was globed amid the Void, it was sustained therein, but was not of it. And as they looked and wondered this World began to unfold its history, and it seemed to them that it lived and grew. And when the Ainur [angels] had gazed for a while and were silent Ilúvatar said again, ‘Behold your Music!’ (p. 6).

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I will refer back to Kreeft since he has a penchant for simplifying profound truths in easy, memorable, and digestible quotes. The Boston College professor states, “Poetry is fallen music, and prose is fallen poetry…In the beginning was music” (Philosophy of Tolkien p. 162). This makes sense to me. Something innate within music truly moves the hardest of hearts and melts differences among enemies away. Poetry and prose have residue of music within them, but still fall short of the full reality that is communicated through the medium of music!

3. Musicam Sacram: Promulgated on March 5th, 1967 Musicam Sacram [Instruction on Music in the Liturgy] speaks of the importance and weight sacred music has and gives to the Mass. According to this Vatican II document, “The true purpose of sacred music [is], ‘which is the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful’” (no. 4). Moreover, Musicam Sacram mentions that the celebration of the holy Mass is provided a more noble form when song is a frequent part of the liturgy (no. 5). From my own personal experience, I concur with the assertion of the conciliar document that music enhances liturgical worship. Peace is a common fruit of singing at Mass. My oldest son is starting to learn the words to the songs and I have noticed that when he sings throughout the Mass he is calmer. There is certainly a truth to the old adage: “Singing is praying twice!”

The Silmarillion and The Chronicles of Narnia are still relevant works of literature decades after they were initially published. Part of the mysterious appeal and timeless nature of Lewis’ and Tolkien’s works is their tapping into the creative power of music. Both men discovered the mysterious influence music has over mankind. Weaving melodious themes into the creation stories of their literary universes naturally draws people to wonder. Almost everyone I knew likes music of some sort and that is not a coincidence. God uses music to unite our sinful world and the height of the creative power is found during a Catholic Mass. I strongly encourage the next time you go to Mass whether you are Catholic or not to sing along with the music and take note of how your heart is moved.

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Resistance 

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The dictionary defines resistance as the refusal to accept or comply with something. A common fruit of resistance is inaction. Today I am struggling immensely with resistance— resistance to get up this morning, go to work, and resistance to write! My family had a busy weekend. We celebrated my son’s birthday party and we had 15 kids running around our backyard for a few hours. On top of that Sunday we celebrated our priest’s going away party at our parish and took the kids out to the municipal zoo for a few hours before wrapping up with night by watching the Lego: Batman Movie. All in all it was a jam-packed weekend.
I normally get inspiration for my daily blog topic on my morning drive to work when I listen to Christian music. Today, I do not experience any such inspiration. I felt tired, unimaginative, and slothful. Resisting  my feeling of resistance seemed futile. Thank goodness that statement is not true. I chose to act. Not with a grandiose or creative act, but with just a simple act. I choose to start writing. Sometimes that starting act is enough. We experience highs and lows in life. Today I am experiencing a low, a lull moment. My resistance to resistance is not much, but I am hopeful that it is enough to carry me to the next day—where my battle against resistance will begin anew. Tomorrow, I hope to write about how music inspires me. Hopefully, I will be inspired tomorrow during my morning drive to work listening to the radio. Hope. Because of its existence resistance is not futile!

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Detective Daddy Episode 1: Mystery of the Sippy Cup Snatcher

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Here is a continuation of a funny short story— based on characters I created from the antics of my oldest son in 2013.

Characters:

Detective Daddy: Me

Concerned citizens: Jenny (my wife) and Amelia

Reformed Puzzler Pilfer [now a concerned citizen]: Noah

Sippy Cup Snatcher: Josiah

Prologue [set in spring 2013]: Detective Daddy was notified at 10am about a strange series of nocturnal occurrences at the Chicoine household. Several puzzle pieces have gone missing in the past week or two. A local citizen and concerned mother heard loud noises emitting from our son’s room. Upon entering she caught the Puzzle Pilferer red-handed!! He was dropping them down the heat vent. When Jenny questioned him about his dastardly deeds, this notorious fellow simply said “Uh-oh” and “Uh-hah”. Last afternoon when Detective Daddy returned home, he enlisted Jenny in sweeping the crime scene (Air Ventilation System) nothing was to be found. Looks like the Puzzler Pilferer will have to undergo a rigorous and unconventional interrogation method (Stay in timeout corner and rescinding him privilege of having a basketball and toy cars). Meanwhile the citizens of the Chicoine household will diligently search for those missing cognitive development toys. Time will tell whether things will settle down and the Puzzler Pilfer truly has been rehabilitated.

