Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Path 1877

Levitan likes to paint paths, trails and roads. He knows they are symbolic of life, the life adventure or life as a pilgrimage.

"Your Word is a lamp for my feet and a light upon my path." Psalm 119:105

I'd suggest an indicator of this knowledge is that Levitan's path here is bordered with shades of green. Indeed, the bush on the left is like a fountain of life. Though he also knows that the life-path is not always easily traveled - this is a rough, rutted road; a bumpy road.

Levitan rarely places human figures in his paintings, though he is aware of people: there may be footprints in the snow, or an unseen person has chopped and stacked wood, or a group of local folks will have cut down the hay. But here, there is a woman on the road. She is dressed in black. Does that suggest she is a widow? Maybe Levitan is telling us that while we travel the life road, though we may have lots of family, friends and contacts, we are all essentially alone along the way. 

We are viewing the painting from the bottom of the path, where it begins to rise. This rising alone is symbolic: our rising up to consciousness, our rising up to knowledge. St. Paul writes in his letters: 
"But earnestly desire the higher things. And I will show you a still more excellent way." 1 Corinthians 12:31

This path provides a number of options. I can go up a little ways and then take the branch off to the right which leads to the house on the rise. Or I can take the hairpin turn on the left which  leads down to the marshes and the horizon far off. Or again, I could continue on and into the curve at the top of the hill. We don't know what's around that curve: danger or delight, an even rougher road, inhospitable villagers, wonderful shade trees, a dead end. I could even decide to turn around and go back the way I came.

While my life-path includes the basics: where I grew up, what schools I attended, my job history - all the more it includes the people I have met (for good or ill), the experiences I have had that have helped to form the kind of person I have become. The life-path includes: 

  • the advances and setbacks
  • highs and lows,
  • joys and sorrows,
  • twists and turns,
  • ups and downs,
  • successes and failures,
  • coping and managing,
  • gains and losses,
  • and sometimes stories of survival.

But along the life-path some people carry a deep sense of regret.  I think we ought to use that word sparingly, because there's often so much to learn as we go through the downside. Hmm, maybe that downside is symbolized by the hairpin turn descending to the marshes in Levitan's painting.

At age 18 (1969) I joined a small community of Franciscan brothers in Western Ohio who ran some large residential schools for boys who were losing their way. But attached to these schools were working farms which allowed the schools to be self-sufficient. That was my interest: give me the tractor keys, a pitchfork, even a bucket and mop, and I'd be useful and happy.

But when I arrived at the Covington, Kentucky airport, the brother who met me said, "Well, you start school tomorrow." And I thought, "Good God - school! - I hate school." In a sweat-breaking panic (and looking up to the sky to see if the plane had left) I said in a choked voice. "Brother, I've joined the order to work the farm." And he said, "Oh, we're phasing all of that out; we want all of our brothers to be teachers." TEACHERS!?

Anyway, I stayed a year (1969 was an awful time to enter religious life) and then returned home. I got a job washing dishes at Friendly Ice Cream, thinking I'd do this for the rest of my life. But my mother pressed hard, telling me I had to go back to school. I dreaded the thought but started night classes at a two year college, later transferring to a four year college and securing a Bachelors in Education. I immediately got my first job teaching in a Manhattan Catholic school where my father had gone as a boy in 1913! The years which followed were productive and happy! 

"Well, you start school tomorrow!" You never know what's around the bend - maybe a life-changing, even life-saving encounter. 


  1. We all have paths to choose, not knowing where they will lead. Sometimes it is more comfortable to stay on the path that leads us to a comfortable place. Thank you for sharing your life changing path with us.

  2. The path of life can be bumpy indeed. That doesn't mean the path is wrong or that we should find and easier way. Jesus will guide us on the path as long as we let Him. Presently, He speaks to me through you Father as you are a spiritual guide. I am grateful that you took the bend in the path that led you to this place. What a blessing for me to have found you here, on the internet of all places.

  3. And all along my own life-path I have met the most wonderful people: faithful, kindly, dedicated, generous, happy, insightful, willing....How grateful I am.

  4. It is sad to think we are alone along the way. I would rather walk the path with my loved ones and bring them with me on my journey for their love and support. I know the decisions are essentially our own as to which branch we shall walk, but I fear being alone. I am glad to see this woman out walking. Maybe she is beckoning to us to walk with her.

  5. We are walking uphill, carefully picking our way over this rutted trail. Rising up and also being careful not to go to far to the one edge with the steep drop off. We want to reach our destination, not fall off and failing completely. Sometimes we fall too far to find our way back.

  6. Your story is a lesson to us. Even if life throws us a curve, we can turn it around and make the most of it, even making it life-saving. Inspirational!

  7. God changed the course of my life in a matter of seconds. In a conversation of three sentences I was picked up and put down on another path.