Consider the contrast between Live and Learn‘s appreciation for Earth’s seasons and Franklin Graham’s focus on heaven in a recent Fox radio interview chastising public figures who openly reject or express doubts about their Christian faith.
“I’m going to keep telling people how they can have a relationship with God how they can have their sins forgiven and how it can make and have that hope of heaven one day by putting their faith and trust in Jesus Christ.”
Franklin Graham, Fox radio interview with Todd Starnes Click THIS LINK for more.
Although the Live and Learn quote from Sarah Dessen’s That Summer is not specifically theological, it captures the contrast between two kinds of religion. One celebrates life (“So much in one summer, stirring up like the storms that crest at the end of each day, blowing out all the heat and dirt to leave everything gasping and cool”) and seeks to live responsibly on the planet.
The other kind of religion sees faith as the ticket to heaven (a paradisal life after life), instead of eternal punishment in you know what, while the sweet smell of honeysuckle is overcome by the smell of sizzling asphalt and the porpoises wash ashore because of plastic.
Light through a window of the Basilica of the Madeline in Vézelay, France – Photo by Dennis Aubrey
Reason only partially explains why and how some people become friends.
“Reason, you’ll always be half blind,” said Mechtild of Magdeburg, the 13th century German mystic beguine, author of The Flowing Light of Divinity.
There are reasons that partially explain why and how Dennis Aubrey and I became friends. Cyberspace is how we met. I can’t recall which of us started the conversation. I do know that finding Via Lucis: Photography of Religious Architecture was like a window opening a dark room to light and air. Why one of us reached out to comment on the other’s site had its reasons. Each of us was wading in the same waters, asking the same questions. Dennis did it by means of professional photography and commentaries on Romanesque and Gothic churches in France and Germany. I did it through commentaries on faith and public life.
Wading in the same waters differently led us to each other. Although I have always loved beautiful architecture, I knew little about Romanesque and could not have cared less about the Medieval period when the Romanesque cathedrals, basilicas, and churches were built. These structures were the waters in which Dennis sought and found light. The ancient texts of Hebrew and Christian scripture were the waters in which I did the same. Discovering each other wading in the same waters differently led to an eight year friendship in person at Dennis and PJ’s new home in Ohio, by internet comments on each other’s work, and the kind of phone calls peculiar to close friends.
Last Saturday I called Dennis to discuss his latest posted on Via Lucis. There was no answer. Perhaps I’d called too early. Perhaps he and PJ were in France. Perhaps they had driven to the Amish farm stand where the Amish adolescent sold them organic vegetables or had gone to the Amish auction. Or maybe Dennis had silences his cell phone. I left a voicemail. An hour later at 9:43 A.M. the return call came from Dennis’s cell phone number. But the voice was not Dennis’s, it was PJ’s. “I can’t believe you called,” she said. “Dennis died last night.” Our worlds suddenly became smaller.
As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God? [Psalm 42:1-2 KJV]
Panting after the water brooks
Faith takes many forms. Which forms, if any, are grounded in reality is a lifelong quest for some of us. A cynic may dismiss all forms of faith as ungrounded — floating in the clouds of human imagination and illusion. Yet there remain those murmurings from within or the majesty one sees outside the self in nature or great works of art. Dennis and PJ posted an an announcement and invitation to a new exhibit July 29 bearing the artists’ witness to imagination: “This exhibition is not about the iconographic programs of medieval historiated capitals, but rather an appreciation of the human imagination that created these sculptures.”
The search for authentic faith — trust in something greater than the self and all that we can see, feel, taste, smell, or touch — is not a straight line. It spirals between opposites. We disbelieve and believe. We believe and disbelieve. We fall and we get back up. We gasp for air and we gasp in awe. We turn our backs on the past and embrace it again as though we’d never met it.
When shall I come before Thee?
St. Augustine wrote that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee. Like faith itself, what the Hebrew psalmist called the soul’s ‘panting’’ and Augustine called ‘restlessness’, takes many forms. Sometimes, as in the parable of the lost son, it takes us far away from the water brooks; sometimes it goes numb; sometimes it draws us closer to the water brooks. But even there by the side of the water brooks, like Narcissus, we refuse to drink.
Dennis was on a lifelong search for what the psalmist likened to a deer thirsty for water — longing for union with the Ineffable that was shrouded in mystery but given to his eyes in a shaft of light reflecting on a stone wall at dusk, or on one of the capitals the craftsmen of a by-gone time invited his imagination and research. He shared in photography and commentary moments where his panting desire for God was quenched by the stones themselves: the song of Mary Magdeline echoing from the stones of the Basilique Sainte Madeleine in Vézelay, and the sounds of uncluttered simplicity and beauty of Gregorian chant that calls us to remember who and Whose we are.
His last words on Via Lucis were posted in reply to his latest and most personal post. “Judy, thank you so much. It is the ineffable sensation of that spirituality that drives both PJ and me when we photograph.”
