Consequence of Humility

Who are you, in truth?  Who am I…in truth?  It is a question that requires more than a passing fanciful thought, does it not?  The words “in truth” are also desperately important, and seem to be growing more important daily as we continue to seek new ways of building image, new ways of fertilizing jealousy, new ways of deception, new ‘-isms,’ and new ways of developing “grass is greener over there” mentalities. I won’t lament this nonsense here, but will seek instead for something old fashioned…. something that seems to be thrown off and a bit forgotten in our age of self-worth hyper-realities and echo-chambers.  I seek humility.

Our dictionary defines ‘humility’ this way

  1. a modest or low view of one’s own importance; humbleness.

I find this definition to be quite limiting and maybe even a little askew from the truth.  It is indeed common across cultures and religions to think of humility as debasing oneself or, as Wikipedia states in its overview, “Outside of a religious context, humility is defined as the self-restraint from excessive vanity…”.  This debasement, or self-effacement seems to be the most common conception of the term.  There is a truth in that yes, yet there are those who wonder of a different and richer definition that may create a more accurate vision of what ‘humility’ actually is.  To start, I think C.S. Lewis gets closer in his description of a humble man in Mere Christianity:

C S LewisDo not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.
Mere Chrisitanity; C.S. Lewis

Worth hearing again. “He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.”

Even closer might be Rabbi Jonathon Sacks’ notion in Greatness is Humility that “humility is an appreciation of oneself, one’s talents, skills, and virtues. It is not meekness or self-deprecating thought, but the effacing of oneself to something higher. Humility is not to think lowly of oneself, but to appreciate the self one has received.”

It means honoring others and regarding them as important, no less important than you are. It does not mean holding yourself low; it means holding other people high. It means roughly what Ben Zoma meant when he said, “Who is honored? One who honors others.”
– Greatness is Humility; Rabbi Jonathon Sacks

And finally, though I’m not necessarily a fan, Immanuel Kant states that humility is “that meta-attitude that constitutes the moral agent’s proper perspective on himself as a dependent and corrupt but capable and dignified rational agent”  If I could, in all my foolishness, modify the great Kant, I would change it to this: humility is that meta-attitude that constitutes the moral agent’s proper perspective on himself as a dependent and corrupt but incapable and decidedly irrational agent. 

So, I suppose I believe that a better general definition of humility may be something like this:

  1. a right or accurate view of one’s own importance; humbleness.

I’ve decided to leave “humbleness” in my definition because all people, when thinking correctly and soberly about themselves, would most assuredly be humble.  But this is the problem isn’t it?  We seem to be in an age where people are thinking less and less correctly or soberly about any situation — not least of which when thinking about one’s self.  We are consumed with image and the troubling idea of “self-worth.”  We are constantly bored.  We are jealous and envious of others.  We prop up houses of cards that fall in the lightest breeze.  We are notorious complainers, vicious to others.  How could that kind of people know intimately what humility is?  How could we have an accurate, right view of one’s self, or our own importance?  Søren Kierkegaard once wrote,”a person who chooses his own identity is ‘a king without a country’ and his subjects live in conditions where rebellion is legitimate at every moment.”

There is another aspect to humility (other than ignorance of it) that is equally concerning, and that is false humility.  I myself have lived somewhat ignorant of true humility to some extent much of my life, but with chagrin, I confess I know false humility deeply.  Though I may not have descended to the level that Lewis describes: “…a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody,” I do know I have been in conversations where instead of saying a simple “thank you,” I have said “oh, no, no no…it was nothing… it was not my best work… I wasn’t that good… etc,” but in my heart I was grinning with a sickly pride, saying, “oh yes, tell me more.  Describe in detail what you thought was great. Gush please.”  Ouch.  …painful, and alarmingly common for me over the years.  I was all too often creating an image unto myself, manipulating myself and others, and masking a gross pride.  I wonder if this sounds familiar to anyone else.

Ignorance and falseness are far removed from real humility.  The truth is that humility is very difficult, if not impossible for a human, don’t you see?.  It means that you see yourself (and your work) accurately in the natural and supernatural world.  That is dreadfully difficult for many people….well, maybe everyone.  We want to be seen.  We want to be remembered.  We want to be looked to.  We want to be loved.  We want to be lauded.  We endlessly promote, endlessly photoshop our pictures, endlessly worry about outcomes, endlessly get angry when things don’t turn out our way, and consistently get jealous of others’ successes.

