Tuesday, February 27, 2018

A window through which the winds of heaven blow...

A good article from our Ortho friends about why beauty in sacred art is an absolute requirement for the life of faith.

"Despite protestations to the contrary, it is not the icon which is so offensive to Gnostics and iconoclasts, it is the message which the icon represents which cannot be tolerated."

It's not the thing itself that the Soviets were so keen to burn, but the reality it represented. It is why Muslim militants destroy and forbid religious art.

The Sacred Icon - and as a Latin I would expand this to other forms of true sacred art - is an indispensable sign of incarnational religion. In our time, not creating sacred art is a form of idolatry:

"When a religion rejects images of God, it confirms the message that God is only a spirit, and that He has no physical body. Before the Incarnation, that was true. After the Incarnation, it is false, and is therefore, as false worship, idolatry. Idolatry is worshipping false gods, or worshipping the True God while misrepresenting Him."
Before the coming of Christ, the Jewish Temple signified God’s presence, and His people bowed down toward it. Before the Incarnation, it was impossible to make an image of the invisible God, a heavenly reality, without misrepresenting Him. Once, however, God became flesh in the Incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth, the invisible God became visible, the immaterial God was suddenly approachable. 

Pic from "Anglicans Ablaze"

Traditional iconography has been described to me as a kind of window onto heaven. The figures of Our Lord and Our Lady and the saints are always idealised, and always presented with exactly the same details to symbolise the absolute unchanging perfection of the life of the blessed in heaven. Heaven itself is symbolised by the colours, particularly the use of gold which never perishes or dulls.

The Icon is not a ‘holy picture’ designed to increase piety. Neither is an icon something spiritual in itself, as it does not depict “God” in general. The icon is a dogmatic expression of a theological truth. It is, therefore, not variable as artists would claim by ‘artistic license’ – a term I, as an artist, have always found to be a cop out for lack of talent or lack of vision.
Just as one cannot translate the Bible any old way one wishes to and still remain true to the text, one cannot paint an icon any old way one wishes to and still remain true to the prototype.


"Come higher up and further in!"

I've long been fascinated by the concept of a door or other opening between this world and another, better more magical, more significant world. It appears too many times to count in mythology and children's stories. I've described my own spiritual efforts with the metaphor of a lifelong search for the Door to Narnia. Many times Narnia uses this image of a magical door - that opens only at the will of Aslan and not yours - that allows you to leave this ordinary, uninteresting and unimportant world behind and go to spend time in the more real, more beautiful and often more perilous world of Narnia. This is a world where the stakes of life are incalculably higher because the Realness there is incalculably more real.

And if you get to go there, the more-realness of that world changes you to become more real yourself. The very air of Narnia has magical properties, bringing out the best, the bravest, strongest and most noble aspects of our characters, allowing you to achieve great feats of sacrifice and self-conquest. Once this air has worked on you for a while you are altered interiorly, making it possible for you to pursue the adventure that Aslan sends, whatever it may be and however difficult. And once you have been there and returned, you will never see this world the same way again - you will have been changed forever. Even if you fail, even if, as sometimes happens, you betray that change and try to forget it, even if you turn your back on it willingly to embrace the old world and the old you as you were before, it will never leave you. You will never be able to un-know what you know.

Lewis described the difference between that world and ours as being like looking at a beautiful scene though a screen door, and then someone opens the screen and all the details are sharper, the colours more vibrant. It is like the difference you see in a garden on a dull overcast day when the sun breaks through, and for a moment all is gleaming, the colours flash and every drop of rain becomes wonderful. Once you know it's there to be sought, you can't stay still, you can't be satisfied with even the beauties of this life. Like trying to be content to stay forever in the Wood Between the Worlds, a pretty enough place but where nothing ever happens and there's no reason for anything.

I suppose the idea of a magic window is similar, one you could put on your wall and look through and remind yourself what is and isn't real... Imagine what a window to heaven would be like. Or, if this is too difficult, imagine a magic window that would allow you to sometimes see through the barriers between the worlds, to catch a glimpse of the Narnian countryside. Maybe if you left that window open in your home, the Narnian wind could sometimes blow through, bringing its scents and magic with it.

You can't get through that window, not yet anyway, but you can at least look, you can gaze through and remember. And you can yearn. I would soon forget about everything else if I had one. Wouldn't you?

C.S. Lewis described the notion of "Joy" as this yearning, this intense longing that one feels all one's life after the merest glimpse of that other, more real place. Once you had seen it, even only for a moment, you would give up everything, every dull and colourless and pointless thing this world offered, to go and spend the rest of your life seeking it.

You could along the way perhaps sometimes lose the feeling of refreshment it gave you, and you could become distracted. But then you would be granted another glimpse, or even a scent that would bring the memory and the longing back as sharp and painful and sweet as before. Or it would come back to you in a dream and you would wake to find everything shiny and lovely in this world returned to its greyed and faded state and you would resume your search, distractions forgotten.

You would wander your whole life, attached to nothing because nothing in it ever came close to what you were seeking. The grandest waterfall, the sweetest fruit, the most delicate flower, would only serve to increase your longing for the more Real things in the more real place. The ripples of fields of summer wheat would only remind you of the wind in the Lion's mane.

We all  know the longing for home, because in a real sense we all leave our home when we are no longer children. That earthly home was the one that we could not have forever. But the yearning to return to it, as impossible as we know it is, is what will compel us forward. There is a home, but it's not here.



Linda said...

Cair, there above the treetops.
Through the forest, and up there.

Linda said...

Once a king or queen in Narnia, always a king or queen in Narnia.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

I'd settle for a hermitage in Narnia.

Anonymous said...

Just having read, The Song of Bernadette (Werfel),
this reminds me so much of Bernadette after her first sighting
of the Blessed Mother. Thank you for another beautiful
Icon and writerly witness.

Donna Ruth said...

What a wonderful, delightful meditation! Thank you. The door has opened twice for me and those glimpses sustained me and continue to sustain me. Not that we deserve them - or are to seek them - but when they come, we know their authenticity because no one could make it up.

Anonymous said...

I was about four when I was squirming and bored on a church pew by my mother.I remember a rectangular carving on a pew’s end becoming a gateway to what was an exquisite and enchanted place. I have no idea how long I was there.All I remember is not wanting to leave and wisps of memory still clinging to me as everyone started chatting and streaming out. Boredom is underrated.