mumford and sons and knowing something well

I was listening to Mumford and Sons for the billionth time in the car, and as the first plucked notes of Sigh No More came through the speakers, I was struck with this feeling.  It’s hard to put into words, but I’m going to try.

It was a feeling of comfort, like something you know so well that it never fails to wrap its arms around you, hold you tight and close to its heart, and soothe you, whispering.  Folds of melodies and harmonies slowly pull me in, wind their way around me, and settle me down in their familiar fabric.

Sigh No More is a favorite shirt that you got years ago and can’t stop wearing, no matter how faded the dyes on the T-shirt become and how thin the fabric wears between your fingers.  You rub the corner of it, and it’s so comfortable and familiar that it makes you smile.  You’ve worn it so long that it has more than become your shirt.  Friends know it well and it reminds them of you easily.

Or it’s a figurine that someone carved for you out of wood.  You know it so well now that you’ve almost forgotten the story behind it, but not quite.  You trace its figure between your fingers and you know that every inch of it is wired into your tactile memory.

Or, most accurately, your favorite book that you’ve read so many times that the binding is starting to break, the pages are turning yellow, the ribbon bookmark has frayed at its edges, and the corners of the cover have bent and rounded.  You know every word, trace them with your finger, find the places where you’ve annotated with pencil, the eraser marks.

I remember the joy of first hearing the CD, and the countless loops I subjected my family to.  I remember first reveling in the voice and the passion behind it, listening to the CD again and again until I learned each line and strum.  Catching the references to literature and history, grinning at the lines from Shakespeare, trying to unravel Mumford’s spiritual state and battles through the lyrics, frowning at times and being moved by his own struggle.  Thinking it over and turning it around in my mind, deciding what I agreed with and what I definitely didn’t.  Learning to love certain songs, like Dust Bowl Dance, that I’d hated upon first hearing them.

And still the songs never grow old.  I never tire of hearing them.  Your shirt will fade and thin, and the figurine will wear away under the pressure of your fingers, like the stone stairs of a well-trodden castle staircase or the constant beating of waves against a cliff.  The songs do not physically change.  They’re recorded forever in the same state, the same notes, the same lyrics, the same breaths.

But my perceptions change.  As I grow, the songs change and touch my heart in different ways.

And today, as I was sitting at work with my headphones in, I finally recognized the few words that had been previously ambiguous in one of the songs, I Gave You All – “brass wires”.  I didn’t know that I hadn’t known them.  I found something new in the middle of something I knew so well – another whittled facet to the figurine, a tiny tag on the inside of the shirt that you hadn’t noticed before.  And that’s the fun of getting to know something complex.  It will always surprise you.  Caravaggio’s masterpiece reveals something new even after years of drinking it in with your eyes.  Your best friend of fifteen years pulls out a talent you never knew they had.  A single Bible verse shows you something different when you need it the most.  Even though you know every single line of your favorite movie, you finally see something in the background that foreshadows the end from the very beginning.  Every time you read that novel, something new jumps out at you, arrests you, and draws your attention.  A harmony finally clicks for you, you hear an instrument that had hidden from you in the depths of the song, and you find a reference that you didn’t understand before.

It changes as you do.  That’s why it’s worthwhile to do things again, to re-read, re-view, re-listen, re-touch.  That’s why the most beautiful and complex things can never be fully understood or known – while we’re stilll earth-bound, anyway.  That’s why it pays to pay attention, and that’s what’s so lovely about loving something.  So I’m going to get back into my car, turn up the volume, and sink down into the undulating waves of sound and word.

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Re-read this: something you haven’t read in years that impressed upon you.

Hear this: Sigh No More ;

I Will Wait, the new single:

Hoo.  I’m already moved to near-tears by the lyrics. Okay.

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the human body

I was walking back and forth in my dorm’s elevator when I noticed the slight, contented ache of a good day of walking in my legs.  In that moment, I thought all of the ropy muscles in my thighs, calves, and feet, imagining them straining and relaxing, bunching themselves up and stretching themselves out with every step or shift of weight.  The fact that I can do something like walking is amazing.  Each muscle works perfectly with the others so easily that I don’t even have to think about what to do with each one and what’s pulling what in which direction.

