Thinking of Pentecost: to Restore and Observe Once More

There are four Sundays to go before we reach Pentecost Sunday. This marks the end of the Easter season and I am thinking of the fire, light and air that are symbolic of the Holy Spirit.

I have a strong visual sense and I always look for an image to help me along in my reflections and this remarkable series of paintings by a young artist called Randall Stotzfus stirs my soul. 

There is something so subtle about these luminous paintings of visionary landscapes…for me Pentecost is about asking God for the gift of vision, to be enlightened, to see through the dim recesses of my soul, to see through into the light in wonder and awe, to breathe deeply in the Spirit of God.
The link to his full portfolio is here and  the one below is called Pentecost - but there are many others in his collection that could also fit the theme of Pentecost. The small version here does not do justice to the original
 but by going to his site you can click on the paintings and get them in their full size- much better.
Here is also a link to some background on the artist and gives insight into his faith as a Mennonite which is well worth a read too.
There are no visible figures in his works, although if one looks at the images long enough, strange faces and ghostly apparitions emerge. 

Indeed this is the magic of his art. The name of his website,, suggests his intention to slow down vision, recalling Andre Gide’s advice to his readers “Do not understand me too quickly.”
What a wonderful phrase : 
"to slow down vision."
I shall try and do that for the next few days  -and let my Celtic imagination sit with what God brings me.

The Portuguese writer Jose Saramago says in the epigraph to his novel, Blindness:
"If you can see, look.
If you can look, observe."

In  Portuguese the word observe means to repair/restore/compensate/admit/notice/criticize and in Saramago's Notebook that I am reading at the moment he has this to say :

"It is possible to see without looking at anything; and it is possible to look without observing, depending on the degree of attention we afford to each stage of the process.

We are all familiar with the way a person will look at his watch and then, if someone asks him the time no more than a second later, has to consult it all over again. 
When I was a child, the words to observe, (or to restore, as in sight) meant little to me. Then one day one of my uncles called my attention to the particular way bulls always had, of holding their heads up. 
My uncle used to tell me, " He sees you, and when he has seen you, he looks at you, and this time there's something different about it: he observes you."
My own understanding of this can be related by describing my experience some years ago as an undergraduate studying for my degree in Medical Microbiology. Not surprisingly we spent a fair amount of time looking down microscopes and it always took several minutes to adjust my eyes to the tiny scale of microbial life. 

For the first few minutes I was seeing, then as my eyes adjusted I began to look and finally after a few more minutes I really was able to observe

This is a skill that has to be learnt. It takes a lot of time and patience but once acquired the end result was for me a revelation.
I vividly remember the huge impact this had on me, not just as a scientist in a material sense of grasping what was there but on an emotional and even spiritual level .

Later on, as a  lecturer, I was able to see (and observe !!) the same excited  response , that A Ha !,  moment  in my students when for the first time they actually got it !!

Once I began to really observe the boundaries between myself and the microbial life began to dissolve and it was as if I had crossed a threshold and  merged into their environment. 
It was precisely at that point that I was awestruck by the immense aesthetic beauty of the world beneath my eyes.

( Yet, my emotional and spiritual reponse is another whole  story: for it says in The Little Prince " It is only with the heart that once can see clearly: what is essential is invisible to the eye !! )

 So it is with my approach to learning about God through prayer and reflection . 
 First I have to give it time and by that I mean really slow down ; then and only then can I cross that boundary between myself and God and then I can look at God. 
Then I can observe God and with that my heart can be opened,  my separateness, my isolation and longing for wholeness can be restored and all my criticisms and questions can be admitted and noticed !!

Presumably God as God does not have this problem as God being God is always seeing, always looking at me , always observing me.

So that's what I am going to try and spend some time on these next few weeks.

I need to practice looking and not just seeing and  also observing God  !! 

Wish me luck and if you try it yourself let me know how you get on and we can compare notes !!

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

1 comment:

claire said...

What a beautiful, beautiful post, Phil! What a gift this is... Thanking you does not seem enough.
Seeing, looking and observing... How wonderful it must be to dissolve into what you see...

love, claire