The last trip home. Abandoned project #3

20476042_1511857472213856_3190391236551844638_n

Fouad rode his bicycle to the souk every day, except Friday, of course. Then, if he had to, he walked, carrying just the essentials of his trade. All week long he sold gold jewelry that he had made, but on Fridays he only did repairs, and then only by appointment. Otherwise he was at the mosque along with most of the town. Sure, there were some who went early in the morning and were done for the day, but not Fouad. He spent all day there.

He wasn’t especially virtuous or vile. He just liked being there, seeing the men in their best djellebas, hearing the drone of the chanted prayers. He’d be there every day, all day long if he could, but the only way to do that would be to get paid by the mosque, and this mosque didn’t pay anybody. The imam wasn’t hired in his town and the imam wasn’t even a particularly noted scholar. It was whoever the congregation decided upon for the month. It was always a man who was learned, for sure, and respected, someone who was comfortable leading the congregation in the prayers.

They all knew the words and the postures, sure, but it was important to have someone set the pace. A prayer service was a lot like a musical performance. Every musician knows his part, but still needs a rhythm, a framework to rely upon for all of them to work together. For a band, that was the drummer. For a mosque, that was the imam. The imam set the pace, and his demeanor determined the experience. Some were nervous and went too fast, others were more hesitant and self-conscious and waited too long between movements. The mark of a leader was to be decisive, even if the decision was sometimes wrong. You could always fix it later but you had to have something to work with. Fear of making any decision at all was death.

Fouad had no worries about ever being picked as the imam. He was liked but nobody ever would mistake him for a leader. He could barely keep his own house together. It looked held together with twine and hopes. Everybody knew that leaders had something extra. They had more than enough. People who were just barely getting by weren’t leaders.

And then one day this all changed. It had been raining for a week by that point, and the roads were all but impassable with a thick mud that grabbed at the ankles. Most of the townspeople stayed home the whole week. Either the mud was too much to negotiate with or they were bailing water out of their first floor. Friday found only three people at the mosque – Fouad, and two old men who lived just two houses away. The men went to the services there every day to get out from under their wives. They learned early on in their marriages that it was best to give a wife some space every day or the household didn’t work as smoothly as you might hope.

The two men were so old that they could barely speak above a whisper, and they couldn’t even remember the order of the Salat if asked to recite it. They had performed the ritual movement so often that their bodies remembered them more than their minds. They both chose Fouad to be the imam for the day, and he agreed because, well, somebody had to do it, and it would be rude to refuse the request of your elders.

His performance was flawless. Every bow, every recitation, every note was impeccable. He enacted the role as if he was born to it. The two old men could hardly believe it. This was Fouad? Fouad the goldsmith who never said a word unless absolutely necessary? He was an untapped treasure! He wasn’t a diamond in the rough – he was already cut and polished, ready to be shown to those with the most discriminating tastes. And here! In their little town! It would never be the same.

And it wasn’t. After much explaining to the rest of the congregation once the roads improved, it was decided that they had to ask him to be the imam for a week as a trial. They had just as difficult a time believing it was true as the two old men – and they had heard for themselves! A week would be plenty of time to discern the truth of things. Maybe the old men were mistaken? Maybe it was a fluke? But they had to know.

It took a lot longer to convince Fouad. He was quite shy by nature, and very modest. This is part of why he was a goldsmith. Per Islamic law, he was only allowed to charge by the weight of the gold and not his artistry. He never had to worry about overinflating his prices because of the time and effort involved, or of underselling out of modesty. Charging by the gold’s weight meant he was just a middleman, getting to play with the magical metal in the meantime. Imagine if the Western art world did this with paintings. A paint-spattered piece like a Jackson Pollock would cost the same as a Rembrandt.

Another reason Fouad was hesitant was that he’d have to take a week off from selling his wares at the souk. He had no other source of income, but he’d saved his dirhams over the years. Yes. He could take a week off. It would be good practice to not worry about money for a while. He was serving Allah, after all, so who was he to worry about money? If he was following a true calling, the money would sort itself out.

