Morse Peckham, author of Man’s Rage for Chaos, believed “Order is humanity’s freedom; but the rage for order creates its own limits on that freedom.” Art, he maintained, enabled the artist to fight that rage, which destroys what it would create. Only the rage for chaos can balance the rage for order.
As one who was born under the Aries sun, with an Aries moon, and a Virgo rising sign, I fully understand this rage for chaos and order within my own body. I somehow always have fifty-eleven projects and and even more ideas I’d like to accomplish, but I too have the same limits as all other people: we all have only 24 hours on any given day. Some of these moments must be given to the life giving nurture of the body, which carries our great mind and imagination and the hands which do our good works. Some days the balance scales of Virgo call my chaos into order, while on others my Aries excitement causes the balance to quaver. This tension shows up in my work.
I mention my astrological signs, for once in ages past, people believed the stars ruled their lives. The heroes ascended into the stars—Sagittarius, the archer, while other constellations were named for animals or the humans who were turned into animals, such as bears and swans. Some got their names for resembling objects—the dippers, while others were named for legendary persons—Cassiopeia’s chair and Orion’s Belt come to mind. In the time of dark skies, our ancestors could pick out these sky patterns with ease. Light pollution in our cities makes these shapes harder to discern every year. Our national parks may be the only places our city dwelling future generations will be able to see the night sky in all its glory.
The Ancient Greeks believed the gods ruled their fates. The writer Pausanius listed the many shrines to the deities in Athens, including “in the Athenian market-place among the objects not generally known is an altar to Mercy, of all divinities the most useful in the life of mortals and in the vicissitudes of fortune, but honored by the Athenians alone among the Greeks. And they are conspicuous not only for their humanity but also for their devotion to religion. They have an altar to Shamefastness, one to Rumour and one to Effort. It is quite obvious that those who excel in piety are correspondingly rewarded by good fortune.”
The apostle Paul even noted the Athenians had a temple to an “unknown god,” just in case they didn’t cover their bases with offerings to all the other deities (Acts 17:23). Yet, you already know him, he said, for
“The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.” — Acts 17:24-25
Our creation story in Genesis 1:1-2 begins with familiar words:
“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”
Milton addressed the same Spirit of God, which was at creation, in his epic poem, Paradise Lost:
“And chiefly Thou O Spirit, that dost prefer Before all Temples th’ upright heart and pure, Instruct me, for Thou know’st; Thou from the first Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread. and with mighty wings outspread. Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss And mad’st it pregnant.”
God is always creating order out of nothingness, but human beings have a tendency to create disorder wherever they go. We aren’t God, or even “as gods,” as the first humans hoped to be in the garden when they ate that fateful fruit. Even knowing “good from evil” doesn’t seem to keep us from our propensity to engage in chaos. I don’t live in a messy home, but because I put away some of my projects when I lose interest, I can forget where I “hid them.” I know what they look like, I can find others like them, but I might need several days to find the intended object of my desire. I’ll put all of these in ONE PLACE when I’m done with them. This will guarantee I’ll lose them all at once the next time I go looking for them!
In art class, we began our projects by thinking about the contrast of order and chaos. The emotional experience of the disruption chaos brings to our sense of order can change our perception of our position in the world. When Frank Hinder was serving in World War II, his bomber was shot down. As part of his therapy, he painted his memory of that occasion. That chaos in his life got channeled into a painting, for art allows us a safe haven in which we can experience cognitive dissonance.
Most of us wouldn’t willingly chose to experience such an event first hand, but we can imagine it in art, poetry, music, or fiction. This is why we exercise our creative freedom. Dealing with raw emotions in paint or other media is better than stuffing them inside, from where they can fester and harm us, or worse, break out and inflict terrible wounds upon others. We seek to center our emotions and focus our energies in a more balanced, positive manner, much like the renaissance genius, Leonardo da Vinci.
Lauralei is finishing up a drawing and is going to work the famous Leonardo Virtuvian Man into it somehow. I can hardly wait to see this. Virtuvian Man is a classic Renaissance image of order: Leonardo saw the great picture chart of the human body he had produced through his anatomical drawings and his Vitruvian Man drawing as a cosmografia del minor mondo (cosmography of the microcosm). He believed the workings of the human body were an analogy for the workings of the universe. That’s seeing order in the many details.
Mike has been called away from class the past two weeks to take care of courthouse business. He has a 9/11 work in mind, if the judge ever lets him go. He has many images in his mind, so simplifying the many into a few might help him get his ideas out of his head and onto the canvas. He’s got business to attend to, however, so all things will come about in God’s good time.