Deep calleth unto deep at the sound of Thy waterspouts.
Dennis was joyful. He was attuned to the calling of the Deep. He was reverent before the abyss, the yawning hole in existence itself, the nights haunted by the 3:00 o’clock in the morning questions that beg for answers. He shared those times of wrestling with PJ and with Rudy, the cat on his lap in whom he took such delight, and, sometimes, with readers of Via Lucis. I could only say “Yes! Yes! Yes!” Opening one of his posts on Via Lucis was like meeting the twin brother I didn’t know I had. No matter how deep into the Deep his blog posts would go, there was always the echo of the Divine calling to him from the depths.
My soul is cast down within me.
Dennis had an eye for beauty and the camera and words to reflect what he saw when he took the shot. It was a rare gift. The antidote to sleepless nights was a day with PJ in a Romanesque Basilica like the one at Vezelay, waiting for the precise moment when the light and shadows would be just right. The beauty was already there in the stone walls and buttresses, the choirs, chancels, the side chapels built to the glory of God by artisans whose names were forever lost to future generations. I think Dennis saw himself as one of them, creating works of art that drew attention not to himself but to his subject.
Only wonder comprehends anything
Looking back after he has left us, it occurs to me that Dennis’s faith was of the Eastern (Byzantine) tradition of Christianity much more than of the Western (Roman) tradition in which he was raised. Dennis could well have spoken the words of Gregory of Nyssa.
“Concepts create idols; only wonder comprehends anything. People kill one another over idols. Wonder makes us fall to our knees.”
He was horrified by what had been done in the name of Christ: the Crusades that swept through the world like a wild fire, destroying towns and villages, and disobedient monastic sites because their concepts were not right.
The kind of thing that sunshine is
Concepts are ‘cataphatic’; wonder is ‘apophatic’. Cataphatic religion is logical — it lives in the head. Apophatic spirituality is awake to what cannot be reduced to a concept. Dennis’s artistic spirit was apophatic — awake to the beauty all around him and cringing at human cruelty produced by the idols in our heads.
Just as many questions might be started for debate among people sitting up at night as to the kind of thing that sunshine is, and then the simple appearing of it in all its beauty would render any verbal description superfluous, so every calculation that tries to arrive conjecturally at the future state will be reduced to nothingness by the object of our hopes, when it comes upon us.
Gregory of Nyssa (c.335-c.395 CE)
Dennis’s writing respected the ineffability of sunshine with words that helped us see the beauty his apophatic eyes had seen.
“I shall yet praise him”
The poetry of Psalm 42 was akin to the poetic imagination by which the Hebrew prophet Isaiah described his experience in the temple:
In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.
Isaiah 6:1-4 (KJV)
In the 20th and 21st centuries Isaiah’s temple was a Romanesque church Dennis and PJ experienced in ways best expressed in poetic prose and photograph. Their art brought to life our sense of the seraphim soaring above the throne of the Holy One. Those gasping for air found ourselves gasping with awe at what the eye of this gentle soul had seen. Sometimes the Ineffable takes our breath away and drops us to our knees in an empty church where the sun still shines its light on the stones, the stones cry out, and the Magdeleine still sings.
Consolation following a loved one’s death comes hard sometimes. Wayne died of pancreatic cancer. But his greatest fear was that he would die the way his father did: living with Alzheimer’s, staring at his shoes. He still remembered how to tie his shoelaces. ~ Gordon, remembering Wayne G. Boulton (1941-2019).
Think about the work that goes into tying your shoelaces. It calls for physical exertion, dexterity, and cleverness, any child between the ages of six and nine years old knows it, early in life it is a serious matter, the bow the greatest mystery, the fingers, the hands, the laces, altogether an apparently unsolvable riddle. But once you have mastered it, you forget how complicated it is, the years pass until one day—having put your socks on—you look down at your feet, unsure of how to proceed.
I always know there’s a bird on the other side of the feeder by the way it swings in the air. A lot of the ladderback woodpeckers like to stay where they can’t see me … and I can’t take pictures. I also know they are there because sometimes I see a feather sticking out of somewhere or suddenly a beak — or even the bird’s head appears, then vanishes.
I sometimes stand for half an hour with the camera aimed and focused … and there’s nothing. I give up, put the camera down, turn around and there are half-a-dozen birds. Cardinals, woodpeckers, and a whole flock of goldfinches. And more.
Today, there were a lot of birds when I got to the kitchen and almost none after that. It was a warm but drippy day. It wasn’t exactly raining, but it wasn’t exactly not raining. We had to put…
King George III is remembered as the “mad” British king responsible for losing the American colonies that became the United States of America, a constitutional democratic republic. The cause of George’s illness continues to be a matter of dispute.
The new American constitutional republic turned its back on King George III [shown here in Allan Ramsay’s portrait“King George III in coronation robes”] and on any future British royals who might re-claim the American colonies. But old habits die hard, and, it seems, old Kings never die.
