Over last months this blog is hosting contributions from specialists from different areas of expertise with the aim of offering elements for reflection to facilitate the new beginning of activities and the return to socialization after months of limitations that have changed our habits and that have impacted our psychophysical system. Today we asked Chiara Bertoglio for a contribution from the perspective of theology. In other posts, we have hosted the perspectives of doctors, researchers and relationship experts, as well as music therapists. We believe that the contribution of a theologian helps to highlight the importance of the spiritual component that is proper to each individual, as is the relationship with the divine.
Chiara was born in Turin 1983, she is an international piano performer, musicologist and theologian.
She graduated in piano at the Turin Conservatory of sixteen, and specialized at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia. Graduated with honors in musicology from the University of Venice, she completed her studies with a PhD at the University of Birmingham. She completed a MS in History of Theological Thought in Rome, Tor Vergata and an MA in Systematic Theology at the University of Nottingham. Her activity as performer led her to perform on international stages such as Carnegie Hall in New York, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome. Currently, she teaches at the Conservatory of Cuneo. She has a wide discography, from Schubert to Liszt, from Mozart to Mussorgskij and is currently involved in the Bach&Italy project. Chiara published numerous books, ranging from theology to musicology, from monographs on Mozart, Schubert and Schumann and on the connection between music and the religious reforms of the sixteenth century. We are grateful to Chiara for her kind availability. Enjoy the reading!
I have been invited by my lifelong friends, Sara and Andrea, to offer my contribution on their blog, in reference to the times we are experiencing, and from my personal point of view. My “personal point of view” is actually…a result of different points of view, because I am a musician, musicologist and theologian. But, above all, I am an individual who, like everyone else, found herself facing a long, difficult situation, for which she was objectively not prepared, and to which she is trying to give answers in her daily life.
Finding how the pandemic has depleted us is all the way too easy. It impoverished us economically (bringing many into situations of poverty, misery, bankruptcy); it impoverished us in relationships (how much we miss hugs, the lighthearted happenings, even – who would have thought that! – the mess!); it has impoverished us of beauty, denying us concerts, travels, museums, cinema, theater, shows, traditional events and so on.
And one of the aspects that I personally find most difficult to manage is the lack of a time horizon to “go back to life as previously”, or something comparable to that. Honestly, I was under the illusion that vaccines could be “the” solution; until it turns out that the protection they offer isn’t total, it doesn’t last forever, and doesn’t apply to all variants. It becomes difficult, in these perspectives, to be able to take courage and hold on, because we don’t know until when, and it seems clear that there will not be an “X” day from which we all can be “free”.
In all this, however, I believe that, as human beings, we are led to ask ourselves if in some way we can find a meaning in what is happening so that all the suffering that is characterizing this period is not just a burden of anguish that weighs on everyone and on the world, but may it also blossom into something good, for us and for others.
Personally, in these long months of pandemic, which I have lived in a situation of extreme caution due to the presence of vulnerable people in my family, I have been led to confront realities that so far I had somehow avoided, because they were uncomfortable and difficult. By nature and character, I am inclined to always look at beauty in things, at the bright and joyful aspects of life: and even my life of faith is nourished much more by the desire for God’s beauty, by the actual perception of how happy one can be with him, rather than dwelling on painful or tiring aspects.
Yet, step by step, inadvertently, these months have led me to stop at the foot of the cross; to let myself be challenged by that mystery as a place of the greatest love, and to understand that the greatest beauty, the truest happiness, are found right there, where apparently there is only horror and anguish.
Stopping under the cross, however, is always only a “prelude” (to use a musical term!) to something immensely joyful and happy, infinitely beautiful. Living, as each of us has done in recent months, with a much more real and immediate perception of the mystery of life and death leads us, perhaps, to look beyond the boundaries of time, and to look out over the ultimate mystery of our own life. These are words that are little spoken today; no one likes to talk about death, yet it is a question that always challenge us, a worm that seems to decay even our happy moments, an unanswered question that, left there, sows anxiety and anguish, as long as life itself it forces us to confront it.
Now, in these months of pandemic, I have been therefore encouraged to speak, to look to the eternal, with respect to which the time we live in is just a seed. Seeds are precious, and they can also be beautiful; yet their meaning, their raison d’etre, is in sprouting into new cornstalks, infinitely more beautiful and richer than the humble and poor appearance of the seed.
So I tried to look at life as a story, a tale; trying, that is, to consider its events, even those apparently incomprehensible, as elements of a narrative which is still unfolding, elements which are not randomly placed in the story. As in music, our time is made up of consonances and dissonances; as in a tale, of adventures and misadventures. But what makes the difference is knowing, intuiting, believing or even just hoping that these events constitute a story, that is, they have a meaning, and this meaning is “providential”. The word “providence” contains in itself the Latin verb “video”, “to see”: it makes us think about the fact that eternity, the gaze of God, can be like a viewpoint from the top of a mountain, from which the underlying landscape is clear like on a map. It is when you are down, in the middle of the forest, that it seems you that there is neither north nor south, you get lost and disoriented.
In music, the dissonances are functional to consonances; and many times we understand the musical meaning of a piece only when it is over. If we interrupt it halfway, it may seem nonsense or absurd. If we leave a novel after a few pages, we will never be able to get a true idea of it.
So I think it is really important trying to stop for a while to think -rather: to contemplate, what is the ultimate outcome of our journey: the luminous, happy, endless and fearless experience of a perfect, full and unlimited joy.
For me, these months have been an opportunity to try to cultivate prayer in a more true and intense way. Not as an escape; not as a “justification” for current suffering (“now everything’s going wrong but we’ll enjoy in heaven”): but as an opening to a mystery that goes beyond my understanding, as a chance to be enchanted in the real and concrete, lively and passionate encounter with the beauty of God.
This time of effort can help us to open our hearts to a deep search. Maybe by reading a few pages of the Gospel, or by simply putting ourselves for a few moments in front of the Crucifix. In this way, our “lockdown” will be an… “open up”, an opening up. Instead of leading us to lock ourselves in our homes, instead of taking away our friends, leading us to sadness or depression, this time may perhaps help us to open our hearts to God, and through him to the whole world; we will discover that the more relationships are beautiful and true as the more they are hosted by a heart available to encounter and to give. And this will help us to find a joy that is alive, different, but perhaps even truer; and it will be a treasure that will also accompany us in returning to that normality that we desire so much… helping us to see the enchantment of real life, beyond life itself.