Memories (Dennis Aubrey)

Dennis Aubrey’s writing is as fine as his photography, fathoming the depth and height of the human experience. This Via Lucis piece on the power and complexity of memory shouted out to be shared on Views from the Edge.

Recognizing truth is a matter of experience because it involves distinguishing the real from the illusory. Experience itself is a product of memory. And memory is even more complex than truth. And so the pattern gets more multi-faceted the deeper we look, like one of Mandlebrot’s mathematical phantasms. What appears at first simple becomes infinitely complicated and intricate.

Side aisle, Basilique Saint Remi, Reims (Marne) Photo by PJ Aubrey

Some memories we remember as dreams, in the present tense; others as historical phenomena that stay safely in the past. Some memories carry their meaning with them. Others mean something because of their relationship with something that occurred in the past. Others depend on the future to reveal their significance. This is the web that is woven back and forth, across and through time.

North side aisle, Eglise Saint-Étienne, Vignory (Haute-Marne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Some memories lie dormant until something…

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Blameless and Exasperating

“Blameless people are always the most exasperating.”– Mary Ann Evans [pen name, George Eliot], Middlemarch,  A Study of Provincial Life, 1871.

Blamelessness and exasperation have characterized both sides of a recent conversation on Views from the Edge. Not blamelessness exactly, but certainty, positions that seem to each party to be apparent and true beyond a doubt. Each of us has become exasperated with  the other.

Jesus’ word to the harsh critic of others – “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye”- is forgotten or ignored. Claims to righteousness and suspicion of the other replace self-criticism and magnanimity.

We live increasingly trapped in separate bubbles of survival in the war of ideas, convictions, platforms, moralities, religions, and ideologies in the search for security.

Instead of bubbles, Dennis Aubrey’s A Patron for Prisoners uses the metaphor of prison, quoting a sage from the 5th Century C.E., Saint Léonard of Noblat, the patron saint of prisoners, whose “Song” (based on Psalm 107) describes a hope for liberation from the prison cell whose doors we have locked from the inside.

“A Patron for Prisoners” opens with The Song of Saint Léonard of Noblat (5th Century):

He has liberated those sitting in darkness and shadow of death and chained in beggary and irons,
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them out of their distresses,
He brought them out of the path of iniquity,
For he hath broken the gates of brass, and cut the bars of iron in sunder,
He hath liberated those in bindings and many nobles in iron manacles.

– Song of Saint Léonard, quoted by Aymeri Picaud, translated by Richard Hogarth

Saint Léonard’s Song ends with the release of the nobles, the only class of people named among the liberated throng.  It is no mistake that he includes them among those to be blessed by release from iron manacles. We are all bound in the prison cells of logs and specks, blameless and exasperated, fearful of our survival on the other side of the release.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 19, 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.



Their Blood Runs in Mine

Our friend Dennis Aubrey posted “The Destruction of History” today on Via Lucis, lamenting the latest in the sordid history of religion destroying history and art.

Dennis Aubrey and P.J. McKey love beauty, history, and the religious architecture of Gothic and Romanesque churches they photograph in Europe. Sometimes, like today, they express a profound despair over the destruction done in the name of religion.

“Now we have word that ISIS has defaced and destroyed artifacts in Mosul, including Assyrian statues of winged bulls from the Mesopotamian cities of Ninevah and Nimrud. Video released by the newest barbarians to assault the cultural history of humanity shows a man using a power drill to deface the works.

“As so often throughout history, the excuse was religion. ‘The Prophet ordered us to get rid of statues and relics, and his companions did the same when they conquered countries after him.’  How many times in our work at Via Lucis have we read variations of these words from Catholics, Huguenots, Calvinists, revolutionaries, counter-revolutionaries, and military leaders?”

Years ago during a sabbatical in St. Andrews, Scotland, the destruction wrought there by my Scottish reformation forebear John Knox and his followers chilled my soul. The people who bred and raised me – Presbyterians of Scottish descent and religious sentiment – did this. They took the commandment to have no other gods as license to destroy, maim, and burn church art and heretics. Their blood runs in mine. Their DNA is mine. And, if confession has any meaning or merit whatsoever, the children of such crimes must say we’re sorry. Really sorry. Repentant. No more destruction. No more following the orders of bully prophets, no matter whose name they claim to honor.