Mad kings like King George III occasionally re-appear in dark suits and red ties without their coronation robes when a free people forgets its origins. “Mad King George” disguises himself as the people’s sole protector against barbarian invaders who threaten his realm. “Mad King George” throws a fit as defender of the republic, and once again raids the nation’s treasury to protect an anxious people from the threat that comes from his head.
This morning, King George III, acting under the limited powers granted a president by the U.S. Constitution, declared a national emergency to stop the invasion from the southern border. Announcing his decision in the White House Rose Garden, he declared, as he had centuries before in England:
“Anyone who does not agree with me is a traitor and a scoundrel.”
I never believed in ghosts, but I do believe experience is our best teacher. Some ghosts come back to haunt us. After all these years, the ghost of “Mad King George” has emigrated to the colonies to reclaim the subjects he once lost.
I’d never heard of Pico Iyer or his views on the urgency of slowing down, and I’ve only traveled to Japan in my imagination while listening to Dave Brubeck’sKyoto Song. But I like how Pico thinks.
“I can soon begin to tell the time by how the light is slanting off our walls at sunrise and when the darkness falls” describes what happens in the cabin next to the wetland in Minnesota. Like Pico in Kyoto, I become more essentially human in the midst of real time.
Yes, and I think we all know that sensation. We have more and more time-saving devices but less and less time, it seems to us. When I was a boy, the sense of luxury had to do with a lot of space, maybe having a big house or a huge car. Now I think luxury has to do with having a lot of time. The ultimate luxury now might be just a blank space in the calendar. And interestingly enough, that’s what we crave, I think, so many of us.
When I moved from New York City to rural Japan — after my year in Kyoto, I essentially moved to a two-room apartment, which is where I still live with my wife and, formerly, our two kids. We don’t have a car or a bicycle or a T.V. I can understand. It’s very simple, but it feels very luxurious. One…
This photograph of early dawn and Mary Oliver‘s poem “Why I Wake Early” greeted me early this morning, as did Aldous Huxley‘s wisdom about walking more lightly, thanks to David Kanigan‘s “I Can’t Sleep” post.
I’ve been feeling heavy lately. Not on the bathroom scales — that weight is down — but on the scales of the soul, the psyche, my spirit. That weight is up. Every day I get heavier. I don’t know what to do. Maybe you don’t either. The news is dark and heavy. The UN climate change report just gave us a decade to act before we trip over the edge of global warming. These are scientists with no vested interest in producing conclusions that would make us smile. Meanwhile, as the latest storm weighs heavily on the hearts of people across the country, a President who insists that climate change is a hoax calls the press and television camera crews into the Oval office to show his concern and assure television viewers that he’s on top of it.
Mike (a retired federal investigator) and I catch a bit of the live coverage. The President is sitting behind his desk. Two members of his Administration are standing near his desk. The President crosses his arms over his chest. “He’s defensive,” says Mike. “He’s hiding something. He’s feeling threatened. He’s feeling exposed.” Later in the day, while Hurricane Michael storms its way through the South, the President boards Air Force One for another photo with a cheering crowd in Erie, Pennsylvania. Before the crowd, the cameras again focus on the President. His arms no longer fold across this chest. His hands are free. His face is smug. I feel sick. I feel heavy. I go to bed. I toss and turn. I can’t sleep.
This morning I rise at 4:00 A.M., go downstairs to make a pot of coffee and check my emails. David Kanigan’s post on I Can’t Sleep: Live & Learn is waiting to greet me. I open it. The beauty of the photograph lightens my spirit, chases away the heaviness. I read Mary Oliver’s “Why I Wake Early” and Aldous Huxley’s words, written just for me, or so it seems, and, maybe just for you.
“It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them” — Aldous Huxley.
I’ve finished my third cup of coffee and determine to try not to try so hard, to walk more lightly, even when feeling deeply.
Earlier today we re-blogged this Lightly Child, Lightly post and promptly moved on to write a reflection it inspired. We moved too quickly. We forgot to “stick it” on Views from the Edge’s “front page”. This afternoon, we’re making amends by putting it on our front page with an apology, and with deep thanks to our friend up in Canada, David Kanigan, host of Live & Learn.
lest we would sift it down
into fractions, and facts
and what the soul is, also
I believe I will never quite know.
Though I play at the edges of knowing,
truly I know
our part is not knowing,
but looking, and touching, and loving,
which is the way I walked on,
through the pale-pink morning light.
Post Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”
Turning 76 reminds me of “Seventy-Six Trombones” from The Music Man. Every town loves a parade. What’s a town without a parade? Or a big marching band? The Music Man, Harold Hill, arrives in peaceful little town of River City, and convinces its citizens that “they got troubles”. He’s a con man who sells musical instruments, promising to create the greatest marching band the world has ever seen, led by 76 trombones.
Sound and look familiar? No parades. Please, no parades.