Gail chose the first day of creation as her inspiration. The tiny words are photocopies from a child’s Bible, which are plucked from the first chapter of Genesis. They read more as white directional or linear strokes than actual words, but I have a major cataract in my right eye, and my judgment on readability is suspect at the moment. Others may be able to see the words better than I. She used a sponge on this canvas, a new technique for her. She also wants to use gold leaf flakes to finish it out, so she may yet have another step to it.
This small square painting began from an image of an old Jerusalem map with the surrounding walls of the city. This site was destroyed numerous times over the centuries, notably in 587 BCE by the Babylonians, in 70 CE by the Romans, while the walls were destroyed by the Muslim Calif in 1250 CE, but Suliman the Magnificent rebuilt them in 1538-1541 CE. In addition to the sacks of war, earthwakes and other disasters have rendered the era of Christ to the deep basements, which are only accessed today by descending narrow, spiral staircases. The era of the prophets of the Babylonian Exile are deeper yet. The famous Western Wall of the Herodian Temple, rebuilt after Solomon’s Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, is only the upper third of the structure.
The people of Israel believed God’s favor rested upon them because of their proximity to God’s Temple. The prophets were quick to remind them, “They were to be holy, as God is holy,” for the Temple wasn’t a magic token like a rabbit’s foot. The book of Joel probably was written in the post exile period, around 350 BCE, but could be as early as 650 BCE, due to its description of an eclipse. The prophet reminds the people:
“So you shall know that I, the LORD your God, dwell in Zion, my holy mountain. And Jerusalem shall be holy, and strangers shall never again pass through it.” (Joel 3:17)
When the king and his court, the learned priests, all the educated tradespeople, and anyone who had any skill or knowledge was taken into slavery far distant from the sacred land where they worshipped their tribal god, the people had to wonder if God was still their god in this foreign land. Would God hear their prayers? If they could no longer offer sacrifices or make the required pilgrimages to God’s altar, were they faithful to their god anymore? In their grief, they wrote Psalms 137:4-5:
“How could we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!”
During the Exile, the Hebrew people developed the synagogue as the focus of their worship of God and the study of scripture, as well as a place of prayer and fellowship, and the site of life’s transitional rituals. In 538 BCE, Babylon fell and the Jewish exiles eturned to their homeland to rebuild the walls and the temple. For the people, the earlier promise of God from the prophet was finally being fulfilled:
“Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.” —Joel 3:13
Back home, both the synagogue and the Temple prospered, but when the Romans sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple in 70 CE, all of the pious acts transferred to the synagogues and the homes of the faithful. Never again were sacrifices made for Passover, but the thought of the Holy City remained. The closer one came to the Mount where the Temple once stood, because the area was more holy, so the person coming near had to be more ritually pure. They may have chanted from Psalms 125:1 in unison as they made their ascent:
“Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.”
Today, Mount Zion is holy to the Muslim faith, for there Mohammad is said to have received the words of the Quran and also to have been lifted into heaven from here. This is also the traditional site of the Binding of Issac (Genesis 22), and it’s holy also to Christians because this is the temple where the boy Jesus was found in “his father’s house” (Luke 2:41).
The three great monotheistic faiths have fought for generations within their families of origin over who has rights to be included in the family, beginning with Abraham and Sarah’s attempt to fulfill God’s promise of an heir by using the slave woman Hagar. When God showed up to announce the birth of Isaac, it was unbelievable. When Sarah had her promised child, Hagar and Ishmael were sent out to die in the desert. God saved them, however, but the two blood relatives haven’t gotten along since.
Christians accept the promised messiah, but those years of crusading and crushing the “Muslim infidels” have left a bad taste in their mouths for us, and for some of us too. We all keep fighting, even though we’re all branches off the same tree. We all claim the same holy sites and we’ll fight over them “till the last dog dies.”
As Jesus reminded the Samaritan Woman in John 4:21 & 23:
“Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.”
Remember the lesson of the exile: God is everywhere and not fixed to one altar or site. The same God who led us through the wilderness also leads us through the ups and downs of our daily lives, wherever we find ourselves. No disruption or chaos can move the steadfast God of love and mercy from our side.
Joy and peace,
The Project Gutenberg eBook of Astronomical Myths, by John F. Blake, 1877.
PAUSANIAS, DESCRIPTION OF GREECE 1.17-29 – Theoi Classical Texts Library
Milton: Paradise Lost, DjVu Editions E-books, © 2001, Global Language Resources, Inc.
The Vitruvian Man – by Leonardo da Vinci