Wet Not Dry
Music that dwells, at least briefly, on the life of Saint Teresa
The following essay was written as an Artist Statement for a Harvard Divinity School final project mentored by Professor Stephanie Paulsell in December 2021. “Wet Not Dry” now serves as the prelude to Idgy Dean’s full-length record, A Chronicle of Lightning Bolts.
Dedicated to all the Daughters I will never know.
“Wet Not Dry” is a four-minute-long sonic meditation on the four waters of prayer.²
Creating this song and its accompanying visuals was a practice of recollection on the works of Saint Teresa of Ávila. May this song serve as yet another Teresian foundation — a four-walled musical monastery where one may rest and rejoice in absorption.
Music is a contained rapture. A sung hieroglyphic scripture. It is not up to me to say exactly what it means. But I do know that it is mine to sing and share.
The composition was created in solitude, in my Harvard Divinity School monastic cell bedroom. To be enclosed was to be in freedom, for when I work in professional recording studios, I am often subject to the authority of male sound engineers. They act like my confessors. They are in charge of literally “mastering” my records. And they have all shared a similar criticism of my work: “it’s too wet.”
It’s true… I commit the engineering heresy of soaking every single instrument in reverb.
Acoustically speaking, reverberation (or reverb) is the persistence of sound. One creates it by reflecting an acoustic signal against a particular surface or space (think of a voice echoing in a tunnel or a cathedral or a room). This causes numerous reflections to build up and continue before being absorbed back into silence. There is something inherently theological about this sound effect — the way our voices endlessly reflect into the ether of eternity. God is not a “dry” signal, but a divine persistence that is widely dispersed.
Theologically speaking, transverberation is the religious ecstasy Saint Teresa experienced when a mystical grace pierced her heart with an arrow of love. It is famously carved into Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s erotic marble masterpierce, L’Estasi di Santa Teresa. The angel’s arrow assails her into a spiritual swoon — an altered state of consciousness in which her interior awareness is being expanded. Transverberate means to strike through. Reverberate means to strike back. I want the arrow of my song to echo her ecstasy.
The sound engineer’s issue with reverb is that it decays the clarity of the notes. Dispersed signals are harder to herd and control. It makes the music less contained, concrete, articulated. The engineer’s honest caution is that too much reverb will drown out the words. But I am convinced that this drowning is the sound of a saturated soul. Like Teresa, I would rather feel and experience something rather than comprehend anything. Do not grasp at a word or a concept of God. Instead, let it rush over you.
Terry Tempest Williams describes Teresa of Ávila with just three words: Wet Not Dry. This song is intentionally drenched. It is wetness unleashed, the waves of flush and flood. It begins with an accelerated heartbeat — an arousal. She is turned on by the anxious adrenaline rush of high-risk writing. Saint Teresa crafted her mystical masterpieces during the Spanish Inquisition. Every drop of inspired ink put her in peril of being accused of heresy, yet her faith made her fearless and fervent.
The first minute of the song is designed to focus us. It captures the initial concentration necessary to let our pen plunge into the depths and drop our buckets into the well. We hear the sound of absorption — the labor and danger of writing. The initial synth is an underwater buzzsaw on the soul. Deep construction is underway inside. There is both a demolition and a renovation happening around the heart. A melody begins to seep in…
Around the forty-second mark, we are pierced by a new chord motif: the 3-in-1 harmony of God. The transverberation — a divine wound — creates an interior space for the Lord to dwell inside each and every one of us. This grace of God is felt as a sharp relief. The heartbeat drums stop for the wet delay of ecstasy. Bernini wants her face in stone. I want it in waves. He wants to chisel. I want to swim.
“I often begged the Lord to give me the water… Domine, da mihi aquam.”³
Revelation’s reverb rises high then crashes back into the beat and flow of writing. Now that our hearts have been pierced, we hear a steady knock at the door of our Interior Castle. In this second minute — the second water — we find ourselves in the monastery, doing the devotional work of our purpose: writing, singing, doubting, praying.
“Killed by my own hieroglyphic.
Killed by my own inquisition.
The heartbreak is my demolition.
She lives the Songs
(I sing for me)
I’m wet, not dry.”
We move back and forth between two motifs: the labor of fetching water and the swoon of union. “Rapture is experienced in intervals.”⁴ As we approach minute three, we catch another divine wave and enter prayer. In this third minute/water, we become irrigated by God.
“Water, Under me, Overhead, Inside me.
Daughters, take your prayers,
Don’t you know?
They go anywhere.”
This chorus is shorthand for Teresa’s teaching of the Lord’s Prayer — a portable and potable drink of the divine. Water is the life force — the God force. And God is a wave you can catch. A wave you can take with you and continue to ride. It is a constant flow under your feet, over your head, and inside your ribs. It is both above and below; heaven and earth; the ocean and the sky; the depths and the heights; the dark and the light.
Teresa the teacher encouraged her daughters (who were denied full access to mystical literature and scripture) to memorize the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer like a poem. If you memorize it, no one will ever be able to take the interior text away from you. You can carry its sacred alchemy hidden inside at all times.
