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Saturday, April 08, 2006

Water Calligraphy

water calligraphy
Originally uploaded by mscheng.

I thank mscheng (her Flickr user name) for this photo, which she posted, and I couldn't pass up. The photo was taken recently in Nanjing, China, where mscheng lives. Lest there be any doubt, it really does show a man writing on the pavement with water. He is, of course, very well aware that what he is writing will evaporate. In fact, whatever he has written at the lower right seems to have mostly done so.

You should be able to see a larger view of this photo, and her comments on it, by clicking on it. You can see more interesting photos from mscheng, showing life in China, by clicking here. No password is needed.

mscheng writes that water calligraphy has significance for Buddhists. She wrote me that, on one occasion she heard of (in the US, at a building dedication) monks had written in sand, then wiped it out, saying that they were storing the meaning in themselves, and that the spiritual meaning was more important than the act of writing. (I have paraphrased her message, without, I hope, significantly altering her meaning.)

The tomb of John Keats has the inscription "Here lies one whose name was writ in water." There is a monument to Keats that refers to that. (Keats was an English poet who died in Italy. The inscription was placed at his request.) Keats was referring to the impermanence of fame, and of life.

What I write in this blog is writing in, or with, water. Much of it goes unread, except by me. Even if there may be a few kind souls who read it, they usually don't remember what they have read, and it probably seldom, if ever, affects their lives deeply. Like the Buddhist monks writing in sand, it does affect me, at least sometimes, and, I suppose, the thoughts behind the writing, and the spiritual impact on me, are more important than the blogging.

Keats wrote some great lines. "What mad pursuit?" is the first part of line 9 of his "Ode on a Grecian Urn." Francis Crick (That's the Crick, as in Watson and Crick) used those words as the first three words of the title of one of his books. Dan Simmons peppered his Hyperion Cantos with words from the works of Keats, and, in a sense, Keats was a character in this group of important works of science fiction. So Keats, for one, was not writing in water, at least not all the time. But most of us are. Even Keats will be forgotten, if the world lasts long enough, and be, like the first entry in my Blogroll, "A flower quickly fading."

James 4:14 includes this: "What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes." (ESV) The Bible is right. My whole life is written in, or on, water. It is true that I have offspring (Happy birthday, younger daughter!) but my descendants may eventually all die off, or, if they don't, soon enough they won't remember me. I'm not very significant. I'm not eternal. Yet, looking at it another way, I am eternal, and, therefore, significant. As C. S. Lewis put it: "Nature is mortal; we shall outlive her. When all the suns and nebulae have passed away, each one of you will still be alive. . . . We are summoned to pass in through Nature, beyond her, into that splendour which she fitfully reflects." The Weight of Glory, HarperSan Francisco, 2001, p. 44.

May you choose Christ, so that you may experience that "splendour." May I!

Keep writing, and thanks for reading.

* * * * *

Added April 11th:

Violet commented below, indicating that, in part, she didn't agree with what I wrote above. I e-mailed her, asking for clarification, and she was kind enough to respond. I have paraphrased her response, and discussed it a little, in my post of this date.


Elliot said...

"Even if there may be a few kind souls who read it, they usually don't remember what they have read"

I think I'm going to remember this post! Writing in water...

amusings_bnl said...

beautiful entry, and i'm glad you stumbled through my flickr stream and left a comment. i'm enjoying your blog...

peace be to you in your walk.


violet said...

'writing in water' - beautiful metaphor for the brevity of life and the impermanence of our lives and actions on earth. Yet in a way I take issue with it.

luiz said...

This post was precious for the time being, I thank you, food for thought in Palm Sunday.

Martin LaBar said...

Thank you all, and, especially, thanks to mscheng. Violet, I wish you'd indicated where you take issue!

Cicily Corbett said...

well, i stumbled upon your blog entry and i enjoyed it. i am a student of chinese and interested in all forms of art, especially found art and transient art.

cicily corbett

Martin LaBar said...

Thank you, Cicily.

Water calligraphy surely qualifies as transient art.