Sunday, September 30, 2007

Drinking in the light

I shot this image about a month ago at a restaurant in the little town of Point Reyes Station in California, and for some reason it continues to call to me.

I could attribute it to the colors (I'm partial to blues and greens, and the little touch of orange definitely perks it up) or the memories it evokes (which are pleasant) or to the intriguingly similar textures of the dry glass tabletop and the wet glasses. But I think the real reason is just because it looks so refreshing. Clarity, color and subject all speak to the pleasure of a cool drink of water on a hot day, and there's something very pleasing about that.

I think it may be the clarity that I find particularly appealing. There's so much about life that's muddy and confusing; so many decisions to be made where the choice isn't that clear; so many people we meet that we'd like to welcome into or reject from our lives and always one factor that doesn't quite go with the rest of the data. I think, as humans, we long for clarity; long to have someone tell us the answers so we don't have to make these difficult choices. Not just the little ones -- should I go right or left at the light -- but the big ones as well: should we try another round of chemo? Should we pack up and leave? Should I tell someone about this discrepancy I found in the books?

Dostoevsky, in the Brothers Karamazov, has this intriguing chapter called "The Grand Inquisitor" which fantasizes a meeting between Christ and the Grand Inquisitor. Christ doesn't speak, but the Grand Inquisitor more than makes up for that by rambling on and on about how Christ screwed up by only leaving us with one rule -- Love God, love your neighbor. That's too much freedom, says the inquisitor: people want rules, people want to be told what to do.

And yet it is often around the muddiness and the confusion that life becomes richest. I remember vividly sitting in the Sanctuary of St. Joe's, Seattle while on a prayer break from an Ignatian retreat, and looking at an absolutely glorious image in stained glass. There was one piece of glass in the image that really stood out for me: like the image above, it had blues, greens, a trace of purple, a dash of brown to set it off... and I remember staring at that piece of glass and longing -- praying-- desperately for some clarity, and, more specifically, for the innocence and purity of spirit that had been mine before I began working for the church, for a release from the muddiness; from the sense of having been soiled that permeated my job.

When the break was over I went over to take a closer look at the window. And I realized, looking at it, that actually it was a clear piece of glass: the artist had covered the clear glass with a sort of muddy glaze, and it was only when the light shone through the mud that the glass began to glow with the rich colors that I had found so appealing.

So maybe that's the key to this image. It's not the color, or the texture, or the composition, or the promise of refreshment. It's really the light that draws us; the light, that shines so particularly on the one glass; the one glass, standing so strong and proud and ready, the chosen glass, crying, "here am I; drink me!"

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