I mentioned that a couple of weeks ago the St John’s public lecture was about questioning, and while I do still find that Johnnies are already among the most likely people to take questioning a touch too far, it is sometimes helpful, in formulating a question, to remember that that is precisely the first step: to find the right question, and that can be quite as much work as finding the answer — sometimes more.
In respect to my last post, it may be worth asking a little more clearly: what question is at issue there? Is it a personal of a general question? If the former, could I find a way that it might be helpful to others as well? It is a rabbit trail in respect to the books I’m supposed to be reading, and will probably not be of any help on the tests, but that’s four months away, and this is more interesting at present.
Perhaps my question in this case is about how there can be such an obvious divergence between the significance of an object or place as a site where grace is and has been more strongly manifest through the prayers and holiness of those dwelling there (or, with icons, of the person depicted therein), and one’s actual, concrete encounter with that place or object — and about how that divergence, even if it’s fairly consistent in one’s own life, can always come as something of a surprise, because it’s not often remarked upon, or not in a way that one has been able to absorb, by people one admires.
As a starting point: people have different ways of receiving and processing all the experience that comes at us more or less constantly. Some people tend to feel very connected to places and things, and others not so much. Anyone can probably work at being more connected and observant if they consider it valuable enough. In my own case, to the extent that I respond to places, it’s not usually grand, civilized places. It’s not even necessarily wild, beautiful wild places. It tends to be a patch of grass, a mesquite tree, a bit of sunlight on a particular shrub, a spotted insect, a cloud. In liturgics, I sometimes find a phrase that seems especially beautiful — in reading the first three books of the Bible a few years ago, there were maybe two phrases that really stood out as beautiful, and I could hardly remember the rest beyond what I already knew of the stories in general.
Perhaps my question is also something like: what if I put aside for a while (especially since I’m not world-traveling at present) the message that we ought to feel a certain way in respect to important places, churches, relics, icons, and so on, and instead consider places where I have encountered joy and something numinous, even if it isn’t so impressive?
Since I went on at length about places I did not encounter the Kingdom-ness Fr Alexander was referring to, it seemed fair that I should also mention places I have encountered at least the edges of it. Holy Cross mission in Flagstaff, where I was baptized; Holy Trinity church, where I am not; the church of St Ilian in Homs, Syria; the village of Nikozi, Georgia; a little women’s monastery in southern Syria where they mostly pray and grow vegetables; an abandoned, unknown church carved into a rock in Cappadocia; and a lot of glowing non-church silences.