Mary Magdalene: Friend

A couple of days ago I wrote about The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, a part of which was discovered in the late 1800s and eventually translated and published.

Today I consider what has been included in the New Testament about her, and a couple of comments about her two-centuries-old case of identity theft.

– She was a follower of Jesus.
– Jesus healed her – of exactly what, we don’t know. We are told that 7 demons were cast out of her.
–  She was a woman of means, and helped to fund Jesus’ ministry as she and other women followed Jesus as disciples. I can only imagine that she was very much her own person, as following an itinerant preacher wasn’t something that was common for women of that time and culture.
–  She was present when Jesus died. As it was dangerous for anyone to be known to associate with a political criminal, she was risking death by stoning, as were the other women present.
–  She was first to witness the risen Christ.
–  Jesus commissioned her as apostle when he said “go and tell the others.”  While the Samaritan woman at the well went out and told people that Jesus was the messiah, it was Mary Magdalene who was first witness to the event that was the actual genesis of the Christian church: The Resurrection.
–  She obviously loved Jesus deeply, and was a trusted disciple, companion and friend.

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by Antiveduto Gramatica.

Oh, and she wasn’t a prostitute.  Hollywood loves to cast her as such, and artists often depict her as a penitent sinner.  (And often as a blonde.  Hello?) Well, we all sin.  We all “miss the mark,” and if you hang out with Jesus, then or now, you get to where you want to be like Christ, and when you goof, you’re truly sorry for your screwups. You want forgiveness, and there is joy in knowing that you are forgiven and loved.

Mary Magdalene was a friend, a confidante, a disciple, and someone who helped to empower the ministry.  As one of Jesus’ most faithful disciples, she has been inspiration for Women at the Well.  She has also inspired me to read more, look deeper, and to wonder.

MM by Pietro Perugino 1500

St. Mary Magdalene by Pietro Perugino

I recently discovered an amazing group of women in my area who meet weekly for prayer,  meditation, and learning.  My finding them (or their finding me) was true synchronicity.  I met Lyn at a retreat at the Red Shoes in Baton Rouge.  After finding we were both from the same area, she invited me to the weekly gatherings of the Sacred Circle at her home.  I gladly and joyfully accepted.

We met last week to celebrate Mary Magdalene, and Lyn asked me if I had a song from Women at the Well or otherwise that was appropriate.  I did.  It was a song that came out of my wondering what this close friend to Jesus might have felt when he went to Gesthemane to pray.  Did she have a feeling that something bad was going to happen there?  Was her intuition on fire, screaming “don’t go!” Did she share that with him?  This is a song about her own struggle with letting him go, and here are the lyrics:

Why this talk of going, why this talk about your death?  
No matter where you are I’ll love you ‘til my parting breath.
you know they’re coming, steal away tonight
know how we love you, don’t leave without a fight
There was joy in the city, now hate is being bred
there’s talk in the streets how they want you dead,
you have blessed us, you are God’s true light
But how will you save us when you must take flight?

Run from the garden gates, run from the garden gates; run from the garden…

You walk in the garden, you leave us behind
you go with your companions–are you looking for a sign?
Watch out for the soldiers, they could find you there
Something’s telling me that betrayal’s in the air…
Why are they so fearful of the things you’ve done?
Is it really here– has the nightmare begun?
They don’t believe that you are God’s true light
I beg you, save yourself, that I may walk with you tonight–

Run from the garden gates, run from the garden gates; run from the garden…

    You’re all alone, I feel your fear
    You will not run yet I need you here
    There’s something there – greater than my love
    that’s pulling you, that’s tearing you, that’s tearing me.

Why must you be going? why must you die now?
You say there’s a reason, I can’t see how–
I fear they are coming, to take you tonight
I know of your grief yet you’ll go without fight
A lamb led to the slaughter– I do not understand
And still  you tell me trust it’s God’s hand
I look at your face and see God’s true light
As you walk into terror and face it in spite

    of the sorrow ahead, the passion and pain
    a criminal’s death, and what is the gain?
    You say to have faith that on the 3rd morn
    it all will be clear your new life will be born

I’ll stand by the garden gates, Stand by the garden gates
Wait by the garden…
I’ll stand by the garden gates, stand by the garden gates
Wait by the garden…Gesthemane.         from Women at the Well ~© Brenda D. Lowry          

 

What does a true friend do?  In the end, she realized that Jesus was called to do what he had to do – and then sings that she will stand by him, no matter what.

