Monday, January 31, 2011

Discover the Steps to Effective Prayer

This essay by Norman Vincent Peale appeared in Guideposts magazine.

And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend .... Exodus 33:11

1. Effective praying is talking naturally, honestly, sincerely, and in a straightforward manner to God. Do not feel that you must clothe your speech in stilted, traditional language. The language God wants to hear is that of the humble, contrite heart.

2. To get answers to your prayers, keep praying. Don’t stop, go deeper; just keep on praying, until prayer wells up in full measure within you, until you really mean your prayers with all your heart. Wrestle with your problem in prayer. Really go after an answer, strongly believing you are going to get it. Ask... knock ... seek. The Lord, Himself, advises us to do so:
And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. (Luke 11:9-10)

3. Believe that you are receiving answers to your prayers. Belief tends to create that which is held in the mind by faith. In other words, faith itself is creative. The Bible tells us that in proportion to our faith shall we receive. Apparently, we are unable to receive more than we can believe. So, read and ponder the whole 11th Chapter of Mark. This chapter is one of the most dynamic and creative expressions of faith in the entire Bible. Whoever masters this chapter will certainly receive answers to his prayers. Read and meditate upon the following verses:

And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him. Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away. And Jesus answering saith unto them. Have faith in God.
For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain. Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.
Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.
And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have aught against any; that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.
(Mark 11:20-26)

4. Saturate your mind with the tremendous words of the Bible. There is value to memorizing Scripture. By urging you to commit certain passages to memory, we are using one of the soundest of all psychological principles, that the mind can be changed by changing its thoughts. We are what we think. Therefore, as we think God’s thoughts, we become God’s strong people.

5. Accept God's will. We must realize that we will not get everything we want when we pray. If we did, our prayers would then be only a dictating to God. The secret of creative prayer is to accept and be in harmony with God’s will. Even though it requires agony, we must pray out our desires and pray God’s will in. Jesus, when He prayed went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. (Matthew 26:39)
And later: He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done. (Matthew 26:42)

