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Exchange of Values

Exchange of Values
acrylic on board 48'X96'

"Structure of Color Perception"

"Structure of Color Perception"
48'X96' acrylic on board

Monday, September 17, 2012

“When we are young, the words are scattered all around us. As they are assembled by experience, so also are we, sentence by sentence, until the story takes shape.”  (From “The Plague of Doves” by Louis Erdrich, a Turtle Mountain Ojibwa).

That is a photo of me above and my latest painting, “The God Particle” (Higgs-Bosun particle). 8 feet by 2 1/2 feet, acrylic on board.

I’m not an astro-physicist anymore than I am a theologian or philosopher (although I play one on facebook).  Nevertheless this is my latest painting inspired by the *discovery* of the “God particle.”  Of course, just like pictures of God (whether fashioned from weapons, words or paint) pictures of the God particle are subject to the artists imagination (and the artist’s fears, hopes, prejudices, desires, pride, faith, doubts and weakness for sinful idolatry).  When tragedy, suffering, and death happen we are right to ask “where is God,” but can we ask the same of the ‘god particle’?      

David Bentley Hart painted a pretty good (though not altogether original and convincing) picture about all this in his book, “The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami.”  And in this interview below he says:

“To see the world in the Christian way–which…requires the eye of charity and a faith in Easter–is in some sense to venture everything upon an absurd impracticality… But, as I was writing the book, I found myself thinking again of a photograph I had seen in the Baltimore Sun.  The story concerned the Akhdam, the lowest social caste in Yemen, supposedly descended from Ethiopians left behind when the ancient Ethiopian empire was driven out of Arabia in the sixth century, who live in the most unimaginable squalor. In the background of the photo was a scattering of huts constructed from crates and shreds of canvas, and on all sides barren earth; but in the foreground was a little girl, extremely pretty, dressed in tatters, but with her arms outspread, a look of delight upon her face, dancing.
To me that was a heartbreaking picture, of course, but it was also an image of something amazing and glorious: the sheer ecstasy of innocence, the happiness of a child who can dance amid despair and desolation because her joy came with her into the world and prompts her to dance as if she were in the midst of paradise.….That child’s dance is nothing less than the eternal dance of divine Wisdom before God’s throne, the dance of David and the angels and saints before his glory; it is the true face of creation, which God came to restore and which he will not suffer to see corruption.” (from “Where Was God? An Interview with David Bentley Hart.” The Christian Century 10 Jan. 2006: 26-29.)

I too like to think of that pretty little Yemeni girl as much more than a particle, even more than a god-particle, I like to think of her as an inseparable part of God’s very being in the world.  As if one morning God woke up and just felt such joy that God felt like singing and dancing so God created children!  “Amazing, innocence, paradise, glory, dancing,” these are the colors Hart uses to paint for us that little Yemeni girl. But there is war in Yemen, and the life of that little girl of Hart’s imagination is in real danger from us (americans).  And when we kill her with one of our predator drones who will ask, “where was god?”  So my ‘god particle‘ is violent, and it looks like an explosion, like war, but no matter how many atoms we smash we do not seem to be getting any nearer to the ‘true face of creation,’ to wisdom, to love, and I wish I was the kind of artist that knew how to paint that.

In Yemeni culture poets and poetry are very highly esteemed.  Indeed, many of their ongoing tribal and political/religious/ideological divisions and battles are fought with words and poetry (as well as guns and bombs).  These noisy contests often take place in the street and village squares and go on for hours.  Here is one of my favorites from Abdulwahhab Al-Bayyati 

The Rats of the fields of words
Buried the head of the poet
In a field of ashes
But the poet on the cross of exile
Carried the sun and flew  


“To be a poet in a destitute time means to attend, singing, to the trace of the fugitive gods.  This is why the poet in the time of the world’s night utters the holy” 
(M. Heidegger).

Let me just offer a klediment of fb posts, book reviews, news updates, and poetry from the last month or so.  And so again, I suggest you open up another window and put on this music, Pérotin's "Beata Viscera,"  

It is  based on “The Seven Sorrows of the Virgin” and I pray it reminds us that ‘The world lives in the death of speech.’

I was watching the news between commercials, listening to politicians and jesters (human product placement ads for principalities and powers) explain without explaining, answer without answering, talk without saying, smile without joy, cry without sorrow; feigning anger and moral outrage over the sheerist silliness while great crimes go unmentioned.  They pretend to speak for god, for humanity, for life, for justice, for the people, for the children, for the future, for us, for me, but they are hollow puppets, empty reeds, and not even when it comes to killing and death, net even when their hands are red with blood, do they come near anything that might be called ‘the truth.’

So I was sad and fed up and I put on this music and went to work in the garden.  And because I was sad and a bit lonely I did not shoo away the damned bunnies that keep eating my lettuce and beet sprouts like I usually do.  I let them eat in peace and keep me company until the shadow of an eagle fell over us and they raced in panic into the bushes.  For bunnies the shadow of death and death itself may be closer to the same thing and they are wise to be afraid.  As far as we know bunnies do not write poetry, but if they did what would they make of eagles?  gods or devils?

Well, if the music is still going, maybe as you listen you can read this poem by Juan Ramon Jimenez because the words to Perotin’s song are too sad and I don’t want to post them.

