When I directly view, say, a great Van Gogh, I am reminded of what all superior art has in common: the capacity to simply take your breath away. To literally, actually, make you inwardly gasp, at least for that second or two when the art first hits you, or more accurately, first enters your being: you swoon a little bit, you are slightly stunned, you are open to perceptions that you had not seen before … You are ushered into a quiet clearing, free of desire, free of grasping, free of ego, free of the self-contraction … For a moment you might even touch eternity.
So many years ago, I was taking a philosophy of education course at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta. The professor, Gordon Campbell, gave us one assignment for the whole course: write a daily log, reflecting on our discussions, the readings and our field trips (such as to the school on a nearby Blackfoot reserve). And of course, apply it to our lives. Such freedom! Such responsibility.
I was looking through a book in the university library, and flipped the page to a remarkable photo, showing Michelangelo’s sculpture “Pieta”. Jesus is lying in the lap of his mother Mary after he had been crucified. I stared at the immense sadness in her face, at her right hand supporting Jesus’ back, and at her left hand, palm up. After the silence diminished, I started writing, about the suffering in the world, in homes, in the classroom. Over the course of the next day or two, it seems to me that I completed 8 or 10 pages. It just flowed out of me.
I think the words are gone now, probably discarded inside a pile of stuff on one of our moves. But she and he remain, tucked away within me.
Near us, in St. Thomas, there is a shrine also tucked away, in a leafy corner of a cemetery. The centrepiece is an elevated statue of a kneeling girl, with arms upraised, looking in wonder at the golden ball she holds in her hands. Her smile is so sublime, beyond any words I could attach to it. I go and visit her, just to be with the young lady. Not often enough for my liking, though. People like me need to bask in her glow.
Sometime in the 1970s, my former wife Rita and I visited the Butchart Gardens near Victoria, B.C. Paths dropped us into a host of wonderlands, such as the Sunken Garden, the Japanese Garden, and the Mediterranean Garden. For part of the time, I explored on my own. I was walking on a manicured lawn, bordered by a rainbow of flower beds. My stretch of lawn was getting narrower and began curving to the right. Finally I was “ushered into a quiet clearing”, where I came face-to-face with another girl. She was naked, and her arms covered her breasts. Her eyes touched the sky … no smile, no frown, just space. So lovely to behold.
Three statues. One Spirit.