The Nerve that is Dying (Dennis Aubrey)

They seek splendor; who would touch them must stun them;
The nerve that is dying needs thunder to rouse it.

William Everson, San Joaquin (1939)

About 12 years ago I was part of a Los Angeles venture capital funding event called “Herring on Hollywood”, where Red Herring Magazine featured a number of companies that would “change the face of Hollywood”. Altamira Group, which I founded, was one of those. It was the classic VC hustle, mixing people seeking funds and venture capitalists seeking companies in which to invest. A small number of companies were selected to make presentations to the general audience. At one point, a young guy with a spiky haircut and baggy jeans came on stage and described his company, which in retrospect I remember only being about distributing video content on the web. But his extraordinary hyperbole was wrapped in the guise of “gangsta” lingo. He used profanity at every possible moment and referred to his product as the “crack cocaine of media.” At the finish of this inane presentation, he turned to a leather-clad woman standing on the side of the stage, snapped his fingers and said, “Come on, bitch!” The two of them stomped out.

Appalled at this demonstration, I was surprised to see people in the audience nodding with interest and approval. In the reception afterwards, the venture capitals funders crowded around him – he had the most activity of any of the other companies, despite the fact that the man had no proprietary technology or ideas, just his rap. I remember watching this astonishing thing and the words of Everson immediately came to mind – “The nerve that is dying needs thunder to rouse it.”

William Everson, aka Brother Antoninus, Photo by G. Paul Bishop (1965)
William Everson, aka Brother Antoninus, Photo by G. Paul Bishop (1965)

William Everson (September 10, 1912 – June 3, 1994), also known as Brother Antoninus, was both an American poet and, for a time, a Dominican monk. His words have moved me greatly over the years, none more than this quote from his 1939 poem San Joaquin.

What is clear is that the nerve of our world is dying. We are assaulted by so much input that those that would touch us must stun us.

Side aisle of Église Saint-Hilaire-le-Grand, Poitiers  (Vienne)  Photo by PJ McKey
Side aisle of Église Saint-Hilaire-le-Grand, Poitiers (Vienne) Photo by PJ McKey

We must learn again to listen. We can, if we ignore the clarion calls of advertisers who entice us to buy one more thing which we do not need and do not even want. We must ignore the strident voices of those who try to convince us that their particular brand of absurdity is important and that we should ignore our own good reasoning and follow them. We should ignore those who try to instill fear into our lives so that they can project themselves as our saviors and act in our good names. We should ignore those who condemn others for being different than ourselves and therefore somehow threatening.

Ignore the voices that cry out that we need more when we actually need better.

Église Saint-Laurent d'Auzon, Auzon (Haute-Loire)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey
Église Saint-Laurent d’Auzon, Auzon (Haute-Loire) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Just shut them out for a short period of time. Turn off the television. Don’t read the newspapers. Ignore the voices that scream out for your sanity. Just for awhile. Listen to something else.

We need to inject some calm into our fevered lives and use the season of peace to evaluate where we are as individuals and as a society. We should sit in a quiet church and contemplate. Go to the desert and watch a sunrise. Walk in the woods and listen to the harmonies of birds as they create their dense, intricate fabric of song. Sit by the ocean, a river, a pond, or a lake and watch the light move on the rippling surface of the waters. Or perhaps just sit in our homes and stare at the movement of flames in the fireplace.

And then we should do it again, with a loved one.

Monastir de Santa Maria de Ripoll (Girona) Photo by PJ McKey
Monastir de Santa Maria de Ripoll (Girona) Photo by PJ McKey

We should still the frenzy.

118 thoughts on “The Nerve that is Dying (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. Very well said and what a wonderful phrase, the nerve that is dying! As for your venture capitalists at the presentations, probably best I don’t say any more..

    1. I never heard more from that young capitalist, and I think eventually the VC’s were scared off, not because of his presentation, but because there was nothing behind it. But to think that he got the opportunity to present when so many others did not!

    1. Thanks, Debora. We sometimes take small diversions because of the type of thinking that these buildings provoke. But I’m glad that you like the site and the remarkable architecture. And Debora, if you post some of your photographs, please let us know.

