Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Lattice

In my profile on this blog, I wrote, “Probably I was a mystic and a theologian from my earliest years.” What I mean by that is that as far back as I can remember I had a powerful sense of wonder that made me want to see beyond the edges of the world, beyond matter, beyond the realm of the senses, where I was convinced there was something of supernatural beauty to be found. “Want” is far too weak a word; I was enamored of the concept of the quest for beauty, driven to find whatever was just out of reach, for I knew it was the source of the joy my heart longed for and knew must exist.

Because I had parents that took me to church I was pretty convinced that what I sought was God, whom I believed was close to me, in my very room, but whom I could not see. I wanted to see him. Sometimes I wanted that more than anything. I could sit and look at rain falling, or the patterns of leaves in a tree, or clouds at sunset, and believe that he could be found somewhere in those things. I was convinced that there was more to what only my senses could take in.

Because of this longing, from my earliest years my favorite hymn was “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence”: in the words of this beautiful hymn, mortal flesh is commanded to keep still and silent as the divine Presence draws near from infinite realms. Now that I have lived more than six decades, that choice has never changed, though other hymns have come close and for the same reason.

Youtube has several versions of this hymn. One good one is here, in which an orchestra and choir sing it at a Lutheran church near St. Louis at Christmastime. There is also a haunting version here, accompanied by a photo montage of ethereal beauty.

Near, so near, yet always just out of reach. I have mentioned on this blog before (see Garden) the little book I found in the early 1970s that introduces prayer to children. In it one chapter begins with these words: “There is a painting in Tissot’s Life of Christ, illustrating the verse from Solomon’s Song, ‘he looketh forth at the windows, showing Himself through the lattice’, in which you see, amid tall sunflowers, the Face of the white-robed Christ gazing through an Eastern trellis.” (The verse is Song of Solomon 2:9. Tissot's four-volume set of watercolors and sketches of scenes in the Holy Land was published in 1909.)

As soon as I read this part of the book for the first time, I looked in my seminary library and was pleased to find a copy of Tissot’s book. More than thirty years later, for my 54th birthday, a member of my parish gave me the first volume of this now rare and expensive book as a gift. I scanned that particular image and now use it in my devotions.

It is the symbol of my great longing, which I have long known is the desire to be one with Jesus. Though he is the overwhelming Presence who descends to mortal flesh, he is also the Friend who peers in at the lattice of my home, seeking me out. Because he is both in my heart and the One whom my heart seeks, he is both my Satisfaction and my Desire.

If anyone reads this blog, I apologize for not posting for such a long time. I have at least a dozen ideas for posts, and I hope to put them up in a more timely manner.