Last week I watched Words and Pictures, the absolutely charming comedy (with sufficient depth) featuring Juliette Binoche and Clive Owen: and art teacher and English teacher who stage a competition among their students to determine what are more important: words or pictures. We live in a world which such a massive focus is placed upon the words, notwithstanding me writing this blog itself, and my recent addition as a featured travel writer for an online magazine.
Words have been helpful for me as a means by which I can help understand classify and structure the world around me. I think it’s completely natural for us as humans to use words to systematise things – whether it is face, philosophy, relationships, or pretty much anything else.
This morning, on the second day of my sabbatical, I arrived early in Rome, and upon walking towards my hotel I discovered the most magnificent basilica. I’ve ventured in and found myself sitting amongst a couple of pews, completely dwarfed by overwhelming grandeur and spaciousness of the church. I sat unknown and anonymous.
My reticence, grief and exhaustion together provided a rather confusing space for me to be in. Who am I in the midst of this transition? Who am I sitting in the sanctuary? I’m rather desperate to have answers to understand something more of my identity in this new space, both physically, spiritually, and psychologically.
The answer that was given to me was in a rather unexpected away, but was what I needed. My eyes began to explore the spacious and grand surroundings of the basilica. There was something of a gentle familiarity in what was represented in the frescoes, sculptures, tapestries and various other artworks. I recognized most astutely that I was surrounded by them quite literally. My words fail in this emotionally and spiritually phlegmatic space-further demonstrated by the fact that the Italian liturgy of the service I has stumbled into was all but lost on me. I discovered that there was something of a safety in the place where words and understanding we were allowed to wane and eventually disappear completely. Instead panoramic glances reminded me that I am held in the narrative that is much bigger than myself. As I approached the priest for communion, my tears shamelessly revealed something of the struggle that was taking place between my heart and head. The former trying its best to as gently as possible convince the letter to let go. To simply be. Be held and surrounded by something which I did not need to understand or necessarily define.
As I received the host and realised that my words nor my actions had necessarily end me that gift rather it is the life of another given for me. Another gift to remind me that I am not alone.
Yes, words have this space, and pictures of theirs, but sometimes more powerfully are the relational aspects that weave the two together and produce something that neither of the two could never have achieved on their own.
I may not have been able to communicate with any of the 10 or 11 others that had gathered for the early morning Mass, and I may be only one of two people who I know in this country at the moment, but I am not alone and I am held by something and Someone greater,even when I can’t put words or pictures to it.
For the error bred in the bone, of each woman and man, craves what it cannot have, not universal love, but to be loved alone. – Auden