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Present day: Returning from his Saturday afternoon run, the retired Detective Daddy rested in his front yard. Running always provided opportunity for him reflect on his life. Things have greatly changed in the past four years Daddy thought—but his family is in a better place!

Completing his most famous case and nabbing the Puzzle Pilferer that cool April night a few years ago was exhilarating. It also was taxing. The rehabilitation process, to reform the Puzzler Pilferer, took a lot out of the former private investigator. Moving to a new city, retiring from detective work, and taking up a low-key desk job as a mortgage modification specialist took away the stress of his previous career. However, there was always a certain restlessness Daddy had. A certain anxiety about whether he truly overcame the mischievous of the Puzzle Pilferer. Do shenanigans go ever forever or do they simply arise up again under a different guise and persona?

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Citizens of the Chicoine household lamented over a precipitous precipitation related predicament—they were missing water from their sippy cups! Now as you may know, water is the most important natural resource known to man. The human body is composed of nearly 75% of H20. Initially, Daddy did not take these concerns too seriously. Perhaps the citizens simply drank the water and forgot they did so because of their engrossment within the ninja movies played at the local park theater [i.e. Living Room T.V.]. Instead of waning, the cries and citizenly concerns only increased as the week progressed.

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Reluctantly, Daddy realized he had to don the deerstalker once again and become Detective Daddy! This mystery certainly eclipsed his case of the Puzzle Pilferer. An aquatic attack is an attack on the Chicoine water way of life. Pretending to do dishes, Detective Daddy waited until this mysterious Sippy Cup Snatcher revealed himself or herself. After what felt like hours [really only 5 minutes!] a two-foot tall toddler, with cuteness to kill, ambled across the local park [Living Room] and quickly snatched a green sippy cup. Leaning his head back, he chugged a few sips and proceeded to chuck the cup against the wall. Next he pirated water from his sister’s blue sippy cup!

Detective Daddy solved the mysterious identity of the Sippy Cup Snatcher, but the real challenge begins—building a case and a rehabilitation program to reform the Chicoine household’s most recent miscreant. Will our favorite private eye prevail or will this new friendly faced-foe best Detective Daddy? Will these shenanigans continue for good? Why does the Sippy Cup Snatcher only like green and blue cups? Will we discover the favorite shape of the reformed Puzzle Pilfer?

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3 Ways I Experienced Peace on this Therapeutic Thursday!

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Anxiety is something I have struggled with for the majority of my life. In elementary school, I battled anxiety during standardized testing sessions, constant changes to my schedule, and my shyness in the classroom. As an adult, I was able to mitigate some of my anxiety—still worry continues to haunt me. I suffered from mild depression the last couple of years. Fortunately, I am blessed my faith and family continue to provide opportunities to help me out. Recently, I started going to a counselor to help me with my anxiety. I am come a long way because the old me was ashamed and embarrassed to admit I went to counseling. I felt like a failure for needing outside professional help.

What I have come to realize during my writing journey these past few months is that the Holy Spirit provides assistance in unusual times and places. Today I wish to share how I experienced peace on this Therapeutic Thursday.

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1. I’m Alive Because He Lives: Matt Maher’s song Because He Lives played over the radio this morning on my drive to work. Here is the song’s refrain:

Amen, Amen

I’m alive, I’m alive

Because He lives

Amen, Amen

Let my song join the one that never ends

Because He lives

Focusing on these words over and over during my work commute, I realized that my anxiety is nothing compared to the fact that Christ conquered death. When I unite my song to the eternal song of the Gospel life will flourish within me. Why do I suffer from anxiety weekly—some weeks almost daily? The answer is my failure to trust in the Providence of my Father. I’m alive because He lives!

2. Signs at Work: Our Father is so provident that in addition to Matt Maher’s words of truth, I realized signs of God’s goodness at my workplace. How do I truly know God’s signs were at work? Peace. One of the more simple and constant pieces of evidence for God’s work in our life is a sense of true peace. We had our monthly recognition meeting this morning. It seems silly but I always get nervous right before this meeting. It is in large part to my struggle with pride. I prideful hope I get recognized for my great work by my manager in front of the entire department. When it does not happen I get a sense of defeat. Well, I actually did not feel that way during today’s meeting. I did not get the monthly manager team shout out. I was oddly at peace. Later in the meeting our department played a team-building game. Little signs from God like the game gave me peace of mind.

