Thursday, February 7, 2013

Dwelling wherever let in





It is not often you can read two books in one morning on a short trip to London! They are both short (and one richly illustrated) and by intellectual giants of the last century.

Martin Buber's 'The Way of Man according to the Teachings of Hasidism' is six short chapters, each built around a parabolic episode in the life of an early Hasidic master with commentary and related sayings. It is a beautiful distillation of both Buber's interpretation of this tradition and through its lens of his fundamental attitude towards life's meaning. Through it we discover that each of is called to our own particular way that requires us ever again to find a unity of soul and intention and to live directed towards others, beginning now from wherever we presently stand.

"In the world to come I will not be asked: why were you not Moses? I will be asked: why were you not Susya?" declared Rabbi Susya on his deathbed.

Buber's historical interpretation of Hasidism was seriously questioned but that, I think, rather missed the point. Buber was creatively reinterpreting a tradition for a contemporary age and in the process offering a deeply attractive way of appropriating the world.

It is the world and its liberation that is for Buber the Hasid's aim. God is present in the world, to quote the Rabbi of Kotzk, wherever we let him in! The whole short works asks where, today, in our concrete situation, have we let God dwell?

God's dwelling in the world, and where He is shut out, kept at the gate, is a continuous theme in the art of Georges Rouault, subject of my second book and an essay by Jacques Maritain, the great French neo-Thomist scholar and intellectual. It is a small second hand copy of a series called 'The Pocket Library of Great Art' complete with colour illustrations and fold out pages.



It makes the case for Rouault as the greatest religious artist of the twentieth century and I concur. Both in his explicitly iconographic work and in his depiction of the natural world whether landscape shot with glory or prostitute driven into pain, his world is suffused with a yearning for
redemption and a confidence in God's abiding presence in the world, in the heart of our souls. It is a presence of celebration and of judgement. Rouault was consistently concerned with the poor and oppressed and the simply saddened, he was on their side, recognising that how we respond towards them is the measure of our required holiness (or lack thereof).



Maritain's prose captures the journey of Rouault's art from 'dark night' to glorious transfiguration in a sensitive and intelligent (and compact) synopsis!

All three - Buber, Maritain, Rouault - whatever their divergences of belief - wanted to act in such a way that God was allowed in, to our redemption and that of the world.



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