Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Water Lilies 1895

While the French Impressionist, Claude Monet, was beginning to paint his bright and atmospheric waterlilies, Isaak Levitan went his own way, depicting them floating above dark but translucent water, with finely detailed leaves and flowers. 

Water Lilies sink their roots into the mud of ponds, along the edges of lakes and in slow moving streams. And while Levitan has set out, so sensitively observant of even subtle leaf variations and decay, I'm wondering about something else he's got going on in this painting.

The pond water in Monet's paintings, while reflective of light, remains opaque. Levitan's pond water is translucent, we can see down into it, enabling us to feel something of the water's dark depths and the other water plants growing and stretching up to catch as much light as possible. It adds a new dimension for our consideration.

So what about these dark waters and light-seeking plants? These are troubling days. One highly regarded senior senator recently called the nation's atmosphere cynical. I wanted to be sure I had a nuanced understanding of cynicism, so I checked the dictionary.  

  • Cynicism is believing that people are motivated by self-interest;    distrustful of human sincerity or integrity.
  • Cynicism disregards appropriate standards in order to achieve one's  own self-interests. 

Stephen Colbert says, "Cynics always say no." Was it Bob Dylan who said, "You can't please a cynic if you try."

Levitan's water plants stretch up towards the light out of the gloom. Perhaps the painting invites us to detect cynicism within ourselves. "Just listen to yourself," the expression goes when we're speaking foolishly. Is there some inner place, an unconscious place, that wants to stretch up out of the dark, muddy shallows and into the light?

A week from today, Catholics all over the world will bump around in dark churches, welcoming the Risen Jesus with lighted candles. And when the great candle is halfway up the aisle, it is as if the flame jumps into the hands of the parishioners. The joy is palpable as the light spreads and intensifies.

I remember one year consciously thinking as I saw the flame passed on one to another, "Where is the darkness going?' It was as if the darkness was being literally pushed out of the building. 

Might those darkness-dispelling candles:

  • We're the people who believe light wins over darkness
  • We're the people who say yes more than no, 
  • We're the people who take pleasure in everything that's good
  • We're the people who hope to be characterized as children of the light.
  • We're the people who want even our unconscious selves - our inner dream world - to be permeated with light.

Click on the lighted candles below and listen to the Unionaires of Union College, sing the hymn: I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light. The lyrics to the three verses are found here as well, so we're sure not to miss any of the hymn's beauty. Take notice of how the choir savors the words, Jesus, God and Father and how the word God is carried in three ascending notes - like Levitan's water plants stretching up and out of the gloom, to light. 

I want to walk as a child of the light,
I want to follow Jesus.
God set the stars to give light to the world,
The star of my life is Jesus.


In him  there is no darkness at all.
The night and the day are both alike.
The Lamb is the light of the city of God.
Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.

I want to see the brightness of God.
I want to look at Jesus.
Clear sun of righteousness shine on my path,
And show me the way to the Father.

I'm looking for the coming of Christ.
I want to be with Jesus.
When we have run with patience the race,
We shall know the joy of Jesus.

This hymn is based on the following scripture verses: Ephesians 5:8-10, Revelation 21:23, John 12:46, 1 John 1:5, Hebrews 12:1


  1. The dark waters that surround us and keep us from achieving the light causes all of us to be at least a little bit cynical. How can we not, in today's world? I try to be like the water lily and keep myself afloat in these waters so that I can bask in the sunlight. Oh to feel the warmth and know that I am bathed in the light of God's love. If only I could help the others to rise up also and leave the darkness behind.

  2. The translucency of the water helps us to see what's inside ourselves. What are we hiding in the dark, murkiness below even deeper than what we can see here? Our roots cling to the bottom, our deepest darkest thoughts, which we are afraid to bring up, for if we lose our hold, we might float away and be lost. Or lime the browN lilies which have lost their lifeline, their earthly tether.

  3. It's a beautiful hymn Father. It is all about being in the light and in God, darkness doesn't even exist. I can't help but feel that we all have some cynicism in us. Even the happiest people I know can be cynical at times. I find myself distrustful of people. Maybe once you have been burned enough times, it is hard to believe it won't happen again. I'll focus on these candles and finding good thoughts as I listen to the hymn again. Blessed Holy Week Father Stephen. You are a ray of light in the dark.

  4. I'd say being careful (smart) isn't the same as being cynical. I get it. I've been hurt by some people (every priest has his detractors) so I've got my antennae up when I see them coming. Even Jesus went across the river to safety when the troublemakers were around him. Blessed Holy Week to you and your family too!

  5. The water lily is a symbol of eternal life in some religions. They have been found in Egyptian tombs dating back 3000 years. These plants that reach the light achieved salvation, while those held under the water, have to work harder to abandon their cynicism and bask in the light of God.