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3. Consoling Counselor: The advice I received from my counselor to utilize in stressful situations abetted my anxiety and worrisome mindset this morning. He told me to pause and do some slow breathing exercises when an anxious situation arises. I did that today before our departmental meeting. It helped. Our Heavenly Father knew that humanity struggles with worry. So before Jesus ascended into heaven a promise of a Consoler was given. Jesus’ Apostles questioned him about the next steps of their faith journey after he would ascend. He replied with the following words, “But you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you,g and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8 NAB). Growing up, I commonly overlooked the role of the Holy Spirit. In the past few months, my relationship was the Divine Consoling Counselor has grown and deepened. I am continuing to learn to relay on the power of the Holy Spirit through the actions of others to help heal and comfort me.

Social media has promoted a lot of aficionados for alcoholic alliteration by referring to Thursday as Thirsty Thursday. While moderate drinking of beer, wine, or ale is not inherently bad, reliance on things to drown out our worry will not solve the problem on a long-term basis. Therapeutic relief from stress by our Consoling Counselor is lasting because God last forever. I hope I may continue to drink from the spiritual wellspring to acquire peace, joy, and thanksgiving before the Holy Trinity. You are never too far gone to ask others and God for help!

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Cardboard Boxes, Zoo Animals, and Creative Joy!

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One of the more interesting and exciting days of the month for my children is the day our monthly Amazon prime orders of diapers arrive. There is an inherent excitement in their eyes at the knock of the FedEx delivery on our front door. What truly enlivens my children is not the package of diapers themselves, but rather the cardboard delivery box itself. I can only use mine and my wife’s experience to draw on. Nevertheless, I will contend that one of the only thing a person is certain on in this life [along with taxes and death] is that children love cardboard boxes!

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Today, I want to share my observations about the creative joy that my children found, and continue, to find in the seemingly mundane realities of cardboard boxes and McDonald’s HappyMeal toys.

1. Animals Assemble!: The first step towards my children’s goal of transforming our home into a furry zoo was to acquire a cadre of little stuffed animals. One of the blessing my son has with his autism is the ability to hyper-focus on certain subject and quickly learn about the topic. Passing by the golden arches on a Saturday morning errand drive, my children’s stomachs started to take control. As a result, my wife and I decided to get them Happy Meals. Immediately seeing his stuffed lion, my son knew he wanted more animals for his collection. Koalas, elephants, bulls, seals, moose, and a jaguar eventually picked up residence with the lion at our home. I think we almost have the entire animal collection. Our furry zoo assembled!

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2. Researching Residences: Stage second began when my son took a cardboard box and started putting grass, rocks and rhubarb leaves into it. That coupled with his keen interest in animals and daily watching of an educational animal show on PBS and bringing his zoo-themed books to bed allowed my children to learn more about animal habitats. While this stage is technically never over, my kids gather enough information where the single cardboard box was not enough for their animals. Now they want separate zoo habitats for each kind of stuffed animal.

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3. Burgeoning Biomes: Earlier this week I noticed a careened cardboard box at the bottom of our basement stairway. My OCD tendencies involve making sure all recycled materials go into our recycling bin as soon as possible. As I was bringing the cardboard box out the door to our recycling bin, my wife stopped me in my tracks. This box was for our kids’ animal biomes. My actions almost proved fatal to our furry friends’ way of life! Thank God for my wife’s quick thinking. We acquired two additional smaller cardboard boxes from another online order yesterday. As soon as my kids saw the boxes they immediately gathered their entire miniature stuffed animal collection. Imagination ensued as I heard lots of laughter and animal sounds coming from their room. We hope to decorate the boxed biomes with crayons, pictures, and other art supplies to create greater habitat diversity.

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It is truly the simple things in life that elicit authentic joy. Seeing the enthusiasm in my children at the arrival of mere cardboard boxes reinvigorates my outlook on life. I need to be reminded sometimes that life is too fleeting for me to take things so seriously. Joy may be encountered in simple, daily, and normal activities. I am grateful to view joy through the lens of my children. I hope you stop and examine the world around you and experience the joy among you!

4 Reasons Why the Sacrament of Marriage is Necessary for a Healthy Society!

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This summer my wife and I celebrate our seventh wedding anniversary! In honor of this event, I figured I would dedicate a post to our marriage. I also want to highlight the positive effects the sacrament of marriage has on society and why I believe the sacrament of matrimony is vital to a salubrious society. Along with our own marriage celebration, I want to personally recognize my cousin’s testament to the married life. He got married to his bride this past weekend. I present 4 reasons why the sacrament instituted by God is necessary for a healthy society.

