Sit, my friends, and listen ...
Very interesting. I suppose one reason the why modernist architecture is a bit clinical, other than being cheaper to make and erect, would be that it mirrors a particular metaphysical outlook that is in vogue at the moment, one that supposes the nature of ultimate reality to be ‘empty’ and ‘lifeless’ ...
In the adult world you don’t matter, it is your contribution that matters.
I think we fail to teach this to children￼￼; children are told they matter but the truth, is when they get out there they will learn - they don’t matter. ￼
I think there’s a more general mistake being made.
We think our opinions matter. We think we should all be heard. I don’t agree with that. People who have done the work should be afforded a higher consideration.
Paul Kingsnorth has done the work I have not. I have the habit of suspending my preconceptions when I’m reading people in the know; my opinions are uninformed compared to his. It is not for me to have an opinion, a retort, it is proper and obvious that I need to listen closely and learn.
We tell children their opinions matter this is also a mistake. I say we are stupid by design, we embrace stupid by embracing platitudes that are clearly foolish.￼
I like the older sensibility: children are not to speak until spoken to.￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼ Structure.
Yes, stunning. Do you know the Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser? "The straight line is godless and immoral" he said. Much modern architecture is box-like, prison-like. It appears we are witnessing the end of the patriarchal era, my I Ching called it "the exhaustion of the masculine'. That explains a lot to my mind.
Coming down from the trees, all those millions of years ago, our forebears were most at home tucked beneath the foliate shelter of life in the branches. Safety, food, and the ability to rest with one's family, relied upon the living green banner above us. Later, our sense of awe came from walking upright among the tallest trees, looking up and being covered by the green canopy again, but at a great height above us. The feeling which I experience in great Gothic cathedrals such as Salisbury and York Minster, (also covered in green men, creatures and a herbarium on every surface) is I think a cousin of this primeval silvan awe, which I feel most strongly of all in old-growth forests. The eye is drawn up, up, and then we see that we are sheltered most grandly after all. First by the firmament, then by the forest, and latterly by the great stone spirit-dwellings people have created to hold the songs and let them resound a little longer than the open air allows.
This week I listened to the opening chapters of Robin Wall Kimmerer's facinating book 'Braiding Sweetgrass' which seeks to knit the perspectives of Science and Indigenous knowledge together. Kimmerer is originally a Native America and is part of the Potawatomi Nation, she's also a Professor and Botanist. in the opening chapter she recounts the founding story of her people with "Skywoman" who falls to earth from the sky like a seed, her fall is broken by a flock of Geese who gently lower her down to earth which is completely covered in water. All the animals see that Skywoman requires land and they all discuss and seek to help her find land by diving deep into the waters to find soil. None can manage the depths, except, and the smallest of the animals, a Muskrat who dies attempting it but comes back up to the surface with a small amount of earth in its paw. Skywoman gives thanks to the animals and places the earth on the top of the tortoise shell on which she is standing and does a dance in celebration. Tortoise island (the earth) emerges. I've probably murdered this story, but what Kimmerer goes onto to do is contrast the founding story of the indigenous people with the founding story of western civilisation in the bible. When you contrast the two you have one where the woman/mother is in relationship, interdependence/ harmony with nature and in the other you have a woman who is shunned from nature and banished, severing that connection. As someone who grew up in the church but is still lost in terms of predominate faith, I found this contrast startling in terms of it's impact upon me and my world view. I felt like it shook my foundations. I have been a fairly unconscious subscriber to the belief that is not the religion but what people do with it idea which I admit is at best - lazy. But what if the fundamental story, our founding story has fucked us from the get go? Paul, I know you believe in the power of story and myth...whether one has heard the Adam and Eve story or not, whether one believes in it or not, I think we can agree it is an essential and powerful pillar in our understandings of ourselves and the world around us. So if that story is one built upon shame and disconnection, is it not too much to extrapolate that this could be a significant factor in the pattern of human behaviour, where we seek to have dominion, where we set ourselves apart from nature not as part. where we fundamentally isolate ourselves and completely miss the boat? I know i'm prone to over romanticise the Native indigenous people but it seems that their understanding of the world saw them as part of nature, with no rights over land, but responsibilities to play a part with nature. Please discuss....
