By the Rivers of Babylon (Dennis Aubrey)

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Dennis Aubrey of Via Lucis became a friend after we found each other’s work through the web. As he has many times before, Dennis has spoken for me.

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down
Yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song;
And they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

Psalm 137:1-4 (King James Version)

When I lived in Los Angeles from 1972 to 2000, the city was filled with men and women who lived and died on the streets. It seemed an inevitable part of urban life, where displaced humanity would collect in the hidden corners of our cities. Facilities for the mentally ill had closed, prices for homes had accelerated and more people lost their ability to own or even rent. I knew what was happening in the rust…

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Double Vision

Thomas and Peter are this writer’s favorite apostles. Thomas because he refused to believe unless he saw with his own eyes and confirmed “an idle tale” with his own hand; Peter because he was impetuous, quickly stepping onto the sea at Christ’s invitation only to plunge like a stone when his faith failed him.

It was through these two very different eyes — one of Thomas, the other of Peter — that we viewed Dennis Aubrey and PJ McKey’s Two Churches in the Cliffs on Via Lucis this morning.

The two churches on the cliffs appeared differently to these different eyes of faith.

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Apse, Église Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption (Alpes-de-Haute-Provence) Photo by PJ McKey

The apse of Église Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption with its narrow vertical window immediately elicited a Petrine sense of immediate belief. It held Peter’s eye for a long time.

Perhaps it was held by the yearning for the vertical, that which transcends the horizontal banality to which a mass culture has shrunk everything not of its own making. Perhaps it is the delight of hope from above that trembles the spine of the despairing. Or perhaps it’s the beauty of the apse’s proportionality, the genius of the central Christian symbol: the intersection of the horizontal by the more gracious vertical — the horror of human cruelty interrupted and transformed by the unexpected shaft of light and the still small Voice heard by Elijah in his cave.  Or all of the above and more.

But Thomas is never far beyond Peter. It is the Thomas in us that asks the hard questions, insists on separating fact from fiction, reality from illusion, good faith from what Sartre called bad faith. It is Thomas whose faith couldn’t make itself piggy-back on the shoulders of the other apostles’ story of having met the risen Christ. It was Thomas who insisted that he see for himself the evidence for “seeing” or believing in hope beyond the horror of the suffering, cruelty, and death his eyes had seen days before on the Hill of Skulls.

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Chapelle Notre Dame de Beauvoir, Moustiers-Sainte-Marie (Alpes-de-Haute-Provence ) Photo by ICE-Marseille, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

 

 

Which brings us to the second church on the cliff — the story of the stillborn in Via Lucis‘ post that awakens Thomas’ skepticism.

“Notre Dame de Beauvoir was known for its suscitations – stillborn children were carried up and baptised there, at which time they would immediately come to life and would be granted a place in heaven. This was a well-known phenomenon in the region and also known at two neighboring churches.”

While the thought of stillborn children immediately coming back to life appeals to Peter, it offends Thomas as an idle tale for the feeble of heart and mind. It’s either true or it’s not. And, if it’s true, what kind of cruel God would deny the same to the stillborn children and grieving parents who have not carried them up the steps to Notre Dame de Beauvoir for suscitations? Or is the tradition of Notre Dame de Beauvoir a sacred story of love and hope beyond what the empiricist eye of Thomas can see?

We have a left brain and a right brain, and sometimes it is true that never the twain shall meet. Likewise, faith has two eyes: Peter the believer, and Thomas the doubter — its own kind of double vision — looking out and up from one small brain.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, July 6, 2017.

 

 

The Monk in the Morvan Forest (Dennis Aubrey)

We post Dennis Aubrey’s latest epistle for a number of reasons. Readers of Views from the Edge may recall that the Via Lucis photographic essay on the stones singing at Vizelay inspired a sermon on the stones singing. Here the monk who wrote the history of these Romanesque churches comes out from the shadows in a lovely tribute by Dennis, complete with pictures of PC and Dom Angelico Surchamp.