Friday, January 28, 2011

I'm Walking

      While watching Jerome Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering and N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz at New York City Ballet last week, I wondered at the way a dancer can simply start walking in a Robbins world and move into extraordinary dance spaces that reflect our lives with vital or poignant resonance. In the first piece, that space encompasses playfulness, tenderness, exuberance, and haunting memory. In the latter, it’s breakout joy.
         Walk back in time: Dances at a Gathering (May 1969) is both a masterpiece and a milestone, marking as it did Robbins’ return to George Balanchine’s side at the New York City Ballet. In the nearly two decades previous, just look what boasted the Robbins touch as choreographer, director, or show doctor: Call Me Madame, The King and I, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Wonderful Town, The Pajama Game, Peter Pan, West Side Story, Oh Dad Poor Dad (etc), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Funny Girl, and Fiddler on the Roof.  He’d also toured with his own ballet company, Ballets: U.S.A.
         When Robbins returned to the NYCB, he eschewed the Broadway orchestra, the big finish, and “the book.” He brought  the company’s superb stars -- Edward Villella and Patricia McBride – together, along with the excellent pianist Gordon Boelzner, and a waltz by Chopin,  into one of those new studios at the new New York State Theater. Despite no windows and lots of fluorescent lighting, Robbins created a subtle pas de deux and showed it to Balanchine who said, “Make more.”
         Robbins ultimately filled an hour with 10 dancers, each uniquely identified by a color and clad simply in outfits suggesting a peasant gathering. They formed a bucolic community, dancing against a blue background in couples or threesomes, sweeping the stage or standing silently, or watching the sky in a moment of stillness that mesmerizes audiences to this day. When the dancing stops (subtly hinted at in previous pieces), and we observe the dancers we’ve come to know in stillness, the effect is intensely moving.
         Dances begins with one man walking onto the stage, his back to the audience, slowly and simply moving in a languid meditative pace and then springing (how’d that happen) into expansive leaps before pausing quietly and taking his leave. It’s memory, it’s quietly and joyfully returning to a world simply and perhaps sadly remembering old friends. That’s what I thought when I saw it last week. I’ve seen Dancers many different ways, but I’ve always seen glorious dancing in the gathering.
         I wish I’d seen this ballet that first time on May 22, 1969, when the audience rose to welcome Robbins back to NYCB. Imagine their surprise at what he had created – so different from what they had probably expected from the Broadway master. It was so well received that critics went, well, a little over the top. The ebullient Clive Barnes claimed that Robbins had certainly returned to pick up the leadership of the New York City Ballet. For, Barnes stated, Balanchine was arguably not at his peak anymore, and it was time for him to go. Of course, this was not even close to the truth (see the 1972 Stravinsky Festival Week for one thing), and Balanchine and Robbins worked together as company ballet masters until Balanchine’s death in 1983.
         Well, Dances at a Gathering is still a masterpiece, and the company dances it beautifully – they take good care of Robbins’ work at NYCB. Benjamin Millepied, as the man in brown,  began simply.  He danced the phrases, not emphasizing one with any extra drama – a beautifully done solo, and he brought luminous dancers to his gathering: Jenifer Ringer, Amar Ramasar, Maria Kowroski, Megan Fairchild. Sara Mearns, Abi Stafford, Jared Angle, Antonio Carmena, and Christian Tworzyanski. Pianist Susan Walters rendered Chopin’s shimmering music with admirable sensitivity.
         I didn’t expect to like N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz because I just don’t take to West Side Story’s choreographed stepkids (like Interplay). But from the first fanfare of Robert Prince’s music, those kids in sneakers surprised and sold me.
Part of the brilliance of this piece is that, while it seems to be full of loosely improvised jazz, it’s tightly structured. Yes, this piece starts with walking, too, and yes, they’re doing the West Side Story bit, snapping their fingers and stretching and bouncing around on their sneakers, but it doesn’t feel like forced play or that it’s been removed from its Ur-source. It feels like itself, with its own intensity, not the least bit sentimentalized or made to look cute.
         I loved the second section, which begins with three guys and nothing but drums in the orchestra, and that’s just fine but the fires start burning when Georgina Pazcoquin hip swings through  with gusto. The final movement, after the energetic Improvisations section where everyone does their thing, shows Robbins’ savvy, for now the dancers are quite uniform, all in white down to their sneakers, performing a theme with variations, just as in any classical ballet. They’ve shown us that jazzy kids can do this, too, and it’s right.
