Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Quiet Abode ~ The Silent Monastery



This is the Krivooserski Monastery near Yuryevets, Russia. Levitan spent the summer of 1890 here, painting and sketching. He knows the forest and the river are holy places too, not just the monastic buildings. 

A wooden footbridge (needing repairs) connects us to the far side. It is quiet and still here, even the river is calm, so calm, water lilies grow in the bottom left corner. The monastery's reflection is very beautiful, isn't it? What we're looking at is so important, we get to see it twice.

There are four cupolas on the far right church, (though one is hidden from view) symbolizing the Four Evangelists gathered around Christ. They also signify lighted candles - the monastic community's prayer ignited by faith. 

We might wonder how this painting would be received today? Would it be rejected because the theme is so overtly religious: "I'm spiritual, not religious," people say. 

One website says about this painting, "The bridge links the monastery to the outer world." That's correct of course, but only on a very practical level. Rather, the monastery on the other side of the river calls us to traverse the river, walking over the unsure bridge, to our own inner monastery, our own interior silent place. We remember the invitation of Jesus:
"And now the apostles came together again in the presence of Jesus, and told him of all they had done, and all the teaching they had given. And he said to them, Come away into a quiet place by yourselves, and rest a little. For there were many coming and going, and they scarcely had leisure even to eat.  So they took ship, and went to a lonely place by themselves." Mark 6:30-32
This invitation echoes another Gospel verse from the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus teaches us about prayer:
"But when you are praying, go into your inner room and shut the door upon yourself, and so pray to your Father in secret; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." Matthew 6:6
Of course Jesus is talking about an inner room. Most people don't have a private physical space to call their own. I remember when I was a young teacher in the early 1970's and on the deafening subway going up to Harlem every weekday morning - I'd see African-American women sitting peacefully with small open bibles on their laps. They would understand this painting.

9 comments:

  1. I appreciate how you explain the symbolism to us to get our thoughts going. It really helps to bring me to that interior place you speak of. I look at a reflection buy you tell us it is so beautiful, we get to see it twice. How often have I seen a picture with a mirror image in a body of water and never thought that. I can picture myself sitting on the rickety bridge and contemplating the scene, and letting it bring me to my inner place.

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  2. The rickety bridge reminds me that it might be a scary traverse to get to my inner place of peace. I would ave to be willing to take the risk of confronting unpleasant thoughts in order to reach that peaceful place. How many of us would take that first step?

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    1. "Scary traverse" - real work involved in coming to know ourselves deeply. We prefer to "hang out on the shore."

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  3. Millions of people in the North East are going to be staying indoors today, hunkering down through this enormous snowstorm. Maybe we can take the opportunity to ponder these Levitan landscapes and let them work on us. Blessed Lent.

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    1. With the snowfall today, it is hard to imagine that Easter is coming soon. It certainly is a strange Lenten season. These weather distractions test our ability to stay on course. Let us keep our eyes and and thoughts on these Levitan landscapes and remain spiritually focused as the winds whip outside.

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  4. Notice how the buildings of the monastery are hidden from view. Not only do you have to cross the broken down bridge, but you have to find your ways through the dense trees to get to the holy buildings. Each step is part of the journey that lets us discover what is rooted deep in our hearts. Fear sometimes brings out our true inner selves, for we forget to keep our outer shell intact in favor of survival.

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    1. And tomorrow's post is Levitan's painting of the same monastery two years later and from a different vantage point!

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  5. This is one of the most meaningful posts for me in this Levitan series. I could look at this all day and think about the path to my interior. It really is a wonderful painting.

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