Who knows what is going on on the other side of each hour?
How many times the sunrise was
there, behind a mountain!
How many times the brilliant cloud piling up far off
was already a golden body full of thunder!
This rose was poison.
That sword gave life.
I was thinking of a flowery meadow
at the end of a road,
and found myself in the slough.
I was thinking of the greatness of what was human,
and found myself in the divine.

Saint Xenia of Saint Petersburg

My list of Icons I want to paint is a bit daunting. I just don’t have much time to ‘waste on art.’  Almost all of those on the list are mostly extraordinary women like Raissa Maritain, Rosa Luxembourg, Hannah Arendt, Edith Stein, Simone Weil and Mother Maria Skobtsova, who wrote: “The cross of Golgotha is the cross of the Son of Man, the crosses of the thieves and our personal crosses are precisely personal, and as an immense forest of these personal crosses we are moving along the paths to the Kingdom of Heaven. And that is all.”  And then, just like that she took the place of a Jewish woman in the line to the gas chamber in the concentration camp at Ravensbruck and was killed in her place.  I read these women devotionally over and over again and I encourage others to do so as well.  If I had to I would choose Stein, Weil, and Skobtsova over all the rest of the top read 50 theologians/philosophers put together. 

But my most recent Icon project is of Saint Xenia of St. Petersburg (above).  She was one of Russia’s many “Holy Fools.”  She wandered homeless in Saint Petersburg, ministering to the poor for 45 years.  She is a favorite of the Punk-Saints Pussy-Riots, though I’m not sure I see the direct connection with them.  Truth is, I haven’t figured out yet if Pussy Riots have more of an affinity with ‘free thinking,’ individualist/existentialist theologian Nikolai Berdyaev, the american ‘Tea Party militia,’ the ‘Nuns on a bus,’ Ayn Rand, Mikhail Bakunin, Lady GaGA, or Michele Bachman.  Nevertheless, I look fwd to reading more from and about them as they spend some time in prison, I really don’t want to miss out on some new moving of the Divine Sophia even if she is wearing a ski mask.

And who knows, perhaps it’s true that the ‘Pussy Riot grrrls are sitting in jail for living out a radical theology of liberation rooted in the Spirit of Jesus and the teachings of the New Testament.‘  If so, isn’t it truly astonishing that after 70 years of Stalinist atheistic communism, of burning churches, jailing priests, killing and torturing christians, etc., that just after enjoying barely 15 minutes of “democracy and freedom” and the Russian state throws 3 young women in jail for dissing the Orthodox church!  My faith in the power of propaganda and “the media” to control people’s minds is being seriously challenged.  Turns out the most powerful lies are the ones we tell ourselves.   

Here’s a little something from one the Pussy Girl’s inspirational mentors, Russian theologian Nikolai Berdyaev, “Religious discussion centers upon the possibility of new revelation and a new spiritual epoch. All other questions are secondary. The new revelation is not at all a new religion, distinct from Christianity, but rather the fulfillment and completion of the Christian revelation, bringing it to a true universality. This we do not have as yet. But we cannot simply wait for the revelation of the spirit. It depends upon man's creative activity as well. It is not to be understood as only a new revelation of God to man: it is also the revelation of man to God. This means that it will be a divine-human revelation. In the Spirit, the divisions and contradictions of the divine and the human will be overcome, while the distinction between them will be maintained. This will be the crowning of the mystical dialectic of the divine and the human.”

Yeah, ok, but I get as inspired by the theological jargon of the “mystical dialectic of the divine and human,” in about the same way I get inspired by contemplating the god-particle.  But what I wish I could preach and pray with any amount of genuine faith is what Mother Maria Skobtsova said before she was killed: “I am your message, Lord. Throw me like a blazing torch into the night, that all may see and understand what it means to be a disciple.”

And now that the music should have ended let us read together the poem “Silence” from Wendell Berry:

It is in the silence
that my hope is, and my aim.
A song whose lines

I cannot make or sing
sounds men's silence
like a root. Let me say

and not mourn: the world
lives in the death of speech
and sings there.

Obliged. (обязано) and please leave me a howdydoo.  It would be nice to know if at least one person was reading any of this stuff, at least until I f figure out how to operate this blog and find out if anyone ever even pops by.  blessings. 


  1. Read it. Liked it. Thanks.
    I find your writing engaging but necessarily in a 'conversational' way, so I often don't have much to add.
    - David D

    1. Obliged David and thanks for dropping by. And hey, we here at TzimTzum have a very flexible comment policy so no worry about being banned or deleted here. I want folks to just chat away with whatever strikes them. I know that before I post on some blogs I feel like I'm ordering soup from the soup nazi, one mistake and 'NO COMMENT FOR YOU.' (of course we'll see how I act if I ever get more than one comment every 6 months lol. blessings and obliged.

  2. Daniel, I have been following with your blog along when time allows and find much to think about. I actually should like to drop you a note off the public record if you wouldn't mind terribly. I am a carpenter, poet and a lover of Arendt, Simone W., and Celan as well as Mandelstam, HD, and Duncan and would simply like to talk. Any chance of chatting via email. I don't see a link to that here. Andrew

  3. Sure Andrew, I thought my email was on here somewhere I will see if I can figure out how and where I should put it. obliged oh, are you on fb?