Beauty and Truth: Adjoining Rooms


view outside the window

These days leave me cold. I feel the need for beauty and for truth. The beauty I can see just outside the window at sunrise and sunset, in the maples, oaks, red osier and prairie grasses waving in the wind I cannot see. But inside the human house where lies freely fly, truth is scorned and hard to find. Only the poets give voice to what I feel.

I died for beauty, but was scarce
Adjusted in the tomb,
When one who died for truth was lain
In an adjoining room.

He questioned softly why I failed?
“For beauty,” I replied.
“And I for truth – the two are one;
We brethren are,” he said.

And so, as kinsmen met a-night,
We talked between the rooms,
Until the moss had reached our lips,
And covered up our names.

  • Emily Dickinson, I died for beauty but was scarce

Emily Dickinson headstone in family plot

 ` Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 17, 2018




An acrostic verse: Missa Solemnis

“Missa Solemnis”

LORD HAVE MERCY begins the Mass
Under the baton of Maestro
Dean Craig Jessop. The last word: PEACE.
Wisdom and beauty from solo
Instrument, the mass choir, voice
Go to the top of Cathedral.

Vast walls of sound show pain also,
Arising from those who are cruel.
Nothing human escapes alto,

Bass and tenor and soprano.
Even a skeptic like Ludvig
Enlisted to create music,
Tries to make out of the tragic:
Hope, faith, love, kindness, and courage.
Overwhelmed by suffering, he
Values still signs of human will.
Even though stone deaf, he can be
Nurturing peace and harmony.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL August 7, 2013

EDITOR’S NOTE: Craig Jessop is Dean of the College of the Arts at Utah State University, and former Director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Pie Jesu” in a Child’s Voice

Akim Camara

Akim Camara

This child’s innocence – his eyes, his voice, his face, his courage, his trust – takes us to our deepest selves in the presence of the Sacred. Sit back and watch Akim Camara, hand-in-hand with Carla Maffioletti, singing Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Pie Jesu”.

“Pie Jesu” means “Merciful/kind Jesus”; in its context in the Latin Requiem Mass, it calls on “the Lamb of God” to show mercy to the suffering. Kindness and mercy are at the heart of spirituality.

The text has an interesting history. The “Pie Jesu” is an ancient motet based on the last couplet of the “Dies Irae” (“Day of Wrath”) that was part of the old Latin Requiem Mass. The Vatican II liturgical reforms removed the “Dies Irae” from the Mass in order to emphasize Christian hope. A number of composers, among them Andrew Lloyd Webber – influenced by Gabriel Faure’s “Pie Jesu” – gave new musical expression to the prayer: “Kind/merciful Lord Jesus, grant them rest. Kind/merciful Lord Jesus, grant them rest eternal.” BTW, Faure’s Requiem includes the “Dies Irae” which has become part of the Good Friday period of meditation at Shepherd of the Hill, not because God is wrathful, but because we so often have reason to cry out “Libera Me!” from the depths of terror and desolation.

A Mother’s Love

Katie and Kay (Mom) at Katie's graduation.

Katie and Kay (Mom) at Katie’s graduation.

Today Kay shared this at the cemetery as we laid to rest the ashes of her first-born daughter Katherine (“Katie”)

For Christ to have gone before us,
To have kept us from ultimate sadness,
To be our brother, our advocate,
The One who ushers in the Kingdom,
And the One to come,

Does not keep us from our digging today.
We still gather here and throw the dirt on our sacred dust,
We take the shovel like all those gone before us
And surrender to the Unknowable—
The place where
Love and Beauty and Kindness grow wild.
Where sorrow has no needs,
Where there is all beginning and
Nothing ends.

I know this Love of hers lives on. I feel it.
I watch it in many streams of synchronicity,
Where my heart leaps from memory’s knowing,
Where I share a breath from her beyond.

And then I cry in secret,
Begging that she return

On my terms.

But if my begging is selfish,
The answer to it is not.
If I but knew the splendor of that Place where Love lives,
I would marvel in her good fortune
And ponder her grace inside a timeless waiting for us,
A begging for our good fortune
To come on her terms.

We live our lives in time.
She lives all time as Splendor.
We are bound between this stalemate
And the mystery that is our promise.

Until then we have no other luxury than
To shout her precious memories to the sky
In loud thanksgiving that Love herself lived with us awhile.

Then, because we live with fuller hearts
From knowing more than before our loss,
We turn our shovels over
As those with little other choice for now.
For now we dig.
And shed our tears
With greater Trust.

Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is
In heaven.

– Kay Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 9, 2013,
the third anniversary of loss and fuller hearts.

Dare to Dream

This morning PhotoBotos posted a magnificent photo by Alex Teuscher (Geneva, Switzerland) of a woman sitting at the mouth of what appears to be a cave. Click on the link to see the photograph and read the commentaries by PhotoBotos and Alex, the featured photographer.

Every work of art invites interpretation by the viewer. “Dare to Dream” was intended to create a picture of dreaming and imagination. When I saw it, I couldn’t help but think of other images that inform the picture.

Stunning! I hear echoes from “the cave”: Elijah hiding in the cave; Plato’s cave where all we humans get to see are the shadows on the walls but never the fire behind the catwalk whose light produces the shadows; the dark nights of the soul – depression, sorrow, loneliness, hopelessness, grief – all sitting there inside the cave when there is such splendor all around it.