We are finally home again after two months photographing in France, Spain, and even a little bit of Italy. We drove 6,960 kilometers during that time at an arrive speed of 51 kilometers an hour, which translates to 4,344 miles and a dazzling 32 miles per hour. This demonstrates the narrowness of the country roads where we drive and the amount of time we spent in the Pyrénées and Alps. Until we hit the highway returning to Paris, the average speed was 48 kilometers per hour!

The trip ended in Vézelay at the Crispol hotel, which is almost like home to us. The Schori family is always so welcoming and the addition of the two children Max and Clémence makes it even brighter. It is always bittersweet leaving France. We love it there but we are always anxious to return home, this time to our new house amidst the Amish

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The Green Man

Every generation tends to think of itself as superior to its predecessors. Ours is no different. Sometimes we’re right. Often, we’re wrong. We ignore or don’t know history.

Take, for example, the consciousness of green and climate change – the discovery, or is it the re-discovery, of nature as the context of human life. We tend to think it’s a new consciousness that sets aside the longer consciousness by which the human race justified ravaging the earth.

The Green Man in Clermont-Ferrant, Photo by Dennis Aubrey, Via Lucis Photography

The Green Man in Clermont-Ferrant, Photo by Dennis Aubrey, Via Lucis Photography

But, then, along comes the forgotten Green Man of Romanesque churches build in the Medieval Period, one version of which is featured in Dennis Aubrey’s post “A Green Man in Clermont-Ferrand” on Via Lucis Photography of Religious Architecture.

I turn to Via Lucis whenever I feel the need to get out of my skin, to shed the ignorant arrogance of the 21st Century presumption of progress and superiority.

The whole human story is captured in the various Medieval renderings of The Green Man, the human race fatally mis-perceived as “man over nature” and properly conceived as “man within nature”. 

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 13, 2016

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)

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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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.

The Distant Murmurs of Prayer

“In our imaginations, we listen for the distant murmurs of prayer,” wrote Dennis Aubrey in his post “In Seclusio at Thines” posted on Via Lucis Photography.

Listening for the distant murmurs immediately brought to mind a hymn composed by Anne Quigley in 1992. The tune is LONGING. The textual refrain is:

“There is a longing in our hearts, O Lord, for you to reveal yourself to us. There is a longing in our hearts for love we only find in you, O God.”

It was the recollection of the text that drew me to LONGING. I searched YouTube for possible videos for this post but found that the lightness of the tune, like so much contemporary Christian music, left me longing for “the distant murmur of prayers” that echo down the ages in the Gregorian Chants once sung in the now empty or mostly empty monasteries and churches that inspired Dennis to conclude “In Seclusio in Thines”:

“[PJ and I] … hear the echoes of sandaled footsteps in lonely churches long deprived of their monastic communities. And in our imaginations, we listen for the distant murmurs of prayer.”

I long for gravitas awakened by the beauty of silence.

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.

✚ Lessons in Stone (Dennis Aubrey) ✚

✚ Lessons in Stone (Dennis Aubrey) ✚.

Dennis Aubrey’s “Lessons in Stone” took me back three years ago.

I’m sitting in a small room with a Benedictine monk at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN. It’s the first of six private meetings over a three day silent retreat.

“What brings you here?” asks the spiritual guide. “My step-daughter is dying of cancer.” “What is her name?” “Katherine.” How old is Katherine?” “Thirty-three. She was diagnosed four years ago with Leiomyosarcoma, a rare incurable sarcoma, and is now in her last months in hospice care.”

“So what troubles you? Are you afraid for the state of her soul?” “No,” I respond quickly. “Not at all. It’s not about that. God is Love. I don’t believe in hell.”

“Hmmm,” said the monk. “I see. Interesting. Our tradition says that there is a hell, but that the likelihood is that there’s nobody in it.”

The centerpiece of the tympanum that captured the attention of the little Danish boy in Dennis’ “Lessons in Stone” is the scene of God’s hand reaching to pull Saint Foy toward heaven.

You don’t have to believe in hell as an eternal state to cry out for release from its torments here and now, or to pray for a peace that passes all understanding.