Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Chance of fog

Fog can be dangerous because you lose a sense of where you're going. Same with spiritual fog, from which I have been suffering a bit recently.

Spiritual fog may not be a commonly known term, but others have written of 'spiritual depression' (Martin Lloyd Jones) and 'acedia' (Christopher Jamison). Spiritual fog is dangerous because it can creep up on you unawares and you may not even know you're in it. It makes everything flat and uninteresting. It makes you forget why you got ordained.

Lack of enthusiasm for God, feeling that praying makes no difference, lack of gratitude, inability to see the things God has given as gift and opportunity. All these and more characterise spiritual fog. Taking a church service when in this state is really hard. I hesitate to say this but when you meet clergy who appear to be in this state more often than not, it sends a shiver down the spine. There but for the grace of God...

Is it to do with introversion and extroversion? Are introverts more likely to look inwards and become morbid? Is it overwork, underwork, tiredness, isolation, boredom? What causes it and what can be done about it?

In his classic Spiritual Depression (1959) the great preacher, Martin Lloyd Jones explores verses from the bible which deal with being sad, down or depressed, recommending we talk to ourselves, rather than being talked to by our negative thoughts:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
   and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him... (Psalm 42:5)

We need to question ourselves, tell ourselves a different story, reassure ourselves, and generally kick ourselves up the backside (my phrase, not his).

In Finding Happiness (2008) monk Christopher Jamison explains that the 'Seven deadly sins' were once 'Eight Thoughts' that the desert fathers and mothers identified as the common experience of all human beings. Pope Gregory the Great in the sixth century set about trying to amend the list for lay use, and got rid of the first sin: 'Acedia' (spiritual forgetfulness) thinking this was experienced only by monks and nuns. Jamison writes: 'The disappearance of 'acedia' from ordinary people's vocabulary deprived Western culture of the ability to name an important feature of the spiritual life, namely, loss of enthusiasm for the spiritual life itself.'

When you lose enthusiasm for the spiritual life itself, you become a church functionary. It may be a scary thought that there are functionaries aplenty in the Church...Maybe they go about their business all the time, being ecclesiastically busy and efficient, their spiritual fog unnoticed by all the other foggy souls...

Fog can linger. It can help to tell someone if you discover you're in the fog; if you're not in the habit of talking in accountable ways with spiritually alert souls, you may not even know you're in the fog. But probe, and there will be some cause, some train of discouraging little things going back several days, weeks, months (years?)...some underlying sadness which may be as yet unidentified. Something not grieved. Something not owned. Something not yet in the light. Sometimes, in the absence of people to coax it out, God is gracious and lifts the fog directly.

For me recently, the fog cleared at three words from Matthew's gospel, from the story of the haemorrhaging woman who made up her mind 'if I can just touch his cloak, I will be healed'. The three words were, 'Take heart, daughter', and they appeared at the bottom of my phone screen, as I looked up the daily reading one foggy morning - just those three words. You needed to swipe the page to see the rest of the passage. I didn't really need to read the rest though. The fog had cleared.

Friday, 15 November 2013


Second Sunday before Advent

Luke 21:5-19

The Destruction of the Temple Foretold

5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’

1.      Subverting the mood.

The Orthodox Christian composer, Sir John Tavener, died this week and in memory of him I have been listening to his setting of The Lamb, by William Blake.
John Tavener shows his genius in the way he interprets this seemingly very simple poem.
Blake sees a lamb and muses on its 'spiritual' identity in the light of the Lamb of God, Jesus.
Think of a lamb and we think of a sweet pastoral scene – a fluffy, wooly little white thing…
But look below the surface…
Who made the lamb...? asks Blake.
God did, and what’s more, he called himself a Lamb; Jesus was the Lamb of God, slain for the sins of the world.
Though a lamb is an innocent little thing, like a child.
Tavener’s arrangement is other worldly – using notes which clash and make the poem sound more like a ghost story than a child-like reflection on innocence.
And then the refrain is very rich, slow, deep and sorrowful, in a minor key.
Not exactly how you might imagine a piece of music about a lamb.

