Speeding Up or Slowing Down? Horizontal or Vertical?

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Martha. Martha. You are distracted by many things. Only one thing is necessary. Your sister has chosen that one thing and it will not be taken from her.

Luke 10:41-42, TT (Tripp’s Translation) 😊

My mind wanders over the landscape of thought while painting, and as I work on this locomotive composition, the story of Jesus visiting Mary and Martha keeps visiting my consciousness. If you haven’t read the account in Luke’s Gospel, I urge you to take a look at the brief story. While Mary sits at the feet of Jesus in their home, hanging on his every spoken word, Martha is prattling about the house trying to get everything in order to serve their guests. Finally, in frustration, she implores Jesus to tell her sister to get up and help with the tasks. His response is posted above. The contrast between the sisters is front and center of my thoughts this morning, and I’m going to try and work this out: charging Martha vs. contemplative Mary.

I am developing a painting of a steam locomotive charging and snorting across the landscape like a runaway steed. We can imagine a scene inside this charging vessel of iron: sedentary people drinking coffee, nibbling pastries, smoking cigars and reading newspapers. The surface appearance would suggest a calm interior contrasted with the velocity outside. But within this nexus of people we would likely find the same contrast: some of them charging impatiently toward appointments, others quietly enjoying the journey.

Suspended above the train, stars weave intricate constellations, but few inside the train are looking out the windows in admiration. Or, to draw from the observations of Pythagoras, the stars perform complex symphonies, but few will listen. The world still offers unspeakable resources to a people who will not respond.

We live in an age of sharp contrasts, but the weight seems distributed toward the frenetic. In this current digital media age, we hurtle through life at warp speed, many of us chasing every stimulus that presents itself. Restless people in our culture carry smart phones and are constantly engaged with the screens, reading, texting, flitting from platform to platform, seldom pausing to absorb many of the gifts the environment offers. One of the greatest gifts is repose.

If we are to become a more thoughtful culture, a more fulfilled people, what would we need to consider? If mature, reflective thought and response is to come from us, what do we need? How do we harness the discipline to think twice before responding? Soak time is required. Time to pause. To breathe. To center. To compost. Heidegger once wrote: “We never come to thoughts. They come to us.” How often are we willing and patient to allow fresh ideas to come to us? Why do we think happiness and contentment must be chased? Captured?

On May 6, 1963 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, theologian Paul Tillich was the principal speaker at the fortieth anniversary party for Time magazine. His audience consisted of 284 subjects of Time cover stories, including Adlai Stevenson and Douglas MacArthur. His address was titled “The Ambiguity of Perfection.” His biographer Wilhelm Pauck summarized the event:

Pointing to the ambiguous character of all high achievement, Tillich hammered home to his audience the idea that the human condition is ever ambiguous, an “inseparable mixture of good and evil, of creative and destructive forces, both individual and social . . . there is nothing unambiguously creative and nothing unambiguously destructive. They accompany each other inseparably.”

The same was true, he continued, of the one-dimensional culture of which they were all a part. It was a free society, to be sure, but one without depth: its ceaseless expansion, whether into outer space or on the production line, had created an almost irresistible temptation on the part of everyone to produce in order to produce still more.

Tillich exhorted the producers of cultural goods to stop moving in this one-dimensional direction—to come to a halt in order to “enter creation and unite with its power,” in short, to add the vertical line of depth to the horizontal line of extension. In a direct reference to his own role as a Socratic gadfly, he pointed out that the creative critics of contemporary society no longer needed to fear martyrdom, but were instead forced to “fight against being absorbed by the culture as another cultural good.”

Martha was the quintessential, spastic reactor, the embodiment of frenetic energy, always churning. Mary, the reflective one, knew that one thing mattered. One thing was necessary. Jesus said she found it, and it would not be taken away from her. May we find that resolve to figure out what matters.

Thanks for reading. Please check out my blog http://www.davidtrippart.com.

Shultz reducedI make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

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