  2. Dennis – you are gifted at seeing a moment and expanding it, transforming it into something with greater meaning. My life is richer with the photography you and PJ use to give new meaning to buildings from the past. That you have that talent for social commentary too, does not surprise me. best – Anne

    1. Anne, sometimes I feel like a stranger in a strange land. I do not see my world except through the lens of Chartres, Vézelay, Conques, and Souillac. Thanks for the kindness of your words.

  3. This is especially meaningful to me this morning. Thank you. (I did take note, as I sped off to work, dodging traffic and construction equipment, that the sun coming up looked so beautiful reflected in the river. I wanted to stay there – but duty called. )

  4. As always, Dennis, you brought light and wisdom to the day. Indeed,”we should still the frenzy, sitting and watching ” the light move on the rippling surface of the waters. Or perhaps just sit in our homes and stare at the movement of flames in the fireplace.” After the storm of Sandy Hook we all need to take a deep breath and let the thunder of cultural insanity that blew away the innocent awaken the nerve of the world that is dying. Thank you once again.

    1. Gordon, thanks for your kind words. Everson’s words are so powerful that they have stuck with me for 35 or 40 years. BTW, your sermon that referenced “Stillness crieth out” was wonderful. Thank you so much for bringing such life to my words.

  5. Weird. I remember in one film school, we had a guest speaker from “game design.” They guy showed some bits of machinima (not his own game, another he liked playing), a baby picture, swore a bit, told us about his personal life, and nothing about his work. But, he had an imdb page, so he must have got some work done. One of the older lecturers thought he was a great presenter.

    1. It is always mind-boggling what people are impressed by. I know an instructor from a California film school who claimed to have developed hundreds of games, but who had, in fact, only done a game for the old English Sinclair system. How he got the job was a complete mystery, since almost every single entry of his CV was a lie.

  6. Hard to comment on this because it was all so true. If I say “Dennis, I bet you wish you were sitting in an empty 12th century French Church and not in the country of gun massacres”, it’s because I’ve forgotten that those churches have also been amid massacres over the centuries. And yet they still stand, perhaps with a few chunks blown off, but they are still beautiful and useful and peaceful.

    1. So glad to hear that the words and images could help. There is much that our species has done over the years that is worth our admiration – and most of it comes from those who struggle with the great questions of our lives. Nobody ever built an enduring monument to a game show host.

    1. Sarah, thanks so much for your kind words. Good luck with your writing. I read your post “Labyrinthine” – not sure which character was growing out of proportion, but it is an old saw that the villains are often the best and most fascinating characters. Nothing wrong with that.

  7. Beautiful post. My question continues to be, why don’t we? it seems at this point we should know what we need to do. We keep telling ourselves what it is, so it isn’t a secret or a surprise. So why is mindless neurological stimulation so compelling we can’t turn away from it?

    1. Ashana, I think you understand better than most why we don’t. I read your post on “Terrorism and why I grew up …” and that fine writing clearly points out some of the reasons. And the comments that follow point out even more. But I think on a simple level that sometimes that people are afraid that they will miss something. My friends who have perfectly good iPhones or iPads spend money that they can’t afford to get the newest versions. The noise of the world is deafening – but it is like living under an airport. After awhile, you don’t even notice. The screeching engines of the landing planes becomes a normal part of the landscape. Anyway, thanks for your comments and your attention.

      1. You must be right. It’s interesting that we should know we will miss something–of course, we’ll miss something–but at some point it seems like we need to start be making decisions about what we are willing to miss: what happens instead is that we miss everything.

    1. Less is more. I remember growing up that the greatest toys were the big boxes that appliances came in. The kids in the neighborhood would play with them until they were shreds. Thanks of your comments and good luck with your blog in the new year.

  8. Congratulations on the Freshly Pressed\: I bet it sent your stats through the roof. I commented on this post – which I found utterly inspiring – but WordPress is doing strange things lately, and my and my followers’ comments are being scooped up as spam.

