Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Long Weekend Away and How We See Things

I returned on Tuesday from what I suppose can be called a long weekend where I crammed as much as I could into 3 days (plus 2 days there and back). I had planned a longer time of vacation, but plans fell through I ended up only spending time in Charleston, South Carolina, where my brother and his family live and also two evenings and a day at Pawley’s Island about an hour north of Charleston on the coast. I’d only read about that area by accident and wanted to visit and see it.

Charleston is one of my favorite cities to visit. I love to see the different architecture of the homes, some from the 18th century, some from the Antebellum period, many with interesting and sometimes eccentric designs.

 I had a few shops to explore, looking at local art and crafts. On one such exploration with my brother and sister-in-law and my nephew who is 15, I discovered that my nephew had taken an art painting class in school. I was glad to hear that. As we discussed the benefits of learning about art, someone mentioned that learning to paint a subject trains one to see the ordinary differently.

I was immediately inspired by this observation. If you read any "back entries" of this blog, you learn that the way we see things, especially the "hidden revelation" of things, is a theme in my thinking. That’s why I like and quote a line from poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning (read the entire entry HERE "Seeing God in the Ordinary"):

       "Earth’s crammed with heaven.
        Every common bush aflame
            with the fire of God.
        But only those who see it take off their shoes.
        The rest sit around and pick blackberries."

We might look at a blackberry bush and all we see are leaves and berries. I found a photo of a blackberry bush, but even photos make us stop and look at something more carefully, if we take the time, like this photo:

I wondered how some artists may have painted blackberry bushes. What would their painting invite us to see? I found one by an artist named Sรถren Dawson. Here it is:

Blackberry Bush

I have so many questions I’d ask about this painting. I wouldn’t have known it was a blackberry bush except that the artist names it so. And yet, this seems to be Browning’s bush that she saw. For it is aflame with a fire it seems.

The point might be made even more with a photo of an autumn bush (how timely) in Massachusetts:

As I wrote before, Browning is alluding to the burning bush in which God spoke to Moses. Moses who removed his shoes in humility and worshiped (See Exodus 3:1-5 HERE). The burning bush was for Moses an epiphany, i.e., a revelation of God speaking to him, yet from an ordinary bush that was not so ordinary.

This is what an artist seeks, I think, in painting something ordianary in such a way that we see "something more." Perhaps it’s simply that we see the beauty of something we had not seen before. But beauty is an attribute of God also.

There is something in good art that invites us to slow down and ponder deeper things, or meanings.It is the same in beautiful places of nature. When I was traveling this weekend, I sped by many places, and in speeding by I barely saw them. To see the architecture I so love looking at in places like Charleston one must slow down if in a car, but better yet, get out and walk to see what’s there to be seen.

I had stopped in Savannah, Georgia, on the way home and browsed some art studios and their paintings and other works of art. But I found it somewhat difficult to take in all the art because so many works invited contemplation–really looking at them and appreciating color and technique and subject. After awhile I had to stop looking because I was just "speeding by."

In another one of my blog reflections (HERE) I quoted Fr. Ron Rolheiser about the "mystical imagination," that is, a deeper way of seeing (imaging) reality:

"The mystical imagination can show us how the Holy Spirit isn't just inside our churches.... But how do we learn that?

"A saint might say: ‘Meditate and pray long enough and you will open yourself up to the other world!’

"A poet might say: ‘Stare at a rose long enough and you'll see that there's more there than meets the eye!’

"A romantic might say: ‘Just fall in love real deeply or let your heart get broken and you'll soon know there's more to reality than can be empirically measured.’

"And the mystics of old would say: ‘Just honor fully what you meet each day and you will find it drenched with grace and divinity.’"
How do we find the time for that? I tell on myself by earlier mentioning tmy attempt  to put many things and experiences in a very short period of "time off". Is that the habit of our time, always being in a hurry, on the go, preoccupied with the next thing? I know it is.

My last two evenings and the day in between spent at Pawley’s Island was at a more leisurely pace.By mere chance (or God’s design) I booked a hotel on the beach in the "off season." There were a lot less folks around and a more quiet pace than Charleston. The clerk was kind enough to upgrade me to a beach side room on the third floor with its own balcony. It was breath-taking to see the big wide ocean outside my sliding door windows and balcony. Here was the scene I was treated to for the duration:

Pawley's Island Beach in Novemeber
I woke early and enjoyed sitting on the balcony, praying, and taking in the scenery. Every now and then a person passed by walking on the beach. One was a man who looked like he was walking for exercise. He was also reading a book as he went! Another had on ear phones! Why not listen to the crashing of the waves and the sea gull cries? Why not look around and see the beauty of such a place? Were those beach walkers representative of our constant "sleep walking" through life?

Of course, I don’t live there and so everything was fresh and new. But that’s the challenge: to wake up, at least for moments, to look up and see.

Now I’m back home, still off the schedule until Tuesday, so I can catch up with a lot of work. It’s nice to go away, and nicer to come home!