I believe it is worth searching intensely for true humility and to get sober about one’s self.  The consequence of such action may be worth the effort.  I believe the consequence of humility… true humility, is: freedom.

Oh, I see the immediate response of the brain as plain as day because I have had the responses myself.  “If I go for real humility I am going to miss out!”  “I will miss out on potential praise from others.”  “I will miss out on opportunities.”  “I will not be allowed to be angry at being wronged by another.”  “I will not be loved the way I think I should.” “I will miss out on the great prizes of life if I don’t just act humble for a show, but am actually humble!”  Well, yes, you may.  But you will be free. Free from what?

You will begin to be free from jealousy. You will be utterly free to not worry about how you are perceived by others.  You will begin to be free of anger at others’ successes or failures.  You will be free to sacrifice your desires for others.  You will be free to begin to claim a proper perspective of yourself.  You may be less tossed to-and-fro by troubles.  You will be free to actually enjoy life more, and not have to convince yourself, fake it, or buy it.

You will begin to be free to think less of yourself.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?  Aren’t you tired of thinking about yourself constantly?


This type of thinking flies in the face of what society and culture is teaching, I know that.  “Self-love” is the doctrine of the day (and false humility falls under the heading “self-love” also, lets be honest about that).  Even if this doctrine of self isn’t necessarily preached from a mountaintop, I see it on every street corner and in most people’s eyes.  Sometimes I feel it quite strongly, the pull away from humility and towards service of me, myself, and I.  Humility requires letting go, and that is one of the very things humans never want to do.  Oh, we must be the captains of our own fates, mustn’t we?  With this understood, in my very heart I believe that a transformative and life-giving humility requires a supernatural force to assist its generation and flourishing.  Kierkegaard stated the formula to essentially achieve a correct view of self and eradication of despair, thus triggering true humility: when “the self is grounded transparently in the power that established it.” I trust you understand what he is suggesting here — if not, answers can be found in either his book The Sickness unto Death or more plainly seen throughout the New Testament.

There is no doubt a mountain of other things to be said on this subject (and I am certain I have failed in some of my generalizations and descriptions above), yet as a moderate conclusion to the matter here, I have learned that I cannot trust my own heart and what it desires.  I have been disappointed in the results too many times.  I have looked back on my actions, either accidental, well-meant, or foolish, and have seen them to be wavering, many times self-seeking, and at best the results are short-lived.  But what joy! I am tasting a true humility more and more these days because I am grounding myself transparently to the power that established me.  I am letting go through a power not my own and building a correct and right view of my worth as a human being on a cornerstone that will never be moved.  I am sacrificing more for others.  I am able to let go and be happy for other people and finding myself worrying less about how I am perceived.  I am tasting, like drops of water in an immense desert, freedom and joy.  I wish this for you, (and me), dearly.

Be ye humble in truth.

Unearthing EWB – Across The Fields

I think its safe to say I am what many would refer to as a bit of a Sentimentalist.  My dictionary says that a sentimentalist is one who indulges in excessive sentimentality.  Before we go on, lets make sure to distinguish this from the philosophical meaning of sentimentalism.  I’m not talking about the moral-sense theory of Hume or ethical instuitionism.  I am talking of a simplicity…I suppose a “Maudlin” view of the world.  It often comes across as a deep longing or yearning.  For what?  Who knows…  and that is exactly the point.

I again yield the floor to someone who has said it very well, Clive Staples Lewis.  This excerpt is taken from his masterful essay The Weight of Glory.  Sorry for the length, but it has everything to do with a great majority of my compositions.

In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness.  I am almost committing an indecency.  I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you – the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when , in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both.  We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience.  We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the the mention of the name.  Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter.  Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past.  But all this is a cheat.  If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering.  The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing.  These things – the beauty, the memory of our own past – are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.  For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of the flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.

I have often talked about a very particular feeling when I am digging into a piece with an ensemble.  It is a feeling that something special is at the tip of one’s fingers but just out of reach.  There is some shadowy veil between your heart and this truth.  It could even feel like you may remembering something that has never happened to you… or at least it feels like you are.  This is the feeling I increasing feel and put into my compositions.  This is what Across the Fields is built upon.


