Artistic motive

November 16, 2010

“I am sure that an artist’s qualities (even purely human) can be in his creativity, that a writer in his life does not necessarily correspond to the writer in his creativity…

On the contrary, one of the motive forces, one of the causes of creativity is precisely the intense contradiction between life and what the writer creates.”

–From The Journals of Alexander Schmemann, May 12, 1975


October 17, 2010

I’ve been reading this one over and over:

“The horror, the terror of death is one of the strongest existing feelings: regret about leaving this world, “the gentle kingdom of this earth.” (G. Bernanos), but what if this “gentle kingdom,” this open sky, these hills and woods flooded with the sun, this silent praise of colors, of beauty, of light, what if all this is finally nothing other than the revelation of what is behind death; a window of eternity? Yes, but this unique, grayish day, the light suddenly coming on at dusk, all that the heart remembers so acutely–they are not anymore, they cannot be brought back…But the heart remembers, precisely because this gray day has shown us eternity. I will not remember that particular day in eternity, but that day was a breakthrough into eternity, a sort of remembrance of the eternity of God, of life everlasting.

All this has been said a thousand times. But when it reaches the heart and becomes a living experience…where from, why? Such peace, such joy, such a dissolution of fear, of grief, of depression, fills the heart. And one wish remains: to be able to carry that feeling without spilling it, to not let it dry out or lose its fragrance in our daily bustle.”

–Father Alexander Schmemann, September 25, 1974

I know this is why I get up so early in the morning. I wish to carry that feeling I get watching the sun reflect off the pink building in the relative quiet. And I wish to carry that feeling to those I love.

October 15, 2010

“The prophet is always defenseless because against him stands an arsenal of ready, tested ideas.”

–Father Alexander Schmemann, April 16, 1974

In this case, he was referring to Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn, but it seems true across the board. And interesting that the person with the “arsenal” was Sakharov.

At home with God

October 6, 2010

At home, when all is done, life itself begins. Christ was homeless not becasue He despised simple happiness–He did have a childhood, family, home–but because he was at home everywhere in the world, which His Father created as the “home” of man. “Peace be with this house.” We have our home and God’s home, the Church, and the deepest experience of the Church is that of a home. Always the same and, above anything else, life itself–the Liturgy, evening, morning, a feast–and not an activity.”

–Father Alexander Schmemann, December 14, 1973

I am intrigued by Father Schmemann’s idea of the church as something not primarily about activity, even mental activity. Because churches show their love actively in the world (one hopes), one can get the idea sometimes that they are almost primarily a society for the promotion of the Christian life.

If I understand Schmemann correctly, what he’s saying is that the church is a place where we meed God, who existed before all time. And yet we are welcome in Christ, like a family. The church is far more than the sum of its activities, or even its doctrines, though it is those, too. It is a transcendent, cosmic, home.

September 30, 2010

“To be close to people, but alone, and suddenly to feel with extraordinary force these woods, these empty wet branches against the gray sky, all the things that are stifled by the presence of people coming to life, living their own independent existence, every minute whole, not fragmented.”

–Father Alexander Schmemann, December 12, 1973

Fullness, not fuss

September 29, 2010

“I know, of course, when I think rationally, that the church is needed as well as all the hard work and the all-too-human activity that accompanies it. But what remains from that conversation is an unpleasant aftertaste…

I would like to live in such a away that every particle of time would be fullness (and not fuss); and being full, time would be prayer, a tie, a relationship with God, transparency for God who gave us life, not fuss.”

–From The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann, November 26 and 28, 1973

I agree, deeply, and this is always a struggle for me. I know that much of what the church does is in the real world and someone has to organize it, but oh, the fuss! I don’t think this is snobbery or sour grapes. It just seems to me, somehow, that the church is always a few short steps away from devolving into a slightly-behind-the-curve social club. And though I’d like to live a healthy, well-adjusted group life almost as much as the next person, the church is so infinitely much more.

Among my favorite parts of The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann are the passages in which he describes close friendships, family, or just the weather. I like the more abstract parts, too, but when I think back over what passages I’ve enjoyed, the concrete ones stand out.

This morning I was reading at the very beginning of the book, and these stood out:

What pure joy! Working in the dining room with Tom Hopko, with whom I always feel the presence of light and goodness. Snow outside my window.


I learned today about the sudden death of…Illarion Vorontsov. Two weeks ago, I had lunch with him in LA. Fifty-three years old. He is part of the happy, even piercing memories of my childhood…He had an amazing beauty, the beauty of his whole being, his quietness, love of poetry, our shared love for the Church, his constant dissatisfaction with earthly things, without any claim in pseudo-spirituality…Although we hardly ever saw each other, every encounter was filled with joy.

In a world in which networking has increasingly replaced friendship, Father Schmemann was a man who knew how to be a friend.