Who was the Charlie Brown character that is known for saying “Ugh!”? That’s how I feel this morning — UGH!!!
In a little more than an hour I will drive through the heart of Minneapolis during the morning rush hour. Having made the commute six times last week I really don’t look forward to the ordeal. However, I want to make finishing touches on the icon of Teresa of Avila I began with the local iconographers guild last week. Fighting traffic is my only option at the moment.
Being retired has insulted me from this hideous ritual we call rush hour — out of sight, out of mind! But last week I was ensnarled amid a ritual horde creeping ahead at 12 mph to which we have become resigned. Like me, most vehicles were occupied by only the driver. Unlike my 1999 Chevy Cavalier, many were monstrosities of engineering wizardry (I’m told some can even drive themselves!).
Yet, we all crept along snarled within the great American equalizer we call the morning commute. The collective insanity of what we have created was inescapable. There must be a better way! Yet, as complaisant rats in a benign laboratory experiment we dutifully reenact our routine oblivious to the insanity, blind to anything beyond the car ahead of us, resigned to a certain fate.
The stagnant pace on I35 between 46th and 35th street exits provided an opportunity to consider what we have become. In fact, the frustration moved me to a kind of “contemplation” of that from which there was no escape. In the moment, I could only name what I saw as an indictment of our blind, rapacious consumption.
All this was occurring during a week in which we gave lip-service to Earth Day. This was occurring en route to writing an icon. Countering the paralysis of a horde of vehicles pumping carbon into the atmosphere, iconography is about reverencing human association with nature — fine wood panels, base coats of clay layered to gold leaf, earthy pigments mixed with egg tempera, all handled reverently at a deliberate pace, the very antithesis of the mind-numbing ritual of the freeway.
Echoing through these intervening days is an off-handed remark offered by our teacher and master iconographer, Nick Markell. He reminded us of something I had never recognized. In the Genesis creation stories God creates the world ex nihilo, virtually out of nothing. Only when creating the human does God take the clay of the earth and breathe into it God’s own breath of life. We are earthlings by original design, human as in humus — composed of dark, rich, fertile dirt; one with creation!
Would that we returned to this original awareness. Would that we truly lived the wisdom written in our very bones. Would that we awoke from collective addiction to rapacious consumption, the alienation with which we move about our day, our suicidal isolation from the earth, resignation to what we have created.