One group member told me later that she thought of the wives of the police officers who were recently killed in Dallas.  Did any of them have an inkling of what was to happen that day?   We thought of the spouses, families and friends of those who serve as first responders, and of those who serve our country in the armed forces.  Anything can happen, and yet these people “stand by the garden gate” while someone they love does what they are called to do.

Love means putting another’s needs before your own. Mary Magdalene put Jesus’ call before her own fears and stood by, lending her strength with her love and belief in him.  Celebrate her feast day – today, July 22 – by supporting someone you love in their call.

Mary, Apostle

July 22 has long been recognized a feast day for Mary Magdalene in the Episcopal Church and as a commemoration in the Roman Catholic church.  This year, Pope Francis officially promoted July 22 to a feast day for Mary Magdalene.

There is so much to be said about her, and so much more that we don’t know. Today I’ll write a bit about the gospel that bears her name.  This gospel was unknown and forgotten for about 15 centuries, and even today, we have only about half of it.

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A fragment of the Gospel of Mary

I’ve wondered not only what was in those missing pages, but also why they are missing.

You may have never heard of the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, as it only hit mass publication within the past 20 years or so.  Here’s a (very) abbreviated introduction: There are quite a few non-canonical writings dating from the early Christian era, as you probably already know. Some were found among what is commonly referred to as the “Dead Sea Scrolls,” and others have come to light in different ways.  This particular codex, written in Coptic, surfaced in the late 1800s via an antiquities dealer who didn’t have much information about its background. (“oh, it was found…er, in a niche of a wall….by um, a peasant…oh, out in um…Egypt.”)

Which might sound a bit shady, but such stories aren’t uncommon. The section of this gospel was part of an otherwise complete codex from the 5th century. The (incomplete) Gospel of Mary was but a small part of this book, which also contained the Apocryphon of John, the Sophia of Jesus Christ, and the Act of Peter. This book, incidentally, was in excellent condition – which lead at least one expert to question the “found in a wall niche” narrative. (The image above is from a later find of a smaller fragment.) The only thing wrong was that the first 6 pages and 4 other pages from the middle that are missing – from The Gospel of Mary.  According to historian and author Karen King in The Gospel of Mary of Magdala, “It took…some time to realize that the book was nearly intact and must therefore have been found uninjured.”

MM by Guido Reni

Mary Magdalene by Guido Reni

Over time, two additional fragments were found, fragments that held parts of the same passages.  In 1917, a Greek fragment was found in Northern Egypt.  It dates to the early 3rd century CE.  Another Greek fragment of approximately the same age and severely damaged, was also found.  Different languages and dates indicate that this is a book that had been copied, so its influence was somewhat widespread.  Also in the mid 20th century, there was a discovery of manuscripts near Nag Hammadi in Egypt, and there were copies of the other texts found with the Gospel of Mary – but no other Gospel of Mary.

At the present time, only these 3 partial copies are known to exist. (Another possible fragment has surfaced, and to my knowledge, its authenticity is still not certain.)  King states “Because it is unusual for several copies from such early dates to have survived, the attestation of the Gospel of Mary as an early Christian work is unusually strong.  Most early Christian literature that we know about has survived because the texts were copied and then recopied as the materials on which they were written wore out.”

MM Dolci Carlo

Mary Magdalene by Dolci Carlo

Today, we may think that the only early Christian texts were those of the New Testament, the Apocrypha, and a few “heretical” gnostic texts found in the middle of a dessert.  (The process of how the books that made it into the New Testament is a whole ‘nuther subject…) Well…there were likely more than that. Christianity – the Gospel, the “good news” – was spread by word of mouth first.  The early Christians had no bible, no catechism, no Sunday school, no confirmation classes, no chain-of-command, no church hierarchy, not even a creed to guide them.  Rather, they had Jesus’ disciples sharing the wonder of their experience of the risen Christ (which sounds more interesting than the creed), and met in homes.  Over time, the Jesus movement spread beyond the Jews to the Gentiles and to other lands…and interpretation doesn’t take place in a cultural vacuum.

