Perceiving beauty in a house of God

Because my carpark was next to the main church in the village square, as I ran errands and got down to dreary soul-sapping inescapable admin with the first hunk of proper alone time I’ve had in a while (tech-problem-ridden mobile SIM swap and 21-page residence visa conversion document and navigating the dark underbelly of www.gov.uk, anyone?), I thought I’d pop in and say hello, and thank you, which I like to do whenever my path brings me within invitational distance to a house of g(G)od. (And the divine comes in lots of different forms, all spaces I enter with gladness. 💛)

I’ve been to both churches in Pontedilegno a coupla times. I marginally prefer the tinier, plainer one, down by the banks of the gurgling, marvellously alive river. But this was on my way this morning.

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The panorama shot is deceptive; it is a much more petite church than the pic suggests, though arguably even more beautiful.

I paid particular attention to the way my eyes adjusted to the dimness of the interior, especially after such dazzling morning brilliance outside. It’s like the way a smartphone screen adjusts, to different light conditions. Fascinating to observe. Just that this adjustment phenomenon is happening within my own visual sensory apparatus itself, hence within my perceptual system itself, and not some external instrument, like my phone.

Which was in itself another fascinating contrast; it utterly failed to capture what was so obvious to my acclimatised eyes, after only a minute of dimness. What now appeared to me as subtle shades of grey, variegated colour of marble, and glinting old gold of the altar, easily perceptible and their beauty plain to see, was nothing but a blackish blur on my phone screen. I had to max up the brightness post-pic for any sort of picture to emerge.

Empirical experimentation, after all that I had been reading in Beyond Biocentrism about the illusory nature of our seemingly-concrete, seemingly-indubitable apprehendings of the “world around us”.

This is a long-old storyline for me personally, having studied Berkeley, Hume, brain and behaviour at uni twenty years ago. I never expected though that this whole “bundle of perceptions/brain in a vat” stuff would cross over so simply into my everyday experience. It was just another topic to stimulate my intellect back then – strictly “theoretical”.

Philosophy, practical? Usable? Scientific? Ah, the joke’s long been on us arrogant modernists. It’s only relatively recently, in the last century or two, that “science” got sundered from its venerable roots of “natural philosophy“.

But back to self, the divine, and beauty. I thought today about how deliberately beautiful each place of worship I have ever visited has been. And I thought of the eye of the beholder, the elegance sought for in math proofs, of pattern, order, the observer and the cosmos. The identity – note, not identities – of the observer as an indivisible part of the cosmos, and vice versa. About the sparking of joy.

It makes the experience of sitting in such a space *completely* different. The authors of Beyond Biocentrism write of intimacy, not isolation. Like in this page’s excerpt – my lunchtime reading and relaxation, before I return to work – they write, “therefore, yes, science can and does influence us experientially and emotionally, not just intellectually.”

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I’ve had the quiet and deeply satisfying joy of having had some new-old companions to explore such abstract yet applied, timeless yet urgent, matters metaphysical these past weeks and months. For me this will be further deepened next week when I enter a week’s silent retreat with the renowned Buddhist monk Alan Wallace (http://www.alanwallace.org/https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/B._Alan_Wallace). I have never done something like this before. I am looking immensely forward to it.

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