how to view art

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Just last week, a favorite blogger of mine, Cup of Jo, highlighted this article which suggests a different approach to visiting an art museum: choosing one or two or three art works that speak to you in some way and spending a good chunk of time in front of each one.

When I visited the Met on Friday, I tried it.

There’s a room with three or four El Grecoes; we’ve got one of his Adoration of the Shepherds (above) prints in our dining room, but this time, I was struck by El Greco’s Healing of the Man Born Blind (below).

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I sat and stared at this painting for probably about seven or eight minutes; studying its intricacies, noticing the way light was reflected off draped clothing, gazing intently at the faces and their displayed emotions.  I’d had a really strange and wonderful experience earlier in the visit (to the Metropolitan Museum of Art) with John the Baptist and St. Francis, and the tree of Jesse (more in a post coming soon!), and in this particular image I was struck by how familiar the bald man in the right-center of the picture seemed to me.

And was here was a ton of energy because of what Jesus was doing in the middle of the painting, or in spite of` what was happening with Jesus and the man born blind?

It didn’t even really register with me till I found the photo of this painting online that the characters near the center-bottom of the image, who in the little info card next to the painting in the museum referred to as possibly the blind man’s parents, seem to be at least somewhat inter-racial–of course, I’d observed their skin tone, but it hadn’t struck me as strange till I electronically grabbed the image and remembered it’s about 500 years old.

El Greco is so much about texture, it’s hard to appreciate the image without his super gloppy painting style.  It was well-worth a few extra minutes’ time.

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In hot pursuit of Spanish-influenced artists, I sought the Met’s collection of Caravaggios.  That day, The Denial of Peter caught me.  I sat and watched.  Caravaggio’s use of light has captured my imagination since I saw something of his in a museum in Dublin.  Peter’s face is fully lit–his aging bald head similar to the one I observed in El Greco’s piece–and all hand in the painting (even his own!) point toward him.  We see the glint of the soldier’s armor, and the suspicious eyes of the woman near the fire, all judging whether Peter is part of the rabble-rousing troupe who had populated the courtyard that night.

How many times had I been in that courtyard, full light glaring in my face, trying desperately, defiantly, not to shield my eyes from the truth while at the same time denying its power over me?

Meditating on a few pieces, looking deeply into the true, hard work which the artists had put into their paintings, helped me to understand more deeply God’s movements in our lives.

What do you see in these paintings?  Do you have a painting or piece of art that changed or expanded your understanding of God, or the divine, or the world?

A Day in Manhattan

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1. started at St. Thomas Fifth Avenue; I woke up with Beyonce/JayZ in my head, and a familiar-but-unwelcome creeping desire for more lucrative life-decisions in my heart, and if that reredos doesn’t cure such things, nothing will.

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2. The Strand and some new-to-me volumes.  Last time I was here, I formed a buzzfeed quiz in my mind: “At which NYC landmark are you most likely to run into an ex?”  This was mine.

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3. Rainy day hat.  Living the dream of every girl born in the 80’s; Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?

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4. Nothing like a New York tea room.  Last time, Jordan and I discovered Bosie Tea Parlor after being rather unceremoniously kicked out of Tea & Sympathy.  Today (above), it was Podunk.  Perfect!

It was there that I sat and tried to read, and then tried to write, and then, finally decided/realized that the bit of puff pastry I’d eaten under the guise of hospitality at dinner last night, and the bite of pork bun I’d had at lunch today (Momofuku–along with John Krasinski & Emily Blunt, NBD–below) were not a joke.  That is to say, gluten is not a joke.  The energy, clarity of mind, and as my dear sweet brother will attest, evenness-of-temper which a gluten-free diet has afforded me were derailed by even just a few bites of wheaty goodness.  I think the experiment isn’t going to end soon…

(see there, in the corner?  that’s Emily, turned toward us; and John is clearly telling her something very dramatic and important turned the other way.)

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Wondering While I’m Wandering

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Headed to NYC this afternoon to spend a few days with my sweet brother enjoying autumn in the city.

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Listening to Empire State of Mind & hoping that Alicia Keys is right–that the big lights will inspire me. Looking forward to sharing some of that inspiration here upon my return.

I’ve been noodling around with organization, content, and concept here on Hope of Things Not Seen. As the weather changes I’m itchy to get things a little more accessible, warm, and streamlined in this little corner of the internets.

What’re YOU looking for here? What do you want to read more about? What do you like?

so small – what I learned at Mont Saint-Michel

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During our northern-France pilgrimage this summer, we went to Mont Saint-Michel.  I’d been maybe 15 years ago, but I experienced it very differently this time, of course.  It’s the most dramatic approach of anywhere I’ve ever been.  First, it’s a little spire in the distance–literally pointing toward heaven, directing all those who see and approach to focus their attention on God.  IMG_2303

It was cloudy, windy, and a bit rainy as we walked the pilgrim’s way toward the Mont (by afternoon, at the top of the post, it’d cleared up beautifully).  When you think you’re almost there, you aren’t–as you pass the dam (above) you’re actually only getting close to the pedestrian-only/official-buses-only section; the pavement ends and those on foot continue on real earth (it was sort of lovely and medieval).