This cathedral is utterly enchanting.
I find myself laughing so much at my foolish beliefs in the past that encouraged an inability to see beauty in the Church.
I am emerging (just this year) from over 20 years of telling myself that I can only find truth in Druid/Pagan religious worlds. I felt this, mainly because I found the natural world to be the thing that would readily and happily enchant me. And so worship OF the natural world seemed to be the natural conclusion (instead of the worship of the Creator).
I am eternally and unyieldingly grateful that Jesus is so persistent. (And that my local Catholic Church is so welcoming, and that my beautiful (stubborn) family of Irish Catholic ancestors are nudging me along.)
Many thanks to you, Paul, (and to Martin) for being willing to share such intimate aspects of your religious travels.
You are fires; glowing bright on the hill, reminding us that there is a way through dark places.
The lantern of Ely Cathedral is also quite nice to stare up into. Gothic cathedrals confirm the teaching of the Fathers that humanity is growing progressively more stupid and awful. And that said, I've been spending much of my free time reading books about Napoleon Bonaparte and his various campaigns; while I am quite happy he was eventually defeated, he certainly put the "art" into "art of war." I think that the great Russian novels of the 19th century were something of a response to Bonaparte - War and Peace, of course, in which he makes his first appearance on page 1, but also Dostoevsky; Crime and Punishment, most obviously, but also in the entire concept of the "man God" above history and morality. Which is, I guess, one of the points Hegel made when he heard the Emperor galloping through the streets of Jena. (And of course one must point out that Marshal Davout's victory over the Prussians at Auerstadt was the more brilliant victory of that campaign.) Abe Lincoln, of course, imagined himself as a sort of Napoleon (see his Lyceum speech) but then proved the dictum that everything happens twice: first as Tragedy (Napoleon) and then as farce (Lincoln). The farce further demonstrated by the Northern armies adopting the Grand Army title for themselves. Sorry, not so. And sorry, where is all of this going? That if the human personality unleashed by the "enlightenment" reached its apogee with Bonaparte, the subsequent decline has been extraordinarily rapid, particularly after 1945 when this unhappy world entered the "american century." One can hope and pray that this dismal period is coming to its end, and that right soon.
Up to my ears in technology trying to get to the point I can make the "spiritual" film I'd like to. Find myself wondering if the right thing to do might be to quit this filmmaking lark entirely and just privately live my own experiences and visions and insights rather than to engage/bore/pester/annoy this world with my movies. To engage people at all these days seems to draw one inexorably into the grip of the technium. Just watched a couple of Paul's recent videos on YouTube and you can sense he's dealing with a somewhat similar dilemma (ie "why am I on Zoom/YouTube warning against digital technology?")
Thinking further about a "tech-free" lifestyle I can anticipate how I'd still be chasing knowledge by haunting the local library and reading all the works I've never found time to. Even that would seem to draw me back to the world (worldview?) I'd meant to leave behind. An advantage someone like Wendell Berry has is he's simply too busy on his farm to have much time to be seduced/distracted by all the noise of the culture.
The devil finds work for idle hands to do. I suppose that's the advantage of retreating to deserts or caves or mountain hermitages: doesn't leave the devil much to work with in seeking to screw you up.
Beautiful, Paul! From my perspective, this may be a prime example of a genuine Christian alternative modernity.
Blended past, present, and future in and harmonious whole. As I think you suggest. I think Terrence Malick's work in film does the same and Van Gogh. I wonder what are some other examples that bear this mark?
I also see it in the light of David Fagerberg's work on 'consecrating the world'. Which I think you will appreciate.
This consecration takes place after the ascetical groundwork clears away the dross. Fr. Schmemann's 'liturgy beyond liturgy'. Where the world is understood as sacramental & transfigured, now in part and fully in the new heaven and new earth.
I think Gaudi's work speaks to that.
This essay brings to mind a quote from the Foreword of "The In-Between: Evolution in Christian Faith" (as quoted by the authors in "Rediscovering the Lost Body-Connection Within Christian Spirituality"):
"Is not our attempt to fashion the secular city but a projection of what we struggle to create within ourselves? And if a particular expression of God has died, is it not because we have outgrown something within ourselves which needed the support of a certain historically conditioned image of the deity; an image which now no longer speaks to the new way in which we are finding ourselves?"