In a similar way Jesus was inclined to subvert the mood
Our gospel is set by the Temple – the grand Jewish edifice built under Cyrus the Great and refurbished at great expense by Herod.
Crowds throng the Temple scene, going about their business, admiring the splendid architecture.
They stand and gawp at the glory and grandeur of Jewish worship.
They point up at the pillars, standing as if inviolable in the Mediterranean sun.
Jewish historian, Josephus wrote: ‘now the outward face of the Temple (…) was covered all over with plates of gold of great weight, and, at the first rising of the sun, reflected back a very fiery splendor, and made those who forced themselves to look upon it to turn their eyes away, just as they would have done at the sun’s own rays (John Pridmore, The word is very near you, p. 324)
So here they are, standing around saying how wonderful the building is, how it is ‘adorned with beautiful stones and gifts to God’, and Jesus simply refuses to join in.
‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another, all will be thrown down.’
Prophets, those who tell it as it is, are often unpopular.
They are unpopular because they say the hard things, the things no one wants to hear.
Jesus’ prophecies that the Temple will not remain, and this came true in 70AD with the sack of Jerusalem, under Titus, who led 30,000troops into the city of Jerusalem and took the Tempe apart bit by bit.

2.      Freeing faith from the private.

Jesus’ hearers lived in religiously fervent times.
The same cannot be said for Western society in the 21st Century.
Today, apocalyptic sayings (of End Times and ‘doom’) would be received as mental illness no doubt.
In those days, it’s taken as red that the end is coming somehow and that this is a universal religious event coming to all mankind…
And so Jesus’ disciples ask him ‘When will these things happen and what will be the sign of the end?’
And it’s in Jesus’ answer that we see the coming together of religious faith and public history.
One of the most pernicious separations for us as believers today in the West is the separation of faith and life into two spheres.
Whether we realize it or not, our society is set up such that religious belief is seen as subjective and private, of little real import, and everything else – politics, science, education, health, and economics are seen as public matters.
It shouldn't be like this.
If Jesus is King of all the earth, what He says about things has relevance for all society.
The faith of believers should have a direct impact on our world.
Perhaps we are beginning to see this more…

Recently Martin Lewis, the ‘moneysavingexpert’ had a much touted conversation with the ABC, Justin Welby, about the commercialization of Christmas.
Instead of the usual, somewhat pious denouncement of spending, Justin Welby refused to pour cold water on the practice of the giving of gifts at Christmas.
But Martin Lewis wanted him to go further.
If people are in debt they should not borrow to attain the kind of perfectionist Christmas that the adverts spur us onto obtain; they should buy less.
Justin Welby did agree, and was able to end the interview with the theological reason behind our desire to give gifts at Christmas: give because of God’s great generosity in giving us himself in Christ.

So a great example of how religion, or belief in Christ, has public meaning and relevance.
Another one was discussed at a recent Deanery Synod here when we heard about the Parish Nurse initiative, which sees a volunteer, who is a qualified nurse, but also a member of a congregation, go into partnership with other medical personnel, the local Doctor, and the Christians in the church, to offer what you might call spiritual health care.
There are nearly 90 of these initiatives across the UK and many more in the States – doctors are increasingly aware that health is not just a matter of taking the right pills.
This is an acknowledgment that spirituality and health are not easily separated.
Our gospel shows us a direct link between faith and history.
So, retail and spirituality; health and spirituality; history and spirituality.
I’m sure we can think of other examples where faith and life really need to be seen as one whole.
Faith is never a private matter only.
Jesus’ prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem point directly towards the fact that God is the God of history; He is interested and involved in what happens in our world.
This is a major claim.
Jesus, as prophet and Saviour, brings up back to what is important.
The Jews were so proud of their religious heritage but unaware that belief and behavior have consequences within history.
Unlike Jesus they would rather have kept faith to a matter of buildings.

3. Regaining an apocalyptic framework.

William Blake was something of a prophet too perhaps.
He grappled with the problem of God who made the innocent lamb also having made the not so innocent tiger.
Tavener seemed to comprehend this too, with his ghostly, unusual setting of The Lamb.
We need to see beneath the surface, to the spiritual significance of events and trends.
We need to develop an ‘apocalyptic’ framework for seeing history, and seeing our lives (apocalypto=to uncover).
‘You will hear of wars and rumours of wars’ but these are not yet the end, says Jesus.
It’s true – we do hear of wars and rumours of war – we are haunted by Two World Wars, remembered last week, and by many conflicts since; but these do not happen without some meaning…
…because, like natural disasters and disease, they are a sign that all is not right with the world.
The world groans to be redeemed, and how it feels like birth pains to us who wait, especially to those who suffer acutely, thinking as we do of the traumatized survivors of the Philippine typhoon.…
The worldview of the believer is in stark contrast to that of many other viewpoints we see around us.
We believe that the beginning of the end has begun.
The Temple is destroyed.
We hear of wars and rumours of war.
Many are persecuted around the globe for their faith – there were more Christian martyrs in the 20th Century than in all the previous 19 put together.
Jesus said that we would be ‘hated by all’ because of my name.
Not the most comforting of sayings.
Perhaps one of the most challenging of all the verses in the New Testament.
We have seen how Jesus subverts the mood; how we need to free faith from the private realm and let it go into all of life; and how we must regain an apocalyptic framework for how we see the world.
As we approach Advent we pray for grace to take to heart the difficult things we read in the gospel, as well as those things which bring us comfort.
Because ultimately, reality is more comforting than wishful thinking.