Our bodies are absolutely fantastic.  I can’t even… just think of the complexity of it for a second.  There are so many different systems in the body, with the brain controlling the whole thing, and everything works together in delicate balance in order for us to even function.  It’s a miracle that we work so much of the time, really.  It’s beautiful, the way that we’re so specifically and perfectly knitted together.  I think this is part of the reason why I’m still struggling with the decision to be premed or not, because I’m so drawn to the magnificent beauty of the human body (more on this later, probably).

I was lying in bed this week, trying (somewhat fruitlessly) to fall asleep, when I slid my hand over my own heart and just felt my heartbeat for a while.  As I focused, I could feel it fluttering there in my chest, keeping me alive, pumping with each beat.  I noticed how one side beat harder than the other, how it was stronger on the left side than the right.  I could feel it sending my blood shooting out into my extremities, pulsing and circulating throughout my entire body and reaching my fingers until I felt the heartbeat in my hand and my chest.

But my first impression struck me the most.  As I lie there with my hand over my heart, I was suddenly reminded of a memory.  When I was younger, we found a tiny gray-and-white kitten that we brought home for a few short weeks before realizing that it was much too young to be with us.  We named it Mischief and cared for it very carefully, holding it, giving it baths, and giving it a stuffed animal to snuggle with at night.  As sad as my brother and I were to see the kitten go, we were glad it was back with its mother.

I remember holding Mischief to my chest, one hand underneath him and the other keeping him close.  As he nestled into the folds of my t-shirt, I could feel his tiny heartbeat in my fingers.  The skin, bone, and fur that separated his heart from my hand seemed paper-thin, and I could feel every quick beat through his delicate ribcage.

As I lay in bed, my own heart felt like that.  I felt so… vulnerable.  I was suddenly aware of my own fragility and of the delicacy of the thin layer of material that guards that organ that preserves my life.  My life is so brief.  I could be killed in a second.

It’s a marvel to be alive.  Every detail is so perfectly crafted… you’re fearfully and wonderfully made.  I was walking home from the library Monday night (more like Tuesday morning), praying as I trekked back to my dorm.  As I looked around, and thought about these same wonders of existing, I had to stop because I realized this:

God is the God of the entire universe.  He created everything in it, and designed it – I stopped for a while to look at trees.  How do you even think up trees? And the form helps it stay alive as well (google photosynthesis… haha). One of the things I really love about creation, too, is the way something can be both functional and beautiful.  Like our bodies.

So, God made the universe.  He designed everything specifically, including us.  As beings created in the image of the eternal God (!), we are the pinnacle of creation.  I paused while typing that, because it seems conceited… but people are more important than animals or nature.  We’re the only animals with souls.  And after God created us on the sixth day, he didn’t just call us good, but very good.

And this all-powerful, all-knowing Creator of everything we can and can’t see, this inconceivably wonderful and mighty God… loves us.

We can talk to Him. Just… just stop for a second.  We can talk to the God of the universe.  It blew my mind when I realized it.  I’m so unworthy of speaking to Him.  I’ve been praying for so long, and I whine and moan about tests and lost belongings and my shallow, petty feelings.  It’s infinitely crazier than going to up to the President and asking him to scratch that itch on your back that you can’t reach, or help you clean out your fridge or listen to you talk about your favorite TV show.

And He still listens, because He loves us so much.  Even when we whine about the stupid things that really don’t matter, He lets us talk.

I think that I need to start taking prayer more seriously.  Sometimes we get so carried away with the whole God-is-love, God-is-my-friend mentality that we forget how awesome He truly is.  Yes, of course those things are true.  But He’s also the ruler of everything, the God of everything that has been and will be, the Eternal Creator who created time itself.  He holds infinite power, and He still cares about us.

That’s a little bit mind-blowing.

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“So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27

Anatomy of the Human Heart

Muscular System