By Deacon Charles Rohrbacher
The post-Impressionist artist Paul Cezanne forever changed how we look at art when he famously said: “Treat nature by the cylinder, the sphere, the cone, everything in proper perspective so that each side of an object or a plane is directed towards a central point.” His discernment that these three shapes underlie every form has changed how we see nature and make art. Hidden, as it were, in plain sight, suddenly the cylinder, sphere and cone became the organizing principle of modern art and the analysis of the composition of all that came before it.
I think it’s that way with the Gospel. Having encountered Jesus in his words, deeds and person, it is impossible to see the world the same way again. What was hidden in plain sight, that everything that is, that was, and that will be, is grounded in the love of God. Suddenly, everything that appeared obscure, chaotic and hopeless makes sense at the most profound level.
When I ponder the awesome power of love, God’s love and our participation in it, I recall this poem by the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam. It opens with these words:
Tautly swelling sails.
I’ve read the catalog of ships half-through.
Unable to sleep, the poet is hoping to get some relief from his insomnia by reading the catalog of ships from the Illiad. But as he imagines the ships of Greeks embarking for Troy, he asks:
Where do you sail to? If Helen were not there,
What would Troy mean for you, O warriors of Greece?
And he answers his question with the line that follows:
Homer. The sea.
All is moved by love.
I first read that verse over forty years ago, and I’m still astonished by it.
All is moved by love.
Love is the tide that moves through all of creation, through human history and each of us. We got it all wrong, of course, when we made it all about ourselves and put love at the service of our pride, lust, greed and selfishness.
When our troubled consciences and hardness of heart gives us no rest, Jesus invites us to read a new catalog of ships, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the pure of heart, blessed are the merciful, love your enemies, do good to those who have injured you.” Not to cure our insomnia, but to rouse us from our sleep.
That’s the way of Jesus, the way of repentance, forgiveness, mercy and the love that heals and restores what is broken, wounded and dead.
Sixteen years after being invited to write this monthly column for the Inside Passage, I’m retiring from the diocesan staff. I’ll continue as a deacon of our new Archdiocese and with my ministry as a hospice chaplain, but I hope to now have more time to spend in prayer, study and painting icons (and once the all-clear sounds), with my seven-month-old granddaughter Eralia and my family.
Its been a privilege to have you as a reader each month, a privilege I’ve never taken for granted. If something I have written has been helpful or encouraging, I’m grateful. If what I have written has offended you, please forgive me. Thank you and goodbye.
May God bless you!