Hence, all these gospels and writings were views of Jesus by different groups.  Instead of being fearful of anything “unorthodox,” why not dive into such writings with curiosity?  We have a chance to look at Jesus through different eyes, through the eyes of those much closer to the historic event of the risen Christ. I don’t know about you, but I find that fascinating! (And then, there was the big question of who wrote it down!)

MM sculpture

Artist unknown.  Found at www.juniaproject.com – which looks like an interesting blog.

I wonder what happened with the Gospel of Mary.  The section that exists tells of a scene that takes place after the resurrection, and in it Mary Magdalene is sharing (at Peter’s request) teachings from Jesus that are unknown to the apostles.  They aren’t too happy about that, by the way.  Some of these teachings sound familiar, but some don’t.  Mary comforts the disciples, and begins teaching, sharing what Jesus has shared with her.  Her role as “apostle to the apostles” now includes “teacher of the apostles” through the authority of Jesus.

As such, it underscores the legitimacy of women’s leadership in the early church. While the books that would become the canon were slowly “rising to the top of the heap,” others were fading into obscurity. No one was copying them any more. At the same time, certain strains of Christianity were fighting it out, so to speak, and a hierarchy was beginning to emerge. Can you say power struggle?

I suppose the final blow to Mary Magdalene’s status as a teacher and possibly a church leader came when Pope Gregory I started that nasty prostitute business with a sermon preached in 591 in which he described the 7 demons (that Jesus had cast out of her) as the 7 deadly sins. The fact that some folks kept getting her mixed up with the “sinful woman with the alabaster jar” didn’t help.  The rest, as they say, is history; resulting in a case of stolen identity that not even Lifelock could fix.  For centuries, she has been portrayed as the repentant prostitute rather than a loyal disciple, apostle and teacher.

saint_mary_magdalene_by_karmievarya

A woman with a mission! from Karmievarya on DeviantArt.com.

Although the Roman church officially abandoned the prostitute idea in 1969, the damage was deep and long-lasting.  Even today, the image of her as a repentant sexual sinner lingers on. (Just ask Hollywood!)

This isn’t the place for a full discussion of the Gospel of Mary – the work itself is small, and you can find it online (along with plenty of discussion about it).  Karen L. King’s book The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the first woman apostle is not just a translation, it  places the book in historic context and discusses the contents.  There are countless other books and online resources on Mary Magdalene as well.  I can think of no better way to honor this great early Church Mother and Saint by taking some time on her feast day (July 22) to learn more about her, and to let her love for and commitment to Christ inspire our own discipleship.

Singing Bowl 2

I recently wrote about how a singing bowl came into my life.  I’d wanted one for a while, but didn’t really know where to find one, and wanted to choose one “hands on.”  I found the bowl (or rather, it found me) at the Summer NAMM show in Nashville in June.

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This lovely purple Ovation guitar also found me at NAMM, but unlike the bowl, didn’t follow me home.  whew.

The day I found the bowl was a Friday, and the next afternoon we were scheduled to play a concert featuring selections from Women at the Well at Grace Episcopal Church in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. We left the NAMM show  at 6, ate supper and decided to do a quick practice.  We use backing tracks for some songs and had recently decided to switch to using an iPad for tracks, and wanted to make sure everything went smoothly as technology has a tendency to invite gremlins and other “ghosts in the machine.”

One song (without tracks) is titled Our Father, Our Mother. It has sparse instrumentation, is a paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer, and is…well, a chant. When I wrote it years ago, it came to me easily and suddenly. I love the song, and love singing it.

We moved quickly through the set, reviewing all songs with tracks first to ensure that the iPad would behave.  So far, so good.

Then, I had an idea.

“Hold on a minute,” I told Bubba, and walked to where the bowl was sitting.  I had just bought it that afternoon, and had been enjoying its tone in a more quiet environment.  I picked up the bowl, struck it, and began singing.

Father, Mother, God, Creator, hallowed be thy name. Upon earth; thy will in heaven, be all things the same….

