Aug 23, 2004

The old gods

I went to Houston this weekend on a dual mission. My primary motivation was to attend an "advanced prayer ministry training session" that Alpha Houston was putting on. Moving our Alpha Course to a deeper level of prayer is a goal of mine, and so I figured this might help. It may have, but I'll save that for another post.

My other reason for going was a desire to revisit the Houston Arts District. The Visual Arts were a "god" to me at one time (although truth be told, I wanted to be a "god", and art was a way to feed that desire). But a fellow parishioner had said some things about some of the de Menil Collection that stirred an interest in me. Specifically, I wanted to see the Rothko Chapel, the Cy Twombly Gallery, the Dan Flavin Installation, and the Byzantine Chapel.

The juxtaposition between the de Menil Rothko Chapel and Byzantine Chapel was amazing. The Rothko Chapel (octagonal?) has light colored walls with massive black-on-black paintings. As you enter the "chapel", copies of all the religious guides they could think of are available to take in to meditate from. The Bible, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, Hindu texts, Bhuddist writings, etc., etc. Pick and chose.

The light is filtered in from the top cupola, indirectly illuminating the walls and the paintings. The paintings themselves (approximately 10 by 12 feet) look to be dark aperatures to the underworld. Mark Rothko (IIRC) committed suicide shortly after the completion of the chapel. DEATH.

The Byzantine Chapel is also desribed as a reliquary for the two 12th Century frescoes that it has been built to house. The interior is all black with direct artificial lighting illuminating the beautiful frescoes of Christ, an alter back-piece and a dome ceiling fresco. The dimensions of the small original chapel that the frescoes came out of (stolen, btw, from St. Themonianos church in Lysi, Cyprus) are formed by suspended glass panels. There is grate-work iconostasis, and altar, and candles (including a Sacristy lamp). LIFE.

In the Rothko Chapel, I took out my Palm PDA to make notes (and a sketch). The security guard was very concerned that I might be taking a picture with my "cell phone" of the depressing interior. Three times she asked me what was I doing.

In the Byzantine Chapel, I again took out my PDA, but this time I went to the Daily Office of Vespers, and observed the service aloud, but quietly. I left the chapel and went into the walled courtyard with fountain, and in the 104 degree heat index of an August afternoon in Houston, I could smell an aroma that told me that this is what Cyprus smells like.

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