    1. Viv, thanks for your kindness, as always. Not sure what WP is doing to your comments, but it is always great to see a comment by you. Hope you are feeling well. My rehab is going wonderfully and I can even walk without a cane now! Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year, and we’ll talk again.

  9. I love this. Your words are similar to mine in the article I wrote yesterday called “The Change in Our Pockets”. I am glad you got “freshly pressed” so that more people are exposed to the message. It’s important.

    1. Thanks, Cheri. This was a post that just sort of appeared. I tend to wake in the middle of the night and when I can’t sleep, I write. It came out in one burst and then I went back to bed. I woke up in the morning, decided it wasn’t too crazy and posted. What a surprise to think that the post got this kind of response. PJ and I appreciate that you have come to our little corner of the world where we talk mostly about Romanesque and Gothic churches and how they change the way we look at life in the 21st Century.

  10. A very well-conceived and thoughtful reflection on what has become the “noisy desperation” the mass of men (and women) now live. I reminded me of a song by my favorite singer/songwriter, John Prine called “Spanish Pipedream,” particularly the lyrics “Blow up your TV/ Throw away your paper/ Move to the country/ Build you a home/ Have a lot of children/ Feed ’em on peaches/ They’ll all find Jesus/ On their own.

    Thanks again for the meditation. I’ll be back.

    1. Blow up your TV indeed. Glad to have reached through the net and made contact like this. Tony, we were sure when we started the Via Lucis blog that our very limited sphere of activity – Romanesque and Gothic church photography – would mean very limited interest in the world community. We are delighted and a bit shocked to find that people resonate as we do.

    1. You, like PJ and myself, are luckier than most. We wake in the morning and look out across Buzzard’s Bay. It is the same view every day, but every day is different and endlessly fascinating. We will sit and watch the waters, watch the birds at the feeders on our deck, and nothing makes us happier. You have found the same glorious possibility in your life. It is a lovely thing. Thanks for coming by.

  11. My laptop is my greatest intrusion in this respect, but given the weather (and sometimes even, not) I’ll head outdoors and walk along a clifftop or a beach and just listen.

    1. Jo, it makes all the difference in the world, doesn’t it. I am too bound to the computers – editing the thousands of photos, writing about a hundred posts a year, working on our book “Light & Stone” but the late late hours bring back what it is like in the great churches that we love so much. To sit inside Sainte Madeleine in Vézelay, our favorite in France, is always a wonder. We have shot there at least ten times but it is always different – season by season, day by day, hour by hour, even minute by minute. I am moved just thinking about it. It is like looking at a dark and mottled mirror of the Romanesque world and reflected behind me is our 21st century. It is not the same century that I see walking around in my every day life.

    1. That you very much. Took the liberty of looking at your site “All About Work” and found it fascinating. Was especially drawn to your response to Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 Hour Rule.” Gladwell certainly doesn’t seem to understand that skills and competences achieved in one life can be translated into the next, shortcutting any specious “rule”. PJ, my partner is a born artist who paints, makes prints, acts, directs, and creates as naturally as breathing. When she began photographing these Romanesque and Gothic churches, she made an immediate impact. She saw things at a glance that others would miss. Within two years of part-time work, she was creating masterful works.

      Oh, and I am a great Kate Bush fan.

  12. Hi there, when I found your blog, it felt as if I had died and gone to visual and the written word heaven. I am not letting go of you now that I found you. Thank you for the beauty and making me day beautiful.

    1. So glad you found our Via Lucis blog and that you will be part of it in the future. We have some very interesting discussions, usually prompted by these beautiful Romanesque and Gothic churches that PJ and I love so much. Welcome, and thank you for your generous praise.

  13. Silence …
    We’ve lost our silence. We must fill our days with noise and haste, with frantic activity, with endless excitement. Then we wonder why we feel something wrong or missing in our lives. We have no connection to the natural world, the cycles and rhythms of life. We’re taught to fear the storms, to fear the heat, the cold, the rain and snow. We’ve lost our silence, our anchors, our morality, our humanity. Lost touch with our deeper selves, our inner guidance, our connection with that which is greater than ourselves.
    Thank you, Mr. Aubrey, for a most excellent post. I’ve followed your work on, but somehow missed this blog. You are a literate and wonderful writer.
    Would I could walk those ancient stone floors, with stone arches high above, experience the light and shadow of those Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals and churches. You’ve captured them stunningly.

