29

BrookeHoehne-29

Today is my birthday and I am twenty-nine years old, which is to say I am more mature than I used to be, but still young, with a low drinking threshold and a bum knee.   I really really wanted to be the type of person who didn't mind getting older.  I didn't want to dread the inevitable and begrudgingly celebrate every July 12th, but maybe I am just suppressing the fact that I would like to stay in my late twenties for longer than the clock is allowing me to. I don’t want to go back to my early twenties and I don’t want my friends to age past me, I just want us all to stay in this sweet spot together for another, say, five to ten years.  I suppose I am just asking for a little crack in the space-time continuum that will keep us all here longer, which is I'm sure, very possible.

Here is my year in review:

Things I did not like about my 28th year.  Doctors appointments, needles, the two week flu, new eye wrinkles, my new knee pain, ISIS, Trever’s camo jacket, under-cooked maqluba, the way Gilmore Girls ended, Snapchat, when I went blonde, our water heater, my knee pain (I know I already said that but I am very upset about it), traffic, Donald Trump, friends moving away, Neon Demon, chipped nail polish, my dead basil plant, waking up.

Things I liked about 28.  My marriage, Indian food, Justin Beiber, yoga, our friends, writing, Snapchat, family, fireworks, diffused Orange oil, freshly painted nails, outdoor movies, Trever, stepping out of the metro that first day in Paris, our cats, warm sunshine in the winter, the Christmas tree smell, New York, oysters, perfectly roasted potatoes, sour beer, night walks, Pressed Juicery, Radio Lab, the new coffee shop, my black boots, laughs, middle California, the way The Office ended, homemade spring rolls, everything I learned, finding a bit of new faith, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, our record player, bread. 

Finding Roots

BrookeHoehne-FindingRoots

I find myself watching social media and being really jealous of other people's adventures.  Trever and I aren't going on vacation until late August so my entitled little soul feels left out at home in July.  People go on some wicked trips and via social media I covet them.  I mean that in the Biblical sense, I want them not to have it so I can have it.  I have a running wish list that includes Iceland, Costa Rica, Panama and Japan and I feel bad about myself for being so selfish and small minded.  I don't think I'm unique in this though, it seems there is a new wave of interest in my generation, and it’s the quest for experience. 

For the most part we have become very disenchanted by possessions attained and scoff at the Malibu life of luxury and beige. The cleanliness of Western culture has made us bored and we are now looking for authenticity and a bit of grit wherever we can find it.  A hidden Thai restaurant full of recent immigrants and a little grime is much preferred to a glossy chain restaurant draped in white linens.  Even more so, we now spend untold amounts of money on leaving.  Looking to experience new, particularly a longing for an encounter with the outdoors.  Social media has a hierarchy of hip, and at the top of the list is a trip to some unknown region of trees, mountains and beaches, or a secret hike leading to beauty untold. 

In studying the Desert Monks I have grown to admire their great escape from the confines of society.  They were searching for a way of life that reversed all the norms of the day to find God and find life beyond the complacency of our world.  John Chryssavgis points out in his book, In the Heart of the Desert, that the monk’s lives and values were seen as radical, and it must then be remembered that the word radical has Latin meaning implying a searching for roots. 

I think that’s what we’re doing.  We’ve grown up in cities that have taken from us any true connection to this earth.  Our appetites are for food from the dirt, individuals making products with their hands, plant medicine, mountains unclimbed, remote sea air, an insatiable lust for the primitive.  Technology has penetrated our world and it’s all we have known, yet as Olivier Clement says, “we are impelled to embark on a quest for the ancient original roots of being”. We are searching for the ground below us, to sink deep into something that for once is not abstract and when we find it, the rush of a waterfall becomes our temple. 

I am part of this millennial generation and I feel the pull back from some of our parent’s western norms, and just like my neighbor I am infatuated with our mutual ambition, flawed as it may be.  I wonder if unlike the desert fathers we have created a form spirituality through a connection to this earth, but it's a spirituality without deity and thus it might never appease our longing. The harder we run towards it we might find that it is yet another fad that won’t give us ground. We worship the mountains as there is much to be celebrated in them, yet I suspect we might find in all our exploration that the finite satisfaction still pales, because beauty is a way by which we know God, it is not God himself.  We worship the essence of God in creation and a lifestyle a little closer to the way it should be, but God with us and us with God is meant to be where it all leads, and in missing that we’ve actually missed the lavish beauty itself. We can’t seem to find the true glory in the very essence of divine artistry, and so we’re just another generation scraping at stones and arrogantly assuming we’ll be the first to find a place to plant our roots. 

God in Abstract

BrookeHoehne-GodinAbstract

I was in New York a couple of months ago and we went to The Metropolitan Museum of Art for a couple of hours.  I’m so early on in my study of art and religion that I don’t really know too much, but I spent the majority of my time in the religious art section.  I walked really slowly, read captions and paid attention to the details.  I was less engaged with the aesthetics like I normally would be as I usually spend all my time with the impressionists. Those guys are a good entry point into loving art, who doesn’t adore a couple of ballerinas dancing around in tutu’s by Degas?  This time however, I found myself instead caught up in the meaning, the significance, the painter, the churches they were once hanging in and the people who found connection to God through them. 

One painting in particular called “Christ at the Column” read, “Christ is bound to a column, bleeding from having been beaten by Roman soldiers.  This sort of composition was created for meditation and private devotion.  Attention focuses on the pain and suffering of Christ, with whom the viewer is encouraged to empathize.”

I spent a bit of time looking at this painting and found that it was actually quite moving. I couldn’t really articulate why, or give some profound nugget of wisdom I gleaned from a painted Jesus, but never the less I learned.  Words take us so far in an in intellectual understanding but with more mystical things like faith so often emotions are a powerful educator.  We learn when we empathize with and relate to pain, the strain on one’s face, the torment in one’s eyes, because as humans we can feel another’s hurt when we see it in them.  In this painting we see it in the face of Jesus and that reminds our hearts of His sacrifice, our minds always knew it, our words always said it, but our hearts find the way to connect to the monumental burden it was to take on the weight of the world and we now know it in a deeper place than our study could ever take us.

We're always craving connection it's built into us, a desperate need to feel another’s joy and pain and have others feels ours too, it’s the antithesis to loneliness, it’s the pinnacle to knowing and being known. Words and wisdom aside when our hearts are broken we run to those who carry the weight of our pain like it was their own.  I often prize the mind and its solidity never to be swayed by unruly and unreliable emotions but I found in that moment that there can be wisdom in understanding from the heart that comes through empathy.  I looked into the face of Jesus depicted by an unknown artist in the 16th century, and like the thousands of Christians who have seen his suffering expressed on this canvas, I felt the weight of what He did for us and I was moved to tears.  “Thank you”, it’s all I could think of, everything else was without language.

I went into this portion of learning, wondering if I could gain anything from art, how spiritual can it be? Isn’t it just paint, and canvas, and one man’s depiction of the religion of the day? But I have instantly discovered I’m bound to. I’m in my head all the time, I’m rationalizing and ideating with little respect or understanding of the heart, of what it means to believe without proof, to just know and connect in a wisdom and knowledge beyond the capacity of my mind. What if I have a lot to learn from all those parts of me that don’t have language, with an understanding that isn’t quantifiable yet still has profound meaning and wisdom all the same? Maybe logic alone won’t get me there, and without all the noise, and against all my assumptions about the way religion must be understood, I’ll be surprised to find God there in the abstract, in the silence.