Light Rafts for Flagging Spirits | Vol 5

New signs of hope—whether a "Single Candle," a poppy-stealing pigeon, or drone-exploring ancient islands—in the arts, music, literature, film, the living world, and even, go figure, the Vatican.

Each Friday, I share a short list of films, music, photographs, exhibitions, stories, spoken-word, and other found objects/creative endeavors I’ve collected in recent days that have helped buoy my spirit and I hope might do the same for yours.


David Wilcox has long been one of my favorite musicians and in more recent years, one of my favorite humans, full stop. Dave’s song, “Find a Way” was what I sent to countless friends on election night 2016 when despair and panic set in; and again earlier this month when the early returns on Election Night 2020 triggered so many fears and memories of traumas from the last four years. During these months of lockdown, like so many other musicians who are not able to tour and play live for audiences, Dave has taken to performing for his diasporatic fanbase around the world via Facebook video. I love, LOVE this week’s offering, “Single Candle,” above as a gentle anthem of stubborn grace and hope.

I’m delighted for Dave to join my co-host Kaitlyn Barrett and I on our Artist Care & Feeding podcast, taping next week to air the week of Thanksgiving. It’s sure to be a conversation you’ll want to eavesdrop on and share with friends. I’ll include the link to the episode in the Don’t-Call-It-Black-Friday-This-Year Nov. 27 edition of thisahere newsletter. Until then, here’s Dave’s heart salve, “Show the Way”:

You say you see no hope
You say you see no reason we should dream
That the world would ever change
You say the love is foolish to believe
'Cause they'll always be some crazy
With an army or a knife
To wake you from your daydream
Put the fear back in your life

If someone wrote a play
To just to glorify what's stronger than hate
Would they not arrange the stage
To look as if the hero came too late?
He's almost in defeat
It's looking like the evil side will when
So on the edge of every seat
From the moment that the whole thing begins

It is love who mixed the mortar
And it's love who stacked these stones
And it's love who made the stage here
Although it looks like we're alone
In this scene, set in shadows,
Like the night is here to stay
There is evil cast around us
But it's love that wrote the play
For in this darkness love can show the way

Now the stage is set
You can feel your own heart beating in your chest
This life's not over yet
So we get up on our feet and do our best
We play against the fear
We play against the reasons not to try
We're playing for the tears
Burning in the happy angel's eyes

For it's love who mixed the mortar
And it's love who stacked these stones
And it's love who made the stage here
Though it looks like we're alone
In this scene, set in shadows,
Like the night is here to stay
There is evil cast around us
But it's love that wrote the play
For in this darkness love will show the way


2. FRANCESCO | A new film from director Evgeny Afineevsky

Some of you know, I am an ardent fan of Pope Francis and have been almost from the moment he stepped out onto the central loggia at St. Peter’s Basilica late one rainy night in the spring of 2013. I have enjoyed the films that have been made about him since he parked his black work shoes under Peter’s Throne, most notably Wim Wenders’ 2018 documentary Pope Francis: A Man of His Word and the dramatic film based in part on some factual accounts of Francis life but with the added magical thinking that fiction allows, The Two Popes.

Now comes FRANCESCO, the feature-length documentary film from director Evgeny Afineevsky, a Jewish, Russian-born Israeli-American filmmaker who wanted to make a film that was not propaganda, but showed viewers “what they were missing.” The result is poignant (I cried…a lot…throughout the film, but Papa Francesco reminds me so very much of my dearly departed father, Muzzy (aka Mario Dante Falsani), gone eight years ago tomorrow, in fact, that you’ll have to forgive the emotion it brings to the surface for me). Afineevsky was able to interview the pontiff, members of his Bergoglio family, and many close associates from Argentina and elsewhere, in the film that follows many of the hallmarks (I’d rather use that word than “achievements” when speaking of the spiritual realm) of his pontificate so far: putting the plight of migrants and refugees at the center of his ministry (including following him on a visit to the island Lampedusa off the coast of southern Italy where Francis met countless Syrian refugees and ended up taking three families (who happened to be Muslim) home with him to Rome. The shameful clergy sex abuse scandal is treated at length, first with some early missteps and then with Francis’ attempts at confession, redemption, and repair. His outreach to and support for the LGBTQI community inside and out of the Catholic Church also features—a gorgeous story arc follows a married same-sex Catholic couple and their three children who Francis encouraged to join their local parish and school, where they would be safe and loved (and they have been, by the accounts in the film, at least.)

The film also focuses on Francis’ approach to healing the environment, which has been a pillar of his ministry since he became pope in 2013, and then the COVID pandemic, which brings all of the other aspects of his ministry into sharp focus. It’s heartbreaking, watching him walk through the empty Piazza San Pietro to sit in a lone chair under a canopy in the rain, a shot I believe was from Holy Week 2020 when the world-famous square outside the basilica should have been crowded with people from all over the world, but wasn’t because of strict lockdown orders in Italy and elsewhere at the time.