It is interesting that C.S. Lewis chose to reference Wordsworth and his Ode, Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.  I have used a bit of this poem before in There Was a Time for Michael Culloton’s Choral Arts Ensemble in Rochester, MN.  When asked by Dr. Geoffrey Boers to write something special for the University of Washington Chamber Singers, I was once again encased in a nostalgia and searched my sources for a poem in that vein.  It just so happened at the time that my parents were moving from the home of my youth in Crookston, Minnesota to the lakes region a bit further south.  Though I was happy for them, it was strange to wrestle with a sort of “loss of home.”  It was, even through all my undergraduate and graduate career my “home.”  I had a connection not so much with the house of my youth, but with the surrounding land.  I lived in the country with wide open Red River Valley farmland.  There were shallow streams with trees that followed them and arched over them with long, lazy arms.  And there were fields…  Fields of sugar beets, wheat, sunflowers, and the like.  Each had its color, its smell, its special feel, especially around autumn.  I think this is what I captured me immediately when I read the poem by Walter Crane:

Across the fields like swallows fly
Sweet thoughts and sad of days gone by;
From Life’s broad highway turned away,
Like children, Thought and Memory play
Nor heed Time’s scythe though grass by high.

Beneath the blue and shoreless sky
Time is but told when seedlings dry
By Love’s light breath are blown, like spray,
Across the fields.

Now comes the scent of fallen hay,
And flowers bestrew the foot-worn clay,
And summer breathes a passing sigh
As westward rolls the day’s gold eye,
And Time with Labor ends his day
Across the fields.


Note: An EXCELLENT recording of this ensemble singing this piece can be found here:

(…E.W.Barnum not E.B.White)

I think I’ve been in a bit of a storytelling phase in my composition life, and this piece fits into that, with an arc and scope that has a narrative and drama to it.  I have wanted to show the macro-journey of the poem rather than just the overarching emotion or adhere to any construct or form.  In a way, the diegesis of the poem dictates what I choose to do.

In the case of Across the Fields, I certainly wanted the listener to sense the haunting feeling of an empty field filled with memory, so there is an quite a bit of playing with minor 6ths and the like in the key of G.  I had no problem choosing G.  As always, it is instinctual and it felt right.  Most of the time, when I write about trees or plants or nature, G is the key for me.

Once again, as I mentioned in some previous blogs, I used the slide when referencing Time.  In this case, the singers slide, ending on the ‘m’ of time creating some interesting textures.  Throughout, in fact, I wanted to do quite a bit of colorful things without being cheesy.  There is always a balance when doing effects I think.  One can definitely overdo it.  I hope I don’t.

Speaking to this, I originally had musical representations of children laughing with soloists.  I decided to cut it for the final version because it just wasn’t working for me by the end, and it is published without.  One can hear the original manuscript at the bottom of this post in the clip of Iowa State University’s performance at the North Central ACDA.

Shown above is the climax moment, the full meaning encased in the words:  And summer breathes a passing sigh.  In this moment I really wanted to give a glimpse of a rapturous and wonderful summer breathing its last and then lying peacefully to rest.  I still look and listen to this now and consider it one of my favorite moments I’ve written… and of course the alto and soprano are in parallel octaves again at the critical moment.  Always in my head nowadays.


I felt an immediate connection and a knowing of these words by Walter Crane.  It hearkens exactly to what the longing that C.S. Lewis spoke of in Weight of Glory as well as in Suprised by Joy.  It hearkens to what I feel in my heart.  I imagined walking behind my house on Highway 14 south of Crookston while the golden and red leaves floated down to Burnham creek in the gentle breeze.  Beyond were fields of whatever the farmers had decided to plant that year, rotating as the land required.  Not intruded by human sounds and machines, it felt as if you could hear a bird call from a mile away. Walking out into those blesséd fields the sky became so big and the air so crisp and fresh with the smell of autumn.  It is the smell of cycle, of the ashes that must fall for spring to come forth like a phoenix.  It is the smell of bounty.  And it is a mystery.

It pulls me apart at the seams sometimes…this feeling.  How could I explain it to you other than that.  There are some that would give a knowing and gentle smile.  It is a joyful pain to know.

In closing here is an interesting performance that Iowa State University gave at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis under the direction of Dr. Jim Rodde.  He paired it with Cyrillus Kreek Psalm and if you listen carefully the wind blowing in the fields between the pieces.


Unearthing EWB: Afternoon on a Hill

I’ve decided to start unveiling a bit of my intentions and thoughts about pieces that I have written in the past, mostly to be a resource to those that seek it, but perhaps also to be a tool in the discovery of myself.  I doubt there will be anything substantially profound in these examinations, but it may answer some questions the performer(s) and conductors may have along the way.

