A Murmuration of Starlings

Click HERE for a moment of murmuration wonder and delight, compliments of The Atlantic and Carolyn Kidder, who brought it to our attention.

My mother didn’t like Starlings, but she never saw anything quite like this.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 12, 2017.

Farmer walking through fields in Kumta

Scroll down for Joshi Daniel’s photograph that inspired this reflection.

Tourists and residents see things differently. Actually, it’s more than that. They see different things, like the farmer walking through the field in Kumta, and this tourist website that introduces would-be visitors to Kumta.

Today we’re tourists in Beynac-et-Cazenac, one of the loveliest places we’ve ever experienced. Well, i,e. experienced as tourists. But even a tourist (we’ve rented a house      for the week (pictures to follow) recognizes the slower pace of this medieval town on the banks of the Dordogne River.

The Experiment in International Living (EIL) offered a deeper way of seeing the world forty years ago. That summer I lived with a host family in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. Immersed in the daily life of my Slovakian family and students at the university, I was not a tourist. I cared nothing about the sites a tourist might visit. I walked everywhere, paying attention to where I was, looking more deeply, more thoughtfully – being more present, one might say – less disembodied, less virtual, less distracted, not as entertained, but so much happier in my body.

Like the Experiment in International Living, Kosuke Koyama encouraged me to slow down, to walk instead of run by, drive past, or fly over – to see the dailyness and the natural field of the man Joshi’s photograph. God, said Kosuke, is a three-mile-an-hour God who meets us at the pace of human being walking.

Momentarily, we’ll walk very slowly down the steep hill into the village on Sunday morning in this beautiful place. If we go to fast, we’ll fall on our faces.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Beynac-et-Cazenac, June 12, 2016.

Joshi Daniel Photography

A farmer walking through fields in Hegde, Karnataka while holding a basket Farmer walking through the fields | Hegde, Kumta, Karnataka, India

If you would like to buy a print of any of the images, get in touch with me here.

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Cathédrale Saint-Nazaire de Béziers (Dennis Aubrey)

Once again Dennis Aubrey’s writing and photography on Via Lucis Photography of Religious Architecture offers a rare jewell worthy of wider circulation.

Via Lucis Photography

Beziers has fallen!
They’re dead.
Clerks, women, children:
No quarter.

They killed Christians too.
I rode out,
I couldn’t see nor hear a living creature.
I saw Simon de Montefort.
His beard glistened in the sun.

They killed seven thousand people!
Seven thousand souls who sought sanctuary
In St. Madeline’s.
The steps of the altar were wet with blood.
The church echoed with their cries.

Guiraut Riquier, troubadour (Translated by Martin Best)

In 1130, the master builder Gervais built a Romanesque cathedral in the thriving episcopal town of Béziers. Built eighty years before Notre Dame de Paris, it had a comparable nave height as that Gothic masterpiece and was 50 meters long. Evidence given at the time indicates that it was a truly remarkable structure but it lasted only 79 years. The Cathedral of Saint Nazaire was burnt to the ground on July 22, 1209.

We went to Béziers in…

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Cherubic smile

Joshi Daniel’s photograph reminds viewers of the power of inner joy. Thank you, Joshi, for using your extraordinary gift in a way that makes the world a better place.

Joshi Daniel Photography

Black and white portrait of an old woman with an angelic smile from Trivandrum, Kerala Old woman with a cherubic smile | Trivandrum, Kerala, India

This charming old lady kept on speaking to me while I took this photo of hers.

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Looking and Seeing – Thoreau

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What you see, not what you look at, is what you get. Or is it?

Is something there you don’t see? Is what you see there because you put it there?

The relation between subject and object is an ancient philosophical question that’s not about to go away.

When I saw the Thoreau poster, I saw the darkness behind the words. Then it drew me to the light – the sunrise or sunset. But, which is it: a sunset preceding darkness, or sunrise bringing the light? Or are we seeing cars, pavement, poles, and signs? What would Thoreau see?

 

 

 

Non-verbal Communication: Cain looking at us

Cain and Abel – the mythical story of the first two children of humanity – in the Book of Genesis (Genesis 4:1-16) is about something that never happened way back when but about what is always happening with us: the inexplicable violence to which humankind turns against itself. It’s about the yawning abyss of violence into which we plunge when we can’t make sense out of life or when things don’t go our way.

Yesterday’s brief post on Via Lucis Photography of Religious Architecture focuses on a capital of Cain and Abel in a Romanesque church.

Photograph by Dennis Aubrey of Via Lucis Photography of Religious Architecture

Photograph by Dennis Aubrey of Via Lucis Photography of Religious Architecture

Like the Genesis writer, the Medieval artist whose hand crafted the story in stone many centuries later was doing theology and anthropology. The biblical author told the story with words; the Medieval sculptor told it with non-verbal communication.

The face of Cain on Via Lucis held my attention long after I’d gone on with the day. It kept returning to mind.

Cain’s head isn’t turned toward Abel whom he is pummeling to death with his stave. He’s looking away from Cain at someone or something else, as if to say the viewer, “So, you think I’m cruel. You think I’m different. You’re looking in the mirror.”

In the biblical story God tells Cain, “sin is crouching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” The Medieval sculptor’s art seems to be saying it in stone. Cain’s head is cocked, his eyes looking at us. At you. At me.  And, perhaps, at God, to whose failure to rescue Abel he shifts responsibility: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  The capital seems to say Cain knows he owns us and the endless history of violence in which the blood of the silent victims cries out from the ground, unless and until we – persons, groups, religions, races, cultures, nations, a species – master the sin that’s forever crouching at our door.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 16, 2015

 

The Mason of God (Dennis Aubrey)

Via Lucis Photography

In a world where what passes for news are articles about the megalomaniac Donald Trump, the Kardashians, and the Jenners, we occasionally find something worth consideration.

