Saturday, July 22, 2017

Presents from India

Presents from India
कुम्भ मेला 

By Tom Wachunas

   “Presence is what allows us to live a life Enlightened…when we think of the most beautiful moments in our lives we have to ask ourselves what is common thread amongst them all? What we find is Presence.”  - from the artist statement of Jeffrey Scott Boardley

   EXHIBIT: ENLIGHTENMENT REVEALED - A Photographic Journey With Presence – Photographs by Jeffrey Scott Boardley / at Cyrus Custom Framing and Art Gallery / 2645 Cleveland Avenue NW, Canton, Ohio / THROUGH AUGUST 18, 2017 / HOURS: Monday - Friday 10am ish - 6pm, Saturday 11am - 3pm, Closed first Saturday of the month, Closed on Sundays / 330.452.9787

   First, some contextual background. Here’s part of what’s on the invitation card for this exhibit: “This exhibit features photos taken at the largest peaceful gathering ever known to human kind, Maha Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, India, which took place January/February 2013. On one day alone, 40+ million pilgrims bathed in the sacred river Ganges and Jeffrey was one of them. Witness these rare moments captured over 6 weeks, where so many gathered to share in presence with the hope of healing, bliss and spiritual awakening.”

   Hindu mythology speaks of how Lord Vishnu (the second god of a Hindu trinity – Brahma the creator, Vishnu the maintainer, Shiva the destroyer) poured drops of immortality, carried in an urn or pitcher, on four locations along the Ganges River. “Kumbh Mela” – literally, “Festival of Urn” – has become a traditional commemoration that transpires every 12 years on a rotating basis at each of those locations, with Maha (Great) Kumbh Mela occurring once every 144 years. If you’re wanting to learn more, here’s a useful link:

    Confession time. While viewing Boardley’s 38 stunning, evocative photographs - and reading the thoughtful, educational and often poetic captions that accompany each of them - I was caught up in contemplations that were at once conflicted yet somehow comforting and enlightening enough, even as an overarching question still remained: What am I, an avowed disciple of Jesus Christ (not news to any of you who have regularly read these missives of mine over the past several years), to make of Hinduism as an ideology and religious practice?

   Worth considering, of course, is the compelling lyricism of Boardley’s images – vibrant scenes of impassioned humans caught up in their own contemplations, a distinct aura (oh! those colors!) of communal renewal  surrounding them in their lavish ritual. Looking at this photographic art, I was in fact witness to, if only vicariously, their “…hope of healing, bliss and spiritual awakening.”  I thought about how such hope has always been and continues to be (or potentially so) a Divine agent of truth and cathartic harmony among all humans. Hope. Call it God’s universal calling card and open door policy. His eternal presence is an invitation. It is his present – his gift - to us.

   Here’s where things get interesting and very personal, if not a bit ironic. I have always believed that the act of “practiced looking” at art which we determine to be beautiful, as Boardley’s pictures certainly are, can be a spiritually transcendent experience. The apparent subject matter of the art ultimately gives way to something much larger and immersive than itself – something that performs a baptism of sorts. 

   And so in the end, I was looking at something not immediately apparent at all, and perhaps not intended by the artist in the images as such. It was something I would not call conspicuous in its absence so much as hidden in plain view. It seems to me that the act of pilgrimage is itself a metaphor, a physical manifestation or symbol of the spiritual journey undertaken by all of us, regardless of cultural specifics. To engage pilgrimage is to arrive at the source of our very existence, to be in the presence of God and all of its concomitant blessings…its presents. Looking at these pictures had the wholly (holy?) unexpected outcome of causing me to reflect on my destination and its creator – Christ, the author of my being, my faith. 

   My purpose here, however, is not to assume the role of Christian apologist, or to impugn Hindu culture, or categorically deny the sincerity and reality of Hindu spirituality. It is only to tell you that my looking had excited a perception, generated an unveiling, and induced in me an intensely prayerful state, along with a profound sense of real gratitude.

   My gratitude? Thank you, Jeffrey Scott Boardley for introducing me to those millions of devout seekers from 2013, and by extension all who will come after. Namaste – I bow to the divine in you and all of them. My prayer?  That all pilgrims ultimately find their salvation and joy complete in the one, true Lord of all lords.

   PHOTOS, from top: Mystical Awakening / Jai Ma Divine Mother / Namaste / Colors of Enlightenment / We Sing / Faith / Krishna Krishna Play Me Your Flute

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