Revolting Gothic

I remember being taken through Skopje, in Macedonia, by my realtor in the 90s and asking her what she thought of the (relatively) modern Orthodox cathedral in its centre. 'It is too Catholic,' she replied. I puzzled over what she meant until I found a clue in an interview that the philosopher, Jacob Needleman, conducted with Metropolitan Anthony, in his remarkable book, 'Lost Christianity'. Metropolitan Anthony was the long running representative of the Russian Orthodox Church in London. A remarkable man: insightful, holy, penetrating with extraordinary eyes that looking at you felt seen, through and through.

In the interview, the Metropolitan is describing why he had always been revolted by the 'Gothic' in architecture. In it all is ascent, a striving after, something vertical that is absenting itself - it is not a place that you receive as 'home' as you would a Romanesque church (or a traditional Orthodox one), where you are encompassed in a story that flows horizontally around you, and where God is not 'up there' but present, presence. The vast, concrete interior space of the Skopje cathedral captured that Gothic displacement, not a Orthodox homeliness.

I was thinking of this in relation to my prior entry on 'Zen' and in continuing to read R.H. Blyth's classic, 'Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics', and why it matters that we 'see' 'symbolism' as a compensatory 'mistake' rather than an exalted form of meaning making. It is what emerges when a gap opens up between 'the real' and our current state as a kind of bridging mechanism. Ideally, we cross over the bridge, to the 'other shore' and leave it behind but, more often than not, we tarry on the 'bridge' finding every excuse for not crossing over. After all 'symbols' can be very alluring, we can spend any amount of time pondering their meanings (and arguing over them) and our attachment to them gives us an exalted sense of identity (rather than losing our identity in the presence-ing of things).

It is why 'religion' is so inordinately attractive and so dangerous and why, to quote a Buddhist parable, 'if you meet the Buddha on the road, you should kill him' rather than turn him into a bridging symbol of what you would 'like' to but cannot attain.

I remember another question and answer session with a remarkable Russian. This time the film director, Andrei Tarkovsky, where he was asked, 'What is the symbolism of rain in your films?' (as it often is). To which Tarkovsky replied, 'No symbolism, just rain'! What does it require of us to penetrate through to seeing 'just rain' in all its suchness?



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