✜ Abyssus abyssum invocat ✜ (Dennis Aubrey)

Les jugements de Dieu sont des abîmes. Les abîmes de la sagesse, de la miséricorde de Dieu.

This phrase “Abyssus abyssum invocat” is full of obscurity, of mysteries impenetrable to reason. The abyss calls to the abyss, the deep calls to the deep. For some, one hell calls for another. But in French, “L’abîme appelle l’abîme;” the judgments of God are the Deep. The deep of the wisdom, the mercy of God.

The sound of it alone whispers to me, I hear it in the night. “L’abîme appelle l’abîme“, like a chant, trying to reach through my subconscious into my soul. “L’abîme appelle l’abîme” “L’abîme appelle l’abîme”. Lying in the dark, unable to fathom the message, other questions arise. Why do we need to build churches? Why do we need God? What are we trying to express when we talk about God, or religion, or faith? Is this a need inside of us, as if we fear the abyss, fear the emptiness, fear the darkness of an eternal night?

Église Saint-Hilaire, Semur-en-Brionnais (Saône-et-Loire) Photo by PJ McKey

Gods lend a design to a nature that seems violent, random and destructive. How can we insignificant humans hope to understand such a force? How can we formulate thoughts too complex for our minds and spirits? For those things we need gods and mysteries. We need those gods in the long dark nights, in the shelter against a storm, and in the shattering loss of sudden death. We need to know there is something that watches over us and can give structure to the chaos. That particular something needn’t be true, only needs to be plausible, powerful, and profound. That something explains the world and orders the society around us at the same time.

Basilique Saint Sernin, Toulouse (Haute-Garonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

These churches are monumental significations of this great design. They are literal interpretations of the religion; often constructed in the form of the cross that represents the sacrifice upon which the religion itself is based. The church is a book in which one reads all of the deep mysteries of the faith. Its harmonies of design are intended to represent those of heaven itself. Plainchant harmonies of the nuns and monks echo the choirs of angels. As humans, we have a firm belief; if significations of this great design are available to us – visible – we might better choose the right course of action, live a worthy life. For while the gods are powerful, tempestuous and capricious, like humans themselves, there is an order to the world they rule. Because they exist, we have a way to understand the mystery surrounding us.

Cathédrale Saint Etienne. Cahors (Lot) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

In the long middle of the night, alone, I feel my life speeding by, tumbling and roiling into some unknown future. At the same precise time, I feel the buffetings of the moment’s wind, each clear and distinct from the next. The sensation is like falling at terminal velocity but in slow motion. I only wait to know, to understand, as the abyss slowly opens beneath me. And a voice says, in my dream, “You have been washed.”

A rose from the Prieuré de Saint-Cosmé, Tours (Indre-et-Loire) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

18 thoughts on “✜ Abyssus abyssum invocat ✜ (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. Oh, my. This is so close. The Abyss. Deep calling to deep. Is the Abyss bottomless and empty as Satre concluded? Or is it the deep of “the widsom and mercy of God”? This has been my life queston.

    Moments ago I received a photo of a lovely lake and lakeside property from an old friend. I responded to Phil with words that may be appropriate as a follow-up to your beautifuly reflection:

    “Oh my God – and I mean that in the most reverential sense. OMG! Beautiful This morning, in preparation for [a study leave} with Matthew Boulton, I read the following from Matt’s new book ‘Life in God: John Calvin, Practical Formation, and the Future of Protestant Theology.’ Matt writes:

    “’As far as perceiving God goes, then, in Calvin’s view, humanity’s key problem is by no means a dearth of evidence confirming divine presence and parental love…. Calvin sees our main key problem as our inability to notice, properly interpret, trust and responds to the brilliant signs of God’s loving presence around us and within us. As the old hymn has it, we are blind until – by the Spirit’s light and Christ’s life – we see; or, to return to Calvin’s other favorite term, we are ‘dull’ until God sharpens our awareness and insight, waking us up, bringing us back to our senses. …According to this line of thought, the Holy Spirit provides us with Scripture, sacraments, the church, and so on, not because the world is insufficiently radiant and clear as a revelation of divine love, but because we have become so dull as to require remedial training in order to see and sense the world as it truly is. If our minds and sensorial were properly formed and engaged, we would require no special sermon on Sunday morning. The whole world is a sermon, indeed a Great Sermon composed of countless smaller ones….’

    “That’s what I saw when I saw your picture. And that’s why I exclaimed, ‘Oh, my God!'”

    I did the same here on ViaLucis, as I often do. Thank you. In such times I KNOW I am not alone in quivering and being strangely buffetted. The world itself is a Great Sermon.

    1. Gordon, thanks again for the time and effort you take in reading our posts and responding to them. If you are buffeted in these late night sessions, then you are definitely not alone.

      1. Thanks, Dennis. I’m off for a week-long annual gathering with seminary classmates. I hope you and PJ have a good week in ever way. No buffeting…unless by a wave or two on your morning walks on the beach.

  2. Every picture on this blog is incredible, but the first one in this post truly stuns me–I had to sit there for a few moments and just look at it. The odd angles on that staircase are excellent! Thank you so much for sharing both outstanding images and inspiring writing.

    1. Thanks for your kind words – I love that picture of PJ’s of the Église Saint-Hilaire in Semur-en-Brionnais. We appreciate the time you take to read, look, and comment on our Via Lucis site.

  3. Your reflections struck a chord in a student always trying to understand the why and wherefore of the “great design.” Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Jong-Soung

    1. Thanks, Jong-Soung. Sometimes there is a mystery in human creation that is a shadowy reflection of the great design. Maybe understanding the one leads to a dim comprehension of the other.

  4. I really, really like this, except for where you are talking about John Calvin., So mighty misleading to have a beautiful Latin name for your blog which comes strait from the Psalms and then to find out you are Protestant….my heart breaks.

    1. Thank you for your kind words on this post. The mention of John Calvin comes from another commenter on the post, not from me. I am not a Protestant, just as I am not a Catholic. I was raised a Catholic and have been trying to rediscover my faith through this medieval architecture.

      1. I realized that actually moments after I posted my comment. I apologize. I hope you do rediscover your faith. I grew up Evangelical Protestant and became Catholic. There is too much beauty and history there to ever turn back.

      2. No problem at all, pleased that you take the time to read the comments. There are some interesting conversations here among a diverse group of people of all faiths and beliefs. I think these Romanesque churches, which are our primary field of photography, have a deep appeal for many people. Thank you for participating.

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