“Are you and I an aberration
flickering upon the screen
sending out our best transmissions
waiting in our velveteen…
Tell me you can really see me…
And I don’t know where we are
but we’re passing through these wires
Walking through the streets
of invisible empires…”
This morning my email inbox contained a news release for Sara Groves’ new album, Invisible Empires. She quotes Eugene Peterson’s wonderful book on the Psalms, A Long Obedience:
“People are at the center of Christian work… We travel light. The character of our work is shaped not by accomplishments or possessions but in the birth of relationships.” (Peterson, on Ps. 127)
Peterson’s insight holds true for any kind of work, and for any traveler in this world.
This afternoon I came across a poem by Miller Williams entitled “The Curator,” which is a moving depiction of Peterson’s insight. Although set in an art museum rather than a library, the ethos and sensibility is much the same whether one cares for books or other objects. We curators pour our lives into acquiring the skills to appreciate the items we collect, and we commit our hearts to their preservation. But all that would be nothing without communicating them somehow to others, without establishing a personal connection with other people in which we then share an understanding of the meaning of the collection. I love the books I work with; yet my motivation lies even more in coming to see the personal experiences of the author’s world “behind the book” and connecting that with the ways people now experience the books in their own lives because of what I do. Collected objects are physical and tangible, but the personal relationships across time and space engendered by that common experience are more real still. Williams’ poem about the Curators of an art museum in Leningrad during the German advance in World War 2 makes this clear.
“Maybe this was a way to forget the war
a little while. Maybe more than that.
Whatever it was, the people continued to come.
It came to be called The Unseen Collection…”
David pointed me to a book, The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean (review), which juxtaposes two phases in the life of one of the museum workers: first, her memories of giving tours of the museum’s collections during the German approach to Leningrad, and second, her much later descent into Alzheimer’s, with its memory loss and consequent sundering of many meaningful relationships and personal connections.
“She is leaving him, not all at once, which would be painful enough, but in a wrenching succession of separations. One moment she is here, and then she is gone again, and each journey takes her a little farther from his reach. He cannot follow her, and he wonders where she goes when she leaves.” (Dean)
We travel light, indeed. The weight of glory lifts us upward.
“The slow erosion of self has its compensations. Having forgotten whatever associations might dull her vision, she can look at a leaf and see it for the first time. Though reason suggests it otherwise, she has never seen this green before. It is wondrous. Each day the world is made fresh again, holy and she takes it in, in all its intensity, like a young child.” (Dean)
If the doctrine of the Trinity means anything, it is this: People and relationships remain at the center of reality, no matter what.
“Don’t say: ‘We have come now to the end.’
White shores are calling
You and I will meet again.’ (Into the West.)
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