The elders of the community were skeptical until they saw it for themselves. Even then, they were sure there couldn’t be a repeat performance. Every day for a week they were surprised. They decided that they must make a way for this hidden treasure to be their imam for as long as he would allow. Even though they’d never paid an imam before, they knew they’d have to do something different now in order to keep him.

There wasn’t enough money to have an actual salary, per se, but there was a way to cover his basic needs. Fortunately Fouad was a man of simple needs. They selected a corner storeroom inside the mosque to be his new home, and every day grateful congregation members brought him his meals. And as for his bicycle? He no longer needed it, so he rode it to his old ramshackle home and left it on the front stoop for anyone to borrow if they needed. That walk to the mosque was the last one he’d ever have to do from that direction, so he savored the sights.

 

(This story came about because my friend Doug S. posted this picture on his Facebook page.  Another friend commented “That’s strangely beautiful” to which he replied “Yeah, it’s kind of like a picture of a story that you haven’t been told yet.”  I commented “Maybe I can help with that…”  And so I did.  I asked him to give it a name without seeing the story I’d written.  It was a good name, but I had to adjust the end of the story a little to make it fit.)

Advertisements

The blue door. Abandoned project #2

The door was locked. I expected nothing less. Every day for three months I’d tested this door, every day since I’d first noticed it. Why hadn’t I stepped down this alleyway before? What was it about that Tuesday in July that had made me take a different path? My walk to the university had been boring, predictable even, up until that day.

Had I even seen that alleyway before – really seen it? Certainly it had passed before my eyes, but just as certainly it had not passed before my mind.

A new path, once taken, changed the path-taker forever.

A part of me wanted to drink in every nook and cranny, every crease and crevice. I wanted it to stay new, stay fresh. I was wary of this new path becoming worn like my old one, so familiar and comfortable that I didn’t even see it anymore. Of becoming just a way to get somewhere, instead of a destination in and of itself.

But this door was different. I’d tested it unthinkingly that first afternoon because of the aromas wafting through the gaps created by a century of settling. I was certain it must be the gateway to the side courtyard of a restaurant. Only when the portal did not budge did I take the time to look for a sign on the wall. Finding none, I halted. If this was a home and not a restaurant, I should not persist.

The next day I chose to walk down that alleyway again, noticing even more than I had the day before. How much I had missed! Yet again I was drawn to this door. This time I could hear a child’s laughter and the sounds of a fountain. What treasures lay behind this ancient door? What Paradise was hidden just beyond these walls? To imagine that just a few inches of stone and stucco separated me from this treasure! A hand’s breadth away from the dirt and grime of this forgotten alley-street lay another world. I would have to check this door every day from now on until it yielded to me.

 

(The image is from Pinterest – copyright belongs to the photographer.)

Invisible street

This is a place that doesn’t exist. It could, and perhaps it was supposed to, but it doesn’t yet – exist. This is in Old Hickory – a suburb of Nashville, TN.

I first noticed it while on a walk. At the intersection of Jones and 9th, the road stops and there is nothing. Not a house, not a permanent structure. There’s a large fence, and you can see a garage top.  It is a gap.  It is not an empty lot.  Looking to the North-West.

o2

Here’s the end of the road seen from here, turning to your right if you were facing North. Looking East.

o3

So I looked online. It is amazing what patterns appear when you look at things from a different perspective.

Here’s Google maps – Street

map1

And Earth.

map2

Notice that there isn’t a single house between the “ends” of 9th. There are garages. The road could be continued.  Here’s a closer view –

map3

Notice that there is space behind the houses.  There are fences, but there is space between the fences, going vertically. The yards don’t butt up next to each other.  This creates an alleyway of sorts. This is true on all three vertical neighborhood blocks that you can see in the Earth picture. You can notice it somewhat on the Street picture, but it isn’t as pronounced.

Here is the end of the alleyway from 10th.  Looking North.

o1

And here it is from 8th.  Looking South.

o4

And here is the other side of the gap from Cleves, looking East.

o5

I wonder if neighborhood children see this empty space and take advantage of it to cut through behind the houses without being seen.  I also wonder if I’d get in trouble exploring here.  Probably.  So I explore virtually.