Thank you, Dennis, for your post. On behalf of my ancestors and in the spirit of spirituality of beauty, love, and peace on the other side of destruction, thank you for your artist’s eyes. Thank you for your courage. Thank you for the hope in something better in a barbaric time.

– Rev. Gordon C. Stewart, Presbyterian minister Honorably Retired, Chaska, MN, March 4, 2015.

Via Lucis (way of light)

Funny how things slip away. Not really funny. Just strange and sad.

Dennis Aubrey’s posts on Via Lucis Photography have been meaningful to me over the past few year. But because i’m technically challenged and just a bit lazy, Via Lucis has slipped out of site. Until tonight. Wondered why Via Lucis was not popping up on my email notifications. I went to see what Dennis Aubrey and P.J McKay were saying, and there it was. Another thoughtful post , on Weeping for Zion, about which Views from the Edge recently published,

If you haven’t yet noticed Via Lucis Photography, it’s worth your time. Few other authors offer such deep insights into the human condition.

Thank you, Dennis Aubrey and P.J. McKay.

Weeping for Zion (Dennis Aubrey)

This post by Dennis Aubrey on Via Lucis Photography is splendid.

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. Psalm 137:1 (King James Bible)

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was quoted as saying, “Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: ‘Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.’ Since then I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put…

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✚ The Artist (PJ McKey) ✚

This piece was published today by Via Lucis Photography: Photography of Religious Architecture. Click the blue link to view P.J. McKey’s lovely post.

✚ The Artist (PJ McKey) ✚.

Tomorrow is the Feast of Pentecost. At Vespers on Pentecost, the monks sang Veni Creator Spiritus in Latin (here translated into English), attributed to Rabanus Maurus (776-856 CE). Click HERE to hear the sounds of prayer.

Come, Holy Spirit, Creator blest,
and in our hearts take up Thy rest;
come with Thy grace and heav’nly aid,
to fill the hearts which Thou hast made.

O Finger of the hand divine,
the sevenfold gifts of grace are Thine
Thy light to every sense impart,
and shed Thy love in every heart,
Praise we the Father and the Son
and Holy Spirit with them One;
and may the Son on us bestow
the gifts that from the Spirit flow.

Kim Jong Un and the Numinous

Rudolph Otto’s idea of the mysterium tremendum et fascinans, the source of holy dread and attraction that sends shudders down the human spine, rises to the fore as North Korea’s young leader Kim Jong Un plays with the possibility of nuclear holocaust.

It’s one thing to play with toys. It’s something else when the toys are nuclear bombs and missiles.

In The Idea of the Holy: An Inquiry into the Non-rational Factor in the Idea of the Divine and its Relation to the Rational, Rudolph Otto examines what he called the “numen,” the non-rational mystery that evokes feelings at once terrifying and sublime regarding our human condition.

“Otto on the Numinous” provides a concise introduction by an unidentified City University of New York English professor.

In The Idea of the Holy: An Inquiry into the Non-rational Factor in the Idea of the Divine and its Relation to the Rational, Rudolph Otto identifies and explores the non-rational mystery behind religion and the religious experience (“non-rational” should not be confused with “irrational”); he called this mystery, which is the basic element in all religions, the numinous. He uses the related word “numen” to refer to deity or God.

Forced, necessarily, to use familiar words, like “dread” and “majesty,” Otto insists that he is using them in a special sense; to emphasize this fact, he sometimes uses Latin or Greek words for key concepts. This fact is crucial to understanding Otto. Our feeling of the numinous and responses to the numinous are not ordinary ones intensified; they are unique (I use this word in its original meaning of “one of a kind, the only one”) or sui generis (meaning “in a class by itself”). For example, fear does not become dread in response to the numinous; rather, we cease to feel ordinary fear and move into an entirely different feeling, a dread that is aroused by intimations of the numinous or the actual experience of the numinous.

The word “absolute” is used in its metaphysical sense of “existing without relation to any other being; self-existent; self-sufficing” (OED); its adjectival form, “absolutely,” is used with the same meaning.”

The fact that North Korea’s young leader Kim Jong Un is threatening the world with nuclear holocaust does what World War I did to many theologians who had presumed that history is on a course of inevitable progress.

It is not.