Afternoon on a Hill

I will be the gladdest thing
     Under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
     And not pick one.

I will look at cliffs and clouds
     With quiet eyes,
Watch the wind bow down the grass,
     And the grass rise.

And when lights begin to show
     Up from the town,
I will mark which must be mine,
     And then start down!

– Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)


This piece was a commission for the 2007 Minnesota All-State mixed ensemble.  Dr. Craig Arnold, the wonderful and recent choral professor at Luther College was conducting that year and it was our first opportunity to work together.  We had never met, and didn’t until the performance actually, although we connected before the rehearsal process to flush out and clarify some intent.

Here is that original performance (and premiere):

I think they did a fantastic job with a brand new piece of music, and I couldn’t be happier with the premiere.  Thanks to the singers, the pianist, and of course Dr. Arnold.

(…E.W.Barnum not E.B.White)

I think this piece was, most importantly an experiment in what the role of the piano, could be, or should be in an accompanied choral piece.  Up until this point in 2007, a great majority of my choral works had been a cappella.  I think it was part of the commission to be accompanied with piano, so I took it as a challenge to be creative.  I had the desire to have a piano part not be just outlining harmony, nor be so complicated as to steal any energy from the ensemble.  It is hard to pin down exactly my feelings about the use of piano, but I definitely desired to create a unique style specific, and recognizable as me.

Looking back, I know now that one of the most important aspects of that style is using the piano to create the momentary universe.  It establishes the metaphysical parameters and the emotional context of the piece…yet my hope is always that it somehow contains the many layers of meaning in the text all at the same time.  For example in Afternoon on a Hill I wanted the piano to capture both the delight and wonder at the unsurpassed beauty of nature AND the deep and painful understanding of transience…that we are human.  Together, in my opinion, these come together to form a great misunderstood emotion:  Joy.  This paradoxical idea is expertly described by C.S. Lewis in his moving book, Suprised by Joy, I highly recommend it.  On a very basic level though, to return to the point, with this piece I began to look at aleatory and different types of repetitive elements to do this “creation” of the musical world.

I think this is also one of the first pieces where I started to truly enjoy and employ parallel octaves, which are now a staple of my style.  My love of this came directly from the score of the movie The Red ViolinThe main theme, which is heard throughout, was played slowly in octaves on the violin, and to me it was the most haunting and powerful sound:  the melody had almost a ghosting effect when paralleled by a lower tone.  The first, specific time this happens in Afternoon is in m27 with the soprano and alto ‘bursting forth’ out of the texture with the main motif, and all they can sing is “Ah!” for there are no words when the world is this amazingly beautiful.  I think making the melody paralleled in the tenor part of the dramatic climax “I will touch a hundred flowers” makes it seem quite strong, instead of using them to fill out harmonies or create more color.

I think another interesting thing to note about this piece is the slide used to outline the text “and the grass rise.”  This has also become a bit of a staple of my style.  In a piece called Elysium in which there is quite a bit of sliding around, that I wrote for VocalEssence that same year, I called it “Liquid Music.”  It may be a misnomer in a way, because rather than having to do with texture, I think that it has more to do with time.  I think the best way to describe how I feel about it is my way of describing what it would look like if painted:

This is from Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory.  In 1982, Dawn Ades wrote, “The soft watches are an unconscious symbol of the relativity of space and time, a Surrealist meditation on the collapse of our notions of a fixed cosmic order.”  The look of them on the canvas truly is the physical manifestation of what is happening in the music when I use them.  Time is somehow bending, or melting.   I have used it even recently in such pieces as Across the Fields and The Sounding Sea, and certainly there are subtle variations in the micro meaning when affiliated with the text, but on the macro level, the slides are time-related.


Examination of the pocket-watches above actually is an open door into how I feel about the meaning of this poem.  I didn’t want to focus on the pastoral sensibilities it possesses.  There were a couple ideas of greater intrigue to me: transience, transformation, and nostalgia.  (This is primarily the reason for the minor 6th pervading the piece).  The first words are so poignant.  St. Millay answers the question: What would a person who is the gladdest thing under the sun act like?  Well, they would touch a hundred flowers and not pick one.  They would look and watch.  To start with, this is the essence of fully engaging without being falling prey to a consumerism.  It also allows Time.  Time to sit, time to be quiet and allow….there is no rush, no scurry and scamper.  (…allowing time to allow…huh, never thought of that before today.)  In fact, so much time passes, that twilight soon descends.  It also allows a peace free from worry, free from the assailing arrows of self-esteem culture.

