Beauty

Awe in Response to Beauty

A friend posted this video on Facebook this morning and one of his friends explained that it was created by a Russian missile gone awry.  (Soyuz-u vehicle Oct 15, 2009)  Watching it, two things came to mind:

1.  Wednesday evening I attended the second in a three-week course on Process Theology at UUSF, taught by Rev John Buehrens.  At one point, Rev. Buehrens explained how Alfred Whitehead felt that Western philosophy with its emphasis on "Truth" had veered too intellectual, and thus Whitehead tried to bring us back by focusing on aesthetics, our sense of awe in response to encountering Beauty.  The thing that engenders humilty and recognition that there is something bigger than us.

2.  Years ago I was talking with a young man sitting next to me on an airplane, and he said that nothing human-made was beautiful, that he only recognized beauty in "natural" things.  I asked him whether he'd ever seen the view of Los Angeles (which we were flying into) at night from the top of Mulholland Drive.  He repeated more adamantly that nothing human-made could ever be beautiful.  And I wondered how strong one's ideology had to be in order to not see beauty in the view from Mulholland Drive at night.

You can't get more human-made than a missile.  All metal and electronics and explosives, its very purpose is ugly, to kill.  If you asked me before I saw this video whether a missile could ever be beautiful, I probably would have said 'No.'  Yet here is this mesmerizingly beautiful video.  (Which is not to say that it might not also have created some real ugliness at the same time.)  And I am watching the video via a laptop connected to the internet.  More human-made metal, plastic, and electronics.  And it's still beautiful.

One of the main points that I see in process theology (or process thought) is that humans are not separate from the rest of existence.  We are part of the interdependent web, impacting it and being impacted by it, no different than any other part.  Together - all the parts of the web together - we co-create reality.   So if nature creates beauty, then how can humans who are an integral part of nature not also create beauty?  (And ugliness and everything in between.)  To claim otherwise is to set humans apart from nature.  It's to claim a special, exalted place, even if we claim that all we do is ugly and harmful.   Ironically, true humility recognizes both the "good" and "bad", both the beauty and the ugliness.

Jesus On The Mainline Fran

Author: 
Om Prakash Gilmore
Dedicated to Fran Gilmore And You

Light and love are the revolutions of the heart
gone mad
when sanity is hard and cold.

To dance with God in the midst of the fire singing
Mary Had a Little Lamb, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,
and Jesus on the Main line Tell Him What You Want,
is sheer folly leading to liberation.

When you dance with me, this foolish man
who thinks that he has kissed the Beloved,
you enter into a revolution that has been happening
since the nothingness,
in its dissatisfaction,
decided that it needed to become
stars, galaxies, planets, and that wonder called you.

And we do dance together in the Beloved's heart
creating songs and new dance steps to entertain ourselves
as we reweave light and love into a tapestry of
life eternal.

We pull aside the curtain and enter the holiest of
holies, the doorway, your sincere smile and your
laugh as I tickle you in the most deep recesses of
your soul where you don't usually allow anyone to
touch.

Don't be shy, my friend.
You, and I, and the Beloved are one
so I have seen all of your tender parts before.

Om Prakash
Copyright March 2012

A Religious Tourist in St. Louie

Miao's Last Judgement

After Sunday morning worship ended the Central MidWest District meeting, I played tourist until my evening flight.  It was rainy when I arrived on Friday, sunny and bright yesterday as I spent the entire day indoors, and rainy and cold again today.

Rob had told me to visit the City Museum, and someday I will, but in the little time I had left in St. Louis, I chose to visit the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA) on the campus of the University of St. Louis, a Jesuit school, and the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, the finest example of Byzantine architecture in North America.  Religion and Art, one can see where my priorities lie.  Art and religion, two paths to the same spirit.

MOCRA, which has a stated mission purpose of engaging in interfaith dialogue and understanding through contemporary art, was featuring a work by Miao Xiaochun.  Miao had taken Michelangelo’s painting of the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel and digitized it, making a two-dimensional painting into a 3-dimensional experience.  In virtual space, the viewer can "walk around" the painting viewing it from different angles.  What's more, for every character depicted in the painting, Miao substituted a 3-d rendering of himself.  This may sound egotistical at first, but the finished effect is that he "experiences" every part of the masterpiece, and we do to as the viewer.  Thus, he is both the damned and the saved.  He is the angels who help lift us up, who drive us down into the pits, and who call for the resurrection on their trumpets.

 The Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis was so beautiful that my poor pictures are more misleading than edifying.  Follow the link above to see some of its glory.  One of the descriptions in the museum stated that while Gothic architecture soars up, making the Divine remote, Byzantine architecture attempts to bring heavenly beauty to earth, making the Divine present.  Immanent.

 

Elephant Painting

Don't remember how I first came across this. I emailed it to a few friends but for some reason forgot to post it. Was a little surprised and saddened that a couple of friends, both of whom are very open spiritually, questioned the authenticity of the video. Is it easier to speculate in humans creating elaborate hoaxes than to believe that there are other living things that can recognize and recreate shapes? I guess it is. Personally, I would rather believe - in both the elephants and in us. 

