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Icons?

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Typology is a seldom used word; it’s related to symbolism. In our computer dominated world, software engineers, understanding typology, have developed little symbols that indicate where to click for new pages on the Internet. Many times a day we use use those symbols, called icons,  to tap into additional, but related information. That’s typology. Our modern geeks adapted the concept from ancient Christian icons.

The seemingly static Russian or Byzantine icons are human attempts to express heavenly realities through art. The typology that permeates them suggests that the subject of the icon relates to, illustrates, or expands on similar ineffable concepts. Contemplating Christian icons can open up new ideas to consider just as clicking on the computer icon opens up a new page.

I didn’t always understand this. In fact, looking at icons used to bother me. They were so stilted and disproportional that it irritated me to view them, except in passing. I thought they bordered on ugly and never imagined that I would ever                                                                  buy one for my own house.

Then one day, a friend of mine from Lebanon explained that the iconographers used color and symbols to paint a picture of spiritual reality.  As an amateur photographer, I understood that concept. All photographers know that the human being is more than that physical body in front of them. No, the real person is inside, animating the body and the photographer hopes to capture the essence of that real person through facial expression, body language, clothing, lighting, back drops, etc. One can not photograph personality, but one hopes to suggest it in the photo.

In a similar way, the iconographer uses color as one method to achieve his goal of expressing the divine in a painting. Color suggests certain broad concepts:

  • Red indicates life, vitality, beauty
  • Blue indicates heaven and mystery
  • Gold indicates sanctity, splendor, the glory of God, life in the heavenly kingdom
  • Purple indicates wealth, power, authority
  • Green indicates youth, fertility, or vegetation
  • White indicates purity, the divine world, innocence

In order to transcend the earthly concepts of time and space, the icon is always static, showing no movement, suggesting eternity to the viewer. Mouths are always closed to encourage silence. The hands often hold a symbolic object.

One should contemplate icons, not just glance at them. Through meditation  of these symbols, one enters into that new transcendent reality far beyond one’s current situation.

I found the icon above of Christ the Teacher especially appealing, perhaps because I was a teacher. His right hand is raised in blessing; his left hand holds the open New Testament. His clothes are red and blue, overlaid with gold. to indicate his divine, yet human nature. I haven’t progressed to the point of praying with icons, as many do, but I hope that this one always reminds me that each one of us should function as both teacher and student all of our lives.

Copyright 2017 by Kaye Fairweather

Once There Was Beauty

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Once upon a time beauty bloomed inside Effie’s mind as she planned the best design for the edging that would trim the sheets and pillowcases needed to complete her dowry. She often hurried to finish the farm chores to allow time to complete a few extra inches of lace before bedtime.  After each harvest, she eagerly counted out her coins, hoping on the next trip to town to buy more linen to make hand towels and napkins to monogram during the winter.

All was finished and packed away in a separate wooden trunk by the time she climbed into the family’s wagon to be driven to Simmons College for her teaching degree. When things got tough at school, she comforted herself with daydreams about using the beautiful things carefully folded and waiting in her hope chest. After graduation, she moved to the territory of New Mexico to start her new life as a single woman teaching school in what became Lea County. Every month, she bought a few pieces of  delicate, hand painted fine china to add to her dowry. And she kept it all under lock and key for safety’s sake.

After she married, they decided to build only a very small frame house to live in temporarily because they were living as simply as possible while getting the sheep ranch and small farm started. All of these precious linens and good china would be used in the new house – the real house they would build after proving the claim and after they had more money.  But right now, they were just getting by.

Especially with growing children though, every year the nice house seemed to be further and further down the road. Occasionally Effie would open the trunk to look again at the lovely things they would use some day and show them to her three girls, provided they washed their hands before touching any of the treasures. Their big eyes drank in the glory of delicate hand painted tea cups and they begged to use them right now – today.

But cautious Effie always said,  “No, not until we build the new house; these things are just too nice to use here. But then, we’ll use them every day and especially when we have company come over for dinner.”

But one Sunday, when the oldest girl was eight and the youngest a toddler, before the new house was built,  they returned home after church to a smoldering  pile of ashes. No one knows how the fire started or even when. They were grateful that the wind had not spread it to the corrals, so none of the livestock was lost. The windmill was still pumping water from under the ground, but no one had been there to use it to put out the fire.

Of course none of them had ever gotten to use the beautiful things that had been made with such generosity and such anticipation of the delight of sharing beauty with the people you love most of all.