The song is a portable poem, like God. Remember and repeat a few lines to catch and contemplate the wave again. Surrender to the persistent sound. Be moved by its mantra. Sing it in praise of the flow of its cause. Let it flood the ears of others. Know that it belongs to you and can be carried and shared and remembered far into the future, long after your original voice disappears into silence.
Teresa’s voice is a persistent sound — a reverberation still echoing 439 years after her death.
Certainly, she was not the last of her kind…. “Many Theresas have been born who found for themselves no epic life wherein there was a constant unfolding of far-resonant action…”⁵
I was 20-years-old the first time Teresa struck my heart. I read about her in George Eliot’s prelude to Middlemarch:
“Who that cares much to know the history of man, and how that mysterious mixture behaves under the varying experiments of Time, has not dwelt, at least briefly, on the life of Saint Theresa… Here and there is born a Saint Theresa, foundress of nothing, whose loving heart-beats and sobs after an unattained goodness tremble off and are dispersed among hindrances, instead of centering in some long-recognisable deed.”
Like Eliot — who needed to hide her own name on the page⁶ (for “…just being a woman is enough to have my wings fall off”⁷) — I recognize myself as a “later-born Theresa.”
My own uncles accuse me of being “A restless, wandering female.”⁸
I admit I am an addict of absorption. I WANT MORE is the painful plague of my longing. Monasticism, often regarded as the highest calling, is where I go now to get high. It seems God is the only one deep enough to receive me. I remain insatiable for the insatiable. Give me the water…
Eliot continues the reverb… “Meanwhile the indefiniteness remains, and the limits of variation are really much wider than any one would imagine.”
Woman, by nature, is indefinite, and thus, divine. Daughter rhymes with water.
I am the daughter of at least two Teresas: my great grandmother, Theresa Sanwald, and her grandmother (my great great great), Teresa Honig. I discovered the latter in the 1870 Federal Census. The script lists her as a 31-year-old living in Newark, New Jersey, born in Württemberg, Germany. Occupation: Keeps Beer Saloon. She was a 30-something bartender, just like me. Was she also a sacred poet, sunk unwept into oblivion?⁹
Any woman who writes, directs, or performs is a descendent of Teresa. Featured throughout the music video are clips from a Spanish television mini-series written and directed by Josefina Molina, a twentieth-century woman also inspired by the Carmelite nun. Our movies and music
are a mysterious mixture, a varying experiment of Time. They respond to Eliot’s lament and dwell, at least briefly, on the life of Saint Teresa.
“Prayer is an exercise of love”¹⁰ and so is songwriting. Songs teach us how to listen and receive. We are not meant to know what the Songs mean¹¹ — they go over our heads, like waves. So we paddle out in prayer, and surrender to the surf of the music. “The prayer is not experienced as work but as glory. In this fourth water the soul isn’t in possession of its senses, but it rejoices without understanding what it is rejoicing in. It understands that it is enjoying a good in which are gathered together all goods, but this good is incomprehensible.”¹² The final minute of music gives us the space to contemplate this.
“There is nothing more to do than to enjoy.”¹³
A prelude is a short piece of music that introduces an opera. I pray this short piece of humble music can serve as an introduction to something epic. To every foundress of nothing, let us continue the endless takes and echoes into the deep.
“Wet Not Dry” — Music written, performed, recorded, and produced by Lindsay Sanwald aka Idgy Dean. December 2021, Harvard Divinity School.
Video edit includes slow motion wave footage by Darius Devas and clips from Teresa de Jesús, the Spanish television mini-series directed by Josefina Molina (1984).
Deep bows to all of the Teresas…
Thank you, Terry Tempest Williams, for inspiring the title of this song.
Thank you, Martha Graham (who echoes Teresa), for keeping me going with these words:
“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself
or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”
Finally, thank you forever, Professor Stephanie Paulsell, for continuing to teach me how to read, write, and pray.
 Meditations on the Song of Songs, Prologue.
 “It seems to me the garden can be watered in four ways. You may draw water from a well (which is for us a lot of work). Or you may get it by means of a water wheel and aqueducts in such a way that it is obtained by turning the crank of the water wheel… Or it may flow from a river or stream. (The garden is watered much better by this means because the ground is more fully soaked, and there is no need to water so frequently — and much less work for the gardener.) Or the water may be provided by a great deal of rain. (For the Lord waters the garden without any work on our part — and this way is incomparably better than all the others mentioned.).” (The Book of Her Life, 11.7)
 The Book of Her Life, 30.19.
 The Book of Her Life, 20.19.
 From the Prelude of Middlemarch by George Eliot.
 Mary Ann Evans used the pen name George Eliot to be taken more seriously as a writer.
 The Book of Her Life, 10.8.
 The papal accusation against Saint Teresa.
 More from the Prelude of Middlemarch by George Eliot.
 The Book of Her Life, 7.12.
 “I don’t understand why this is; and that I don’t understand gives me great delight…daughters…I highly recommend that when you read some book or hear a sermon or think about the mysteries of our sacred faith you
avoid tiring yourself or wasting your thoughts in subtle reasoning about what you cannot properly understand. Many things are not meant for women to understand, nor even for men… men who aren’t obliged to defend the truth through their learning.” (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 1.1)
 The Book of Her Life, 18.1.
 The Book of Her Life, 27.8.