Tag Archives: still life

Vanitas

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/12/Gysbrechts_Still_life_with_a_skull.jpg

Vanitas/Still Life with a Skull, one of several by Franciscus Gysbrechts, mid-to-late 1600’s.
Image from Wikimedia Commons: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/12/Gysbrechts_Still_life_with_a_skull.jpg

I haven’t many of my own words, right now, which is why I haven’t been posting. What few words I do have are being channeled into fiction and a few friends and loved ones who are facing trouble and pain.

Three friends of a close friend of mine, all from the same family, were killed in a wreck. Serious illness and death have touched several people I love. There is death, illness, strain, pain, separation, abuse, stress, and frustration close at hand, and horrible violence, famine, illness, war and death not far distant.

In other words, everything is normal for the world.


It is easy to think, in relatively peaceful and prosperous countries, that we are safe, and in many ways, we are. It’s also easy to feel ashamed of that peace and safety, knowing so many do not have it. I keep asking myself what that shame means. Is it helpful or harmful, a tool or an attack? It shouldn’t mean that I want what little peace and prosperity there is, in the world, to vanish (or should it?) but that I do not want such things to be so isolated, so rare. Perhaps, so long as it makes me want to use what I have to help, then it is good, but if it paralyzes me with shame, it is evil.

But there is something to be learned about both peace and prosperity, for those who are in it: It is, in the end, no real protection. Pain and death will find us. If we delude ourselves into thinking otherwise, or in distracting ourselves until we forget, then we are in for a shock.

Different faiths have different perspectives on how this reality should be faced. In my own, Christianity, there are many different angles from which it is approached. There is no single answer, though some folks pretend that there is. There are no pat sayings that cover all angles, though some people like to pretend there are. There is, instead, a mosaic, with space between the tesserae.


Be careful what you say to pain. I have to remind myself of this. It’s too easy to forget, we are so desperate to say something, to help somehow, that we do damage. Better to be silent. After all, in silence the Spirit may have a chance to speak without all of our clutter. My mind is very cluttered… and I am certainly not silent, here. But then, what is this blog if not a place for me to vent? Maybe venting, here, will keep me from saying stupid things to someone anon.


The painting, above, is a vanitas, a reminder of mortality and of the ephemeral nature of earthly wealth, power, pleasure and wisdom. In this particular painting, the skull is wreathed in dried grass, a symbol of the brevity of life, and the hope of resurrection, as the grass dies every year, but returns every Spring. It is the only thing in the painting that is treated so. I think C. S. Lewis, in The Weight of Glory points out one reason why.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.

Growing up, especially while studying history and biology, I got a very different impression of the world. What is the life of a human, so brief and fragile, to the life of a nation, or the world, or the universe?

This is no answer to the question of pain and death, or at least, it is not a complete answer. But it does shift the perspective. If I believe that human’s are, in essence, immortal, then how I treat them becomes much more serious. The responsibility is immense. When we turn our backs on human suffering, we are turning our backs on the suffering of an eternal someone. In Weight of Glory, Lewis catches at a possible risk. A turnabout.

It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.

How this post rambles! I’m not sure there is a point, or at least not a clear or singular one. I keep coming back to the vanitas. Almost all is vanity, born from dust and to dust returning, but if there is something eternal in that dust, which I believe, then the one thing that is not vanity is the immortal. The pain in my fellows, the suffering, may be finite, but I do not think it is trivial.


Five things

My delightfully contentious blogging friend, Sharon, recently posted 5 things that she had run across recently that she wanted to discuss with people: 5 things  that I’d like to talk about.  Shaking people up and making them think is an excellent action and very necessary to the growth and health of individuals and society. It’s hard work, thinking, and sometimes we have to have a fire lit under our toes to make us do it.

However, Sharon and I see eye-to-eye on a lot of topics from the love of God to issues of feminism (yes, I am a feminist. I promise it’s not a bad word if you understand what it means. Ask me!). I’m pretty sure she and I would come down on the same side of any of those discussions, and some of them involve listening to people or reading things that would only make me angry. Given what I said above, about thinking, I should probably put forth the effort.

The truth is, I am weary, physically and mentally. I feel a little guilty, that little voice in my head is calling me “coward,” but this time I am giving myself leeway. 2013 was a bit of a marathon for me. I need to recoup. I’ve barely been here for the month of December, and my friends on e-mail probably wonder if I have fallen into a sinkhole.

So, somewhat selfishly, I asked Sharon to share something different.

I feel that the best response to her kindness would be to post five things that have made me feel better over the past few weeks.

Wolverine the Musical

Ok, so, yes, I discovered this a while ago, but I still return to it when I need a good laugh. Glove and Boots!

Origami Masks by Joel Cooper

Mask inspired by ancient statuary, shaped from folded paper.  All I really have to say to this is ‘holy raving Jabberwoky.’ I love making masks, but artistry like this is beyond me. I love it!

http://mynewspress.com/new-tessellated-origami-masks-by-joel-cooper/

The American Chestnut

I am a plant-nerd, so I care about such things. Feel free to roll your eyes at me and move on.

In the early 1900’s, a blight from Asia was accidentally introduced to the U.S.A. Over the next 30 or so years, it all but obliterated what was then one of the dominant trees of our Eastern forests, the American Chestnut. I won’t bore you with details, but the result was catastrophic to humans and wildlife alike.

In 1983, the American Chestnut Society was formed. Since then they have worked with the few remaining American Chestnuts and the blight-resistant Chinese Chestnut, attempting to breed an American Chestnut tree that can survive the blight. Recent progress has opened the possibility of my seeing American Chestnuts growing in our woods in my lifetime.

In a world where many of my favorite native plants and animals are under serious threat, where exotic-invasives, pollution, and thoughtless development present seemingly insurmountable obstacles to my local ecosystems, the prospect of an actual victory is like a lantern in a cave. It makes me so happy I could cry.

Stranger in a Strange Land: Ender’s Game, its controversial author, and a very personal history, by Rany Jazayerli

This article is somewhat controversial, and very long, but thoughtful and worth the read. I discovered it through my brother and it made me think, but in an encouraging way, and I will tell you why.

There are a lot of issues wrapped up in this. How people change over time, how it is not wise to condemn everything a person says or has ever said because part of it goes against your own views or beliefs, that the most important part of anything said or written may lie in the interpretation rather than the intent, and that people are flawed. Jumping on the rage-button really is counter-productive. It circumvents thought.

But what I found encouraging is something of a rabbit-trail.  I am flawed. Yes, I know, everyone is, but I live with my flaws daily and sometimes they loom very large in my vision. This article reminded me of something that is, I think, important for writers to remember:

I and my work are two different things.

Maybe my flaws will manifest in my work. That does happen. Hopefully my strengths will,  too. But maybe, God willing, people who read my work will find things there, hopefully good things, that transcend me, my flaws, and even my strengths. Writing depends on the reading. There’s cause for fear. Fear of being misunderstood runs deep in me. But not all misunderstanding is bad, I guess. There is encouragement in that thought. ‘

 

Finally, I give you the singing light:

Sometimes we just get lucky and catch the light. I wish I had a better copy of this picture on hand. I may try and update it later.

Singing light


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