Throughout the film, you can see how the suffering of others weighs on Pope Francis’ heart and spirit, and how he responds with empathy, solace, and unconditional love. It’s a powerful tonic for a frightened, exhausted planet and its inhabitants. No wonder so many of us reacted with tears of relief when Joe Biden, himself a lifelong and devoted Catholic (who received a letter of official congratulations from Pope Francis earlier this week) appeared on television a week ago to tell us we weren’t alone, that he understood in a deeply personal way the suffering and loss so many of us have experienced during COVID, that he do everything he could to help make it better. There is a tenderness that both Pope Francis and President-elect Biden share, an empathy and genuine concern for others—no matter who they are, or where they are—that feels like cool rain after a long, harsh drought of kindness and compassion.

FRANCESCO truly is a film I’d urge all of you to see. It made its debut in Rome last month, but from now through November 17 is available to stream online as part of the NY DOC Festival. I watched it on my computer last night and again today, but it can also be viewed through the NY Doc Fest app via Apple TV and other streaming platforms. A “ticket” to rent the film for 48 hours is $12. Worth it if you can swing it. More information on how to watch the film HERE.

3. DEARLY: Caught in time’s current | Margaret Atwood on grief, poetry and the past four years

Hands-down the best thing I read this week was an essay and poem from Margaret Atwood in the UK’s Guardian newspaper. Both the essay and new poem, titled “Dearly,” are about the evolution of language and of love, of growing older, grief and loss, and how love never ends—that grief is the continuation of love. It’s gorgeous. Even the way Atwood’s writing is presented on the digital platform is visually lovely.

You really must read it, perhaps late at night before heading to bed. Make sure you have some tissues nearby.

4. “On Eagles Wings” cello solo from Westport, County Mayo | Ireland 

Last weekend, in his celebratory speech live from Delaware, President-elect Biden ended his speech with the words of what he said was his favorite hymn, “On Eagles Wings.” Catholic Twitter quickly lit up with explainers and hot-takes on the hymn that has become a contemporary favorite at Catholic wakes and funerals. Written in the 1970s by Jon Michael Jonas, a Catholic priest, liturgical theologian, and composer of contemporary Catholic music, has become a staple in Catholic and other Christian denominational traditions and famously was included in the funeral mass for Luciano Pavarotti in Modena, Italy in 2007. It takes its words and imagery from biblical passages in Psalm 91, Exodus 19, and the Gospel of St. Matthew, Chapter 13.

For my money, this instrumental version, performed by cellist Patrick Dexter as the sun sets over Westport, County Mayo, Ireland, is my current favorite. Give it a listen. (And if you’d like to tip the musician, click through HERE.)

5. Tibetan photographers shaping the image of Tibet in Tricycle Magazine

There’s a fascinating and visually stunning report in the Winter 2020 issue of Tricycle Magazine on how a new generation of Tibetan photographers is wresting images of their country and people from the gaze and cameras of Westerners who have for decades been the primary documentarians of this Himalayan land. The images are as arresting as the interview with Oxford University professor Clare Harris is enlightening

6. Choral version of U2's anthem “Love Is Bigger produced and performed by staff at St James's Hospital in Dublin

Learn more about how the choral performance by hospital staff came about on its Facebook page HERE and if you’d like to make a contribution to the St. James Hospital fund, you can do so HERE.

7. A pigeon stealing poppies from the tomb of the unknown soldier in Canberra, Australia to…

to build a nest by a stained glass window. Go’on, pigeon, with your whimsical self.

8. Shedding Light in Guernica Magazine

This photo-essay by the author and artist Pamela Petro in Guernica is exceptionally good. I highly suggest you click through and spend some time with Petro’s evocative photos, several presented as triptychs, created in locations as far afield as Nova Scotia, New Hampshire, the Brazilian Amazon, and Wales.

“Darkness obscures and sunlight reveals, but dusk—that liminal moment in between—murmurs suggestions. You might be seeing a snake, dusk said to Eve. Or maybe it’s just a branch. What do you think it is?” Petro writes.

“I think of dusk as the temporal place where seer and seen meet and mingle. It’s the time of day—or is it night?—when the perceived world becomes an equation: Half us, half other. Half human invention, half environmental insistence. A hybrid time. An inclusive time.”

Read the entire essay: HERE.

9. Evan Possley’s flights over Meteora, Greece and Psiloritis, Crete

My nephew, Evan, has lived in Greece for the last few years and has explored this ancient land on foot with his dog by his side, and lately, with his drone flying overhead. The resulting films are visually glorious and are, in my experience, an excellent way to enliven flagging spirits.

Subscribe to Evan’s YouTube channel HERE.

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