Bubba joined in on the keyboard.  The bowl was the right pitch for the song.  No wonder this bowl and I got along so well; I was tuned to it. I asked Bubba to keep the keys sparse, and we continued the song.  To my delight, it worked…wow, did it work. What synchronicity!

Grace Episcopal Church, Hopkinsville, KY

Grace Episcopal Church in Hopkinsville, KY

The next day, we packed up the bowl along with our instruments and headed to Kentucky. It was an easy drive, a beautiful day, and a lovely church. Rev. Alice Nichols met us, and made us feel most welcome.  I love older churches.  Not only are they beautiful, one can feel the echos of generations of worship deep in the structure itself.  We set up, and the sound of this handmade, prayer-filled bowl filled the church.

setup2

Setting up.

Even the iPad was still behaving!  We relaxed and took in the sights of this lovely church, which included panels honoring church members who had fought in the First and Second World Wars.  The needlepoint cushions at the communion rail were filled with rich symbolism, and the baptismal font told stories of generations of new lives.

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Some of the needlepoint at Grace Church

The evening began with a Eucharist, and then it was time for the concert.

That was the moment that the iPad officially became an iPest.  Or perhaps an iPain.  The volume control, which had behaved perfectly during all run-throughs and tests, vanished. Well, not vanished, exactly, but the dreaded greyed out.  It was visible, but infuriatingly nonfunctional.

It’s times like this that try the mettle of any musician.  Happily, the congregation could all relate to techno-glitches, and when it comes to technology, we have triple-redundant backup readily available…so we switched to the CD player. (I figured that the iPad would find its wayward volume control by the end of the concert.)

In the meantime, it was the bowl’s debut.  One strike, one tone,  and I began to sing. I could feel the vibrations of bowl and voice.  Later comments indicated that others felt the richness of the bowl in that song as well.

At the end of the concert, sure enough – the iPain worked.  We all shared a good laugh, and then a lovely reception with fellowship and good food.

Grace has a beautiful labyrinth across from the church.  Alice and I had originally discussed the idea of performing at the labyrinth, but it had been too hot (and humid) that day. After packing up instruments and gear, we took some time to walk over and enjoy it.  I took a quick walk, breathing in the aftereffects of the concert’s energy.

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Joshua at the labyrinth

The following day, we packed up and headed south, with a stop at Moony’s Market in Monteagle, Tennessee.  We’d found this delightful health food store / gift and antique and herb / yarn shop on our April visit and performance in nearby Sewanee. Oh, the yarn! Oh, the food! I purchased a small African handbasket – which I later realized was the perfect size for transporting the bowl.  More synchronicity, or at least my subconscious mind at work.

traveling bowl

Ready to travel! And why not? Bowl and basket both have come halfway around the world already!

In addition to bringing me daily beauty and mindfulness, I think this bowl and I are meant to go places and make music together.

God provides.

Someone asked me at a recent church performance, “how did you find us?”

Ah, the wonders of the internet.  I’ve been contacting people for years about Women at the Well. I have used clergy directories, word of mouth, mailed postcards and letters, called, emailed, and have visited many websites to search for and connect with congregations that might be interested in the music and the message of Women at the Well.  Music partner Joshua (aka Bubba) and I have met some wonderful people and visited churches and congregations of various sizes over the years.  I can’t exactly compare us to the early Christians, but hitting the road and visiting other churches, groups and denominations is an awesome experience, and is teaching me whole new lessons about God providing what we need.

Last spring we visited several Unity churches as well as Episcopal churches.  Rev. Sandy Boyer of Unity of Hagerstown, MD helped us to make connections with other Unity congregations – all of this done by distance and online.  I was so happy to meet her and visit in person!  At that time, their congregation was meeting in a temporary space; since then, they have begun meeting in space provided by St. Mark’s Episcopal church in Hagerstown.  While intention, prayer and love can bring holiness to most places, their intention, prayer and love put ripples into the cosmos saying “we’re ready for a new home!” I’m delighted that they have found a space that is more, well, worshipful! God provided.

On that same trip, we also performed at Unity of Palmyra, Pennsylvania.  They were gifted with a church building.  Yes, gifted.  Given.  Someone gave them a building – a church building. This particular church building had been built by a different Christian denomination about a hundred years ago.  That congregation grew until they needed a larger space.  Rev. Julie Vance told us that the church had been purchased by local contractors with the intention of giving it to a congregation.  Other groups had applied for the building, but the Unity congregation received the gift. God provided.

