Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Black and White Truth

Psalm I: Two Ways of Living (Form. V55, J.G.)

"A study in black and white as a prelude to the whole psalter. The sharp contrast between the virtuous and the wicked is characteristic of Hebrew thought and its uncompromising literary expression. This is not to say that the psalmist was unconscious of the mixture between good and bad to be found in himself and in others around him. We may never reach the extremes either of virtue or of vice, but we are every moment making for one or the other, and it is salutary to remind ourselves what the end of each road is. It is better still to remember that we have a powerful companion along the one road, but along the other we are alone."

While typing these words from the introduction to J. Gelineau's 1966 translation of the Psalms, I poured myself a piping hot cup of white tea from my black cast iron pot, not realizing that there was already some, now cooled, sitting in the bottom of the cup. Tea is either good very hot or very cold; tepid tea is an abomination to the tongue, just as lukewarmness of heart and action is an abomination to the Lord (Rev. 3:16). It would have been better for me to have swallowed the cooled bitter dregs first before refilling the cup (or better yet, thrown it out). Without doing so, you have a quarter cup of cold tea which is not supposed to be cold, as well as a full cup of tepid tea that is an insult to Japanese and Brits everywhere. As Jesus said, "no one puts new wine in old wineskins."

I like when J. Gelineau writes: "We may never reach the extremes either of virtue or of vice, but we are every moment making for one or the other." We are living in a sea of gray, swinging on a pendulum between two poles.

Black is both a color and not a color: it is a complete absorption of all the colors on the visible spectrum, reflecting none. Likewise white is both a color and not a color: it is the reflection of all colors, and an absorption of none. All colors are simply a reflection of their proximity to one of these two poles. In this sense, Black and White are the purest of all colors, because they are at the source of all color. Of course the perception of 'color' depends on the anatomical prism set and operating within the human eye which interprets their invisible wavelengths (which are their true reality, if you will).

Grayscale--the pairing of black and white in varying proportions--is a kind of 'second echelon' of moral living, one in which the visual cacophany of color is reduced to dualistic simplicity. Just as all elements of modern technology is based in binary code (the dizzying world of 1's and 0's--thanks for the lesson Jay!), the conditions of morality are set in the dualism of black-white, configured in the world of ethics-in-action grayscale, and played out in the blurry world of color, where the eye delights in the cotton-candy Crayola playground of the natural world.

If you have been living in a world of gray, of ethics without context, try pulling back the curtain and peeking into the absurd world of color, where God himself fell with a splash into the pool of humanity--the Divine Milieu. If you have been spending your 'Nights in Paris,' try spending your days under the stoic skies of Dublin to reconnect with what it is like to live without color, and to bring closer into focus the thousands of veiny arrondissements which make up the heart of a city. And if your home is in the world of black or white, then I think you already know what it feels like to be home.

Recommended Lenten movie-watching: Pleasantville.

Sight of the Day: A man with a big gray beard walking down Ridge Avenue wearing this t-shirt:

How's that for black and white?

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