706. Revisiting the mystery at the table - and the desk

Rublev Holy Trinity.jpg

Nearly 7 years ago I bought the icon known as The Holy Trinity, or The Trinity, by Andrei Rublev, brought it home, and hung it above my desk where I could see it every day. Honestly though, over time, I have tended to forget to look at it even though it's right in front of me as I work. After all, there are papers to read and chapters to write and slides to edit. This morning I'm re-reminding myself to look at it, to think about it. So in that spirit, I'm sharing the blog post I wrote just days after I purchased it in February 2010.

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Last weekend I went with a friend to a bookstore in St. Paul that was closing. A bookstore closing is always a sad affair, yet the owner seemed in good spirits and prices were slashed so joy was still to be had. I bought a few books and an icon wall hanging. Since hearing Dr. Roy Robson from the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia speak at The Museum of Russian Art a couple years ago, I've had my eye out for a copy of the Holy Trinity icon by Andrei Rublev, which reflects the story of Abraham's hospitality from Genesis 18. Robson showed a slide of this icon, with three figures seated at a round table. Two of the three figures were robed in brilliant blue. It was so beautiful I could hardly stop looking. The figures represent the Trinity, as its name suggests, and they are seated at the nine, twelve, and three o'clock positions. Left open is the 6 o'clock position. As Robson said, it invites you to "contemplate sitting at the table with the Trinity." I like that sense of invitation and so for that reason I'll hang it near my work space where I can see it.

I want it where I can see it for another reason as well, particularly while I write. In Mind of the Maker, written in 1941, Dorothy L. Sayers examines in great detail the analogic association between the Divine Creator and the human creative process through the doctrine of the Trinity. The ideal literary artist composes his or her works in the image of the three-fold mind comprised of the co-equal and co-substantial Idea, Energy, and Power.

The Idea—or the Father—is the “Book-as-Thought” in the writer’s mind irrespective of any words actually written. The thought precedes the actual activity or material production of the work, but continues on eternally after the work is written and read. The work “is known to the writer as …a complete and timeless whole."

The Energy—or the Son—which “brings about an expression in temporal form of the eternal and immutable Idea,” is the “Book-as-Written." It is the creation that the writer or a reader can witness either as the material form of the work or as the passion and toil of the writer.

The Power—or the Spirit—emerges from the Idea and the Energy. This is the “Book-as-Read” and is the “means by which the [Energy] is communicated to other readers and which produces a corresponding response in them.”

To the writer, the Idea, the Energy, and the Power “are equally and eternally present in his own act of creation…they exist in—they are—thecreative mind itself." To ignore this co-equal and co-substantial pattern of the ideal creative mind, Sayers argued, is to invite failure to a literary work.

Much to think about and be reminded of for 50% off.

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689. Pearls from the Festival of Faith and Writing

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Home now from the Festival of Faith and Writing (FFW), I'm going to try and pick some pearls from the week to share here. This is a hard task considering that the three days were the equivalent of a long triple strand of the finest quality natural pearls of highest luster. How to choose only a few pearls to highlight? I'll start with one from most of the talks or panels I attended.

Tobias Wolff: "Is it possible to have certainty without arrogance or blindness? Without harm to others?"

Dani Shapiro: "Insist that suffering not be meaningless." Writing is a way to do that.

David Kim: We must do whatever we can to "counter atrophy of the imagination." The role of the arts is to "cultivate the imagination." He suggests reading through the Biblical narrative twice a year in order to shape the imagination. "Scripture is so wildly imaginative!"

Zadie Smith: Refuse to be a brand, to be a product, to slip seamlessly into capital.

Erik Lokkesmoe: Signs of life – truth, beauty, goodness – are everywhere!

George Saunders: "I imagine my reader so close and lovingly that she is practically bonded at my shoulder."

Hannah Notess: "Put energy into things that are worth it."

Caroline Langston: "Literary achievement is about spiritual practice."

Paul Harding: After being a drummer in a rock band failed when he was in his 30s, he took a 2-week writing course at a local university. Marilynne Robinson walked in and started teaching and it hit him: "This is the life I want for my mind." His life was never the same. (I love that story.)

 

There's more that could be said. Much more. This doesn't capture much and certainly not what I learned from conversations or the simple but profound excitement of ideas buzzing all around.

If you also were at FFW, please join me and add a pearl of your own in the comments or feel free to post a link to something you wrote about it elsewhere.

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[Photo: taken of FFW program, which you can take a look at here.]

683. Make stuff, learn stuff

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Film director Pete Docter gave something back to the audience in his acceptance speech for Best Animated Feature for Inside Out at the Academy Awards last Sunday. If you haven’t seen Inside Out, it’s a wonderful film about an 11-year-old girl who becomes miserable after a cross-country move.

Here’s what Docter said:

“Anyone out there who’s in junior high, high school, working it out, suffering — there are days you’re going to feel sad. You’re going to feel angry. You’re going to feel scared. That’s nothing you can choose. But you can make stuff. Make films. Draw. Write. It will make a world of difference.”

Adults were listening too.

It reminded me of advice given by Merlyn the magician in King Arthur’s court as told in The Once and Future King by T.H. White.

The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something . That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then—to learn. Learn why the world ways and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the thing for you. Look at what a lot of things there are to learn—pure science, the only purity there is. You can learn anatomy in a lifetime, natural history in three, literature in six. And then, after you have exhausted a million lifetimes in biology and medicine and theocriticism and geography and history and economics—why, you can start to make a cartwheel out of the appropriate wood, or spend fifty years learning to begin to beat your adversary at fencing. After that you can start again on mathematics, until it is time to learn to plough.”

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[Photo: taken from a back car window of the Brooklyn side of the Manhattan Bridge.]