✿ Stillness crieth out ✿ (Dennis Aubrey)


“Stillness crieth out that something Great is nigh.”

We seek connections every day, among our family, our friends, our colleagues, and sometimes even complete strangers. We seek connection with each other, and with life itself. We are surrounded with the tools of connection more now than ever before. The web, email, cell phones, texting, Twitter, Facebook, and social media in general. We can see almost instantly what those we care about in some way are doing or thinking. What we find lacking in human connection, we try to find in other things. We seek to connect with ideas or feelings. We study, play music, paint, sculpt, build and write so that we can connect to that ineffable thing that eludes us. And not finding those ideas or feelings, we settle for something else, something that carries the trappings of meaning while not having anything intrinsic itself. We settle for fashion.

We decide to care about things that will inherently end in obsolescence. I think that we do this for three reasons. First, because the fashionable automatically implies community and we are therefore connected. Second, we can do something about fashion. We can buy things that state who we believe we are and when they become obsolete, we can replace those things. And third, perhaps because obsolete is better than death. The finality of death is too abrupt and we would prefer for things to pass gently into the world of nostalgia.

Abbaye Notre Dame de Fontenay, Fontenay (Côte-d’Or) Photo by PJ McKey

At other times in the world, the central mystery of life – death – was the object of all study and understanding. The intellectual, spiritual and emotional life of man was guided by the attempt to comprehend the inevitability and meaning of our passing. People were no more wise, intelligent, or spiritually superior than people are now, except in the single factor that the object of their searching was more profound. Perhaps we have studied their thoughts and feelings about death and realized in some way that its mystery is beyond our understanding. We have given up in trying to solve a problem insoluble.

Lacking any other great motivation in life, we seek distraction, and if there is any single thing that our world today has to offer it is distraction. We can see any movie at any time right in our homes or even on our phones. All music is available for pennies to be played anywhere at any time. The internet makes more information instantaneously available to us than is contained in the largest libraries in the world. And we use these gifts for distraction. Even our politics have become the politics of distraction.

Cathédrale Saint-Trophime, Arles (Bouches-du-Rhône) Photo by PJ McKey

I’m not trying to preach, but merely to contrast what PJ and I have found in these French and Spanish churches – a completely different world sensible to us the moment we walk into the cool, quiet interior of Sainte Marie de Souillac, Saint Pierre de Beaulieu, or Notre Dame la Grande in Poitiers.

Cáthedrale Saint Pierre, Poitiers (Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

These are spaces that are designed to for us to listen to that stillness that speaks to our souls, to the depths of what we seek and what we feel. In all probability, no criminal will ever be converted by a stone building, but in such a place he may feel the wrong in what he does. He will fear, in some deep sense, for what remains of his soul and thereby wonder if life might have held a different path than that chosen. The liar will sit in a quiet corner and have the courage to peek at a truth that is buried in the midst of his lies.

The rest of us may realize that those seemingly monumental failures in our life may not be important after all. We may not have to puff them up, to inflate them almost pornographically. These failures are not who we are, they do not define us, and they do not describe us to others. They are merely the residue of our ambitions.

Finally we are left with the silence itself. The stillness of these churches cries out for us to examine ourselves and our lives. Perhaps in that examination, we will find the edges of something else, signs of something important, perhaps even the traces of something great.

Eglise Abbatiale Saint Pierre, Solesmes (Sarthe) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

For words, like Nature, half reveal
And half conceal the Soul within.

(Alfred Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam A.H.H)

31 responses to “✿ Stillness crieth out ✿ (Dennis Aubrey)

    • Already responded and have gladly given permission. And got your holiday card, so thank you very much. Have a great holiday season, Viv, both you and Jock. We send our greetings and affections.

  1. Wow, this is powerful. I’ve felt this sense that you write of – of having puffed up seemingly monumental failures and the futility of that – when I was in these great French churches, and also in smaller newer Australian churches. But the difference is that in a modern church I’m convicted by the words of a man preaching, while the ancient French structure itself does the preaching. In silence.

  2. Good stuff, Dennis, you’re on a roll. I’m going to Japan on the 15th of January for a 10-day stay. You’ve inspired me to visit a few temples and monasteries while I’m there. I can still recall the magical feeling I experienced inside a huge 740-year old Pagoda.

  3. You words share beautifully the grandeur and the spirit of these places. Your top photo, the dark passage to that grand, luminous window, presents the stillness most dramatically. Thank you for your fine work, and especially, thank you for sharing.

    • I’m glad to hear that the post reached sympathetic ears. I remember seeing your blog before, and laughed at your descriptions of the various travel disasters. Fortunately PJ and I have not suffered too much in that regard and I hope “virtual contamination” does not strike. But we will risk it.

      • Thank you for your kind comment! I’m glad you enjoyed the blog and don’t worry – I’ve actually had no travel disasters to report in the past few months so hopefully you should be fine too! Please keep introducing us to beauty – it is so desperately needed.

  4. Dennis, This is so rich I hardly know where to start, so I won’t spoil it with a glut of words. So good to read a visual commentary that speaks so profoundly of the human condition. Thank you for the stillness.

    • Gordon, thanks for this and thank you for the call this morning. I need to expand on something. You asked why I so value your voice and I replied that your depth of feeling moves me. The corollary to that is how completely open you are when you express those feelings, you hold nothing back and that vulnerability is brave and admirable. PJ and I both admire you greatly for that.

  5. Dennis, I usually read your posts before dawn and am moved every time. This one, in broad daylight, reaches even deeper. I don’t know you and PJ except through your work. But I sure think I know a little of your soul. Silence is the most important word in my vocabulary. Thank you for giving it voice so eloquently.

    • Judy, thank you so much for these kindnesses. I usually write the posts in the middle of the night and publish them by daylight just to make sure I haven’t gone too far off the deep end. I love the idea that you wrote of giving voice eloquently to silence. Great concept.

    • Thanks, Mark. As you know, light is everything in these structures. The last one is my personal favorite. Had been trying to get another elderly couple in the photo, but it wasn’t working. I turned and this gentleman in the white suit stepped into the pefect place.

  6. Your images never fail to move me and in your dialogue you have touched on some of what it is that I feel when I look at them, or when I find myself actually standing in some of these inspiring places.

    • Lynne, thanks and welcome again. Our images reflect those feeling that we get inside the churches, those same feelings that you experience. I think that the ability of these structures to elicit these feelings in one of the main reasons that we are so drawn to them.

      • Lynn, they don’t dictate a reaction, they elicit a type of contemplation in a way that little else manmade in this world can do. It can be found in nature, in the cosmos, and sometimes in art, but where else?

  7. Pingback: A cry for inspiration | Where Is My Suitcase

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