Monday, 11 November 2013

The Call

The Poppy Girls: sang 'The Call' at the Festival of Remembrance
'It started out as a feeling which then grew into a hope, which then turned into a quiet thought, which then turned into a quiet word. And then that word got louder and louder, till it was a battle cry...'

When I first heard the words to Regina Spektor's song, made famous again this Remembrance by the Poppy Girls, I immediately thought of vocation. People have long tried to put into words the feeling that God might be calling them to something, not least those who are asked to articulate to the powers that be in the C of E, why they think God might be calling them to ordained ministry, which has to be done, of course, without coming across as a) rather unsure, or worse, b) cocksure.

Whether the call is to battle or ministry, Remembrance for me is preceded by an annual crisis of confidence as I juggle not feeling 'qualified' to speak about War; thinking it's all such a stupid waste of life; wishing I'd taken history at school; trying theologically to square the phrase 'ultimate sacrifice' with 'The ultimate sacrifice' (of Jesus) and pondering what my non-Conformist, pacifist forebears would have thought of me, an Anglican priest, leading an Act of Remembrance at all.

Every year I have my little crisis, Remembrance comes round, I do my bit, people are touched, and I know that somehow God has enabled meaningful ritual to take place, in which, hopefully, the maximum number of people have been able to connect, at whatever level is important for them, with appropriate themes of death, age, sacrifice, loss, grief, love, peace, resurrection and hope.

Because I'm convinced that other things, apart from the War dead, are on people's minds at Remembrance. Just a look at leaves slowly falling and you think of impermanence. Or the red petals at the Albert Hall, dropping like blood.

If you've lost anyone dear, if you're ill and thinking about death more than you'd like; if you're separated from someone you love by miles or by misunderstanding; if you're pregnant or a new parent, I do wonder if Remembrance becomes more poignant...and because of that, I know I can take part fully, personally, despite never having been to war and not really knowing anyone close to me who has been killed in war.

And so as a Minister of the state church, year by year, I reflect on the difference between being qualified, being competent and being called. Which is legitimate, for an ordained minister to claim, and which is not? And, like the chicken and the egg, which comes first?

As the song goes, 'it started out as a feeling, which then grew into a hope...' Luckily with God, He does make a 'call' reasonably clear, over time, with the right attitude. After 'the call' (as with most jobs, vocations or professions) you become 'qualified', and then hopefully competent. Or were you competent first, and that's why you though you might have a call (I'm sure I could do a sermon better than n...)

After public recognition of the call though (aka Ordination) it would be embarrassing if, after 'qualifying', you didn't become competent. I suppose that's what that big fat file of evidence in Curates' training is for. No one wants an incompetent priest, but if you ever have doubts about your competency, or feel unqualified in the face of something difficult, you can always return to the fact that, first, theologically, like everyone, you are called. And that's something to fall back on. 

However, feeling unqualified might turn out after all to be spiritually advantageous. Though I'd much rather go into a situation feeling 'qualified' (I have prepared for this, I have the right experience, I'm good at this) sometimes it's better for faith, to feel unqualified. Like the first disciples - uneducated fishermen, collaborators, doubters and zealots. In view of the greatness of God, the need in the world and our unworthiness, who's qualified for anything anyway? 

It may even be that as we're stretched, and challenged to deeper obedience, it's in the very areas of feeling unqualified, that God's Spirit can go to work more effectively. That way you're thrown back on God's enabling. And you remember that the calling itself will get you through whatever you have to do, be it Remembrance, evangelism, inner healing or whatever, right up to the point when 'the word (gets) 'louder and louder, till it (is) a battle cry...'

See here for great original version of 'The Call' (preferable).

