Everywhere the Center (Beauty)

Monet’s gardens. Giverny. 2007

 Rain at night. Deep in the forest. Rain drops from branch to branch like a song scale, like an exercise in progressive melancholy. You’re safe inside the forest hut, a fireplace smoldering, remembering. Last embers of the day, a month, a year. The night is as deep as the forest and your sleep is a tunnel. The rain drops on your dreams like notes in concert with the revolution of the earth. Peace in the valley, in the mountains, along the river bed, inside the projection of your story across the years.

Do you see beauty in this life, here, now? Do you think and feel and look for beauty around you? In the stars, in their connections, in the contrast between dark matter and planets, suns, novas? On the shore, with the ocean pounding the sand with a kind of love that means eternal connections, endless rhythms, the ebb and flow of grace and sacred moisture? Do you rejoice in the laughter of children, their quickness and their energy, their love of motion and play, their wonder-stretched eyes? Or the sight of a woman, at rest on the ground of that same deep forest, reading for a moment, then looking off into her own dream-world, smiling, seeking answers, with patience and hope.

The long view. High on the mountain, overlooking seven valleys. Broad the eyes, the vision, the sweep of life in context. Wide-eyed with a kind of gentle wonder. Peace. Beauty. Truth.

Here and now. This earth. This one life. Beauty is the center of the center of everything, everywhere. It exists. We name it. We know it. In rare moments, inspired, blinding, raging moments, we create it. In rare moments, quiescent, serene, hovering, we make art. But mostly it surrounds us with or without us. The forest always makes sounds.

Any religion that does not push us toward the full embrace of beauty on this planet, at this time, within the span of our short lives, is in error. A terrible error with monstrous repercussions. Any religion that does not focus our attention on the sacred aspects of Nature, on its deep, rich complexities and varieties, its harmonious and disharmonious protean forms . . . is in error. Any religion that does not push us into the embrace of the beauty created by humans within the larger context of Nature is in error. The horrific repercussions are obvious, and they continuously take my breath away.

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Violin and Checkerboard, by Juan Gris. 1913

 Taking sides quickly or seeing just two. Failing to walk in their moccasins. Failing to see their shoes, their way. Failing to care that they have a point of view at all. One of many. A multiplicity of views. Beauty lies in that multiplicity, that variance, that contrast between all things. Contrast between then and now, front and back, up and down, depth and foreground. Contrast. A thousand levels of difference. A thousand sides, all shouting for attention. Those who can see the most, win.

In Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, he talks about an experiment in Israel. Children were separated into two groups. One group was read the story of Joshua and his slaughter of all the inhabitants in the city of Jericho as it’s told in the Old Testament. The other group was read the same story, but the names were changed. Joshua became a Chinese general, and the name and location of Jericho were changed. Same exact story, different geography, different names.

The children in the first group, in general, agreed that Joshua’s destruction of the city was justified. The children in the second group said the Chinese general was guilty of atrocities.

Sides. Teams. Us versus Them. Just two. Wrong and right. We can justify almost anything in the name of that . . . .

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The acceptance of torture and the frequency of church attendance. The Pew Research Center has an interesting survey regarding that link, and it’s not what you might expect. The correlation goes in the wrong direction. The more church attendance, in general, the more support for the practice, though the kinds of churches involved also play a part in attitudes toward that practice. Though it’s not explicitly stated in the survey, it strikes me as implicit in the results: if a person reads the Bible literally, in a fundamentalist mode, he or she is more likely to support torture.

Why? What are the existential rationales for that correlation? What is it about some religions, or some interpretations of those religions, that lead followers to embrace hierarchies of violence and justify them? I have some theories, and will write about them in the days ahead . . .


Everywhere the Center (Beauty)
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