There are quite a few musical metaphors of transition of day to night in the closing bars of the piece, and I suppose on some levels it leaves one with an ominous sense.  My wife Danielle really disliked the ending of the piece for quite some time after I showed her the piece.  She is a beautiful and light spirit, who wants the hilltop scene to never end!  Something about this poem kept speaking to me of something more, something dramatic that takes place after the experience…or could take place if you allowed it.  An understanding, an unraveling of some greater truth.

It is: JOY.

I have to reference C.S. Lewis again here, he captures it perfectly in Suprised by Joy :  “…Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and from Pleasure.  Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again.  Apart from that, and considered only in its quality, it might almost equally well be called a particular kind of unhappiness or grief.  But then it is the kind we want.  I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world.  But then Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is.”  This must be the reason I composed m68-69 this way!  But look how fleeting it is.  Only one measure.  Lewis agrees with this notion of our fleeting ability to hold on to Joy.  We have no power over it, it comes sometimes only fleetingly, and with it comes layers upon layers of meaning and substance to make one weep.

In conclusion, here is another performance performed by the University of Washington Chamber Singers under the direction of Dr. Geoffrey Boers.  I truly like this performance (though the film is captured by a phone, so the quality is not quite 100%).  So many subtleties are ‘just right’ to me – the tempos, intent, etc.  This doesn’t mean that the infinite varieties of performances aren’t as powerful or fantastic, so explore and create!

3 “Creations”

I’m not entirely sure why, but this afternoon (after a walk around Green Lake in Seattle and sitting down to a double tall americano on Greenwood Ave), the notion of creation popped into my head.  I am certain that at least part of it had to do with the sun shining brightly and the spring finally rearing its illusive head.  It feels new…again.  But what about the first time, where there wasn’t a ‘before’ or ‘the last time’?  It makes me think of the conversations I’ve had in my life, even recently, where people somehow are surprised to find out that I believe in A Creation.  And here is the scary truth: not just intelligent design, but full on Creation.  (And no, this is not going to be a post about my quasi-complicated and physics-based conception of the infancy of the time-space continuum created by a knowable-yet-unknowable omnipresent and infini-temporal being).  I chuckled remembering people of all sorts immediately renouncing my ‘delusion’ and scoffing at my belief in such a strange ‘mythos.’  I chuckle, because….its ok.  I don’t mind, and I get where they are coming from.  Anyway, back to this beautiful afternoon and the thought at hand…

So as I sat there in the sun, three creations came to my head that I have absolutely loved throughout my life, and I’d like to share them.  These are probably not the creations you are expecting, ones pertaining to varioushuman religions, but creations described as only the great writers of our age can.  Perhaps they are familiar to you, or maybe they are new.  In either case, it is good to read and wonder anew.

1.  The Music of the Ainur
– from The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkein

There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Ilúvatar; and he made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought, and they were with him before aught else was made. And he spoke to them, propounding to them themes of music; and they sang before him, and he was glad. But for a long while they sang only each alone, or but few together, while the rest hearkened; for each comprehended only that part of the mind of Ilúvatar from which he came, and in the understanding of their brethren they grew but slowly. Yet ever as they listened they came to deeper understanding, and increased in unison and harmony.

And it came to pass that Ilúvatar called together all the Ainur and declared to them a mighty theme, unfolding to them things greater and more wonderful than he had yet revealed; and the glory of its beginning and the splendour of its end amazed the Ainur, so that they bowed before Ilúvatar and were silent.

Then Iluvatar said to them:  ‘Of the theme that I have declared to you, I will now that ye make in harmony together a Great Music.  And since I have kindled you with the Flame Imperishable, ye shall show forth your powers in adorning this theme, each with his own thoughts and devices, if he will.  But I will sit and hearken, and be glad that through you great beauty has been awakened into song.’

Then the voices of the Ainur, like unto harps and lutes, and pipes and trumpets, and viols and organs, and like unto countless choirs singing with words, began to fashion the theme of Iluvatar to a great music; and a sound arose of endless interchanging melodies woven in harmony that passed beyond hearing into the depths and into the heights, and the places of the dwelling of Iluvatar were filled to overflowing, and the music and the echo of the music went into the void, and it was not void.