    1. You are so welcome to our Via Lucis world. It has been some time since I have posted on PhotoNet. I felt that the site had been hijacked by some who were only interested in their own voices. I miss so many of the people I “met” there and there are friends that I made that have become friends in real life. I spent some time reading your work at Aquila’s Place, and felt a Borgesian sensibility in your prose, a close intermixing of a real and dream life. Some wonderful work you’ve done.

      As far as these churches, someday you will be able to walk the stone floors and marvel at stone arches holding in place for a thousand years. We do so every time we go. Thanks for your kind words.

  14. You have hit the nail on the head with this one. … During the past year Adrenal Fatigue has forced me to be still, listen, practice awareness. And as debilitating as the physical experience has been, emotionally, mentally and spiritually it has proffered a great gift (there’s that silver lining …) because now I can find my nerve, as you put it, instead of constantly being rattled and numbed by a world all too willing, and sadly able, to assault it. Tuning out the noise takes practice, but is so worth it. I make no apologies for my new way of being in, but not of, the world. … Thanks for sharing your thoughts and wisdom on this topic. … Be well and Merry Christmas … Dorothy 🙂 … P.S. I haven’t watched the news since 9/11.

    1. Thanks, Dorothy. We are so convinced of the advantages of our modern world that we don’t allow the expression of the deeper parts of our humanity. Alain de Botton writes so beautifully, “Secular society has been unfairly impoverished by the loss of an array of practices and themes which atheists typically find it impossible to live with. We have grown frightened of the word morality. We bridle at the thought of hearing a sermon. We flee from the idea that art should be uplifting or have an ethical mission. We don’t go on pilgrimages. We can’t build temples. We have no mechanisms for expressing gratitude.”

      1. Shame, isn’t it … In some respects we are living in our own Dark Ages … I, for one, am actively seeking to “allow the expression of the deeper parts of humanity.” It’s here that we find life’s meaning. …

      2. Dorothy, the true dark ages were forced on the world by the collapse of world order, warfare, poverty and so many other external factors. Our dark ages, if it truly exists, is of our own creation.

      3. Gordon, it is from the book “Religion for Atheists”. I share his deep respect for the basis of religion, even if I am struggling with the fundamental belief in God.

    2. Dorothy, I so appreciate your sentiment and the way you’ve put it into words. The invitation to be “in, but not of, the world” somehow goes to the heart of what I hear and feel when I waken to these marvelous artistic posts by Dennis and PJ. Your precious comment did the same.

  15. Thanks for sharing your advice. Going in confession and believing more in God help us release our fears that distract us and feeling peacefully contented can help even more.

  16. Thankyou Dennis! So glad to have found this blog of yours; you show how it should be done. So sad that in the season of peace so few can find it, but you make some very practical suggestions, especially important to share.

    1. You are very welcome, and we are pleased that you found your way to Via Lucis. We have a passionate devotion to these churches, which we believe are among the great accomplishments of European civilization.

  17. Just happened across you blog because of Freshly Pressed…thanks for the beautiful words and pictures. We need them both, and a quiet place to think about these important things. – Steve Givens

    1. Steve, glad you happened by and thanks for your kind words. It is strange, for two hundred posts I have scrupulously avoided giving advice and merely tried to describe what it like to be in our beloved Romanesque churches. And then, the one time that my feelings ran a bit amuck, that is the post that gets Freshly Pressed. It was wonderful, of course. And one of the great pleasures is to meet people who share many of the same love of these spaces. Thank you for joining us here on Via Lucis.

  18. Dear Dennis,

    What a beautiful website to come across for the season, thank you!

    The nerve that is dying might be lucky enough to just find a nap. Thoreau said somewhere that we take such care to wrap peaches and plums in paper to protect their bloom for market, but why can’t we wrap up other people, the tender ones left jolted around by the world, and give them a rest?