Exfoliation

I'm not a gardener.  But I aspire to be one.

Last Fall, under the rationalization that it would protect the plants underneath from the winter snow, I didn't rake up the dead leaves that fell on the flowerbeds, only the grass and sidewalk.  

A few unexpected flowers have popped up here and there in the Spring warmth, but for the most part my backyard still looks pretty barren.  This weekend it suddenly occurred to me that all that dark debris still sitting there might actually be preventing spring shoots from making it up to the surface.  So the first chance I got, which was this afternoon, I raked up the leaves from last Fall.

Lo and behold, tender pink peony shoots, so delicate looking.  I thought for sure they'd died of thirst last summer.

Elsewhere, more shoots.  These green.  I have no idea what they are but am eager to find out.

After breaking a leaf and sniffing, I discover that the tiny leaves where the peppermint used to be aren't weeds after all.

Even some of the Greek Oregano and French tarragon seem to have survived - by a sprig - both the winter and the even more brutal workmen.

And my chrysanthemums from too late last fall... some of them don't seem to have made it, but a few have green leaves popping up at their bases.

Amazing what a good exfoliation can uncover.

Tiger Lilies

The tiger lilies - my flower - that I planted last Fall were poking their tender heads through the top soil this morning.  I had worried about them, as all around spring flowers were springing to life.  Maybe they had not made it through the winter.  But there they were this morning, slow perhaps in waking up, and timid, but making their own way into this world nonetheless.  Welcome.

Green Is In the Air

Happy St. Pattie's Day!

Green is in the air for more reasons than one.  Even tho the first day of spring does not begin until this Thursday, the earth doesn't seem to care about the calendar.

Every year I am amazed.  One moment it seems like nothing is stirring in the still cold, hard earth.  And the next moment it seems like new life is popping up all over the place.  

While taking out the trash this morning, I noticed crocuses popping their heads up.  I didn't even know they were there, having inherited them.  But they care not who "owns" the land.

Walking out the front steps, I walked by the day lilies that my housemate had planted, just the green shoots and leaves for now.

Walking to the metro, I saw tulips and daffodils in my neighbors' front yards.

On the metro train, the trees at Brookland station were starting to put out white blossoms.

Near my office in Dupont Circle are magnolia trees in full bloom, and cherry trees.

I swear, I saw none of this when I passed these same spaces on Friday.  Was I that unaware?  Or was the miracle so fast?  Both are equally plausible.

I am awed and made humble by life.  Life springing up in my yards where ever it decides, despite my plans, despite my pretenses of control.

Under a Dark Sky

It's been so nice to be home in SF and to just not do anything.  Chinese food.  A stroll down to Irving Street for cold, sweet boba drinks...

But my family thinks we have to "do something" while I'm back.  So we take a day trip to one of the Indian casinos.   I guess lights and bells is as good a way as any to celebrate Lantern Festival?  It's pouring rain the entire drive there.  I eat too much at the buffet, especially dessert.  And I lose a little money.  And then I crawl into the car for a nap.

On the way back home the rain picks up again, grim and mildly stressful.  But as we cross the Bay Bridge from Oakland to SF I see my beautiful city.  The skyline, wet and gleaming against a grey backdrop.  The Embarcadero.  Coit Tower.  Nob Hill.  The TransAmerica Building.  And numerous other buildings that I don't know the names of but know well by sight.  My jewel of a city.

Snow!

It snowed all day in Boston.  By coming up a day early to meet with old friends, I missed flying in the storm.  Instead, I spent the day safe and warm indoors, sipping hot tea, catching up with Paul and Linda, and playing some very creative bowling and baseball with Jonathan.  Poor Paul spent a few hours shoveling, while I enjoyed watching the huge fat flakes float down and marveled at the muffled silence of all but the scrape of steel on cement.  The sky was white and bright.

In the evening, they were kind enough to drive me to the hotel I would be staying at during the retreat - the Union Club.  The night was dark, the sky was clear, and the air was bitter cold - like a real winter night, not like the noncommittal winter we'd had so far in DC.  Amazing how even unpleasant things like a biting wind can be pleasant.

Looking out my bedroom window onto the cemetery of Kings Chapel, the snow-frosted tombstones stood out in the moonlight.  So cold.  So old.  So terribly beautiful.  I feel the spark within me burn bright.  I feel... alive.

 

Under a Dark Sky

It was cold and rainy today.  I trudged along to the metro on wet streets under a sky of various shades of dark gray. Waited for the train on a platform that dripped dirty rain.  And boarded a car to be confronted by the acrid smell of mold.  But things weren't all bad - I was able to find a backwards facing seat.  Looking down I thought about what I needed to do for the day, how I was already late for work.  Looking up I saw it.  

At that moment, the clouds had parted and a ray of light was illuminating the National Basilica, its dome and tower, making them glow ethereally.  Bright gold and blue against a dark sky. 

I go by the Basilica almost every day and love the inside, but had never seen the outside like that.

It made the gray of the rest of the day beautiful.

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