The power of death is enticing, a sin to which Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the bomb, later confessed. The human will to power becomes evil when real soldiers, real nuclear bombs, and real missiles, and real threats of destruction are mistaken for childhood toys or computer games where human folly can be erased by hitting a delete button.

We are all children inside, for both good and ill.

Looking at the young North Korean leader, psychiatrists might see an Oedipus complex, the son outdoing the father at the game of nuclear threat, the boy who played with matches and determined that if his father was afraid to light the fuse, he would step out from his father’s shadow onto the stage of world power in a way the world would never forget.

But deeper and more encompassing than any Freudian analysis is Rudolph Otto’s mysterium tremendum et fascinans.

The philosophical-theological debates about Modernism and Post-Modernism are interesting. They deserve our attention. But neither Modernism’s rationalism nor Post-Modernism’s deconstructionism is equipped to address the most basic reality which encompassing the human condition: the mysterium tremendum et fascinans and the horror of its daemonic distortion in the shrinking of it by the human will to power.

Whenever we take the ultimate trembling and fascination of the self into our own hands, the world is put at risk. In the world of the ancients and the pre-historical world of our evolutionary ancestors the consequences were limited to a neighbor’s skull broken with a club. In the advanced species that has progressed from those primitive origins, we have fallen in love with our own toys of destruction, the technical achievements and manufactured mysteries that are deadly surrogates for the mysterium tremendum et fascinans that sends shudders down the spine in terror and in joy before what is Real.

Our time is perilously close to mass suicide. Unless and until we get it straight that I/we are not the Center of the universe, the likes of Kim Jong Un – and his mirror opposite but like-minded opponents on this side of the Pacific – will hold us hostage to the evil that lurks in human goodness.

Progress isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The ancient shudder of the creature – the human cry for help in the face of chaos and the heart’s leap toward what is greater than the self or our social constructs – unmasks every illusion of grandeur in a world increasingly put at risk by little boys with toys.

P.S. Just as this piece was in final editing, Dennis Aubrey published “Mysterium Tremendum” on Via Lucis Photography.

The stones are singing

Sometimes things just seem to come together all of a sudden. This was one of those moments.

This sermon created itself when four texts converged. “But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water” (Gospel of John 19:34).  “She has done a beautiful thing to me. … Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her” (Gospel of Matthew 26:10, 13). “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Gospel of Luke 19:40). And, last but by no means least, the piece that pulled them all together: “Elle Chante, Pere” (Dennis Aubrey, Via Lucis Photography), used with permission of Dennis Aubrey. Yesterday, Good Friday, Via Lucis re-posted the sermon. CLICK HERE for Denniis’s comments and those of others on Via Lucis.

Click the title to hear and see


Albert Camus once said that your life is “the slow trek to recover the two or three simple images in whose presence [your] heart first moved.”

Sebastian Moore recovered one of those images after he had wandered into church at vespers on the Feast of the Sacred Heart.

In his book, The Inner Loneliness, he describes that moment of awakening. It came one evening after lots of pasta, a lot of spaghetti, and a lot of wine. “As I entered the church, I heard the familiar words [in Latin] ‘One of the soldiers opened his side with a spear, and immediately there came forth blood and water.’ And I had what can only describe as a sense of fullness of truth. Somehow, everything that was to be said about life and its renewing was in those words. Somehow my life, my destiny, was in those words.”

The image that moved his heart became one to which he returns daily, as do I. For the piercing of the side of the helpless man hanging on the cross happened not just then and there at Golgotha; it happens here and there and everywhere that torture own souls and the souls of others because we, or they, have failed to measure up to what we expected.  Strangely, it is in the piercing that brings blood that we are cleansed by the living water that pours from his side.

Do you see your life in the words and in the image of the spearing of his side, in the blood, but also the water that heals, restores and renews, flowing from his pierced side?

A second image came to me this week on a photography blog of religious architecture by Dennis Aubrey.

“There are sights impossible to forget,” writes a blogger I’ve been following, a photographer. His name is Dennis Aubrey. He takes magnificent photographs of great church architecture and accompanies his images with equally spell-binding words describing his experience sitting in those sacred spaces.

Dennis Aubrey tells the story of walking into a basilica. It’s the Basilica of the Magdalene – dedicated to Mary Magdalene, who is thought to be the woman in the Gospel stories who poured out the expensive ointment on Jesus and then wiped his feet with her hair. The scene for the photograph and the writing that describes his experience is the Basilica of Mary Magdalene in Vézelay, France.