Rediscovering is a bit 'hippy-dippy' but the foundational premise of focusing one's attention on a body-felt-sense (a la' Gendlin, neither meta-cognitive nor emotive) as a preliminary step in reclaiming our Lifeworld, our birthright, is supported by the writings of countless EO Church Fathers.
Perhaps it is part of The Way forward for our current culture of Christian 'divorcees'?
Some of the younger people I work with love brutalist architecture. I think it’s a reflection of their shallow, vapid, social media infested lives. Their only concept of beauty is to be found in Instagram thirst traps.
I just need to move to the woods and away from what passes as civilization in these United States.
As a cat, I walk by myself, and all places are alike to me.
Paul, I encourage people to go also to the Gothic cathedral in central Barcelona. They have excavations open to the public, directly under the foundations. You get there via a lift from a small museum in a side street. You walk around looking on the remains of the city of 200-300 AD.
There is a strange circular hole there. If I recall correctly, it's next to a tannery, so in a poor stinking part of town. There are spiral steps for a person to walk down into water. This is where Christians were being baptised, before even Constantine and the Milvian Bridge.
It was an utterly different experience from Sagrada Familia, and to me equally awe-inspiring.
(and I agree with everything you say about Sagrada Familia. If only Gaudi had survived to counter the Bauhaus and the Brutalists with his spiritual vision of Modernism)
Longtime reader, first time chimer-in-er. Paul thank you for your work, and for sharing your journey into the Orthodox Faith. I think you've mentioned this in passing, but maybe you've written about it elsewhere, and I haven't seen it: It sounds like, just before you began to investigate the Orthodox Faith, you had a series (?) of darker spiritual experiences that caused you to take a step back from Wiccan, etc. practices. Am I remembering that correctly? Have you written about that? I started as a pretty ordinary ordained Presbyterian minister, but through some strange experiences, pressed more deeply into Church Father and Mother resources and spiritual warfare stuff. Anyway. Thanks again!
Thank you for the wonderful image from the interior of the Sagrada Familia. I have almost the exact same image as the wallpaper on my computer.
I was in Barcelona with my son this last May (2022) just before we started our long walk on the Camino de Santiago. Although I had previously visited the Sagrada, on my visit this time I was struck by the two facades as I walked around the exterior of the basilica.
The northeast facade of the basilica is dedicated to the Nativity of christ, while made of stone it is flowing as if organic or fluid, no straight lines to be seen, it curves and bends, almost appearing to be alive, as if it was in motion. Just above the entrance, at the heart of the cascade, is the nativity scene, surrounded by natural elements of the cosmos with animals (roosters, sheep, tortoises and many more), plants, shepherds, angels and the holy family (Sagrada Familia = Sacred Family). It is transcendence captured in stone.
However, walk around the exterior to the southwest side of the building, and you are presented with the Passion facade, depicting the crucifixion of Christ. Contrary to the Nativity facade, it's hard, with straight lines and sharp angles. It features the crucifix at the centre with Christ, naked and suffering. Just below at the entrance is Christ being flogged by the Romans and Judas kissing Christ. Stylistic Roman centurions, vicious dogs, and onlookers all with long faces, deep cut eyes and obvious themes of suffering, ordeal and death.
I heard a guide explaining to a group that the different styles of the two facades was due to them being completed at different times, with the passion facade reflecting more modern styles. However I think they completely missed the point as the entire basilica faithfully followed Gaudi's original design. While both are produced from stone, the Nativity facade represents the incarnation, creation, natural, heavenly, and transcendence. Whereas the Passion facade is earthly, fallen and barren.
Passing beneath either of these grand entrances you enter into the interior nave of the basilica, which you rightly point out takes on the feel of a sacred forest of sequoias or perhaps red wood trees. It is truly a place where heaven and earth meet.
Gaudi was a genius, moved by the holy spirit. the Sagrada Familia is a very special place.
When our surroundings become uglier we care less for them. Hard to want to protect and defend a strip mall with gas stations. We lose hope and become depressed. Also true when we hear lies, political, medical, educational. Many of us are lost and despairing of justice.
I have visited this cathedral and found it amazing with its forest of pillars.