Sunday, September 25, 2016

Notes from Spain, part I

Entrance to the Prado
Madrid, Spain

I arrived in Madrid this morning, a cool autumn day with the sun streaming across the countryside as we flew in. At the check in desk, watching the staff go about their quite ordinary tasks—nothing special here, one might think—I was suddenly struck by how absolutely human we all are; and how we so deeply share this oddly contradictory condition of beauty, empowerment and... helplessness... that our incarnation imparts to us.

 There are times when I think that we don't respect our lives, and we don't respect each other; above all, we don't respect, utterly and absolutely respect— perhaps one could say consciously respect—our lives.

I come here to Spain to follow the search that I began at the age of nine;  that was the year I saw the concentration camp at Belsen, of course, but it was also the year in which I went to the Prado and saw the Garden of Earthly Delights. No other painting in the world, perhaps, captures this condition of beauty, empowerment and helplessness in such a compelling way; and its imagery has followed me inwardly throughout my life, as though the painter infused his creation with the same esoteric force of Being that Gurdjieff buried deep in the pages of Beelzebub's Tales. Both works seem related to me; they are works of transformation, works of genius, that destroy everything we think we know about the world. 

As I stood at the check-in counter of the hotel, something in me was yet again destroyed— if we wish to be, after all, we must be willing to be destroyed over and over again, and start over forever. I was destroyed, then; and I am destroyed now, a scant few minutes later at breakfast, by the power and the beauty and the mortality of our own creation. We contain this world, just as it contains us; yet it is so clearly worthy, and we are so clearly not.

We live in a world obsessed by the outward form of terrorism; yet I think we have a terrorism inside us that will not admit the great quality of our Being. That great quality emerges first and forever from Being itself, and yet we deny it in favor of the world. 

This inner terror, I think, is what causes us to do the terrible things we do to one another; those things, whether great or small, always begin from a deep, sinister, and perpetually unspoken fear. Oh, we pretend we know it; but that's just window dressing to help us sleep at night. Where that fear begins in us, in me, I am uncertain; a lack of trust, surely, but I suspect some even deeper thing. It is Satan; the adversary. There is an ancient worm in us. I live within this terror—it  is always touching me somewhere, looking for the weak points—and there are many. 

Every time the touch of God pierces the veil of fear I dress myself in, for a moment I can appreciate the great beauty of this life, and my failure to meet it honestly' and that is always where my question lies.

 How can I better honor this life?


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

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