In his book, Albion, Peter Ackroyd delivers a section called, A Note On English Melancholy, a malady common, in his opinion, to the English imagination. I am well acquainted with melancholy and live with the darkness of it never too far from the surface of my life. Lately I have found myself quite deep under the dark waves of melancholy--some of it is circumstantial, situations in life that have ripped at me a bit and the rest of it is just the regular dose that shades my day to day existence.
I've been thinking a lot about darkness and the role it plays in my life over the past few years, particualry as I have been wrestling with it in therapy, trying to get my head around it and at least gain some sense of the contours of it. I also began to explore it in the interests of my life, realizing that many of the things I am drawn to in life have the ache of melancholy in them, or rather, I found it there, whether it be in music I am drawn to or art or even religion.
There is a lot of darkness in the Bible, it is often glossed over, we tend to like our religions to be full of light and promise, but it is important to remember that the darkness came first. I began to think about this quite seriously a while ago when I noticed that in the story of the 'conversion' of St. Paul, he was struck blind for three days upon his encounter, the light came later, first he had to face darkness, the darkness of his own shadow life I imagine, and I am convinced that the same is true for most of us--facing darkness is what starts the process I think.
So tonight I spoke at the Great Vigil service. The service itself begins in darkness and celebrates the absence of god, the loss of hopes and dreams and the uncertainty of future. I invoked a couple of poets-Isaiah, who in the old testament wrote these words, "I will give the the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, who calls you by your name," that verse hasnt been used much in my experience and that is sad, because it offers us a clue to how important darkness can be--it holds particular and specific treasures, things not found in the light. The second poet is more contemporary, Paul Simon, "Hallo darkness my old friend, I've come to talk with you again."
Darkness is always both familiar (I mean we experience it everyday quite literally, and then the dark threads of emotional darkness, and dark events of life remind us of its presence in existence in other ways), and it also threatening and scary, full of uncertainty, emptiness. There are times in my life when I feel so incredibly empty in side it defies explanation really, and though familiar, it holds this threat, and the tendency, my tendency, is to find ways to make it go away, by any means necessary.
Lately I am learning to let it be and not try and rush to discover a way through it but rather to spend time in that space and let it give me it's treasures, whatever they may be.
Holy Saturday, which is what today is termed in the church, is a no-mans land between the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, a place of absence and emptiness, a place void of God-and replete with all the uncertainty and emptiness of uprooted dreams, but it is also the place where Easter faith is born, faith is born in the darkness I think, not in the light.
Maundy Thursday's not really about washing feet is it? Funny how an example of a way of being in the world is often reduced to a ritual performance, a rehearsal rather than an embodiment of an alternative consciousness about life and living and being human.Foot-washing in the 21st century has a very different set of associations than the 1st century I imagine, there it was a necessary part of life dealing with the dirt and dust of walking-today it is performed in the sanctified environs of religious enclosure-it still has impact, still carries meaning, but I fear it is viewed as simply part of the easter event-the various regular rituals that are performed during Holy Week.
If I were in complete charge of a church these days I would essentailly invert Easter--deprive it of the pomp and circumstance and make it all happen 'off-campus' in the real world, rather than in the suspended space of religious performance where so much gets said and so much gets left behind when we depart.
I want one of these:)
Via Whole Foods online magazine, Dark Rye.
My friend Chris alerted me to this documentary by Porfirio Munoz which takes us inside artist Julian Schnabel's studio as he prepares works for his first major show in a long time. It is called, Every Angel Has a Dark Side, which opens at the Dairy Art Centre in London on 25 April. “It's a continuum of ways that I have made marks, used materials and created images.”
I love Schnabel's work and have been fortunate to see a few up close in various exhibits. I also love his film work. One of my favourite films is Basquiat, directed by Schnabel, and I was besotted by his mocving interpretation of The Diving Bell and The Butterfly--in fact, I don't think Schabel has made a bad film. But it is his painting that moves me--I love the scale, the boldness, the daring.
You can download more than 35k images from the National Gallery of Art's new open access digital image section.
One of the topics that I brought up early on in my latest theology and culture class was the issue of the self and the shifting terrain of the soul. The 'erasure of the self,' a term I used from Mark I. Wallace, is an issue of real importance to the realm of the religious in my opinion. Our understanding of what it means to be human, how we think or perceive of the condition of human nature, and particularly, the body and soul dualism that has generally been regarded as given. For most of our history in Western civilization we have operated with a classic view of the self, gifted to us by the Greeks etc., the idea that the 'soul' is subjective and exists outside of matter. There has been a lot of re-thinking of these concepts, and above is yet another from Iain McGilchrist, asking whether or not the use of the term soul has any value or currency in the world today--spoiler--he thinks it does, but redefines it nicely I think.
(There is a blank spot in the video because of music copyright issues but you can listen to the piece yourself via another source)
This lecture is part of an ongoing series created by the RSA to consider spirituality anew in the 21st century.
A track from the forthcoming full length, Comet, Come To Me, new work from one of my favourite artists, always full of surprises and new directions
As many may know, one of my ongoing jobs is at an art school in the advertising department where I teach on words and concepts and ideas in the world of ad and design. I'm fortunate to be able to explore any number of topics in most of the classes I teach and it allows me to indulge my own fascination in things like the origins of swearing, how language works, where ideas come from, design and culture--so many things really.
Some where along the way I came across the work of Steven Heller , a man with a storied career in the world of visual and graphic design. He has written something like 120 books on issues related to graphic design and visual culture, covering a mind-boggling range of topics.
My latest read has been his book on the swastika. Swastika: Symbol beyond redemption? is an exploration of the origins of the symbol and its transition to symbol of evil. It's a provocative work that has been called polemical. It's a fascinating into controversial territory taken from a very personal angle. You can read an interview with the author here, which might deepen your curiosity, beyond the provocative icon he explores the book is also a great tool for thinking about how symbols work in society.
And here is a talk he gave on totalitarian regimes and their use of propaganda which is really worth a look and listen.
Adolf Hitler was a logo.
Jason deCaires Taylor has created some remarkable underwater sculpture environments that invite new marine life, coral and creature, as well as humans who can dive down to explore. They look amazing and as they age get even better,