    We have some wonderful street musicians here, such accomplished people. For years I wanted to take my bowed psaltery out to the street and play Gregorian chants but was too shy to join them. Finally the answer was to find the street with the most racket, and then to go and be the opposite of noise until people come up and just start talking.

    Your photographs are doing and showing a great deal, but they are also picturing the opposite of noise, and in that empty perfect curve things resonate and nerves start to grow back to life again.

    Merry Christmas,

    1. I love the Thoreau reference, had never heard that before. Our photographs of these churches are not taken to show a point of view but to learn what they can tell us. We have heard cries of agony, songs of joy, and centuries of patient worship, all echoing in the stone walls. This is why we approach each of the hundreds of churches that we photograph with anticipation – we never know what we might find.

      Thank you so much for your visit and comment, Mary. We appreciate this very much.

      1. Dennis, thank you so much! What a surprise to see your lovely reply.
        And yes, that is clearly a listening camera in your hands.

        Teilhard de Chardin as a little boy was always looking for the ultimate solid compact stone, because he felt that an artifact of highest mass per volume (at one point, a rusted railroad bolt) was the clearest channel of divine power. The Church thought it unwise to publish his research during his lifetime because his paleontology work with stones persuaded him toward evolution and away from original sin.

        What if the energy of a whole church is infused with the energy of the individual building blocks — sedimentary, igneous…?

        But you have so many guests to attend to here, I should leave and get back to viewing the gallery.

        Appreciation and best wishes with it!

  19. Nice reflection sir. Indeed I feel sometimes overwhelmed with all that noise around me. We live a life full of comfort compared to other times, full of facilities and commodities, yet we fail sometimes to understand and live in harmony with each other.

  20. Unlike hundreds of other people I am elite in the fact for now I have a place to escape and I do it often. But escaping from the frenzy of what people now call life makes you stand out in the crowd, just as you are doing now. Sometimes it’s not good, sometimes it makes you depressed and realize everyone else around you just does not get it, they do not feel you, they might not understand you. Yet, on that same note I think the way your write and the way you make people think, you might actually shed some light on a lot of people. I know you have for me. Love this blog, I’ll have to go back and read on your others!

    1. I’m glad Via Lucis speaks to you. We do not normally advise people, there are so many who routinely dispense advice and point to what they think is the right course of action. We go to France and Spain and photograph Romanesque churches and try to understand what moved people to build so many of them and build them so remarkably well that 5,000 are still standing in France. More stone was moved by a free French population than was moved in Egypt during their entire time building pyramids, with slave labor! We are not religious, but I think we have a deep need to believe. Via Lucis is our way of looking inside ourselves, into a mirror of light and stone.

  21. Dennis, the words are very profound and illuminating. I thank you.
    Incidently, may I recommend your readers “Sadhana” by Rabindranath Tagore. It is laden with Gems and makes one sit up and take note of the “Inner-Self”

  22. I am glad you found my blog (In search of unusual destinations) interesting. As for yours: remarkable. I shall be accessing this regularly. All good wishes for 2013. Phil.

    1. Thank you, Phil, and welcome to Via Lucis. It is a very narrow sector of the world of photography and architecture, but is our passion. Your post on Vilnius caught my eye. PJ (my partner in life and in Via Lucis) has links to Vilnius – her maternal grandfather was born and raised in Wileńska, in the Vilnius administrative district.

  23. I wanted to come back and spend a little more time. I am glad I did. I hadn’t made the effort to read, just skimmed previously. There is wisdom here–thank you for that.

    1. Doug, thanks for taking the time to read the posts. We try not to preach here, but to explain what feelings are evoked by these great Romanesque and Gothic churches that we photograph. They generate passionate feelings and emotions in us and – I believe this – in many of our readers, whether religious or not. We believe that a person becomes what that person believes. If you believe in something monstrous, that monstrosity becomes part of you. If you believe in something generous and profound, some of that becomes you. Why would we not choose to believe in something strong and beautiful and profound?

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