Monday, June 2, 2014

"Antidote for Pessimism"

I've been leading a writing workshop called "Word Soup" on Bainbridge Island for two weeks. It's great fun and the class is brimming with talent and energy. It is wonderful to see the students jump in and write. Each prompt that I offer is met with energy and willingness to enter the scene and draw it with words. Each student has a unique voice and perspective, and it is a privilege to add ingredients, stir the pot and see the delicious "soup" emerge.

Word Soup took a break last week; class will resume this Thursday for another two weeks, and I am thankful for the pause, because Gregg and I caught a virus just before we left for Canada and I did not want to infect anyone else. This is a small problem - nothing compared to chronic or acute illness - but it reminds me of two things:
1) when I'm sick, I always, ALWAYS think of Katie, along with others who suffer from horrible illnesses and truly disgusting treatment regimens (and their cruel side effects). This reminds me that I have no reason to complain about something like a virus and
2) a pet peeve: I dislike reading "illness" posts on facebook. If a person is asking for prayers, by all means, post a request, but otherwise, I do not want to read the daily complaints about allergy symptoms, vomiting in the backseat of the car, what came out of your cat's nose, bum, ear, etc. A little filter is a blessing!

I am not unsympathetic to small or large suffering, but there is enough negativity online and in the media to sink most ships on any given day, and the broadcasting of our run-of-the-mill virus, sniffles and stomach flu "news" simply does not help to keep anyone's ship on an even keel. In my opinion, that's the purpose of a private journal.
Which brings up something I've been wanting to share:  Gregg went to Spain on business at the end of March, and the first week of April. Because he was there over a weekend, he arranged (at our expense, not his employer's) to take a tour. Spain has a richly diverse history and many sites of great cultural interest.
One of the things I admire about Gregg is his willingness to go off of the beaten path, on his own, exploring foreign places. Many people would find it intimidating or exhausting, but he loves to do it, and it enriches his business travel to fill his "down time" with such forays. Museums, palaces, bull fights, bus tours, Roman ruins, churches, Jewish ghettos, famous restaurants, shopping streets, markets, live music, parks - from his work in Japan to France, Italy and Spain, he is open to all of it.
On this trip, he visited (among other places) the city of Italica, and the cathedral of Cordoba. The cathedral has its origins as a Christian temple in the Visigoth period, was turned into a mosque in the year 785, and back into a Christian cathedral in 1236. The architecture and interior design tell many stories, and the brochure which Gregg brought home was packed with facts.
The most interesting thing in the little pamphlet was the following passage:
"The Church, through the Chapter, has ensured that this Cathedral, an old Western Caliphate Mosque, and World Heritage Site, is not in a pile of ruins today. In fact, this has always been one of the missions of the Church, to safeguard and inspire culture and art.
"The visit to the Cathedral of Cordoba may awake the demand and the quest for a greater Beauty that will not wither with time. Because beauty, as truth and righteousness, are an antidote for pessimism, and an invitation to take pleasure in life, a shaking of the soul that provokes the longing for God."
I had never before seen this aspect of the church put into words, but it explains why I enjoy visiting historic places of worship: they are sanctuaries where beauty, art, architecture, history, allegory, music, faith, longing, hope, love, soul and spirit converge.

Perhaps this relates to my instinctive recoil from dreary illness-posting and negativity-spewing on facebook. It is not a lack of interest in others' opinions and experiences, nor a lack of compassion for the small sufferings of our daily lives; it's a question of how much we spread the grit of our small annoyances. Spreading "beauty, truth and righteousness" lifts the spirit - our own, and those around us.

We all need safe sounding boards - places where we can share our deepest heartfelt feelings. In a public forum, however, it's important to think about what we are creating with our words and images, since we have the power of instant, far-reaching communication at our fingertips through the internet. 
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. - Phillippians 4:8, New Living Translation


Karen said...

Well said. Beauty has such healing power and like your Gregg, I take it wherever I can get it.

Ann said...

I love this post, Karen. Everything about it. Thank you!!

Ann said...
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Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more wholeheartedly with you, Karen! Too much negativity and overstating when a modicum of discretion would be welcome.

I also was very amazed by (and long after) my visit to the Cathedral of Cordoba.

Karen B.