I’ve never been one who finds it easy to follow the rules. Pretty much any rules but especially church rules. I’m a preacher’s kid but my dad was not one who laid religion on too heavy. I do remember one Sunday, though, when for some reason we had a lay speaker who was preaching on the correct way to pray. He instructed that the proper way to pray was to go into your bedroom ad close the door. Then kneel, really: get down on both knees by your bed. Clasp your hands and put them on the bed in front of you in a semblance of the pose of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. Close your eyes tightly. Then pray these words… I don’t remember the words I was supposed to pray because I quit listening at that point. I just knew that even at age eight or ten or whatever I was that I did not experience God in that way. It might have worked for that guy, but not for me.
Fast forward quite a few years. I had discovered the paintings of Mark Rothko in college. In art history classes I saw pictures of his paintings in text books and in slide lectures. I found them compelling and breath-taking. A few years after college I got to visit the National Gallery in D.C. After wandering through the hallways of Old Masters I found my way to the new wing, the building designed by I. M. Pei. Rounding a corner I entered a room that was filled only with the paintings of Mark Rothko. I was reminded that Rothko was for me absolutely breath-taking. Literally. I had to sit on the bench in the center of the room until I could breathe again. The friends I was with (not particularly fans of abstract expressionism) didn’t know what was up. But I was gripped by the energy and presence of the paintings.
I am attending the Wild Goose Festival this week. We’ve only had the first evening and things are still cranking up. But we’ve already had a variety of musicians play, and I’ve spent some time with a friend who is curating “The Imaginarium,” a micro gallery. I attended an episode of “Darkwood Brew Live,” featuring Eric Elnes and Frank Schaeffer talking about Convergence Christianity. And I was reminded of something. Something that ties these three paragraphs together. I remembered that I experience the holy aesthetically.
While I have some experience with contemplative silence I knew from that early age that I would not experience God by following that speaker’s strict rules of prayer. I experienced the National Gallery as a place of mystical, spiritual presence. And now at Wild Goose the Spirit swoops in taking the forms of music and art.
I hope that one of the foci I bring to spirituality and religion is the encouragement to discover and reclaim the ways that each of us apprehend the Holy. Or better yet, the ways each of us are apprehended by the Holy. And to be a constant reminder that beauty and holiness are kissing cousins. The ancient abbeys created unmatched beauty in illuminated manuscript and icon and frontispiece and vestments and altars. I see the Urban Abbey as a way and a place to reconnect this devotion to beauty and holiness. Art reminds us that the world is at its core a place of beauty, and that beauty reminds us that since its very beginning The Spirit loves the deep, complicated beauty of this world and all of us in it.