Unity Palmyra

Interior of Unity of Palmyra, PA. They were given this church building. Wow!

I wish I had some better photos, but this should give you an idea of the gift. This was taken as we were setting up and early birds were trickling in for the concert.  (Alas, taking pictures isn’t high on my list when we are setting up and running sound checks – I guess that’s why I don’t have an Instagram account…)

I love the stories of buildings, especially places of worship. They carry the spirit and intention of generations of prayer and community.

St. James Episcopal Church in Cedartown, Georgia is such a place.  It’s not a big church, and it’s over 125 years old.  In the 1880s, an Episcopalian couple from New York began having Episcopal services in their home.  The congregation grew, raised funds for a church, and the funds were matched by the couple, Mr. & Mrs. A. G. West.  As their home church in New York was St. James, the name St. James was chosen for this church in Cedartown.

st james cedartown exterior

St. James Episcopal Church in Cedartown, Georgia

The current rector of St. James, Fr. Kemper Anderson, came to the priesthood after 3 decades of work as an emergency medical technician, police officer, and Coast Guard Reservist.  We found common ground as he also plays guitar and sings – and while in the Coast Guard, he came to Louisiana to assist with hurricane cleanup and recovery.  His wife Phillipa is a member of a vocal group that I want to hear live one day: Vintage Vocals.  (Heck, I want to sing with them live, too! The CDs will have to do for now, though.)  The congregation didn’t need a building – but the rector seems to be just the right fit.  The blessing works both ways: What a wonderful, welcoming congregation! God provided.

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B & B on the Rock at St. James Episcopal Church.  Photo by Fr. Kemper Anderson.

God always provides, but we have to be ready to receive! Sometimes what we’ve prayed for doesn’t look quite like what we anticipated or hoped for, and we might miss it when it shows up. (Then again, there are times that an answer to prayer or a wish fulfilled arrives so quickly and so exactly that you are blown away. Like my singing bowl.)  It’s important to trust, and to keep your eyes and mind open. I think that an attitude of “OK, God, however and whenever you want to deliver it is fine with me, because I know you have it all figured out” is important.  But boy, sometimes that’s a challenge!

I’m reminded of a true story that friend/author/teacher Lynn Woodland shares in her Miracles Course.  A man in one of her classes was praying for “a wonderful relationship with Mary.”  Mary was his wife, and they had been having problems.  They finally wound up divorcing.  He let go of the prayer, because – well, they were divorced, right?  He went on with his life, and over time began dating again.  He met and formed a wonderful relationship with someone new, and his life was richer than ever, in large part because of this relationship.

Her name was Mary.

Yes, God has a sense of humor.  And God provides.

Singing Bowl

Each summer, I escape the flatlands of south Louisiana for some time in Tennessee.  It’s never long enough, but always fulfilling and downright fun, as the time is spent visiting friends, playing a few gigs, and attending the NAMM show in Nashville.

NAMM stands for the National Association of Music Merchants, and they have a huge trade show in Anaheim, California each January to introduce new instruments, new technology, and just about everything new (as well as old and faithful) in the world of musical manufacture.  I’ve been to the Anaheim show a few times, and it is busy, crowded and crazy.  The Nashville show in the summer is smaller, with fewer booths, but has the advantage of being within driving distance.  It’s also in an area of the country that I love.

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A quiet moment at the Summer 2016 NAMM show

I’ve found several instruments and fun things over the years at NAMM, and the show always brings wonderful synchronicity for music partner Bubba and me.  A summer NAMM show was where I discovered and fell in love with Luna guitars.

That same show was where Bubba and I met mastering engineer extraordinaire Roger Nichols (think: Steely Dan) and where he offered to master our Blue Merlot CD.  We have found instruments, equipment, and made new connections and friends over the years.  Bubba, who is a Grammy-winning engineer and producer, goes with a list of manufacturers and new software / gear that he wants to learn about.  I go with an open mind, looking for inspiration (as well as a wish list of items, such as an easy midi controller for our pipe organ at Epiphany).  Last summer I found a wonderful harp (Harpsicle) that has given me relaxation and another inspirational sound to play with.  (www.harpsicle-harps.com)

My harp

My Harpsicle…pluck away in Dorian mode for lovely, relaxing (and easy) music!

