Snow Day Thoughts

Snow Day Thoughts January 21, 2014

A series of points too small for a real post.

* While I was in Boston for the US National Figure Skating Championships (of which more later!! THEY WERE SO GREAT) I also got to go with Ratty to the Museum of Fine Arts. It has some terrific Spanish painting from the Counter-Reformation era–I love this stuff, even in the court paintings you feel like you can smell the blood. The only thing that glows is the flesh of the Crucified. There’s an extremism which I think some people find wearying but which really resonates with my own haphazard experience of God’s presence.

There was also Murillo’s (YES, SO GREAT) painting of Christ after the flagellation which struck me because it shows Him crawling, reaching for His garments–He entered not only into the pain and humiliation of the violence itself but into that awful quiet moment afterward, when you have to somehow pick yourself up and figure out who you are now that violence has been visited on you.

* Then in New York we waited on line for over an hour, in the rain, to see the actual painting of “The Goldfinch” and lots of other paintings by the Dutch masters, including Vermeer and Rembrandt. Totally worth it. “The Goldfinch” was the most striking to me–I obviously can’t know how I’d react to it if I hadn’t already read the book, but it really is so touching and intensely-felt. The bird seems to quiver or radiate out from the painting, helpless–helplessness being one of The Goldfinchs themes–and the white wall behind it almost glows. The wall makes me think of how Emily Dickinson uses the word “blank” in her poetry; or Maya Deren’s term for possession by the loa, “the white darkness.”

* The Dutch portraits were a striking contrast to all the Spanish stuff we saw in other parts of our trip. I’m not sure I’ll ever love Rembrandt, but I did find his cloudy, lumpy-faced people very beautiful and relatable. There’s a gentleness to his work, at least in the paintings we saw in New York. The Dutch people also often looked worried or questioning. They lacked that “mask of command” intensity which the Spaniards typically had. The Spaniards were basically either in ecstasy, or staring right at you like, “AD MAIOREM DEI GLORIAM. *drops mic*”

There’s obviously a danger in the Spanish certainty. (This danger is probably part of the thrill!) And vacillation, hesitancy, doubt are all parts of ordinary Christian experience. I’ll always defend the… almost defiant surrender of the Spanish style, throwing St Francis in the teeth of the viewer. And I do tend to focus on the dangers of vacillation (“A vague disclaimer is nobody’s friend,”my second-favorite line from Buffy) and the value of loyalty. But I felt for the Dutch people too. I’m grateful that styles of Christian life which I don’t swoon for exist.

* My favorite line from Buffy is, “But the skin is the best part!” Yeah, I actually enjoyed the fish-men episode.

* The rest of the collection at the Frick (where we saw “The Goldfinch” etc) was super fun. There were female satyrs, which I don’t think I’d seen before! Cherubic toddlers shooting rifles; more ferocious Spaniards; a forge, I think, by Goya (YES); and that one portrait of St Thomas More you’ve seen.

* I’m not sure “doubt” is actually all that similar to vacillation or hesitation. The first thing I underlined in The Orthodox Way was a quote from Thomas Merton: “Faith is a principle of questioning or struggle before it is a principle of certitude or peace.” Faith, it might be said, is about where and with whom (/Whom) you struggle.

* I’m so glad my computer is working smoothly again. It was balky earlier today, and there is nothing worse for a writer–all your thoughts sound incredibly stupid when they take ten minutes to type!

* This post about “10 Things We Wish Our Church Family Knew” has a lot of powerful stuff in it. I related especially strongly to #s 1, 2, 5, and (with some caveats which you can read about in my book!!!) 3.

* Here’s a terrific picture of the Lincoln Memorial surrounded by a swamp, at Ghosts of DC. I love this town.

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