Talk on the Baha’i Faith and the Arts

Hi all. Been a minute since I’ve been around these parts. Hope everyone is doing well. It’s been a very challenging few months but I am now experiencing incremental victories by the day, so things are good. Here is video of my first public talk, The Baha’i Faith and the Arts at the Houston Baha’i Center back in August.

In the talk we explore some philosophical underpinnings regarding how art is defined and how its purpose is perceived. We also delve into some perspectives on the arts from assorted historical figures such as Beethoven, Shakespeare and Van Gogh. The talk wraps up with an analysis of what the Central Figures and Institutions of the Baha’i Faith have to say about the arts and how these conceptions intersect with and are possibly influenced by some of the philosophical foundations presented at the beginning. Enjoy!

Barbara Bush and Ima Hogg: Two Texas Matriarchs, One Common Vision

 

Miss Barbara Bush = Miss Ima Hogg = Two Texas matriarchs and kindred spirits with one common goal, purpose and vision.

Miss Ima was a very influential Texas philanthropist and was, among many other things, an arts magnate, one of its fiercest advocates and most prolific patrons of the 20th century. She was an early champion of racial equality and believed that one of the ways it could be achieved was through equal access to and immersion in the arts, and was the architect of programs for children of color to achieve that very end, programs that would serve as a model for others like it for years to come.

She was also a passionate voice for mental health, especially in children, and as you may have guessed, was an architect for programs and institutions to bring about its end. As it happens, she was the founder of Mental Health America, one of the oldest and largest mental health advocacy organizations in the country, and certainly in the state and my city (Houston). It is the first mental health advocacy organization I have partnered with, and the one with which I remain the most intimately connected.

As most of us perhaps already know, Miss Barbara was a perennial champion of literacy, especially child literacy. Perhaps her most salient and tangible legacy is her literacy foundation, with chapters all over the country, and the “flagship” chapter in Houston. Like Miss Irma, she was a firm adherent of the philosophy that literacy and equal access to books and other forms of reading material was the key to fomenting positive social/economic change, leading to the achievement of true and lasting social equality.

Both women are true American heroines, shining embodiments of a lifetime dedication to serving humanity, whose respective life’s purposes were informed very early on by an unbridled appreciation for reading, writing and the arts, the very human elements indispensable to the construction, management and furthering of any civilized and progressive society, and I am personally thankful and deeply indebted to them for their universe-altering and universe-expanding quest for profound social change, the microcosmic counterparts of which having demonstrated their precious fruits and gifts in my own life many times over, enriching it beyond all expectation. God bless them both, and while I am reasonably certain that they have crossed paths in life in some capacity or context, I am positive they are back together, leading the collective collaboration to continue advancing some of the noblest aspects and aptitudes of the human spirit, wherever they are.

 

For Barbara: Martin Luther King reflecting on my favorite poem, “For Whom the Bell Tolls” (No Man is an Island). by John Donne

For Ima: “Heroic” Polonaise befitting her consummate heroism from my favorite composer, F Chopin, and played by my favorite pianist, Evgeny Kissin

 

I’ve Heard the Echoes

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I’ve heard the echoes,
chased the shadows,
danced with the reveries
of phantom caresses.

Retreat with me
to a safe space
‘neath the snow-laden burrows
behind the curtain of remembrances

where we will carve out
the annals
of innocence and mirth,
and ascend the smoky hills by night’s end.

Art: “The Road in front of Saint-Siméon Farm in Winter”
Claude Monet

 

The Spirit makes its rounds…

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The Spirit makes its rounds,
It warbles and gyrates.
It graces my hand.
It bends, glides, swishes,
Drains.

But it doesn’t see me, yet.
For I am not ready.
It will come back soon.
And then it will engulf me,

Perhaps while I am asleep.

Art: “La Branche de Prunier, fond ocre”
Henri Matisse

Briefly…

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Briefly
Things take shape
Then disappear.
When the eye blinks,
The reverie is dead
And new light becomes
The angel in you.
For a time,
Then you are whisked away
By gratuitous moments
Undefined and barely in view.
When I think of crying,
Something awakens
And you are there,
Listening, breathing,
A simple melody
Exhorting me to rest
Before you arrive again
And I extend my hands
To greet you
Wordless.

Art: “The Three Candles”
Marc Chagall

Where We Are Going…

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Where we are going,
Enigmas await
With hands extended
Bearing ripe stones,
Expressionless cabochon
Droplets of stilted rain,
Or a petty curse from
The fountains below.
Beyond this threshold
You are masked,
Surrounded by ever-advancing
Entrails of an abandoned Spring.
Without movement
You’ve become an efflorescent statue
Mocking time and
Pilfering its colors
Until the last one is drawn
Patiently and elegantly devoured,
Just in time for the advent
Of the weakened penumbra
You freed years ago one morning
Blanketless now in the cool of dusk,
Naked, with trembling feet
Smiling tentatively.

Art: “Garden Path at Giverny”
Claude Monet

Innocence has returned briefly…

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Innocence has returned briefly
To gather his loose ends
And then off to the next
Excursion.

Perhaps whereupon his subsequent return
He may find that the borders
Have been compressed and smoothed out,
But still glistening under scarcely-palpable
Zephyrs and perpetually unraveling
Seams of disconnected light.

That will be the day when
The rivers drown themselves in forgetfulness
While the poppy fields look on
In amusement, shame,
Or a mixture of both.

Art: “Edge of a Wheatfield with Poppies”
Vincent van Gogh

Light: An Elegy

Light: An Elegy

A light shimmers in the fore,
Joined by the hand
Of song and rhythm
And lambent dances
Along a moonlit creek in repose.

What does it see
Beyond this specter
Of jaded spirits
And world-weary migrations
To parts hitherto untold
That beckons its uncompromising smile?

From whence does its melody arise
That it traverses so calmly
Through dimensions and landscapes
Hitherto unseen?

When will a world
Left in silent agony
Learn its dance
And free itself from
These windless vales
Of stagnant tears?

A light begins to fade in the offing,
Just beyond the directionless bend.
As she retracts her hand
To commence one more excursion

She speaks,

Gently reminding the creek
That upon her return,
A new song will be sung,
And a new rhythm mapped out
For posterity.

And the shiftless vale will blossom
With a chorus of sparrows
And flora bedecked with purple amaranths
Heralding a new day,
In which smiles are freely-given
And hearts are open
For the weary traveler
To stop and rest awhile,
Before the next journey.

Art: “Sunset at Lavacourt”
Claude Monet