This picture is different. It sings a different song. The beauty of this piece is that the woman (it strikes me as a young woman, although I suppose it could be John Lennon ) is serene, at one with the beauty and brilliance of the natural world. Freed from the chains that would keep her deep within the cave.  And…she’s not talking on a cell phone or texting! She’s fully present to the beauty. Even the walls of the cave are bathed in the light. This deserves a wider audience. Wonderful.

Drop a comment here to share with others what you see and how it strikes you. And be sure and follow and Via Lucis, two of my favorite sites for meditation.

To turn away from beauty

    “Requiem” by Eliza Gilkeyson,

arranged for choir

by Craig Hella Johnson,

sung by The Chorale in Vienna


She had come to the church to worship God,

to hear a touring choir sing classics  with

some spirituals–she thought the choir was good.


The young liturgical dancer was lithe,

quite serious as she embodied grief

and bafflement at death from tsunami,

earthquake, and flood.


The choir prayed for relief,

for understanding from Mother Mary.


The worshiper, offended by the dance,

looked at the floor, her eyes narrow and hard,

her jaw was clenched, her lips were white and thin.


In choir and congregation there were tears

in sympathy with grieving mother, child…


To turn away from beauty is a sin.

– Steve Shoemaker, on tour, Vienna, Austria, June 12, 2012

Jonathan and “the Good Society”

Each of us has in idea of the way the world should be. You might call it “the good society,” the one we would create, if we could.

The idea of the Jonathan Association comes close to mine. I moved into the Jonathan Association, America’s first “New Town”- the dream of Henry McKnight, last spring without knowing much about it, except for the reputation it had received because of a raucous Annual Meeting four years.  Back then and again this year (read the Chaska Herald story), those who wish to withdraw from Jonathan have almost succeeded in destroying the Association by maneuvering to dismiss the entire all-volunteer Board. What happened at this year’s annual meeting reminds me how ugliness and beauty are in the eye of the beholder. To the detractors, Jonathan is ugly. To me, it’s beautiful.

The world I chose to live in exceeds my expectations and makes me scratch my head over the attempts to do it in. Like all other homeowners within Jonathan, I pay an annual fee. Others resent the Association dues. They don’t see the return.

What do I get for it? And what would I lose if the Jonathan Assocation suddenly vanished?

I get a neighborhood with 10 miles of well-kept, snow-cleared walking trails, large open spaces (“common” spaces) like the field adjacent to the sledding hill and “Purple Martin Heaven “ (76 Purple Martin houses) to which 100+ Purple Martins return each spring to swoop and dive across the open space. There’s Lake Grace and McKnight Lake, the streams, and the beautiful well-kept woods of giant willow trees, maples, oaks, flowering crab and cherry trees…and doggie bags for my morning and evening walks with Maggie and Sebastian.

I get the legacy of Jonathan founder Henry McKnight’s vision. McKnight believed that “the major opportunity with a New Town, such as Jonathan, is to plan the community for minimum negative impact on the environment, while making sure that the people who live there will enjoy that quality of life that makes living worthwhile.” Jonathan was to be an experimental, utopian community (eventually growing its population to 50,000) that would co-exist in perfect harmony with surrounding nature – an outcome different from the suburban sprawl that he found so disorderly and unpleasant. “We must utilize the land with full regard for the quality of the environment people seek,” McKnight said. “Planning a New Town like Jonathan offers us the opportunities to preserve the natural environment, conserve our remaining resources, and even improve the countryside.”

But I love Jonathan for more than its natural beauty. More than its commitment to conservation and good stewardship of the land. Jonathan is more than itself, a dream of a a society worthy of our highest aspirations. It’s a dream of a real community of belonging. Wealthy one-percenters, low-income, and middle class – private homes and affordable housing, rich and poor and middle class TOGETHER, not separated by freeways or gatekeepers. White, black, yellow, red and brown living side by side because that’s the way the world should be. Christians, Jews, Muslims, agnostics, atheists, Baha’i’s ,secular humanists Republicans, Democrats, Socialists, Independents, and Tea Partiers living in together respectfully. It’s a place for people who want neighbors and who want be a neighbor. What a concept. In Jonathan I deal with the world, not escape it, and it’s a microcosm of what I wish for the world itself.

Is it perfect? Not by a long shot. But maybe that’s its beauty. It’s a collection of imperfect folks doing the best we can to answer Rodney King’s protest against a world divided against itself, “Can’t we all just get along?” Yes, we can. If we try. If we choose to do so. If we work at it.

Jonathan began as Mr. McKnight’s personal vision.  He died unexpectedly at the age of 59 before he could realize the dream. Now it is up to us who have inherited his vision to continue it, embrace it, and strengthen it as our own.

The Jonathan I now know by experience bears no resemblance to the loud noise a few of the neighbors who think they’re getting nothing for their modest annual assessment, or that they should get something for nothing, or that Mr. McKnight’s vision was wrong, and that we should have no trails, no parks, no shared common spaces, no Purple Martin Heavens, no snow-cleared walking trails, or cared-for common areas. Maybe just a jungle of selfishness would feel better. But my dogs know better. They’re so glad my neighbors and I pay to make their walks a thing of beauty and joy.  Sometimes our pets know better than we to give thanks for what we too easily take for granted.