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Only Joni

I'm not one for hoarding but there's one cassette tape I'll never throw away. It was compiled by a friend at Uni, from her personal collection of Joni Mitchell LPs and presented to me, beautifully filled in with handwritten lists on those paper inserts tapes had, so I would know which songs had been recorded from which albums. This was 1984 and already there were 13 Joni albums to choose from, so it wasn't an easy task. The cassette was inscribed: 'For Claire, who asked the impossible - some of my favourite Joni Mitchell songs'.

The song that had originally got in under the skin, as it wafted down our University corridor at all hours, was what I called 'the gravy song'* with the bizarrely worded chorus: 

Some get the gravy
And some get the gristle
Some get the marrow bone,
And some get nothing
Though there's plenty to spare.

*Not really 'The Gravy Song', actually 'The Banquet'
For the Roses
, Mitchell's fifth studio album, 1972 
It took me a while to unravel the metaphor, despite being an Eng Lit undergraduate. Its power lay not only in the lyrics, but in the plaintive tune conjuring a harbour walk where Mitchell ponders the injustice in the world: 

I took my dream down by the sea
Yankee yachts and lobster pots and sunshine
And logs and sails
And Shell Oil pails,
Dogs and tugs and summertime...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1EVlcdZIvU Listen to the song here...

Having arrived at Uni with a mixed but rather selective bag of musical influences - Imagination, Kid Creole and the Coconuts, and a great deal of classical piano exam pieces - Joni Mitchell was a complete revelation, a revelation which to this day I have never really recovered from.

From this treasured cassette tape, over the next 3 years I imbibed the best of Clouds (1969), Blue (1971), For the Roses (1972), Court and Spark (1974), The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975), Hejira (1976) and Wild Things Run Fast (1982). It was like a whistle stop tour of all the brightest stars in a newly discovered universe. 

Songs like 'I don't know where I stand', from Clouds. Didn't it just capture the dilemma of romantic relationships where either you fancied some guy and it wasn't returned; or he fancied you and ditto; or you'd both fancied each other but something had gone wrong...

Picked up a pencil and wrote 'I love you'
In my finest hand,
Wanted to send it,
But I don't know where I stand.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CppqnUOF97w Listen to the song here...

The joy of the cassette compilation was being able to mine the best of Joni across three decades, from the pure, high voice with solo guitar or piano, through fuller instrumental settings, to the jazz beginnings of Court and Spark, Hejira and beyond, to Wild Things Run Fast:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-VQq__byVo Listen here for original LP sound of Wild Things, plus crackles.

I did occasionally meet a fellow fan(atic), like the scary guy with a glint in his eye at a party one year. 'What's your favourite early album?' he asked. On recalling that early cassette, I plumped, not for Blue, but for For the Roses. He looked at me as though I'd just declared undying love. It was the right answer apparently. 

If pushed for my no. 1 track on that one, I'd have to pick 'Judgement of the Moon and Stars'. Whatever she was railing about, it always seemed to me you could put your own situation right
in there and it would fit. She even poetically mines her own piano playing:

You've got to shake your fists at lightning now
You've got to roar like forest fire
You've got to spread your light like blazes
All across the sky
They're going to aim the hoses on you
Show them you won't expire
Not till you burn up every passion
Not even when you die
If you're feeling contempt
Well then you tell it
If you're tired of the silent night
Jesus, well then you yell it.
Condemned to wires and hammers
Strike every chord that you feel
That broken trees
And elephant ivories

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7eQxOdu_ZCs Listen here...

From Blue, 'A Case of You' was near perfection. Only Joni could mix images of love and consumption, the holy and the profane, and leave you feeling something akin to the transcendent.

You are in my blood like holy wine
You taste so bitter and so sweet
Oh I could drink a case of you, darling
And I would still be on my feet.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YuaZcylk_o Listen here...

Organised religion came in for some bashing, but even as an enthusiastic twenty-something believer, I could see the things she was suspicious of could easily be (and had been) abused by various face-saving groups or twisted individuals down the years:

Lesson in Survival
Spinning out on turns
That gets you tough
Guru books - the Bible
Only a reminder
That you're just not good enough
('Lesson in Survival', For The Roses);


Like the church
Like a cop
Like a mother
you want me to be truthful
Sometimes you turn it on me like a weapon though
And I need your approval.
('The Same Situation', Court and Spark).