Mary in the Woods

On Friday morning while on retreat at St. Meinrad, I found one of the two grottoes with Mary that are on this campus. Both of these special places are hidden away in the woods, away from the church, not on the map.  They are nearly impossible to find unless you ask for directions from someone who has been there.

mary1

I’ve read that statues of Mary have been discovered in caves and in fields – and when they are removed and placed in churches, within a few days they have miraculously returned to where they were found.  It is as if Mary does not want to be in church, in a cold, lifeless building.  Mary is all about being among us, the commoners, where we are, as we are.

I find it significant that this image of Mary depicts her as if she is a non-Catholic at Mass.  This arm position says to the priest to give a blessing only – that this person cannot take Communion.  Following their rules – she could not take Communion because she was not Catholic.  She was Jewish.  But if it weren’t for her saying “Yes” to God – to letting the Holy Spirit of God work through her, Jesus would never have come into this world.  The Catholic Church could learn a lot from Mary.

mary2

The other grotto is quite far away.  You have to walk away from the seminary, the guest house, the church.  You have to walk by two small lakes and into the woods. I found it on Saturday.  This is the view looking back at the place where we stayed on retreat.  It is the closest building to this grotto, and also the furthest building from the church.  This is significant.

The actual grotto is another five minute’s walk from here.

mary8

There are no signs or path.  You’d never know that this was here until you are almost upon it.

mary3

Mary greets you with open arms.

mary4

mary5

Notice the detail – she is barefoot, and she is stepping on a snake with fruit in it’s mouth. This is the snake from the Garden of Eden, and that is the apple that Eve and Adam ate.  Mary is the antidote to that poison.  It is said that they brought original sin into the world with this act of rebellion against God.  Mary brought grace into the world by acting in accordance with the desires of God.

mary6

Someone had been here before me and left an offering of wildflowers for her.  They had faded and were musty.  We must daily refresh our faith and reconnect to the true Vine in order to remain alive in spirit.

mary7

Hidden nest

hidden nest 011516

Images that arose while creating this:
nest, telescope, Andy Goldsworthy’s nature art, revealed/hidden, interference, water drops in a pond, radio waves, Zen gardens, aboriginal paintings, Advent calendars.

Materials:
Pages from F.C. Happold’s “Mysticism” book (bought at UTC bookstore at least 20 years ago)
Distress Ink – tumbled glass, antique linen, brushed corduroy, rusty hinge
“You are here” stamp
Dr. P.H. Martin’s Bombay sepia ink
White “gelly roll” pen

Tools:
matte medium, sponge brush, paint brush, glue stick, Strathmore 9×12 visual journal

“The Tao that can be spoken is not the true Tao”
– you can never reveal Truth through words (or even art)

I glued down the pieces of the pages from the “Mysticism” book – all about a direct experience of God. How funny that you can’t talk about it, but this author certainly tried in many pages. After gluing down the pages, I inked over them. I let it dry and noticed later that some of the pages had overlapped – I’d not put matte medium on top of the pages, just on the journal paper. Thus, some of the edges could be lifted up to reveal the un-inked words underneath. How awesome to the theme that they happened to include
Truth
God, dwelling

Which is what mysticism is about, and this artwork. It was positive feedback that I was on the right path.

I inked the three poems that spoke about mysticism (included in the pages I’d torn out of the book) with a pale blue to indicate robin’s eggs. They are the eggs in the nest. They are the fruit of the tree. They will mature and fly away, spreading the truth.

Yet the nest is not filled in – there is a big hole in the middle. This is where you find yourself.

I dripped the ink on, but then used a brush to wick some up. It made excellent patterns and colors (very subtle) in the bottom right. I’ll try to replicate that later on another piece. Some blots I left solid to dry. They became “rocks” in the Zen garden, so I used a white pen to draw the waves around them. They too obscure the words, but yet reveal more in their obscuring than the words do in their revelation.