God and Monet
In looking for God, we must not look too deeply.
I once walked into an exhibition of Monet’s paintings of the Mediterranean. I didn’t know these paintings existed. It was a special collection put together from private and public collections for a one-in-a-lifetime tour of a few major museums. I saw it at the Kimball in Fort Worth, my hometown.
I was deeply moved and bought several prints that we still live with. A print is not the same as the original, but if you have seen the original, the print will bring it back to you to some extent. The nature of my response to Monet is a feeling of deep significance, the presence of God, in the light in the paintings. It seems to me that just behind the scene is God. If I could only look a little deeper, see the next moment or the previous moment, look around that corner, under that shadow, over that hill, I would see and know the secret of life.
It’s a painting, so there is nothing deeper, nothing before or after, and no corners to look around or shadows to see through. It’s just paint on canvas. The light is the white canvas allowed by the artist to show through the colors he has laid over it. It’s an illusion that there is any depth or light or shadows or corners or implication of time.
But my response is not an illusion. It’s a real longing with feelings of exhilaration and frustration, as I almost see it and then can’t. When I think about the light, I realize that if I completely saw it (the plain white canvas), it would mean nothing. It has no significance.
Plato defined love as the child of want and plenty, as the longing itself for what one can never have completely (nor would want to have completely) but can never give up seeking. This defines something fundamental in human life. Besides the light in Monet, and God, it is the fundamental problem/gift of mortality. We seek what we do not really want: the peace of the eternal. A graveyard is peaceful. What we really want is to be at peace with the wanting and the hope, with being eternally unsatisfied. The word we have devised for this goal is transcendence.
Life did not evolve the human mind in order to seek the eternal, that is a byproduct. Now that we have encountered it and can consider the concept, we are new. Natural selection will determine our fate, but not our meaning, our purpose. We determine that. If we pass away before life does, life will not care and will, in fact, not notice. Life goes on. But we will notice. As we die, we will feel a loss of something we never actually had. To life, that is nonsense.
God matters in this new consciousness. God is that transcendence, perception, being, metaphor, that both drives us and calls us. The alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. If you would look for God, glance briefly, knowing you will never do more than catch glimpses from the corner of your eye. If you look too hard, too deeply, if you look beneath the painting, you will find nothing.
April 21, 2009