Her suspicion of religion didn't seem to stop her speculating that some higher power might be the answer to the broken heart, however: She 'sends up a prayer' in 'The Same Situation'...

wondering where it had to go
With heaven full of astronauts
and the Lord on death row
While the millions of his lost and lonely ones
Call out and clamour to be found
Caught in their struggle for higher positions
And their search for love that sticks around.

There wasn't a duff song on that overused cassette, especially not when it came to The Hissing of Summer Lawns. Her biting social commentary struck a chord with the slightly left of centre faith/political worldview I prided myself I was developing. The downside of the cassette, of course, was I didn't see any album covers till I began collecting CDs in the 90s, when I fell in love with her artistic output all over again. This, for example, on a subject she would elsewhere refer to as 'possessive coupling':

He bought her a diamond for her throat
He put her in a ranch house on a hill
She could see the valley bar-b-ques
From her window sill
See the blue pools in the squinting sun
And hear the hissing of summer lawns.

He put up a barbed wire fence 

To keep out the unknown
And on every metal thorn
Just a little blood of his own
She patrols that fence of his 
To a Latin drum
And the hissing of summer lawns.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qaXpREI_CqU Listen here...

Hejira (1976) packed a punch on that cassette, and had one of the most evocative covers of any of her albums. She said of it, 'I wrote the album while travelling cross country by myself and there is this restless feeling throughout it...the sweet loneliness of solitary travel'. 

Songs like 'The Refuge of the Roads' and 'Blue Motel Room' always put me in mind of a bittersweet Barbara Kingsolver novel in which the heroine goes on a road trip and someone leaves an unwanted baby in her car while she stops during the night for petrol**. You try to escape, but you can't escape. Only Joni could make a song where the seedy motel room motif segues seamlessly into something spiritual and universally applicable:

In the church they light the candles
And the wax rolls down like tears
There is the hope and the hopelessness
I've witnessed thirty years. ('Hejira').

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlGFZXTHXhI Listen here for 'Hejira', off Hejira.

33 years old and writing like a genius.*

My fandom was in arrested development till the early 90s, which was my 'weaning' stage, from her folk and early jazz onto, basically, whatever the woman wrote. 

I progressed from the gift of one cassette to owning three Joni LPs - Dog Eat Dog (1985), Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm (1988) and Night Ride Home (1991). The sleeves were sumptuous. Joni was burgeoning, tackling topics such as famine, fame, televangelists, the plight of the Lakota Sioux, and the failure of the American dream. She was prophetic about the environment before anyone else had really got going:

Last night I dreamed I saw the planet flicker
Great forests fell like buffalo
Everything got sicker
And to the bitter end
Big business bickered...
('The Three Great Stimulants', Dog Eat Dog).

I didn't hear about these things in church; it was her words and music that stirred them up in me. As far as I was concerned, she had every right to develop her style, and anything new she did (and Dog Eat Dog really did sound 'new') was just building on what went before. 

She continued to take artistic risks as her work matured like fine wine. She did a radio interview about 'Ethiopia', from Dog Eat Dog, where she
explained at length how the song came into being. There are actual children's cries, recorded as the production team went through the famine torn region in the 1980s. When they got back to the studio, they were amazed to discover the actual musical pitch of the cries matched the pitch of the song, even over a key change. After explaining all this, and more, clearly fully engaged with the subject from multiple angles, the interviewer paused, almost lost for words, ending the exchange: 'that's the most detailed and thoughtful explanation of any recording of any song that I've ever heard'.

I became hardcore. I would meet fans who'd never progressed beyond her early folk phase and think uncharitable thoughts about them. Even recently, on reading that Zadie Smith thinks of herself as a fan, I find I can't quite forgive her initial prevarication (even thought she writes like a dream).
(See: http://jonimitchell.com/library/view.cfm?id=2543)

During the 90s I even inflicted her songs upon small children, playing tracks in assemblies; 'Cool Water' from Chalkmark in a Rainstorm, for example, to illustrate the importance of clean water. We would end with 'There's water, water of life/Jesus gives us the water of life', of course, just to cheese off the atheist Deputy Head.

Joni was increasingly collaborating with some big names - Billy Idol, Don Henley, Tom Petty. Of her collaboration with Peter Gabriel, on 'My Secret Place' (Chalkmark in a Rainstorm) she said 'The song's about the threshold of intimacy. It's a shared thing so I wanted it to be like The Song of Solomon, where you can't tell what gender it is' (interview with Musician Magazine). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=StCve-J4ofk&list=PLE95DCC2B20781212 Listen here. Video seems very dated, almost cheesy, but you get the idea...

