A New Year: Do This Now

Nobody has asked for it today; nonetheless, I offer this advice. It is spiritual advice, because that is the place from which it rises within me. You may receive it as a practical recommendation, but it is more. However, I am willing to say we are both correct. And you are free to disregard it. But I hope you won’t.

Thirty thousand years ago, in what is today France and Spain, people squeezed through openings in the earth, descended into dark (beyond dark) passageways with fire, paint, fuel, and the carcesses of small animals, in order to paint pictures on cavern limestone walls.

We don’t know precisely why they went to such dangerous, certainly uncomfortable lengths to do this, but they did.  There are caves throughout Europe filled with these paintings, drawings, and stencils of human hands.

The human urge to make a mark on something is (thus) at least thirty thousand years old. It is as new as the itching you and I feel to do the same. We feel that itch right now- for some it is a prodding, perhaps a scraping or worse. It is a feeling that ping-pongs between the hypocampus and our frontal lobes, back and forth between our ears and the sensory extensions of our consciousness into our surroundings.

We all want to leave a mark. We must pick up a brush, even when it is not the right brush. We must speak words, or write them to another though we know they are inadequate. We must plant a stone, a tree, a flag despite there being no exactly-right place to do so. We must crawl through the dark passageway, with fire.

Vincent Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo on October 2, 1884, this:

“If one wants to be active, one mustn’t be afraid to do something wrong sometimes, not afraid to lapse into some mistakes. To be good — many people think that they’ll achieve it by doing no harm— and that’s a lie… That leads to stagnation, to mediocrity. Just slap something on it when you see a blank canvas staring at you with a sort of imbecility.

“You don’t know how paralyzing it is, that stare from a blank canvas that says to the painter you can’t do anything. The canvas has an idiotic stare, and mesmerizes some painters so that they turn into idiots themselves.

“Many painters are afraid of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas IS AFRAID of the truly passionate painter who dares — and who has once broken the spell of ‘you can’t.’”

Don’t be afraid. There is a musical chord, a shade of magenta, a combination of words, a caress, a lathed piece of walnut, a stiched tapestry, a blown goblet, a braid of rope, an office-barn, a carved stick, a paving of stones, a cake of never-before imagined splendor and savor, waiting..

for your imagination, touch, and intent

no matter how unready you are or how untrained you may be. You can learn what more you need to know- and it may take years. But it will not happen years from now unless you begin right now.

Crawl now. Be Active, Alive, and make the blank canvas Afraid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Adeus Jose Saramago

“Life is like that, full of words that are not worth saying or that were worth saying once but not anymore, each word that we utter will take up the space of another more deserving word, not deserving in its own right, but because of the possible consequences of saying it.” Jose Saramago, The Cave, p.28

Jose Saramago, Nobel Prize winner for literature in 1998, died yesterday. He was 87. (Here’s the Wikipedia biography, if you need it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jose_Saramago)

I cannot add to his biography, so to pile words on top of him that have already been piled would be to obscure the life he lived and the death he died in ways that would prove to any student of his life (or death) that I did not know Saramago except through his writings, knowledge that has only spanned the last four years anyway, and I don’t know Portuguese which it would be vital to know if a credible biographical sketch were to be written, but what I do know is this and it is why I was fruitlessly looking for his newest book yesterday at Books-a-Million before I came home and discovered on Yahoo News that he had died: he set words loose for me.

And for thousands of others, maybe millions.

I know a run-on sentence when I see one and Saramago, the purists would say and have said, used them a lot, along with more than usual commas and less than normal periods. When I first read The Gospel According to Jesus Christ– as banned in his homeland Portugal and as awarded a Nobel in Sweden- it was as if God godself had smashed the grammatical link which had kept me chained to my eighth grade English teacher Mrs. Bair and untangled me from the sentence diagrams in which I had been by her, wrapped.

I would have liked to have met him and felt the frailness of his hand in mine and to have been made stronger and more courageous by the very fingertips which had tapped out the words, two decades ago, “A rope was also tied around his feet to prevent him from running away, and Jesus said to himself, Too late, I have already fled.”