2. The First Voice
– from The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis

In the darkness something was happening at last.  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.  There was hardly even a tune.  But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard.  It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it…

Then two wonders happened at the same moment.  One was that the voice was suddenly joined by other voices; more voices than you could possibly count.  They were in harmony with it, but far higher up the scale:  cold, tingling, silvery voices.  The second wonder was that the blackness overhead, all at once, was blazing with stars…  You would have felt quite certain that it was the stars themselves who were singing, and that it was the First Voice, the deep one, which had made them appear and made them sing.

Johannes Kepler would have loved reading that I am sure.

3. The Blessing of El-ahrirah
– from Watership Down by Richard Adams

Long ago, Frith made the world.  He made all the stars, too, and the world is one of the stars.  He made them by scattering his droppings over the sky and this why the grass and the trees grow so thick on the world.  Frith makes the rivers flow.  They follow him as he goes through the sky, and when he leaves the sky they look for him all night.  Frith made all the animals and birds, but when he first made them they were all the same.  The sparrow and the kestrel were friends and they both ate seeds and flies.  And the fox and the rabbit were friends and they both ate grass.  And there was plenty of grass and plenty of flies, because the world was new and Frith shone down bright and warm all day.

Now, El-ahrairah was among the animals in those days and he had many wives.  He had so many wives that there was no counting them, and the wives had so many young that even Frith could not count them, and they ate the grass and the dandelions and the lettuces and the clover, and El-ahrairah was the father of them all. …after a time the grass began to grow thiin and the rabbits wandered everywhere, multiplying and eating as they went.

Then Frith said to El-ahrairah, ‘Prince Rabbit, if you cannot control your people, I shall find ways to control them.  So mark what I say.’ But El-ahrairah would not listen and he said to Frith, ‘My people are the strongest in the world, for they breed faster and eat more than any of the the other people.  And this shows how much they love Lord Frith, for of all the animals they are the most responsive to his warmth and brightness.  You must realize, my lord, how important they are and not hinder them in their beautiful lives.’

Not really appreciating what El-ahrairah says, Frith calls other creatures together and bestows upon them gifts (i.e. blackbird: a beautiful song, cow: sharp horns and fearlessness), but special gifts of cunning, fierceness, and the desire to hunt and slay the children of El-ahrairah were given to the fox, stoat and weasel.  El-ahrairah becomes afraid and realizes that Frith is indeed more clever than him, and thus when Frith comes to bestow a gift unto El-ahrairah, he sticks his head in a hole with his bottom sticking out…

Frith called out, ‘My friend, have you seen El-ahrairah, for I am looking for him to give him my gift?’ ‘No,’ answered El-ahrairah, without coming out, ‘I have not seen him.  He is far away.  He could not come.’ So Frith said, ‘Then come out of that hole and I will bless you instead of him.’ ‘No, I cannot,’ said El-ahrairah, ‘I am busy.  The fox and the wasel are coming.  If you want to bless me you can bless my bottom, for it is sticking out of the hole.’
…Frith felt himself in friendship with El-ahrairah, because of his resourcefulness, and because he would not five up even when he thought the fox and the weasel were coming.  And he said, ‘Very well, I will bless your bottom as it sticks out of the hole.  Bottom be strength and warning and speed forever and save the life of your master.  Be it so!’  And as he spoke, El-ahrairah’s tail grew shining white and flashed like a star:  and his back legs grew long and powerful and he thumped the hillside until the very beetles fell off the grass stems.  He came out of the hole and tore across the hill faster than any creature in the world.  And Frith called after him ‘El-ahrairah, your people cannot rule the world, for I will not have it so.  Al the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you.  But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning.  Be cunning and full of tricks and your people shall never be destroyed.’  And El-ahrairah knew then that although he would not be mocked, yet Frith was his friend.  And every evening, when Frith has done his day’s work and lies calm and easy in the red sky, El-ahrairah and his children and his children’s children come out of their holes and fee and play in his sight, for they are his friends and he has promised them that they can never be destroyed.

These creations are indeed beautiful and joyful.  I think the most poignant one to me personally is the Lewis creation, probably because of my life in music.  My mother would read these Narnia stories to me and my brothers (…The Magician’s Nephew was always my favorite, I loved Digory and Polly), and when Aslan opened his mouth to sing – it was the most real and magical possibility.  I couldn’t have imagined it more beautifully.  Perhaps I still in my heart believe the world was sung into existence and the harmony of the spheres remains as a remnant echo of that first song.