         Bit of a brouhaha in the news. A few weeks ago, I woke up to the “Today” show and NYCB principal dancer Jenifer Ringer saying, “I’m not overweight,” which was a pretty bizarre way to start the day, I thought. Also bizarre to have ballet news as national headlines.
You’ve probably heard that the chief dance critic at The New York Times had accused Ringer and her Nutcracker partner (who remembers his name?) of indulging in one sugarplum too many or something like that. It was all pretty foolish, including the speed with which NYCB’s publicity department whirled Ringer onto the morning shows.
         Most people were moaning at how cruel Alastair Macaulay was to criticize a dancer’s weight, especially since Ringer has been candid about her own weight struggles. I was sympathetic, but the news coverage was, well, way too heavy. Macalulay went on to defend himself, saying that if you don’t want your body criticized, don’t become a ballet dancer. It’s all about line, you know.
The noise centered on Ringer and missed another issue entirely, that all this line/body business is entirely subjective, and Macaulay (who otherwise seems sympathetic to feminist issues in ballet) should know better. One hundred and fifty pound women were winning beauty contests in the 1880s. Dancers and ballerinas back in that day were not what we in our day would call sylphs. Take a look at the dancers Balanchine struggled with in 1934’s Serenade. Even Elizabeth Taylor in her prime could be considered overweight by today’s size zero standards. Women’s beauty has always been a subjective and ever changing ideal, and feminism or no, it still is. What is "line", I ask. What's line for one goose...
         In his heyday, George Balanchine wanted his women dancers to be sticks, the better (it was said in defense) to dance his fast technique. Well, their bones showed, and he was criticized for promoting anorexia and bulemia. But does that mean to dance Balanchine "purely," one must look like a skeleton? No. After Balanchine died, NYCB ballerinas started looking like women again. Ballet dancers no longer seem to have come out of the same factory mold, all to the good for all concerned. They are more themselves, and that uniqueness is all the more striking in the dances. Hey, these people dance more than eight hours a day – they’re not going to be out of line. So to speak.  The uniqueness of body types in ballet today is much healthier and much more interesting to watch.
         By the way, speaking about individuality and paternalism, that also goes for us in the audience. When I started going to NYCB in the late 1970s, it was a hard struggle to find out anything about the ballets at the ballet. The program notes were nonexistent unless they were written by Lincoln Kirstein, and then they were incomprehensible. The idea was, I remember hearing, that if you were interested in what you were seeing, you’d follow up on it yourself. Which I did.
         A few years after Balanchine died, the company started an information table. At first, it was just that, a table located in the shadows near the side stairs in case Lincoln Kirstein took offense  (the scuttlebutt was that he didn’t approve of the idea). Nowadays, there are elaborate Information Tables in a few “can’t miss” places, and their counters are smothered in “information” typed out on neat sheets. (Even with its excellent Web site, NYCB seems to feel a need to make sure that audiences miss the forest for the trees.) Maybe they think of themselves as a massive educational organization. They have See the Music programs where you can hear and watch an analysis of the music (something’s really wrong  at NYCB if they have to do this), they have fourth ring conversations, dancers chatting with us before the curtain goes up, intermission chats, and so far as I know, they’re probably coming up with some sort of audio tour with headphones that will tell you what you’re seeing as you watch the ballets.
Resist, comrades! Your unique response and your discovery are more important than what the company tells you. Let those dancers dance as who they are, unique, powerful, beautiful artists, the best in the land. Let them “Do more” (and stop all that THINKING!). There are times, as I pass the piles of paper at the Information Desk and then find those same sheets on the floor at performance’s end, if the voluminous and patronizing chatter compensates for a more serious lack of creative vision and a contradiction of the faith Balanchine, Robbins, and Kirstein had in their audiences. I’m just saying.
Dances at a Gathering. Music by Frédéric Chopin. Choreography by Jerome Robbins. Costimes by Joe Eula. Lighting by Jennifer Tipton. Pianist: Susan Walters. Premiere: May 22, 1969, New York State Theater.
N.Y.Export: Opus Jazz. Music by Robert Prince. Choreography by Jerome Robbins. Scenery by Ben Shahn. Costumes by Florence Klotz. Lighting by Jennifer Tipton. Premiere: June 8, 1958, Ballets: U.S.A., Spoleto, Italy. NYCB Premiere: April 29, 2005, New York State Theater.
New York City Ballet’s Winter season continues through February 27. For information and tickets, go to

