2014. október 13., hétfő

Psalm 71 and the Late Turner

'Upon you have I leaned from my birth, when you drew me from my mother's womb, my praise shall be always with you' (Ps 71:6). Upon you have I leaned from my birth, when you drew me from my mother's womb, my praise shall be always with you' (Ps 71:6). Upon you have I leaned from my birth, when you drew me from my mother's womb, my praise shall be always with you' (Ps 71:6). Listening to the origins is re-valuated in these times. The turmoils of the age, the constant machine-noise of the city (in my case, London) demands this turning back. What happens, what do we observe when we look back to our long shadow, our past? In the well of our depth, we find an original commitment to God. This is true despite the fact that neither can we properly name Him, nor commit ourselves immediately to his Presence. The Paslmist's words form a call to contemplate this lost image of God, which is the lost image of ourselves. Also, that of history, which we cannot name either.

This is the birth of the psychic space in us. This interior is long awaited. It cries out for our ability to name things, to reflect upon our lives. 'Let my mouth be full of your praise, and your glory all the day long.' (Psalm 71:8) This is in this flexible space, regained inner order, where the chaos of our world can be accommodated again. I read this surrounding chaos of history personified in the request: 'In you, O Lord, I seek refuge, let me never be put to shame... Deliver me from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the evildoer and the oppressor.' (Psalm 71:1.4.)
All judgement and action, political, moral, and spiritual must be born from this inner place. If we do not have 'names' for the events of our world, how could we act with integrity in it? 


Our most profound instinct is not sexual but social. That is, the desire for the 'other', to create and sustain a loving relationship. It seems, there is an even deeper 'instinct' in us, an even more intense passion. This is the above passion for words, the desire to create and recreate the human interior. In other words, this most profound passion in us for 'naming' the world. As this being the precondition of shaping it for the better.

As an illustration of this ability to create the syntax and grammar of seeing our reality in a human way, Turner's late paintings come to mind from Tate Britain. The exhibition 'Late Turner' aptly illustrate our turning back to the hidden and lost God-image which lies behind us, somewhere at the origins of our journey. Turner's increasingly becoming abstract and puzzling for his contemporaries in the last decade of his life is the realm of the Psalmist. The visible lines of nature, shapes and contours, indeed become more and more blurred and undefined. This is an expression of a kind of historical uncertainty. The late 1840's were indeed a turning point perceived by the ageing artist. The object of these late canvases is only seemingly a particular point in nature. Though the scenes are often named with geographical precision, the subject matter of the late Turner is much bigger than the visible. It is history itself. That historical path, increasingly complex and unreflected, which occupies Turner's failing eyes.

Room 4 bears the title 'That Real Sea Feeling'. Room five is 'Last Works'. There is one painting which captures my memory in particular now, when meditating on Psalm 71. 'Storm'. The sea, with its waves, is as if in a distance. The brute force of nature, water erupting on the cliffs, is clearly stated. Yet, the waves are seen from a distance. Their power is highlighted if we translate it into the categorical imperative which the Psalmist, the observer of our history, formulates. We must see beyond the chaotic forces of the raging sea of History. One must focus on a distant face, our innermost thirst being reflected in this, at present invisible, imago Dei. The face of God as the presence of desired human interior. This tentative recognition straight away brings to memory the last, calm sea paintings of Turner. When the sea is tamed only to pose for us motionless, in white, in quiet breading.

13.10.2014. Pimlico, London.


O Lord, open in me your wisdom.
Open in me your compassion for the world.
Open in me your never failing Presence in order that
I may regain all the time I lost and emptied of love.
Open in me, o Lord, the richness of your vision,
in order to better perceive you and all the needs
which become visible in the light of your Face,
to which we should turn in time, now.