Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Above Eternal Tranquility 1893-4



This is one of Levitan's most well-known paintings: Above Eternal Rest. And indeed, we seem to be (Peter-Pan like) flying above the scene. We are in a primeval place - an ancient place perhaps reflecting the moment when God separated the waters above from the waters below, or when God called the dry land out of the waters. What a beautiful planet God has given us.

The view seems to go on forever. The waters are not static but charged, as is the air with the wind whipping up the Hemlock trees on the island or promontory. We're on the move along with the clouds that are passing overhead. 

And there is a little cemetery behind the church. It's message: Our days are limited; we don't have forever to get this spiritual vision. Indeed, with the rolling back of environmental protections, perhaps we are going backwards. The price we will have to pay for our indifference and the glorification of money will be very dear. 

Levitan was Jewish, but he lived in the atmosphere of Russian Orthodoxy. It couldn't be ignored. It is said that church bells could be heard across Russia all day. One painter, sitting near Levitan during an outdoor painting session, heard the bells and observed Levitan silently making the Sign of the Cross.

And so Levitan has placed a little church of weathered wood on the island too. The church is built in three sections: the part facing out to the horizon is the entrance, the middle part under the cupola is where the congregation prays, the section nearest the trees is the sanctuary. Levitan isn't telling us to go to church, but rather, this entire scene invites and encourages spiritual awareness. 

Imagine standing at the church door facing out: Look! God is here among us. I think Levitan might want us to understand this divine presence in light of the church's weakness in the late 19th century. Still, look so, so closely through the bending Hemlock - there is a tiny light inside the church. Can you see it? Levitan is telling us that the light of the Church is not extinguished. Perhaps he knows there are great saints walking among the spiritually weak clergy and great theologians among the indifferent, not a few of whom will apostatize in the fomenting revolution. 

Stand amazed! Stand in the noisy wind whipping around - like God's enlivening breath, and the Pentecost wind blowing to renew the face of the earth!

P.S. Scroll back to the post for February 26 if you'd like to see what these Levitan Lenten posts are all about.


9 comments:

  1. We might also notice the path leading to the church, showing us that it is not forgotten, or maybe it is our invitation to enter and feel God's divine presence. To step into the light.

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  2. Thank you Fr. S - I have at times felt like weathered wood on a promontory. You offer consoling insight there is a perspective from above and within lest I not get too windswept. This is a bit of 'spiritual geography' to borrow a theme from Kathleen Norris book 'Dakota' . The cover of that book resembles this painting.

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    1. Feeling like "weathered wood" - oh I'd say there's lots of folks reading your comment who share that sense of self.

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  3. The Church looks out at nature's beauty. It is untouched by human hand, still raw and awaiting the storm lurking in the distance.

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    1. Oh, oh, oh - I'm shifting things around for tomorrow now that I've seen your comment here. Stay tuned.

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  4. I like to keep up with Russian painters, didn't know of Levitan. I wonder if he and Ilya Repin intersected. I'll have to find out.

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  5. Ha! Both Levitan and Repin were Peredvizhniki.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peredvizhniki

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  6. "Wanderers" - Many of these artists were geographical travelers but the wandering, it seems to me, has more to do with the wandering in the world of artistic expression.

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