Mary Sheeran is the author of Quest of the Sleeping Princess, a novel set during a gala performance at the New York City Ballet, and
Who Have the Power, a historical novel set during the Comstock Lode era about a pianist discovering that her mother was a healing woman of the Washo tribe.

Neither snow nor sleet hampered Kelli O'Hara and Victor Garber's splendid turns in Knickerbocker Holiday

Kelli O’Hara and Victor Garber were among the soloists joining the Collegiate Chorale Wednesday night to take Broadway by storm in their rousing concert presentation of Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson‘s Knickerbocker Holiday. I mean this on two levels -- forceful performances inside that dazzled the audience in Alice Tully Hall and a blizzard outside roaring through the boulevard with fierce winds and swirling snow, mounting quickly to what would be nearly 20 inches, making the Great White Way live up to its name.

I had never heard of this musical comedy, Weill (music) and Anderson’s (book and lyrics) first collaboration, which premiered in 1938. I responded to the press invitation solely on the basis of O’Hara (in photo with Garber) being in the cast, not even bothering to read what it was about. I’ve seen all of her Broadway appearances. She always stood out, even before she was the major star she is now.

The work is a combination of operetta and romantic comedy, with doses of political satire thrown in. It reminded me a bit of Finian’s Rainbow, although lacking the magic of that show, or at least as it was presented in concert form. What I saw was so charming I’d like to attend a full production to see how it holds up.

Opening with a 26-year-old Washington Irving (Bryce Pinkham) in 1809 lamenting his lack of success as a writer, Knickerbocker Holiday, set in 1647 in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, was inspired by Irving’s book A History of New York and is a spoof of Dutch-era New York history. The real life Irving published his book in 1809 under the name Diedrich Knickerbocker. It was so successful that Knickerbocker became synonymous for New Yorker. In the musical, with its corrupt politicians and a star-crossed love story, Irving appears from time to time to comment on the action or to ask his characters to keep their role in history in mind and behave better.

Director Ted Sperling, the engaging story and all of those powerful singers made the evening (the second of only two performances) well worth journeying out for (not to mention struggling to get back home from). Joining Garber as Peter Stuyvesant, the newly arrived governor, were the gorgeous (in voice and flesh) Ben Davis as Brom, who with O’Hara as Tina make up the young lovers of the story, David Garrison and Christopher Fitzgerald. Every performance was excellent, as were the magnificent 65-member strong Chorale and American Symphony Orchestra conducted by James Bagwell.

The songs range from funny to romantic, with the most well known (and the one that made Weill and Anderson a great deal of money) being “September Song,” sung most movingly by Garber. The jokes are as appropriate today as they were when Anderson, a strong opponent of FDR’s New Deal who considered Social Security “a step toward the abrogation of the individual”, penned them. Stuyvesant’s comment that “the government can do no wrong” drew a huge laugh. I guess every era has elected officials who feel they are above the law. Another audience pleaser was Brom’s explanation to Stuyvesant’s question about what is a democracy: “It’s where you’re governed by amateurs.”

In a “” interview director Sperling explained the show’s importance in the canon of American musical theatre.

"It's quite early in the history of the book musical,” he said. “It predates Oklahoma!, which is everybody's benchmark for the integrated musical. It is really well thought through, with songs that advance the plot or illuminate moments. I think it's a pretty forward-thinking piece for its time."

While the musical’s book was trimmed for the concert, the full score was performed and recorded live by Sh-k-boom/Ghostlight Records. I will look forward to that one.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

“The world is round and the place which may seem like the end may also be the beginning.”
~Ivy Baker Priest

Monday, January 24, 2011

"Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves."
-Carl Jung

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Practice the Presence of God

This essay by Doug Hill appeared in Guideposts magazine.

Hearing yourself think in a world full of distractions is a problem. Hearing what God would have us think is even harder. How can we create some quiet around and within ourselves in case the Holy Spirit is trying to tell us something?

One expert on that subject is a humble monk who worked in the kitchen of a Parisian monastery in seventeenth-century Paris. His name was Brother Lawrence, and the account of his method (told to another monk, for Brother Lawrence was illiterate) are collected in a book called The Practice of the Presence of God.

As befits a simple man, Brother Lawrence’s technique was simple: He worked to keep his mind focused on God regardless of what he was doing. He talked to God while he did the dishes and praised God when he cleaned the floor. He worshiped God while he was setting the table for dinner and asked God’s blessing while he cleared it. Over time he got to the point where he was constantly aware of God and constantly in communion with Him. “In the noise and clatter of my kitchen,” he said “while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament.”

