Saturday, August 18, 2012

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, August 19

Here is another article in the occasional series on our church windows. We now come to the last pair of windows on the left (near the choir loft) as you stand facing the altar. For a very long time this set of windows mystified me. On the left as you face the pair of windows you see some red and white designs, which have some brown, three-leafed twigs stuck in. At first I took these to be palm trees (probably influenced by the palm in the next window) on fire, but that made no sense. I have since come to recognize it as a representation of the burning bush from the Book of Exodus (Ex 3:2) “There the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses  as fire flaming out of a bush.  When he looked, although the bush was on fire, it was not being consumed.” The burning bush is a theophany (an appearance of God). There is an aspect of awe and fear in this appearance. “God said: Do not come near! Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. I am the God of your father,” he continued, “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” (vss 5-6). Finding a burning bush is pretty upsetting.

In the next panel we see a palm tree (one parishioner told me the palm branches look like marijuana leaves, but believe me, they are palm branches!) Flowing right in front of the palm tree is an undulating blue river. This I take to be the Garden of Eden. For people from a hot, dry desert country (not all that different than Central Texas before A/C!), shady palms and a cool river would certainly be paradise!

So these two taken together, the burning bush and the Garden of Eden, I take to be the window representing the Old Testament, or in more politically correct current terminology, the Hebrew Scriptures. We have these windows due to the generosity of “Mr. and Mrs. Sammie F. Joseph and Family” according to the plaque in the foyer.

Now I don’t know how you could encompass the entire O.T. in two window panels, but I think the artist has done a very nice job. Rudolph Otto was a very famous German theologian and philosopher about religion, and he described the experience of the divine as “mysterium tremendum et fascinans,” that is, a mystery at once both overwhelming and scary (tremendum) and at the same time alluring and compelling (fascinans). We see this contradictory combination in these two windows. The burning bush is a disturbing experience; Moses must remove his shoes for he is on holy ground. He must not come nearer or he will be overcome by its power. He is afraid to look at God and so hides his face. The experience of the divine induces trembling, fear and dread. On the other hand, the divine is the source of life, of fertility, of refreshment. The Garden of Eden in the companion window represents the fascinating, alluring, attractive aspect of the divine. It represents the life we all long for. As St. Augustine (not ours, the other one, of Hippo) said many centuries ago, “Our hearts are restless till they rest in You.

In pairing the burning bush and the Garden of Eden I think the artist nicely captured a wonderful aspect of the Old Testament: God who both is totally other and who is also intimate to us.  There is something to reflect on in this window. 

God bless!

No comments:

Post a Comment