1. Unity in Diversity: The four marks [i.e. defining characteristics] of the Catholic Church according to the Nicene Creed is that it is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Each of those traits are found within the sacrament of marriage as well. I will highlight the qualities of the oneness [unity] and catholic [universality] within this sacrament. Men and women are different. Differences are not bad. True equality is not to reduce men and women to be the same in every single aspect of life. Rather, true equality is in reference to equality of respect and dignity for how spouses treat each other. From my own personal experiences, I look to my parent’s marriage as an example of unity found within a diverse relationship. My mother and father come from completely different backgrounds. My dad’s family lacks divorce and has long life spans. On the contrary, my mom’s family exhibited more turmoil as her dad passed away when she was only 12 years old and her sibling relationships are splintered. Men and women communicate differently. By embracing such diversity a unity may be found.

I think somehow this diversity between a man and woman in the Mystery of the sacrament of marriage has been lost in our culture. Not everything in marriage needs to be reduced to sameness between the spouses. If that happens a little bit of the Mystery may disappear. I am meant to explore and learn about my wife on a daily basis. I am not meant to have her completely conform to my image or me to her image. Diversity leads to unity.

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To sum up this point I refer to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The love of the spouses requires, of its very nature, the unity and indissolubility of the spouses’ community of persons, which embraces their entire life: “so they are no longer two, but one flesh.”153 They “are called to grow continually in their communion through day-to-day fidelity to their marriage promise of total mutual self-giving.”154” (CCC 1644).

2. Full of Fruits: According to the words of Jesus in Luke 6:43-45,

A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit. 44For every tree is known by its own fruit. For people do not pick figs from thornbushes, nor do they gather grapes from brambles. 45A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.

The same may can be said about the sacrament of marriage. Before I continue, I do want to distinguish between different kinds of fruits: physical and spiritual fruits. I will highlight the spiritual fruits marriage offers society later on. For now, I want to focus on the fruit of children in the sacrament of marriage. The Catholic Church leaves the married couple the freedom to elect how many children they want to have. But it is important to note that openness to fertility is essential for an authentic Christian marriage. The Church states,“By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory” (CCC 1652).

Children are a gift from God, not a product for married couples to control or purchase. I think a renewed sense of children as gifts would go miles to infuse society with a new mentality that is other-centered instead of self-centered. Admitting, I too sometimes struggle to make my children in my own image and control their daily activities. I more than anyone else needs to be reminded that God gifted me with children and I am to thank Him by raising them to be gifts for all of society as well!

Society grows through the family unit. Ultimate long-term success for society hinges on families that practice sacrificial love instead of self-love.

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3. Use the Force: A certain power is found in permanency. Things that last long periods of time seem to gather a force and power as they age. The best example I think of is the sacrament of marriage. My grandparents recently celebrated 67 years of marriage earlier this month! You heard me: 67 years! Feeble knees, dimmed hearing, and other ailments that go with advanced years do not diminish the power and force my grandparent’s marriage hold. Whenever I tell a random stranger, friend or co-worker the length of their marriage there is always a momentous pause…then a statement of awe and wonder will always follow. My grandparent’s marriage is not successful because they are amazing. It is successful because they rely on God to help them forgive each other. My cousins’ new father-in-law gave pithy, but profound advise to the new married couple from this weekend, [after telling my cousin and his wife to sit close together] “See that little space between you. Always be sure to include the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and have them

fill that space. Everything else will work out, maybe not necessarily the way you think it will, but everything will work out!”

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It is only through a sacramental marriage that married couples are about to use the force…the force of our Triune God!

4. Victory through Virtues: Authentic victory is to be achieved not through military might or political prowess, but rather through personal virtue. Having virtuous and charitable citizens are the only way for society to be renewed and remain healthy. While children are the more visible of the fruits of marriage, I maintain that the more universal fruit of sacramental marriages is virtue. Not every married couple is able to conceive a child. Such marriages are not to be held as less holy or effective as couple that has children. In fact, the number of children is not to be correlated with an increase [or decrease] in holiness.

It is through my experience that the longer a couple is married and the more they tend to remind themselves that marriage is a sacrament that greater virtue abound. Patience, kindness, gentleness, joy, and gratitude are just some of the many virtues I notice in my

parents, grandparents, and even my own marriage [when I embrace the sacrament]. Societies that tend to have citizens who exhibit virtues and charity towards others, I have noticed, tend to be more unified and healthy.

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On a closing note, I want to make sure I am clear that people who participate in sacramental marriages are NOT better nor more holy than single people or priests. What I want to stress is that marriage along with being a sacrament [visible sign from God] is not a right, but a gift. Not everyone is called to be married! And that is okay. Diversity of vocations: married state, single state, and ordained state all contribute to a healthy and holy society!

Guest Blogger!!

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I recently had the opportunity to start a new blog series as a guest blogger for https://loveiscalling.org/ and the topic of saints.  Please feel free to visit.