031: Blossom Like Bob and Bloom

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“Beyond the horizon, across the divide
‘Round about midnight, we’ll be on the same side
Down in the valley the water runs cold
Beyond the horizon someone prayed for your soul.”
Bob Dylan from “Beyond the Horizon” on “Modern Times

    An email dropped into my INBOX from Forrest Hutchins, a talented Albion College senior who already is gaining a regional reputation for his work in the theater — directing and designing sets, lighting and sound for productions.
    But this email had nothing to do with Forrest’s normal venue.
    No, Forrest wanted to announce to the world that he was finally starting a Bob Dylan radio hour via Albion College’s fledgling student-run radio station. At 10 a.m. each Monday, Forrest invites people to CLICK to this Site and “listen in” to Dylan.
    Think about this: A 20-something student is looking to this 66-year-old, craggy-faced old man of music as  such an important muse that the student has developed a radio hour to celebrate Dylan’s music.
    That’s a cross-generational connection that’s profoundly spiritual.

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    A book that you’ll hear more about on ReadTheSpirit in coming weeks, “20 Poems to Nourish Your Soul,” reminded me last week of the poetry of Walt Whitman, which is featured in one chapter of the book. I love Whitman’s verse, but have not reread it in years.
    Thanks to Judith Valente and her husband Charles Reynard, I’m becoming reacquainted with it.
    Whitman wrote: “I hear American singing.”
    Well, for years now, each day as I look out across our diverse nation and beyond our borders to communities around the world, I can say this absolutely: “I hear the World praying.”
    I truly do. And, I want to share that sound, that vision, with you, too. It’s the core of this new ReadTheSpirit project.
    When I see a short email from an Albion student, inviting listeners to a weekly, one-hour homage to Dylan’s life, I see the spiritual energy in this connection. I see it in countless other stories that I encounter, as well.

    Do you?

    Dylan wasn’t perfect. There’s an almost embarrassing scene about 15 minutes into the early Bob Dylan documentary, “Don’t Look Back,” in which Dylan and filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker go so far over the top to make a point that it’s almost painful to watch and ponder. (If you’re a Dylan fan, click on the cover above and you’ll jump to our review of a new edition of “Don’t Look Back,” and you can buy a copy, if you wish.)
    The entire, 96-minute movie is a landmark in modern music, documentary film making and the overall convergence of music and visual media. Shot in 1965, mainly during a concert tour in England, Dylan and Pennebaker cooked up a series of additional scenes for the film that were truly visionary at the time. For example, the film opens in a grainy black-and-white sequence showing Dylan, standing in an alley somewhere in the States, flipping through an enormous stack of flash cards containing lyrics from the song that’s playing on the movie’s soundtrack.
    Long before MTV, it’s a very clever music video.
    So, what’s the embarrassing scene?
    Well, during his visit to London, journalists from around the world mob the young Dylan. And, an African reporter for the BBC asks Dylan, “What actually started you off?”
    We’re familiar with the true story, these days. He started out as Robert Allen Zimmerman, born in Duluth, Minnesota, and carefully constructed the larger-than-life persona of Bob Dylan.
    But the answer that’s provided to the African reporter’s question, in the course of the documentary film, is a musical sequence in which Dylan suddenly shows up somewhere in the rural South, singing “Only a Pawn in Their Game” to a group of weary black men sitting on the back of a truck. It’s an over-the-top attempt to cast Dylan as somehow arising from the dusty, dangerous rural roads of the civil rights movement.

    In other words, in the midst of this documentary — this factual recording of real events in Dylan’s life in London — he drops in a fictional episode, a staged scene, using poor men in the South as his stage dressing.
    Embarrassing, hmmm?

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    And, yet? The more I ponder that scene: Is it embarrassing?
    In the end, what Dylan may have taught us more powerfully than all of those lyrics that we can’t get out of our heads is that creative and spiritual reinvention is possible throughout our lives.
    We can bloom anywhere, anytime.
    And that’s what ReadTheSpirit is all about. Take a fresh look at our founding manifesto, if you haven’t already, and you’ll find that this idea runs throughout our 10 principles.
    I know it’s true. I know it, because we’ve seen it unfolding.
    It’s right there in the email I got from Forrest Hutchins. We make spiritual connections across space, time, media and age differences.
    This principle is right there in a another email I received from a woman in Pennsylvania, who recently lost her mother and found creative new hope, even in the midst of her grief, from a storybook called “Tear Soup,” which another reader recently recommended on our site. The two women who shared a book — across the media of ReadTheSpirit’s pages — will never meet and yet the link between them deeply touched a grieving life.
    It’s in a note from a Sufi woman living in Florida, who is in the midst of remodeling her home and has a lot on her mind, but she’s started following ReadTheSpirit and, now, she’s thinking of really good books  that she wants to share with other people. You’ll hear from her as early as next week, so stay tuned.
    It’s in a note from a therapist in Washington D.C., telling me that he’s moved by ReadTheSpirit to start talking with some of his friends about forming a ReadTheSpirit discussion group. He’s busy and he’s not quite sure that he has the time to do this — but he’s going to give it a shot.
    It’s in an email from a Muslim woman who says she loves “Green Eggs and Ham” as much as another woman who shared her love of the book on this site recently — and she argues in her email that the book really does have a spiritual lesson about overcoming bias.
    It’s in a note from a pastor, working very late in her church office one night recently and wondering — as we all do — about the effectiveness of her work. Suddenly, she is surprised by a note from a reader that I passed along to her because that reader mentioned her by name. The reader — someone this pastor had never met — was touched by a prayer that the pastor contributed, many months ago, to an almost-forgotten Web site. The exchange of notes, late at night, from lives so separated across the U.S. — people who likely will never meet face to face — nevertheless made a spiritual connection.

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    Call these examples whatever you wish: lights, connections, threads of community. They’re all signs that each of us can blossom in new ways, wherever we may be sitting at this moment.
    We’re not alone in sharing this vision at ReadTheSpirit.
    We’ve already mentioned John Gattuso’s beautiful portrait of the world a prayer: “Talking to God.” Gattuso understands this point and celebrates it in his book.
    Just this week, I finished literary scholar Harold Bloom’s almost fanciful new book, “Fallen Angels.” (Click on the title or the cover to read our review.)
    The text is a single, extended essay, illustrated with mysterious, brightly colored images (made by artist Mark Podwal). As Bloom writes about angels and demons, humanity and the divine, goodness and evil, he finally turns to America itself and he writes these memorable lines:
    “We are a religion-mad nation,” he writes. Then, a moment later, he adds, “But … religion in America is not the opiate, but rather the poetry of the people.”
    Precisely!
    Dylan would approve. Then, he would add that it’s our duty to keep fueling that poetic process, to keep singing new songs. If we’re blessed with another day of life, it’s our vocation to set out in search of the next connection we can make, the next form in which we can blossom.
    Or, as the old man of music put it himself later in the song that’s quoted above:

“It’s the right time of the season
Somebody there always cared
There’s always a reason
Why someone’s life has been spared.”

    DON’T MISS NEXT WEEK: We’ve lots of stories in store next week,
including a Conversation With Rob Bell on Wednesday — as he heads out
to circle the U.S. with his latest tour, “The Gods Aren’t Angry.”

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