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Showing posts from August, 2009

Descartes' False Positive

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"Nothing could be more alien to contemplation than the cogito ergo sum of Descartes. 'I think, therefore I am.' This is the declaration of an alienated being, in exile from his own spiritual depths, compelled to seek some comfort in a proof for his own existence (!) based on the observation that he 'thinks.' If his thought is necessary as a medium through which he arrives at the concept of his existence, then he is in fact only moving further away from his true being. He is reducing himself to a concept. He is making it impossible for himself to experience, directly and immediately, the mystery of his own being. At the same time, by also reducing God to a concept, he makes it impossible for himself to have any intuition of the divine reality which is inexpressible. He arrives at his own being as if it were an objective reality, that is to say he strives to become aware of himself as he would of some 'thing' alien to himself. And he proves that the …

I Spy Santa Fe

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(click to enlarge--you may need to!)
I spy...
One bug, five crowns, six cloudy skies, Six elephants with trunks raised high.
Three gods, four bears, six hearts, eight books, And waters twain for those who look.
One lofty badge names Jacob’s wife, While thirteen crosses bring new life.
Our Ladies number twenty-one And once they’re counted you are done.*
*For extra credit you may find A few more things of the same kind.
--With thanks to my son for help with the poem
[Posted, in haste, from the Albuquerque airport!]

Seven Quick Takes No. 6

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The "quick takes" fest continues over at Conversion Diary.

1. Yesterday my son and I "discovered" San Miguel Mission, the oldest church in continuous use in the United States. Well, at least it is the oldest in the territories now included in the United States, but of course it was founded long before the "United States" ever existed. Today it is a mission church without a parish, but it has stood on this site since 1610, despite having to be rebuilt and repaired more than once over the centuries. As if its sheer antiquity were not enough, it is even said (at least, according to the guidebook at the church) to be haunted by a wide variety of spirits. Visitors over the years report seeing a woman in white kneeling in tears at foot of the altar, a tall priest dressed in a black cassock, six Indians walking together across the front of the chapel, and several children running up and down the aisle, laughing and singing "with delight as only children…

Q&A: Spirit Quest IV

Hypothesis: Some artifacts provoke in their viewers a strong devotional or religious response whether this is the artist’s original intention or not. Sometimes these artifacts are especially well-crafted, but not necessarily; they may even be mass-produced or machine-made. It is therefore arguable whether it is the object itself or the person or things depicted in or by the object to which viewers respond, although in most cases it would seem to be some combination of the two. Significantly, however, such a response does not seem to depend on the location or setting in which the objects are encountered. They may be in a shop, out in the open, in a shrine, or in a museum. Regardless, it is possible for viewers to be struck by a sense of devotion or awe, at which point viewers tend to do (or want to do) a number of things. They may want to buy the objects and take them home; they may want to touch them or ornament them in some way; they may want to give them things, like food or…

The Shrine of the Virgin Minis

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Q&A: Spirit Quest III

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I'm beginning to suspect that we worry far too much about the way in which devotional artifacts are displayed. Or, rather, that we are mistaking our concern for the way in which they are displayed for our own anxieties about our ability to respond to them. "Oh," we say to ourselves,"if only I had encountered that statue in a properly religious setting, then I would have felt something." As if to say, "It's not my fault I was left cold."

The other day, my son and I were visiting the Lady Chapel here at the Cathedral in Santa Fe where the oldest statute of the Virgin Mary in the United States to whom a continuous devotion has been offered resides. The statue, carved of willow-wood most probably in Spain, is believed to have been brought from Mexico City to Santa Fe in 1625 by the Franciscan Alonso de Benavides. It--or, rather, she--is best-known as "La Conquistadora" ("Our Lady of the Conquest"), but over the centuries she has al…

Top 10 Reasons (Not) to Get a Dog

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10. They remind you of your childhood.

9. They protect you and your home by barking at strangers.
8. They attract attention from strangers who then want to talk with you.
7. They are nice to pet.
6. They take up space in the home with their toys and furniture.
5. They give structure to your life because they are your responsibility.
4. Once adopted, they stay with you until death (yours or theirs).
3. They are like 3-year-old humans, always curious, always wanting to play.
2. They need regular walks.
1. They are always happy to see you when you get home.

Art Fair FAIL

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It sucks being a groupie.

For years now, I have admired Randy Chitto's sculptural pottery. My mother collected a few of his pieces in the early 1990s and I remember well the first time I saw them at her home. Their mouths were so cute and yet they had such great power. Warrior turtle! Singing turtle! And the best thing about them? All the little turtles sitting on the big turtle's arms and legs and backs, listening to the stories that their elders told. Immediately, I wanted one.

When I finished my graduate degree (1994), I wanted to get something special for my teacher, and it occurred to me that one of the story-telling turtles was just the thing. I'll never forget her face when she first saw it or how quickly she understood the significance of all the little ones: "There I am, with all of my students!," she exclaimed. And when my first graduate student to finish her degree with me was getting married (2006), again, I knew that I had to get her one of Ch…

Seven Quick Takes No. 5

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For more "quick takes," visit our host Jennifer at Conversion Diary.

1. I need a tin foil hat. The inspirons are sleeting down faster than I know what to do with this week. It must be the thinner atmosphere up here in the mountains. Come to think of it, maybe that's why so many artists like living here: it's easier to come up with ideas about what to make or to write. On the other hand, it could get fairly exhausting, one's mind being constantly thrown open to the universe. Perhaps people make cities in order to protect themselves from God's influence: they need the noise and bustle and stress and day-to-day competition with other human beings in order not to go crazy. Or maybe cities grow up in places that are even more bombarded by inspirons and in actual fact there are fewer to be intercepted out here in the countryside, there's just less competition. It's a little bit like looking for signs, I suppose: how do you know when God is speaking t…

Q&A: Spirit Quest II

Still working on Badger's question.