On August 25 a funeral mass was celebrated in the Italian town of Montefortino at the chiesa della Madonna dell’Ambro. The recipient of the mass was a Capuchin friar, Padre Pietro Lavini who lived as a hermit in the Sibylline Mountains near Rubbiano Montefortino and along the Gola dell’Infernaccio, the Gorge of Hell. A thousand people attended the service of the man who died two weeks prior, on August 9, 2015.

Why did they come to this mass? What did Padre Pietro accomplish with his life as a hermit?

Padre Pietro Lavini, photo from Santuario Madonna dell'Ambro Padre Pietro Lavini, photo from Santuario Madonna dell’Ambro

In 1971, Padre Pietro discovered the ruins of the Eremo di Santo Leonardo, an abandoned 12th century Benedictine monastery in the wilds of the Sibyllines. All…

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Verse – Last Request

Last request from an Illinois boy

I was born in Urbana on Orchard Street,
The hospital, Carle, was then quite small:
A three-story building of yellow brick,
The first of four brothers, and that was all.

My Mother was Char, my Dad was Bob
away at war, though a Pacifist he.
In ’42, to avoid the Draft,
He joined the SeaBees, the Navy

Guys who built the docks, airfields–
Alaska, even Hawaii.
After the war they lived in town
From house to house, till number three

Was 1306 South Orchard Street.
My happy high school years were there,
My first fast car, my first slow girl…
My friends were from the band or choir,

Although I grew to six foot eight
And stumbled playing basketball.
I started writing poems then:
Love yelps, or sonnets for the school

Assignments Mrs. Hewett gave.
Now decades past, I still will write
My last request in doggerel.
V-mails from Dad to Mom would cite

His love for us in poetry.
So if the cost is not too great,
Send me to die on Orchard Street.
Carle Hospital has grown to eight

Or ten or 12 facilities.
Perhaps they’ll have a room for me
To breathe my last in my home town.
Like poetry, it’s symmetry.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, June 29, 2015

The Punishment and Rescue of the Talkative

You’re reading a blog post. Blogging is talking. Sometimes it’s downright t-a-l-k-a-t-i-v-e. Chatty. Pointless. Silence is to be preferred to word pollution.

Two photographs in The Wood of Our Lady, Dennis Aubrey’s Via Lucis post, give reason to talk about talkativeness. Open the link and scroll down near the bottom to see two capitals: 1) two figures with their heads in their hands, weeping, and 2) what Dennis calls “The Punishment of the Talkative”.

The weeping figures of 12th century Église Notre-Dame-de-la-Nativité strike a chord of familiarity.  How many times a day does the news cause us to put our head in our hands in despair? But “the punishment of the talkative” capital evokes no such sympathy. It strikes us moderns as barbaric, the art of a Christian first-cousin of ISIL with grotesque figures excising the tongue of the talkative. Yet it served to remind the worshipers in the 12th century, as it still does in its startling way, that talkativeness is no virtue. Words are sacred. Dennis Aubrey puts it this way:

Perhaps the most famous capital represents the punishment of the talkative, presumably by excising the tongue with tongs. I don’t know if this condemns lying, calumny, or verbal abuse, or if it is a more generalized censure of chattiness or language in general. While this punishment somehow seems fitting for the slanderers who fill our public lives, I would prefer these thoughts of Voltaire, … les anges m’ont tué par leur silence. Le silence est le just chatiment des bavard. Je meurs, je suis mort. “The angels have killed me with their silence. Silence is the just punishment for the talkative. I’m dying. I’m dead.”

It was poet Kahlil Gibran, author of The Prophet, whose first published book (1918) was titled The Madman, who used words to say, “I have learned silence from the talkative, tolerative from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet strange, I am ungrateful to those teachers.”

Thank you, Dennis Aubrey and P.J. McKey for bringing the teachers to light.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 20, 2015.

Our Lady of the Crusades Redux

 

Crusader Madonna and Child courtesy of Via Lucis Photography (Dennis Aubrey and P.J. McKey)

Crusader Madonna and Child courtesy of Via Lucis Photography (Dennis Aubrey and P.J. McKey)How differently people of different times view life is masterfully illustrated by Dennis Aubrey’s post . .Dennis Aubrey’s post .

Dennis Aubrey’s post The Throne of Wisdom demonstrates how peoples’ views of life are shaped by their times in history.

During the Crusades, Mary and the Jesus of the Gospels become the authorization for killing Muslims. The executed Jesus of Nazareth becomes the Knight Templar, angrily taking up the sword against the unbelievers. Mary, the iconic “Mother of God” of Catholic and Orthodox Christian veneration, is turned into the Mother of Christian Jihad.

Pictured below is an altogether different Madonna  (12th Century from Notre Dame de Vauclair, Église de Molompize, Molompize [Cantal] Photo by Dennis Aubrey) who seems to be looking with horror at what is happening.

Notre Dame de Vauclair, Église de Molompize, Molompize (Cantal) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Notre Dame de Vauclair, Église de Molompize, Molompize (Cantal) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

There is a great struggle today over which Madonna to enthrone.  Our Lady of the Crusades is back. For example, click HERE for Sen. Tom Cotton, author of the letter to Iran signed by 47 U.S. Senators, interviewed by CBS host Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation.

Thanks to Dennis and P.J. for prompting this post. When we look carefully at where we come from, we sometimes see the darkness today in the clearer light.