I would like to think that we are really blank canvases awaiting the brushstrokes of experience and creativity to ‘colour’ us. That each of us has an artists’ eye for beauty that is part nature, part nurture. The expansion of our natural appreciation develops broadly or narrowly depending upon a hundred million variables and how we process these data points to ultimately manifest our greatest selves. There’s little doubt that our unique filters, acquired through experience and intellectual pursuits, allow us to see things that others fail to – and likewise we will never see what they do. Does it have to be this way?
Against the backdrop of a Facebook conversation about a photograph of the old bridge Mostar (Bosnia and Herzegovina) a Swedish artist acquaintance of mine introduced me to two individuals – one a woman living in Sweden originally from Bosnia, and the other a Slovene man from Trieste (Italy); this is one of the greatest joys of social media (I would be unlikely to meet these individuals in any other way)!
In visiting the man’s profile and (of course) his albums this morning I was struck by his photograph of a fresco in an church in Muggia, Italy – and I guarantee what I saw isn’t what you see.
What I saw was based not upon the life experience of being brought up as a Roman Catholic, or subsequently being a nominally practicing Episcopalian (since age 19) with profound leanings toward Buddhism. No, what I saw in the gold adorned hems of Mary’s robe was calligraphy – and not just any calligraphy, I saw the word “God” in the gold embellishment of a Renaissance artist who was unlikely to be Muslim. I saw convergence and at-one-ment, there is only one God and He (or She) has 99 names. So much so did I see Islamic calligraphy that I sent the image at left to a very dear girlfriend of mine in Istanbul to ask her what she saw! I know some of you might read this (not having any previous encounter with my rather Unitarian views based upon Eastern philosophy) and think I am either a blasphemer or a heretic (or both), I am neither. But I see convergence in nearly everything, the common which unites us rather than the differences which serve (radicals and extremists) to divide us. I see God’s hand in everything, all the time.
The ‘nurture’ aspect of my filter (in this case) comes from a long held fascination with Persian miniature paintings, illuminated manuscripts spanning examples of Books of Hours, Vedic texts as well as from the Qu’ran. Each of these (and those of many more traditions) created by a single artisan for the Glory of God, often times by candle light and using tiny brushes made of single hairs from a camel, a boar or a sable in combination with gold leaf and precious minerals.
More specifically, in the case of the hem of Mary’s robe in Muggia, was the infinite pleasure and expansion of my curiousity found at the Alfred M. Sackler Museum (part of Harvard University Art Museums) in multiple visits between October 1999 and January 2000 to Letters in Gold: Ottoman Calligraphy from the Sakip Sabanci Collection – (okay, and yes, having just looked up the book on Amazon (who knew?) to share with you I have now moved my copy from off the floor to my desk!!!)
We look at the Virgin Mary just as we also understand Guanyin (also known as Kuan Yin) short for Guanshiyin, which means “Observing the Sounds (or Cries) of the World” to be models of virtue and compassion. Even though my filter has created a sacred connection between this particular example of religious art of Christianity and the calligraphy art of Islam, it feels somehow a blessing to see one – one I needed to share with you today.
With so much of our world fragmented, focused upon dissention and disparity there is a refuge to be found in my heart, joy in the tiny elements of our existence that is resonant with love, things that make me feel profound gratitude for bearing witness to sublime, for this is the unique filter I have been graced to possess in the hope of using it for amplification that benefits all of us.
Love isn’t love until you give it away. Let’s do something more than put forth swaths of pink and red and white, let’s celebrate love in seeing more clearly the pure white light of God’s love all around us.
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