Post 7 of 10 daily posts in the “July ’21” series.
Cycle day 2 – this phase is all about rest and reflection. My thoughts are going a little deeper today…

My mind has been wandering often lately toward things about war.

Wars impact lives in ways that I cannot even imagine. Most likely you cannot either. Reading things in the history books can only barely reflect the facts, not the palpable fear and uncertainty and heartache haunting those on the fronts and near the embroiled territories.

I try to keep this in mind when I just canNOT understand why people do – or did – certain things. The trauma of war is so horrific and does not always create visible scars. The ripples go far.

Some say that Minneapolis is a war zone. “Murderapolis.” No order. No police. Lawlessness reigns. I don’t see this as an accurate characterization of my city, but there are definitely major and scary problems. Blood, bullets, carjackings, killings. It’s all insanely close to home.

As I mull these things I keep circling back to a devotional from Skye Jethani’s With God Daily series, published on June 4 of this year.

The title was “Art and War,” and here’s a part of it:

On May 28, 1992, Vedren Smajlović, the lead cellist in the Sarajevo Opera, put on his formal black tails and sat down on a fire-scorched chair in a bomb crater and began to play. The crater was outside a bakery in his neighborhood where twenty–two people waiting in line for bread had been killed the previous day. During the siege of Sarajevo, more than ten thousand people were killed. The people lived in constant fear of shelling and snipers while struggling each day to find food and water. Smajlović lived near one of the few working bakeries where a long line of people had gathered when a shell exploded. He rushed to the scene and was overcome with grief at the carnage.

For the next twenty–two days, one for each victim of the bombing, he decided to challenge the ugliness of war with his only weapon—beauty. He became known as the Cellist of Sarajevo. After that, Smajlović continued to play his music in graveyards, at funerals, in the rubble of buildings, and in the sniper–infested streets.  Although completely vulnerable, he was never shot. It was as if the beauty of his music repelled the violence of war.

War is the ultimate expression of utilitarianism. War is the willingness to sacrifice literally anything to achieve a goal. When the tanks of war roll everything is crushed beneath their treads, leaving only ugliness behind. Art, however, is the opposite of war. It is an act of creation rather than destruction, of order rather than chaos, and beauty rather than ugliness. By playing his cello in the center of war-torn Sarajevo, Smajlović was defiantly planting a garden amid the battlefield. He was confronting the sinfulness of man with the beauty of God. The evil practicality of war was exposed by the extravagant impracticality of art.

(Bold above all copied from a portion Skye Jethani’s devotional “With God Daily,” reproduced without permission, but because I’m a patron of both his devotional and his podcast with Phil Vischer I’m hoping he will be cool with it. *sheepish grin*)

I cannot tell you how many times I have pictured the above scene, in awe. I’m not one of those who turns away from bad news. I’m very aware of the sad state of things in our community and I even go digging for more information, other perspectives, more details, and more stories. What I find often is so much heartache and confusion and fear about real and perceived threats and a sense that we are doomed in so many hopeless literal and proverbial wars.

Art, however, is the opposite of war. It is an act of creation rather than destruction, of order rather than chaos, and beauty rather than ugliness.

Skye Jethani

As I work the dirt of our yard, transplanting lilies and watering begonias while hearing the fireworks and hoping they’re not more gunshots…

As I teach little fingers to play pentascales and duets, laughing with my students while their young minds and hearts are coping with the shock of recent crime on their property…

As I finally hack down the weeds and slap on the paint while I shake my head about the craziness that has happened in this alley…

…I wonder if maybe I too am planting a garden amid the battlefield.

Here is the music that Smajlović played in Sarajevo:

(Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor by Yo Yo Ma – YouTube)

By Naomi Bird

Wife of tenor Nathan Bird, pianist, organist, former music therapist, writer, tea-drinker, mom of two mini-sopranos and two mini-tenors, and learner of loving the arts.

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