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Then you finally arrive, and crane your neck.  The main tower points like a finger toward the sky, with the smaller spires of the main chapel’s gothic apse joining in, beckoning your attention toward the vast expanse of sky symbolizing the vastness and the glory of God.

 

 

 

 

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Just below the highest tower (below) much of it is blocked from view–you can see its fullness more clearly from afar.  In the midst of life, often it’s more difficult to contemplate the whole thing; a step back, contemplation, slowness, helps us humans, limited as we are, to take in the greatness of God and of life.

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The upper main chapel is extraordinary, as are the rooms in which monks have lived, eaten, prayed, studied, and celebrated for centuries; this time, though, I was deeply affected by the Chapel of St. Martin, built almost exactly a thousand (1000!) years ago.  The automated guide told me, almost apologetically, that it hadn’t been touched much in the intervening millennium.  In classic, understated Romanesque style, this quiet, sparse, dark little room was my favorite moment of the whole day.

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Can you imagine praying where God-seekers have been soaking the walls with prayers for a thousand years?  As far as we are removed for those who built this holy place for prayer and worship to the glory of God, they themselves were removed from Jesus’ time in Galilee.  When I realized that as I sat at the back of this chapel, I started to understand how small I am in the course of history and in the life of the church.

Though our lives matter–the prayers we offer and the virtues we cultivate–each one of us is tiny, miniscule, perhaps even so small as to be statistically irrelevant, in comparison to the Church (all people who have sought after God throughout time and space).  Our significance comes from being part of something much larger than ourselves, a millenia-long heritage.  Being so small is a comfort to me, though; I am not such a linchpin myself that my shoulders need bend and break under the weight.  The little pieces each of us contribute are offerings to this great God of centuries and space.

Fear not!  As pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber said recently, “The Church of Jesus Christ has survived papal corruption, the crusades, sectarianism, and clown ministry. It will survive us too.”

how to make: leek & potato tart

Last week, I bought some leeks.  I thought perhaps I’d make some soup, but it was in the mid-to-high 90s every day.  With vegetarians coming over to dinner and red potatoes languishing in my pantry, I was once again inspired by France.

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Leeks are delicious members of the onion family, though they are also famous for catching and keeping dirt.  Once chopped, one or more water baths with much swooshing is necessary to release the grit trapped in between the many layers.

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Heat a tablespoon each of olive oil & butter in a skillet at medium heat, add 2 chopped and cleaned leeks, and cook till soft–about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the leeks cook, slice 8 ounces small potatoes.

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I believe that good is not the enemy of perfect (or I try to live as if I believe this), and so I keep pie crusts from Trader Joe’s in my freezer.  De-frost, press into a tart pan (or pie dish, or even a 9-inch round cake pan), lay down a layer of foil or parchment, and pour some rice, dried beans, or fancy pie weights into the middle of the crust (to keep it from putting on airs and getting all bubbly while it bakes).

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 10 minutes.

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Remove the rice/beans/weights, and let the tart crust cool slightly.

Add potatoes to the leeks in the skillet, along with about 2/3 cup liquid–some cream, some wine, some broth–whatever is on hand and sounds desirable.  Season with salt and pepper, and some thyme or parsley or sage or rosemary–anything that seems Frenchy and that happens to be fresh.  For me, today, it was thyme.  I even threw a few sprigs on top of the tart for good measure.

Add the potato-leek mixture to the tart crust and spread evenly.  Sprinkle with cheese if desired (I meant to, and forgot).  Bake for 35-45 minutes at 375 degrees.

Because of the temperature outside, I served this room temperature–you can also serve it warm.  With a little vinaigrette & some greens, it’s a perfect lunch or dinner.

how to make: croque madame!

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Melty, broiled ham & cheese with a runny fried egg–what’s not to like?

When I first went to Paris probably 15 years ago, I did not learn the brilliance of this dish.  I may have even turned up my nose at it–no wonder my parents were frustrated!  That little girl had no sense, absolutely no sense at all.

I’ve now learned my lesson.  It’s a favorite sick-food of mine, and easy enough both for sick girls and for well-meaning husbands to attempt!

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For two sandwiches, melt a tablespoon of butter into a small saucepan (medium heat).  Add a tablespoon of flour, and whisk.  The flour will start to brown–this is good!–and once it’s a nice caramel color, add about 2/3 cup milk and continue whisking.  The mixture will thicken, and now, you’ve made bechamel sauce!  Congratulations!

We’re not done yet.  Add a healthy handful, maybe a bit more than 1/2 cup, of a good hard cheese like gruyere, parmesan, or little bits of whatever is in your fridge.  Now, you have Mornay sauce.  Isn’t that much better?

Now, take four slices of bread (the airier the better, as to soak up the sauce), spread two with mustard, and layer a slice or two of ham with a slice of cheese (can be something different–I had Havarti–or the same as above), and top with the other slices of bread.  Pour the Mornay sauce over the top, and sprinkle a few tablespoons of grated gruyere on top.  BROIL.

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While broiling, heat up your nonstick skillet and fry two eggs.  Once the cheese is bubbling on the sandwiches, take ’em out, top ’em with an egg, and grab a fork & knife–no way to eat this “sandwich” with fingers!

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