Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Dissolving the boundaries

One of my jobs as a photographer (pretty much the only one that pays, though it hasn't lately because the real estate market is in such a slump) is photographing houses for real estate brochures. This home was outside Tacoma: I had to take most of a day to go down and shoot it, and some six months later I still haven't been paid for the job.

But I love this one image, shot from the deck outside the house, because of the way the boundaries between within and without are blurred, and I find it very inviting.

I love the flowers on the deck, which appear to rest on the blanket draped across the couch; I love the serene presence of the Chinese statue within, the reflections of the trees and sky behind me even as we see more trees and sky through the window beyond the statue.

I love the counterpoint between the straight lines of the horizon and the deck railing and the curved lines of the flower bowl and the couch piping, and I enjoy the way the railing lines are echoed again through the window beyond, in the sleeve of the statue, and on the blanket itself.

For some reason the illusory nature of the boundaries between inside and outside in this image reminds me of a line from the Episcopal liturgy: "by him, with him and in him in the unity of the Holy Spirit." I confess I've never thought much about that phrase; all those prepositions seem to just roll past, gathering strength like a wave to enhance the impact of the next phrase, "in the unity of the Holy Spirit."

Which, of course, is one of the dangers of a beautiful liturgy recited exactly in the same way Sunday after Sunday: the words acquire a rhythm of their own and tend to lose their meaning. We stop listening, and think of other things, waiting for our cue to step forward and take the bread and wine.

It's a bit like the Lord's Prayer: I am remembering a sermon in which the preacher said the harshest word in the Lord's Prayer was "as." He paused briefly, as we all stared at him, perplexed, and then went on to explain. "You know. "Forgive us our trespasses AS we forgive those who trespass against us?" And I remember thinking, "Ouch!"

But what does that mean, by him and with him and in him in the unity of the Holy Spirit? If I pay attention to what I am reading about Christophany, this phrase appears to be addressing the nature of our mystical union with Jesus Christ.

I have to back up here a second and say that, for all I am willing to admit to being an Episcopalian, I find it VERY difficult to write words like these in this blog: priest, communion, Christ, Holy Spirit. Because Christians so often use those words as battering rams, or as exclusionary mechanisms, they have acquired an uncomfortable and invasive power that makes me -- and many others -- want to fold my arms across my chest and turn away.

Which is too bad. Because I suspect that the real power of the Christian faith may actually lie in those three little prepositions: by, in, and with. Because the magic that makes my often Buddhist heart repeatedly turn back to Christianity lies in the sense of mystical unity implied by those words. I love the thought of the Divine reaching out to us; that we are formed BY it, that, through Christ, it walks side-by-side WITH us; and that through the Holy Spirit it lives IN us -- as we live IN the divine.

I don't begin to understand how that might work, this blurring of boundaries between human and divine. And I am still not comfortable with some of those churchy religious words -- and even LESS comfortable with the ways those words have been used over the centuries to exclude, abuse, and excuse.

But there is a comfort in those three small prepositions, in the sense that there is a loving presence that reaches out to us, walks with us, lives in us and lifts us when we stumble or fall. And as, thinking of that comfort, my resistance to the Divine softens and blurs, so, too, the boundaries between self and other begin to blur, and I realize again the illusory nature of the divisions between us.

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