He made words be adequate- as perfect as they could be for a moment, or for decades, never forever. He tortured them as they tortured him and his readers were that contest’s winners. He understood that to use a word meant not being able to use a hundred others; that words both explained and hid, enhanced and destroyed our human realities, our remembered dreams, and our unleashed imaginings.

“Compared with the instantaneous speed of thought, which heads off in a straight line even when it seems to have lost its way, because what we fail to realize is that, as it races in one direction, it is in fact advancing in all directions at once, anyway, as we were saying, compared with that, the poor word is constantly having to ask permission from one foot to lift the other foot, and even then it is always stumbling, hesitating and dithering over an adjective or a verb that turns up unannounced by its subject..” The Cave, p. 32

Adeus, Sr. Saramago, não sou tão cego por causa de você

Goodbye, Mr. Saramago, I am not so blind because of you..

saramago

The Body of Christ, Redux

A response from Lyndon (here) to what I wrote a few days ago about Religion, caused me to go back and look at a piece of art and Christian history that I have loved: The Isenheim Altarpiece: 

111Jesus isenheim

Painted in about 1515 by Matthias Grunewald, the three part work sits on top of a painted altar. There is much to learn and understand about the painter and this  piece and Wikipedia is a far better place to begin more research than here. But, I want to look specifically at the middle section and even more specifically at the body of Christ, as Grunewald depicted it.

           isenheimaltarpiecedetail

The Isenheim Altarpiece was to be placed in the chapel of a sanitarium where patients with skin diseases were hospitalized. Grunewald painted this Christ as a suffering, contorted being with terrible lesions all over his body. Here was a Christ with whom the people of Isenheim could relate. This was a Jesus who was like them, suffered like them, and- they believed- died for them.

This was a Jesus with scars. This was a Jesus who died alone, unappreciated, unloved, shunned. This was a Jesus who who screamed in pain before he died. And amazingly, John the Baptist was painted to the right of the cross, pointing to Jesus and saying, “He must increase: I must decrease.” This was a suffering Christ, but a Christ who, according to the Baptist, should, could, and must be emulated.

So who is looking for this sacrificing Jesus today? Who is following this injured,bleeding, lashed and slashed Jesus anywhere? I turn the TV on and hear preachers talking about gay marriage and supporting Israel’s onslaught of Palestine. I read sermons extolling the virtues of teenage abstinence, the necessity of keeping “God” on coins, and laments about some clerk at Walmart who says “Happy Holiday.”

I watch “Christians” fussing at each other over the age of the earth, and the importance of using the right language regarding abortion (while doing nothing about it). I see clean, unbruised, never scarred church goers tsk-tsking over Sally’s bare shoulders, Timmy’s cruddy-looking tennis shoes, and..”Have you seen Bob with that new friend of his-Bill?”

Meanwhile, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are being pummeled by Israel with nary a whisper of protest from American Christians. Most of the world’s children end each day hungry. There are more slaves in the world than at any time in history. We (US) are spending $12 billion a month to fight a war over..what? I’ve forgotten. The high school drop out rate is higher than ever. We are the most incarcerating country on earth. And we (Christians) actually send money- lots of it!- to scriptural pimps who promise if we send more money to them, we can have bigger houses, shinier cars, better clothes, no cancer, great kids, vacations on Christian cruise ships, to Christian hotels, near Christian theme parks, after stopping at the mall to buy Christian CDs, Christian knick-knacks, bumper stickers, and jewelry, so that atheists and Muslims and Democrats and lesbians will know- without a doubt!- where we stand on the issues!

Unless the church begins to bleed, it will die. He must increase; we, fat and healthy and happy and lazy, must decrease.

Stillpoint

 

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where the past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

— “Burnt Norton” by T.S. Eliot

There are stillpoints in life, not just in dance.

In one of those truths that can change the way we see everything else, in fact, it is all stillpoint. This moment contains within it, everything we are, have been, and will be. It is the culmination of our experience and the beginning of everything.

It is the one place that God can touch us, hear us, speak to us. To be still- not waiting, not remembering, not anticipating- but to be still and open and listening and allowing the Light that is in everything to shine through us.

For a moment.

And then, only then, to begin the new dance.

degas2  

Dancer on Stage- Edgar Degas