”There are sights impossible to forget,” he writes, “the first glimpse of your child, or the look on the face of a your beloved at a moment of perfect happiness. My first sight of Vézelay[i] was such a moment of perfection for me, a small medieval town clustered on a steep hill with a single narrow road winding its way to the top of the rise where stands the Basilica of Mary Magdalene.

“To appreciate Vézelay is to watch sunlight move like a living thing across walls of stone, then suddenly create a vision of indescribable, aching beauty. It is to watch shadows deepen around a priest sitting solitary in a side chapel waiting patiently for a penitent to come for confession. It is to hear the songs of nuns echo off the vaulted ceiling and ring like bells in the human soul. David sang in the Psalms, ‘You, O Lord, will be my light; by you, my God, the dark will be made bright for me,’ and in Vézelay this is palpable.

“So many days PJ and I have brought camera equipment into the church and have seen and captured images that make me wonder if it is even us taking the pictures. It is enough to sit and watch and wait, and suddenly the shot appears, as if summoned by the Magdalene herself. It has never failed to occur, and I don’t imagine that it ever will. In September 2008, at the end of two full days of shooting in the church, I sat on the stone wall leading down to the crypt where Mary’s relics have been kept for so long, venerated by so many. The originals were destroyed in the paroxysm of the French Revolution, but new ones have been placed in this crypt and are visited to this day. I was quiet and trying to remain inconspicuous because the priest was in the side chapel of Saint Teresa of Ávila hearing confession. Every once in a while, a young man or an elderly woman would come and sit next to him on a small wooden stool. With heads huddled together they would murmur quiet words of repentance and forgiveness. At the end, a sign of blessing and then footsteps echoed on the flagstones. It seemed to me, sitting near, the church was silent and reverent, fulfilling its very purpose even if it was only a single person seeking the expiation of sins.

“In this silence, a new thought entered my consciousness, something never expressed before. With this thought came a tumult of emotions, a release of waves of images and thoughts and feelings. I suddenly understood the need for God; even if I did not acknowledge that need for myself, I knew with certainty that it existed. It was a terrifying moment, unsettling and disturbing. I struggled to lock this transient understanding firmly in my mind so as not to forget, so that it did not turn into a mere anecdote. After some time a sound entered my consciousness, emanating from the pillars, the walls, arches, from the blocks
of granite themselves. I don’t know how long I sat there, rapt, listening, as the flow coursed through me in a flood that grew in intensity. And all the while, this faint sound of music.

“Eventually, I became aware of being watched, of not being alone in my thoughts. I turned to see a strong young priest standing next to me, with a small and knowing smile.

“’Elle chante, Pere,’ I said, ‘elle chante aujourd ’hui‘(‘She sings, Father, she sings today.’) His smile broadened, he nodded, and he went off down the aisle, leaving me with my thoughts. And on this day, Magdalene was singing, her very stones ringing with song.”

On this day – on the way to his death –  when they told him to silence his disciples, Jesus replied, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones will sing out” – and they still do!

[i} After Note: A bit of history from Dennis Aubrey: “On Easter Sunday 1146, on the great open hillside to the north of the basilica, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux preached the Second Crusade to an enormous multitude gathered to hear him — King Louis VII, princes and peasants, clergy and laity. A few years later, two kings, Phillipe Augustus of France and Richard the Lion-hearted of England, assembled their forces here to begin the Third Crusade.

“Vézelay was also the site of a violent century-long social and political struggle among several parties — the monks and abbots of the abbey of Vézelay, the great abbots of Cluny, the Count of Nevers, and the merchants of Vézelay. The disputes over control of the fees and the rights of the various parties escalated to such heights that in 1106 the Abbot Artaud of Vézelay was murdered by townspeople. Three popes and two French kings tried to mediate a settlement, but the forces of history were in opposition, not just the rights of the nobility, the Church, or an emerging mercantile class.

“Eventually the power of the abbey waned, the legitimacy of the relics of Mary Magdalene was disputed by monks in Provence, and a pope eventually denied their authenticity. The pilgrims stopped visiting and the economy suffered. With the Renaissance, things human replaced things divine, and Vézelay sank into oblivion, a silent monument to the glories of the Romanesque revival in France.”