Night Ride Home
was like a long drink from a deep fountain. 'Passion Play', track 2, is stuffed full of biblical images - the redemption of Mary Magdalene, the conversion of Zacchaeus, the agony of crucifixion ('the killer nails are ringing'). The refrain seems to be a question, perhaps to the devil, about what will happen when this special man, this 'diver of the heart' has done all his redeeming work: 

Who're you gonna get to do the dirty work
When all the slaves are free?

What with that and her brooding rendition of WB Yeats' poem, The Second Coming, 'Slouching towards Bethlehem'there was plenty of spiritual and 
intellectual fodder. 

I progressed onto CDs in the mid 90s, purchasing her first and third albums***, which I didn't even know about in those innocent pre-Google, cassette tape days, along with Turbulent Indigo, (1994), on which her own Van Gogh like paintings feature extensively. Pretentious? Yes, for anyone who's not already a genius themselves...

And her subjects did continue to be turbulent. One minute she's decrying the moral judgmentalism in which the Church is sometimes complicit, for instance in 'Magdalene Laundries',  

I was an unmarried girl
I'd just turned twenty seven
When they sent me to the sisters
For the way men look at me.
Branded as a Jezebel
I knew I was not bound for Heaven
I'd be cast in shame into the Magdalene Laundries

the next, she's delving deep into the agony of Job himself in 'The Sire of Sorrow (Job's Sad Song)' (final track).

Music, art AND spirituality. When so often the contemporary worship scene offered nothing beyond a vague feel good factor, and traditional church served up outdated hymns that didn't move me, I would occasionally return from Sunday worship and spend 30 minutes listening to Joni just to reset my spiritual compass. 

I thought I knew all the songs on Night Ride Home, then almost from nowhere, nearly two decades after buying it, I started listening a lot to the last track, which seemed to have passed me by before.

'Two Grey Rooms' documents the unrequited love of Rainer Fassbinder, a German Cinema Director, for a young male lover who broke his heart. By then, I wasn't just 'going to church' I was going INTO the Church. Between my growing realisation of the Church's terrible ambiguity towards gay relationships, and the power of the song to illustrate obsession, I could only listen in short bursts. Men loved women; men loved men; some love was unrequited or forbidden. Between track 1, a simple celebration of being with your loved one for a long weekend ('Night Ride Home') and the rediscovery of this devastating final track, 18 years later, I suppose I must have grown up a bit. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DjDi_plwi5A       Listen here...

Cover of Both Sides Now
Because love was messy. Love was young; it matured; it died. Things could go wrong, frequently did. Hearts were broken. All this she knew well. It became the subject for her 21st, orchestrated and retrospective album, Both Sides Now (2000), which has my favourite Joni self portrait on the front, unashamedly smoking and drinking and being gloriously miserable (aka thoughtful).

Shine, her first foray into ballet
My collection of albums lapsed through the noughties, though I did fork out for Shine (2007), if only to marvel at yet another art form in which she had become engrossed (this time, amazingly, ballet). Her voice is low, sultry, very different from the high purity of the 60s, still powerful and suggestive.

Having started out with one (illegal) cassette tape, and journeyed through various LPs and CDs, I can't imagine downloading anything of hers - where would be, literally, the art in that? Where would be the paper lyrics to take out and pore over, the paintings to savour? 

I may complete my CD collection some day (18 albums down, 9 to go) - it's always useful to have something to ask for at Christmas. I've never gone out and sought her music like an avid collector, happy for it to come to me instead. I used to be afraid that I'd get all the albums, know all the songs and there'd be nothing left to discover. But not any more. I know how to savour. I know there'll be some new layer of meaning, some new insight.

Joni at the Luminato Tribute concert in Toronto, June '13
Listening comes in seasons. After immersion I usually need a period of detoxification.
Returning to her songs feels like sinking into a well worn armchair, something you love that will hold you while you realign yourself, something that is at the same time, old comforting friend, and an impelling, ongoing, hopefully lifelong invitation to discover something new.

Happy 70th Birthday Joni.

*Further evidence for genius status: She writes a poem, a diatribe against the poison of fame, when she is SIXTEEN years old. See here: six mins into the interview: http://www.cbc.ca/news/arts/joni-mitchell-reflects-on-her-life-and-legacy-1.1307145
**The Bean Trees, Barbara Kingsolver, 1988
***Song To a Seagull, 1968 & Ladies of the Canyon, 1970.