Composer and guitarist Lily Maase explores the theme of healing in her beautiful and personal new work in response to Daniel 10:8-19:
So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground.
A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. He said, “Daniel, you who are highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you, and stand up, for I have now been sent to you.” And when he said this to me, I stood up trembling.
Then he continued, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.”
While he was saying this to me, I bowed with my face toward the ground and was speechless. Then one who looked like a man touched my lips, and I opened my mouth and began to speak. I said to the one standing before me, “I am overcome with anguish because of the vision, my lord, and I feel very weak. How can I, your servant, talk with you, my lord? My strength is gone and I can hardly breathe.”
Again the one who looked like a man touched me and gave me strength. “Do not be afraid, you who are highly esteemed,” he said. “Peace! Be strong now; be strong.”
When he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, “Speak, my lord, since you have given me strength.”
Artist Statement:One afternoon in 2009 I was walking home from a yoga class in the Flatiron District in Midtown Manhattan when I briefly had the most curious sense of myself…I flashed upon a brief awareness of where I had been in the morning, where I was at the moment, and where I was about to be in the evening, ALL AT THE SAME TIME. It was as if I had been lifted out of my body and was viewing where I had been, where I was, and where I was headed from an aerial standpoint, like a line drawn on a map. By the time I made it home, I was aware of a consciousness in my body that was not my own, whose presence was so palpable as to be almost violent, and I spent the next 10 hours on the floor of my apartment, shaking, as if something had been ripped from within the deepest parts of me.
In a lot of ways, something had. A lot of people talk about putting their life in God’s hands. That night, for whatever reason, God reached out and grabbed me, shook me until I almost broke, and saved my life. The next morning I took myself to the hospital, and a week later I returned to my father’s home in New Mexico and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The events in my early life that led to the sort of ‘fracture’ between my childhood spirit and my adult body are of little interest and far better left in the past. But for me, the diagnosis was not so much an answer to a question as it was the beginning of an arc, and I can say with certainty at this point that, had my life not been so radically altered by a force beyond myself, continuing to run away from that diagnosis would have killed me.
Many things have happened since then and I would have hated to miss any of them, both the good and the bad. So I am profoundly happy to have been offered a new lease on life. I have lost more friends, family and lovers to substance abuse and suicide than I can count on my fingers and toes and wondered every time why I was somehow spared. Through learning to let go of my own obsession with my past I have learned to truly value the friends and family I still have, and have slowly learned to let go of people that are attracted to THAT part of me, the deep-down bit, that never quite seems to heal. I have always considered myself blessed. And after a while I developed a sense that I was as healed as I was going to be, despite some glaring inefficiencies in my life, and some things I had been trying to make happen that simply wouldn’t budge.
I took this commission almost on a whim nearly 18 months ago, and when I was assigned “healing” as a theme I had a sense that I might write something that was a sort of sideways nod to my life as an adult learning to live with a trauma disorder, or some oblique reference to my unpleasant childhood, and that would be that. I let the idea percolate for a bit, and went on about the business of trying to make a living writing music and playing the guitar.
Eight months ago, I was driving home from a rehearsal and was stopped at a red light when I became aware of a familiar presence beside me in the van. Unknown to me at the time, three blocks behind me a carjacker had just stolen a vehicle at gunpoint and was speeding in excess of 70mph an hour down Bedford Avenue, trying to flee the scene. Two seconds later I was involved in a rear-end collision that totaled seven vehicles, dislocated my hips and one shoulder, and broke the necks of the two people who were in the car directly behind me. I survived,
I might not have, and since that moment I have had an awareness of a powerful force at work both within my body and in my life.
The sense I have of it is, I had begun to think I was “healed enough.” My life was sufficiently positive and proactive for a person living with my condition, and I had learned to live and be content with the things in my life that just weren’t quite right. I was Doing Okay, and that was fine by me, so I had stopped working on myself. So once again, I was grabbed. And I was shaken.
Here’s the thing about PTSD. It lives in your body, like a parasite. And, like a parasite, you sort of get used to it and it becomes a sort of familiar companion. An old friend. So, if you want to get rid of it, you have to go into your body and find it and encourage it to let you go. You don’t let IT go. Because having PTSD is like being possessed. And when you are strong enough to let it, little by little IT lets go of YOU.
The accident completely changed my plans for the future, because it forced me immediately and irrevocably out of denial and back into my body. It completely changed my concept of myself as a person who HAD healed, into a person who HAD TO heal. In order to recover from the dislocated hip, the tear in my shoulder that has left my left arm with an uncontrollable tremor, the whiplash, the herniated discs–in order to get my life back, I have had to reach into my spirit and my body and come up with the courage to heal from ALL of it. It’s been terrifying. But I know I can do it. Because God set this arc in motion five years ago, and I know in my bones He did it because this is something I can do.
Looking back, I can see now that a lot of my creative work leading up to that first event had a lot to do with my body trying to reconcile what it had been through with my spirit’s sense of who I was. So I fall in and out of love with playing it, which I know is difficult at times for the people who have agreed to play it with me. It’s pretty wild music! And I’m proud of all of it. But this is the first and most likely the only time I will write directly about trauma and recovery–and the way that God found me, knocked me down, and gave me a chance to do the necessary work to rebuild myself into the person He and I both believe I will one day be.
“Look Out Below” is a reflection on a passage from the Book of Daniel, on the idea of being filled with the violence of the presence of the Lord, and on the idea that our ascent to perfection might best be started by being knocked down onto our knees. Many thanks to Gil Selinger for providing the image that inspired the conceptual material, to JP Gilbert and Scott Holland for the original inspiration for the music itself, and to Jeff Cook for realizing the recording almost exactly they way it had been swimming around in my head. You have all been amazing teachers and I am blessed to learn from each of you.
Lily is currently the lead guitarist with the Rocket Queens – a world class, all-female tribute to Guns N Roses, the Suite Unraveling (Tzadik), and Lily Maase & the High Life Band. She has toured nationally with the Suite Unraveling, JP & the Gilberts, the High Life Band, and as a solo artist and educator.
Lily’s playing has been featured in All About Jazz, Teen Vogue, Nylon Magazine, the Weekly Alibi, New Mexico Magazine, Vans.com, Guitar World’s Acoustic Nation, Maxim.com and the New York Times. She is endorsed by Godin Guitars.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com