Most of us aren’t as dedicated as Brother Lawrence, but there are easy steps that can move us in his direction. Try taking “minute retreats” whenever a few moments of downtime present themselves during the day. Think of God when you’re stopped at a traffic light, standing in line at the supermarket, or waiting on hold on the telephone. It may be helpful at such moments to say a simple, repetitive prayer. Christians have recited the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”) for centuries. A shorter alternative is to repeat “Abba,” the word Jesus used for Father.

The key to practicing the presence of God is directed attention. The more we focus our thoughts on God, the better we will hear Him.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Public Theater Dedicates Its 55th Anniversary Season to Ellen Stewart

The Public Theater's artistic director, Oskar Eustis, and Under The Radar Festival producer Mark Russell announced today that the entirety of the 2010-2011 season at The Public Theater as well as the remaining performances in this year’s Under The Radar Festival will be dedicated in memory to La MaMa co-founder .
“Ellen Stewart was a giant of the American theater and of the world theater.  Her vision, her taste, her passion, and her integrity set a shining example that all of us can aspire to,” Eustis said. “She had a profound impact on the lives of countless artists, and she left a mark on the city of New York that will never be erased.”

Russell agreed.

“Ellen Stewart was the mother of all of us in downtown theater,” he said.  “Her vision and influence extends around the globe and her impact on the worlds’ theater is immense. She was my hero and I cannot imagine a world without her, but I know her spirit will live on in theaters around the world. I am humbled and honored to dedicate the rest of the Under the Radar Festival to Ellen Stewart’s memory; there would be no Under the Radar without her showing us the way.”
This year, The Public Theater joined forces with La MaMa to co-present the 2011 Under The Radar Festival with six of the 19 Radar productions running at La MaMa.  To honor Stewart’s memory, there will be a moment of contemplation at the opening of all Under The Radar shows beginning tonight and continuing through Monday’s encore benefit of Being Harold Pinter.
Stewart was the founder and director of the La MaMa E.T.C., the theatre that began in October 1961, and to this day continues to be of great importance to world culture. To date, La MaMa E.T.C. has presented more than 1,900 productions. Its resident theatre troupes have performed throughout the world including Columbia, Venezuela, Lebanon, Iran, Belgium, Holland, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Scotland, England, Sweden, France, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Croatia, Korea, Turkey, Yugoslavia, Australia, Greece, Ukraine, Siberia, The Netherlands, and Macedonia.

New Eastern European Theatre was introduced in America in 1967 when Stewart brought Jerzy Grotowski, Ryszard Cieslak, and Ludwig Flaszen to America. In this endeavor she was aided by Ted Hoffman of New York University. Stewart was instrumental in introducing to America some of the world’s most influential artists including Andrei Serban and Tom O’Horgan, and is proud of La MaMa’s long heritage as an international theatre, having hosted artists from more than seventy different countries.

Stewart staged, composed, directed and wrote librettos for original folk-opera/ spectacles, presented in America, Uruguay, Argentina, Austria, Italy, Turkey, the Philippines, the Cameroon, Zaire, Central African Republic, Senegal, Nigeria, Brazil, Haiti, Morocco, Israel, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia. She lectured in all of the above countries, was a visiting professor of the Institute of Drama in South Korea and was a long-standing member of the Seoul International Theatre Institute.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

“More powerful than the will to win is the courage to begin.”
~ Unknown

Monday, January 10, 2011

Let Be
By Living in the moment

Let Go
Of Guilt, Fear, Doubt and Ego

Let See
All the beauty and wonders around

Let Flow
Peace, Love, Joy, Grace and God’s Blessings

(Based on “The Ring of Inner Peace” by John Murphy)

Sunday, January 9, 2011

“Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”
-- Vaclev Havel

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Lord's Prayer

Thought you would enjoy this meditative video from Guideposts magazine.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

"Love is the sign through which the world should be convinced that we believe in Jesus."
-- School Sisters of Notre Dame