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Share whatever beautiful things you have with everyone you love while both are still with you. Each of us needs all the beauty we can get from mundane tools neatly arranged to a marvelous view of our own back yard to a table set neatly in a quiet house to encourage conversation during the shared meal. Thus we build real memories instead of trying to live in air castles.

Copyright 2017 by Kaye Fairweather

Greek Philosophers on The Value of Music

 

It’s obvious to all that music is influential:
* Who hasn’t wept at the strains of “Danny Boy” or “Taps?”
* Brass bands playing marches energize every audience.
* “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” has stirred people to action since 1861.
* “The Star Spangled Banner” rouses even tepid Americans as they recall the men who voluntarily gave up their lives to hold the flag a loft all during the night battle to convince the British fleet that “our flag was still there” despite hours of targeted shelling.
* New Orleans jazz evokes the bitter-sweet aspects of everyone’s life.
* Since radios became popular, each generation of young adults has fallen in love with the kind assistance of “Moon Glow,” “In the Mood,” “Wonderful Tonight,” “She’s Always A Woman to Me,” or “Thinking Out Loud.”

Five to seven hundred years after David used music to calm King Saul’s fits of insanity , the Greek philosophers opined that music education was necessary for young students in order to train them to control and direct their passions in order to live worthy lives.

A recent paper* by Dr. Thomas R. Lawson of St. Anselm College in New Hampshire illustrates their ideas: “Socrates claims that a good musical formation “tunes” a man, so to speak, so things that are truly good (as judged by reason), cause him sensual delight, whereas bad things (again, as judged by reason) cause him pain, disgust, or some other appropriate negative emotional or visceral response:
      “Furthermore, it is sovereign because the man properly reared on rhythm and harmony would have the sharpest sense for what’s been left out and what isn’t a fine product of craft or   what isn’t a fine product of nature. And, due to his having the right kind of dislikes, he would praise the fine things; and, taking pleasure in them and receiving them into his soul, he would be reared on them and become a gentleman. He would blame and hate the ugly in the right way while he’s still young, before he’s able to grasp reasonable speech.”

So, 2500 years ago, the Greeks considered music education as a method of instilling moral values and helping their children develop into the best version of themselves. Our advances in technology have made music readily available to almost every one, not just the wealthy. Following Socrates’ and Plato’s lead, today earnest young parents play classical music recordings to their babies while still in the womb, but the idea is the same.

*http://www.anselm.edu/Documents/Institute%20for%20Saint%20Anselm%20Studies/Spring%202016/Man_Music_Catholic%20Culture.pdf

© Copyright by Kaye Fairweather 2017

Are War Movies Beautiful?

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While re-creating the fear and uncertainty that the English and French forces faced during the 1940 Dunkirk rescue, hardly elicits cries of “beautiful movie,” there is something admirable in the 2017 hit, Dunkirk. It’s not beauty of form so much as it is beauty of attitude portrayed by most of the men involved.

After 77 years, very few adults today even remember the story and fewer still have read about it. Dunkirk represented a severe loss for allied troops; thus even the World War II historians appear to have forgotten to mention it.

For those of us with fond memories of the grandfathers, fathers, and uncles who were members of The Greatest Generation, the movie reestablishes their “can-do” attitude as a beacon of light for us and for our children. Few men relished either the war or the Dunkirk project, but soldier and civilian alike performed diligently anyway – simply because it needed to be done. Would that we all will aspire to their example of selflessness.

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Since I saw the movie, I’ve read a couple of reviews about all that it left out. Frankly, I disagree. It was, after all, a world war involving many countries, many notables, many armies, navies, and air forces, and many, many stories of valor, as well as cowardice. I think they were wise to concentrate on only one thing – survival and rescue in June 1940. If I had the money to back a movie, I’d concentrate on the civilians who used their fishing boats to liberate over 300,000 men in a few days. And then there are all the other battles and other leaders who still have not been covered adequately either in book or movie.

I will say that at times during the movie, I wished for a flow chart or something to keep up with characters who kept appearing in different scenes. I don’t know if that is my own deficiency or if it were planned that way to make viewers want to see it again. I do want to see it again in a few weeks because I’m sure that I’ll get even more out of it the second time around.

In the meantime, I will read the book upon which it is based: Dunkirk by Joshua Levine. As I’ve said for years, “The book is always better.”