It occurs to me that there are a number of ways in which we (might) expect spiritual (sacred, devotional, religious) artifacts to act upon us as objects that are independent of their context, whether we encounter them in an explicitly "spiritual" space (e.g. a church) or in a museum:

1) As themselves objects of intrinsic power. Think Indiana Jones and the Ark of the Covenant: no matter where the Ark was, whether in a temple or a tent, it was filled with the power of God. Put it in a museum and study it, it's still dangerous. Likewise, the many statues of the Virgin Mary believed to have been the source of miracles: these objects declare themselves to the world; they do not require interpretation (at least, not to be recognized as powerful). Theoretically, one should be affected simply by being in their presence, whatever one's religious beliefs.

2) As sensory stimuli provoking reactions of pleasure or disgust. Religious obje…

WWJD*

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*What would Jesus drive? License "never expires."

Photo credit: JP Brown (a.k.a. my husband).

Land of Enchantment

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Is there such a thing as a spiritual landscape? It seems wrong somehow to suppose that God manifests Himself more fully in one place than another. The whole earth is His creation, after all. Why should one place feel more sacred, more suffused with spiritual energy than another? And yet, there is something that you can feel here in New Mexico as soon as the airplane lands. Is it the quality of the light? The low relative humidity of the air? The vision of mountains in the distance, encircling the land like the arms of a god?

My parents and I moved to Albuquerque when I was only a few months old. My sister and brother were both born here and we lived in Albuquerque until I was five, returning for a year when I was seven. I spent third grade* at the foot of Sandia Mountain looking for castles along its top ridge. Even today, so many decades later, I can't look at a landscape without mountains and not feel that it is missing something essential. Coming back to New Mexico al…

What I Did in My Year Off

The foundation whose fellowship has funded (in part) my leave this past academic year has asked me to write a couple of pages about how the year has gone. What can I say? It's been quite a journey.

I spent August in Europe, first two weeks in London working at the British Library looking at manuscripts of some of the earliest books of Hours as well as other early manuscript witnesses to the hours of the Virgin; then two weeks in Belgium looking at fifteenth-century devotional paintings in which people are depicted using books of Hours, visiting some of the towns where books of Hours were made and as many of the churches as possible in which people prayed their books of Hours.

I spent September reading around in the scholarly literature on late medieval devotion (Huizinga, Bossy, Oberman, Duffy, Ozment, Van Engen) and October reading about the history of books of Hours more specifically, particularly the literature on book production and on the devotional responses to the images co…

Q&A: Spirit Quest

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My friend Badger (who is also a museum professional as well as a fencer) has asked me to write something about the experience of looking at devotional art in museums. In her words:

"One of my favorite museum provocateurs has made a list of things that museums, unfortunately, seem to feel they cannot do, to wit, be: sexy, funny, subjective, wrong. As we have talked about this list with others, one addition has been 'explicitly religious.' With rare exceptions, even 'religious' museums (e.g. museums of Judaica) tend to be about the history of objects, or facts about ritual. Rarely do they engage in any emotional content regarding faith, or worship.

"Museums contain some of the most compelling religious artistic and ritual objects ever created. Whether it is Russian icons, reliquaries, or illuminated devotional manuscripts, they often display works whose primary meaning was originally about faith. But they seem profoundly uncomfortable presenting the material in…

Thoughts on the Fly

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I'm here in the airport with (glory be!) free Wi-Fi. I'm supposed to be blogging, right? After all, that's why I have a laptop. It's what laptops are for: to make sure that we are never far from our keyboards. Always connected. Able to keep working no matter how much we move around. Best irony of the day thus far: I figured out the outline for chapter 3 (praise be!) just as the plane on the first leg of our journey was preparing to land. I have a notebook, of course--that is, a real, paper Moleskin notebook--for jotting down ideas, so even though I couldn't connect to the Internet at that point I was still able to write (physically, that is). But oddly enough, when I tried writing a draft of a blog on the plane (in Word, not on-line), nothing would come. Do I then need to be connected in order to think? Scary image, thanks to Finder: Emma Grosvenor with her memory wires all hooked up to the recording jack in the Pasttimes Museum (not exactly the name, but…

Our Lady of the Refrigerator

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Exaltata est, sancta Dei Genitrix, super choros angelorum ad caelestia regna;

Maria virgo caelos ascendit: Gaudete, quia cum Christo regnat in aeternum.

Antiphon for the Feast of the Assumption

Seven Quick Takes No. 4

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Thanks, as always, to Jennifer for hosting our "takes."

1. Have you ever wondered why it is that people speak in such hushed and reverent voices when they're at a bank? I used to think that it was out of awe at the presence of money (always a seductive idol), but when I was visiting my bank earlier this week to deposit a fairly large check, I started thinking maybe it's because everyone is so worried about making mistakes. Things need to stay quiet and calm lest the person doing the calculations or signing the papers misses something, e.g. drops a zero, neglects to read the fine print about the interest rates. Hushed and calm, after all, is much preferable to angry and loud, as, for example, one might be after one's bank lost a deposit or made a mistake in the balance on one's account. If only we had the same sense of terror at making mistakes before God.

2. Which brings me to my second quick thought: why is it that Westerners who say they dislike the ide…