For several weeks I’ve been attending service at this beautiful little Episcopal church around the corner. More than once the two giant phoenix sculptures installed at The Cathedral of St John the Divine have been mentioned, sparking my curiosity. Sunday the former rector who is now on staff at the cathedral was back to preach. During the coffee hour afterward she showed me some pictures on her iphone and I knew I had to see them for myself.
So, with the kids at their dad’s yesterday, I drove down.
The weather was amazing and I was blasting Mo’Horizons album Remember Tomorrow which is a heady combination for launching into a day of discovery. I found perfect parking on 111th and West End Ave, and walked over to Amsterdam.
Walking in to the cathedral had an immediate slowing, quieting, deepening effect. I picked up my visitors leaflet and took a seat below the flatscreen TV mounted above a clutch of chairs, airing a short film about the making of the sculptures.
Although initially commissioned as a spectacular display of modern art for the Beijing Central Business District, the sculptures were rejected when they turned out to be enormous creations of construction scraps, raw and rough. Every single intricate piece handled and infused with the sweat and soul of the impoverished migrant workers who spend their lives erecting new glamorous cities. Xu Bing commented that new capitalist economy of China is what has been imported from the West.
Last week Bill Gates tweeted that China has used more concrete in the last three years than the United States used in the last 100 years. Mind=blown.
It seems so few of us have any real clue about what is happening in China, and even less of an understanding of how we are intricately connected. Listening to artist Xu Bing tell the story of how the Phoenix came to be, moved me to tears. I scratched out some notes, but mostly I felt helpless letting the faces and story enter me.
The video below is only a tiny bit of the whole story.
Eventually I moved on. Right next to the viewing of the short film, is Poet’s Corner, dedicated to American literature. Reading the engraved quotes from beloved writers, it struck me once again how detached and oblivious our modern methods of daily life, from the depth of our traditions. It takes a field trip to a “site” to be reminded of the enormous act of courage it is to live earnestly.
I wandered around taking in what I could. Standing under the Phoenix. Letting the the vaulted ceilings and stained glass have their way with me.
The only time I prayed was at the National AIDS Memorial. As soon as I knelt I had the vivid experience of seeing humanity as a matrix of connection. “Oh God, please, plug me in to the fragile web of humanity and let me be a port through which your love is transfused into our shared veins” I cried.
Leaving the cathedral and walking the grounds, I noted with special appreciation the jungle gym directly out the side doors. Then, across Amsterdam Ave I saw Insomnia Cookies. I’ve stopped doubting the precision of a life lead by the Spirit. Even the angels know there is no better way to process, than with a fist of warm double chocolateness.
From my stool in the cookie shop, I texted to see if anyone was around and soon had plans to join a friend for the Ghana versus US match at a McGee’s Pub in Midtown. I hadn’t seen Malik in years, and reconnecting was the perfect change of gears. He introduced me to his friends and our table swelled as the match got underway. By now its obvious that I cannot help but plunge deep below the surface of life. All the time. Somewhere into a lovely conversation with the girl next to me, I caught myself reflecting on what national sports reveals to us about the ultimate nature of things. Damn, just enjoy the game, Rach! I thought.