As we walked from the car to the Music City Center, Bubba asked “are you looking for anything in particular?”

“Nah, not really” I replied.  I was more focused on the gigs we had lined up, and was content just to see what was new, though heaven knows we need some new mic stands.

“But…” I said, “I would love to find a Tibetan singing bowl.”

This isn’t the type of thing that we usually see at the show, but you never know.

We arrived, got our badges, and I put in my earplugs to buffer the onslaught of noise that is typical for NAMM.  Every guitar slinger, drummer, etc. wants to try out the goods.  I keep thinking that it would be nice if NAMM posted the “key of the day” so at least there would be some continuity in the cacaphony, but that hasn’t happened. We entered the huge showroom, with aisle after aisle of everything from acoustic guitars to zithers.  The first booth we saw had tubas in purple and other bright colors.

purple tuba

A very bright tuba!

 

BUT – right next to that was a booth with Tibetan singing bowls!  A whole booth of singing bowls,  crystal bowls, tingshas, drums and more.

Now at NAMM, there is a background melee of every kind of musical instrument, soundtrack, synth and drum that mashes together in a mess that doesn’t even resemble music but rather what I imagine a barrel of wet, angry cats would sound like.  Anyone with “soft” instruments is at a disadvantage, especially if they are anywhere near the drums (this is a “hands on” kind of show). This particular booth, Serenity Tibet, was an aisle over from the drums.  Yikes, how was I going to hear them?

In spite of everything, there was a sense of centeredness in the booth. Bowls like this are used in meditation.  A quick lesson from Ruby Shrestha taught me how to elicit tones from the bowls – that I could hear, in spite of the screaming cats chorus all around me.

No one had to show me how to feel them.  These bowls vibrated like crazy.  At the Serenity Tibet boot, I learned that Sureen Shrestha uses bowls like these in healing and teaches healing at his school in Colorado. I’ve been drawn to sound healing for a long time, and these bowls seemed to be an affirmation that this is an interest begging for more exploration. I purchased Sureen’s book, How to Heal with Singing Bowls, and resolved to purchase a bowl the next day.

I began reading the book that night, and felt a click of agreement when I noticed that Sureen referred to quantum theory in his book.  We feel and interact with sounds and vibrations. As a singer, I feel the songs that I sing.  (Yes, some feel much better than others, and it’s not necessarily linked to the lyrics.) On the very smallest level, we are – and everything in creation is – energy.  Like sound, we are made of vibrating particles / waves, in a marvelous swirling sea of cosmic energy.

I could go off on a quantum tangent here, but I’ll save that for another day.  Let’s just say that the tones and vibrations of the bowls are very centering and grounding.  The give you an aural sigh of relief felt throughout the body.

I selected a bowl the next day, or perhaps it chose me.  Through the rest of our trip, it came with me everywhere. It stayed in the car only when we were going to a different place – I brought it out to ring wherever we were, experiencing calm when I did so. What a great way to re-energize hotel rooms!  A visit with friends Deacon Diane, Vickie and Sister Madeleine Mary saw (and heard) the bowl passed around, and sparked a conversation on sound and spirituality. The bowl began inviting synchronicity and happy accidents immediately (more on that in another post).

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The bowl that asked to be mine.

The bowl that I selected is handmade, formed and hammered from 7 different metals that Ruby explained correlate to the 7 chakras, or energy centers of the body.  Most are made in Nepal, and they are infused with prayer and intent as they are crafted.  You can learn more about these specific bowls at  www.atmabuti.org.  Other bowls were machine made, inscribed with the beauty of images, symbols and Sanskrit prayers and words.  I saw and heard an incredible frosted crystal bowl, inscribed with Om. Even in the noise bath of NAMM, we could hear the voices and feel the spirits of these bowls, bells and drums.

I am often amused at how new things – especially musical things – pop into my life.  This little bowl was an immediate and complete response to my thought “I’d love to find this….” It doesn’t always happen that way, but it’s fun when it does.  We resonate.